More Rainy Day Plans

30 Sep

30 September 2022.

Mother Nature decided Switzerland was due for a good rain, which means snow in the high elevations. For those visiting the area for only 2 or 3 nights, which many do, it is sad because they are not treated to the amazing vistas brought by sunnier days. 

However, after a hot dry summer, we cannot deny the need for a good rain bringing relief to the farmers and hopes of early snow. 

Luckily, we are settled here for a month and  can take this in stride. Last week was a dream of sunny days and we have ideas for any weather be it hot, cold, misty, snowy, or heavy rain. 

The other day we did the first half of a walk along the Weiss Lütschine River (See Rainy Day Hikes).

Here are some other options we chose this week based on not-so-great weather.

Zweilütschinen to Wilderswil. This is the next portion of the Weisse Lütschine and is detailed in our book. This is a “path to lunch” which many of you know is a common theme. Our objective was a lovely Italian restaurant in Wilderswil, Luca Piccante. Great pizza! The 3 mile walk was a good first course but after eating an entire pizza each (Italian-style, not the hulking monstrous North American type), further walking was in order. There are ruins of a very old castle about 20 minutes from Wilderswil on an enjoyable path offering views over Interlaken. An additional 2.75 mile walk brought us to the train station and the BOB (Berner Oberland Bahn) took us back home. 

Mountain Joy Riding. Wednesday was supposed to be wet wet wet! The forecast was for 2-3 inches of rain between 0800 and 2100. Ugh. Taking advantage of our Berner Oberland Regional Passes, we did a grand tour of the Jungfrau Region. Here are the stages:

  • Wengernalpbahn (train) from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen and on to Kleine Scheidegg at 2061 meters/6762 feet of altitude
  • Change trains at the top to the Wengernalpbahn down to Grindelwald
  • Change trains to the BOB to Grindelwald Terminal base station for two fabulous lifts, the new Eiger Express and the Männlichen Gondolbahn
  • We took the Gondelbahn to Männlichen an amazingly long cableway
  • Männlichen to Wengen via another cableway
  • Wengernalpbahn back to Lauterbrunnen

I don’t like to advertise, but I have to recommend highly the Berner Oberland Regional Pass. It is expensive but the value is there and once purchased it is a no brainer to hop on any lift or train or bus and go anywhere in the region. This trip would cost CHF 134.00, but with the pass the cost was zero, niente, nada. We used 1/3 of the face value of our 10-day pass in this single day and still have 9 days to do as much riding as we desire. It is available for for 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10 day periods. There is a further discount on the pass if one buys a Swiss Half Fare Card which I also recommend. Have lunch as we did in Grindelwald and walk around a bit for a break. Our loop including a stop for a nice lunch, took about 5 hours.

View on the right, above, is from the Wengernalpbahn descending into Grindelwald. We are actually above the fancy new Eiger Express Gondola.

Three Village Tour. For a we-don’t-want-to-do-much day, rain or shine, one can explore the three villages and do some shopping. Take the train up to Wengen and walk the village, maybe stop for coffee. Coming back down to Lauterbrunnen, stop at the Tourist Information Office to see what might interest you that you haven’t thought about, then walk the length of the village, perhaps past the Staubbach Falls and as far as Campling Jungfrau. You could have lunch here or in the village along the way. Finally, take the lift from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp and the little train to Mürren, walk the village, check the shops, and descend via the Schilthornbahn to Stechelberg where you can catch the bus back to Lauterbrunnen.

We left home at 10:00 and did not return until almost 16:00. It wasn’t hiking but it was a nice pace, about 3 miles of walking, and a leisurely chance to look for Christmas gifts. We had lunch “at home” in our apartment. The rain spit off and on but was never a deluge and there were occasional sun breaks. Another good reason for the BO Regional Pass is not having to weigh the expense of jumping on trains and lifts impetuously for shopping.

One of the benefits of rain is increased waterfall volume. Staubbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen was a bit thin until this week.

Lauterbrunnen Valley Walk. We have done this walk (it is detailed in our book) from the south to the north, from the north to the south, in sun, in rain, in mist. We love it. A rushing river, mountain peaks, waterfalls, cows, goats, and base jumpers offer diversion on this 4-mile easy path. We like to start at the last bus stop near Hotel Stechelberg and walk back to Lauterbrunnen, but both directions are beautiful. 

Little Stechelberg at the south end of the valley is little more than a Post Office, a hotel, and a few small farms, gardens, and houses. Very quiet. The clouds cover the majestic Breithorn mountain peak.

