Discover Mount Stanserhorn, Switzerland!

Mount Stanserhorn is only a short distance from Lucerne, yet it might as well be invisible to most tourists. However, riding on the “roof” of a cable-car going up and coming down Stanserhorn is guaranteed to open your eyes and grab your full attention!

Switzerland is a great place to visit, as it should be – the Swiss more-or-less invented tourism as we know it today. This year Chris and I made our second visit to Lucerne, where we discovered one of the most unexpected adventures of our Swiss vacation. Young or old, you just have to ride on the Stanserhornbahn, a cable-car that features an open deck on the “roof” of the actual cable-car! Never heard of such a thing? Neither had we, but it was only introduced in 2012.

 
Our adventure began at the Lucerne train station, where we boarded the Luzern-Stans-Engelberg Express train. Only a few minutes later, we hopped off in the picturesque town of Stans and walked for five or ten minutes before coming to the beautiful little station of the Stanserhornbahn.

The journey up Stanserhorn occurs in two steps. First, we rode in a wonderful “vintage” funicular, dating back to 1893. A funicular is a small passenger car that rides on a track but does not have an engine. The funicular is pulled along by a cable between the rails of the track. The funicular ride only lasted a few minutes, taking us up the hillside to the base of the real mountain, at the Kälti station of the cable-car route.

In some ways, the CabriO cable-car resembles the front of a British double-decker bus, the kind with an open top. You could ride in the lower section, fully protected from bad weather, or climb up the spiral staircase to the roof deck! We arrived early in the morning when the weather was still nice, so we went upstairs to enjoy the view and take photographs. Luckily, there were only a few other tourists so it was easy to move around on top of the CabriO without getting in anybody’s way.

We arrived at the summit station and were pleased to find a very large restaurant with an indoor, revolving dining area; an outdoor dining or picnic area; a viewing platform with a fantastic view; and free washrooms. We were not so pleased to see the clouds creeping in, so we hiked around a bit to get some photos while we could. In fact, our best photos were taken as the clouds rolled through the valleys below us!

If you have children with you, they will soon discover the marmot enclosure with its marmot family! This is located only a short distance up the trail to the summit of Stanserhorn.

Clouds had engulfed the peaks by the time we left, so we rode in the lower section of the CabriO. As we reached the Kälti station, the clouds gave way and after riding the funicular down into Stans we spent a few pleasant hours exploring this charming, unspoiled Swiss village.

Lucerne is a wonderful place to visit, but there may be too many alpine attractions in the area vying for your attention. Mount Pilatus, Mount Titlis, and Mount Rigi are all popular places to visit, but the Stanserhornbahn CabriO cable-car transforms Mount Stanserhorn from a routine mountain trip into a unique, exhilarating, child-friendly adventure that you and your family should place at the top of your “must see” list!

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Colmar, Colorful Jewel of the Alsace!

Colmar boasts that it is the most beautiful city in the world!  It has certainly had a colorful history, and its status as a UNICEF-certified “child-friendly city” makes Colmar an excellent vacation destination for families with young children.  Older folks may appreciate that Colmar is along the Alsatian Wine Route.

Located in north-eastern France, Colmar is in the Alsace region, which lies on the western bank of the Rhine River in this area.  Although everyone agrees that Colmar is a beautiful medieval town, in fact, we are all wrong!  First mentioned in 823, Colmar originated in the Dark Ages.  The Middle Ages started in 1000 AD, or so I was taught in college.  Modern scholars do not like the term “Dark Ages” and now call that period the “Early Middle Ages” and the period starting in 1000 AD is the “High Middle Ages.”  Whatever; Colmar has really nice half-timbered buildings that are way older than I am, and that is what counts (to me)!


Tourists flock to Colmar to admire the “Petite Venice” section of the Old Town, which borders two canals that are heavily decorated with beautiful flowers.  In fact, the entire Old Town is alive with flowers and guaranteed to brighten anybody’s spirits.

If you or your kids are fans of Studio Ghibli, then you will love Colmar.  The Old Town provided inspiration to Miyazaki, who adapted the setting for one of his films.  You will recognize several buildings in Colmar that are featured in “Howl’s Moving Castle” even though the author of the original book is British.

Chris and I arrived in Colmar by train, from Zurich via Basel.  The “Gare de Colmar” was built in 1905 and is probably the best-looking brick train station anywhere!  Built in 1886, the neo-Gothic, German-style water tower of Colmar is also an attractive structure that is missed by most tourists because it is outside of the Old Town area.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Bristol for six nights and loved the place!  It is directly opposite the train station and exudes “old world” charm.  Alas, it is a fifteen-minute trek to the Old Town, but you can walk through a nice park for most of the way.

The half-timbered buildings are the most curious of any I have seen.  Although almost all of them have been restored to more-or-less original specs, they have all been painted with subdued pastels that look rather tired and faded in real life.  Your photographs, however, will show vivid, saturated colors that are magnificent without the need to enhance them in Photoshop.  There is obviously something magic in the air!  After several days, I began to appreciate the subtle beauty of Colmar’s Old Town and felt quite at home by the time our stay was finished.

