Swiss Heartland Untour, Spring of 2000
by Mary and Arthur Cooper, Marco Island, Florida
May 30 to June 28, 2000In the summer of 1999, we realized that Mary would soon have enough frequent flyer miles with Delta Airlines to earn a free ticket to Europe. I did not but started scheming to acquire more. We decided we would like to go back to Switzerland and Germany, so we telephoned Idyll Untours, with whom we have traveled before. We were able to make reservations in August for flying to Zurich and return from Frankfurt With Untours, we reserved the same apartment in Meiringen we had in 1998, and one on the Rhine in St. Goar, near where we had been in 1997.
The currency exchange rates were about 0.62 Sf and 2.0 DM so with $1,000 in each we left with about 1,600 Sf and 1,900 DM, on May 30, 2000. Maria and her Mom drove us to Ft. Myers to catch a flight to Boston. Arriving in Boston after an uneventful trip, we learned that our overseas flight, scheduled to leave at 6:45, was delayed until 10:00 PM. This left us with over 7 hours to kill. We considered going into Boston but instead, walked about outside the terminal. On inquiring at the Swiss Air desk, we were given a voucher allowing $20 purchase of food and beverage in the terminal.
The plane finally left about 11:15 PM. It was an MD-II, with 3 engines similar to a Lockheed 1011, but larger. It had strange seating, 3-4-2, which we had not seen before. During the flight, there was so much engine vibration and noise that I wondered if we were going to lose an engine. Despite the vibration, it flew pretty well, cruising at 640 mph at 41,000 feet much of the night. We learned later that a Swiss Air plane, supposedly ours, had to replace an engine in New York 2 days before, and the delay had not yet been made up.
Arriving in Zurich about 11:50AM, we were glad to see Untours’ Agnes Fallegger, who had been alerted to the delay and waited for the 6 or 8 Untourists on the plane. We validated our rail passes and boarded the train to Luzern and Meiringen. After about a 3-hour ride, we arrived in Meiringen. The weather was fine, jackets felt good, and there was considerable snow up high. About an hour later, we walked back to the Bahnhof for the bags and bought a bottle of wine and some fruit.
Thursday, June 1:Today is a national holiday and everyone was out on the run. We had coffee, good bread with butter and strawberry jam for breakfast , and took the cable car up the mountain to Hotel Victoria in Reuti, where our orientation meeting was. After a vegetable lunch, we rode the train to Luzern and bought groceries. Back in Meiringen, we were very weary, so we stopped for pizza supper instead of cooking.
Friday, June 2:Still weary and hungry, we slept late. After breakfast, we walked to town, stopped at the “I” and shopped for postcards and stamps. At the Migros cafeteria, we had a delicious lunch- the first meat entree since leaving the US. Afterward, we bought groceries and a bottle of scotch. All that made us feel like living! The weather warmed up, thunder squalls in late afternoon.
Saturday, June 3:Morning revealed another nice day. We decided to take the train to Thun via Interlaken and Spiez. We wanted to check out the flea market in Thun, looking for strawberries. The market, always good on Saturday, has expanded considerably since we were there. Mary couldn’t resist buying 6 suppen tassen with saucers for 5 Sf from a children’s hospital benefit table. There were 13 matching for 10 Sf, but we were afraid we could not carry so many home.
In one of the mini-parks, there was a mud bath for children. As we watched, a young father was working a pitcher pump putting water into a large mud hole where 3 or 4 kids were having fun getting covered in mud. Naturally, the kids had removed all clothing. Nearby was a mother hosing off her 2-year old daughter and trying to dress her. All free!
Afterward, we went to EPA, ate in the cafeteria and bought groceries. On the way to the Bhf, we stopped in a backerei for torte shells for strawberries. Then, it was beck to the train. At home, we had a short snooze, a scotch and soda, and cooked a delicious spaghetti dinner with salad, followed by strawberry shortcake. M’m good! Later, we watched BBC comedy and CNN news, read the paper, planned excursions and went to bed. More squalls and a bit warmer.
