Walking Wengen: Easy Hikes with Fabulous Views

26 May

27 May 2023.

It was with some reluctance that we stayed in Wengen this trip. As our plans were made only a few days in advance, finding a suitable apartment in one of the three villages boiled down to only a few choices that we could gulp and swallow the price on. 

Wengen’s Main Street: a few shops and restaurants along with several hotels, nestled beneath the Jungfrau.

Luckily, the apartment is comfortable and has all we need: dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer, and, most importantly, a Nespresso machine. It is also quiet since the village is car-free and each morning we wake to birdsong. We are immune to the hourly tolling of the church bells nearby as we fall into bed very tired from the day’s activities. 

Our reluctance to stay in Wengen stemmed from the need to ride the train down and up from the Lauterbrunnen station every day. While it is less than 20 minutes each way, it does add to travel times when going to Interlaken, Grindelwald, Mürren and beyond. It is, however, a stunningly beautiful ride and, after all, what else do we have to do? 

I took this photo of Lauterbrunnen from the train on our way back to Wengen yesterday.

On the plus side, we have gotten to know Wengen just a bit better. Prior trips had us passing through on the way to-or-from the Männlichen cable car. We had eaten a couple of meals here and years ago Ric once bought a wool hiking hat that still makes every trip. In the past we’ve taken in the view from the church and enjoyed two walks — Mönchblick and Staubbachbänkli — that we wrote about in our book Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland. Our temporary residency has led us to “discover” two more lovely walks as well as the fabulous Restaurant Maya Caprice and we have come to appreciate the silence of this car-free zone. 

Same waterfall, viewed from Hunneflue, above Wengen after a 25 minute walk.

We still love Lauterbrunnen and our happy home at James’ and Michele’s apartment, where we will pass a month again this fall. Wengen will also be on our list for a few outings in the fall.

For those visiting the area, be certain to stop at the Wengen Tourism Office next to the cable car station and pick up the Dorfplan, which is a little map of the village showing several very easy to moderate walks to viewpoints. These require no transportation and are lovely at any time of day with ever-changing lighting on the magnificent views. They will take you to corners of Wengen the casual visitor misses entirely as the majority are focused on the village center and getting up the mountains by train or cable car. Most of the paths are paved and many have lighting so that evening walks are feasible. 

No wonder we come back so often. There is always something new for the easy-hiker to discover.

Detour, or why we are in Switzerland and not Ireland

20 May

20 May 2023.

Ireland was the plan: Switzerland is the reality. But first, Wales!

When last I wrote (see Styles of Styles) we had just arrived in Wales in the charming town of Conwy. Northern Wales is lush and green, much like Western Oregon and Washington, with similar trees, shrubs, flowers, and even waterfowl. The weather was fine and there were neither mud nor cow dung underfoot. But then we were not walking in pastures. 

Where the Pacific Northwest has soaring mountains, Wales has castles. Lots of castles. Storming Conwy Castle, climbing the town walls, a day trip and walk in Betws-y-Coed (which I can now pronounce correctly), and strolling through Bodnant Gardens filled our three days. No rain hats required. 

Bodnant Garden is an exceptional place. Acres and acres of manicured gardens, lush forest, winding paths, a folly here-and-there. Once a private estate, it was handed over to The National Trust in 1949. The house is still occupied by Lord Aberconwy. You can point a camera in any direction and get a beautiful shot. Click on any photo for an enlargement.

Our traveling companions including the experienced left-hand-side-of-the-road driver had to cancel their trip to Ireland due to family circumstances. Where we were going in Ireland was quite rural and was not going to be easy to do by train and bus. Ric and I are not left-hand drivers and not about to start. After a quick assessment of how we might best spend the next two weeks, we made an about face from Conwy and headed to the continent and our favorite refuge, The Lauterbrunnen Valley.

I briefly assessed changing our tickets to fly home sooner. Not only was it depressing to think of calling the trip to a halt, the cost to change was astronomical as airfares have escalated so dramatically since we bought our tickets in September. 

Getting here was a two-day journey. We avoid flying when we can and so we did. Tuesday we rode on two British trains to London, then the EuroStar to Paris, where we spent one night. The next day, a French TGV Lyria took us to Basel and was followed by a series of three Swiss trains to get us to our tiny mountain village. I know some would find this nightmarish (my brother’s idea of Hell, I think) but we travel light and find it far less stressful than flying. Plus a night and a morning in Paris = a fine meal and a lovely morning walk in an elevated garden, La Coulée Verte René-Dumont, which I wrote about four years ago in this Postcard from Paris.

