29 November 2014

Uetliberg Planet Path

Summary: theme trail on hills west of Zurich lake

Most Zurichers have been up to Uetliberg at least once, but perhaps you haven't yet walked any of the many trails along this ridge. I didn't expect the Uetliberg trails to be anything special because they're so close into town, but they are. The Uetliberg Planet Path to Felsenegg, about 2 hours total walking time, is a lovely stroll through forests and farmland, with occasional views of Zurich lake and even the alps in the distance. It is also a theme trail, with the planets (and educational signboards) appearing along the path. There are lots of picnic spots along the path with grill pits. The trail is mostly a wide dirt road, easy to navigate with strollers, with only a couple short bumpy sections to give you trouble. It's nice in all seasons, but particularly in fall with the changing colors.

Car: ~15 mins from ZHTrail: 6km, about 2hrs Restaurant: yes
Train/Bus: yes, preferred Stroller: partial Grill pit: yes
Cost: low Theme: planets Playground: at start

View Larger Map

Getting There

This trail starts at the Uetliberg train station and ends near Felsenegg. The easiest way to access this trail is with public transportation:
- start at the Zurich HB
- take the S10 train to Uetliberg (about 27 mins)
- walk the trail (about 2hrs)
- take the Felsenegg cable car down to Adliswil (runs every 15 mins, from about 9:00-20:00, till 22:00 on Saturdays)
- walk to Adliswil train station (about 5-10 mins)
- return by train from Adliswil to Zurich (about 23 mins)

If you choose the option outlined above, buy the "Albis Day Pass" (aka Albis-Tageskarte) which covers all the zones needed to access this trail and return by public transportation (in 2014, 8.40chf with Halbtax), including the Felsenegg cable car.

If you are coming by car outside the city, please note that you cannot drive all the way up to Uetliberg. You can park near one of the S10 train stops, like Uitikon Waldegg or Ringlikon, and take the train from there (or walk up). There is a big parking lot on Birmendorfstrasse (before you reach Uitikon, between Albisriederstr. and Zürcherstr.). There is also blue zone parking (15 hrs, I think) on Langwiessstrasse in Uitikon and you can hike up from there. However, remember to plan how you will get back to your car. If you want to take public transportation, I might recommend parking at the bottom of the Felsenegg gondola and taking public transportation to Uetliberg, so you end your hike at your car in Felsenegg.

Of course, you can start this trail at different points, do shorter sections of this trail, and/or simply walk back to where you started. Be creative!

Trail Details

The Uetliberg Planetenweg starts with the sun near the Uetliberg train stop, as shown below. There is also a small playground next to the train stop, on the west side of the tracks. You won't see it when you get off the train because the train is blocking it. Just walk around the front of the train to access the playground. There is also a kiosk if you need some snacks.

Follow the trail up, toward the Uto-Kulm viewpoint. Before you reach the top, the planet trail will split off to your right. But before continuing the Planet trail, I recommend first taking a detour up to the viewpoint, climbing the tower, and enjoying the view of Zurich lake for awhile. Here are pics of the tower you can climb; the view is worth it. See the Uetliberg Viewpoint post for more information about enjoying your time up top.

At the Uto-Kulm viewpoint, you will see yellow trails signs on the southside leading you down a lot of steep stairs. If you take these stairs, you will rejoin the Planetenweg, but you will miss a few of the planets. So instead, continue back the way you came, taking the split (shown on the right below, but it will be on your left as you retrace your steps), following the Planetenweg trail signs. The trail goes below Uto-Kulm on the west side, heading south.

Note: Before I knew what I was doing, I took those stairs at the top with my jogger stroller. Big mistake. There are a lot of stairs, very difficult to manage with a stroller. So if you have a stroller, definitely go back to the Planetenweg to continue your walk. But if you're just walking and you don't mind missing some planets, the stairs are a nice way to go. Here are pics of the stairs just so you know.

