SUMMARY OF TRIP TO SWITZERLAND, AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 1999
by Bob and Barbara Eslinger, Phoenix, AZ
Last year we enjoyed our first trip to Switzerland and enjoyed it so much that we returned this year. The three weeks this year were even more fantastic. Following is a summary of our three-week adventure from August 24 through September 15.
Day 1 Travel– We left Tuesday morning and arrived Zurich at 10:30 Wednesday. We were met by Idyll greeters and accompanied to Meiringen where we met Frau Lydia Bruegger. Lydia and her husband Ernst live downstairs and we had a very nice apartment on the second floor. The apartment had a balcony that looked out over the valley and a beautiful waterfall. You could see the high mountains in the background. A beautiful setting with a flat 10 minute walk to the train station. Meiringen is a medium size town with everything you would want, convenient transportation, Migros, Coop and restraurants. We liked the central Switzerland location and easy access to trains. We walked around town forcing ourselves to stay up until near bedtime, then collapsed.
Day 2 Thursday Panoramaweg- Orientation Day. Following orientation we took the panoramaweg from Reuti to Hohfluh (#3 p14 in “The Hiking & Biking Guide” - H&BG). It was a steep grade in the beginning but basically leveled out for a beautiful view of the Hasliberg and surrounding area. It was rainy but the hike and views were wonderful in spite of the rain.
Day 3 Friday Sudrampe- The weather in the Heartland didn’t look too good so we went with some friends to the Sudrampe (South Ramp) (#2 page 36 H&BG) which is in the Southern part of Switzerland. The hike was high on the South side of the main alpine spine over looking the Rhone River. It basically follows the high-speed main RR as it crosses bridges and ducks thru tunnels. The weather was good and the hike took about 4 hours including stops for refreshments, lunch and the bakery in Ausserberg. There were some surprises along the way including a beer garden (halfway through our hike out in the middle of nowhere) and a high RR bridge. The hike follows old narrow man-made watercourses that were used for irrigation. A wonderful hike with great views.
Day 4 Saturday Meiringen- It was raining when we awoke so we enjoyed resting after a big day yesterday. It cleared a little after lunch so we went to the train station where they were celebrating the opening of the Bruning Best Travel. A new rail car with handicap loading was dedicated along with a new engine and a new double decker bus. There was quite a party going on with music (two accordions and a bass), dancing and prize drawings. The food was excellent. We had kase toast, bratwurst and wine. The kase toast is made by taking a huge chunks of cheese (about 12” long by 3” wide by 10” high) and placing it under a special propane heater until the top layer is melted and bubbly. Then the cheese is removed from under the burner and the melted cheese is scrapped with a knife onto a piece of bread (delicious). It was fun celebrating with the Swiss.
Day 5 Sunday Mannlichen- The weather was improving but still cloudy but we decided to head for Mannlichen. Since the tram from Wengen to Mannlichen was under repair we took the gondola from Grindelwald. It is the longest gondola in Europe (35 min). When we arrived the visibility was about 50 feet. We walked over to the tram area where the SF TV crew headquarters were setup to film the Eiger climb (More later on the climb). They had extensive equipment installed along with 5 or 6 dishes used to receive signals from cameras mounted on the Eiger at strategic locations. We took the Grandmother’s walk (#1, page 27 H&BG). Although we couldn’t fully appreciate the beautiful views from the walk the closer we got to Kleine Scheidegg the clearer it got. We could hear cow bells and we also heard an avalanche probably on the Eiger glacier. We had a great lunch at the Grindelwaldblick just above Kleine Scheidegg. As we finished the clouds began to clear and we could see the Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau Mountains fading in and out of the clouds. It was a very enjoyable day in spite of the less than idea weather.
Day 6 Monday Guttannen- We had less than idea weather conditions to start our vacations but from day 6 on the weather improved and we didn’t have any rain the remainder of our stay. We went with Madeline Thoni on an Idyll sponsored trip to Guttannen. It covered a hike from Boden to Guttannen along one of the most important trade routes through the Alps until the end of the 19th century. She showed where three major avalanches came close to destroying both villages. Fortunately no one was injured. Madeline had pictures of the huge amount of debris that had covered the grasslands. The Swiss people and the government rallied to remove the debris in time for the farmers to grow the grasses needed to support their cows. It was a truly remarkable achievement. Madeline explained that farmers are only allowed to have the number of cows that they can support with grass and hay; therefore, the loss of grasslands is a huge impact to the farmer. After lunch at the Hotel Baren we visited a crystal museum. Crystal mining is done is this valley near the Grimsal Pass. The owner (Rufiback) is a good friend of our landlord who we later discovered was a collector of minerals. In the afternoon we took a double decker bus Post Bus over the Grimsel Pass to Gletch which is the cross roads between several passes. A short hike at Gletch with year markers showed how rapidly the Rhone glacier is retreating. It wasn’t that long ago (1800’s) that this glacier came all the way into Gletch. Now you can only see it up high on the mountain. When we got home Lydia gave us some home made plum jam and invited us to see Ernst’s mineral display. He had about 10 lighted display cases with minerals from all over the world. They were all labeled and displayed beautifully. Ernst was a wood carver in Brienz at Jobin until he retired. He also showed us some of his work carvings.
