Swiss Oberland Untour, Summer of 2004 - Chapter 5
by Marlene & Frank Hench, Petaluma, CA
Chapter 5:1. Simplon Pass; Domodossola, Itay; Brig
2. Thun, Schloss Thun, and Steffisburg
Saturday, July 24: "Across the Border To Domodossola, Italy And Then To Brig"We really wanted to go across the border to Italy, and today looked like the best time we could go. There was a light rain when we left. We took a train from Thun to Brig. Once in Brig, we walked outside the bahnhof and saw the Post Bus stop. We would be taking a yellow Post Bus to Domodossola. We had read what a beautiful ride it was over the Simplon Pass so opted for the bus versus a train. It was a beautiful ride too. Even the rain couldn't dampen the beauty of the pass. There was so much to see: mountains, waterfalls, streams, bridges, arch tunnels, and Italian architecture. The first thing we noticed about the buildings was that the roofs were now slate, and the sides more concrete and less wood than in Oberland region. The buildings on a whole were less ornate. I had read of the Simplon Pass that it was "one of the country's most impressive roads", "the old road was built by Napoleon", and that "its descent through the narrow Gondo gorge was spectacular."
The one bad thing about going to Domodosolla, Italy is that I couldn't find much written about it on the web or in our books before we left the States so we were on our own. We had read in one of the Untours travel logs about a restaurant called Corona Ristorante that was a good place to have lunch.
My first impression of Italy was bad. I had been used to the superb cleanliness of Switzerland. I wanted to find a WC (water closet). I asked a police officer who directed us by hand jesters back near the bahnhof. Once located, I almost fell over when I saw it. There were three stalls. The first one was broken; the next one had no toilet just a hole in the floor with footprints to place your feet and the entire floor was covered with toilet tissue and newspapers. Was I even in the right toilet? Yes, there were two teen girls changing their clothes and fixing their hair. The third toilet, I never saw. The girls were using it and taking all day. I had seen enough and decided that I really didn't need to use the facilities after all. Where was that McClean when I needed it? :)
We quickly left that area and walked across the street. Saturday was supposed to be Market Day in Domodossola; one reason we planned to come today. Perhaps the rain had cancelled it. In a large courtyard across from the bahnhof were two stands. They seemed to be displaying a combination of antiques and flea market items. There were quite a few old US license plates from various states to choose from. Maybe they were swapped for olive oil. Since we didn't have any euros, we couldn't really purchase anything. So, we were off to find a bankomat to get cash. We found one not far from the Coop. We returned to the marketplace because there was one item that caught our eye. It was a letter opener made of very heavy goldish colored metal with an aged look. On the top was a big eagle with wings expanded. It was just a few Euros so we bought it.
Now it was time to explore. We walked away from the bahnhof and down the cobbled streets of Domodossola enjoying the Italian architecture. We passed a Tabaccheria, smoke shop, where the employees didn't seem to have much to do at the time. They were standing outside, not smoking, but just looking at the neighborhood. The streets were narrow and we crossed from one onto another. Here we found some clothing stores with big blue, green and red signs proclaiming "Saldi," there was a big sale going on here! We aren't too big on shopping so we didn't bother to enter. Further down the street, Frank found a shop window that interested him, a wine shop...ah, new Italian labels to video. Maybe we might see one of these at a restaurant before we leave.
Looking at the street signs, we realized that this was the street where the recommended restaurant was located...Corona Ristorante at Via G Marconi. Sure enough, there it was down the street. It was lunchtime in Domodossola. Apparently it was also lunchtime for a whole busload of Asian tourists. Luckily we arrived and were seated just before them. The waiter suggested we might want to order quickly to avoid the delay in the kitchen for such a large group.
The Corona Restaurant was located on the first floor of the Hotel Corona, and was fairly small but elegantly decorated. The wooden tables were draped with white linens and set with nice china, silverware and crystal. We enjoyed our Italian lunch of raviolis and lasagna.
Leaving the restaurant, we walked through the town observing the architecture and the people. We found our way back to the bahnhof and feeling like we had our taste of Italy, we were ready to return to the Swiss. We boarded the next train back to Brig. It was still early, yet not early enough to venture to some other sites. When we had come through Brig the other day, it impressed us as a very nice town so we decided to explore it a bit. This was a really good idea.
The town of Brig was very clean with a large selection of architecture to observe as we walked its streets. Some buildings looked like old castles and although they weren't marked as a schloss, I'm sure they were at some time. Maybe, the former tenants were just counts and countesses, not quite up there on the hierarchy scale.
