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18 Oct

18 October 2019.

Sleep came, at last, on our sixth night at home, signifying the end of jet lag: 8.5 hours Tuesday night had me rolling out of bed at 05:00. The first full night of sleep truly puts a trip behind us except for the memories and 1100+ photos to be sorted.

The final two weeks of our trip were spent in Lauterbrunnen in our favorite apartment. This was our fourth stay in James’ and Michelle’s apartment and it felt like home when we walked through the door. We’ve already booked a stay there in Autumn 2020.

Even in our sixth visit to the area we are finding new walks, new experiences, new corners to explore.

Wrapping up this portion of our trip, I have some photos from a few of our favorite hikes in the valley and mountains. We plan to publish an e-book about easy hikes in this area. Updating the Val Gardena book and writing this new one for the Lauterbrunnen area should keep me out of trouble all winter.

Playground in the mountains

The Allmendhubel to Winteregg hike starts at a fabulous playground. The children don’t seem to notice the view.

WOman in front of snowy mountains

The Mountain View Trail between Allmendhubel and Winteregg is well named.

Tunnel through rock by lake

The trail from Iseltwald to Giessbach hugs the lake and goes through a short tunnel.

Man in trail in forest

We had a couple of steep climbs on the way to Giessbach.

Waterfall

At the end of the Iseltwald to Giessbach hike, a Victorian Era hotel and a fabulous waterfall.

Mountains with a small train

No matter how many times we do it, always a favorite for us is the walk from Grütschalp to Mürren with a view of the little cogwheel train. Oh, and mountains.

Man at a bench with mountains in background

Another fave is Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. Not too difficult and highly satisfying.

Man on trail with rocks in background

We had a surprise snow overnight before our hike on the North Face Trail.

Mountains vie2wed from a road

Descending at the end of the North Face Trail into Mürren. The sun came out as we hit town. We hiked alone, encountering maybe half-a-dozen people in 2.5 hours.

SNowy Mountain Peaks

Our post-hike view from lunch at about 14:00. The mountain restaurants along the trail were closed for the season.

Man surfing

In Thun (pronounced “tune”), Switzerland, a man surfs in the wake created by sluice gates on the River Aare.

Castle on a lake

Thun is one of the larger towns in the Berner Oberland. Our walk along Lake Thun included four castles on a bright Saturday.

Goat

Spotted on a walk near Wengen. One passes from town to farm in the blink of an eye.

View of a valley with waterfall

While weather and lighting did not cooperate to make this the stunning shot I had hoped for, it’s still a magnificent view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Staubbach Falls.

Road with snowy peak in background

Another walk near Wengen. Snow overnight made higher elevation walking precarious so we found this nice walk above the valley where we could admire the fresh snow.

Goat with valley in background

Goat pasture with a view, Wengen. In less then 30 minutes we went from touristy crowds crowding mountain trains in downtown Wengen to working farms.

If you are looking for a comfortable, convenient roost in the Jungfrau Region, send me a message and I’ll tell you how to get in touch with James. Pictures are online here but you’ll want to reach out personally rather than book through the site.

We interrupt this move for a Swiss break

13 Oct
13 October 2016. We have mixed feelings about our impending departure. Many reasons we will miss our life in Italy yet in some ways we can hardly wait to get our butts on the plane. (See Missing the U.S.A.) We have a lot of little errands to do before we move back to Oregon, but most of them cannot be done until the final few days before we fly. So in fact, we have very little left to do until October 24. It’s not like we are packing up the whole household so why not take 10 days in Switzerland?
This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a freash dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a fresh dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland is one of our two favorite places to visit and to hike, the other being Italy’s Val Gardena. After our glorious month in Ortisei in July, we thought a compare-and-contrast trip to the Bernese Oberland — specifically the Lauterbrunnen Valley — was in order.
RIc brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Ric brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Last year we came at the very end of September and encountered eight days of Chamber-of-Commerce weather. This year, we are a bit later and the villages are definitely napping between the intense periods of summer tourists and winter skiers. Days alternate between sunny and clear and overcast. Supposedly tomorrow it will rain, but we’ve had some terrific hikes and it should be nice enough on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to hike again. This is our fourth trip to the area and proves once again that repeat visits are advantageous. With a base of familiarity, we are free to discover new facets of the region. Being here in almost-off-season gives more insight into local life and there are fewer tourist groups packing the trains and lifts. Click on any image below for a better view. 
This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

