Saturday, May 31, 2014

More cheese!

This is rosti.

It's basically a potato cake, kind of like home fries, topped with a ripe cheese called tomme. When you cut through the rind of the cheese, the melted stuff runs all over the potatoes, making a very yummy dish.

The above was served at the Plein Roc restaurant at Rochers-de-Naye.


Friday dawned with the clearest skies we'd had so far in Montreux. We decided to take advantage by taking another mountain excursion. This time we'd board the cog train right at Montreux station and head up to Rochers-de-Naye high above the lake.

It's a nice, slow, ride that switchbacks up the mountain with fabulous views of the city below

At the top, there are more clouds, and they blow through occasionally. While we eat lunch it clouds up completely and we lose the view for a bit. It returns, although shreds of the lower clouds hang around drifting across the landscape.

Oh, did I mention the snow? There is an alpine garden up here that I wanted to visit, but it will not open for the season for another week or two as the path to it is too icy to walk on. I'm disappointed, but I knew we were a little early in the Spring for some things.

I will have to be satisfied with a short walk to a nearby view point. Along the way is a set of pens contains marmots. One of them comes out to say hello

And more view...check out the tracks of the train we came in on

After a bit, we are ready to head back down to Montreux. I'm struck by the lush wildflowers that line the tracks. At one point we pass through a whole field of blooming, wild narcissus. It's quite lovely, but maybe a little blurry...shot from a moving train after all...

We returned to the station and walked back to our hotel. Seconds after arriving at our room, the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down...for about 10 minutes. Then the sun resumed shining through breaks in the clouds.


Henri Nestlé invented one of the earliest forms of baby formula using powdered milk. Alexander Cailler was the owner of a swiss chocolate factory that made some of the first milk chocolate, and earliest filled chocolates. In the early part of the depression the two companies merged, forming the basis of the giant company we know today in part for Nestlé's Quik.

The Cailler chocolate factory was built in the small town of Broc, not far from Gruyere, and is today quite a tourist attraction. They do loads of's a little Disney-esque, where you walk through displays which tell the history of chocolate. At the end there are displays with the raw ingredients, like this giant bag of cocoa beans

Finally, the best part...the tasting room where you can try as much chocolate as you like, with the only limit being you can't take the free stuff out of the room.

Of course, once you leave the room, there is a giant shop with all the chocolate you can by.

After, we hop back on our plush train for the scenic ride back to Montreux.

It's a very touristy day, but a lot of fun.

Cheese and chocolate

On Thursday I booked reservations on "the Chocolate Train". This is a trip on a lovely, restored, Belle Époque train, that goes to Gruyere, where we see a cheese making factory. Then on to Broc for a chocolate factory visit.

We start out by settling in to our very cushy seats on the train

They bring us hot chocolate, and a croissant (chocolate filled, of course), and then we set off on the train. The first part covers the same rails we took 2 days earlier on the Golden Pass train. Fortunately the weather is a bit better, and we get better views

It's really beautiful countryside. Lots of charming towns with little churches, and cute chalets. This is definitely an agricultural part of Switzerland to, with lots of cows and sheep, and occasionally we spot a vineyard or orchard.

After a bit more than an hour, we arrive in Gruyere. We take a short, self guided tour through the facility where they make the cheese. There are men working, and huge vats of liquidy cheese being cooked and stirred

And big store rooms filled with wheels of gruyere

Then we get few free samples. It's very delicious.

After the tour, we board a bus which takes us up hill to the town where we have a couple of hours to have lunch and check out the castle and other sights. Gruyeres is another charming medieval town. It's very small, and cobblestones, and full of 12th century walls, and a nice castle.

We had lunch at a small place, called Le Chalet, where we sat on the terrace, eating fondue, of course, only this time it's served with small potatoes rather than bread, plus sides of pickles, pickled onions, and dried beef which seems a specialty of the area. Oh, and local wine of course

After lunch we wander up the hill. Before we get to the castle, we wander into the HR Giger museum

If you don't know who Giger was, well he was a very strange artist, who did a fair amount of science fiction illustration. But what he is most famous for is designing the alien from the movie "Alien." Sadly, no photos allowed inside. Trust me though....this is a very strange museum.

Then we head up to the castle and have a fairly quick look around. We have to hurry, so we can reboard the bus which is taking us off to the chocolate part of our day...coming in the next post!

Any beer nerds reading this?

