Swiss Oberland Untour, Summer of 2004 - Chapter 3
by Marlene & Frank Hench, Petaluma, CA
Chapter 3:1. Cheese Day & The Niesen
2. Zermatt and the Matterhorn;
Monday, July 19: "Cheese Day Plus the Niesen"Today was the day we would join other Untourists for a trip to the Cheese Maker. When we arrived in Spiez, we had a little wait for the train to Reichenbach where we were to meet the other Idyllers in the group. In the Spiez bahnhof, we found an Internet connection, so for a few Swiss francs, I got to email the family at home. Wow, what technology!
When the train arrived in Reichenbach, we found Susanne, Beatrice and other Idyllers at the bus stop. We were happy to see our friends the Linda and Carl again too. The Post Bus took the mail to rural areas but also carried passengers. There were two buses leaving. The other bus was pulling a trailer for mail. The bus would take us to Griesalp on a very narrow, one lane, winding road. There were many hairpin turns and many blind curves. Every time the driver reached one of those curves, he would blow the horn. It played a little tune that always sounded like it needed just one more note to finish it out. The narrow road led past pastures, farms, an inn, and beautiful roaring waterfalls. I had wished we could have stopped to see the falls, but alas, the mail must go through. We reached Griesalp where the bus stopped. We saw one older Swiss gentleman all dressed in his hiking clothes, with hiking stick and backpack who was starting up a trail as we arrived. He looked so much like what I pictured a Swiss hiker to look like - something right out of "Heidi".
The cheese maker's summer home was in Steinenberg which was a little hike up the road from Griesalp. The skies had cleared earlier and it was now a beautiful sunny day with blue sky again. Perfect for picture taking. It was a spectacular walk across the valley and between the mountains. Along the way were a few vacation homes that were rented out in summer. No wonder people would choose to come here. It was Heaven; the green grass, the sound of cow bells and moos coming from the pasturelands, the snowcapped mountains peaking through the gaps of the lower mountains, and white water streams leading to waterfalls.
Soon we arrived at the cheese maker's house. The cheese maker was a woman. She was the daughter-in-law and had taken over the job of cheese maker from her mother-in-law. There was a young lady from another country who was spending the summer as an apprentice to the cheese maker.
We entered a small room where the cheese was actually made. There was a big vat full of curds and whey. She went on to demonstrate the steps of cheese making until it was ready to put it in the "oven". The older lady was preparing dinner while the younger woman demonstrated. The stove she cooked on was a wood stove so when the cheese was ready to cook in the "oven", mother took some of the burning fire logs from the stove and transferred it to the "oven". The big cheese kettle was moved by a pulley type system into the oven over the coals. The cheese maker displayed the molds that the cheese was poured into once it was ready. Someone ask her how the cheese got their different flavors, did they add herbs to it? She answered that the flavor of the cheese comes from the type of grasses that the cows eat. The cheese making demo was over, but she had some there that was now ready to go to the cheese cellar.
The cheese cellar was located in another building a little distance away. Each round of cheese weighed about 25 pounds, so she put them into a cart to pull them over to the cellar. In the cellar there were rows and rows of shelves holding rounds of cheese as they were made. When we left the cheese cellar, Frank and Carl were employed to carry the 25-pound rounds of cheese down to the cellar for her. Then we went to the little store where they had the cheese that was ready to eat and we could taste and purchase some while we were there. They also had other things for sale like sausages, wild herbs, meringues, butter, jelly, and even embroidered Steinenberg towels. Of course, we all bought some of the absolutely delicious cheese to take with us.
Soon it was time to head back to Griesalp, and this time we weren't in a hurry so we could take more time to enjoy the scenery. We passed a few summer homes, a Chapel, and beautiful waterfalls. I was glad we had more time to take pictures because the views were more than I could take in all at one time. It was a place one would want to linger for a while.
By the time we returned to the restaurant at Griesalp, it was lunchtime. Some of us ate outdoors at the restaurant and some had brought picnic lunches.
