Why Hiking In Switzerland Is Wunderbar

 

We have been traveling a lot lately, but we spent most of the summer in Switzerland.  Switzerland is wonderful in the summer.  We love it, in part, because it is a hiking mecca.  Here are some reasons why hiking in Switzerland is wunderbar.

  • cable cars
  • there is plenty of opportunity to hike above the tree line, affording breathtaking views

  • the trails are incredibly well-marked and well-maintained
  • the trails are everywhere, they criss-cross the country, including the cities
  • its cities are compact so you are out of the city into the mountains quickly
  • the views are varied
  • at the end of almost every hike, there is a crystal clear blue lake to dip your feet in

  • I have yet  to find a mountain in Switzerland where my cell phone doesn’t work
  • even at altitude, you pass many cafes where you grab a bite

  • the fountains for cows mean that you can refill your water bottle all over the place

 

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Fun In The Alpine Fortress Of Fürigen

Last weekend, we went to Lucerne and visited the fortress of Fürigen.  We had been looking forward to visiting some of Switzerland’s formerly hidden fortresses that have been turned into museums.  Since we were near Lucerne, we finally got the chance.

Can you spot the entrance in this photo?

Festung Fürigen Museum zur Wehrgeschichte (aka Fort Fürigen) is  part of Swiss National Redoubt  defense plan (Schweizer Alpenfestung or Réduit Suisse) to respond to foreign invasion.  Developed in by neutral Switzerland the 1880’s, Germany’s invasion of its neighbors necessitated updates (Germany even developed an invasion plan for Switzerland).   Fort Fürigen was part of a series of fortifications around Lake Lucerne that were rushed to completion in 1941-2 to protect nearby roads and rail lines.

The entrance is intentionally well-camouflaged.  We had to double back and ask for directions to find it.  The nondescript entrance leads to a  200-meter (656 feet) tunnel system leads into the mountain.

A private telephone line connected the lake’s fortresses but they also used the radio to communicate with each other.

Entering the fort, you pass the radio station (located near the entrance to assure clear reception) and several sets of machine gun defenses.

The view down the corridor from the gunner’s nest.

Once past the heavy fortifications you see the workings of the fort.  They have the guns, a filter for radioactive material, air shafts, devices to monitor the air for poison gas, storage depot and more on display.

You can actually play around with this gun. He maneuvered it into a decent spot and dutifully posed for a photo when he wanted to play. Hence the hurry up and take the picture smile.

A close up of the gun’s targeting system

The largest problem with these gas masks was the limited range of motion allowed by their connection to the ceiling’s purified air hookup.

This infrared light replaced the old spotlight when the fort was retooled during the Cold War

While the infirmary resembled any 1940’s hospital movie set, the bunk house and dining area looked remarkably like many Swiss ski lodges.

Since they were storing munitions in the bunker, smoking was forbidden…in some areas.  It must have been like prison, where the talk of banning cigarettes leads to mutiny and so it was only limited in essential areas.  After all, the living quarters were gas-proof.

The Swiss had good reason to build defensive outposts like this one.  Hitler’s plans to invade Switzerland were uncovered post-World War II.  The Soviet Union’s also recommended invading the country.

One fortress down, only about 14,999 to go.

No smoking! If you went down the hall and through a door to the residential area, there are ashtrays hanging on walls. Go figure.

 

What You Can Learn From License Plates In Switzerland

In Switzerland, license plates are assigned based on experience, thus low number plates usually indicate someone who has been driving a long time (i.e., an old person). Larger cantons (GE, ZH, etc.) have more cars and so the numbers on the plates extend much higher.

Very low numbers (e.g., “GE 3”) usually are assigned to taxis. On government cars have a single letter (instead of the canton): “A” for administration, “M” for military. There are no personalized license plates.

Diplomatic plates are all over Geneva.  They have CD in a blue square on the left of the plate.

Each canton (like a state) has its own abbreviation.  When you are in the parking lot of a ski resort, you are easily able to tell where the other skiers live in Switzerland.  I find looking at them is helpful in learning the coat of arms for each canton.

The abbreviations for the cantons (listed in German, French Italian and English) are:

Often, you see EU (European Union) plates in Geneva.  It’s understandable given our proximity to France.  Sometimes, you even see foreign plates.

I once saw US plates while I was riding on the bus.  Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo.


 

The Swiss Guard In Revolutionary France

As you know from yesterday’s post, Switzerland was well know for sending mercenaries abroad.  Popes weren’t the only people who hired them.  France‘s King Louis the 11th started a group to protect him called the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses) in 1480.  Swiss worked for the kings of France on up to the revolution.

When the French Revolution started, about nine hundred Swiss Guards were protecting the Tuileries Palace.   They didn’t fare well; they ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by the larger opposition.

  • Approximately 600 of them were killed during fighting or after the surrender
  • 60 were taken to city hall and killed in front of the crowd there
  • Around 160 died in prison of their wounds in prison or in further revolutionary violence

Their bravery is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Lion Monument in Lucerne.*  The lion is shown collapsing on the symbols of the French monarchy.

* Lucerne is one of the highlights of any trip to Switzerland and one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 

Grindelwhat? Grindelwald!

When we were in the Bernese Oberland, we stayed in a night in Grindelwald (one option if you do Kleine Scheidegg or Jungfraujoch).  We suspected that it might be a bit big and a bit touristy for our tastes.  When you have views like these of the Eiger, who cares?
In the late 18th century, foreigners discovered the scenic town.  The scenery is so photogenic that pictures of the vistas were widely reprinted.  This made the village internationally famous (the Eiger is Switzerland’s second most famous mountain after the Matterhorn), which, in turn, brought more visitors.
 In the 19th century, Englishmen came to the village to climb the alpine peaks around the valley, including:
It’s in the heart of the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland (the Bernese Alps).  In the summer, it is a popular base for hikers and a ski town in the winter.
I think this is technically Wetterhorn. Until the Eiger became more famous, it was Grindelwald’s iconic symbol.
Improvements in transportation infrastructure, the Grindelwald road (built in 1860-72) and the Bernese Oberland railway (connected to the village in 1890), transformed the difficult trip into a simple one. As a result, tourists to flooded into the village and many hotels/resorts were built.
rack railway was built to Kleine Scheidegg in 1893; it was expanded to the Jungfraujoch in 1912. It is still in use.  We watched it wind up the mountain from the balcony of our hotel room.  One of the great things about Switzerland is that the mountains are so accessible.  In the late, 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous ski lifts, cable cars, hiking trails and alpine huts were built.  Today, Grindelwald’s economy of is virtually entirely based on tourism.  Like I said, it’s a bit touristy, but with beauty like this, who cares?