After you rejoin the Planetenweg, other planets will appear along the trail, at distances proportional to the actual distance in space. "Each meter along the Planet Trail from Uetliberg to Felsenegg corresponds to one million kilometers and covers the distance from the sun right out to Pluto." The first six planets are very close together, then they are spread very far apart, as you can see in the map below.

Here are a couple more of the planet signs.

The trail follows the ridge line shown below (pic taken from Uto-Kulm tower).

The trail is mostly a wide dirt road (below left), with a few sections that veer off into the forest on narrower, bumpier trails (below right).

The trail alternates between open areas along farmland and the forest.

Periodically you'll get long views east to Zurichsee or west over the countryside.

It took us almost 2hrs, with a very slow 7 year old walking at his own leisurely pace. At Felsenegg, we took the cable car (runs every 15mins) into Adliswil, walked about 5 mins to the train station and caught the train back to Zurich.

Here are some trail signs at the Felsenegg station.

A map of the area, showing the variety of trails.

Why for kids?
  • close to town so you can get back for naps
  • flat, paved trail is good for strollers (assuming you bypass the stairs)
  • there's a playground at the Uetliberg train station to burn some energy
  • the Uto-Kulm tower is fun to climb - my toddler loved this and wanted to climb multiple times)
  • the Planet trail markers provide incentive for kids to keep moving 
  • cows

23 November 2014

Sleigh ride in Davos Dischmatal

A horse-drawn sleigh ride is a fun way to counter the after-Christmas blues. A few years ago, we did one in Raten that I wrote about here. Last year, we took a sleigh ride in Davos and really enjoyed it. It's about an hour long ride from the center of Davos up the Dischma valley to Restaurant Teufi, where we ate lunch, then rode back into town.

Our sleigh had three benches; each bench fits 3 adults or 4 kids. Some sleighs charge per person, some charge for the whole sleigh. If you don't fill up the sleigh, they might add another party. So I recommend bringing some friends along. We had 5 adults, 4 kids and a dog, which cost about 200chf. Our driver let one of the kids ride up front with him, which was a special treat.

The sleigh provides lots of blankets, which kept us very cosy. But you still need to dress very warmly, especially your feet, head and hands. We were there are on an especially chilly day and we were happy to have all our snow gear on.

You need to make reservations separately for the sleigh and the restaurant (the restaurant is optional). When reserving with the sleigh, tell them if you want a one way or return trip and if you intend to eat at the restaurant. You can ride the sleigh there and back with a break to eat. You could alternatively ride the sleigh one way, then return by taxi or foot (there is a winter trail next to the road). When reserving the restaurant, tell them that you are coming with the sleigh so they know your arrival time might be a little flexible. The Restaurant Teufi website implies that they also arrange sleigh rides, so you may be able to arrange everything directly with the restaurant.

Kutschenzentrale Davos Platz
Tel. +41 (0)81 413 50 00

Restaurant Teufi, Dischma
Tel. +41 81 416 35 82

Other websites offering sleigh rides in this area:

Now for a few pics...

The sleigh picked us up in town, which was a little funny to see the sleigh driving among traffic. The first part of the ride through town wasn't very interesting and I was a little worried. But once we got to the Dischmatal, it was very pretty.

Heading out of town.

The Dischmatal, looking back to Davos.

Riding backwards.

The sleigh goes up a snowy road alongside a river.

A very pretty river.

The sun was very bright that day and our kids didn't have sunglasses. So sometimes they hid under the blankets.

Restaurant Teufi.

Rösti and sausages for our crew.

Loading back up for our return trip. The horses had a nice break too.

All snug as a bug in a rug.

Sihlwald Forest Theme Trail, aka "Walderlebnispfad"

Summary: interactive theme trail through forest

The Sihlwald "Walderlebnispfad" is an enjoyable 2km loop trail through the forest with 12 interactive stations, including a wood log xylophone, a barefoot path, an animal long jump, and raised path through a mysterious bog. This is a good choice for children as it is short and the stations help keep kids motivated. Although it is open all year, it is particularly charming in October when the fall leaves are changing.

