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Tag Archives: Lauterbrunnen

We interrupt this move for a Swiss break

13 Oct
13 October 2016. We have mixed feelings about our impending departure. Many reasons we will miss our life in Italy yet in some ways we can hardly wait to get our butts on the plane. (See Missing the U.S.A.) We have a lot of little errands to do before we move back to Oregon, but most of them cannot be done until the final few days before we fly. So in fact, we have very little left to do until October 24. It’s not like we are packing up the whole household so why not take 10 days in Switzerland?
This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a freash dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a fresh dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland is one of our two favorite places to visit and to hike, the other being Italy’s Val Gardena. After our glorious month in Ortisei in July, we thought a compare-and-contrast trip to the Bernese Oberland — specifically the Lauterbrunnen Valley — was in order.
RIc brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Ric brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Last year we came at the very end of September and encountered eight days of Chamber-of-Commerce weather. This year, we are a bit later and the villages are definitely napping between the intense periods of summer tourists and winter skiers. Days alternate between sunny and clear and overcast. Supposedly tomorrow it will rain, but we’ve had some terrific hikes and it should be nice enough on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to hike again. This is our fourth trip to the area and proves once again that repeat visits are advantageous. With a base of familiarity, we are free to discover new facets of the region. Being here in almost-off-season gives more insight into local life and there are fewer tourist groups packing the trains and lifts. Click on any image below for a better view. 
This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

We now have a favorite apartment here, at Ey-Hus. Owner James Graham (j.graham320@ntlworld.com) said I could share his contact information with you if anyone is interested. Two bedrooms, one with twin beds, one bath, small kitchen, nice big lounge, a view onto the waterfall and up to the mountains. The neighbors are grazing cows with their melodic Swiss bells. There’s a laundry, too, and a bus stop nearby allows one to easily travel the 1 kilometer to-and-from the train station with luggage or when one just does not feel like walking. As most of you know, we avoid cars when possible and this is the perfect place for a car-free holiday, with mountain trains and gondolas that go everywhere.  Renting an apartment and cooking most meals is a real budget saver in pricey Switzerland. James’ apartment even has a slow cooker so we can queue up dinner to cook while we hike.
The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The Val Gardena and our beloved Ortisei is less expensive, especially for food, and frankly, the restaurant choices are superior in the Val Gardena, but we don’t really visit either area for the cuisine. We come for the hiking and the scenery. And for the mountain transportation.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley has an incredible network of trains and lifts. It is thrilling to soar to the top of the Schilthorn and to chug all the way to the Top of Europe, the Jungfraujoch! It is also a delight to simply walk the easy hiking paths past the magnificent Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, whether in sun or in snow. By comparison, the Val Gardena offers hiking in high meadows as well as along rocky ridges, and it has the rifugi that we love. In Switzerland, there are few places to refuel along the trail. There are restaurants at the lift stations, but few-and-far-between are rest stops to hike to for a meal or a bathroom. 
Like trying to decide which child is your favorite, I cannot choose between Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen and what each region has to offer. I love them both. For those looking for a unique European getaway, spend 4 or 5 nights each in Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen. The U.S. has nothing like this. Contemplate what it might be like to visit the North Cascades or the Rocky Mountains if served by transportation systems like in Europe, as well as rifugi where you can eat good food, drink great coffee, possibly sleep, and always find a toilet when you need one.
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Swiss wrap-up

