Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sion, Switzerland


This is the downhill part of of my day trip visit to Crans-Montana. Instead of cycling back to Sierre (an hour downhill bike ride without having to pedal!) I'm taking another route that'll take me down the mountain but bring me a further six miles up the valley floor to Sion. What's with this picture of grass? Here it is the end of September and these wild pink flowers are blooming. Actually, this photo was taken right across the street from the chalet in the next photo that I'll be talking about.

This recently built chalet lies on the outskirts of Crans-Montana and probably couldn't be built if it was in the town limits. Why? Thank Russian oligarchs. Years ago Russian oligarchs pretty much invaded Switzerland buying up big bucks properties in the high-end ski resorts like St. Moritz, Gstaad and Crans-Montana. Alarmed by this invasion, laws were enacted severely restricting where and what foreigners could purchase. Many properties would be used for a month (usually over Christmas) and sit empty the rest of the year. Laws were passed saying the properties had to be available for rent when not in use.    

Stopped to check out this large indoor/outdoor sports park. Skateboarders rule here. 
Lots of villages dot the landscape.
This cow and farmer's hut greets visitors to Lens, population 4,100. The hut dates back to 1818. In the summer farmers would bring their cows up the mountain to graze and the farmer's lodging was definitely no-frills. 
Church in Lens. 
Water fountain in Lens. Definitely had to stop and fill my water bottle here. Why? Crans-Montana has several water fountains but signs say the water is "non potable". That means it isn't safe to drink. In Crans-Montana I went to the tourist center and asked why. Usually it means there's something wrong with the groundwater but, how can that be the case way up here in the mountains? The young guy manning the counter at the visitor center had no answer. 
Lots of vineyards dot the mountain sides as I near Sion (population 34,000). Back around 2016, officials in Crans-Montana and Sion were contemplating putting in a joint bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. With the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in nearby Lausanne it seemed they would have the inside track. However, locals put it to a vote and the result was "no way Jose". 
Here's my buddy outside a patisserie. Haven't figured out how he manages to be outside multiple shops at once. By the way, I peeked in the shop and nothing looked good. 
I'm in Sion and up on the hill stands the ruins of Tourbillon Castle. 
In medieval times Sion was walled-in with multiple towers. This is the last surviving tower. Known as the Sorcerer's or Witches' Tower. Why? Doesn't the roof remind you of a witches hat? Used as a prison for many years. 
Lunch time crowd in Sion.
More lunch time crowd in Sion. 
In the background you see two complexes. On the one hill is Valere Basilica, a fortified church. To the right are the ruins of Tourbillon Castle, which I showed you in an earlier photo. It's a pain in the rear getting up to those two places-with no paved road. Both were built in the 1200's. Who resided in Tourbillon Castle? Why, the most powerful and richest man in the valley--the Bishop of Sion. Years ago I went up to check out both places--locking my bike at the church and then hiked along a narrow trail to the castle ruins. My thoughts? How the heck did they lug all the material up there 800 years ago? Amazing. Also, what a pain it must have been for locals on Sunday to have to hike up there for Sunday service. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Crans-Montana (Switzerland) ski resort


To get to the upscale ski resort of Crans-Montana in the Swiss Alps one starts here in Sierre (population 16,000), located on the valley floor.  If you look up the mountain in this photo you can make out three white buildings (condos) in the far distance--Crans-Montana (population 10,000) is to the left. My first visit to Crans-Montana was 20 years ago and it took more than two hours of cycling up a switchback road to get there.

Two years later I decided to do it again. So, before heading up the mountain I cycle around downtown Sierre looking for patisserie shops and spotted the mural of a mountain peak on the side of a building on a side street (on the right side of the photo).

