Saturday, 4 October 2014

Rhine Falls - largest waterfalls in Europe

As the more pleasant weather approaches we’re given the opportunity to take a look away from the covered cities and the mountains with their gradually receding snowlines, and one of my favourite fairer weather attractions has to be the Rhine falls at Schaffhausen. Lying in one of the Northern most parts of the country, an hours train ride from Zurich, the falls are located on the High Rheine between Germany and Lake Constance and are believed to have been formed in the last ice age, approximately 14,000 to 17,000 years ago. One of the most intriguing aspects is the formation of the falls themselves, during the Wurm Glaciation, the Rhein was pushed to a channel far south of its existing course, and the previous courses of the river, now filled with gravel, can still be seen.

As well as being accessible from Zurich by train, if you have the time for it, there is the fantastic river cruise along the Rhein you can take afterwards, either the full 5 hours to Kreuzlingen on the shores of Lake Constance, or the shorter route in which you leave the boat at Stein am Rhein. On the full 5 hour cruise you are taken past many sites of historical and natural significance, from the Munot Fortress, built in the middle ages, at one end of your journey in Schaffhausen, past the medieval town of Stein am Rhein, with more than 1000 years of history, including its involvement in the reformation and it being one of the few sites that suffered at the hands of the allied airplanes towards the end of WW2. Not to mention the breath-taking views of Lake Constance.

When at the falls, with their claim of being the largest plain waterfall in Europe, at 150m wide by 23m tall, with the average water flow being 700 m³/s, there is plenty to be seen, from the awe inspiring views of the falls themselves, accessible by foot, at viewing platforms or boat tours, upon which you can get up close below the falls. There is also the on-site tourist information points detailing the history of the surrounding former mills, and old course of the river and the town of Neuhausen am Rheinfall, where the Schloss Worth Castle, and Villa Charlottenfels, a castle like building originally intended to house a factory in the 1850’s.

One of the most striking features of the falls, is the Rheinfallfelsen, a large rock remnant of the original limestone cliff, that stands in the middle of the falls, eroded very little over the years it stands almost as a monument to how pure the water has been, that has flowed from Lake Constance through the falls over the years, meaning minimal sedimentary erosion. The geological wealth of the area is just another of its great attractions.

Between the wealth of interesting history and geology surrounding the place, the awe inspiring views of the falls, the further sites of interest along the river and the great range of local walks and cycle paths, it really is a Swiss spectacle not to be missed!
Our excursion now includes the cruise along the Rhine, entry to Rhine Falls, the Glass Elevator, Belvedere Walk & Museum. All available at - ENJOY!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Pilatus ~ The Dragon Mountain is 125 years old

This year Pilatus is 125yrs old!

The railway that goes to the top of Mount Pilatus is one of the main attractions in the Lucerne region and central Switzerland. This year it is 125 years old. got aboard to discover the secrets of the steepest rack railway in the world.

The train makes its ascent from the station at Alpnachstad, on Lake Lucerne. It’s a steep climb at a brisk pace that takes the visitor up one of the most spectacular mountains in Switzerland – and also one of the most mysterious.

For centuries, Mount Pilatus was shunned and feared as a haunt of ghosts, gnomes and dragons. It is still the stuff of fairy tales for children.

A particularly forbidding presence that discouraged climbers was Pontius Pilate himself, after whom the mountain is named. According to legend, the soul of the Roman governor who condemned Christ to be crucified haunted one of the lakes in the area. In 1387, fear of the ghost – which was thought capable of causing violent storms when disturbed – prompted the then governing council of Lucerne to forbid climbing of the mountain. This prohibition was in force for several centuries.

It was only in the latter part of the 19th century that the genius of a Zurich industrialist finally opened up Mount Pilatus to mass tourism. It was the time of the first Alpine railways, and Eduard Locher had the idea – for many it was a crazy idea – of building a line to the Pilatus summit. He designed a system for steep grades using a new approach – toothed wheels rotating horizontally – which was so revolutionary that it was showcased at the Paris World Exhibition of 1889.

 Usually, the wheels of a rack and pinion railway are vertical like on other vehicles, as Werner Kramer, manager of the Pilatus railway, points out. “Ours is the only train in the world that has them horizontal. This maintains traction and a close fit with the rail. The system ensures stability, and can handle a very steep climb.”

Building the 4.6 km line, which reaches a record gradient of 48%, involved about 600 workmen. Many of them were Italians who had already worked on the Gotthard railway tunnel. The work was completed in only 400 working days, and on June 4, 1889, the train made its first trip with passengers aboard.

It was an immediate success. In spite of the steep price for the ascent – 10 francs, a week’s wages for the average worker – tickets sold briskly. In the first six months of operation 37,000 passengers were carried, four times more than the projected number.

Welcoming the world

Unlike a century ago, it is not just the rich who can now afford the panoramic journey. “Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Indians, Europeans – the tourists come from all over the world. Half of passengers are foreign, the other half are Swiss.
Half-way up, the section that goes through an Alpine pasture seems to have flattened out to a 'mere' 19%. It doesn’t look like much but doing it on foot and you’ll notice it!


Still the same equipment

When the journey goes beyond the tree limit, the traveller realises just how bold the vision of Eduard Locher was. In front is a grey wall of rock that would discourage the most intrepid mountain climber. And yet, cog after cog, the little train advances effortlessly, just like it has since the beginning.
A large part of the railway infrastructure is the same as it was 125 years ago, and the carriages date from 1937, the year the line was electrified. The original manufacturer no longer exists, so Pilatus produce a lot of their own spare parts right there.

About 30 minutes after leaving Alpnachstad you reach the summit. The tourists all head for the panoramic lookout. “The dragon  is portrayed on the cement ceiling of the station, and is also part of the railway’s logo. If you spend the night in one of the two hotels here on the summit you can hear the dragons call, rumour has it!
When the doors of the railcar have closed again, the locomotive driver says goodbye and takes off towards the other little train.

Mount Pilatus by numbers
Length of the line: 4.6 km
Steepest gradient: 48%
Altitude differential: 1,635 metres
Speed: between 9 and 12 km/h
Maximum capacity: 340 persons per hour
Passengers carried: 357,162 in 2013
Cost: CHF 1.9 million ($2.07 million) are official ticket suppliers for Pilatus and one of the best ways of seeing the Dragon Mountain is the Golden Round Trip ~ a scenic paddle steamer ride from Luzern to Alpnachstad before ascending on the cog train ~ the steepest in the world.

You can either then descend on the train or on the cable car down to Kriens - all included.
Mount Pilatus is in central Switzerland by Luzern, and easily accessible from all parts - so enjoy a day up on the Dragon Mountain with!
See you soon :)