9 Oct
The trip to the Questura interrupted my tales of hiking in Switzerland.
We had unbelievable weather, sunny though chilly in the morning, no rain until the night before we departed for home. We never had to deploy an umbrella or pull up our hoods.
Having a full week in Lauterbrunnen afforded us an opportunity to explore the region a bit more than we have in two prior trips. Relative to the other meaning of “afford,” we were able to keep the budget somewhat in check by renting an apartment and cooking breakfast and most dinners. With this plan to travel extensively in retirement, we have committed to cooking more when we travel. After all, we have time. Plus, the food in Lauterbrunnen is rather uninspiring. It’s a cheese world after all: Rösti, Raclette, and Fondue are everywhere you turn. Vegetable options are slim, mostly potatoes and small green salads or coleslaw.
The trains and lifts get pretty expensive, but a Swiss half-fare card coupled with a Berner-Oberland Regional Pass meant we were able to save considerably on transportation during our 11 nights in Switzerland.
This is an extraordinary place to visit and hike. We really love the Dolomites, but Switzerland is pretty special too. It is incredibly clean and well-organized although the food and coffee are better in the Dolomites.
Which way? I love this picture Ric took of two hikers standing beneath a way-finding sign looking at their map.
Which way? I love this picture Ric took of two hikers standing beneath a way-finding sign looking at their map.
Hiking from First to Grosse Scheidegg, that's the EIger in the background. Everytime we go here we feel like we need to watch the Eiger Sanction again.
Hiking from First to Grosse Scheidegg, that’s the Eiger in the background. Every time we go here we feel like we need to watch “The Eiger Sanction” again.
We love this hike from Grutschalp to Muerren along the narrow gauge rail line.
We love this hike from Grutschalp to Muerren along the narrow gauge rail line.
Another favorite hike is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a view toward Grindelwald in the valley.
Another favorite hike is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a view toward Grindelwald in the valley.
My surveillance photo of Ric getting ready for a hike. At a train station, of course.
My surveillance photo of Ric getting ready for a hike. At a train station, of course.
Lunch in Muerren, overlooking the Laurterbrunnen Valley.
Lunch in Muerren, overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Bern city center as seen from the site of our lunch.
We did one city day, in Bern. Here, the city center as seen from the site of our lunch above the bear enclosure.
Subterranean shop in Bern.  There are many such shops.
Subterranean shop in Bern. There are many such shops, former storehouses and cellars.
Terra cotta bunnies, Bern, Switzerland.
Terra cotta bunny and mouse, Bern, Switzerland.
This is the guy we saw with the gun on the train two days before. He works for the railroad.
This is the guy we saw with the gun on the train two days before. He works for the railroad.
Looking out our back door. The morning we departed, the cows were put to graze in the meadow behind our apartment.
Looking out our back door. The morning we departed, the cows were put to graze in the meadow behind our apartment.
View from Harde Klum to Lake Brienz. Lovely day, difficult hike.
View from Harder Klum to Lake Brienz. Lovely day, difficult hike.

Guns and The Top of Europe

30 Sep
A man gets on the train carrying a gun. What would you do? If I was in France, Spain, Great Britain or the USA, I would dive for cover. But we are in Switzerland, in the Bernese Oberland to be precise, and apparently no one bats an eye. Neither did we since he walked in accompanied by another local, and even women pushing babies in strollers were undisturbed by the sight. I am not going to pretend I understand the Swiss mindset or even the laws around firearms. This article from Time magazine on the subject is pretty interesting. I am not sure I am more concerned about the fact he was hunting in an area where people hike or carrying a weapon in public. 
When we saw this guy get on we got the giggles. Can you imagine if this happened on MAX in Portland? This was on the Wengeralp narrow-gauge cog railway.
When we saw this guy get on we got the giggles. Can you imagine if this happened on MAX in Portland? This was on the Wengeralp narrow-gauge cog railway.
Switzerland seems to have its act together. The Swiss have managed to remain neutral in world politics, insulated from European Union issues as they are non-EU, but they take advantage of the Schengen Agreement and the abolishment of internal borders. Still, immigration is highly controlled. They have an admirable environmental record, plenty of water resources, clean air, excellent recycling, a thriving economy with low unemployment. Their public debt is less than 35% of GDP (compared to Italy at 134% and the USA at about 71%). And of course there’s the cheese. High prices do not seem to deter tourists, especially the Japanese who are here in droves and show no reluctance to shell out hundreds of Swiss Francs to see the sights and buy winter fashions. You would not believe the price of a Patagonia jacket here.
Staubbach Falls, visible from our vacation rental.
Staubbach Falls, visible from our vacation rental.
This is our third trip to Switzerland in less than 2 years. Yes, we like it. The food is not as good as Italy, and the coffee almost all comes from a ubiquitous push-button machine found in virtually every café and restaurant. It’s CHF 4.00 for a basic cup of coffee or a single shot of espresso. In fact, everything is quite expensive. While the exchange rate is almost on par with the U.S. dollar, the actual prices are high. A pizza that would cost us about $11.00-12.00 in Italy is about $23.00 here. A small green salad runs $8.50. Wine by the bottle is insanely expensive in restaurants, but one can get a small glass of good local wine for a price less than we experienced in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Why do we come back if it costs so much? The transportation system, the hiking, the natural beauty: Switzerland offers a lot of what we like to do when traveling. And it works, well, like a clock.
A Jungfraujoch train moves up the mountain. Most of the journey is in a tunnel inside the Eiger and the Mönch.
A Jungfraujoch train moves up the mountain. Most of the journey is in a tunnel inside the Eiger and the Mönch.
I have wanted to go to the Jungfraujoch since Matt Lauer went there in 2011 during his annual “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” tour. During our first two Swiss trips in January 2014 and August 2014, we dismissed the trip to the Jungfraujoch as too expensive. It costs CHF 204.40 per person from Lauterbrunnen in the valley to the Jungfraujoch and back. We learned that with certain types of passes one could pay less, so we vowed “the next time” we would make the trip. This is the next time, so we bought both half-fare Swiss passes and a Bernese Oberland Regional Pass. We had to pay a relatively small supplement to go all the way to the Top of Europe (called so because it is the highest train station in Europe). It was worth it!
Jungfraujoch Railroad - our train ready to depart.
Jungfraujoch Railroad – our train ready to depart.
Rising at 5:00 AM, we caught the first train up the mountain, in total about 1 hour 45 minutes from the bottom of the valley to the Jungfraujoch, arriving just before 9:00 AM. Some of the “tour” is goofy. The giant snowglobe in the Alpine Sensation was unrefined, and the Ice Palace sculptures were not nearly as nice as those at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival of my youth, but the pure beauty of the pristine mountain was the star, and contemplating the building of such a railroad in the 1890s sobering. Thanks to 100 Italian laborers, the tunnel was built.
View from the Top of Europe over the cloud-covered valley. It was very cold outside!
View from the Top of Europe over the cloud-covered valley. It was very cold outside!

