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William Tell top

The Swiss can trace their identity back to the invading armies of Julius Caesar, who corralled their ancestors into lovely alpine real estate in the middle of western Europe. With French, German and Italian influences, the small Swiss states evolved into a self-reliant and democratic-minded lot. During the middle ages, the nonconformist Swiss clashed with powerful Holy Roman emperors. Their independent spirit is perhaps best embodied in the folk hero William Tell.

As the story goes, when a haughty Habsburg officer by the name of Gessler demanded that William Tell remove his hat in tribute, the proud Tell refused to do so. Now this next part, you might already know: Tell was arrested, and by way of punishment, was compelled to shoot an apple off his own son’s head. Of course, Tell, being an expert Swiss marksman, hit the apple - and fortunately for his son, only the apple .


Interlaken is famous for its annual staging of Friedrich Schiller's William Tell performed every summer since 1912 in an open-air theatre.


Interlaken top

The most convenient base for exploring this area is Interlaken. This attractive town is well laid out to meet the needs of its many visitors. From here you can easily hike to Switzerland’s most rewarding trails, ride mountain cable cars and cruise crystal lakes.

The name Interlaken means “between two lakes” and, so it’s no surprise that the town sits between Lakes Thun and Brienz. Lake Brienz, directly east of Interlaken, is the smaller of the two, and proudly gives harbor to this fine steam boat. The 89-year-old steamer has been carefully restored to carry passengers on this unforgettable ride across the water. Most North American visitors overlook this lake in favor of the more famous resorts on Thun, but the Swiss tend to prefer to vacation here. Surrounded by forested mountains on all sides, the lake has a wild, brooding lure.

The boat docks in the town of Brienz. People have been living on this pretty site for the better part of a thousand years.


The Lake Brienz steamer, Lötschberg, runs from June to September. You'll find its sailing schedule on-line.


The Brienz Rothorn Railway top

From town, we’ll catch a ride on the Brienz Rothorn Railway. Switzerland's oldest steam cog rail has been puffing its way up the Rothorn mountain since 1892. The line, which resembles a giant model train set, is the only one of its kind in Switzerland. When most Swiss trains were electrified in the 1940's and 50's, railroad officials decided to preserve this one’s steam operation.

Scenics As you can see, the train traverses ruggedly beautiful scenery. The ride takes about an hour and gradually climbs more than 7000 feet above sea level. Ascending through lush alpine forests and peaceful meadows, the trip culminates in a grand mountain panorama. And if you’re lucky, clear weather will give you a stunning view of the Bernese Oberland mountain range.


The Brienz Rothorn Rrailway website is in German. Click here for a Google translation. For an excellent photo gallery of the trip, visit Andrew Naylor's Transport Gallery.


Rent-A-Cow top

Ever thought of renting your own cow? Well, if you love cheese you may be interested in this novel program. To get a personal touch that store bought products can’t offer, you can actually lease a cow that lives in its own Alpine pasture.

Here’s how it works: you pay a fee to a local farmer to lease one of their cows. But part of the deal is that you have to visit the cow at least once. Then, at the end of the season, all of the dairy products generated by your bovine friend are shipped to you. Typically, that’ll mean about 200 pounds of cheese, both soft and hard varieties, that you can collect in September and either sell or use as gifts.


Read more about this unusual program in Time, USA Today, and SwissInfo. Visit this website (in french and german) for pictures and contact information.


Woodcarving top

Back in Brienz, it’s easy to see how the art of woodcarving has this town on the map. Sculpting wood is a centuries-old tradition in the Bernese Oberland. Early carvers took advantage of the area’s plentiful forests to create a variety of interesting objects.

Soundbite: Really the boost for the industry was tourism. About 200 years ago, about 1820, the first tourists came. And the people in Brienz, who had a really tough life before that, found out that they could sell products to them.

A carver begins a new project by creating a plasticene model.

Soundbite: When he has the model, he goes to the stock where we have the wood and he draws the outline, then he goes to the bandsaw and he saws the profile. And after that the real carving starts. In the beginning of course he carves with big chisels, and a hammer we call a “schlegel”. And as it goes the chisel’s getter smaller and smaller, until they’re really tiny and they do just the hair, the fur, the teeth and the eyes and so on. And he also in the end stains and paints it.

Rudy: Switzerland’s very famous for music boxes.

Soundbite: We actually are quite proud of our music boxes. We’ve produced, since about 1860, we’ve produced music boxes in Brienz here. We are the only company in the world, I think, at the moment who produce boxes and mechanical parts beneath one and the same roof.


Discover more history, classes, and exhibits at www.alpenregion.ch. To find more about traditional Swiss woodcarving and music boxes, visit the
Living Museum on-line.


