Into the Alps

 Posted by
Aug 232015

Worlds steepest cogwheel railwayThe 2.25 hour train from Basel wove its way through the mountains and past small towns and villages to the city of Lucerne. We changed trains for the remainder of the journey to Alpnachstad where we boarded the worlds steepest cogwheel railway for the steep (45°+) ride to the top of Mount Pilatus (2,128 m (6981 ft)).

The view from the top was spectacular. On one side was a view of relatively “flat” area between Lucerne and distant Basel, and to the other side were the high Alps.

One of many legends say that Mount Pilatus was named because the ghost of Pontius Pilate supposedly haunts the summit, his body having been brought there by the devil. In fact, for centuries climbing the mountain was banned because it was feared that the ghost would be angered by such activities and cause violent storms. Indeed, even after the ban was finally lifted, few were brave enough to climb the mountain and risk the vengeance of the ghost.

 View from Mount Pilatus, SwitzerlandWe took the 1.5km hike from Pilatus-Kulm to Tomlishorn (one of the three summits). Dizzying drop-offs with only a thin, single-cable handrail along the narrow, rocky footpath, afforded us incredible views of the still-snow-covered peaks in the distance. While in the hanging valley far below we could hear the sound of cow-bells reaching up from grazing cattle. The overused, yet entirely appropriate term “awesome” was voiced by us at almost every turn. It was indeed spectacularly beautiful.

Wildflowers and plants, growing from small crevices and strewn across any patch of somewhat level ground, provided color and additional interest to our walk. Around one bend, we looked high up at the rocky cliffs above us and saw two Alpine Ibex or mountain goats, a mother and her kid. Excellent climbers, their preferred habitat are the steep, rough, rocky region above the snow line and alpine forests.

Upon our return to the belvedere and cable/gondola station at the summit, we checked one of the various restaurants for lunch. As the prices were higher than the altitude, about 25 Swiss Francs (about $28) for a burger, we opted for a couple of simple hot dogs to-go from the bar (about $12 for two).

Once fed, we boarded the aerial cable car to Frakmutegg, about a 20-minute “flight” part-way down the mountain. The spacious cabin with very large windows allowed an unobstructed, panoramic view as we descended to the next station. Upon arrival at Frakmutegg we checked the maps for our next hike, as we had decided to forgo the next ski-lift in favor of another walk, this time through the alpine forests.

View from along the trail of Mount Pilatus, SwitzerlandThe rocky path to the next gondola station, Krienseregg, was all downhill. The loose rocks required being attentive to our footing as we sometimes slid on the trail. The forest was shady and cool with wild blueberry (mostly gone) and blackberries (not quite ripe) growing on the moss-covered ground.

As we continued our descent, we paused for a sip of water, and were passed by a woman, about our age. We exchanged greetings, and she stopped to chat briefly. After commenting on the beauty of the area and the weather, we related our Slow Nomads story and how we happened to be here. We had a delightful chat, and if we were to be in the area for the night, we were invited to dinner. Unfortunately, we had to decline since we were returning to Basel later.

Not much further down the mountain, we took the next gondola down to the small town of Kriens where we found the bus to take us back to Lucerne.

 Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), Lucerne, SwitzerlandLucerne deserved far more time than our exhausted legs were going to allow. After having a cold beverage at a cafe, we summoned the energy for a short walk in the old town before boarding the train for the return to Basel.

Back in Basel, the evening was hot, though not as hot as the next day was forecast to be. We cleaned up at the hotel before venturing out for dinner. There were not many choices that appealed to us, but we came upon a local brasserie that, since we were getting very hungry, was good enough. The inside seating next to an open window provided an occasional breeze, but with no air conditioning it was still quite warm. After dinner we walked directly back to our hotel, and our comfy, dark room with AC, ahhh. We again slept the sleep of well-fed, exhausted hikers.

After checking out of the hotel we walked to the train station and put some of our items in a storage locker. Unencumbered we set off to explore the city further. It was already getting hot, and once out of the shadows of the buildings the sun was intense. As we had already walked most of the old town (that we could take in the heat), we opted for a stroll along the tree-lined Rhine to the Museum Tinguely.

 Jean Tinguely kinetic art outside the Museum Tinguely in Basel, SwitzerlandJean Tinguely (1925 –91) was a Swiss painter and sculptor whose sophisticated kinetic sculptures, which he termed métaméchaniques, or metamechanicals, are reminiscent of a cross between Rube Goldberg and Edward Scissorhands. The majority of his metamechanicals are powered by electric motors, and there are buttons on the floor that, when pressed, make the sculpture come alive with motion and sound.

The motion serves no purpose other than to provide a delightful feast for the eyes, ears, and mind. I was spellbound watching and analyzing the movement of belts, pulleys, levers, rollers, and shafts that interconnectedly strike gongs, bells, keyboards, and other noise-making devices, or actuate pens that draw designs on paper. However, some of Tinguely’s more famous works had the goal of totally self-destructing once set into motion. Those works can only be seen on videos.

Many of his other works are installed in fountains since rather than using electric motors to create the motion, they use water provided through hoses to spin and move before spraying the water out in various directions.

By the time we finished the Museum Tinguely, we were beginning to get tired, hungry, and it was hotter still. The high temp was forecast in the mid-30s C (high-90s F). At this point we returned to the train station to retrieve our bag, purchased items for lunch at a grocery, and looked for some shade where we could wait the 45 minutes or so before our train departed for Strasbourg.

We headed toward the platform where our train was already waiting, and upon checking inside one of the cars found it to be air conditioned and COOL! The entire car was empty except for us as we enjoyed our lunch in comfort, and it wasn’t until just a few minutes before departure that it began to fill.

The uneventful return to Strasbourg was comfortable, and when we emerged from the Gare, the hot air reminded us that it was still summer here as well. The interior of our apartment wasn’t nearly as hot as out on the street, and with some iced water in hand it was good to be home.

  12 Responses to “Into the Alps”

  1. Magnificent! I am really enjoying your hiking adventures and am happy you opt for the biped route when available. While the view from the top is always appreciated it’s the little things witnessed along the way that I find most intriguing. Thank you for including a photo of the two of you with this entry. I can see your nomadic lifestyle agrees with you.

  2. Absolutely Fantastic!
    This is where I want to go next trip!
    Maybe I can get Mary up in the Gondola Lift??

  3. Awesome!

  4. Postcard perfect pictures. It is seldom that you see such clear weather in the alps. Did you find out the story of the covered bridge in Lucerne? In Basel did you also see the water park with the mechanical figures? It is supposed to be a stage of characters.

  5. How fun to see your beautiful pictures from the top of Mt. Pilatus. We were there on an unfortunate day that was completely rainy and socked in. (Un)luck of the draw. ha

    Loved your Basedl pics, too. We spent an afternoon there. Loved seeing people floating down the river. How fun.

    Stay COOL!

    • Thanks Kim. We’ve been rather lucky with the weather, but we have the ability to pick and choose based on the forecast. Fortunately, we think the days of 100 F are over. Whew.

  6. Enjoyed the virtual tour! I’d love to play in the museum, but not the hikes thanks!

  7. Incredible journey you two are on. Thanks for the “ride” in photos. ^_^

  8. So – did you like Tinguely’s works? You describe very well what they are and how they work, but we can’t quite figure out your opinion.

    Best regards,


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