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Swiss Oberland Untour, Summer of 2004 - Chapter 2

by Marlene & Frank Hench, Petaluma, CA

Chapter 2:

1. Jungfraujoch
2. Grandfather Walk, Schilthorn, Trummelbach Falls, Staubach Falls and Luterbrunnen
3. Brienzersee, Brienzer Rothorn, and Brienz

Friday, July 16: "Perfect Day For the Jungfraujoch"

The alarm woke us very early. We hopped out of bed and ran to the window. Yes! the sky was very blue with very little cloud cover. It looked like a perfect day to go to the Jungfrau.

We took the bus to Thun, and had some time before the train, so went across the street to a Starbucks that we had spotted. Yes, even in Thun, Switzerland! Once aboard the train, we were able to sit back and enjoy our breakfast.

All trains stop at Interlaken Ost and everyone gets off to board another train to their next destination. This time we were heading to the town of Lauterbrunnen. Once in Lauterbrunnen, there are many direction choices to interesting sights, but today, our destination would be the Jungfrau. The next train would be our first cog rail train ride and would run from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen taking about 15 minutes.

Previously we had planned that we would take the Grandmother Walk (Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg) but on arrival in Lauterbrunnen, we decided that we should head straight for the Jungfrau while the weather was so beautiful. Our plan now would be to stay on the cog rail train all the way to Kleine Scheidegg. Once we reached the town of Kleine Scheidegg, we would transfer to the Jungfraubahn, the train that was going to take us on an incredible journey up through the mountains of the Jungfraujoch.

Leaving Kleine Scheidegg, the train runs straight up the mountain to the Eigergletscher (7,690 ft). The snow covered mountain views up were gorgeous. At the Eiger, the train now enters a 4 1/2 mile tunnel which runs through both the Eiger and the Monch. It makes two stops in the tunnel. The first is Eigerwand (9,397 ft) and the second is Eismeer (10,360 ft). Both have windows with views of the glaciers. We were glad that we decided to get off the train at both stops for a moment to take in the views and another large amount of digital photos. The next and last train stop was at the Jungfraujoch Station.

Everyone leaves the train at this station to view the featured attraction, the glaciers. The station is actually underground with a series of tunnels that lead to various areas. The Sphinx is the highest viewing area (11, 723 ft) and offered panoramic views of the glaciers. There is no way I can describe the majestic views we saw except that I labeled one of my many photos taken here "Heaven" because when I look at it, I expect to see God appear in the middle of the glaciers. It had to be one of the most awesome sights we have ever seen. After we decided that I had enough digital photos of the Jungfrau and Frank had enough videos of it, it was time to leave the mountain.

When we reached Kleine Scheidegg, both of us were feeling hungry. There was a little outdoor restaurant nearby where the chef was grilling sausage, and cooking rostis. Then in the back he had a large kettle of sauerkraut and potatoes. How delicious the lunch was there. For dessert, there was a large selection of apple strudel, apple cake and other pastries. It just doesn't get much better!!

While we ate, there was a sudden dark cloud cover upon us and we experienced our first rain. Luckily it didn't last long, one of those mountain showers. After lunch we had a short wait for the train. We decided that we would take a different route home. We took the train from Kleine Scheidegg down to Grindelwald where we changed trains again, this time heading back to Interlaken Ost. When we reached Interlaken Ost bahnhof, we noticed there was a Migros store across the way. There are two large grocery chains in Switzerland Migros and Coop. We decided that since our lunch was so filling that dinner would not be necessary so we picked out a strawberry cream cake and a bottle of Swiss wine to take back home with us for dessert. We also bought some salami, cheese, and bread, and our first Swiss chocolate bar to carry in our backpacks for spur of the moment picnics.

Then it was onto a train to Thun followed by a bus to Gwatt.

Saturday, July 17: "Grandfather Walk, The Schilthorn, and Trummelbach Falls"

Another beautiful clear day again. How can we be so lucky? It's recommended to stay away from the big tourist spots on summer weekends because not only tourists but locals are going on outings. We knew it would be worse though because the weather was having a nice stretch without rain... but, it was too beautiful a day not to try to go to the Schilthorn.

Since the Schilthorn is located in the same area as the Jungfraujoch, we would need to take similar routes as yesterday, so we changed trains in Interlaken Ost to head to Lauterbrunnen again.

Today, when we reached Lauterbrunnen though, we boarded the funicular to Grutschalp. This was our first funicular ride. "Able to climb steep mountains in a single bound!"...okay, maybe on special tracks instead.

Again gorgeous clear blue skies and views of the Swiss Alps are seen from the funicular car. When we reached Grutschalp, we had two choices. We could take a train to Murren, or we could take a hike on the Grandfather Walk, a hike from Grutschalp to either Winteregg or on as far as Murren. Since the weather was so nice and we had enough time, we decided on the Grandfather Walk. We weren't sure how far we would get. Frank has no problem walking but I do because of arthritis. I did bring my trusty walking stick with me to Switzerland though and used it all the time, so that really helped. (Hint: Magellan online has a really great telescoping walking stick.)