We now have a favorite apartment here, at Ey-Hus. Owner James Graham (j.graham320@ntlworld.com) said I could share his contact information with you if anyone is interested. Two bedrooms, one with twin beds, one bath, small kitchen, nice big lounge, a view onto the waterfall and up to the mountains. The neighbors are grazing cows with their melodic Swiss bells. There’s a laundry, too, and a bus stop nearby allows one to easily travel the 1 kilometer to-and-from the train station with luggage or when one just does not feel like walking. As most of you know, we avoid cars when possible and this is the perfect place for a car-free holiday, with mountain trains and gondolas that go everywhere.  Renting an apartment and cooking most meals is a real budget saver in pricey Switzerland. James’ apartment even has a slow cooker so we can queue up dinner to cook while we hike.
The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The Val Gardena and our beloved Ortisei is less expensive, especially for food, and frankly, the restaurant choices are superior in the Val Gardena, but we don’t really visit either area for the cuisine. We come for the hiking and the scenery. And for the mountain transportation.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley has an incredible network of trains and lifts. It is thrilling to soar to the top of the Schilthorn and to chug all the way to the Top of Europe, the Jungfraujoch! It is also a delight to simply walk the easy hiking paths past the magnificent Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, whether in sun or in snow. By comparison, the Val Gardena offers hiking in high meadows as well as along rocky ridges, and it has the rifugi that we love. In Switzerland, there are few places to refuel along the trail. There are restaurants at the lift stations, but few-and-far-between are rest stops to hike to for a meal or a bathroom. 
Like trying to decide which child is your favorite, I cannot choose between Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen and what each region has to offer. I love them both. For those looking for a unique European getaway, spend 4 or 5 nights each in Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen. The U.S. has nothing like this. Contemplate what it might be like to visit the North Cascades or the Rocky Mountains if served by transportation systems like in Europe, as well as rifugi where you can eat good food, drink great coffee, possibly sleep, and always find a toilet when you need one.

Swiss wrap-up

9 Oct
The trip to the Questura interrupted my tales of hiking in Switzerland.
We had unbelievable weather, sunny though chilly in the morning, no rain until the night before we departed for home. We never had to deploy an umbrella or pull up our hoods.
Having a full week in Lauterbrunnen afforded us an opportunity to explore the region a bit more than we have in two prior trips. Relative to the other meaning of “afford,” we were able to keep the budget somewhat in check by renting an apartment and cooking breakfast and most dinners. With this plan to travel extensively in retirement, we have committed to cooking more when we travel. After all, we have time. Plus, the food in Lauterbrunnen is rather uninspiring. It’s a cheese world after all: Rösti, Raclette, and Fondue are everywhere you turn. Vegetable options are slim, mostly potatoes and small green salads or coleslaw.
The trains and lifts get pretty expensive, but a Swiss half-fare card coupled with a Berner-Oberland Regional Pass meant we were able to save considerably on transportation during our 11 nights in Switzerland.
This is an extraordinary place to visit and hike. We really love the Dolomites, but Switzerland is pretty special too. It is incredibly clean and well-organized although the food and coffee are better in the Dolomites.
Which way? I love this picture Ric took of two hikers standing beneath a way-finding sign looking at their map.
Which way? I love this picture Ric took of two hikers standing beneath a way-finding sign looking at their map.
Hiking from First to Grosse Scheidegg, that's the EIger in the background. Everytime we go here we feel like we need to watch the Eiger Sanction again.
Hiking from First to Grosse Scheidegg, that’s the Eiger in the background. Every time we go here we feel like we need to watch “The Eiger Sanction” again.
We love this hike from Grutschalp to Muerren along the narrow gauge rail line.
We love this hike from Grutschalp to Muerren along the narrow gauge rail line.
Another favorite hike is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a view toward Grindelwald in the valley.
Another favorite hike is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a view toward Grindelwald in the valley.
My surveillance photo of Ric getting ready for a hike. At a train station, of course.
My surveillance photo of Ric getting ready for a hike. At a train station, of course.
Lunch in Muerren, overlooking the Laurterbrunnen Valley.
Lunch in Muerren, overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Bern city center as seen from the site of our lunch.
We did one city day, in Bern. Here, the city center as seen from the site of our lunch above the bear enclosure.
Subterranean shop in Bern.  There are many such shops.
Subterranean shop in Bern. There are many such shops, former storehouses and cellars.
Terra cotta bunnies, Bern, Switzerland.
Terra cotta bunny and mouse, Bern, Switzerland.
This is the guy we saw with the gun on the train two days before. He works for the railroad.
This is the guy we saw with the gun on the train two days before. He works for the railroad.
Looking out our back door. The morning we departed, the cows were put to graze in the meadow behind our apartment.
Looking out our back door. The morning we departed, the cows were put to graze in the meadow behind our apartment.
View from Harde Klum to Lake Brienz. Lovely day, difficult hike.
View from Harder Klum to Lake Brienz. Lovely day, difficult hike.