Car: ~20mins from ZH Trail: 2km, ~2hrs Restaurant: yes
Train/Bus: 25mins from ZH Stroller: yes, see notes Fire pit: yes
Cost: free Theme: yes, nature Playground: yes

The trail is not difficult, but be aware that the beginning and end of the trail are quite steep with stairs (only a short section), which could be challenging or even dangerous for very small children. However, there is a dirt road detour for both steep sections, which also makes the trail possible with a stroller. There is a fire pit with a picnic table in the middle of the trail and also a few fire pits at the visitor center at the end of the trail. The trail starts at the train station (which is adjacent to the park visitor center), so it's also a good choice for those taking public transportation.

The trail and park are open year around, but the visitor center and other services are closed during winter. Also there were "kein Winterdienst" signs, meaning that snow will not be cleared or groomed unlike "Winterweg" trails where the snow is packed down so you can walk with regular shoes. We went in November, which mean the trail was often covered in slippery leaves and mud. It was still very nice, but just something to consider.

This trail is only one of many attractions at Wildnispark Zürich: Sihlwald, a nature reserve along the Sihl river, about 15 minutes south of Zurich. At the park, you'll find a visitor center (open late Mar through early Nov), animal exhibits (including beaver and fish otter habitats), a variety of trails, a large playground, fire pits, a cafe, etc. This trail takes about 2 hours, including time spent at each station. But you could spend several hours at the park, visiting the animals, on the playground, and wandering along the river.

I'm always surprised how difficult it can be to find trail information even if you know what you're looking for. I knew about this trail and it still took me a long time to find any information about it, which reminded me why I write this blog - so you don't have to work so hard! This trail is hidden on their website under the odd title "Auf eigene Faust" which translates to "On your own". This page has a link to a very helpful PDF flyer for this trail, which has a trail map and a description of each station. The flyer is in German, but happily all the interactive stations include text in English.

How to get there:

Using the map above, drive south of Zurich to the Sihlwald Bahnhof. The Wildnispark Zurich: Sihlwald visitor center is directly north of the train station. There is lots of metered parking next to the train station. It costs 5CHF for the day. For those taking the train, it runs once an hour so check the schedule beforehand. On Sundays from April to October, a special steam train, aka "Dampfbahn," goes from Zurich to the Sihlwald (details here). On 6.Dec, your kids can ride the steam train with Samichlaus (details here).

Trail details:

The trail is a loop, so it doesn't really matter where you start or which direction you take. I would recommend starting at the train station/parking and going south first, which means you'll end your walk at the visitor center and the playground. That way your kids will be rewarded by playground at the end instead of spending all their energy there before even starting the hike.

Below is the trail map from their PDF flyer. I looked through various paper brochures available at the park, but I didn't see one with this map. So recommend printing it from the PDF before you go. It show where all the interactive stations are, which helped when the kids got a little anxious.

The trail is easy follow. Just look for the black signs labeled "Walderlebnispfad" (as shown above), which appear at every junction. To start the trail, walk south of the train station, following the paved road that veers to your left and crosses the river. After crossing the river, on your right, you'll see one of those black trail signs pointing to a small path up the hill. This part is steep and has lots of stairs (shown below left).

If you need the stroller-friendly detour, take the dirt path on your left that heads up the hill (not the path that follows the river), shown with red dashes on the map above. It's a long detour and skips one station, but it will eventually reconnect with the main trail. The solid red parts of the trail are wide dirt paths (shown below right), which are manageable with an all-terrain stroller.

Theme Trail Interactive Stations:

There are 12 interactive stations along the trail, with some educational information and usually something for the kids to do. Here are a few to peak your interest...

At the "Balance" station, the kids had to try to balance each stick on top of a pointed log. It was very tricky and the kids felt quite a sense of accomplishment once they completed them all.