The Grandfather Walk was spectacular. The path was fairly level and easy to walk on even with arthritis. The views along the way were awesome...snow covered Swiss Alps, green grass, streams with waterfalls, and little country chalets. The path pretty much follows the train tracks to Winteregg. When we reached Winteregg, we had a refreshing drink at the café and waited for the next train to Murren.

Arriving in Murren, we had about a 10-15 min walk from the train stop through town to the cable car to the Schilthorn. Actually it was a very nice walk through this quaint town, and I took a lot of pictures of the chalets and a few hotels that we passed. One thing that was unique about the town of Murren is there were no cars allowed to drive through the town. This was really great for us pedestrians.

Finally we reached the cable car station and the weather was still beautiful for our ride through the air. To get up to the Schilthorn required taking two different cable cars, one from Murren to Birg, and then another from Birg to the Schilthorn.

At the top is a very large round building. This is where portions of the James Bond movie "Her Majesty's Secret Service" were filmed. In the Schilthorn, they actually show some parts of the movie that was filmed there. What we didn't know was that they actually built the Schilthorn for the movie rather than the moviemakers using a building that was already there. If you go, be sure to say "the name is Bond, James Bond!" everybody does. The view from here is a 360 degrees panorama of the Jungfraujoch. Again, clear blue skies and an awesome view, what more can we ask for?

We hopped on the next cable car down to Birg and when we checked the time, it was still early enough for more touring. We continued on a different route by taking the cable car to Gimmelwald. From there, we rode in another cable car down to Stechelberg Station. In planning our trip, we had heard about the Valley of the Waterfalls: The White Lutschine path, and how spectacular it was; however, I always read the distance to walk was 4 1/2 miles. I knew I would never be able to do that so I investigated more. I found that we could actually take the Post Bus from Stechelberg to Trummelbach, and then catch the Post Bus from there to Lauterbrunnen. Staubbach Falls was just outside of Lauterbrunnen. Following that plan, we were able to board a yellow Post Bus at Stechelberg over to Trummelbach Falls.

At Trummelbach Falls there is a caftereria style restaurant, so we had lunch there. Having satisfied our tummies, we were off to see the famous Trummelbach Falls. The name means "falls that sound like drums." We had read about them...the falls within the mountain...and knew they were not to be missed. There was a small entrance fee but it was well worth it. We were able to take an elevator up into the mountain. This lead to paths and tunnels through the mountain. Sometimes we were viewing the falls from inside the mountain and sometimes we were outside. There were quite a few stairs to walk and sometimes wet so I was glad that I had my hiking boots on for more stability. Before we left for this vacation, we had both purchased a lightweight Gortex jacket with a hood from LL Bean that was light enough to fold and carry in our backpacks every day. This was the first time we needed them, not because it was raining, but because the force of the falls sprayed misty water everywhere.

We spent a lot of time walking through Trummelbach Falls, and it was well worth every minute spent and every picture taken there. Ok, again I took a lot of pictures...so many different views! When we exited, we wandered along the stream viewing the end of the falls flowing into it. Somehow we lost track of time and just missed the Post Bus as it was leaving the restaurant area. This meant we had to wait about 45 minutes for the next bus which was also the last one for the day. The restaurant was closing so there was no indoor seating. As we looked up at the mountains admiring the many waterfalls that could be seen from there, we couldn't help but notice the fast approaching black storm clouds. The only shelter was a covered porch belonging to the restaurant. They said they didn't mind if we took shelter there. By then there were about 10 people waiting for the last Post Bus. We were certainly entertained by a young precocious 5 year old Indian boy traveling with his parents. The little one was so smart that I had some fun conversations with him as the thunder, lightening, and pouring rain surrounded us.

Soon the storm passed and so did the time. The yellow Post Bus was pulling up. We all boarded it and before long we were getting off at the Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof. As we looked around the station, we saw some large falls flowing down the mountainside... Staubbach Falls, visible right from the bahnhof.

We needed to eat dinner because it would be late when we got back to Thun. The clouds still hung over us but it wasn't raining so we walked around the town of Lauterbrunnen until we came upon the Oberland Restaurant. As we perused the menu, we noticed that others were having cheese fondue, but this time they served a condiment tray and a bowl of cooked potatoes besides the chunks of bread.

As we enjoyed our dinner, the storms came and went again. We walked back to the bahnhof and took the train from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken Ost, changed trains there to go to Thun and then hopped on the bus back to Gwatt and our apartment. We had the location of our bus stop in front of the Thun station down now, no more hunting for it.