The weather forecast for the Lauterbrunnen area was daunting. Weather.com showed rain for the foreseeable future when we checked it before leaving Wales. But the reality is far better and the weather app MeteoSwiss has been our friend. I have not had to wear a rain hat yet and we even saw peeks of sunlight the past few days with continuing improvement ahead.

No book research, no major plans. Just enjoying seeing one of our favorite places in a different season; we have only visited in the fall and once, briefly, in the winter. It is a totally different experience in the spring: fewer tourists, although the transportation can be crowded, and many places are still closed for rest and renovations between ski season and hiking season. Tulips are still blooming and the deciduous trees just leafing out are a stunning contrast to the deep green conifers.

For those of you who know the area, the little cliff side train from Grütschalp to Mürren is out of service as they will bring the new equipment on-line in June. From what we could see, track-work must be just about complete. The corresponding gondola is also out of service until the middle of June although the path between Grütschalp and Mürren is open if you want to walk roundtrip, I guess. (We did not.)

We are riding trains and gondolas, taking easy hikes, and discovering new corners of this marvelous region. Might have to eat some rösti, too.

Styles of stiles and trip miscellany

13 May

13 May 2023.

England delivered exactly what we expected: occasional sun and plenty of damp, but high spirits surrounding the spectacle of King Charles III’s coronation.

What a privilege it was to be in-country for the event! When we booked our trip, Queen Elizabeth was still very much alive so being there — although not in London, thank the gods — was strictly coincidental.

In Lower Slaughter on the Sunday after the Coronation, the village prepares for The Big Lunch, a community celebration. These parties took place all over the U.K.

First stop was Oxford, convenient on our path to The Cotswolds for some country walking. Oxford was decked out for the upcoming pageant and did not disappoint. We toured parts of Oxford University with a doctoral candidate and enjoyed his inside-take on how the place functions and inevitable comparisons to the U.S. university experience.

Blenheim Palace was a glimpse into the aristocratic lifestyle as the family still resides there. Goslings and ducklings peppered the estate grounds and the gardens were in fine form. I can only imagine how gorgeous the roses must be in season. Our final Oxford tour was of the Bodleian Libraries, dating to the 15th century when 281 manuscripts were donated, the libraries now house over 13 million printed items.

The oldest part of the Bodleian, Duke Humphrey’s’ Library. Volumes cannot be “checked out” but must be read on-site with a chaperone librarian.

Almost over jet lag, we headed to Bourton-on-the-Water, our home for a week. We chose a self-guided center-based itinerary with HF Holidays staying in a hotel that was previously a private residence built in 1662.

This is the view of the grand staircase that greeted us outside our our room.

No matter how often we tour in the UK or the rest of Europe I am constantly dumbfounded by the history and the preservation and adaptation of old buildings. HF Holidays provided a lovely room, cooked breakfast and dinner with a packed lunch daily, and dozens of walking itineraries to choose from. We could select from clear instructions encased in waterproof laminating to guide us. All we had to do was don our gear and head out each day.

Those waterproof instructions were necessary. Our walk conditions have ranged from misty to sun-dappled to downright soggy. It reminded us of Oregon although in Oregon we have never hiked with sheep nor though mud as sticky and pervasive as we have done here.

And there are stiles of many styles. Frankly, I prefer a good gate, but the stiles were definitely a sensible solution to allowing walkers to walk unhindered yet keep sheep and cows in their fields. They are being replaced in many areas to allow barrier-free access to public footpaths.

Our final day in Bourton-on-the-Water was weather perfection, a sunny day capped by a thunderstorm at 17:00 when we were safely “home.”

We set off for Wales yesterday (Friday). Almost two hours by private transport thanks to a rail strike in England, then a 3 hour train ride. Conwy, the town we are staying in, is charming and today’s weather exactly what you’d hope for on a spring day!

Will write more from Ireland later in the trip!

Fresh for 2023

28 Jan

28 January, 2023.

Plans have a way of changing and my winter project was not going to be updati hiking guides. Motivated by new experiences and changes we encountered and fresh perspectives (who says repeat visits to the same location are boring?) it seemed beneficial to issue new-for-2023 editions.

The Val Gardena book now includes some ideas for rainy days as well as for lazier days without hiking. There are also extensions and options to some hikes for increased activity and where possible, and details on where shorter hikes can be linked together for longer excursions.

For Switzerland, there s a new chapter on rainy day ideas since we had about 10 days of cloudy and damp conditions during our late-season stay in 2022. We still found plenty of fun things to do. Some of teh hikes have been tweaked based on 2022 experiences.