After lunch, Frank and Carl joined a group of the Idyllers who went with Susanne and Beatrice on a hike down past waterfalls and the roaring stream to a lower bus stop. Several of us arthritic souls, including Linda and myself, decided we would pass on the hike and stay behind. We had to wait until it was time for the Post Buses to descend the mountain again so we wandered around the area enjoying the scenery. Yes, I had my camera in my hand the whole time.
We had to take the same road back down to Reichenbach picking up the hikers along the way. I was able to catch a few more pictures of waterfalls on the way down. When we picked up the hikers, they all were so excited about the hike. The scenery was magnificent. Frank and Carl were very glad that we had encouraged them to go with the hikers rather than staying with us. After seeing the videos that Frank took on the hike, I could see why they were so excited. The trail followed the stream. It was just about white water all the way with many areas of waterfalls. Very picturesque indeed!
The bus stopped at the Reichenbach bahnhof and we all took the train heading back to Spiez. We left the group at Mulenen so we could go up to the Niesenkulm.
It was only a short walk from the bahnhof across the way to the Niesen Bahn. The route up the Niesen Mountain is quite steep and required two funiculars to reach the kulm or summit. We boarded the first section of the funicular, and it took about 14 minutes to ride up the side of the mountain to the first stop at Schwandegg. Here we changed to the second section of the funicular cars. When we reached the top, the views were magnificent. There, at the summit, was a panoramic view of the Swiss Alps with the Thunersee, Interlaken, and Brienzersee all quite visible. We spent some time looking around, took loads of pictures and videos, and then proceeded to the funicular bahn again
Within 30 minutes we were back down both sections of funiculars, We hopped on the local train to Spiez, and then changed to another train to Thun. As we were walking out of the Thun Bahnhof we spotted the last ship getting ready to leave the Thun schiffstation. We hurried across the street and boarded the ship. It was late afternoon with beautiful warm weather. It was still early enough to take a boat ride on the Thunersee. Wow, was it ever a great time to be on the boat. The sun wasn't as strong so the reflections on the lake were great for photos.
This being the last boat of the day, it didn't go all the way to Interlaken, but as far as Beatenbucht. We basically saw all the things we missed on our boat ride the other day. There was a wonderful full view of the Niesen across the lake, and we marveled that we had just been at the top of it a few hours ago. We passed right by the Oberhofen Castle which was voted one of my favorite castles viewed. I loved the striped shutters and the closeness to the sea. Lake Thun is such a picturesque lake with so much to do around it, that we contemplated how lucky we were to have chosen an apartment so close to it.
The dinner hour was approaching so we took a break from taking hundreds of pictures, and wandered into the ship's restaurant. It was very comfortable and cheery with large windows enclosing it, so we weren't missing the views. With dinner we chose a white wine made in Spiez. It was called Spiezer Riesling X Sylvaner and had a wonderful bouquet and pleasing flavor. Coming from Wine Country in California, we were impressed with the Swiss wines we had tasted already.
As we were dining, we noticed that the sun was beginning to set. Oh, how beautiful is was over the lake. Sometimes there were sunrays beaming between clouds and across the lake like a path leading to Heaven. Then as the sun was setting, the pinks and oranges reflected off the lake while the mountains surrounding the lake became but shadows. We snuck away from the table long enough to capture a few pictures of this glorious sight.
When the boat returned to the dock at Thun, we departed feeling that we had just experienced something very special. We returned to the Bahnhof in time to catch the bus to Gwatt and in a short ride and we were back home to our apartment.
Tuesday, July 20: "Zermatt and Where's the Matterhorn?"Today we had planned to go to Zermatt. The weather wasn't quite as clear today as some of the other days and we hoped by getting an early start that we might get to Zermatt in time to at least get a glimpse of the Matterhorn.
At the Spiez, we boarded train going to Brig. This train would go to Kandersteg, and thru the Lotschberg Tunnel before reaching Brig. Cars are not able to travel over the Lotschberg Pass so they must be carried through the tunnel by train.
An early arrival in Zermatt was not in the cards. Our train broke down when we were almost to Brig, and we had to crawl back to Kandersteg for another train. Now we were starting all over again but more than an hour later.