Take a cruise. The excitement factor is limited but the relaxation factor is high for a two-hour cruise with lunch on the Thunersee. Rain or shine, the BLS ships sail on both Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienzersee). The train delivers you to Thun, a lovely city worth exploring, right next to the landing for the ships. After boarding you can choose from a varied menu of choices from soups and salads to multi course meals or a snack. There’s plenty of time for a leisurely lunch while hopping from town to town along the lake with distant peaks and nearby waterfalls in view. There are also cruises that are not meal-centric. Cruises on both the Thunersee and Brienzersee are free with your Berner Oberland Regional Pass.

Perhaps Tolkien, who visited the Lauterbrunnen Valley in 1911, would not have been so inspired in his creation of Rivendell had he not experienced the misty mountains and abundant waterfalls brought by the gift of rain.

It seems the rainiest of days have passed for us — did not get wet today in 4+ miles of hiking — and starting Sunday we will have brilliant fall weather once more. Can’t say I am sorry to see the rain end, but we enjoyed our days nonetheless. 

Rainy day hikes

25 Sep

25 September 2022.

Rain on a forecast makes me cringe. Is my travel going to be a washout and won’t see anything I came to see? Will we be confined to quarters or get soaked on our way back from a hike?

This week’s dreary forecast. Thank goodness last week was divine!

No traveler wants to look at the forecast and see five days of rain, especially if you only have a few days in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Fortunately, for us the weather in Switzerland usually turns out better than the forecast and a high percentage of expected rain is balanced against how many minutes or hours of actual rainfall. A 90% chance of rain in a day is accurate even if it only rains for 15 minutes.

Having a few activities in your virtual back pocket makes it possible to enjoy even a dreary day with hopes that it will actually turn out better than forecast.

In our books, we mention outings that are OK on an overcast or even rainy day. Yesterday we used one of our own ideas and while we got a bit wet, we had a nice hike, didn’t get too cold (layers!), and we were done in time for lunch back in our cozy apartment. While many travelers headed for the lifts to higher elevations hoping for views, we chose a walk along the Lütschine River and incurred a small fee for a train ride back from the end of the trip, not the high price of a mountain gondola on a day without views.

Yesterday afternoon offered a couple of rain free hours enabling a little stroll with weak sunlight and we were back “home” right before a downpour. Switzerland, like most of Europe, needs rain so we can’t complain.

Today was supposed to be dry in the morning and it was. In fact it has been dry all day! The cloud deck is low so views are not stellar but we invoked our Pacific Northwest mantra, “At least it’s not raining” and headed out on a long walk through the valley and a stroll through Mürren, high on the cliff, with coffee in our favorite cafe. Number of people encountered in the valley in a three mile walk: four. The cows easily outnumbered humans by 50 to 1.

Housemade cake and coffee at Cafe Liv, Mürren.

In fact, the sun is breaking through so I think we’ll take advantage and have our evening passeggiata a little early in case it the weather changes its mind.

Tomorrow will be drier than the forecast above indicates…we hope! Rain hats and waterproof boots will ensure our plans aren’t ruined by some much-needed moisture.

I found this picture from the same day last year. We were eating outdoors in a beer garden. May that weather return in the coming weeks!

A perfect hike, a perfect day

19 Sep

19 September 2022.

Leaving Bettmeralp and the amazing Hotel Waldhaus in snow flurries, we arrived Saturday, north of the mighty Jungfrau to find sun in Lauterbrunnen, the peaks here freshened with snow and a powdered-sugar dusting even in the high meadows. 

The fabulous Hotel Waldhaus behind me as we head for the cable car to the valley. Goodbye, Bettmeralp!

We are “home” here for the next four weeks and settled into our favorite digs at Ey-Hus. We can’t seem to quit this place.

Yesterday (Sunday) dawned cold and bright, a delightful day to take in the views from perhaps the most perfect of easy-hiker hikes, Grütschalp to Mürren. The three iconic peaks are in constant view, watching over us, showing off fresh mantles of snow in the morning sun. The Eiger, the Mönch, and the Jungfrau have seldom looked better and the skies have seldom been clearer. The sun teases the 40-degree temperature to feel much warmer and soon we are shedding gloves and unzipping jackets. In and out of forests, over rivulets that become waterfalls as they hit the cliffs, with the little electric mountain train chugging back and-forth along the cliff. The train is filled with passengers intent on the cable car ride to the Schilthornbahn. Every step is picturesque and the only sound our footsteps. Only the cows are missing as the alpabfahrt (descent from high summer pastures) has already occurred for many. 

