Swiss Oberland Untour, Summer of 2004 - Chapter 4
by Marlene & Frank Hench, Petaluma, CA
Chapter 4:1. Meiringen with St Michael's, Reichenbach Falls, and Aareschult Gorge
3. Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, and Lake Geneva
Wednesday, July 21: "Meiringen: St Michael's, Reichenbach Falls, and the Aareschult Gorge"Today would be the first of three ancestor days. There were three cities on our itinerary to visit where Frank's great grandparents and their families lived, Meiringen, Koniz, and Steffisburg. We planned to visit these three towns and take pictures of very old buildings, churches, and other natural landmarks. Luckily for us, one of them was this really great town of Meiringen.
To get to Meiringen, we would start in Thun, take the train to Interlaken Ost, and then change trains to Meiringen. In preparation, Frank pulled out a bag of cookies that we had bought...Meringue cookies. Back in Meiringen history, meringue, that yummy egg white mixture we Americans love on the top of Lemon Meringue Pie, was invented here. Of course, that's where it got its name, meringue.
From first look, we liked the town of Meiringen and knew it was going to be a fun day. We spotted a Migros store and needed some picnic supplies. Our excursion into Migros was rather fun. We couldn't believe this one aisle that was totally chocolate bars. So many and so little time!!
We walked through the streets of Meiringen and headed toward St. Michael's Church. The building that stands there today was built in 1683/84. Under the church are excavations of four previous churches including: first church from 10th and 11th centuries; second church was enlargement; third church built early 13th century which was destroyed in the 15th century (? 1480) by "wild waters"; and fourth church was constructed about 5 meters higher on the rubble of the former church. This was pre-reformation. The church was rebuilt several times before it finally became the church that is found here today. As we stood there in the church, we tried to envision what it must have been like in the 1700-1800s when Frank's ancestors lived there. The door was open so we were able to go inside the church and spend time observing and taking pictures. We were also able to go down the stairs to view the excavations.
From the church grounds, the snow-covered Swiss Alps were visible. On the other side of the stone wall surrounding the church yard, three old wooden chalets could be seen. The houses had escaped the town's fires and floods. The visit to the church was definitely worth our time.
A little walk from St Michael's Church took us to the old funicular that would transport us up to the base of the Reichenbach Falls. Everywhere in Meirigen we saw things about Sherlock Holmes, but the real attraction is the Reichenbach Falls, for it was here that Sherlock Holmes lost the battle with his nemesis Dr. Morarity and was thrown over the falls to meet his demise. That is, until everyone complained so much that Doyle had to bring Sherlock back to life by having him clinging to a branch. Think about that when you observe the trees by the top of the falls!
We rode the funicular up the steep mountainside until we reached the base of the falls. They were quite impressive. As I stood there looking at the force of the falls, and remembered how much water I had just seen in the Aare River as we crossed over it, I could imagine how the town of Meiringen had been destroyed so many times in its history by floods. Frank was feeling adventurous and climbed the stairs to the top. When he was back, we took the funicular down to town again.
We took the little train that would take us to the Aareschult Gorge. Near there we sat on a couple rocks near the path and ate our salami, cheese and fresh bread. After lunch we followed the path up the hill to the entrance to the gorge. There is a small entrance fee but believe me it is worth every penny (or Swiss franc). The gorge is actually a canyon through which the Aare River flows but is much more spectacular than that. It starts with the Aare River running wide and the canyon walls apart and not so high, but as it continues the canyon closes in. The walls grow higher and closer forcing the river to flow more forcefully through the narrow channel. There are even waterfalls pouring off the sides of the canyon walls into the river. It's about a half-mile walk through the gorge and it offers the most magnificent scenery along the way. I was so impressed with this gorge that I took about 160 pictures on my digital camera while walking through it and each one is totally different.
From the gorge we walked back to the Meiringen bahnhof and took the train back to Interlaken Ost. By the time we reached Interlaken, we were about ready for dinner. We came across a restaurant called Des Alps. We chose the outdoor seating under canopies. Their Beef Stroganoff was delicious and we wished later that we could have returned for their Sauerbraten before we ran out of trip time. As we sat there enjoying our dinner, it started to rain again. It seemed every night for the past week it rained while we were eating. At least, it had held up until we were finished "touring" each day. The rain didn't bother us though because we were safely covered by the canopies. We finished off our dinner with sharing what else but apple strudel but this time with vanilla and ruhm (cream) sauce. Uhmmmmm! Then it was back to the train and home.