Ballenberg Open Air Museum top

You’ll find more Swiss craftsmanship at the Ballenberg Open Air Museum. Open air museums are common in Europe and this is one of the best. You’ll see traditional houses and crafts from every corner of Switzerland. Many of the buildings were brought here for preservation because they were endangered at their original sites. You can peek over the shoulders of expert craftspeople and hear them explain time-honored techniques. Most of the handicrafts demonstrated in Ballenberg were long practiced by farm families to bring in extra money. Meager earnings from small plots of land meant farmers often needed additional sources of income.

It’s tempting to spend all day at the park, there’s lots more countryside to see.


Experience more of this great open air museum at www.ballenberg.ch.


Swiss Travel System Pass top

Switzerland’s efficient public transportation system makes it an excellent destination for independent travelers. With one of these Swiss Travel System passes, you can easily move throughout the country by rail, boat and inner city lines. The passes offer a lot of flexibility, and you can choose from different options depending upon your itinerary.


For help planning an itinerary, check out www.myswitzerland.com.


Cable Car To The Schilthorn Peak top

There are several different cable cars that can transport you up the sheer mountain sides. We’re heading toward the Schilthorn peak. Our cable car soars over the breathtaking panorama of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, with its sparkling waterfalls and myriad mountain trails.

Surrounded by unspoiled alpine loveliness, this may be the most spectacular glacial valley in all of Europe.

The cable car drops us in Murren, a charming resort town with (you guessed it) unbelievable views. After the first world war, a steady stream of British tourists made this a popular winter destination; now it draws visitors year round. Cars aren’t allowed in Murren, so it’s a haven of fresh air and alpine serenity. Here we switch cable cars and ride even further up to the staggering heights of the Schilthorn.


Discover Murren at www.wengen-muerren.ch.


Hiking The Alps top

Across the valley, the area’s three great peaks standout in all their glory. Eiger means ogre, monch is, well, “monk”, and jungfrau means “maiden”. According to tradition, the monk protects the maiden from the advances of the ogre.

To savor this magnificent scenery at your own pace, you can head back down the mountain on foot via the area’s network of hiking trails.

A few things to keep in mind when exploring the alps: be sure to wear sturdy shoes. Also, it’s best to wear several layers of clothing, since temperatures will drop as you reach higher elevations. And take along sunglasses; bright sunlight reflecting off snow isn’t only annoying, it can harm your eyes.

People who are sensitive to heights may experience drowsiness or headaches at higher elevations, but the symptoms almost always disappear on the way down.


Want to know how to prepare for a hike in Switzerland? www.myswissalps.com.


Ice Sculpting top

Sparkling alpine glaciers have inspired a distinctive art form here: ice sculpting.

Soundbite: At first when you carve you have to get just the major proportions.

Working from his studio in Interlaken, Bruno Haenggi has perfected the technique of transforming ice into frozen works of art.

Rudy: Bruno, how did you get started in ice sculpture?

Soundbite: Well, you see, since I’m a pastry chef, 90 percent of all the ice carvers around the world are pastry chefs, or head chefs. You know of chocolate, the sugar whatever you take, stone, wood, each one material is so interesting, and you’re really into it and you go for it. I inspire myself of the nature. Look at it around here, beautiful place. And then the hardest part of ice carving, once you have the major cut done, then you have to bring the bird to life.

In addition to supplying sculptures for formal banquets, Bruno displays many of his pieces at an ice museum on the top of the Jungfrau.


Visit Bruno on-line and see more of his work at www.ice-art.ch.


Swiss Accordions top

As you stroll back past the flower framed doorways on Interlaken’s streets, a bit of accordion music may catch your ear. Here at the Schwyzer Oergeli shop, owner Peter Bruhin carries on the tradition of making a special kind of Swiss accordion. Accordions were invented in Austria, and brought to Switzerland in the 1830s. A Swiss inventor fashioned a completely new model of accordion, which he called "Schwizeroergeli", named for his home district. With a few refinements along the way, this has become one of the main instruments used in Swiss music today.


Interested in Swiss folk music? Try www.volksmusiknet.ch.


Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel, Interlaken top

Interlaken has lots of hotel options, but if you’re in search of serious indulgence, you’ll find it at the Victoria-Jungfrau. Done up in a richly ornate style, the landmark property has played host to everyone from the King of Siam to Mark Twain. When the 19th elite made Interlaken a superstar on spa circuit, this was where the beautiful people vacationed in style.


Find out more about indulging yourself at www.victoria-jungfrau.ch.


Zurich top

As engaging as Switzerland’s geographic wonders are, they’re just a part of what this country has to offer. The urban centers that punctuate the Alps are fascinating in their own right. We’re off to check out the city scene in Zurich.

Zürich, one of Europe’s loveliest cities, straddles the River Limmat. It’s large enough to offer all the usual big city amenities but small enough to easily explore. Because Switzerland was neutral in WWII, it avoided the bombing that devastated much Europe. This city has long attracted writers and intellectuals. For a time it was home to Lenin, Carl Jung, and James Joyce. And in 1916, here at the Cabaret Voltaire, a group of artists and performers started the Dadaist movement and stunned the art world with their anti-establishment works.


