We traveled between locations on a bus. It was large enough for most of us to have a whole seat to ourselves. Our driver was Hans. HE WAS AMAZING. Later on you'll see where he loaded the bus (with all of us inside) onto a railroad car. We all questioned whether it would fit and it was only through Hans' skillful driving that it did. Hans also shared videos (at dinner) of his driving tests and told a number of stories about crazy drivers racing down mountain roads backward (when the road is closed to normal traffic of course). What? Wow!
Our first stop on the way to Engelberg was to learn a little about the formation of Switzerland as a country, i.e., the formation of the first Swiss confederation. To get there we boarded a boat (the Fluelen) in the town of Brunnen, some distance along the shore of Lake Lucern. From Brunnen we sailed a short distance (less than a half hour) to TINY Rutli. This was the location of two parts of the confederation legend.
Before I describe what we saw and heard I have to make it clear that most of this story is legend...not fact! This is more about what the Swiss want to believe, than what may or may not have happened.
Okay, It is written...that in 1291 representatives from the three cantons (counties) around Lake Lucern (Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden) got together in the meadow at Rulti (see the pictures above) negotiated and agreed upon terms for confederation which became the basis of Switzerland. They then moved to a location down from the meadow about half way back to the lake and adjacent to a SMALL waterfall to take the oath pledging they would support and defend the negotiated agreement.
Yeah.. I know... They went out into the middle of no-where to work on a confederation agreement and pledge their loyalty to it with an oath. That's their story and they're sticking to it. We went to the exact location where this all took place to set the scene for the background story.
Back down to the dock and on to a different boat. This time a paddle wheeler. One of many that have been operating on the lake for a long time.
One final note...the Alpine horn in the last picture. This was a real steam driven horn taken from one of the boats that previously operated on the lake. Impressive? We thought so.
Waiting for the boat
Looking back across Lake Lucern from Brunnen
Our boat arrives
Lake Lucern from the boat
Some of our group settle in
More from our group taking it easy
Heading to Rutli
Arriving at Tutsi
So why are we here?
Where they actually (at least that`s the legend) took the oath
Fabian covering the `history`
Fabian covering the `history`
Just the `oath` location (without people to clutter it up)
A short walk to the meadow where the negotiations took place
Learning all about the negotiations
Learning about the negotiations
The paddle wheeler that took us on to our next destination
Alpine horn (Yup it`s real)
What We Saw
In 1941 the Nazis had just invaded France and the Swiss were VERY nervous (dah!). Their plan for survival shows how scared they were. First they intended to give up more than a third of their country by pulling back to the mountains. Next they decided to set up a ring of armed bunkers to protect their fall back location. Furigen was one of many (in fact it was one of the smaller bunkers). There were some with 15+cannons and many more machine guns. They also planned to use a couple of PT style boats to assist from the water.
This installation was built from scratch in 9 months in complete secrecy...those living close by had no idea it existed (or so they say). As you can see from the pictures the exterior was well camouflaged. How they cut the openings (and before they covered them) with no one seeing was a big question.
Any way it was a great visit and VERY interesting. Simon did an outstanding job as tour guide. Recomended.
Want to know more?
Map shpwing the overall installation
Just inside looking back to the entrance
Our guide Somon describes the operation of one of the machine guns
An the passage way through the cave continues
Josh takes aim
Comms room commanded by Rudolf
Machine gun port protecting the main entrance hallway
The first of two cannons
Pictures showing how the cannon works
It says to remember to open the outer port (posted all over the place)
Simon answers a question
Cannon being `manned`
Bunk room (each bed shared by three...using shifts)
On our way back from Titlis we ran across this...the picture below. Had to include it.
They must have very talented dogs
translates to dog waste pickup duty
What We Saw
Cable car for the first leg of the trip to Mount Titlis
Geoffrey and Josh board the cable car
The second cable car...the one that took us to the top
Jan and Jack inside the glacier
Linda comes out the exit
Starting out for some winter fun
Linda walking up to the suspension bridge
Linda out on the bridge
Heading back down
Loading up for the trip down
From snow to rain on the way down
Other cars around us
The final leg back into Engelberg
We hoped the visit to our first mountain top would be sunny and beautiful. Well...that didn't work out. We did get a taste of winter in the Alps, however. The trip to the top of Titlis was cloudy and rainy. Not much hope for clear skies and sun. At the top of the mountain we found snow showers and wind. The two videos above give you a good sense of what it was like. Be sure your sound is turned on.
Before we headed out to the bridge we walked through an glacier/ice cave. It's cool to think you're walking through a glacier. A tiny bit claustrophobic. But cool
We then walked out to a bridge suspended over a crevasse. It may have been good that we couldn't see very far. Probably would have been a bit scarier then it already was.
Well the weather didn't come through for us, but the trip was fun anyway. Where else can you go in the middle of June (in the northern hemisphere that is) to be in the middle of a snow storm suspended over a deep crevasse and walk through a glacier.
