We probably should have known that a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, with the Top of the falls temperature in the low 80s, was not the best time to venture to one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the Rheinfall. On the other hand, it was a wonderful sight.
The Rhine river (Rhein in German) is a huge artery through Europe, which forms a lot of the border between Germany and France, and between Germany and Switzerland. About 35 miles north of Zurich, the Rhine has a spectacular fall, in which it narrows to about 500 feet, and has a total drop of 70 feet. Like all waterfalls, it looks best in spring and summer when the most water is falling, but it was pretty impressive on Sunday. It's the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume, and it generates a great deal of spume and spray, at least one rainbow, and a host of tourists, clambering along both banks and up a tall island in the middle and in boats -- disposable raincoats for sale -- that Rush of white water ventured up close to the bottom of the falls. We took many pictures, and are uploading some of the better ones.
Rheinfall can be seen from both banks, but we viewed it from the South Bank. According to our trusty green Michelin guide, Goethe described Rheinfall as The Source Of The Ocean.
We really knew we were in Europe, as we can't count the number of languages we heard spoken, or the number of distinctive styles of clothing being worn. Everything from old Basque (or Provencale) farmers with their long-sleeved striped shirts and berets, to Asians to eastern European Muslim Foam and rainbow families with the women all covered (but not veiled.) We paid one Swiss franc to descend the stairs, past a sequence of better and better viewing stations, until at last we stood on a platform built on a rock ledge with the falls roaring beneath our feet, just inches away.
Rheinfall is near the picturesque old town of Schaffhausen. The train runs along the edge of the river, the highway is just above the traintracks, and bicycle paths parallel both. So one can reach the falls by a variety of means, and today everybody did. There is a castle (Schloss Laufener) which nowadays has a youth hostel and three different restaurants, all of which were Pool below the falls overflowing on Sunday.
Farmers in this part of Switzerland make a little extra money by cutting their cornfields at harvest time so as to make huge labyrinths. One of these maize mazes was across the street from the Rheinfall, capturing some of the overflow crowd.
On the practical side, we discovered that connecting to the internet from one's hotel room can be prohibitively expensive -- in our hotel it was 1.50 francs a minute -- but that the internet cafe at the Zurich railway station provides 128K baud throughput for 5 francs for each 20-minute segment. One segment was more than enough for us to send our last message, read our incoming email, and even do a little web surfing. We did have to change our Netscape mail setting to name the host system as outgoing server.