We took this trip a few years ago, and will re-visit some of these sites, locations, and events this coming December. Here is the daily log:
We started thinking about a winter trip to Europe after we had taken a 4-week trip to China in September 2002. Coupled with this, our four children decided to do something for us to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and this started us thinking. At the same time, Audy read about the Christmas Markets in Europe, especially in Germany, and we agreed this would be something we would enjoy doing and seeing…thus the idea was born.
Initially we wanted to see these Christmas Markets, but in looking into them and when and where they were held, we found that for the most part they were early to mid December, which just would not fit with our schedule. Then we looked into Tours that would see these various places, and found that they were, for the most part, bus tours where you traveled to a different city each day, etc. This did not appeal to us…so we decided to “do our own trip”. Utilizing United Frequent Flyer miles and Marriott Points for the hotels….all was left with getting around in Europe and we happened on Eurail Passes….and our planning started. Our goal included seeing Berlin, where Audy and I met some 41 years ago while on an exchange type program, and which has been through a lot of change since the days when we rode our bikes under the Brandenburg Gate, including the Wall between East and West Germany. Another goal was to see Leipzig, which had been in East Germany, and which Audy saw in 1988 when she was in Germany with Curt…we wanted to see how the city had changed in the 12 years since the wall came down. Our third goal was to see Warsaw, Poland, where neither of us had been. All three goals were met, as you will see.
Day 1 (of 14) started on December 24th, 2002, as we left Redding on the United Express commuter to San Francisco (SFO). At SFO we boarded a United flight to London…where we changed to Lufthansa and on to Dusseldorf and then to Zurich, Switzerland, arriving at 6 PM on Christmas night. London Heathrow Airport is one of the older ones in Europe, and still serves millions annually as it has for 50 years, and it looked just as we remembered it, with tunnels and roads under buildings and very cluttered with offices and buildings almost on top of each other. On the other hand, Dusseldorf is a very, very modern airport serving the industrialized western part of Germany, and this airport is as open, bright, and light…as Heathrow is dark. An interesting contrast, but just right for our timing, for Dusseldorf Airport was very quiet on this Christmas Day so Audy had a good 1 hour nap while we waited for our flight. Arriving in Zurich, we used the shuttle to get to the Renaissance Hotel, which was about 10 minutes from the airport…and obviously it was bedtime, as we had been fling for 24 hours.
Day 2—Zurich, Dec 26: After a fair nights sleep (I was awake for 2 hrs. due to jet lag), we got up and took the airport shuttle to the Airport Train Station to catch the train into Zurich. They have arrangements in all of the cities where you can buy a 1 or 2 day pass that allows for unlimited riding on the public transport system. We rode the train into the main train station, which is quite large and quite buys, and after looking around for a place to eat, of which many were closed due to the day after Christmas closing, we walked out on the street to the adjacent McDonalds. Suffice it to say that traditionally we have refused to eat at McDonalds, etc…but, as we found in China, they have excellent “local foods”, as was the case with the Egg McMuffin we had. Quite good and with coffee came to about $4.00. We then walked down their Haufbonstrasse, which is the main shopping pedestrian street in Zurich. Every possible shop…many very upscale..and a beautiful area, in spite of the rain that was starting to fall. We walked about 2 hours and got up to the Lindenhof overlooking the Limmat River and the beginning of Lake Zurich…the Picture-postcard Lake that you often see when you see Zurich photos. From there we headed back to the station area, where we were going to catch the “Trolley tour” of the city, which we did. For 2 hours we got to see the big churches, including the famous one where artist Marc Chagall has the stained glass windows. Quite a beautiful city. Following the tour, we caught the train back to the hotel…a 2 hour rest…and at 5 got up to come back downtown to see “the lights”. We walked back down to the lake and then back to the station for a lasagna dinner…and back to the hotel…a good first day in Europe.
Day 3…Zurich to the Alps, 12/27/02: Although Zurich is impressive as a staid and wealthy old city that was not harmed by the war…what we were to encounter on this scenic day trip is almost indescribable. We caught the 9 am shuttle to the train..got on the Lucerne IR, which stands for Inter Regional, train…also known as the express trains…and headed for Lucerne, which is south of Zurich along Lake Lucerne…another picture postcard city. This was the first leg of the scenic trip up into the Alps, so we stopped at the station long enough to get a close-up look at the Lake and the new museum…and try to recall when we were there previously. It was starting to clear, so was very pretty, and in 30 minutes we were on to train #2, bound for Interlaken, which is the entry point into the Alps from this direction. It was here that we met the family from Florida that was on the 1 week ski trip…in Gstaad…and unfortunately for them and thousands of others…no snow, due to the southern Europe warm weather…(40 degrees was the high that day). At Interlaken we boarded train #3..and as we started up the weather cleared beautifully…and off we went to Zweissimen, which is the town for the start of the Golden Pass Scenic tour, and we got on train #4 for the steep climb, etc…into the middle of the Alps. This was absolutely spectacular, and the lack of snow allowed us to clearly see the Alpine villages, the beautiful mountains, and the enchanting valleys and waterways, from creeks to rivers. Nothing like it. And, the train goes where the cars can’t go, in that much of the track is literally along the side of the mountain, making for exciting views. This trip took us 2 hours as we traveled up and over and down into the french speaking part of Switzerland, and into the city of Montreux. Unbelievable beauty describes this part of the trip, as we passed by world famous resorts such as Gstaad…with many people but no snow. From Montreux we boarded train #5 for the short ride into Lausanne…then on to #6 for the return fast train to Zurich via Geneva and Bern. We were back in Zurich by 7 PM, and enjoyed our evening meal of the train…delicious soup and bread, which was about all we wanted for we had been sitting and viewing all day…and what a day it had been. Highly recommended for anyone that goes to Zurich, for this is the real Switzerland that can only be seen on this kind of a train trip. On the train ride back into Zurich, we were on the European bullet trains, and they run at speeds up to 120 mph. We had a number of these…some called IR and some called ICE (InterCityExpress)….and although the ICE is the new and famous looking bullet trains…all of them can really move. Inside the trains you do not hear much, for they are all electric and very quite, but stationary objects that are passed by the trains are blurs…and cars on the highways look as it they are creeping along, although they are probably going 60 or 70 mph. All of the trains are very clean, with very comfortable seats…and they have plenty of non-smoking areas…, which we always had. Some of the trains are double decker, but on all of the trains, the windows are big, so you can see all that you want to see with no problem whatsoever. On the return trip we went along Lake Neuchatel, another picture lake, but often fog covered due to the elevation of the lake when it is warn like it was, relatively speaking.
Some observations: Zurich is very expensive and not too tourist oriented. It is the money city with the famous banks and the large insurance companies. Zurich Insurance is the largest re-insurer in the world, attesting to the amount of money in Swiss banks. The area is very clean, and especially so as you travel out into the country as we did. The farms look almost unlived in…so neat and clean. As mentioned, the scenic trip was definitely a highlight.