Go top­less on an alpine train.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - Rick Steves (www.rick steves.com) writes Euro­pean travel guide­books and hosts travel shows on pub­lic tele­vi­sion and pub­lic ra­dio. Email him at [email protected] steves.com and fol­low his blog on Face­book.

While Switzer­land has many im­pres­sive train trips and fancy “panoramic” cars, the most thrilling ride is in an open-top car. You’ll be awestruck both at Switzer­land’s alpine won­ders and its abil­ity to tame na­ture with its rail­road en­gi­neer­ing. These top­less or sky­light-equipped trains run only in sum­mer, and in just a few spots (such as along stretches of the Bern­ina Ex­press route, stretches of the Glacier Ex­press route and up the Brienz Rothorn ex­cur­sion route that climbs from the shores of the Berner Ober­land’s Lake Brienz).

One of Switzer­land’s most glo­ri­ous hikes is the walk along the ridge called Schynige Platte to the cable-car sta­tion high above In­ter­laken

Walk a ridge.

High above the town of Ap­pen­zell, Switzer­land’s Ebe­nalp sum­mit is home to a fam­ily-run hut with cheap dorm beds and a fan­tas­tic view.

in the moun­tain­ous Berner Ober­land re­gion. You’re vir­tu­ally tightrope­walk­ing along a skinny ridge for sev­eral hours. On one side are lakes; on the other is a moun­tain panorama of dra­matic cut-glass peaks. And ahead, you may hear the long legato tones of an alphorn an­nounc­ing that a he­li­copter-stocked moun­tain hut is open ... and the cof­fee sch­napps is on.

Get the big-city per­spec­tive.

Zurich af­fords a peek at Swiss so­lu­tions to per­sis­tent ur­ban prob­lems. As you stroll down the main drag, you’ll see de­signer boul­ders break­ing through the side­walk. These aren’t dec­o­ra­tive; they’re there to stop the cars of thieves from crash­ing into jew­elry stores for a grab-and-run. Around the cor­ner, pub­lic toi­lets have blue lights. This pre­vents

junkies from shoot­ing up there: Un­der blue wave­lengths, they can’t see their veins.

Walk the path of a her­mit monk.

A cen­tury ago, a her­mit monk in­hab­ited a hum­ble church in a cave just un­der a moun­tain­top plateau called Ebe­nalp, high above the town of Ap­pen­zell. A cliff-hug­ging path leads around the cor­ner to the hum­ble guest­house that was built — right into the ver­ti­cal cliff side — to ac­com­mo­date pil­grims who had hiked up to pray with the monk. While the guest­house isn’t cur­rently ac­cept­ing overnight stays — and its restau­rant is un­der­go­ing ren­o­va­tions that may close it for a while — the hut’s set­ting is im­pres­sive enough to merit the ex­cur­sion.

Ride a high-moun­tain sum­mer luge.


Mount Pi­la­tus, near Luzern, is worth it for the heav­enly views alone. But for ex­tra thrills, hit the sum­mer-fun zone of Frak­muntegg, an area on the moun­tain’s north slope. Here you’ll find Switzer­land’s long­est sum­mer luge ride: Sit your­self in a sled­like go-cart, grab the joy­stick brake, then scream back down the moun­tain­side on a banked stain­lesssteel course. Take the lift back up, and start all over again. Nearby is a park with 10 fun ropes cour­ses and plenty of op­tions for novices.

Pon­der some in­sane art.

Lau­sanne’s Col­lec­tion de l’Art Brut is unique in Europe. In 1945, the artist Jean Dubuf­fet be­gan col­lect­ing art he called brut — un­trained, ig­nor­ing rules, highly orig­i­nal, pro­duced by peo­ple free from artis­tic cul­ture and fash­ion trends

liv­ing in psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals and pris­ons. Vis­it­ing his col­lec­tion, you’ll wan­der through halls of fas­ci­nat­ing doo­dles and scream­ing col­ors, mar­veling at the tal­ent of peo­ple our so­ci­ety has locked up as “crim­i­nally in­sane.”

Re­live the Swiss old days.

At the Bal­len­berg Open-Air Folk Mu­seum (an hour east of In­ter­laken on Lake Brienz), tra­di­tional houses, schools, churches, and shops from all over Switzer­land have been moved to a huge park. The lay­out is just like the coun­try: French in the west, Ital­ian in the south, and so on. Each dwelling is fur­nished, old-time crafts are kept alive, and goat herders are toot­ing their slen­der stretch alphorns. It’s Swiss cul­ture on a lazy Su­san for the hur­ried vis­i­tor, and a great rainy-day op­tion in the Berner Ober­land.

Climb the Eiger ... the easy way.

You don’t need to be a rugged moun­taineer to climb the ul­ti­mate alpine cliff face — you just need train fare. For a cen­tury, a thrilling train has tun­neled up through the in­side of the Berner Ober­land’s Eiger moun­tain. Half­way up, the Jungfrau­joch train stops to let trav­el­ers hang out the win­dow and en­joy the views cling­ing to the in­fa­mous north face of the Eiger. Af­ter a few min­utes, the train car­ries on, tak­ing you about as high as you can get me­chan­i­cally in Europe: 11,300 feet. The air is thin, and any­thing goes atop the Jungfrau­joch.


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