Mürren and the Bernese Oberland

July 31, 2019

Now we were finished the Tour du Mont Blanc, and today was our big travel day onwards to our vacation around Switzerland. So after breakfast we reorganized our luggage and waited for the van to take us to Geneva Airport.

We spent some time in the train station there buying rail passes: the Swiss half-fare pass and the Bernese Oberland pass. That meant we would get mostly free transportation for the next ten days, although at a high initial cost. The process went smoothly and within fifteen minutes we were on our way.

We noticed that our train to Bern was leaving in ten minutes; we hadn’t had lunch yet but we decided that since the trip to Bern was two hours long, we could get some food on the train. As it pulled out of the station, among the announcements in several languages we heard “This train is operating without a restaurant.” Okay then, no lunch for a while.

Our journey involved five different trains with short connections, but surprisingly we got to Mürren without missing any of them! On the cable car to Grütschalp we saw someone that looked like our hostess Denise from Chalet Fontana; she looked at us, we looked at her, and sure enough after three years we did recognize each other.

Chalet Fontana in Mürren

Chalet Fontana in Mürren

We settled in and then went out for a walk around the village. For dinner, out of the many restaurants we decided on the Eiger Guesthouse, as it had good reviews. We mentioned to the waiter that it was Rosemary’s birthday today, so they put a candle on her dessert (apple strudel). Fortunately they didn’t sing Happy Birthday.

Chamois in Mürren

Chamois in Mürren

August 1, 2019

For the first time on our trip there was no need to get up early. Yesterday’s clouds had gone away so after breakfast we got on our boots and went out for a hike. Today we were taking the train, cable car, and train across the valley to Wengen. Paul went into the Coop to buy some lunch food and then we took another cable car up to the ski area of Männlichen.

We were looking for White-winged Snowfinches, which live in the high mountains near snow patches, and eBird told us that some had been seen there a couple of weeks ago. As we walked up to the local peak we saw some small birds fly over, but they weren’t Snowfinches. The walk, named the Royal Way, passed by several stops with descriptions of the various views, and it was pretty short.

Eiger view at Männlichen

Eiger view at Männlichen

At the top we enjoyed the 360-degree view, which was dominated by the famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, along with many other high peaks. It was almost noon so we decided to sit on one of the benches and have part of our lunch. The views were fantastic and the sun was really warm, so it made for a great lunch spot.

Children’s playground at Männlichen

Children’s playground at Männlichen

We headed back down and then along the trail to Kleine Scheidegg, which was mostly flat. It had been recommended by Rick Steves, who was apparently filming in the area today. We stopped part of the way along to scan for birds, but once again no luck with Snowfinches.

At Kleine Scheidegg we decided to take the train down immediately, since the station was packed with people heading in all directions. The trip down seemed to take a while but at least we had seats, so it wasn’t too bad. By the time we got back to Mürren it was close to 4 pm, and we had a rest for a while before going out to dinner.

Cow grazing in a meadow near Kleine Scheidegg

Cow grazing in a meadow near Kleine Scheidegg

Dinner was at Stägerstühl, which was just across the road. The food was very good but we were still finding it hard to spend 60 Swiss francs for dinner. Yes, we were in Switzerland but it would take a while to get used to that. As we were eating we noticed clouds building up; tonight were the fireworks and bonfire for Swiss National Day so we hoped it wouldn’t rain.

At 8:30 pm we looked out and sure enough, it was raining. But anyway we headed up to the sports centre to see what was going on. The village was covered with flags and the hall was full of people, probably both locals and tourists. There was a brass band playing, wearing spiffy blue uniforms, and they were pretty good players too. So we found a place to sit and listen for a while. We didn’t buy into the tombola (raffle) because we didn’t have room to carry anything we might have won. We noticed one young man who won a toilet brush—his face was quite something!

About 9:45 pm the MC announced that the parade would begin soon, so most people started going outside and we joined them. The parade was led by six men pounding on very large. Some of the children had paper lanterns lit up by small flashlights and other people had torches. By the time we got back to Chalet Fontana the rain was coming down harder, so we left the parade and went inside.

August 2, 2019

We woke up to overcast skies and rain, so our plan to go up the Schilthorn was put on hold. Instead we decided to go down to Interlaken for a look around. Denise suggested that we might take a boat ride across Lake Thun and then walk back through the nature reserve, and that sounded like a good idea if it didn’t rain too much.

Rainy day in Interlaken

Rainy day in Interlaken

Once we arrived at Interlaken there wasn’t any improvement in the weather, so walking along the sidewalks was treacherous because of the number of umbrellas. And we weren’t impressed much, as it seemed like mostly a place for rich people to go shopping. But we did find our way to the park behind the casino, where there was a floral clock with a display that was triggered at noon. Little gnomes were activated and they popped up to strike notes on metallic mushrooms.

Gnomes playing mushrooms at noon

Gnomes playing mushrooms at noon

We arrived at the boat dock with seconds to spare, and boarded the lake boat just before it cast off. The first part of the journey was along a river channel which led out into Lake Thun. The weather was improving and we hoped the day would stay dry. The boat’s first stop, a place called Neuhaus, was also our destination. After we docked we went to the restaurant there and had a really good lunch. Rosemary had a salad which included fruit, and Paul had a chicken curry salad.