Compare & contrast

14 Sep
We were enchanted by The Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner-Oberland of Switzerland when we visited last winter (see New Year New Country), so upon our return to Rome in January we decided we needed to see the area without snow. Our return trip happened over American Labor Day weekend. What a beautiful area, with wildflowers blooming, snowy peaks, and perfectly clean little towns! What was really fun was to experience the differences between the area in the two seasons.
Ric at Mannlichen, bitingly cold wind

Ric at Mannlichen, bitingly cold wind

Similar view, same hill in the background, a little milder, with cow doo doo, in summer

Similar view, same hill in the background, a little milder, with cow doo doo, in summer

Obviously snow versus no snow was a huge difference, although our last morning we awoke to a temperature of 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and new snow in the mountains: a bit nippy for September 1.  We also found the crowds to be significantly less. Gondolas were never full. Trains were never full.  Trails were no more crowded than in winter, and restaurants were sparsely attended.  We thought summer would be high season, crawling with people but were delighted to find little Mürren uncrowded.
Mannlichen is above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, reached vis gondola and is a great ski area in winter.

Mannlichen is above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, reached via gondola and is a great ski area in winter.

Mannlichen summit in summer, similar perspective. Gondolas ferry hikers.

Mannlichen summit in summer, similar perspective. Gondolas ferry hikers.

 

Kleine Scheidigg is the jump off point for skiing in winter, and the train to the Jungfraujoch year-round.

Kleine Scheidigg is the jump off point for skiing in winter, and the train to the Jungfraujoch year-round.

Sames trains, but fewer people in summer, at least when we were there.

Sames trains, but fewer people in summer, at least when we were there.

 

An interesting contrast was the make-up of the traveling population we encountered. Last winter there were hundreds of Japanese tourists. They did not seem to be among the skiers, but were happily riding gondolas and cog railways to experience the view and the snow. In summer we found more Swiss from other parts of the country enjoying the area, some folks who were dressed much like the Amish in America (they might have been German), and an amazing number of people we presumed to be from Islamic countries based on the dress of the women, which ranged from a simple hajab to abaya and niqab. We do not see this much in Rome, so I was surprised to see so many observant Muslims dressed so in Switzerland.  We also saw or met many Chinese, a few Japanese, some French, some Americans, Canadians, an Israeli, but no Italians at all.
Murren in winter.

Murren in winter.

Roughly same view in summer

Roughly same view in summer

 
I must say Switzerland is more expensive than Italy, so no doubt the Italians prefer the Dolomites. In Mürren we found a ½ bottle of wine was upwards of €25 (about $32) in a restaurant. A simple dinner of pizza, wine and salad was easily €62, about $80. In Rome, we can eat the same dinner for as little as €35 ($45). At least visiting Switzerland made us feel better about prices in Rome, as bad as they can be.
A rare photo together. A nice Swiss family we met snapped this for us. If it wasn't foggy you;d see amazing mountains behind us.

A rare photo together. A nice Swiss family we met snapped this for us. If it wasn’t foggy you’d see amazing mountains behind us.