We had this in the hotel bar

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We took the bus into Vevey and found a nice sandwich shop for lunch. After lunch we took a stroll on the lakeside promenade. It's lined with trees, and flowers, and the occasional statue. There are some strange trees like this one.

I think they are pruned this way to avoid blocking the lake view of the homes and hotels on the waterfront.

Charlie Chaplin lived here, and there is a statue in his honor

Also, in front of Nestles's food museum, someone stuck a fork in the lake.

Right by the boat dock, there is a playground and a fantastic carousel

After our walk, we visited the museum of photography

There were really good displays about the history of cameras and photography. I had to really work on my French, because there were no English translations on the exhibits, but just looking at the exhibits was fun. I did see an Alpa camera here

After this,we decided to take the boat back to our hotel. It's easy to just hop on the ferry outside the museum. This is our boat, we actually rode this same one 3 times.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chateau de Chillon

Wednesday is a little grey, and the mountains are still sheathed in clouds, though somewhat more visible than when we arrived. So after a nice hotel breakfast, we jumped on a boat to head down the lake to Chateau Chillon.

We really like the lake boats, and like all mass transit, they are covered by our swiss rail pass, so no ticket required. The boat cuts smoothly across the glassy water.

It's not long...maybe 20 minutes...when the pile of rock, the Chateau de Chillon, comes into view.

We spend almost 2 hours wandering around. We took the audio guide which is very good, and gives us some background on the Duke of Savoy who lived here, and built many additions on the original 12th century castle.

After the castle, we hopped on the bus and headed into Vevey for lunch.

Next stop...Montreux

So,after we finished in Bern, we took the train to Zweissimmen where we would catch the Golden Pass train to Montreux. Here is the station in Zweissimmen.

We had about two hours to kill before our train. Sadly there is nothing to do in Zweissimmen when it is raining. We walked around a little bit, found no interesting shops, it started to pour, so we stepped into a small bar and had a beer.

We booked the late train, because I wanted the VIP seats in the front of the train, for the best views. Here's the  train, and a pic of the front where our seats were located:

Now,doing this in the rain isn't ideal, but it isn't bad. The landscape is misty and wet, but still pretty. The distant mountains were lost in the low clouds.

The ride starts here in Zweissimmen in the lower part of the mountains, then climbs up to the ritzy ski resort of Gstaad, then through the pass, and finally down to Montreux on the shores of Lac Leman (better known in English as Lake Geneva). Our panorama car was completely empty except for a nice pair of Canadians sitting next to us in the front row.

A few pictures from the ride...sorry, taken through glass and raindrops....

When we came through the last tunnel, and started down into Montreux, it had gotten very cloudy, and a little dark, and I have no good shots. You couldn't even see the lake until we got close.

But we arrived, and our hotel, the Grand Suisse Majestic, is conveniently located across the street from the train station. We checked in, and went up to our room. Oh my, what a view from our balcony, even in the foggy weather.

Dinner that evening on the hotel restaurant. It's quite fantastic. We both had sole meunière..almost as good as Paris. The restaurant has a tremendous view of the lake, we're happy sunset is so late (about 9:30PM).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lunch in Bern

Mmmmm cheese!!

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Well, I'm starting to get's inevitable, since I can't type every night, and it takes time to sort out and edit even a few photos. Hopefully i won't forget stuff.

So Tuesday morning, we got up pretty early, packed, and checked out of the hotel. We walked down to the train station and checked our larger suitcases with Swiss Rail fast baggage service, so they would go on to Montreux without us having to schlep them between trains. Then we had a quick breakfast at a station cafe.

At 9AM we boarded the fast train for Bern. As has been true on most trains, the first class compartment is not at all crowded. We spread out in a set of 4 seats, and watch the landscape go by. It's not all that interesting, especially as it is a grey rainy day. We get to Bern by 10. We have quite a bit of time, since we don't need to catch our next train until 4PM. So we spend some time exploring this lovely city.

Bern is a great place to wander on a rainy day because the streets are lined with covered arcades, as you can see in this photo.

Also, Bern is adorned with loads of interesting statuary and decorative carvings. There are fountains like these all over the place

On the gate into the old city, is a fabulous astrological clock

We visited Einstein's apartment, where he may have first cogitated on his theory of relativity. There is not a lot to see there, but it's interesting to get a little history of the man.

We walked through the city, until we reached the far side, where we saw the bear park. "Bern" means bear, of course, and you see bears all over the place, in statues, on their flag, and most importantly...the actual bears.