I'd been scratching my head over what to do and where to go with my house guests on Sunday. The Swiss propensity to shut up shop on a Sunday means that opportunities for purchasing memorabilia were limited, and sightseeing in town is all very well, but it loses something of the local colour when everything's closed.
So I hit upon the idea of doing the Planetenweg -- or Planet Walk -- along the Uetliberg.
The Uetli-what? The Uetliberg is Zurich's local mountain, and looms large over the city, although calling it a mountain is perhaps overstating the case somewhat, given that on most days you can see the Alps from Zurich, which certainly fit my idea of what a mountain looks like better than the Uetliberg does.
Anyway, as far as I can make out the Uetliberg has three claims to fame.
The railway line that goes from Zurich Hauptbahnhof to the top is the steepest regular railway line in the world that doesn't make use of a rack-and-pinion system or similar to help the train up the tracks.
Uto Kulm, the hotel and restaurant at the top of the mountain. I've had quite a few very good evening meals up there.
The Planetenweg, of which more later.
By the time we'd woken up, recovered from the excesses of the previous night, dragged ourselves to the train station and arrived at the top Uetliberg station it was around midday. Slightly overcast, with a bit of a threat of rain later. Quite good walking weather then.
First stop -- lunch. We walked the 10 minutes or so up the path towards Uto Kulm, and I was able to show my guests the first point on the Planetenweg; the Sun.
This is probably the point to explain the Planetenweg. It's a scale model of the solar system, at the scale 1:1 billion. So every metre along the path represents 1 million kilometres in actuality. Along the path, sized and spaced appropriately are models of the planets that make up the solar system, along with small plaques giving snippets of interesting information.
Our plan for the day was to start at the Sun, naturally enough, and make it as far as Neptune, taking in all the planets as we went. You may be thinking to yourself "Hang on, that's not right. Neptune's not the last planet in the system, Pluto is. They're not doing it properly if they don't get to Pluto."
Leaving aside, for the moment, the controversy over whether or not Pluto is a planet, rest assured that the Planetenweg's designers had considered this. Pluto has a very erratic orbit, and for a significant period of time it's actually inside the orbit of Neptune. Accordingly, it has three markers along the walk, one at perihelion, one at aphelion, and one at the mid-point between the two.
So, by making it as far as Neptune we were guaranteed of seeing at least one of Pluto's markers.
The rest of the walk from the station to Uto Kulm also takes in Mercury and Venus.
As you can see, the models capture the relative scale of the planets.
Uto Kulm makes a good vantage point for some sightseeing, with a viewing areas with coin-operated binoculars and also benefits from an observation tower offering panaromas over Zurich and the surroundings. So we paused to take in the view.
Somewhat overcast continued to be the order of the day, but that didn't stop us from taking some more photos -- well, attempting to anyway.
We also (well, two out of three, I won't divulge who didn't fancy the height) climbed the observation tower to get a better look.
We'd planned a brief stop for lunch before striking out on the rest of the path. As things panned out this took longer than expected; partly because Uto Kulm proved to be quite busy, with waitresses rushed off their feet, so being served took a while. Also, partway through the meal the rain which had been threatening for most of the day decided to make an appearance. Fortunately this only lasted 10 minutes or so before easing off.
Getting back on the path and finding the Earth was relatively simple. The plaque and model for the Earth also included a scaled miniature for the moon too -- none of the others on the rest of the walk include satellites.
Strolling on, Mars and Ceres fell to our footsteps very shortly afterwards.
Note that Ceres is almost too small make out in this picture. I'm not certain why it was included on the path (especially given that it's not a planet). Anyway...
By this point I was starting to get slightly concerned. I was expecting the walk to take a couple of hours, more or less, and here we were having passed by half the solar system already, and after only perhaps 20 minutes of walking. I was beginning to think that I'd have to quickly come up with something else for us to do to keep us occupied for the rest of the afternoon.