The last mile or so of the hike is mostly level, with lovely views and in sight of the little train.

All of the work on this hike (featured in our book) is in the first half. With only about 500 feet of gain in a mile-and-a-half, the wide path has no tricky footing and accommodates those who run, those who seek more strenuous connecting paths, and those of us out for a little exercise and to take in the day. The last mile undulates with many flat portions along the tracks as it enters Mürren. I think this path actually made us fall in love with the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Now we have taken it perhaps a dozen times and it never gets old. Especially on a perfect day.

The Eiger (left) and the Mönch. The Jungfrau is out of sight on the right.

After a restorative cappuccino at Café Liv in Mürren we hightailed it to the mountain train and transfered back down to Lauterbrunnen via cable car and on to the eastern side of the valley, taking a cogwheel train up beyond Wengen to a place we know for Sunday lunch, Bergrestaurant Allmend. 

Mürren main drag. No cars!

You have to experience it to understand the transportation here. This area is a wonder of Swiss ingenuity and the ability to efficiently connect multiple forms of transportation to get from car-free village to car-free village while respecting nature and serving the people. Every conveyance coincides seamlessly with the next.

The Wengernalbahn runs between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg but stops on request at Bergrestaurant Allmend.

Sunday lunch is a thing for us when we are traveling. It is an opportunity to slow down, indulge a bit, and join with the locals. Wherever we are in Europe, we find families gathering on Sunday for a midday meal. Often multi-generational, sometimes groups of friends, and many couples like ourselves. While the tourists are taking photos on the Schilthorn and Jungfrau, we gather at Allmend with families eating fondue, couples enjoying a pre-lunch aperitif, and groups of adults, kids and dogs playing, eating, and lounging in the autumn sunshine. 

My phone said it was 46 degrees at 13:00, but in the sun we peeled off jackets and ordered Radlers and burgers. What a treat at 4951 feet above sea level to gaze upon the peaks, watch the waterfalls, and be served fine food by a cheerful waiter! 

The blue sky followed us back to the valley and the reality of needing to get groceries. Sunday means a lot of closures in this conservative country, so we hopped on a train to a neighboring village that had an open store. What a wonderful way to commute to the market! We arrived home just as the sun slipped behind the western cliff but it lingered for hours on the peaks to the south as we cracked open a bottle of wine. 

A perfect day. 

Our last day at Bettmeralp a chilly but beautiful hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp. Tough downhill for my cranky knees but Ric handled it like a champ.

Little things

15 Sep

15 September 2022.

Every traveler has some things they tuck into their bag, items they cannot imagine doing without or items that make life on the road more comfortable. Some things I take may seem silly to you, and I am sure some of your habitual inclusions would also make me shake my head. 

Bear in mind that we travel for 6-10 weeks at a time in Europe, that we cook in vacation apartments, and we check bags because our trips usually involve hiking and apparently one could hijack a plane with a trekking stick. Still, we are light packers. Our 24” rolling duffles weigh about 24 pounds each, which is manageable on-and-off of the myriad trains we take. 

A Swiss Army Knife.* This utilitarian device — a very small one BTW — comes in so handy to open a package, trim a loose thread, or even divide up some cheese and salami for a trail-side lunch. Goes in checked luggage. I have surrendered at least two to TSA when I forgot they were in my purse. 

Bag Clips. IKEA sells these amazing little bag clips of various sizes. Leftover potato chips? Check. A bag of rice? Check. Haven’t quite used up the whole bag of salad mix? Check. Love ‘em!

BeesWrap. Do you know about this stuff? It is waxed cloth you can use to wrap some foods. I love it for cheese, bread, covering a bowl of leftover food, wrapping a sandwich and much more. Treat it kindly and it is reusable indefinitely.

ZipLoc bags. I reluctantly use these plastic wonders more than I should, but there are few decent options for stashing leftover bits of this-and-that when cooking in an apartment that has no storage containers, for keeping your body wash from leaking all over your snacks, or packing a lunch for the train or trail. A few gallon, quart, sandwich and snack size will serve us for two months. I actually wash them out with dish soap and dry them if they aren’t greasy and reuse them.

Wine stoppers. In case of leftover wine. Who has leftover wine you might ask? We do. Sometimes. Especially when we are holding out for grappa after dinner. (See below.)