Day 7 Tuesday Eiger Trail- This was the best day weather wise. We hiked the Eiger Trail with some friends. This is my favorite hike so far. Hopefully it will be in the next edition of the H&BG. The trail begins at the Eigergletscher station just above Kleine Scheidegg and traverses just below the base of the Eiger. Those who have read THE WHITE SPIDER or other accounts of climbs of the Eiger will find this trail intriguing. All climbing landmarks can be identified and one can see where success and tragedy have occurred. Hopefully the scheduled televised climb will take place while we are still in Switzerland. There were climbers on one of the vertical surfaces but we think they were part of a climbing school. It was a wonderful hike with excellent views of the Eiger and the valley. We were further rewarded at the end of the hike with Swallow’s Nest Toast (named after a landmark on the Eiger) at the Alpiglen Restaurant. It was ham and pineapple on cheese toast. WONDERFUL! Wow! What a day!!
Day 8 Wednesday First- A perfect weather day. We took the Post Bus to Schwarzwaldalp and then a private bus to Grosse Scheidegg. The single lane road was very narrow and we heard a lot of DFB(flat) from the Post Bus horn. (Which means here I come get out of the way. And they do.) We had envisioned Grosse Scheidegg at least to be a small village rather than a single restaurant. We hiked to First (#5, page 15 in H&BG) among many cows and of course the serenade of cow bells. The hike has beautiful views from the Wetterhorn to the Eiger. You can see the sharp Mittellegi Ridge of the Eiger. We took the lift to Grindelwald and walked through the tourist-oriented town. Another great hike and another great day.
Day 9 Thursday Murren- We headed to Murren which is a carless village on a plateau above Lauterbrunnen. We took the Post Bus to Stechelberg and the tram to Gimmelwald (the place Rick Steves likes). We walked around this lovely quite town and then took the next tram to Murren. We walked through town and ate lunch on the patio of the Hotel Alpina. The patio is perched on the very edge of the rim overlooking the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. After lunch we took the Grandfather’s Walk in reverse (#4, page 10 H&BG) to Grutschalp then the funicular to Lauterbrunnen. We saw many older Swiss people hiking whereever we went. We saw a hunched over old lady with a cane that must have been in her late 80’s. That was one thing that really impressed us. Many times they were going up hill when we were going down hill.
Day 10 Friday Susten- We went with friends to Gadmen Obermaad and then caught the Post Bus to the Susten Pass. We hiked down to the Steingletscher Hotel (about 45 minutes) enjoying the wonderful views of the Steingletscher all along the way. From here one could catch the Post Bus back to Meirigen, but we started hiking back to Gadmen Obermaad. The trail is rocky in places but is far off the road through a beautiful valley along a stream at times. We had a lunch break at a nice Rastplatz (picnic area). We picked blue berries on the trail but they weren’t as big or as tasty as the ones Lydia gave us when we got back. At the end of the hike we celebrated with a drink at the Gadmen Obermaad Restaurant. This is a great hike that isn’t in the H&BG yet. It drops about 2,000 feet from top of Susten Pass to Gadmen Obermaad Restaurant.
Day 11 Saturday Interlaken- We went to Interlaken where they were having a Marathon. Believe it or not the run started in Interlaken and ended in Kleine Scheidigg with the highest point being the Eigergletsher Station. This is an altitude change of over 6,000 feet over 26+ miles. We had fun watching all of the activity and then walked through Interlaken to Interlaken West where we crossed the Aare River into the older part of town. We then followed the wanderweg along the river back to Interlaken Ost.
Day 12 Sunday Festung Furigen/Bannalp– Went with friends to the Festung Furigen near Stans. This is an under mountain defense fortress museum. When in use it was totally self sufficient and housed large gun emplacements for defense of the pass South of Luzern. It is rumored that many of these defense fortresses exist throughout the mountains. Following the tour we went to Oberrickenback and took the lift to Bannalp. We hiked down a Bergweg to a restaurant at Bannalpsee and of course had a great meal. The restaurant overlooked a beautiful lake and surrounding mountains. While we were eating a man was playing an Alphorn which echoed through out the valley. We hiked around the lake and back up to the lift station. I hate to keep saying it but it was another beautiful day.