Sunday, June 4:No plans for the day but it was such a lovely morning, we decided to walk around town. There is still snow at the higher locations- those above 1500 meters. The recent evenings when we have had thunder showers, there has been snow fall up high. Skiers are still coming into the Meiringen Hasliberg region bringing skis and taking cable cars to the mountains.
Monday, June 5:This is the day the Alumni tour the Frey Chocolate Factory in Buchs, about 6 miles east of Aarau, which is about 10 miles east of Oken in north central Switzerland. Frey was started in 1874, remained private until 1950 when it was acquired by the large Migros grocery chain. Frey has not been sold in the US, but has recently made a deal with Walmart and K-Mart to sell their products in the US. Frey makes about 31 different products.
Today, they are making chocolate rabbits about 12” tall for next Easter and Christmas tree ornaments for next Christmas, as well as numerous other traditionals such as truffles. We were given tastes of everything being made, and at the conclusion of the 2-hour tour, we were given a sandwich, a drink and allowed to purchase any of it at 20 % discount in the factory store. Also they gave each of us four 100g bars.
We loaded up on chocolate- came away with about 11 pounds for 31.75 Sf. Got home about 7:00, doctored up the sandwich, warmed the left-over creme of asparagus soup and ate the last strawberries on a torte shell.
Tuesday, June 6:Foggy and misty this morning, so we stayed home and washed clothes. At 11:00, we took train to Sarnen, about halfway to Luzern, which off and on through the years, has been the capital of this canton. It is an old city established by the Romans. For centuries, the city was devastated by floods dividing the city until a flood control system was constructed in the late 19th century. Agnes Fallegger lead us through the old city past the City Hall into an old church in altes stadt (1515) and then up the bill past the Witch Tower to a newer chapel and church (1742). Noteworthy was the use of wood painted to look like marble in all three churches.
Wednesday, June 7:A bit slow this morning, Mary’s feeling a little indigestion, and it has dawned foggy. Weather soon cleared and we decided to go to Engelberg, south of Luzern in the center of the highest mountains in central Zwitzerland. We took the 10:00 train to Hergiswil, changing there to Stans and Engelberg. We had a good lunch in the COOP cafeteria and looked for the cable car to Titus, the highest peak at 3238 m. We thought we would take the Seilbahn to Trubsee at the base of Titlis, which is too high for us. We wandered about town looking for the right Seilbahn, and by the time we found it, heavy clouds were forming overhead, so we would not be able to see anything from Trubsee (1796 in). We decided not to go up, and headed for home.
The design and construction of this railroad was an engineering marvel. Leaving Hergiswil, it passed below a mountain through a tunnel about 3 miles long. The track climbed about 1500 feet at grades as steep as 35-40 degrees. When descending the train slowed to less than 10 mph. I think that one car of the 3-car train had an auxiliary diesel engine driving another rack gear up the rack road when climbing. This track is steeper than the Brunig Pass climb.
Engelbcrg reminds me of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the mountains remind me of Die Zugspitze, different from those around Meiringen. There are high mountains on all sides with many verticle faces and high grassy meadows. Quite attractive.
Thursday, June 8:We had considered going to Murren today and walking below Monch, Eiger and Jungfrau. It was a beautiful day but I was still weary so we decided to stay home. Late in the afternoon, we went for a walk towards the west.
Friday, June 9:We woke up to a beautiful dawn feeling good. We took the 9:00 train to Interlaken, changed to go to Lauterbrunnen. There, we walked across the street from the Bhf to the Funicular up to Grutschalp (2612 to 4879 Feet). At the top, we walked toward Murren (536 1 feet), a quaint little resort town with no autos.
We walked around town, ate a delicious lunch at the Rest Schilthorn Seilbabn and took the Seilbahn down the mountain to Stechelberg (3025) There, we took a bus back to Lauterbrunnen and returned to Interlaken Oat (1860). The walk we covered to Murren is known as “The Grandfather’s Walk”, so gentle you could make it in a wheelchair, and offers spectacular views of the Eiger (13026 feet), the Monch (13449) and Jungfrau (13642).
Returning home about 4:30, we bought bread and scotch in COOP and came home for a snooze, intending to go out for dinner. When we waked up, we were so stiff we decided to eat at home a can of hungarische goulash which was very tasty.