As it turns out I needn't have worried. As Douglas Adams wrote, "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." Walking the Planetenweg is an excellent way to get an appreciation of just how large the distances involved are, as we went some distance down leafy tracks (dodging the occasional cyclists who came pounding past).
The route is also littered with various observation points affording views out on to Lake Zurich and the small towns that lie up and down the coast on either side. I did my best to point out sights of interest along the way.
After 15 minutes or so I was beginning to get a little concerned that perhaps we'd passed the marker for Jupiter and not realised it. Then we rounded a corner and there it was.
With the earlier planet models amounting to little more than small ball bearings it was quite a shock to see this representation of just how large Jupiter is compared to the inner planets. Although, as you can see, it is in some danger of being overgrown.
We'd settled in to quite a relaxed walking pace now, with occasional pauses to capture a particular view on camera, and were becoming adept at hearing the noise of furious pedaling before the cyclists rounded the corner, and it was all really rather pleasant.
Twenty minutes gentle stroll brought us to Saturn's marker. I was wondering on the way whether or not they would include Saturn's famous rings, and I was pleased to see that an effort has been made.
Although it does put me in mind of those exercise balance balls that are supposed to be good for improving your posture.
The route continued, going gently up and down, passing by many fields, farm houses, and carefully looked after swathes of green.
As a slight astronomy geek (well, geek with passing interest in astronomy anyway) there were two facts about Uranus that had stuck in my mind. One is that it's blue, as evidenced by this image search. The other is that its axial tilt is the most extreme of all the planets. In effect its poles take turns pointing at the Sun during its orbut, so you can imagine that Uranus almost rolls along it's orbital path.
Anyway, I wasn't expecting of these two nuggets of information to make it on to the marker, so I was quite happy to see that they've made the marker blue -- an attention to detail that I wasn't expecting.
With just Neptune and Pluto to go our walk took on a final definite air of purpose as we strode to the notional finish line. As I explained earlier, Pluto's marker is nearer than Neptune's because of Pluto's erratic orbit. I was slightly miffed that they don't include a scale model for this marker though, just the plaque.
And then, probably not 100 metres further on was Neptune, and as far in the solar system as we were planning to go. At least on this visit.
From the Neptune marker it's possible to look back and see Uto Kulm. In this photo the taller of the two is the Uetliberg TV Tower. For an idea of scale, that tower is 186.7m tall. The observation tower that we'd climbed earlier is the smaller of the two.
Having bagged our final planet it was on to the end of our journey on the route, and to the Luftseilbahn Adliswil-Felsenegg (LAF), perhaps another 15 minutes walk distant.
Running for 55 years, the LAF is a cable car that connects Felsenegg station at the top with the town Adliswil at the bottom. Just over a kilometre long the cable cars make the journey in a little under 3 minutes, and thanks to Zurich's excellent integrated public transport system normal travel passes are accepted on the route.
Here's the route we took, from Uetliberg station to the LAF.
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From the bottom it was then a short walk to Adliswil station, where, despite being a Sunday, trains were still running regularly back to Zurich Hauptbahnhof.
Feeling somewhat walked out, we paused for coffee at a cafe, and gave our feet a bit of rest. Suitable recaffeinated and rejuvenated we strolled through the squares and streets on the west side of the Limmat down towards to the lake. By now it was getting on for 6pm, and time to start thinking about an evening meal.
P and J had recently returned from a holiday in Argentina, so I was keen to take them to Churrasco, an Argentinan steakhouse in the centre of Zurich. I've been there several times and had excellent food, and I was interested how well the restaurant held up when compared to their recent experiences in Argentina.
The ambience was perhaps slightly ruined by the associated sauces arriving at the table still in their plastic squeezy bottles, but in all other respects the meal was superb. The fillet steak was fantastic, as only the best fillet can be, and the wine (a Norton Malbec Reserve 2006) was superb. Perhaps a little tight in the bottle, but it loosened up quickly enough.
And then, because we were shattered, home.