Thursday, July 22: "A Beautiful Day In Luzern"Our destination today was the city of Luzern. In Interlaken Ost we boarded the train to Luzern. We knew it would be a long ride, so we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Brienzersee, the surrounding mountains, and the pass through the many little mountain towns.
The Luzern Bahnhof was larger than the other ones we had been in so far. It was our first introduction to a McClean Bathroom. We saw the signs and thought we were just going to a regular bathroom, but we were in for a surprise. It was a sterile looking place, all white; something out of a futuristic movie. When you enter the facility, there are two choices: stand or sit. There is a fee for each section. I believe that it was one Swiss franc to stand and two to sit. There are attendants there to clean up immediately after the use and even clean the sink behind you. I like the clean bathroom idea, but seemed a little overdone to me. I'm hoping it doesn't catch on in America.
Having found the exit from the bahnhof, we crossed the street and through a beautiful archway with a clock proclaiming 1:55 PM. We wandered down the street toward the water. What a beautiful city Luzern was! I think it, along with Bern, is my favorite for bigger cities in Switzerland. We continued walking and then, there it was in front of us, the view that we saw in every picture depicting Luzern. It was the Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) crossing the Reuss River. It's a covered bridge that was built in 1333 and is noted in the books as "the oldest road bridge in Europe." We never did actually walk on the bridge though because we were so busy taking pictures of it from land and from the other pedestrian bridge.
All along the river were hotels and outdoor cafes. It was well past lunch so we sat at the outdoor tables of the Hotel Restaurant Schiff for our lunch and enjoyed sitting there by the Reuss with "eye candy" everywhere we looked. The views were more than beautiful! After lunch, we planned on taking a walk through the old town of Luzern. We walked past a small Farmer's Market with offerings of luscious looking fruits and vegetables, and then up a steep stone staircase to get to the next street level. From there we walked through part of old town Luzern heading toward the lake. We passed some great examples of Swiss architecture. There were many unique shops along the way, not the typical tourist trap ones, but the good local wares instead. As we continued on our way toward the lake, we also passed St. Christopher's church. We weren't able to enter it but had a view from the outside.
Soon we reached the lake. Although we preferred to refer to it as Lake Luzern, the name on the map is Vierwaldstatter See. There was a boat getting ready to leave the dock and it advertised as 1 to 1 1/2 hr boat ride. We wanted to go out on the lake and the timing was right. The boat ride was relaxing. The scenery along the lake was gorgeous and we were so glad that we were able to take the ride.
When we left the boat, we still had time enough to wander around Luzern a bit. We walked down the lakeside and then headed across the street to the old town area. We had no idea where we were going, but we were out to explore. Up the streets we came across St Leger Church. There were numerous steps leading up to the Church so when we reached the top, there was a great view backwards.
St Leger's Church was one that we were so glad we didn't miss. Both exterior and interior were ornate and beautiful. As we were looking about the Church, we realized that more people were entering and taking seats in the pews. The bells then began ringing signaling the time for service was near. There was a Mass ready to begin soon. Frank and I decided to stay for a portion of the Mass. We really wanted to stay for the whole service but we knew we had a long walk back to the bahnhof and couldn't miss our last train out of Luzern.
We left the Church, and walked to the station where there was a little store where we purchased two tuna sandwiches and two Rivella drinks for the ride home. We had no idea what Rivella was but kept seeing it in the stores so decided to try it. Turned out to be some type of soy drink that tasted similar to our Squirt. The ride from Luzern to Interlaken Ost was on the Golden Panoramic Express which meant that there were large arched windows giving much more view of the scenery. Soon we were home again and ready for sleep.
Friday, July 23: "The French: Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, and Lake Geneva"We were up earlier today because our plans were to go see the French, the French speaking Swiss that is. We were heading to the Lake Geneva area. The plan was to ride from Thun to Bern. Get off at Bern and change trains to Fribourg. At Fribourg we changed trains again to reach Lausanne. The train to Lausanne was one of the double decker ones. Of course, we sat upstairs. We could tell that we were entering the wine country as we started seeing acres of vineyards along the way.
In Lausanne we got off the train and walked through the bahnhof. We started noticing that all the billboards were now written in French instead of German. Yes, we were in French country! We exited the Lausanne Bahnhof and started down the street when I checked our "daily cheat sheets" that I had printed out for each trip. I discovered that although we were heading toward Lausanne, it was actually Vevey and Montreux that we wanted to go to.
We went back to the bahnhof and took the next train to Vevey. It wasn't a very long ride. Then we were out to explore Vevey. Again, I was impressed with the different architecture we were seeing here. The French influence was definitely visible. We walked through town and down along the lake. Many pretty buildings lined the streets. When we reached the lake, we were struck by the beauty even though it was an overcast day. There was a beautiful wrought iron fence decorated with colorful flowers following the edge of the lake and leading to the boat dock.