Finally we reached Brig, where we transferred to the red BVZ train (Brig-Visp-Zermatt). Ah, we were getting closer! When we finally reached Zermatt, we looked for the station for the Gornergrat train. There are actually 3 different trips that you can take from Zermatt up the mountains but the Gornergrat is the one described as "sit on the right side of the train for magical vistas of the Matterhorn."
We boarded the Gornergrat Bahn which was a double cog wheel train. It was made a little more rustic, but the windows opened wide for clearer pictures. By the time we were on our way up the mountain, the clouds were moving in much faster and there was a lot more cloud cover than earlier. Zermatt is at 5,302 ft and the Gornergrat is 10,272 ft. The Matterhorn itself is 14,692 ft. The higher we went, the cloudier it got. Where were those "magical views"? Guess this wasn't going to be the day for those once in a lifetime photos. As the train climbed higher, we could see the closer mountains and some glaciers that were pretty darn impressive, but no Matterhorn.
Finally, we reached the top. There was a large viewpoint set off there and we were able to take some pictures of the glaciers. No matter how hard we looked we couldn't see any signs of the Matterhorn. Perhaps we were in the wrong spot, we thought. There was a building up the hill, so we headed for it. The air was damp and cold; and the misty air felt like rain. Glad we had those wonderful Gortex jackets on to keep us warm and dry.
The building housed a hotel and a restaurant, cafeteria style, and offered warm soup among other things. Oh, that sounded good. We both had some hot goulash soup From our table, we had a view of the mountains and as we sat there eating and watching people and doggies, we noticed that the clouds were lifting a little. So, we figured that if we sat there for a while longer, perhaps it would clear enough to see the Matterhorn. Wrong! Instead, the cloud cover became more intense so that it became hard to even see the glaciers. There was a man in an office and I asked him, "If we could see the Matterhorn, in what direction would we be looking?" He laughed and pointed to where we had been looking all the while. Guess the only Matterhorn we would be seeing was in the paintings on the walls.
We decided that there was no more reason to stay up on the mountain, so we headed for the next train down. Although we had some more gorgeous views on the way back to Zermatt, we still never saw the Matterhorn.
Zermatt was a great little town and we could see why people flocked to it. There were a lot of tourists there wandering through the streets and the shops just like us. Traffic didn't seem to be a problem in the town either. The streets appeared to be more pedestrian friendly. As we walked along enjoying window shopping and taking pictures, there were signs of earlier rainfall, but now the sun was finally trying to push through the clouds.
The stores in Zermatt were very interesting to browse through. The most interesting were the carved masks. They were masks of the Zermatt Mountain Ghosts, and some were pretty scarey looking. Just right for Halloween!
Along the way I ask people if they knew where we might be able to view the Matterhorn. Of course, I am speaking English and they German so there were a lot of hand jesters being made in the conversation. Finally we managed to find out that we would be looking for a church. We kept walking and looking for steeples. Don't ask me where it was located in town. I only know it seemed far from where we started out.
Eureka! There ahead of us was a church with a big steeple. Some of the clouds were moving and there was actually blue poking through now, but where was the Matterhorn? The church looked intriguing so we entered. It looked like a Catholic Church. The old altar was exquisitely done in gold. We never did find out the name of the church, but we enjoyed spending some time there looking at the artistry.
When we left the church, we saw people gathered on the steps to the church and wondered what was happening. Then we saw it, the unveiling of the Matterhorn. I expected to hear the sounds of trumpets or something as the clouds slowly moved away. Everyone seemed to be trying to blow the air enough to move the clouds. It was spectacular even though we never saw the top of the Matterhorn. We saw enough to be happy and have some extremely interesting photos of it. When we look at the photos, we just picture the tip of the mountain in our minds.
Feeling satisfied rather than disappointed, we were ready to trek back to the bahnhof and head home. Evening was here and we had a long trip home. We boarded the red train again and were on our way back to Brig.
When we reached Brig, we had a little time before the train to Spiez would arrive. We were feeling a little hungry and there was a small shop open that sold grocery type items. Our backpacks already had cheese and salami in it, so we picked out some bread and two small screw cap bottles of wine. There was a bench in the waiting area of the bahnhof, so we had a little picnic there in the dark. Good cheese, good bread, and good wine; what more could we ask for? What a great day!