During our stay, we made day-trips to “Petite France” in Strasburg, the “City of Trains” in Mulhouse, and Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle near Ribeauville.  These are all fantastic attractions.  The castle is the most stunning that I have every seen!

So, is Colmar really the most beautiful city in the world?  In reality, no, but through the magic of photography and some mystical quality of the local air, you might be charmed into thinking it is!  Why not go find out for yourself?

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Maid in the Shade

The B-25 Mitchell bomber was sitting on an access road, just off of the cross-wind runway, as we arrived at Villeneuve Airport, near St. Albert, Alberta. We could see the flight crew and ground-support crew at work around the WWII veteran, while volunteers from the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton dealt with the public.

It isn’t often that you see a fully-restored B-25 Mitchell bomber. Volunteers of the Commemorative Air Force in Arizona spent 28 years working on “Maid in the Shade” before she was ready to venture once again into the “wild blue yonder.” This was her first visit to Canada; after several stops in Alberta she would head over to British Columbia, then back to the States.

So what exactly does this have to do with a travel blog? Break open your piggy banks folks, because for a not-so-small fee, you (and seven other people) can go for a twenty-minute flight in “Maid in the Shade.” No, we didn’t opt for a ride. Chris and I spent enough time flying back when we owned our Spezio TuHoler open-cockpit airplane. Luckily, it only cost a few dollars to view the bomber, and a few dollars more to climb inside it.

A crew member of the "Maid in the Shade" helps Chris as she climbs into the belly of the B-25 Mitchell bomber.

A crew member of the “Maid in the Shade” helps Chris as she climbs into the belly of the B-25 Mitchell bomber.

We were the first people allowed to approach “Maid in the Shade” and while I photographed the outside, Chris climbed into the belly of the beast to photograph the inside. Soon enough, people were swarming all over the B-25. A few hours later, the lucky passengers were helped aboard and the real fun was about to start.

I was standing about fifty feet behind the bomber when the engines fired up, although some people were much closer. Several minutes later, the pilot ran the engines up to full-throttle – the noise was horrendous. Every molecule in my body started to vibrate, and soon they all felt like they were going to explode! Luckily, at this point the pilot backed off on the throttle and finally the B-25 started to taxi off towards the active runway.

It wasn’t long before “Maid in the Shade” took to the air, the noise at that point more like rolling thunder. She passed overhead, on her way to Big Lake in St. Albert. In fact, she kept to a fixed flight-path that took her past our house on each flight for the next three days!

That was back at the beginning of July. It seems very, very quiet around here now.  Even my molecules seem restless…

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The Preßnitztalbahn Steam Railway

Short and sweet – that’s the best way to describe the Preßnitztalbahn. Located in southern Saxony, near the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, the Preßnitztalbahn runs a total of only 9-km. What this heritage railway lacks in track, it makes up for in enthusiasm and hard work!

Steaming out of Steinbach on the Pressnitztalbahn!

Steaming out of Steinbach on the Pressnitztalbahn!

We started our visit at the Jöhstadt station, a large but non-descript brick building. The loading area was only a short walk further along the road, and revealed the historic engine shed, complete with a variety of wonderful steam locomotives, all in running condition.

If you have never been to a narrow-gauge railroad in Germany before, you are in for a big surprise: many of them allow you to walk around the yards and into the workshops (which are often quite clean), taking photos whenever you like. The Preßnitztalbahn is no exception, and everything has been made as safe as possible for visitors.

The locomotive shed is almost a work of art in its own right – who else would bother to put flower boxes on the windows of a workshop! I suspect that many a wife has become a railroad fan due to these tactics.

There are a variety of passenger coaches, but Chris and I rode in one of the oldest, #970-751, which featured a rare clerestory roof (more commonly seen in North America). The wooden benches inside looked rather Spartan, but were actually quite comfortable!

Shortly after leaving Jöhstadt, we passed the cute, fully restored “mini-station” at Schmalzgrube. From there, the route was mostly through the woods, along a river. The area is very scenic, and you can arrange to get off at any of the stops along the way, and also to be picked up again later. We continued on to the end-of-line station in Steinbach.

Since it was now noon, we walked back (not very far) along the shaded trail to Wildbach, where there was a charming little restaurant with outdoor seating and great food. After lunch, we retraced our way to Steinbach in time to witness the most popular event of the journey – our steam locomotive was filling up with water from Germany’s most beautiful (and most photographed) waterhouse. This lovely little building is nothing like the watertowers once common in North America.

Soon after, we were riding back to Jöhstadt, returning from there to Dresden by bus. Overall, the Preßnitztalbahn may be the most family-friendly steam railway in Germany. They are one of the few railways that publish information in English, and their Google+ page has a huge (and well deserved) following. The list of special events that they hold each year is impressive.

If you have young children, appreciate steam engines with real character, and want to enjoy the great outdoors (or at least a few kilometers of it), then put the Preßnitztalbahn on your list of holiday destinations. You won’t be disappointed!

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