Travel Website Logo
Travel Journal
Dan Walker’s Travel Website
Travel Photos

Travel Journal

Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Sunday, November 09, 2003 15:59:35

Central Asia 2003: 18 - Zurich, Switzerland and home to Costa Rica

Saturday, November 1, 2003

I forgot to mention an interesting point about the political system in Serbia-Montenegro. Although this is technically one country, when an election is held three presidents are elected. There is the president of Serbia, the president of Montenegro and the president of both. In Serbia the currency is the Dinar, but Euros are readily accepted. In Montenegro only Euros are accepted - Dinars are not.

The hours passed fairly quickly in the Belgrade airport. I plugged away on the computer while Marilynn read. When we boarded the flight for Zurich we found that the pleasant fellow who had checked us in did not know his planes very well - we did not have an exit row as promised. I was seated by the window and Marilynn on the isle when a very large lady with a dog in a basket showed up to claim the seat between us. My legs, through necessity, occupied the space in front of both my seat and hers, as I could fit only by sitting at an angle. After looking at the situation she fortunately managed to have the stewardess relocate her to a row on her own on the grounds that her dog bites.

The flight was smooth and customs were quick and efficient in Switzerland. There was a monstrous slow moving line at immigration, but at a special gate for those with Swiss, EU, USA and Canadian passports were quickly waved through after a glance at their passports. The Italians could certainly take a lesson from that!

Our friends Mathias and Yvonne Weckherlin were waiting for us when we exited the baggage area. We met Mat & Yvonne years ago in Burma where we were all travelling. They have visited us in Costa Rica, and while this was Marilynn's first time in Zurich it is the third time that I've descended upon them to be spoiled by their lavish hospitality.

With the mountain of luggage which we have accumulated, there was no way we could all get into Mat's car, so I headed off with the luggage in a taxi and the others followed. I arrived at the Hotel Arabella Sheraton Neues Schloss where I was greeted with the pop of a champagne cork and handed a glass as soon as I walked in. Along with the champagne I was handed my room key - there was no paperwork as they had everything on file. I headed for the room, champagne in hand and the luggage was there minutes later. These people do know how to run a hotel!

When the others arrived they came up for a drink while Marilynn had a quick clean up, then we headed out for dinner at a restaurant that specialized in Bratwurst. What a wonderful treat for us! Adequate quantities of beer and wine accompanied the meal - it was a great reunion. Marilynn luxuriated in the clean bathrooms - a phenomenon we have not see for some time.

The next morning started a little cloudy. Mat & Yvonne picked us up at the hotel at 10 AM and we headed off along Lake Zurich on the road to St. Moritz. Once into the Alps the weather cleared - it was a beautiful day, with the snowy mountains standing out starkly against the deep blue sky. We were immersed in a riot of brilliant fall colours, highlighted by what appeared to be a type of golden spruce. This tree has needles like a fir or spruce, but the needles change from green to a brilliant gold in autumn before falling off. They mixed in with the various colours of the leaf trees as they ran up the slopes into the blinding whiteness of the snow. It was one majestic scene after another.

Soon we were in snowy country. Zurich has had its first snow of the year, which considerately melted before we arrived. In the mountains there had been a lot of snow earlier, but that had melted back in the warmer weather that must have been arranged for our visit. Our route took us through Chur and Davos, then into the ski village of Klosters where a car train runs for about 20 km in a tunnel through the mountains. The pass we were going to take over the mountains was closed due to snow.

While waiting for the train we all got out and had a stretch. Marilynn noticed that the line of cars was beginning to move, so we scrambled to get back into the car - but no Yvonne. Mat drove off in his place in line without her. I was surprised at the distance we drove once we were on the train - it uses a similar same system as the tunnel under the English Channel where cars drive onto the last rail car, then keep going until reaching the end of the already parked cars. All our thoughts were of how Yvonne would catch up with us if the train pulled out!

Once stopped, Mat headed back down the train on foot to find her. Fortunately a ticket agent had told Yvonne not to worry, she would make it, and so she was encouraged to hurry after us. Her concern was that her money and credit cards were in the car, and she was already planning which of her friends in Klosters she would be contacting for help! At any rate, it all worked out and we were reunited in the car before the train got under way.

We were now in an area with even more snow. We stopped in various picturesque villages to walk around, and then had a good lunch with wine at a small café. After lunch we arrived in legendary St. Moritz. Mat and I let Marilynn & Yvonne out to shop their way to the restaurant where we would have desert while we went ahead in the car. Marilynn said St. Moritz was OK for looking in the windows, but buying was out of the question. The cheapest sweater that she saw was priced at $US 1,360, and other items were in a similar price range!