More on the history of Zurich is available at switzerland.isyours.com.


Shopping top

If upscale shopping is your thing, you’ve come to the right town. The Bahnofstrasse revels in its reputation as Switzerland’s most elegant (not to mention expensive) shopping street. The Swiss believe in quality, and here quality costs money. If you’re in search of designer chic and have money to spare, you’ll find no shortage of fashionable choices. On the other hand, if you’re holding tight to those purse strings,… well, the window shopping is fun, too.

One of Zurich’s hot buys is silk. During the middle ages, Italy dominated European silk production, and a strong trade developed between Zurich and the Lake Como area. Later, Italian refugees started a prosperous silk industry here. While silk weaving is for the most part a lost art in Switzerland, a small company called Fabric Frontline is creating something of a revival.

Soundbite: We do this kind of old printing technique, we print with 26 colors, it’s screen printing. This is a very old traditional way to print, I think we are the only in the world who still make these prints.

The vivid colors and prints produced here attract world famous designers and the softly shimmering fabrics bring in customers from all across Europe.


You can find more about the silk industry in Zurich at www.swisstextiles.ch.


Swiss Watches top

We’re stopping in the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum to learn a little more about this national obsession with timekeeping. Clockmaking has been a big deal here for 500 years. When Calvinist reformers banned the wearing of jewelry, goldsmiths and other jewelers were forced to turn to a new profession: watchmaking. The Swiss soon became specialists at the craft, and a local inventor developed a “perpetual” watch, the forerunner to the modern self-winding watch. The Beyer Museum chronicles the “story of time”, if you will - everything from sundials and hourglasses right up to ultra-modern quartz instruments.


For the low-down on why being "Swiss made" is important, visit the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry website.


Hotel Ambassador top

Our home in Zurich, the Hotel Ambassador, is a ten-minute walk from the Bahnhofstrasse. This boutique hotel is a favorite with business travelers. Built late in the 19th century, the beaux-arts style building features the elegant ornamentation that was so popular in Paris at that time. But modern renovations place it firmly in the 21st century.


Take a virtual tour of the hotel at www.ambassadorhotel.ch.


Taking A Tram In Zurich top

Public transportation is the fastest and most convenient way to get around Zurich. And the city's trams are easy to use. After buying your ticket at a designated ticket machine, be sure to validate it before boarding your first tram. The trams work largely on the honor system, but inspectors do make spot checks and fines can be steep.


Timetables and tickets can be found on-line at www.vbz.ch.


Chocolate top

Do you think that life without chocolate isn’t worth living? Then Zurich is your kind of place. The city’s premier confectioner, Confiserie Sprüngli, beckons with irresistible aromas. One of Sprungli’s specialties is their “truffle of the day”, which they sell for only 24 hours.

Soundbite: They don’t produce big amounts so that they can really sell all the truffles at the end of the day. These are the Luxemburgli, it’s the sweet that made Sprungli famous, world-wide famous. They are crunchy in the beginning and then you come down to the cream and then its very soft and sweet.

The Swiss began making chocolate in the mid 1800's. With plenty of dairy cows and innovative recipe refinements, they succeeded in producing the mouth-watering products on which the Swiss have built a world-wide reputation.


Of course it's just not the same as being there, but you can visit Confiserie Sprüngli on-line at www.spruengli.ch.


Kronenhalle Restaurant, Zurichtop

But Zurich’s gastronomical delights extend far beyond cocoa bean. When it comes to food, the Swiss make the most of their German, French and Italian roots.

One of Zurich’s classic restaurants, the famous Kronenhalle, also serves some of the best cuisine. What began as a modest beer hall a hundred and fifty years ago is now a local institution. And it offers the best views in town – of art work, that is. No need to visit an art museum when you can see original works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and Georges Braques, from the comfort of your own table. Supposedly a number of painters, during their starving artist days, traded their work in exchange for free meals.


You can find the restaurant's address and phone number at www.kronenhalle.com.


Oepfelchammer Bar, Zurich top

Cap off the day like the locals do at the Oepfelchammer Bar. This dark, low-beamed pub has been a beloved Zurich institution for more than 200 years. According to tradition, if you can swing up and wriggle your way through the gap between the beam and ceiling, then your beers are on the house. That’s one way to stay in shape for scaling those alpine summits!


For the address and phone number, go to www.oepfelchammer.ch. Click on the link at the bottom of the page for a map.


Interested in planning your vacation to Switzerland?
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To find more about traditional Swiss woodcarving and music boxes, visit the
Living Museum on-line.

Experience more of this great open air museum at www.ballenberg.ch.

Interested in Swiss folk music? Try www.volksmusiknet.ch.