June 24, 2016
We were up before 6 am today, as we had an early-morning flight to Geneva. It appears that Britain has voted narrowly to leave the EU—we’re going to be living in interesting times, and so is Caroline! But our holiday was back on track and we were happy to be on the move.
We took the Tube and the Docklands Light Railway to London City airport, and upon arrival we found that our flight had been delayed by almost an hour. They kept apologizing for the length of the security queue, blaming a “technical issue”, but surprisingly it moved quite quickly and we were through in 20 minutes. We found seats in the waiting area and proceeded to watch the departures board for our flight. Finally at 9:35 am (well over an hour after scheduled departure) we got a gate assignment, so we got our seat assignments and proceeded downstairs to another waiting area. Here we sat for another 15 minutes.
Now we had an explanation for all the delays: the plane that we should have been on had broken down in Geneva, so a replacement plane was flown in from Edinburgh. So far, so good, but then the catering truck had loaded the wrong food onto the new plane, and that all had to be unloaded and the correct food loaded.
Finally we were off, on our way to Geneva. The flight time was an hour and a half, and they managed to serve us breakfast in that time. We had eggs, sausage, ham, and hash browns, as well as orange juice and yogurt. A very tasty meal and much needed, as we hadn’t bothered with breakfast when leaving Caroline’s place.
In Geneva we bought our half-price rail cards and our tickets to Lauterbrunnen; the half-price cards cost us CHF 120 each but they are valid for a whole month and they already saved us CHF 40 just on today’s trip.
The journey from the airport through Geneva, along the lake, through Fribourg to Bern took almost two hours. Our connecting train in Bern was 13 minutes late; we could hear that there were announcements about that delay, but it was very noisy and we couldn’t understand them. Fortunately we caught on that there was a platform change involved, and we managed to get to the correct platform before the train arrived.
Another hour on this train took us to Interlaken Ost. But because it had left Bern 14 minutes late, it arrived at Interlaken late and we missed our connection. But no matter, the little mountain train to Lauterbrunnen runs every half hour so we just took the next one.
Lauterbrunnen is a very small town, so after we collected some pamphlets from the tourist information office it only took us a few minutes to walk to the far end of the town to the Chalet im Rohr, which would be our home for the next two nights. It’s a big old wooden building with creaky floors and various passageways. We were greeted heartily by our hostess, who showed us our room. It was a cute room with two single beds, a wardrobe, and a sink: perfect for us. There wasn’t much floor space but there was a nice view over the church and the noisy rushing river.
We could do self-catering here, so after changing out of our hiking boots we went shopping at the Co-op, back near the train station. We bought some groceries for breakfasts and lunches and then, since it was dinner time by now and we’d only had tea and a muffin on the train, we headed back to the centre of town and decided on the Hotel Oberland for dinner. It seemed sort of expensive but it wasn’t really, it’s just in Switzerland. We both decided to have the Swiss Meal offer that included salad, rösti with sausage or tomatoes and cheese, and a meringue dessert. The whole meal was delicious and very filling, so we didn’t have the hunger problem any more. What a way to start our holiday in Switzerland!
Back at the chalet we tried to figure out which rail pass we should buy—there’s a Bernese Oberland pass and a Jungfrau pass and they have a wide array of confusingly similar but different features. And it’s impossible to evaluate them unless you have a detailed plan of what trains and buses you plan to take, which of course we didn’t have that. Eventually we sat out on the porch to enjoy the view while writing up our journals before going to bed.
June 25, 2016
Last night was very warm and we hardly needed any blankets at all to sleep. But the day dawned overcast with low clouds, so we decided to walk up the valley to Stechelberg, viewing the 72 waterfalls along the way. We didn’t bother taking a lunch, figuring it wouldn’t take us too long to do the walk.
But first we went to buy our travel passes. We picked the Jungfrau pass because its 6-day version cost less than the 6-day version of the Bernese Oberland pass and the two passes covered more or less the same things. It seemed like a lot of money, but having the pass meant that we didn’t have to stop before every trip to buy train tickets.
Anyway, off we went up the trail, which was really more of a paved road. Very soon we came to the Staubbach Falls, which are easily seen from Lauterbrunnen. They are Switzerland’s highest free-falling waterfalls, with a drop of 279 metres. And there’s a trail up to them, too. We climbed steeply up a hill and then climbed up some metal steps and through tunnels so that we were actually behind the waterfall. We did get a bit wet but soon dried off as we continued on our walk.
As the morning progressed the skies started to clear, so we got some beautiful views. After a while we came to a path which went through a campsite full of Dutch camper vans, leading towards the Trümmelbach falls, which were just a bit back down the main road. These falls are actually inside a mountain and there’s an admission fee to view them, but there is an elevator which you can ride to the top of the falls.
Here all of the runoff from the Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau plunges down a narrow chasm into the mountain. Over the years the river has carved out chutes and bowls, forming a series of ten underground falls. From the top of the elevator we entered a rock tunnel and climbed down a series of stairways right next to the spectacular falls. On a hot day this would be a refreshing walk but today it was a bit chilly.
We looked at the weather and decided to gamble, so we headed back to the trail and continued towards Stechelberg. A vehicle towing a tank passed us and then turned into a field, whereupon the driver flipped a switch and started to spray the field with liquid cow manure! We tried to walk a bit faster to get away from the smell.
Soon after that the road turned into a trail, and it started to rain a bit. And then the thunder and lightning started and the rain turned into a torrential downpour. Stechelberg wasn’t that far away but we were quite wet, so we were glad we didn’t have to wait very long for the post bus to come. The bus wasn’t crowded when we got on, but then it stopped at the Schilthorn and got very full. But it only took 15 or 20 minutes to get back to Lauterbrunnen, where we changed into dry clothes and had a late lunch.
After a while the weather started to clear, so we decided to use our Jungfrau pass and take the cog railway to Wengen, which is on top of the cliffs which surround Lauterbrunnen. It’s a much larger place with a much larger number of hotels. After the 15-minute train ride we walked around the town, checking out its facilities. We followed signs to a Felix Mendelssohn memorial but eventually they pointed up a dirt road into the forest, so we gave up following them.
We stayed in Wengen for about an hour, enjoying the views, although the big peaks still had clouds around them. Back in Lauterbrunnen we stopped at a restaurant which sold take-out pizza and bought a Hawaiian pizza to eat back at the hostel. A lot less lavish than yesterday’s dinner but also a lot less expensive!