Desert was consumed at a restaurant with a nice view of the historic Palace Hotel and the lake below. Once done, we drove up to the high rent district where we looked at the mansion of the former Shah of Iran, and of many others owned by the worlds rich and famous. There was more snow on the road as this area is located above the town. The houses were well worth looking at - and to think they are only for use for a short time each year!

Our return to Zurich was through another mountain pass that was still open. The road was dry, but the snow alongside was a lot deeper. It'll not be long before the slopes are crowded with skiers!

Mat took a route back on the other side of Lake Zurich that he'd not driven before, as the road had just opened. Along with way we stopped at a delightful old restaurant for another fine meal before being dropped back at our hotel.

The next morning was grey and cloudy. Mat had some personal business to attend to, so Marilynn & Yvonne made an appointment to go shopping in the afternoon. Marilynn & I walked through the old section of the city in the morning, going from shop to shop then lunching before returning to the hotel. I opted out of the afternoon shopping expedition, using the time to catch up on some of my own neglected tasks.

Pretty much shopped out, the ladies returned to pick me up in the late afternoon and we headed for Mat and Yvonne's place on the lake at Meilen, about 15 km from Zurich. On the way we stopped at the hospital to see Yvonne's daughter and her newborn son.

Mat was ready for us when we arrived, and glasses were soon charged. Mat's cousin was over for dinner as well; however she arrived late so we had a good head start. Dinner was very interesting - a cheese raclett. Small potatoes are dipped in individual plates of melted cheese, accompanied by salad, pickles and so on. It was delicious - Marilynn promised to have it at home, so Yvonne presented us with a cheese to get us started. I'm hoping we can find similar cheese in Costa Rica that will do the trick. It was a fun dinner and evening. Between the gin tonics, beer, wine and schnapps I was flying pretty high by the time Mat drove us home!

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Yesterday Marilynn and I walked through a different part of the old city in the morning, putting on some miles up and down the medieval streets. We had a progressive brunch, starting with the best apple strudel I'd ever had at the Odeon cafe, then later having bratwurst with beer at a street vendor and finishing with ice cream in our hotel lobby. Meanwhile, we strolled through the park at the end of the lake, stopping to feed the swans and other waterfowl. It was another beautiful sunny day.

Mat and Yvonne picked us up at a little after 2 PM. This time we headed for the town of Einsiedeln where the Abbey of Einsiedeln is located. In spite of the sunshine it was quite cold due to the high altitude. The abbey is an operating one, with some 63 fathers and 23 brothers still in residence. The cathedral is enormous, and has been restored at what must be an astronomical cost. It is a barouche design, with a profusion of beautiful paintings and statues. Here is an example of thinking we have seen everything possible in churches, then we see another one unlike anything previously experienced. The abbey was originally founded in 828.

A hot tea to warm up followed our explorations of the abbey complex, followed by a drive through the very picturesque old town. On our way back to Zurich Mat got the bad news that his mother had died. She had been in the hospital for a while and it was expected, but it is always a shock when it happens. He drove us back to our hotel, where we said a sad farewell. We are really hoping that we will see them soon in Costa Rica.

Marilynn and I took off hiking in the old town again, finding another excellent restaurant where we had a superb wine with rack of lamb. Zurich is full of great restaurants, which are heavily patronized by the residents here. We were lucky to get in without a reservation.

This morning it was a much easier departure than many we have had over the last while - we were up at 7 and taxied to the airport for our 10:25 AM flight to Newark. We had breakfast in the courtesy lounge while waiting, and then settled into the plane for the nine and a half hour flight to Newark, New Jersey. It was sure a lot more comfortable than the last time I took this route! On that occasion the plane was full, and I had a seat with no legroom. I stood up for the entire ride! This time we were well fed and watered, and both got some sleep en route in the comfortable seats that reclined to almost horizontal.

Newark was fogged in, but fortunately functioning. The entrance into "Fortress USA" was easier than on other occasions, with a friendly and courteous fellow in immigration. The three and a half hour wait passed fairly painlessly, with Marilynn snoozing and me writing this in the President's Club Lounge. Our seats on the planes have been great - we had row one on both flights, so were first off the plane both times. Our last leg home was a flight of a bit over five hours.

When we reached Costa Rica we were first through customs, receiving a friendly greeting from an acquaintance of ours in the immigration department. Our baggage was first off the belt for the first time in history and we were waved through customs with no delay. Carlos, our gardener/caretaker, was waiting to drive us home where everything was in good shape. It was a very smooth ending to an incredible, and very informative, trip.