Once back at the apartment, we charged our batteries for more photos and videos, looked at our train schedules for the next day, and then off to bed we went.

Sunday, July 18: "Brienz and the Brienzersee"

The plans for the day would be to take the train to the town of Brienz, have a boat ride on the Brienzersee and then ride up to the Brienzer Rothorn.

We took the bus to Thun bahnhof, and the train to Interlaken Ost. At Interlaken Ost the schiffstation was not very far from the bahnhof, so we walked over and boarded the "Jungfrau", one of the ships cruising on the Brienzersee (Lake Brienz). The Swiss transportation system is so efficient. You get off a bus and meet a train, off a train and meet a boat. We never seemed to have to wait very long for our connections. The absolute best thing though is the Swiss Pass. It is so wonderful to be able to do things at the moment without having to think about..."How much does it cost". All the regular transportation is included in the Swiss Pass. The only extra fees were for some of the cableways or funiculars in the mountains. Even then, most of those gave a discount to Swiss Pass holders.

The ship pulled away from the dock, and we were on our way to our first boat ride on the Brienzersee. It too was a beautiful lake. The water was clear and greenish in color. Towns dotted the coastline and mountains loomed over it. Today was again a warm beautiful day with sunshine. There were more clouds in the skies then we had seen on the previous days, but nothing threatening. Frank and I enjoyed relaxing on the back of the boat sipping on a beer and a coke with frequent jaunts to the sides for that not to be missed picture. Face it, everything in Switzerland is photogenic and begs to be photographed. (Hint...bring lots of film!)

We had read that Geissbach Falls was located along here but our plans didn't include a trip to it; however, we were not disappointed because from the boat, we could see Geissbach Falls as it flowed down into the Brienzersee.

When we reached the dock of Brienz, we left the ship to find the Brienzer Rothorn station. It wasn't too far. We were excited about this train ride because we had read that it was "the highest steam locomotive cog-railway in the Alps". It was also touted as the oldest steam cog railway being in service since 1892. Aboard the famous train, we embarked on a spectacular ride up a steep climb of 5,560 feet up the side of the mountain to reach the Rothorn Kulm, a summit of 7,433 feet. The climb was steep and the ride was slow taking one hour to reach the summit station. The views were spectacular from our open air car. We passed small summer ranches, old wooden buildings, cows in the pastures wearing their well earned cow bells, hikers, and several small train stops. The views down the mountain were awesome. We could see the large Brienzersee getting smaller as we climbed upward. Just before we reach the summit, we traveled through some wood covered snow tunnels.

Once we reached the top, there was a short walk from the station up to a restaurant and a path leading farther up to the Rothorn Kulm. Frank walked up to the Kulm but I stayed back and took pictures from the overlook.

We walked back down the path to the station just in time to catch the next train. The slow ride down was as great as the ride up. In this direction, we could really see the views of the Brienzersee and the mountain side. As we were descending, we passed some children rounding up the cows and goats from the mountainside and trying to take them down to the ranch. One of the smaller boys spotted the train and raced it down to the barn so that he could wave to all of us when we passed.

When we reached Brienz bahnhof, there was still time to have a little walk through the town. Brienz is noted for its woodcarving. The first shop we saw was a woodcarving shop. Being Sunday evening, it was closed of course. The windows; however, were quite interesting. There was a beautifully carved Nativity scene with a stable, two figures sitting at a table, two dachshunds (I wanted one but never made it back to get it), and miscellaneous other carvings. The other window had a display of carving tools and wood pieces. As we walked through town, we spotted signs that displayed the carving talents of the town, and of course, there was a large carved statue of two marmots. Somehow, the Swiss had an infatuation with marmots. We never did learn why.

After our walk we decided that we should think about dinner. We had passed the Steinbock Restaurant with the wood carved fish sign and had read that Brienz was a very good town to have fresh fish. The restaurant was very quaint with a lot of atmosphere to it so we chose to sit inside that evening. Frank who had his mind on fish since we first entered the town of Brienz selected the Fera Fish in a Saffron Sauce. I, on the other hand, chose the Rosti with Vegetables, Cheese and Egg. They both were excellent selections. Before the main course, we had a salad. There is some type of creamy dressing that the Swiss make that is absolutely delicious. We had it many times during the trip. After dinner we "forced" ourselves to share a piece of apple strudel with vanilla sauce. A tourist can't get enough strudel in Switzerland!

As we left the Steinbock's, we were surprised to see that it was raining. Armed with water repellent gear, we walked back through town to the bahnhof, and waited for the next train to Interlaken Ost. From there we took the train to Thun and then the bus back to Gwatt.

(Hint: Get a lightweight rainproof jacket and small travel umbrella to keep in your backpack. In the mountains, you never know when a rain cloud will be over you. LL Bean online has a great lightweight Gortex jacket that we have. It worked really well for the trip.)

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