Trip: Switzerland May 2022 Part IV
May 14, Saturday
We were up, breakfasted and in the car, ready to head to Lauterbrunnen, by about 10:30 am. The drive to Bern, our first stop along the way was uneventful. We drove through numerous tunnels as we returned to a district of mountains. (We are headed northeast.)
Bern is the capital of Switzerland and an interesting medieval city, as well. We parked the car and set off on foot to see the old town. It didn’t take an avid eye to realize that something was going on that Saturday in Bern…There were young people with CREW vests and cones set up along the street. Scores of people were milling about and window shopping, just like we were. The main street in this old district of Bern was decorated with flags of Switzerland, Bern Canton and Bern City. What a very festive air! Thankfully, with no traffic on the street, we could walk down the wide avenue from fountain to fountain, admiring the architecture and the stores.
What I will remember about Bern is all these tiny shops that are actually under the sidewalks. Yes, the sidewalk is raised above the street level. Into the walls of the raised sidewalk there are small doorways cut out…all individualized to reflect the wares of the store below ground. On the sidewalk level, above the doorway, there are display cases for the wares of the underground merchant. It is an amazingly efficient use of space! We didn’t descend into any of these shops, though. Peering down the steps to these underground stores was just a little claustrophobia producing.
We walked the full length of the street, at the far end crossing a bridge, and sitting down to lunch on the terrace of a large restaurant overlooking the river. We had delicious local foods in a beer hall atmosphere, perfect for a sunny Saturday afternoon! And then, the race began!
All the hubbub was for a 10-mile foot race – a local tradition – revived now after the pandemic with record participation. A good guess would put the number of runners at about 1,000. Young and old and everyone in between!
After lunch, as we returned up the main street to our car, we walked as the runners ran past. What energy!
We arrived in Lauterbrunnen in the late afternoon. The area is very much like northern Wisconsin – sparsely populated and hundreds of trees. Unlike Wisconsin, there are mountains. Big mountains! The Alps, of course. The sight of these giants, covered with pure white snow, is inspiring. We never got tired of it.
Our hotel was the Silberhorn Hotel. We loved our room. It had a big balcony looking out over the town and the mountains to the east. We are in the Jungfrau region, a sub region of the Bernese Oberland. The JungFrau is the formation that dominates our skyline. “Jungfrau” means virgin.
As we will find out tomorrow, there are actually three of these giants – mountains over 4000m high – right in our front yard. They are the Juangfrau, Mönch and Eiger.
That first afternoon, our walk took us through the village to see the Staubbach Falls. You can see them from just about everywhere in the town, but that isn’t the same as walking right up to them and seeing the complete course of their fall. They are not high-volume falls, but they are long, (longest in Europe) which permits the drops of water to spread out and appear very misty.
Goethe’s poem Song of the Spirits over the Waters was inspired by his visit here in 1779. And our friend, Lord Byron, compared them to “the tail of the pale horse ridden by Death in the Apocalypse.” Quite a colorful description! There are also two other long falls on that side of the valley as you travel down toward that far end. There are 72 waterfalls total in this valley, and it is from them that Lauterbrunnen gets its name, which means “many fountains.”
The town isn’t much to write about, except to say that it is perfect for the type of people who visit. Hiking and biking and ski shops are everywhere. Accommodations are geared to these adventurous types, too, as are the food choices. Most places are informal with regional food – nothing fancy, but everything hearty and accompanied by beer.
We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, a knotty pine affair that, despite the checkered curtains, kept me thinking of northern Wisconsin (even the hallway outside our room smelled like a certain favorite place of mine in WI which I have been warned not to mention by name…). We are very happy and relaxed here. It’s that sort of place; a true vacation spot.
May 15, Sunday
Thanks to some other Americans with whom we spoke at breakfast, we made our plans for the day – namely to take the cable car all the way up the mountain to Schilthorn. That must mean as little to you as it did to us before we did it, but I can assure you it was an unforgettable trip.
We drove to the end of the road, to the cable car station.
A ticket to go all the way to the top was 100CHF. The car was packed with people on their way up – many fully kitted out for skiing. (It is impossible for me to consider skiing in mountains this tall (but then I am a worse-than-average skier!). Today was the last day of the ski season, so our fellow cable car riders were full of energy and bulky with clothing and equipment.
The cable car takes you up in four stages. The first stage stops in Birk. There is a town there, but we continued right on to the next stage and got off in Mȕrren, another famous resort town. This village allows no motorized vehicles (most of the time). The town is strung out along the ridge that looks down into the valley where Lauterbrunnen is. We walked through town, amazed at the amount of construction underway and thunderstruck by the view of the mountains, the giants I mentioned yesterday.