Day 13 Monday Jockpass– It rained hard in the night but was clear in the morning. We hiked The Jochpass: Engelberg to Meiringen (#4 page 21 in H&B). We took the gondola from Engelberg to Trubsee Lake, hiked around the lake and took the chairlift to the Jockpass. The skies were partly cloudy but we had an excellent view of Titlus Mountain, Melchsee Frutt and Planplatten. We took the chairlift down to the beautiful Lake Engslensee where we ate our sack lunch overlooking the lake. We then hiked to Engstlanalp where we caught a Post Bus to Meiringen. The ride was an exciting and beautiful trip down a narrow valley road and of course a lot of DFB(flat) from the bus horn. We got home in time to get ready for the Idyll party in Giswil hosted by Agnes and Paul Fallegger. Paul played an organ grinder with Swiss music. We had an excellent dinner and then entertainment by two accordians and bass, and then by an alphorn. The highlight was the alphorn playing outside as we boarded the train to go home.
Day 14 Tuesday Giessbach and Reichenbach Falls– We took train to Brienz, took the boat to Giessbachsee and the funicular to Giessbach. We walked around the beautiful Grand Hotel and then viewed the beautiful Giessbach Falls. From there we hiked the upper trail to Iseltwald (#5 page 11 HBG). We took the MS Jungfrau (a newly commissioned ship) to Interlaken and the train to Meiringen. We walked to Reichenbachfalls and took the funicular to the top of the falls where we had a great view of the falls and the surrounding area overlooking Meiringen and the Halisberg. When we got home Lydia invited us to dinner. Ernst started a fire in the outside fireplace he built and grilled veal and pork bratwurst. Lydia had excellent potato salad and served Chardonnay. Barb made salad and cooked some carrots and zucchini. We ate in a little side house that Ernst built. Lydia had freshly baked appel kuchen with cream. Apples in kuchen were from her tree. We had a wonderful evening with a wonderful Swiss couple. Ernst and Lydia exhibited everything that Hal says about the Swiss landlord. They were concerned about us and wanted us to enjoy our stay. Lydia says they really aren’t in it for the money. They want to please and participate but don’t want to intrude. Even though Ernst spoke very little English, we were able to communicate. Ernst gave us a mineral to take home with us. What a great host couple!
Day 15 Wednesday Spiez– We moved to Spiez today for our third week. We stopped in Brienz and took a tour of the Jobin wood carving school. This is where Ernst worked until he retired. It appears very manpower intensive and the item prices reflected the manpower effort. The tour showed some very unique priceless items. I had always looked on the Swiss rail system to be of the utmost efficiency but my perspective changed somewhat when it took over 26 hours to get out luggage from Meiringen to Spiez. Fortunately, our landlady was instrumental in working with the railroad and in picking up and delivering our luggage when it did come in around 6:00 p.m. This was sure a big help and one of the services that Idyll apartment owners provide for their guests. We explored Spiez in the afternoon and looked at the wine museum, the Spiez Castle and the harbor. We rode around in a small train that transports people around the streets of Spiez. Our apartment was within 5 minutes of the harbor and within 10 uphill minutes of the train station. It was very comfortable but we missed an onsite landlady. The proximity to the harbor was a new Swiss experience that we enjoyed.
Day 16 Thursday 9/9/99 Zermatt– I guess the world didn’t come to an end as many people projected because of the 9999 date which was suppose to cause computer programs to terminate. We heard that the Eiger climb was on beginning today at 9:00. We agonized over what to do but decided since it was such a perfect day that we would go to Zermatt and then watch the climb tomorrow. Once in Zermatt we took the cog railroad to Gornergrat where we had an unparalleled view of the Matterhorn. You can’t describe the view or capture it with pictures. You have to experience it. We were surprised by the total panorama. You can see 2/3 of the Swiss peaks over 10,000 feet from this viewpoint. We walked though town that is very tourist oriented. Another first today, we got chewed out (we think) by an elderly Swiss lady on the train returning home. It wasn’t what she said (although we didn’t understand her) but how she said it. We think she was telling us to raise our window even though it was very warm and many others had their windows down. We raised ours part way and that seemed to satisfy her. It was a long day trip but well worth the effort. When we got home we found out the Eiger climb is going well and they were in the overnight bivouac.