In each book, all URLs and maps are up-to-date.

This is a great time of year for planning a summer or fall hiking trip to either Italy’s Val Gardena or Switzerland’s Berner Oberland.

Click here to buy “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena” 5th edition on Amazon.com and “Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland” 3rd edition on Amazon.com

Both books are on Amazon in all markets worldwide for Kindle and where available, paperback as well.

Best of this-and-that    

31 Dec

31 December 2022.

Inevitably we are bombarded with “best of” lists and year-end compilations. If you hate these lists, just stop now because I am going to assault you with mine. I would love it, however, if you would respond with some of your favorites. They might become mine in 2023.

Best Book

Recently, I tried to recommend my favorite book of 2022 to someone and found myself perplexed: I have several I enjoyed so very much I had the devil of a time picking one.

Goodreads tells me I read only 32 books this year, 11,921 pages, ranging from travel books (5) to mysteries (12), and assorted fiction (15). Goodreads does not have a log of my cookbooks, but I know I read two new ones cover-to-cover for inspiration.

No single genre nor author shot to the top, rather my list is of entirely different specimens.

Tied for top book of 2022: Horse by Geraldine Brooks, West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge, and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I think Gayle recommended all of these to me. I shall heed her every word on books to read.

Runners Up:  Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig, and A Gentleman in Moscow and The Lincoln Highway, both by Amor Towles.

Best Picture

We watch a lot of movies. Some are forgotten as soon as they finish. Some of my 2022 favorites are much older than 2022. We aren’t necessary current in our viewing so thank goodness for streaming.

The Fabelmans tops my list.This one will stay with me awhile and we will rewatch it soon. The acting, the script, the arc of the story, and the truth in this movie come together in a rewarding manner.

Others of merit: She Said (gripping!), The Outfit (Mark Rylance), Nobody (Bob Odenkirk), and Vice (Christian Bale as Dick Cheney is a transformation to behold).

Best TV Series

We have a real weakness for great series. While none of these will make my all-time top-10 series list, they are excellent entertainment and far better than network series. Not included are series that are ongoing that we started in years past like Vera, Shetland, Better Call Saul.

The following are in alphabetical order as I cannot pick a favorite.

Alaska Daily: Hilary Swank as an investigative reporter. Cliffhanger on season one. Will there be a season two?

For All Mankind: Alternative history drama about the space program starting in the 1960s. Particularly interesting to those of us who lived through the era. Awaiting season 4.

Gaslit: Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell and Sean Penn as John Mitchell in another stunning transformation.

Grace: We are suckers for British detective dramas. Season 3 is due out soon.

Inside Man: Stanley Tucci and David Tennant. Too bad it was only a mini-series.

Karen Pirie: Another British detective drama but aimed at a younger market than most. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The Restaurant: This is an outlier. I have two seasons under my belt and am looking forward to the final 10 episodes. In Swedish, with subtitles, so demands attention but extremely well-done with interesting characters.

Best Meal

Ahhh, so many good ones! Sazón in Santa Fe, Recipe A Neighborhood Kitchen in Newberg, and Tina’s in Dundee. But the standout for me was in Geneva at Boccadasse: Italian food cooked by Italians in Switzerland. It was the last night of our fall trip and we feasted on octopus with potato puree, Vermentino (one of our favorite wines with seafood), seafood pasta, and semifreddo. Absolute heaven and so memorable!

Polpo con crema di patate
Semifreddo. There was no sharing.

Best New Recipe

Slow-cooker Shrimp in Purgatory. OMG is this good! https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1022265-slow-cooker-shrimp-in-purgatory. New to us this year, it is on the list for frequent repetition.

Best New-to-us Hike

Rifugio Emilio Comici to Mont di Sëura in the Alpe di Siusi. This was a difficult hike for us with a 900 foot descent, beyond what we usually do, but so terribly rewarding in that we did it. We self-congratulated for hours.

Looking back over the trail we hiked.

Best Urban Walk/Hike:

Mount Tabor. I had not been up on Mount Tabor in over 10 years so revisiting with my walking buddy, Grier, was a delight in rediscovering the area. Grier and I also hiked the Alameda Ridge in spring, which is a contender for Great Urban Walks. Thanks to Laura O. Foster’s books on Portland walks we are still discovering treks even after 30+ years living here.

Best Household Improvement: Molly & Sven joined us in January and March, respectively. Such a joy to have their lively selves cavorting about the house, even if they do want breakfast waayyyy too early.

Happiest of New Years to everyone! Tell me, what were your “bests” in 2022?

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