Lake Thun ferry

Lake Thun ferry

After lunch we started our walk back to Interlaken, along a trail through the nature reserve. It was a former flood plain which had somewhat dried up when the Aare river was used for hydroelectric power. Now it’s a place with reeds and shallow water. We stopped several times to look at the birds, but since it was August there weren’t that many to be seen.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

We were almost back to Interlaken when it started to rain again. There wasn’t much we could do except to pick up the pace and hope we didn’t get too wet. After taking the trains and cable car back to Mürren we stopped at the Coop to buy some food for dinner. Rather than going out to eat, we sat in the lounge at Chalet Fontana and had sandwiches for an ad-hoc dinner.

August 3, 2019

Today was the day we had planned to go hiking at Schynige Platte, a beautiful alpine resort. Up at our usual time, we looked out to see some clouds but also a lot of blue sky. So we had breakfast, got our packs, and headed to the train station.

Wilderswil train station

Wilderswil train station

Well, due to near misses and bad connections in the train system, it was afternoon before we arrived at Schynige Platte. Originally we had planned to hike to First and take the cable car down to Grindelwald, but as this was a six-hour hike we would probably miss the last cable car from First.

View over Lake Thun

View over Lake Thun

So instead we went into the self-service café and got some goulash soup for lunch. Our new plan was to hike the Panoramaweg, a loop trail about 5 or 6 kilometers long around the area. We had done part of the trail three years ago but didn’t do all of it because of trail construction. The trail is a really nice one to walk along as it has spectacular views overlooking Interlaken and Lakes Thun and Brienz on one side and towards the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau on the other. The mountains had clouds on the tops but otherwise the views were great.

Panoramaweg view

Panoramaweg view

The return part of the loop went down through fields where cows were grazing. The chiming of the cowbells was a cacophony in one of the fields! It was a good day, even with only a short walk.

On the way back we arranged things so that we could ride on the first of three trains which were leaving Schynige Platte at more or less the same time. This turned out to be the best choice since our train arrived at Wilderswil just in time for us to make the connection with the Lauterbrunnen train. As it pulled out of the station we could see the passengers on the second train looking at us with envy and annoyance.

Back in Mürren we decided to go back to the Eiger Guesthouse for dinner. Paul had gnocchi and Rosemary had a pizza, and then we had tea back at Chalet Fontana.

August 4, 2019

The weather was perfect this morning, so after breakfast we headed to the Schilthorn cable car. Our Bernese Oberland pass covered 50% of the cost, so we paid 41.30 Swiss francs each. Still an expensive morning, but now we can say we’ve been there. On the way we’d noticed that the temperature at the top was only 3° C, but we had enough clothing to keep us warm in the sun. The view today was very impressive; dozens of peaks from the nearby Eiger to a small notch where the distant Mont Blanc peeked through. Being there quite early was great as there weren’t too many tourists about yet.

Distant view of Mont Blanc

Distant view of Mont Blanc

The Piz Gloria was the location where the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed, so everything up there had a James Bond theme. We spent quite a while at the top, starting with two short movies about the area. The show about the making of the movie was interesting because it showed the locations used as well as the techniques and stunts used. It was a bit of a shock to realize that the filming took place fifty years ago, and much has changed in the movie industry since then.

James Bond with latest Bond Girl

James Bond with latest Bond Girl

Outside there were boards with photos of many of those involved, from George Lazenby down to stuntmen, along with personal comments written by them. It really wasn’t tacky at all. Except for the Bond Girl silhouettes in the men’s toilet.

Back in Mürren we stopped in at the coop and bought food for lunch, and also two types of salad meals for our dinner. Today was Sunday and so it was the day of the Dorf fest parade. After lunch we sat outside on the bench, waiting for the parade to begin.

It started at 1:30 pm with the procession of the cows, with their decorated head pieces. Then there was a band, some small floats, locals dressed in costume, a drum corps, and finally the men clanging their huge cowbells. While all that was going on there were people giving out chocolates and ice cream (to the kids) and glasses of wine and schnapps (not to the kids). It was fun watching the parade.

Prize cows in the Dorf fest parade

Prize cows in the Dorf fest parade

James Bond in the Dorf fest parade

James Bond in the Dorf fest parade

We still had time this afternoon so we decided to walk down to Gimmelwald, the next village up the valley. It’s a small quiet village with only a few places to stay, no Coop for food but there are places to eat. It’s even more isolated and remote than Mürren. We walked along the steep and narrow road, mostly, until we reached the centre of the village.

Historic house in Gimmelwald

Historic house in Gimmelwald

Gimmelwald may be remote but it’s also a stop on the cable car which goes up to the Schilthorn. So we decided to take the cable car down to Stechelberg and then walk along the valley floor to Lauterbrunnen. We didn’t have to wait long for the cable car to arrive, but it was jam-packed full of people on bus tours. Luckily it was a short trip down.

The walking path to Lauterbrunnen was about five kilometers long and paved all the way. The first part was in the shade and very pleasant, but the rest was exposed to the sun which was very warm. It took us just over an hour to do the walk and as luck would have it the cable car up to Grütschalp departed within minutes of our arrival there.

Houses around Lauterbrunnen

Houses around Lauterbrunnen

Our packaged salads and buns from the Coop made a very satisfying dinner; tomorrow we’d be moving on to Kandersteg so we would have to repack our big duffle bag in the morning.

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