The area we visited is the final approach for trips up the peaks of the highest mountains. We have always wanted to visit these places but can’t take the high altitudes. Where we walked today was over 5000 feet, but there was no snow and we had little trouble breathing. The high mountains still have plenty of snow. It was a thrilling trip to go back deep into the valleys below these high mountains and then climb halfway up.
Saturday, June 10:Today, we went grocery shopping and bought an umbrella and a hat. At COOP, we bought a half-liter of good Fendant. We came home and had wine and pizza lunch under the apple tree. We enjoyed watching the French Open Tennis and World Cup Soccer (Belgium beat Sweden). In the evening, we went to Hotel Alpnach for dinner celebrating our 52nd Anniversary.
Sunday, June 11:Weather forecast is for cloudy weather everywhere, as it was here when we awoke. Soon it appeared to improve, so we decided to go up over Hasliberg. We walked to the Seilbahn to Reuti and bought round trip tickets to Magisalp (1708 in). We rode a large gondola to Reuti, changed to a four-seat gondola which went to Bidnil and then to Magisalp. The cars are all named and it happened that ours was named “Marco”. The trip takes about 30 minutes and crossesover numerous walks, streams and waterfalls. The view of the valley and the surrounding mountains is truly spectacular.
We entered the Bergrestaurant Magisalp, made some photos of the mountains and took the seilbahn down to Meiringen, where we walked downtown and had a delicious lunch at Hotel Kreuz on Kirche Str. Then home, a snooze, more tennis and the Holland-Czech soccer game.
By mid-afternoon, clouds shrouded the tops of the mountains. We had gone up at the right time and had a very pleasant experience.
Monday, June 12:The morning was foggy with a bit of rain. We spent some time watching the funeral plans for Syria’s President Assad on CNN. It was quite interesting to see people from various cultures as they approached the family.
Our group farewell dinner was scheduled Monday evening at the Gletcherblick Hotel in Goldern in the Hasliberg near Reuti. We considered taking the cable car from Meiringen and then the bus to the Hotel. Since the weather continued ugly, we took the train up to Brunig and then the bus..
The dinner and entertainment were fine. Hal Taussig, President of Untours, showed up at the Meiringen Hbf, and we rode up together. Had a lot of conversation with him about Jay Clarke, Lois and Tom, and Bob and Claire. He said he would call Jay, whom he remembered. The entertainment included two accordions, a yodeler, an alpenhorn player and some dancing. It ended early so we could return to Brunig for the last train to Meiringen.
The train was 1.5 hours late due to an electrical explosion effecting traffic north to Luzem. The Station Master offered us free coffee but the machine would not operate. The dozen of us there passed the time talking to Hal and hearing him review Swiss history and culture, particularly as it affected cattlemen and cheesemakers, who are helped by government price-support /control for dairy products. Monday morning we walked to the Klinik and the Reichenbach Falls, but did not enter the Falls.
Tuesday, June 13:The morning weather was improved so we decided to walk to the Aare Schlucht toward Innertkirchen. This is a very narrow and deep canyon cut by the river Aare, through very bard rock about 3 or 4 km south of Meiringen. A series of walkways and tunnels have been constructed so that for a small fee you can walk through it for 5Sf. Canyon walls are verticle in most places and must be at least 500 feet high above the water. At its narrowest point, it must be only about 10 feet wide and up to 100 feet in others. In some places the rock walls had obviously sheared off and fallen, while in other places the rock was eroded smoothly by the rushing water.
Leaving the east end of the canyon, we walked down the hill to Innertkirchen, had a good lunch and took the trolley back to M. where we bought Mary a hat. After that, we went home and packed, since we had to leave the next morning.
Wednesday, June 14:We left very heavily loaded, me with Frey chocolate and Mary with dishes, walked to take the 8:05 train to Luzern, where we had a 20 minute wait to change to Basel. We changed in Basel and in Mainz with about 5 minutes for each. Made them, with considerable anxiety, and arrived in St. Goar at 3:36 PM. Fortunately, Landlord Walter Huppertz met us with a handcart and we walked downhill about 5 minutes to the apartment. Getting hungry, we walked downtown to Lotte’s Keller for dinner.