Day 17 Friday Eiger Climb– The televised Eiger climb has been in the works for the past two years. They wanted at least 24 hours of freezing temperature so snow/rock slides would be minimal along with good weather. Last year the climb was cancelled because they couldn’t satisfy the conditions within a one-month window. This year the window began on August 24 and the climb had been on hold until now. The Swiss television crews set up fixed cameras at strategic locations using helicopters and had placed cameramen at other strategic locations to capture the climb. There were three Swiss climbers, three men and one woman. When we turned on the television around 5:30 there were live pictures of the team and some cameramen in the overnight bivouac getting ready for the days climb. We decided to experience the climb to the maximum extent possible so we went to climb headquarters in Mannlichen and watched the live feed. The Swiss TV had a reception tent setup and a large screen TV on the deck of the restaurant. We decided to watch a smaller TV inside the restaurant where there was minimal glare. The pictures were excellent. The TV crews captured every part of the climb. It might have been more interesting to have pictures of the cameramen taking pictures. This climb is one of the most challenging and dangerous climbs in Europe. It was first climbed in 1938. Since then over 50 people have died trying to reach the peak. The climb went well and as the climbers finished they were met at the top by cameramen around 1530. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience even though we couldn’t understand the German narrative. It was a great day for Swiss climbers, Swiss TV and Swiss weather.
Day 18 Saturday Cheese Festival– We headed for the cheese festival in Magisalp by first stopping off at the bakery in Hohfluh we had heard so much about. All the raving was justified. We hiked the panoramoweg to Twing and caught the gondola to Kaserstatt. From there we hiked to Magisalp enjoying the view all along the way. The cheese festival is held high in the mountains so that farmers can sell their cheese prior to moving to the valley for the winter. There were decorated booths where many cheese samples were available. They had entertainment including three alphorns, a singing group, traditional dancers and a typical two accordion-bass band. Of course they had food for sale including cheese toast and bratwurst. It was great fun to taste the various cheeses for sale and to be a part of the celebration.
After dinner we walked down to the harbor and discovered a German choir singing outside their bus. They were excellent. We were in our shorts and tevas but decided to take a ship to Thun and watch the sunset over the water. It was beautiful with some clouds. In Thun we had about 30 minutes until the next train so we wandered down to the river where we found a kayaking competition which was interesting to watch. After we got home and settled we heard a band playing down by the harbor and then there were fireworks so we decided to see what was going on. When we got there we found this rather strange large band dressed in unusual orange outfits playing drums, horns, clarinets, etc. They weren’t very good but they enjoyed themselves. Apparently they were celebrating a wedding. Later we found out they were a guggi musik band. They played and played and played. Much of it sounded the same. We thoroughly enjoyed celebrating with Swiss today.
Day 19 Sunday Eggishorn –We went to the Eggishorn with some friends today (page 19 of Oberland Dream Book). It is the best vantage point to view two of Europe’s longest glaciers the Grosser Aletschgletscher and the Fieschergletscher. The Aletschgletscher curves south from the Jungfrau to the Rhone Valley and looks like a HUGH river of ice. The viewing was excellent. It was interesting to see the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger from the other side. Basically this is the view seen from the Jungfrau Joch except from the other direction. We lunched at the hut at the top. It is always such a treat to go to these remote places in Switzerland and find wonderful places to eat along with a view. The Eggishorn at 9,600 feet was reached via two cable cars. There were over 50 paragliders and hang gliders in the air at one time. Quite a sight and quite a day.
Day 20 Monday Niederhorn– Today we went to the Niederhorn that is a very tall mountain just across the lake from Spiez. We took the boat to Beatenbucht, the funicular to Beatenberg and the cable car to the top. From here there was a beautiful view of the Berner Oberland mountains. We hiked to Burgfeldstand and back (~1:45). This was a beautiful walk with excellent views of mountain ranges and valleys. The surprise was the beautiful Justistal Valley behind the Niederhorn. On the way home we took the ship to Faulensee and walked back to Spiez along the water front (#3 page 5 H&BG). Another great day.
Day 21 Tuesday Schynige Platte- Our last full day in Switzerland we went to Schynige Platte. After a very uncomfortable 50 minute narrow gauge rack rail ride (which the brochure lists as a “cozy ride”) we reached the top and the beautiful overview of the Jungfrau region. We hiked the panoramaweg to Daube and then along a narrow trail with drop offs on both sides. The view was spectacular with Lake Thun, Lake Brienz and Interlaken on one side and the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and Grindelwald on the other. Every mountaintop adventure offers a different view and a new perspective. We also visited the Alpine Garden but the majority of the flowers were not blooming this time of the year. Another great viewing/hiking day. After dinner we walked around Spiez and through the vineyards. The grapes are about ready to be picked.
Day 22 Wednesday Home– Our time has finally come to an end. We felt like we accomplished twice as much as we did last year and began talking about returning next year. So much to see, so little time.