Day 27: LES MISERABLES
At 6:30am, we awoke after having a pretty decent sleep. The skies were cloudy as expected, and it looked like it started to rain or at least drizzle as feared.
After taking some time getting freshened up and eating breakfast downstairs, we were at the Zurich Main Station at 8am. It turned out that there was a train headed to Schauffhausen within ten minutes of when we got there so we didn’t have to wait long before we were moving.
By 8:50am, the relatively smooth train ride brought us past a view of the Rheinfall, but it wasn’t photographable due to the amount of foliage in the foreground. But the falls looked pretty impressive, and it put Julie from a homesick mentality to a sudden desire to want to get to the falls as soon as possible.
But the train kept going as it turned out that Schaffhausen was the main train stop, and it didn’t get there until 9am. So we had to take a bus back in the other direction to get to within walking distance of the falls.
We weren’t quite sure which bus to take nor how long it would take so we ended up going right to the first bus station we saw. The first bus stand we noticed was for a 9am bus number 634, and when it showed up, we took it to Schloss Laufen. We had read that this castle provided the closest views of the falls for a fee, and it happened to be the only name we recognized amongst all the place names shown at the bus stops by the train station. So naturally, we stopped there first.
Yet the bus said it would take 26 minutes to get to Schloss Laufen, and I began to wonder if maybe we should’ve obeyed LP‘s suggestion to ride the bus #1 or #6 to get to the Neuhausen Zentrum instead.
Anyways, we finally got to the car park at the Schloss Laufen at 9:30am. We paid for our tickets (now 5 Sf instead of just 1 Sf as stated in our version of LP), and wasted no time in walking through the archway and getting through the ticket turnstile where we started getting top down views of the falls from the walkway.
We continued to take what photos we could even though the skies were dark with heavy-looking clouds and light rain.
But despite the dark clouds, the photography conditions were tricky because the white of the falls dominating the scene tricked the camera into thinking it was a really bright scene. And this resulted in underexposured photographs. So I had to tinker with forced brightnesses on each photo that I took, and that resulted in an inordinate number of extra photographs taken (since you never know which ones truly worked out).
After having our fill checking out the various closeup lookouts (including a platform precariously positioned above the rushing water and some interesting lookouts providing views of a natural arch within the falls) while battling some light spray from the raging torrents, we noticed that there were some boats taking people to the middle rock between the two main segments of the Rhinefall.
There seemed to be a handful of people on that island and it looked rather crowded there. For some reason, the position of that Swiss flag along with the crowd of people beneath it all perched atop the island in the middle of the falls really reminded me of the cover illustration on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables come to life. Of course, we could be smart ass about it and say the crowded experience could make the tourists become les miserables.
So by 10:25am, we were on a boat that first went to the other side (the Schlossli Worth) where the sparsely populated boat all of the sudden was inundated with a giant Indian tour. So we knew that this was going to make for a real crowded and hectic experience on the rock in the middle of the falls.
Still, there was nothing we could do about it. So by the time the boat arrived, I let the vast majority of the people rush their way up to the top of the rock. Julie joined them. So I was busy taking photos from the bottom while trying to manage the mist and spray. But at least it wasn’t as misty as we had expected (to the point where you would have to don a rain poncho), and that probably had more to do with the route the boat drivers took to get here. Nonetheless, the current was quite strong and it took a bit of horsepower (from the boat motor) simply to keep the boat docked and not getting sideswiped towards the whirlpool beneath the segments on the left side of the falls.
Eventually, I squeezed my way up to rejoin Julie at the top of the falls (as other people started to make their way down). And just as I squeezed my way up there, there were still other people taking turns at getting photos from the crowded top. At the same time, another boatload of people was about to land shortly as I saw them make an approach.
So Julie and I did our best to manage the crowded situation at the top. It was mostly dominated by the mega Indian tours and it almost brought us back to our India experience where it was crowded and chaotic everywhere we went. But at least we weren’t being stared at as the only non-Indian-Asians in town.
Finally, we squeezed our way down to the boat dock after another tour group (this time Swiss teens) formed a queue all the way to the bottom. But by 11:35pm, we were thankfully at the Schossli Worth on the other side of the Rhein River, and we were finally able to have a little breathing room.
And I wasted no time walking around the walkway getting several photos of the falls from directly across the river as well as from the other side of the Schloss Laufen. Julie went straight to the cafe for some sausage lunch to alleviate some of her hunger pangs.
The sun did its best to break through the clouds being successful in a few short moments and even warming things up under the mostly cloudy skies.
I walked far enough to get to some kind of manually powered dynamo, which you can crank and get feedback on how many watts you’re generating. A tube full of water inside resisted the movement of the gear at its bottom so when the crank turns, a vortex actually forms. I managed to easily turn the crank and generate above 80W to the applause of onlookers, but to be honest, that was pretty easy.