Knives for cooking.* Most vacation apartments have crappy knives. They barely cut butter. A few years ago, I bought a set of those multi-colored knives with blade guards and packed along four: paring knife, bread knife, chef’s knife, and santoku knife. Game changer for cooking in a rental! They are usually good for a couple of trips, but sometimes I “gift” them at the last stop and often they are there when we return the next year. I still bring a new set each fall.

Corkscrew.* You might think every apartment would have one and every hotel could find one for you. Not always true. And it is such a small item, why go without? When you want it, your want it. 

Benadryl and Benadryl Gel, Imodium, Tylenol, Advil, Antiseptic Ointment, bandages and various other things-I-might-need-in-the-middle-of-the-night-when-the-pharmacy-is-not-open. Diarrhea on the flight? I’ve got you covered. Rash from unknown substance? Got that too. 

A flask for leftover grappa. Sadly we abandoned about 12 ounces of Ric’s favorite grappa last year when we changed locations and could not see carrying the bottle in our stuffed backpacks. I gave him a flask for Christmas. Problem solved!

A pashmina. Mine is pale pink on this trip. On the flight it is my blanket. (Those airline blankets? No thanks! Who knows how they are cleaned?) The pashmina can also be a wrap on a chilly evening or a lap blanket in the apartment. 

What do you pack along to make your travel life special or easier?

*Goes in a checked bag. 

We have been hiking in some amazing places. Lovely weather overall. Other then the trip in an uncovered chairlift when strong winds moved in with driving rain. Luckily a short ride!

Clockwise from upper left: Aletsch Glacier; View from our balcony in Bettmeralp; Train ride through the valley; Evening patio at Hotel Waldhaus in Bettmeralp; Ciadanet Hütte in the Val Gardena with view of the Stella Group.

Below is the same glacier view on September 21, 2021. We are getting out of Bettmeralp before snow is expected on Saturday!

Kindness of strangers

3 Sep

3 September 2022.

The other day we went for late morning coffee in the cute village center. We had decided to not go up high on a hike but to chill a bit ad do some shopping since the day prior was quite active. After a couple of grocery store stops, Ric realized he did not have his wallet. A frenzied search of the apartment led us to return to the last place we knew he used his credit card: a grocery store here in town late the afternoon of the day prior.  No, they had not recovered it. Worried about compromise, Ric checked the two credit card accounts and two bank accounts for which cards had been lost. His driver’s license was also in the wallet which was actually a small folio for a few cards and cash.  Good news: no unrecognized activity. Bad news: Ric had to cancel all of the cards which meant I was the only one with access to funds of any sort. 

For a leisurely day, it was intense. We went three times to Ortisei center. We are staying up a hill a 10 minute walk from town center which doesn’t sound bad until the third uphill return. 

After all of the efforts to cancel cards were complete, our landlady, Justine, rang our bell at 4:30 PM to tell us il portofoglio had been found at the café where we’d had coffee about 10:30! 

Two young waiters had spent the day trying to track down Ric. They tried Facebook, Instagram, and God-knows-what other networks with no luck because Ric isn’t connected online. Finally, they called the Tourist Information Office who sent out a blast email to all lodging facilities in Ortisei. Did anyone have a guest “Ric di Oregon?” Luckily, Justine was at her computer and saw it. 

The view from our table at Cafe Demetz, Ortisei. The wallet was found on the floor under our table.

We headed into the village center for the FOURTH TIME to retrieve the wallet and reward the guys. Everything was intact: all 4 cards, driver’s license, health insurance card, and about €50. Remarkable! This is such a small town that all the locals know each other despite hosting more lodging beds than there are residents. Such good news, the kindness and honesty of strangers. 

The timing was just right for un’aperitivo served by the very guys who found the wallet. That eased us into the evening and we ended the day on a true high with great pizza and our favorite local wine, LaGrein, at the pizzeria next door.

Another view, in the evening with Aperol Spritz and a small bite.

Charles Schwab Bank is expressing a replacement debit card to Ric, but the credit card companies wouldn’t do that so I will be paying for most everything since cash is used less and less here as at home.

On another note, hiking has been excellent as the weather has been near perfect. We eased into mountain hiking with a few nights in the Alpe di Siusi where there are many paths and roads for walking that are fairly gentle and undulating. No need to take strenuous ascents and descents unless you want to. We didn’t even unpack our trekking sticks there.

We embarked a couple of days ago on an old favorite in the Val Gardena. We had not taken it since 2019 and 3 years made it seem a wee bit harder on the creaky old knees and hips. 

I am contemplating a book update for 2023 after all. More hikes to add and tweaks to make aimed at other creaky-kneed hikers. We’ll see. Editing is such a job.

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