The Road Through The Alps Into Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley

 

Last weekend, we went to Wilder, Switzerland to see the Tschäggättä and Carnival parade. Wilder is located in the Swiss Alps in the Lötschental Valley.  It is one of the most remote places in Switzerland.  It remained largely cut off from the outside world until the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Courtesy of Mappery.com

 

Even then, the valley remained remote and difficult to reach, especially during the winters. It was so isolated that in the 1932, Dr. Weston Price, an American dentist, went there to find cultures relatively untouched by the modern world.  He included it in his book of nutritional studies across diverse cultures, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.   At the time, some towns in the valley were accessible only by footpath.

 

 

When Switzerland built a road into the valley, they did it with typical Swiss quality and precision.  It is built into a steep gorge and hugs the side of the mountain.  You can see the road climb up the mountain until it disappears into it.

 

 

We saw the first bit of snow and ice at the first curve.  Coming out of that turn, you hug the edge of the road.  If you aren’t the driver, the views are fantastic (even if the drive is a bit hair-raising).

 

 

The road zigs and zags up the mountain.  Switchbacks abound.

 

 

Switchbacks are courtesy of Google Maps

 

Looking at the map, you can (1) all the switchbacks, and (2) why I am glad that I wasn’t the driver.

 

 

Surprisingly, there are cute roadside picnic spots sprinkled along the way.

 

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötsche...

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötschental), Switzerland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Since this is Switzerland, there are tunnels and covered areas to protect the roads from impassability due to snow.  As you climb back into the valley, the dates on the exterior of the tunnels becomes progressively more recent.

 

 

When we exited the tunnels, we thought the road had been reduced to one lane because the road narrowed.  We were wrong.  Although it may have been slightly more narrow due to the snow, traffic continued in both directions.  There just wasn’t much room for you to put a road.

 

 

We were rewarded for long drive with a fantastic festival in a stunning setting.  It is well worth the effort to get to Wilder.

 

 

We were lucky the weather (and roads) was clear.  In 1999, around 1,000 avalanches crashed down Switzerland’s mountains.   The  Lötschental Valley is an avalanche hot spot.  That year, avalanches made the road impassable and cut the valley off from the outside world.  Tourists and people with health problems were helicoptered out while locals and food were flown in!

 

 

 

 

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles to South Africa

We took several modes of transportation during our journey to South Africa.  We flew Egypt Air to Cairo then on to Johannesburg.

 
On the descent, we saw pyramids silhouetted against Cairo’s lights!  It made us want to go to Egypt. He sat next to someone on the plane who was going to Cairo to retrieve their valuables because they were moving back to Germany.  The gentleman said that the situation was too problematic and unstable to stay.  Hopefully, things will improve over the coming months and years.
When we arrived in Johannesburg and picked up our rental, we were surprised by its size.  He did a wonderful job driving the big rig, but unfortunately, it was not always the easiest to park.
Cabs function as a form of inexpensive mass transit in South Africa.  People use hand signals to indicate their desired destination and vans headed in that direction stop.   Below you can see tons of them at a cab stop on Soweto.

Notice the cabs look exactly like our van.    They constantly break every conceivable traffic law.  We joked that since our big rig looked just like a cab, he could run red lights, cut people off, speed as much as he wanted and no one would think anything of it.   In case you were wondering, he did not take advantage of his apparent ability to break every traffic law known to man with no foreseeable consequences.

We saw people crammed into the giant taxis.  As there isn’t a large mass transit system, they were crammed into every vehicle, including the beds of pickups on the highway.

Our big rig turned out to be a great vehicle on the animal preserve.  I spent a fair amount of time hanging out the open door with my camera gawking at wildlife.
Oh yeah, when you arrive at Geneva’s airport, there are free regular trains to the city.  All trains go from the airport to the main train station!  From there, it’s just an easy tram or bus ride home.

 

Daytrips from Geneva

Stumped for what to do when you come visit?  We’ve been here and explored a bit.  Here are some ideas for daytrips:
  • Lausanne – It is famous for its beautiful promenades on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  It has a beautiful port (Ouchy), an Old Town dating back to the 14th century and is home to the Olympic Museum.  As with all the lakefront towns, there are nice parks along the water and landings for boats that will take you aound the lake.
  • Montreux – It is home to the world famous Montreux Jazz Festival. It offers incredible views of the Swiss Alps, has a beautiful lakefront promenade and is close to the Château de Chillon (see below).
  • Vevey – Although it isn’t the wildest town, it’s an adorable town and a wonderful place to spend the afternoon.  It’s home to Nestle so it has a food museum.   McCarthyism forced Charlie Chaplin to resettle and he chose this peaceful town.
  • La Côte, which is between Lausanne and Geneva, centered around Rolle, and Lavaux, which is between Lausanne and Vevey.  The CGN boats also stop at many of the wine towns, so you could include a trip on one of those in your adventure.  There is lots of information about Lavaux.  Visitors who want to stay closer to Geneva could go to the cute town of Morges (link to post).  Although we haven’t been, we hear that Coppet is nice.

  • Château de Chillon – This is Switzerland’s most famous castle.  Rick Steves ranks it as one of the top ten castles in Europe.  It is situated on the opposite side of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  It is fully restored and furnished with a collection of excavated antique weapons, chests and other items.

  • Yvoire – if you want to head by boat to lunch in a beautiful setting, stroll around a charming (but tiny) town and pay in Euros, this is your town.  While there are a lot of places on the lake that are larger and more exciting, it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon (link to friend’s post). 
  • CERN – If you like science, this is a must.  It is also, incidentally, the setting for the first scene of the book Angels and Demons.  IMPORTANT NOTE: These tours must be booked far in advance.  If you are interested in doing this, pick the day(s), fill out the form (on the link) and send it in as soon as you book your flight.