Chamois grazing near Murren. They hang out along the narrow gauge rail line then bound off when the train comes.

Chamois grazing near Murren. They hang out along the narrow gauge rail line then bound off when the train comes.

We would like to hike in Switzerland again, but will probably choose a self-catering apartment and cook some meals. That’s a real contrast to our usual mode of travel!

 

One morning we woke up to dense fog, but the other side of the valley was fine.

One morning we woke up to dense fog, but the other side of the valley was fine.

Murren is a very pretty, serene town, but not easy to reach: 5 trains and a gondola lift from Rome to Murren.

Murren is a very pretty, serene town, but not easy to reach: 5 trains and a gondola lift from Rome to Murren.

The Jungfrau Railway "Top of Europe" attracts THOUSANDS of visitors a year who pay upward of $200 to take the ride.

The Jungfrau Railway “Top of Europe” attracts THOUSANDS of visitors each year who pay upward of $200 to take the ride.

This little train chugs to the highest railway station in Europe. Many people come here solely to do this. Maybe next time for us.

This is the little train that chugs to the highest railway station in Europe. Many people come here solely to do this and neither hike nor ski. Maybe next time for us.

We frequently hiked through grazing herds of cows

We frequently hiked through grazing herds of cows.

Winterwandern

5 Jan

This trip was to be a mutual Christmas present of Paris or London for a weekend, but we decided we wanted to go by train. Then a friend suggested Vienna—also too far by train—which led Ric to think maybe Switzerland. But in the winter? We haven’t willingly spent time in snow for years. Then I discovered that the Swiss groom trails for something called Winterwandern (Winter hiking) and as hiking always interests us, the planning began.

The little Swiss town of Spiez; Snow in the mountains, nothing in the town.

The little Swiss town of Spiez; Snow in the mountains, nothing in the town.

When we stepped off the train in Spiez, the first thing that came to mind was the line from the movie “White Christmas” where upon stepping off the train Rosemary Clooney says “There has to be snow!  This place is advertised as America’s Winter Playground!” We thought Switzerland in winter would be snow-covered from end to end. We needn’t have worried: Once up out of the valleys there was plenty of snow…and great hiking!

January 3 saw us above Lauterbrunnen hiking to Mürren. Of course one can hike up the 700-or-so meters (1800 feet), but why waste energy (and knees) when there’s a fun gondola? Once on top, we hiked almost alone the 1.5 hours to Mürren, paralleling the electric railroad that ferries skiers and non-hikers. Quiet, except for the distant sounds of helicopters doing God-knows-what on the other side of the valley, and the electric glide of the train every 15 minutes. Crunching through snow in and out of forest on groomed trails was absolutely delightful.

Trail to Murren, through lovely piney woods.

Trail to Murren, through lovely piney woods.

On the trail, a mother pushes her children in a "sledge"

On the trail, a mother pushes her children in a “sledge”

Captivating town of Murren. Only a few service vehicles allowed. Otherewise all pedestrian...which includes people on skies and sleds.

Captivating town of Murren. Only a few service vehicles allowed. Otherewise all pedestrian…which includes people on skies and sleds.

Tine skier in Murren

Tiny skier in Murren

Mürren is cute and definitely on our radar for a future summer trip. With minimal motorized traffic and typical Swiss architecture, filled with adorable children learning to ski, it is also the jump off point for a ride on a gondola to the Schilthorn and Piz GLoria, a mountain setting featured in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” the 007 movie starring one-time Bond, George Lazenby.  More intriguing to us, as non-skiers, were the people heading to 9748 feet to ski and snow board down. Yikes! The slopes looked impossible to us (remember, we are from MN and ND originally), but even children were whizzing down them from this amazing height in a snow storm!

Japanese tourist in snowstorm to have her picture taken with "James Bond". I stayed inside.

Japanese tourist in snowstorm to have her picture taken with “James Bond”. I stayed inside.

Sun!

Sun!