On closer inspection of the mural I find it marks the entrance to a building housing a funicular that goes up to Crans-Montana! How come I never heard or read about this? This funicular is one of the longest in the world and whisks you two and a half miles up the mountain to Crans-Montana in 12 minutes. The drive up the mountain for a car/bus is 35 minutes. 
So the fact I previously cycled up to Crans-Montana (been there done that) why would I waste several hours getting up there when the funicular can whisk me there in 12 minutes. It's a no brainer. Now when I get up to Crans-Montana I have lots of energy to cycle up mountain roads and check out villages higher up from Crans-Montana. Since my second visit I've been to Crans-Montana multiple times and today is probably my seventh. 
Going up in the funicular we pass miles of vineyards. Switzerland has huge wine growing areas. Why do you never hear of Swiss wines? Primarily it's because they don't export but drink it all. 
This is the view from the funicular's end of the line. Still don't understand why there's not signage telling people about the funicular. 
A water sculpture in Montana. The towns of Montana and Crans are less then a quarter mile apart and at some point merged. 
Main street in Montana.
Kids practicing ice hockey in a rink on the main drag through Montana. Will be playing on real ice very soon. 
Lake in Montana.
This is the Hostellerie du Pas l'Ours, a boutique 5-star hotel in Crans-Montana. It's an absolutely stunning property with a beautiful rustic look inside and out. Dating back to 1912, there are only nine rooms but, has a Michelin 1 star rated restaurant. Associated with Relais & Chateaux.
To the left is the backside of Hostellerie du Pas de l'Ours. To the right is Hotel Etrier, its 4 star sister property with 50 rooms. 

As you know I hate cigarette smoke and as mentioned on numerous occasions Europe (and especially Switzerland) have been slow to ban smoking. I go into Hostellerie du Pas de l'Ours and ask the front desk clerk if smoking is allowed in the rooms. The clerk answers, "no this is a non smoking hotel".  I ask, "can you smoke on the balcony?" He answers, "of course". I tell the clerk, "so I can sit on the balcony or in my room and if the people below or next to me smoke I have to smell their cigarette stench instead of taking in the clean Swiss air?" The clerk had no answer. 

This is one of the main shopping streets in Crans. There's a huge shopping difference between Crans and Montana. Crans has all the luxury clothing and high-end watch and jewelry shops while Montana has zilch.
That's a new Louis Vuitton store. 
More of shopping street in Crans.
Another view of Crans shopping street. It's 9:30 AM and stores aren't open yet
The concrete bench is a piece of art. Sign says to be careful as bench is unstable. 
Crans-Montana has an 18 hole and a 9-hole golf course. For the past 50 years the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club (founded in 1924) has hosted the European Masters tournament. Can you guess who's the primary sponsor? 
This par 3 has an unusual hazard. A public road and pedestrian walkway cross the hole. See the car? See the three wooden poles? What you can't see is the net strung from pole to pole. When teeing off you have to hit the ball so it goes over the net. I watched a woman tee off (I'm standing where you tee off) and she kept hitting the ball into the netting. After five tries she gave up. 
Teeing off here you have to endure advertising.
Nice view down the fairway. The course has made several rankings of 100 best golf courses.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Bern, Switzerland (Part 2) Child Eater


After cycling around the suburbs I'm back in Bern. That's Bern Minster, the tallest cathedral in Switzerland.  To the right you see a copper/greenish dome--that's Switzerland's parliament building. From the cathedral back to me snapping this picture is Bern's old town, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
As mentioned earlier, Bern is the mother lode for water fountains. These fountains (16 in all) were built as a public water supply in the early 1500's. Later as Bern grew and became an important city these Renaissance fountains were fancied up (1535-1546). This one, know as Child Eater, depicts an ogre devouring a child. See next photo for closer look.   
The ogre holds a sack of children waiting to be devoured. Parents would bring their kids to see him and say if they misbehave the ogre will come and eat them. I wonder if parents still bring their kids here to instill that sense of fear?
Zytglogge, the medieval clock, dates back to 1218. Why do you see no stores on either sides? There're but they're tucked behind covered arcades.
There're almost four miles of covered arcades, one of the longest shopping promenades in Europe. 
The Zahringerbrunnen dates back to 1535 and depicts a bear in full body armor. See next photo.
Note the bear at the feet of the masked bear in armour. In the USA we have states. In Switzerland they have cantons (27 of them). The black bear is the symbol of Canton Bern.  
Here's a view of the backside of the Federal Palace (Parliament building). That's the Aare river flowing past. In the summer the river is awash with people inner tubing the slow moving river. 
Closer view of Federal Palace (Parliament building)
This is Samson killing a lion. See next photo for closer view.
Samson is one tough dude as he rips open the lion's mouth with his bare hands.. 
That's Bern's cathedral, the tallest in Switzerland. However, I live in Lausanne and Lausanne Cathedral is the biggest Gothic structure in Switzerland (just saying).  
Check out the fish spewing nice cold water. 
Not sure about her. 
Or this guy.
This guy is protecting the pharmacy.