Approaching the Bridge
Linda out on the bridge
Looking into the void
Mount Titlis Uri Alps On the border between the cantons of Obwalden and Berne
What We Saw
The visit to the Cheese Alp was well worth the walk. We started up to the alp in a funicular build in 1913...yup more than a hundred years old. Not to worry...it's Swiss engineering.
Before going further, however, it's interesting to note that the term Alps does NOT refer to the mountains. This is a misnomer. An Alp is a valley in the Swiss mountains. The alp we visited was called Alpkaserei Gerschni. So calling the mountain range the Swiss Alps actually refers to all of the valleys, i.e., alps, of the Swiss Plateau and the Swiss portion of the Jura Mountains. Who Knew?
From the funicular we hiked up to the cheese alp with our guide Sarah. She told us about the flora and fauna of the region. Since we were here in the summer the forest was thick and green. We found that during the winter the hiking trail we were on would likely be covered in four or five feet of snow. She also told us of the avalanche activities they perform to prevent problems in the coming winter. She said one of the things they do is to tramp down the vegetation in avalanche prone areas since it can prevent the snow from packing properly making the area subject to avalanches.
On to the cheese "factory". It's owned and run by Anselm "Salmi" Tongi (who works as part of the ski patrol in the winter). During the summer farmers move their cow herds up to the various alps. They start at the lowest level early on and move the cows progressively higher as the weather warms and the snow melts. Milking the cows and bringing the milk back down the alp would be way to much work to make it profitable. So, instead, there are small cheese factories located on the alps to process the milk into cheese. Then in the fall the cows and the cheese are brought down from the alps. The cheese is split between the producers and the farmers (for the farmers it's based on the number of cows they have). The cheese is sold to local businesses (restaurants, stores, etc) and/or shipped for distribution elsewhere in Switzerland (and beyond). A simple but very efficient system.
Our visit to the cheese factory included seeing the milk processing equipment, the cheese being brined (to seal it for aging) and the area where the cheese was aged and stored for later transportation. Certainly not a large operation, but very compact and efficient (typically Swiss). Following the factory tour, we had a sample of the cheese and some wine to wash it down. Note, by the way, that the picture of the cheese platter is not the way it looked to start. I was so involved in sampling that I neglected to get a picture of the full tray. Anyway, the cheese was yummy and the wine (and water/soda) was a delicious way to learn about the alps and the cheese factories they house.
Funicular Built in 1913 (Yup over 100 Years OLD)
Standing Room Only
Walking in the woods to the cheese alp with Sarah (our guide)
Cable car to Mt Titlis (what we took the previous day)
Pictures just don`t do it justice
Looking down the valley
Sarah introduces Anselm `Salmi` Tonga our host and owner of the farm we`re visiting
Racks of cheese begin the aging process
Brining the cheese
Aging the cheese
Salmi answered questions, Fabian translated
Sampling the cheese...the plate had three times as much to start
Jack trying to see if it`s gas or no gas
Rebecca and Geoffrey found out that Salmi spoke better English then he originally let on
We stopped at the small town of Altdorf to have lunch. On the way into the town, Fabian told the story (well one of the stories) of Wilhelm Tell and how he stood up to the evil baron. In the original Wilhelm dies but in later versions he lives to fight on.
Anyway we lunched at the coop (becoming a habit). As before a good selection at a reasonable price.
A little walking around town and back to the bus.
Paying Homage to WillHelm
Full shot of the Willhelm Tell (and his son) status
Our group took up the whole room. We dined on some Swiss Stew (yum). Don't see anyone from our group in the picture? Yup...I forgot to take pictures when we ate. BTW it was in the dinning room at the hotel (see below).
Group dinning room
Where We Ate
Breakfast (both mornings)
A typical European breakfast was served in the breakfast room (located between the lobby and the terrace). As I said nothing special...croissants, rolls, cold meats, hard boiled eggs, juices and coffee. Certainly enough to get us going for the day.
Some of our group in the breakfast room
The rest that were there
Where We Ate
Dinner - Day 2 in Engelberg
This was a great meal. Jan had stopped at the hotel desk to ask about a good place for dinner. The lady at the desk suggested the hotel. She said they had a great kitchen and some good bar food. She was right.
One of the items on the menu was a very popular Hamburger mit Fries (check the Menu). Yup an all American choice in the mountains of Switzerland. It was very good. They also served cheese from the Alp we visited earlier that day. Next our waiter talked us into desert. No one had even considered desert. However, our waiter did such a great job presenting it...a no-flour brownie with whipped cream. All four couples had to partake in a shared one.
But it didn't stop there. After dinner the waiter (he's the one serving the drinks in the first picture) shared some local pride. He isn't Swiss. He's one of a number of employees at the hotel from Sweden. That's because the couple that owns the hotel is from Sweden. Anyway, the waiter shared with us a video from You Tube (it's included below) which helped us understand snow skiing in Engelberg. The guy in the video is called Snowflake a local skiing celebrate . What a character! We had a great evening.