Seems like every trail has a barefoot path these days, but we still like them. The sign encourages you to close your eyes so you can concentrate on your other senses during the walk.

This "Long Jump" station was our boys' favorite. Along the jumping area were signs indicating how far various animals could jump. We laughed when we saw that frogs and rabbits could jump farther than we could. We were surprised to see that the human world record is a whopping 8.95 meters. Unbelievable!

The "Fairy Tale Forest" is a short loop on a raised wooden walkway through a bog. The wood can be very slippery so be careful and keep a close eye on very small children. No strollers on this part (some stairs). The loop returns to the main path, so you can just leave strollers at the entrance.

On the left, you stick your head in the rock and hear vibrations traveling through the rock. On the right, you can see how old the tree is by counting the rings.

On the left, just a typical section of the path through the forest. On the right, a xylophone of wood logs. Each log has a different sound depending on type, humidity, size, etc.

Here's the picnic area and fire pit in the middle of the loop trail, near the barefoot trail. There are two fire pits, lots of benches and a picnic table. The wood box was locked up when we were there, but maybe in summer it's open. But bring your own wood just in case. There is also a water fountain with drinkable water behind the picnic area.

After you finish the trail, there's plenty back at the Sihlwald visitor center to entertain you. First, there's the lovely river.

Here's the playground near the visitor center.

One of the big picnic areas and fire pits near the visitor center. They have lots of wood available in the bins next to the picnic area.

Don't forget the beaver and fish otter habitats. We didn't see any animals except fish (maybe it was too cold in November), but the educational signboards were entertaining.

Well, that's all she wrote, folks. I hope you enjoy it!

16 October 2014

Free Walking Tour Zurich

Last weekend, my brother was visiting so I took him to Free Walking Tour Zurich, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was great! Even after living in Zurich for over nine years, I was delighted to find I still had a few things to learn about my adopted city. We really liked our tour guide Maria (with me in the above pic), who was very enthusiastic and had a fun story-telling style. The guides have different specialties and interests, so while the main information is the same, some of the details with differ.

Although the tour is not specifically designed for kids, I think the tour is a good option for families, not only because it's a good tour, but it's flexible. For the free tours, you don't have to book ahead, so you can decide minutes beforehand whether your kids are up for a tour or not. Since the tour is free (tips are appreciated, but not expected), it's not a big deal if your kids have a meltdown halfway through and you have to leave early.

The tour lasted about 90 minutes, starting at Paradeplatz and ending at Grossmünster, about 2km long. For those with strollers, there are two long stair sections that you'll need to carry your stroller over (photo below), but otherwise it's stroller-friendly. Most stops on the tour are in open squares and pedestrian-only zones, so kids can relatively safely run around while you're listening to the tour guide.

The tour is full of fun, interesting facts about Zurich. For example, did you know that the Bahnhofstrasse used to be called Fröschengraben (ditch of frogs) because so many frogs lived in the water canal running down that street? I quickly put together a "quiz for kids" for the Downtown Zurich Tour, where kids can match the tour stop with a picture representing a story about that location. Maybe this will help you keep the kids interested. Remember to bring along some chocolate as a prize for your kids if they finish the quiz. You can see and print the quiz here.

They offer several tours, some free, some paid. I did the Downtown Zurich tour. The Architecture tour is the next one on my list. There is a Downtown Zurich tour almost everyday, more on the weekends. Check their website for details.

Now for a few pics of the tour...

Find out why these saints are carrying their own heads around town.

Find out what old name is hiding on this old roman tombstone.

Enjoy the view and learn which buildings are which.

Find out why this lady from 1291 is wearing armor.

Here are the two stair sections over which you'll need to carry your stroller.

Look up a Zahringerplatz to see a fancy sundial.

Walk down some new-to-you streets and learn how to tell which buildings are really old.

See an old map of the city.

Find out the super cool reason this model was built and how it brings good luck.

Don't forget to retrace your steps after the tour and get a hot chocolate at Cafe Schober!