We went outside on the observation platform, but the 33 kph winds combined with the -1.5 Celsius temp reminded us a bit too much of our Minnesota and North Dakota heritage. We lasted long enough to take a few photos. Going on the sledding course was out of the question, as was the glacier walk of 1 1/2 hours roundtrip. 
We were at 11,333 feet above sea level. That is lower than the elevation we hiked to in Colorado last month, but a completely different climate. In Colorado, we peeled off layers. Here, I wished I’d had my puffy coat.
Railway Station at the Top of Europe, inside the mountain.
Railway Station at the Top of Europe, inside the mountain.
This was an unforgettable trip and we are glad we did it. Going early was a great strategy, at least with the weather forecast we had. We would be unlikely to go twice, so it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

 

 

 

 

People walking on the glacier beneath the Jungfraujoch.
People walking on the glacier beneath the Jungfraujoch.
The Eiger pokes above low level clouds as we depart Kleine Scheidegg.
The Eiger pokes above low level clouds as we depart Kleine Scheidegg after our visit on high.
CHF 30,300 watch available at the highest watch shop in Europe.
CHF 30,300 watch available at the highest watch shop in Europe.
View of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Our apartment is just a bit to the left of the church.
View of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Our apartment is just a bit to the left of the church.
View from our apartment. We can also see Staubbach Falls from our terrace.
View from our apartment. We can also see Staubbach Falls from our terrace.

Compare & contrast

14 Sep
We were enchanted by The Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner-Oberland of Switzerland when we visited last winter (see New Year New Country), so upon our return to Rome in January we decided we needed to see the area without snow. Our return trip happened over American Labor Day weekend. What a beautiful area, with wildflowers blooming, snowy peaks, and perfectly clean little towns! What was really fun was to experience the differences between the area in the two seasons.
Ric at Mannlichen, bitingly cold wind

Ric at Mannlichen, bitingly cold wind

Similar view, same hill in the background, a little milder, with cow doo doo, in summer

Similar view, same hill in the background, a little milder, with cow doo doo, in summer

Obviously snow versus no snow was a huge difference, although our last morning we awoke to a temperature of 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and new snow in the mountains: a bit nippy for September 1.  We also found the crowds to be significantly less. Gondolas were never full. Trains were never full.  Trails were no more crowded than in winter, and restaurants were sparsely attended.  We thought summer would be high season, crawling with people but were delighted to find little Mürren uncrowded.
Mannlichen is above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, reached vis gondola and is a great ski area in winter.

Mannlichen is above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, reached via gondola and is a great ski area in winter.

Mannlichen summit in summer, similar perspective. Gondolas ferry hikers.

Mannlichen summit in summer, similar perspective. Gondolas ferry hikers.

 

Kleine Scheidigg is the jump off point for skiing in winter, and the train to the Jungfraujoch year-round.

Kleine Scheidigg is the jump off point for skiing in winter, and the train to the Jungfraujoch year-round.

Sames trains, but fewer people in summer, at least when we were there.

Sames trains, but fewer people in summer, at least when we were there.

 

An interesting contrast was the make-up of the traveling population we encountered. Last winter there were hundreds of Japanese tourists. They did not seem to be among the skiers, but were happily riding gondolas and cog railways to experience the view and the snow. In summer we found more Swiss from other parts of the country enjoying the area, some folks who were dressed much like the Amish in America (they might have been German), and an amazing number of people we presumed to be from Islamic countries based on the dress of the women, which ranged from a simple hajab to abaya and niqab. We do not see this much in Rome, so I was surprised to see so many observant Muslims dressed so in Switzerland.  We also saw or met many Chinese, a few Japanese, some French, some Americans, Canadians, an Israeli, but no Italians at all.
Murren in winter.

