New year, same sporadic schedule (hooray for alliterations)! Ideally this Rhine Falls reflection would have been up before the clock struck midnight on December 31st, 2017, but similar to impromptu day trips, some things just don’t work out. To preface this post, Rheinfall is the largest waterfall in continental Europe. Located in the northern canton of Schaffhausen in Switzerland, it was a quick hour train ride away from Zürich. Hence, on an abnormally warm March afternoon, JinWon and I decided to plan an excursion to the famous falls. Little did we know that we’d be blessed with Zach’s guidance as he was itching to use his new GA travel pass privileges. Off the three of us went on St. Patrick’s Day!
Since it was such a short train ride away, we left around noontime. We had planned it so we could view the falls light up in a ghoulish green and catch the first 19:00 train back to the city to party with our friends for the Irish holiday. I really wish I could recall the beautiful scenery on the train, but I was immediately knocked out when it started moving. Who’s with me on sleeping on moving vehicles? However, we decided to get off a stop early and walk to the falls through the small town, Neuhausen am Rheinfall. I highly recommend the stroll as it winds through the low hills on the countryside and you can see the villas that overview the Rhine River running through town. It was a little confusing at first, but our trusty friend Zach was always to the rescue. Along the way, we discussed our exchange experiences thus far. I had met JinWon in my intensive German class and we immediately connected over our inability to pronounce certain Germanic vowels. We also went skiing together at Mt. Titlis, but other than those interactions, we lived quite far apart and mingled in different friend circles. Zach and I lived in the same complex, but he almost exclusively travelled with my flat mate, Alex. It was interesting to see that although we lived very different lives, we all agreed that we should have attended more classes than we already did during our exchange. The travel bug sure is contagious among our friends.
In town, JinWon and I agreed that if we ever had the money, we’d buy one of those villas on the hill and just live out our retirement in Switzerland. And then we accidently walked onto a construction site and large warning signs of falling cement changed our minds very quickly. In the middle of all of this, JinWon was trying to wish her father a happy birthday back home, whilst Zach tried to recall the route to the basin of the waterfall. Overall, it was slightly confusing even with Google Maps, but worth it nonetheless. As mentioned before, it was considerably warm in Switzerland that week in March. We were prepared to brace the cold in hoodies and leather jackets, but it turned out that we didn’t need any of that as we reached the falls! It was the perfect temperature to take cute photos without bulky winter clothing. I’m sure you’ll see our school sweaters hanging somewhere in the background in the photos to come.
Slowly making our way through the tourist portion of Rheinfall, we took cliché photos of the worldly wonder from all angles. To be completely honest, coming from Canada, the largest waterfall in Europe was cute compared to Niagara Falls. Only 150 metres wide and 23 metres high, the waterfall is split in the middle by a huge rock called the Rheinfallfelsen. For all those geology readers because I know that you’re out there, Rheinfallfelsen is the remnant of the original limestone cliff flanking the original channel. I will save face and not attempt to mention during which era this was completed because frankly, I’m not too sure about the different between glaciation and Jurassic periods. However, with this manageable size, we had the chance to get up close and personal with Rheinfall. During the summer months, and weather permitting, there is a local motor boat that cruises to the split of the falls and guests can disembark onto a staircase platform that gives a unique view of the falling water. On the basin banks, you’ll go down a set of stairs from the tourist centre onto the docks. A line up of yellow boats is difficult to miss, but the sign that says CASH ONLY is. For as little as 5CHF, you get a bumpy ride to and from the falls. Be prepared for a couple of splashed and a rare failed attempt to dock at the platform at the bottom of the rush of water. Feels a little like a roller coaster at an amusement park, with a chance of showers from the splash. Do make note of the time, as there is one last running boat depending on the schedule. The three of us joked about the poor tourists that might get stuck on the platform because they missed the last boat back to land.
From this boat ride, I took this beauty. I emphasize this particular photo because someone had contacted me through social media to include it in an official publication. It was a small newspaper company in Schaffhausen and I’m sure it was just used to attract more people to the destination, but it was nice to be recognized for my work. Also shameless plug now to check out my Instagram @gracious.who, which you can conveniently find on the side bar along with my Spotify playlist (still needs to be updated for the home stretch).
On the viewing terrace, we saw how the river had split over Rheinfallfelsen. What was more impressive was the castle on the hill (hello Ed Sheeran reference). From previous stories, we’ve also heard of people jumping off the adjacent cliffs and platforms into the falls. Just for fun. Okay, it was more like professional diving, but I digress. The only thing I’d advise when taking this short boat ride to the falls is the health precautions. The boat ride might be bumpy, but the steps to the platform are steep and slippery. In going up and down, we saw many people holding onto the railing for dear life. The narrow passageways also leave little room for bidirectional traffic, so be prepared to stop and wait for incoming traffic. However, the intermediate steps to the platform give a nice resting station if you’re tired to take a quick selfie with the falls.
Once we finished our excursion, Zach and I wanted to check out Laufen Castle. According to Google Maps, there was a small trail along the river that led to a bridge to cross onto the other side of the banks. The other suggested route said to loop back into town and follow the train tracks into the official Rheinfall train station stop. We took the sketchy river route. It remains a wonder that so many parts of Switzerland remained untouched by human development. Many of the wildlife are clean and well-fed, but still possess a fear of human interaction. There are fish swimming close to the banks, but with a single drop of a stone, they disperse. We saw rabbits munching on a tourist’s late lunch and quickly scurry away as we approached the next bush. Then you have the swans, which are vicious and aggressive. More on them in another post.
After we crossed the bridge, the castle was just another equidistance walk towards the falls again. It turns out that we just missed the opening hours by a few minutes, but we all agreed that we had seen one too many castles during our travels already. If I remember correctly, it was a museum that housed the history of the region and geographical information about Rheinfall. Based on a quick Google search, the building holds some Swiss heritage significance. It’s not highly recommended that you visit in particular since you’re most likely there to enjoy the nature, but perhaps the architecture of the building could be of interest. You could also compare it to the Wörth Castle, located on a small island at the basin of Rheinfall.
By the time we visited all of the main attractions of the region, the three of us were ready to go home regardless of whether we saw the falls lit in green or not. After taking tired photos and laughing about Google Map’s suggestion of routing around a parking lot to the closest transit stop, we packed our bags and crossed which felt like miles of pastures to the closest train station. In quite literally in the middle of nowhere, I, the only one without a GA, bought a one way train ticket back to Zürich HB and slept the whole way back. I’m pretty sure JinWon and Zach could tell you more about the views from the train compartment. However, I can tell you that I spent well-under 50CHF for this day trip, including transportation and food. By packing a quick to-go lunch or picnic, you can save yourself a couple pennies by avoiding overpriced tourist traps. The souvenirs are pretty, but I highly suggest purchasing iconic mountain photos and cow bells to bring back home. Or chocolates, you can never go wrong with Swiss chocolates.
Although we didn’t get to see Rheinfall lit up like a Christmas tree, or more appropriately, a shamrock, my exchange friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s tradition for exchange students to book a one-way ticket to Dublin for the holiday, but there were so many other places to celebrate. And when push comes to shove, the most authentic celebrations are not in high-tourist concentrated areas, such as Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. Look forward to my post about Lisbon, Portugal, when I unexpectedly landed in the middle of their national celebration, just in time for my birthday.
So after a couple of beers and a night of dancing, I’m glad that we took in slow in nature in the first half of the day. This cannot be said for every night I spent out with friends. You’ll see very soon in Paris, Amsterdam, and Budapest. Until then, know that day trips to cute waterfalls are always worth it.