Our entire trip throughout Europe was loosely conceived back in California but detailed day by day. If you know us, you know we are not big planners but rather fly a bit loosely with the wind. As it turned out booking a train from Amsterdam, Netherlands to a destination which would land us near the Swiss Alps turned out to be more expensive than we imagined. This time, we took a short flight to Zurich on British Airways, home of the just smaller than every other airline carrier in regard to carry-on luggage. So, for this leg alone, we parted from our luggage. With the transportation so ideal in Europe, we were able to exit the plane and within a short distance away we boarded a train toward our next adventure. Trains in Europe and Switzerland are quite timely and efficient as one would imagine. The challenge for the passenger is to navigate through the stations and platforms to make short connections. So after 2 flights and 4 trains we landed at our next destination.
We learned the best place to visit the Alps was from the area known as Berner Oberland. We stayed in the central town of Lauterbrunnen. I imagine this town to be not quite so quaint or peaceful during high seasons, summer or winter ski season. Thus traveling on what is known as the shoulder season is the only way to travel as we did...day by day. We stayed at the Hotel Staubbach. The hotel was quite nice and provided the best view we had on this trip. From the third floor we had a view looking out into the rolling green valley with the huge Trummel falls just yards away. We were within 10 minutes walking from anywhere in the town, that’s how small it is.
Within an hour of arriving at our hotel it was time to set out for dinner. We were directed to a restaurant attached to the Jungfrau camping village. Though it was dark we were directed to walk down a narrow path to our destination. As we were merrily pinching ourselves at the thought of being in Switzerland, bells were tinkling in the wind on this evening. As we walked past a cemetery, the tinkling increased. This made my mind swirl about the old tales of bell ringers. Surely, you’ve heard about burying dead people long ago in England with a bell inside their coffin in case they came back to life, right? Dead people, ringing bells, in a dark windy night in Switzerland started to become freaky. It was so dark that we couldn’t see much. Eventually we noticed movement across the road only to discover that the bells were that of goats.Mystery solved. Whew!
In the 5 days we spent in Lauterbrunnen we were plagued with a layer of fog midway up the mountains. We had a clear view below up to the fog level which meant we were seeing just the base of the Alps. For our first trip up the Alps we took a cable car to the top of the Schilthorn, where a James Bond movie was filmed long ago. As we rose above the fog everyone in the lift squealed with excitement. The sunshine and beauty were astounding. After departing from the cable car we walked a short distance where we just sat, relaxed and tried to take it all in. We took the lift halfway down so we could meander through the small villages which wind down the mountain. We strolled through Gimmelwald, Murren and through the long valley along the river into Lauterbrunnen. There were an amazing number of really beautiful cows with big bells, just like the ones that can be heard in ski competitions, ringing all over the valley from the necks of cows, sheep and goats.
Our best day in Switzerland entailed a train to the town of Grindelwald where we took a lift to First. We had the same fog peeling experience this day and disembarked into beautiful sunshine. From here we could actually see Jungfrau, the highest peak in Europe at 13,642’ high and known as the Top of Europe. Jungfrau is one of three peaks all of which reach over 13,000’. This day, we went for a 5 hour hike, also known as wander by the Swiss (fitting isn’t it?). It took us past lakes, through bits of snow, past the oldest lodge in Switzerland, through loose shale, along mountain ridges into areas that looked almost like desert and back down into the fog with we are told hundreds of varieties of pine trees. The hike was challenging and wonderful as I loved every minute of it as did many other European hikers. As we descended back into the fog we began getting chilled while we waited at the train station at Kleine Scheidegg. This little station is home to one of the oldest and steepest trains in Switzerland. Though we enjoyed the ride immensely I couldn’t wait to get back to lower elevations to warm up.
Our last day was spent taking a train down to Interlaken which are two lakes; Brienze and Thun. From there we visited the town of Thun (prounounced tune) where we shopped in the rain, ate brats with beer, visited another beautiful old church and from there we took in the lovely views of the city and lakes below. Just another beautiful spot in Switzerland.
The crisp fresh October air, the colors of fall,the crystal clear sky amidst the snow covered mountaintops, the low lying fog, the tinkling of the livestock bells, fondue and rosti and the beauty that surrounded us was something I will remember fondly.
Next stop, coastal cities in Liguria, Italy.