Or rainfall. We experienced both together this afternoon and both were unexpected features of our day. It was an interesting day of leaving behind the familiar and venturing into new places.
We had arranged to have breakfast a little earlier this morning at 7:30 am. That would allow us to make an early start and our hosts to have a full day to get about the things they may have been postponing to entertain us. After breakfast we quickly got our gear into the car, made our final farewells to Marie-Françoise, Roland, and Michel, and were on our way soon after 8:00 am.
My original plan for today had been to drive up the Rhone valley, over the alps, and down through Liechtenstein along the Rhine valley. Suitable accommodation had been difficult to find in Liechtenstein so I had booked us into a hotel near Friedrichshafen in Germany, a little further on around Lake Constanz. Majella has been keen for me to see Lucerne which she visited in 2011 when she was in Switzerland with Laura Ryan. They had taken the car train through the mountain and she was also keen for me to experience the darkness on that trip.
The more I looked at information about the roads over recent days the more I wondered about going over the Furka Pass and thought about the car train from Oberwald to Realp which runs beneath the pass. In the end it would come down to weather. On a day like yesterday it would be worth the effort to drive the pass for the views from the top and the chance to see the Rhone glacier. In less pleasant weather we might see nothing that would justify the effort. I also decided to go with Majella’s plan to visit Lucerne which we could do by driving down from Realp regardless of whether we went over or under the pass.
Majella drove us up the Rhone valley from Sierre. We stopped for fuel about an hour out after I noticed that it was cheaper than it had been further down the valley and decided we should get it while we could. Soon after we left Sierre the language shifted from French to German and the valley gradually narrowed. At one point beyond Brig we were driving on a road in a narrow valley above a deep gorge carved by the Rhone. Habitation was scarce through that section. Then the valley widened again and the river was flowing more clamly between green fields that looked like somebody had spread green carpet over the earth. Villages appeared again and we wound through several of those before we came to the station at Oberwald. Although we could see some blue sky to the west down the valley the mountains ahead and above us were shrouded in cloud so it made more sense to take the train than to drive through cloud.
The ride on this train was not as dark as Majella recalled the other one being. There were dim lights along the wagons that allowed us to see the cars in front. We had arrived about 15 minutes before a scheduled departure so did not have long to wait though our train had to wait for a passenger train coming the other way to clear the tunnel before proceeding. The actual train ride was no more than about 15 minutes and then we were through to Realp and driving down the valley there through Andermatt and on toward Lucerne. The landscape in the high area on that side of the Alps seemed more harsh. There was green on the valley floor but the walls were bare rock. As we went down the valley, trees began to appear but the sides remained steep for a good way and there were numerous waterfalls cascading on either side.
At Lucerne we found parking near the railway station and walked into the area bordering the river that drains the lake. We walked across the iconic Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) and down to the area where the flow of the river Reuss becomes more turbulent. Then we turned back into the town area to find lunch. We had no Swiss currency so needed somewhere that would accept a card, had a toilet, and had free WiFi that we might use to contact family. Food seemed to be low on the list of priorities. Brasserie Flora fitted the profile so we ate pizza there with coffee. The WiFi there wanted a number for an SMS code so I used the city WiFi, which wanted the same but was available more widely. We called Jane using Facebook while eating lunch and used FaceTime to catch Hannah later.
Fed and communicated we set off again for Friedrichshafen. My original plan would have taken us around the eastern end of Lake Constanz but the GPS indicated a path around the western end and along the northern shore. Beyond Zurich that would be all new territory for us so we saw no reason not to take that track.
Somewhere north of Zurich we began to see signs for Rheinfall which I understood to be the falls on the River Rhine. That seemed like an agreeable deviation so we decided to take a look. Parking was easy in the first carpark we saw but there was a good distance to walk to the visitor centre where we found the nearer carpark. We paid our admission to the viewing platforms and spent some time admiring the volume of water going over the falls. In height or total volume it does not compare with Niagara or Iguazu but the bottom viewing platform is low and close to the water so that you come face to face with the power of the falls. Majella opted not to go to the lower levels but I don’t mind a few extra stairs and enjoyed the experience.
By the time I returned to Majella at the upper level it was beginning to rain with thunder and lightning. The rain became heavier as we walked back to the visitor centre where we decided to wait it out over an ice cream. As the rain eased a little we set off to walk to the car but it was still heavy enough that I managed to persuade Majella to wait while I went for the car and drove back for her. That would take me half as long and there seemed little point in us both being drenched.
There were a few more adventures on the way to Friedrichshafen. A road that the GPS was determined to use was closed but by that time we were in Germany and I had roaming 3G access again so I could use my phone to navigate with current information. We changed drivers again and drove on. We ran into some more heavy rain and saw evidence of small hail on cars that came toward us and on the road. Eventually we reached the north side of the lake and the clouds cleared enough to the south to allow us a view across the lake to the mountains of Switzerland.
Our hotel, Hellers 24 1, at Ailingen is comfortable though the decor is not as exotic as some of the images we had seen might suggest. We do have a (faux) stag head on the wall, heavily patterned wall paper and variable coloured lights in both bedroom and bathroom. I went out to check on local restaurants and suggested a couple but after a substantial lunch we decided to simply walk to the supermarket across the road for salami, olives, bread, beer and red wine. That should hold us until tomorrow.