I walked out of the village along the ridge in the direction of Winteregg, expecting a spectacular view of the main peaks. Perhaps I didn’t go far enough, but I thought the best views were those we had in town. I undertook the walk because the train which normally services the route between Lauterbrunnen and Mȕrren is closed down. (And we are thankful for that as it appears that part of that route is less than 50 yards from our hotel window.)
When I returned to Mȕrren, we decide to go up to the top of Schilthorn and eat in the famous revolving restaurant. The next stage of the cable car brought us to a level with a wide viewing terrace and also a thrill walk, but we continued up to the final point, the peak of Shilthorn and a place called Piz Gloria.
Worried we might miss the lunch service at the restaurant we headed directly there. At first it was a little disorienting to step onto the part of the restaurant that moves – that is, the area under the tables that are closest to the windows. Once we realized what exactly was moving and what was still, we got used to it. It was mesmerizing to watch the panorama change as we glided by. It was a fun experience. The food was just satisfactory, so it is a blessing that it isn’t more expensive because of the location and the novelty.
The topmost level is all themed around James Bond, as apparently some of the oldest Bond movies were filmed up there. I admit my ignorance about early Bond movies and so none of the references made much of an impression on me. The actual Bond Exhibit area is closed – and I am not sure why. It isn’t because of the snow because you see photographs of groups enjoying the Bond exhibits and the trails they made through the snow. Perhaps it is because of the melting snow, which we discovered was very slippery.
The snow on this spring day is heavy and wet. It isn’t that cold – the air is in the 60s, but there is a lot of snow. It was good enough for the last day of skiing. We stopped to watch both skiers and snowboarders head down the mountain. For our part we enjoyed the views and took pictures.
We then proceeded to the next lower level, where Jackie and I successfully attempted the thrill walk. The thrill walk is a metal walkway attached to the side of the mountain. Beneath you, and the metal grating you walk on is – nothing. For thousands of feet. Sometimes, for a laugh you get to walk on glass…other times you can tight rope walk across about 10 feet, with just a net around you. Just imagine the thrill (shiver of horror?) watching someone else’s toddler walk across that alone.
For us, a closed section of the walk forced us to turn around and walk all the way back. You’re easily at 3800 m and going back up all the stairs literally takes your breath away, even if you don’t look down!
But the views are incomparable and the pictures…We ran into a couple having their wedding pictures taken up there. Makes perfect sense! An unforgettable day with unforgettable pictures.
A constant and colorful sight in the skies between us and the peaks, were the hang gliders. Soaring at these heights must be quite an experience. I will pass. However, Jackie and Gerry were considering it – under certain conditions… (Really??)
The trip back down was just a little melancholy. It will be hard to say goodbye to these beautiful mountains and this beautiful place.
Before dinner, we sneaked into the laundromat and got our laundry done – sneaked in because the laundromat was a hopping place on a Sunday evening! We got a chance to talk with a young couple on holiday from Saudi Arabia. As we prepped for dinner a thunderstorm started up in the mountains…it was fun to watch it form and roll over us.
We had dinner again in the hotel restaurant, this time seated out in the greenhouse area with a view of the evening, as it darkened, and the rain. The couple we saw being photographed at the top of the mountain was having dinner at the next table. And then, one of the nicest surprises I have had in my whole life: Our waitress brought us the rest of the bottle of wine we hadn’t finished the night before! They saved it for us! Can you believe it? (I bet you’re thinking you can’t believe that I left a bottle of wine unfinished…You’re right. That’s pretty unbelievable too!)
Before we leave Lauterbrunnen, I want to tell you a story about it. Jackie mentioned it to me as a place a friend of hers had visited. Mind you, my only trip to Switzerland was a stop in Geneva on my birthday back in 2001. So, I knew nothing about Switzerland before this trip. I researched Lauterbrunnen a little bit – just enough to confirm it existed. Then, one morning, I opened my computer and there is an image on the screen, in super HDR, of a place that looks like something out of a fantasy. And, there was something else – a question about Rivendell…the home of the elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Well, it was Lauterbrunnen!!! You can bet I wanted to go after learning that Tolkien was so taken with Lauterbrunnen when he hiked here in 1911 that he modeled Rivendell on it!
Lauterbrunnen was certainly one of the highlights of this trip. I don’t think I have conveyed to you how much we all loved it here, how the backdrop of the mountains was an amazing way to forget yourself and your problems and just revel in Nature. It is certainly a place to come back to. And, like most of Switzerland, it isn’t a place you go to check things off a bucket list. It is a place to be, to live for a week or as long as your vacations permits, and to enjoy the out-of-doors, in any season!
Tomorrow, we will be in Zurich and drop off our rental car. Just 3 big cities left on this trip! Keep reading!