Descending via the cable way, we re-entered Mürren and the sun came out, brightening the winterscape and warming our backs as we hiked down to Gimmelwald, a tiny village on the cliff from where one can catch yet another gondola back to the valley floor.  On the way down to Gimmelwald from Mürren we were passed by those commuting on sleds through what would be village paths in summer. No one even came close to hitting us as everyone is very aware of the need to share the “road” safely. The occasional and friendly “Achtung!” warned us to step aside.

Little sledder spins out on the trail to Gimmelwald. She laughingly recovered.

Little sledder spins out on the trail to Gimmelwald. She laughingly recovered.

January 4

The weather report says 1-3 inches of snow expected in Mürren and Wengen. Better than rain in the valley, so we headed up the cliff again. This time treating ourselves to the train along the cliff top to Mürren, we were joined by a Japanese tour group. The Japanese apparently flock here in winter, not for skiing but for simple sightseeing. There are families as well as young singles, each with a smartphone, iPad, or camera snapping away at the scenery and each other. I was struck by the politeness of the group, standing aside to allow people to descend from the train row by row. After the every-person-for-themselves attitude in public transportation in Rome, it was surprising to have the Brits “minding the queue,” Germans telling their children to “akt freundlich” (Literally “act friendly” but used in the context of correcting a child about to barge through a crowd to get to the front), and now the Japanese bowing to let us out of our row in turn! For those who do not know, there is no queue for bus or Metro in Rome. People do not wait for those exiting to descend before trying to crowd onto buses or trains. It is a free-for-all at every stop. Italians are warm and engaging, helpful and friendly. They will give you free food, the shirt off their backs, and go ten minutes out of the way to give directions, but they’ll knock old ladies out of the way to get on the bus first.  In Switzerland there is no free food – they even charge for tap water – but they do line up and allow people to pass on the sidewalk or trail. The Swiss are efficient above all. But I digress….

The train to Murren parallels the trail for much of the way. Note the open air baggage car for luggage, supplies, skies.

The train to Murren parallels the trail for much of the way. Note the open air baggage car for luggage, supplies, skies.

Funicular to Allmendhuble

Funicular to Allmendhuble

Yet another mode of transportation awaited us, the funicular at Allmendhubel. A quick three minute trip took us to the starting point of a downhill hike back to Mürren. The big difference this time is we shared a mixed-use trail with skiers and “sledgers” as translated into English, the people using the “bob run.” It was a little disquieting to have tiny children as well as adults flying by us on skies and on sleds for what must easily have been a 6 km downhill run. Once again, everyone behaved beautifully and watched where they were going. I doubt we’d have as much luck in the U.S. on such a run as evidenced by my friend Heather who was run down by a sled a few days ago in Oregon. Grazie a Dio she wasn’t injured. Here, if someone ran you down, you might go flying off a cliff!

Murren

Murren

Skiers gather in the shadow of the Jungfrau

Skiers gather in the shadow of the Jungfrau

Sharing the "trail" with sleds and skiers.

Sharing the “trail” with sleds and skiers.

A final word on food here: There’s little variation. I know, some of you are thinking “Italian food is all the same” but I beg to differ! There are 10,000 <sic> pasta dishes, there’s risotto, there are fagioli, vegetables beautifully prepared, seafood galore. Sure we have salumi and cheeses in Italy, but meat is often only a small portion of the meal. Here it seems every restaurant’s menu is the same as the next. Raclette, fondue, rösti:  everything is bathed in cheese, there’s a huge emphasis on meat and potatoes, and the major form of vegetable is salad. The “Italian food” served here in the Berner-Oberland is more like the American-ized version, not the preparations we have come to love. The bread is phenomenal, though, and breakfast is more than a croissant. The coffee comes in large cups and is robust. While I love my Italian espresso shots, sitting here in the cold a larger cup of coffee seems right, although it costs about as much for a cup of coffee (no refill!) here as it costs for a great panino for lunch in Rome.

Tomorrow we return to Rome. We’d love to hike this place in the summer for comparison, but it has given us resolve to go to the Dolomites next winter. Maybe we’ll have a White Christmas in Italy’s Winter Playground. At least we know they serve Italian food there.

It's still Christmas here! Ends with Epiphany, January 6!

It’s still Christmas here! Ends with Epiphany, January 6!

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