I joined Julie for lunch at 12pm. Julie was getting a little nauseous because of both cigarette smoke, but also from the putrid waters of the Rhein. Unsurprisingly, it was probably polluted as it was a sickly dark green and bubbles were foaming in the river probably due to methane from sewage.
After the lunch, we walked together getting up to the stairs alongside the falls. From these angles, we could see an arch from the other side of the falls plus the Schloss Laufen as the backdrop of the turbulent waters rushing past.
Eventually at 1:20pm, we walked up to the town center of Neuhausen. We then walked along some newly paved tar (it had that tar smell) and walked over to what I called the money shot of the Rhinefall. From up here, we could see the whole falls from an angle plus the Schloss Laufen in the background and even a railway bridge shared with pedestrians further upstream.
While all direct shots of the falls looked rather flat from the base, this top down view was the place to be for photographers. Of course, the tricky issues regarding brightness despite the cloudy conditions still had to be dealt with. But we spent most of our time exhausting our camera memories from this spot.
By 1:50pm, we were back at the Schaffhausen Bahnhof. This was much quicker than the 26 minutes it took to get from Schaffhausen to Schloss Laufen! So that confirmed that we should’ve taken this or the #6 bus earlier in the morning to save the 15 minutes or so.
Roughly ten minutes later, Julie and I decided to go even further away from Zurich and take one of the smaller trains out to this town called Stein am Rhein. Besides having a rhyming name, we had read some things about how charming this town might be so we decided to give it a try.
At 2:20pm, we arrived at the Stein am Rhein Station. From there, we followed the brown Altstadt signs for about 5 minutes before crossing a bridge and starting to see flashes of the charm we had read about.
At first we thought this was just going to be another Bern or Lucerne where it seemed the charm was contrived and completely done for tourists while losing their intended old school charm. But once we walked past the first alleyway, we started to see mural on the walls of the buildings and cobblestone on the ground.
And when we got to the main square, we could immediately see (as we looked down the cobblestoned thoroughfare) that almost all the buildings had those old school murals and that they were flanking the thoroughfare side by side. It had a pretty authentic medieval feel to it for sure.
Immediately our skepticism was completely disarmed and we were entranced. Barring the crowds of people, it felt like we stumbled upon something that should be bigger than it presently is.
Sure it wasn’t easy taking photos with all the people crowding the cafes and main thoroughfare as apparently mass tourism had already found and overrun this place before us, but it definitely felt less contrived. Maybe to reinforce the off-the-beaten-path feel (to us at least), we noticed that none of the menus in any of the restaurants, museums, and cafes here had english text. They were mostly German.
So to soak in the atmosphere of the place a little more, Julie and I decided to have some dessert at this popular Il Gelato joint. Julie’s first choice was L’Petit Creperie, but it was closed. So we just had ourselves a couple of delicious waffles topped with ice cream, whipped cream, and fruits along with a thick hot chocolate.
It certainly wasn’t exactly something to soothe our guilty conscience after spending a good deal of time here while trying to avoid the cigarette smoke. But we couldn’t say that we were hungry anymore nor could we say we would stick around here for a dinner.
At 3:45pm, we finally were done having our dessert and continued walking towards the end of one side of town where there was an archway and a car park behind it. At that car park, we could see a handful of tour buses there further demonstrating to us that some mass tourism arrived here already. Perhaps tours to Rhinefall also come here if they weren’t checking out the Old Center of Schaffhausen, we wondered.
So Julie and I spent some more time taking photos and still trying to capture through photos the charm and essence of Stein am Rhein. But eventually all good things must come to an end, and we walked back to the train station getting there at 4:25pm.
Julie and I were quite tired once we got on the train, and for the fairly long train ride back to Zurich, we slept most of the way – especially on the Schaffhausen-Zurich route. When we arrived at Zurich, the weather seemed to have improved a lot from this morning even though it was still cloudy.
We could only hope the weather could at least hold up for another day for our long hike to see Seerenbach Falls was tomorrow.
At around 7:30pm, we took a train to the Hardbrucke side of Zurich where we went searching for this pizza place that Julie insisted we seek out. The reason why was because she continued to crave the Italian-style pizza, and this place was said to have it.
But it took a little time to figure out where it was as there was no signs indicating its presence. However, after doing a little exploring, we did see some text saying “Restaurant Rosso” stenciled on the door with some credit card logos on the window. We had found the right place.
After spending quite a bit of time with each of us enjoying a wheel of margherita pizza, took the next train back to the main station, and then we returned to our hotel room at around 9:30pm where we called it a night.