The overcast mist was changing to rain so we were again happy to have our jackets and umbrellas stowed away in our backpacks. We saw a deli shop with a sign saying Croissanterie so we went to have lunch. They were a specialty sandwich shop with fresh baked bread.
By the time we finished lunch the weather had cleared. The area seemed to be like a little amusement area. There was a double-decker carousel in the middle that bore a sign proclaiming "Carousel Palace 1900". It looked like something out of a carousel history book. The protective coverings had just been removed with the weather clearance. It was gorgeous. Across the way was a large building with the word "Casino" written across the top, and another with steeples that looked like a chateau or castle. This was the Central Square of Grand Place (Place du Marche).
We walked toward the lake again this time heading to the boat dock. Along the way we passed a little girl on roller blades who had stopped by the lake to feed the swans. The lake was just dotted with swans and it made it look like someone had spread white flower petals across it. We were in luck. It wasn't long and the boat came in to the dock to pick up passengers. We boarded the boat and since we had a first class pass, we could go to the top level. We sat on benches with a table between us. Lake Geneva was a very photographic lake so we took a lot of pictures and videos along the way. The ride was very relaxing and the views striking even though there was still cloud cover over the surrounding mountains.
As we were sitting there, we noticed a bottle of champagne on ice so we asked the waiter if they served champagne. Now I am a Libra, and we Libras are known for our love of the bubbly (don't know what Frank's excuse was). So we sailed along the lake with a glass of champagne in our hands. Now it just doesn't get any better than that!
The boat circled around the lake and as it was heading back toward Montreux, the famous Chateau de Chillon was coming into sight. This castle was really impressive especially being viewed from the lake. The Chateau has quite a history and was made famous by Lord Byron in his poem "The Prisoner of Chillon".
We got off the boat at the town of Montreux. We took a walk along the lake and there were market stands along the way. The town of Montreux looks like it is built up on terraces off the lake. Each street was another terrace. We walked up some of these streets apparently in the heart of the shopping area. Only the finest shops were to be found here: the finest jewelry, the most stylish clothing, the best furriers, and even a shop window displaying the most unique looking bongs (or else they were Rube Goldberg inventions). We spent a lot of time walking the streets of Montreux. There was so much to enjoy. I was fascinated with the architecture and spent a lot of time taking pictures of balconies, doors, and windows.
It was close to 6 PM and we would have a long ride home. We opted to look for a place for dinner before leaving this beautiful city. I have to say that for "taking a chance" on where we ate, this is the only vacation that we have ever been on where we have not had a bad meal. We had passed this restaurant before on our walk and there it was again with a big blue bull standing outside the door. It was called "Le Chalet", the French touch to Switzerland. Its menu outside was the deciding factor. They offered Raclette. I had heard about this dish from other Untourists trip logs, from reading in our Swiss books, and from TV travel programs on Switzerland. I wanted to try it.
The first waitress couldn't speak any English. So she passed us on to another young waitress who was the friendliest young lady and spoke English very well. Of course, I ordered the raclette, that's why we were there! Frank had a fresh fish dish. The raclette was an experience in itself. First the waitress brought a small electric warming grill. On it she placed a pot with small boiled potatoes. Then she brought a small square cast iron baking pan with a small handle on it, along with a platter holding square pieces of cheese, cocktail onions, gherkin pickles, pineapple slices, and pickled ochre. Looking at the selection on the platter, I wasn't sure how they were going to taste together. I was instructed to put a piece of cheese in the pan and place it on the shelf under the grill. The cheese would then melt in the pan. Meanwhile, I put a couple potatoes from the pot on my plate along with the other offerings. When the cheese was melted I poured it over the potatoes. Uhmmm, it was good. I still wasn't sure about the pickles, onions and ochre though. It all seemed a bit rich to me. They served bread also, so I rotated between potatoes and bread with the cheese.
After eating, both of us felt we needed to walk, so we explored some more on our way back to the Montreux bahnhof. It was after 8:30 PM when our train left the Montreux bahnhof heading back to Lausanne. We had to return to Lausanne to catch a train back to Bern. The train from Lausanne to Bern was one of those double decker types again. Rather fun to sit on the second deck.
Once we reached Bern we transferred to the train going to Thun. One thing about us, no one could ever say that we wasted precious daylight hours. Here it was late again and we quietly entered and climbed the stairs to our apartment not wanting to disturb the Bartlomes. Boy, were we tired that night. It had been a really exciting day with lots of new memories.