Murren in winter.

Roughly same view in summer

Roughly same view in summer

 
I must say Switzerland is more expensive than Italy, so no doubt the Italians prefer the Dolomites. In Mürren we found a ½ bottle of wine was upwards of €25 (about $32) in a restaurant. A simple dinner of pizza, wine and salad was easily €62, about $80. In Rome, we can eat the same dinner for as little as €35 ($45). At least visiting Switzerland made us feel better about prices in Rome, as bad as they can be.
A rare photo together. A nice Swiss family we met snapped this for us. If it wasn't foggy you;d see amazing mountains behind us.

A rare photo together. A nice Swiss family we met snapped this for us. If it wasn’t foggy you’d see amazing mountains behind us.

Chamois grazing near Murren. They hang out along the narrow gauge rail line then bound off when the train comes.

Chamois grazing near Murren. They hang out along the narrow gauge rail line then bound off when the train comes.

We would like to hike in Switzerland again, but will probably choose a self-catering apartment and cook some meals. That’s a real contrast to our usual mode of travel!

 

One morning we woke up to dense fog, but the other side of the valley was fine.

One morning we woke up to dense fog, but the other side of the valley was fine.

Murren is a very pretty, serene town, but not easy to reach: 5 trains and a gondola lift from Rome to Murren.

Murren is a very pretty, serene town, but not easy to reach: 5 trains and a gondola lift from Rome to Murren.

The Jungfrau Railway "Top of Europe" attracts THOUSANDS of visitors a year who pay upward of $200 to take the ride.

The Jungfrau Railway “Top of Europe” attracts THOUSANDS of visitors each year who pay upward of $200 to take the ride.

This little train chugs to the highest railway station in Europe. Many people come here solely to do this. Maybe next time for us.

This is the little train that chugs to the highest railway station in Europe. Many people come here solely to do this and neither hike nor ski. Maybe next time for us.

We frequently hiked through grazing herds of cows

We frequently hiked through grazing herds of cows.

Winterwandern

5 Jan

This trip was to be a mutual Christmas present of Paris or London for a weekend, but we decided we wanted to go by train. Then a friend suggested Vienna—also too far by train—which led Ric to think maybe Switzerland. But in the winter? We haven’t willingly spent time in snow for years. Then I discovered that the Swiss groom trails for something called Winterwandern (Winter hiking) and as hiking always interests us, the planning began.

The little Swiss town of Spiez; Snow in the mountains, nothing in the town.

The little Swiss town of Spiez; Snow in the mountains, nothing in the town.

When we stepped off the train in Spiez, the first thing that came to mind was the line from the movie “White Christmas” where upon stepping off the train Rosemary Clooney says “There has to be snow!  This place is advertised as America’s Winter Playground!” We thought Switzerland in winter would be snow-covered from end to end. We needn’t have worried: Once up out of the valleys there was plenty of snow…and great hiking!

January 3 saw us above Lauterbrunnen hiking to Mürren. Of course one can hike up the 700-or-so meters (1800 feet), but why waste energy (and knees) when there’s a fun gondola? Once on top, we hiked almost alone the 1.5 hours to Mürren, paralleling the electric railroad that ferries skiers and non-hikers. Quiet, except for the distant sounds of helicopters doing God-knows-what on the other side of the valley, and the electric glide of the train every 15 minutes. Crunching through snow in and out of forest on groomed trails was absolutely delightful.

Trail to Murren, through lovely piney woods.

Trail to Murren, through lovely piney woods.

On the trail, a mother pushes her children in a "sledge"

On the trail, a mother pushes her children in a “sledge”

Captivating town of Murren. Only a few service vehicles allowed. Otherewise all pedestrian...which includes people on skies and sleds.

Captivating town of Murren. Only a few service vehicles allowed. Otherewise all pedestrian…which includes people on skies and sleds.

Tine skier in Murren

Tiny skier in Murren

Mürren is cute and definitely on our radar for a future summer trip. With minimal motorized traffic and typical Swiss architecture, filled with adorable children learning to ski, it is also the jump off point for a ride on a gondola to the Schilthorn and Piz GLoria, a mountain setting featured in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” the 007 movie starring one-time Bond, George Lazenby.  More intriguing to us, as non-skiers, were the people heading to 9748 feet to ski and snow board down. Yikes! The slopes looked impossible to us (remember, we are from MN and ND originally), but even children were whizzing down them from this amazing height in a snow storm!