 

2011 By The Numbers

999      A conservative estimate on the number of times we have been lost (or at least taken wrong turns).

998      Pots of yummy, Swiss yogurt eaten.  I know that this number is a bit low.  We found the world’s best cottage cheese a couple of months in.  It definitely hurt our yogurt consumption.  We will try to do better next year.

45        The number of dollars paid in speeding tickets.  Astoundingly, we have gotten fewer tickets than anyone we know.  We were “lucky” enough to get ours in France so we paid it in Euros, much cheaper than tickets in CHF‘s.

40        Number (more or less) of cute pairs of heels in my closet here that have gone unworn due to large amounts of walking and heel eating cobblestones.   What has happened to me?

30        Roughly, the number of times I have been honked at while driving.  This works out to more or less one honk per drive.  Not too shabby.

17        Number of languages we can watch tv  in.  They are: French, German, Italian, English, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Turkish, Serbian, Bosnian, Albanian, Arabic, Dutch, Russian, Mandarin and Thai.  Unfortunately, we can only understand 1 or  2 of these.

15       The approximate number of emails he receives when I post pictures of him in      “fashionable” attire.  I get calls saying “what did you post about me because my email is blowing up”.

13       British TV Shows viewed (don’t judge): Top GearGrand DesignsWallace and GromitSnog Marry AvoidTake Me OutHow Clean Is Your House (it is extremely motivational to put on while cleaning), Horrible HistoriesGok’s Fashion Fix/Gok’s Clothes RoadshowSherlock (fantastic, a must see), Doctor WhoJamie’s Great BritianTime TeamHistory of Ancient Britain (History of Britain is better).  We did not watch the royal wedding even though there is still excessive coverage of it on British TV.

12        Countries Visited: DenmarkSwedenSpainFranceEngland, Scotland  (him), Germany (him), Belgium (me), Switzerland, South Africa, Egypt, and the United States.

11        The number of hours our jet lagged, germ filled bodies slept upon returning to Switzerland (this was followed by several lengthy naps and another long night’s sleep).

10        Tours (KarlsburgBurgundyCheese FactoryCailler Chocolate Factory,  Underground LakeTour of LondonToledo, Cullian Diamond Mine, Nelson Mandela’s Home, Soweto, unsure if safari’s count as an official tour.

9         “Exotic” foods we have eaten: bugs (South Africa), pigeon (England), crocodile (South Africa), horse (at home purchased from the local grocery store), gelatinized foie gras (France – definitely worse than the bugs), ostrich (South Africa), snails (France, bien sur), wild boar (Switzerland), quail (Spain) and duck (France).

8          The number of times he has taken the wrong train, tram or bus to and/or home from work.

7          The approximate number of times I grocery shop in a week (this includes visits to the Patisserie to buy bread).  Before our move, I prided myself on being able to get by for almost two weeks on one shopping trip.  Now that I carry everything home (and therefore buy less at a time), look for sales all over and try to buy the freshest, I have septupled my trips. Craziness.

6(ish)   Fantastic, Unforgettable, Once in A Lifetime Hikes in Switzerland: Gruyeres Cheesemaker’s Path, La Salevethe MatterhornJungfrauLavaux, many around Geneva.

5         Meals eaten out at Geneva restaurants since we moved (due to their high cost and our unwillingness to bankrupt ourselves).

4          The number of snow tires that are currently on our car (also the number of regular tires currently in storage).  Anyone ever heard of all season tires?

3          Family members who have visited; also the number of times the washing machine repairman has visited our miniscule washer.

2          Dogs given away (and are very happy with their new families)

1          Bridge jumpaerobed destroyed, and container shipped to Switzerland.




 

We Minded The Gap And The Rest Of How We Got Around London

The fastest way to get from Heathrow* into the city is by train (15 minutes to Paddington Station).

Of course, we then took the Underground (London’s name for its subway system) to the hotel.  Unfortunately, I got a bit lost and had to hop into a one of these to actually find the hotel.

Had to take a picture of this taxi because it had one of the guys from Top Gear on it.

London’s Underground is famous and a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right.  London limits where cars can go, so it is also the fastest way to get around the city.

This is the gap.  We minded it.

Mind The Gap

One evening, we took a boat ride down the Thames.  It was a great way to see the city and on the London Transport Boat, which was surprisingly cheap.

Just about the only public transport we missed riding was one of these red double-decker busses.

*I like Swiss Airlines (especially when it is cheaper than EasyJet) because they always give you free chocolate.

You’re welcome

 

I Love Rick Steves



Since the mid-90’s I have been in love with a man.  No, it is not my husband.  It is Rick Steves.  For those of you who don’t know him, he has a travel show on PBS.  He is the author of some of the best travel guides and operates tours.  


Here are some reasons why he rocks:

  • Rick Steeves is practical (one of my favorite qualities).  Not only will his books tell you what bus to take, they will also tell you where to sit for the best view.  No matter how wonderful the pictures, you must be able to find your way there to appreciate it.
  • He wants you to get the most out of your trip and not waste your time. He helps tourists differentiate the really cool attactions from the tourist traps and has the best, reasonably priced hotel/restaurant recommendations.   
  • He wants you to get the most out of and fully appreciate what you are seeing.  His books are filled with easily digestible bits of history, interesting antecdotes and cool details that enrich your experience.
  • His travel philosophy (greatly simplified) encourages you to interact with and act like locals.  Right on.

We (meaning I) buy his books for every possible destination.  Before leaving Charlotte, I was lucky enough to hear him speak.  I waited around to get a picture with him and am expecting the restraining order to arrive any day now.