Japanese tourist in snowstorm to have her picture taken with "James Bond". I stayed inside.

Japanese tourist in snowstorm to have her picture taken with “James Bond”. I stayed inside.

Sun!

Sun!

Descending via the cable way, we re-entered Mürren and the sun came out, brightening the winterscape and warming our backs as we hiked down to Gimmelwald, a tiny village on the cliff from where one can catch yet another gondola back to the valley floor.  On the way down to Gimmelwald from Mürren we were passed by those commuting on sleds through what would be village paths in summer. No one even came close to hitting us as everyone is very aware of the need to share the “road” safely. The occasional and friendly “Achtung!” warned us to step aside.

Little sledder spins out on the trail to Gimmelwald. She laughingly recovered.

Little sledder spins out on the trail to Gimmelwald. She laughingly recovered.

January 4

The weather report says 1-3 inches of snow expected in Mürren and Wengen. Better than rain in the valley, so we headed up the cliff again. This time treating ourselves to the train along the cliff top to Mürren, we were joined by a Japanese tour group. The Japanese apparently flock here in winter, not for skiing but for simple sightseeing. There are families as well as young singles, each with a smartphone, iPad, or camera snapping away at the scenery and each other. I was struck by the politeness of the group, standing aside to allow people to descend from the train row by row. After the every-person-for-themselves attitude in public transportation in Rome, it was surprising to have the Brits “minding the queue,” Germans telling their children to “akt freundlich” (Literally “act friendly” but used in the context of correcting a child about to barge through a crowd to get to the front), and now the Japanese bowing to let us out of our row in turn! For those who do not know, there is no queue for bus or Metro in Rome. People do not wait for those exiting to descend before trying to crowd onto buses or trains. It is a free-for-all at every stop. Italians are warm and engaging, helpful and friendly. They will give you free food, the shirt off their backs, and go ten minutes out of the way to give directions, but they’ll knock old ladies out of the way to get on the bus first.  In Switzerland there is no free food – they even charge for tap water – but they do line up and allow people to pass on the sidewalk or trail. The Swiss are efficient above all. But I digress….

The train to Murren parallels the trail for much of the way. Note the open air baggage car for luggage, supplies, skies.

The train to Murren parallels the trail for much of the way. Note the open air baggage car for luggage, supplies, skies.

Funicular to Allmendhuble

Funicular to Allmendhuble

Yet another mode of transportation awaited us, the funicular at Allmendhubel. A quick three minute trip took us to the starting point of a downhill hike back to Mürren. The big difference this time is we shared a mixed-use trail with skiers and “sledgers” as translated into English, the people using the “bob run.” It was a little disquieting to have tiny children as well as adults flying by us on skies and on sleds for what must easily have been a 6 km downhill run. Once again, everyone behaved beautifully and watched where they were going. I doubt we’d have as much luck in the U.S. on such a run as evidenced by my friend Heather who was run down by a sled a few days ago in Oregon. Grazie a Dio she wasn’t injured. Here, if someone ran you down, you might go flying off a cliff!

Murren

Murren

Skiers gather in the shadow of the Jungfrau

Skiers gather in the shadow of the Jungfrau

Sharing the "trail" with sleds and skiers.

Sharing the “trail” with sleds and skiers.

A final word on food here: There’s little variation. I know, some of you are thinking “Italian food is all the same” but I beg to differ! There are 10,000 <sic> pasta dishes, there’s risotto, there are fagioli, vegetables beautifully prepared, seafood galore. Sure we have salumi and cheeses in Italy, but meat is often only a small portion of the meal. Here it seems every restaurant’s menu is the same as the next. Raclette, fondue, rösti:  everything is bathed in cheese, there’s a huge emphasis on meat and potatoes, and the major form of vegetable is salad. The “Italian food” served here in the Berner-Oberland is more like the American-ized version, not the preparations we have come to love. The bread is phenomenal, though, and breakfast is more than a croissant. The coffee comes in large cups and is robust. While I love my Italian espresso shots, sitting here in the cold a larger cup of coffee seems right, although it costs about as much for a cup of coffee (no refill!) here as it costs for a great panino for lunch in Rome.

Tomorrow we return to Rome. We’d love to hike this place in the summer for comparison, but it has given us resolve to go to the Dolomites next winter. Maybe we’ll have a White Christmas in Italy’s Winter Playground. At least we know they serve Italian food there.

It's still Christmas here! Ends with Epiphany, January 6!

It’s still Christmas here! Ends with Epiphany, January 6!

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