Soon we came to a large square outlined by pubs, outdoor cafes, and small shops. We kept hearing these beautiful church bells and wondered where they were coming from. Now they had stopped, but we spotted a small church. It was St Sebastian's Chapel. We entered through very heavy metal doors. Upon opening the door we were met by a heavy dark curtain which we had to move back in order to walk into the chapel. The pews were very plain wood in comparison to other churches we had been in so far. Perhaps they were newer. Hanging above was one beautiful crystal chandelier. The altar was protected by a heavy wire fence. Perhaps to protect it from vandalism or maybe just to protect the ancient art from tourists' hands since the chapel was so small. I believe the heavy curtain by the door was there to protect the art from the sunlight.
When we left the chapel, the cloud cover was darkening so we sat at one of the outdoor cafes under a table umbrella and had a drink while the light rainstorm passed. We heard the church bells again but they weren't from St Sebastian's Chapel. There was another set of bells up the street somewhere. We walked up one of the narrow streets coming off the square. There was a wanderweg sign indicating that a castle was up that way. Along the way we passed other buildings that looked like they belonged with the castle, religious and governmental. Its name was Schloss Stockalper. It was too late for tours, but the grounds of the castle were open for wandering about. We entered the courtyard and looked up at the surrounding walls of arched balconies, each with flower boxes of red flowers. We exited the square by an open wrought iron gate to a large garden area with a manicured lawn and greeneries.
We walked back through the castle and down the narrow cobbled stone street. As we walked we heard some music playing. Soon we discovered that the music was coming from a restaurant that was just opening. A young man was playing music on an accordion calling attention to the restaurant. We stopped for a few minutes to enjoy his music.
We continued walking through town but we weren't quite sure of the way back to the bahnhof. We crossed several bridges over a canal. Finally, as we came back into the heart of town, we came across a Pizza restaurant and thought it would be a good idea to have dinner before starting back home.
When we finished dinner it was time to head to the bahnhof. Not far from the Brig Bahnhof we could see waterfalls coming off the mountains. Great view while waiting for the train to Spiez. The BLS (Brig Lauterbrunen Spiez) train took off around 8 PM. It was 9 PM when we reached Spiez and boarded the bus to Gwatt.
(Although I wasn't that impressed with Domodossola itself, it was a new adventure experiencing a taste of Italy; however, the ride over the Simplon Pass was spectacular. Brig is a fun city to explore.)
Sunday, July 25: "Thun, Schloss Thun, and Steffisburg"We woke up today to sunshine. The views from the windows were clearer, and we could see some of the mountains, something we hadn't seen too well the past few days. Today was to be a leisurely day around the Thun area. No train rides were necessary.
We had walked some of the streets of Thun one other day but it was evening and we wanted to see it and photograph it in the daylight. What a gorgeous view of the Aare River in the daylight. Thun has some arcaded shops along the street and as we walked through, we spotted a bakery that was open. There actually was a café in the back. Of course, we had to pass through the bakery to get to the seating, and walk past the windowed cases of luscious goods before we reached a table. So many goodies to try and so little time left! We had spotted a Cremeschnitt which looked very much like what we call Napoleon back home. It had layers of puff pastry with cream filling between them and a white frosting on top. My, it was just as good as it looked!
We had been seeing signs about August 1st everywhere and guessed it was like our 4th of July celebrations. The store windows were all preparing for the holiday. Everything was decked out in red and white with a lot of Swiss flags. Later we learned it is the day the Swiss celebrate their Confederation of their cantons.
Walking along near the Aare River, we saw a huge Ferris wheel. It was much too large to be a mobile one so we guessed that it was there all the time. On either side of the river were shops and outdoor cafes. It was a beautiful afternoon so there were many people near the river. We noticed that on one side was a covered bridge, pedestrian only, so we just had to go see it. I have to say it made for some lovely photos.
From one of the river streets, we spotted the Thun Castle. The castle was located on top a hill so there were many steps to climb. We saw a sign proclaiming "Schlossberg" with an arrow pointing upward for "Burgtor Stadtkirche". We reached a Church. It appeared that the church was part of the castle territory. Its position on the hill gave great views of the town of Thun and the river.
The Church door was open so we went in. It must have been a Reformation type Church because the interior was not as ornate as the other churches we had seen. We left the church area and headed toward the Castle. Schloss Thun, we had heard about it from Idyll and from books we read. As we got closer to it, I thought it reminded me of a castle we might find in a Disney story. It certainly looked like a great fortress daring enemy troops to try to invade it. The huge stone buildings had very tall cylindrical towers at their corners. Each tower was topped with a brick red colored cone roof.
The main door to the courtyard of the Schloss was painted in red and black stripes. It led inside the castle grounds. Portions of the castle were built much higher so there was an extremely steep cobbled stone hill in the courtyard to climb to get to the entrance to the castle interior. Since we really wanted to go to Steffisburg yet, we opted not to pay for a tour of the castle. If we had more time, it sounded very interesting. We continued walking around the Schloss grounds taking pictures of its architecture, doors, gates and anything else that caught my camera's eye.
Armed with scores of pictures, we left the Schloss Thun grounds and took a back way down to town. We were now headed back to the bus stop and our trip to the neighboring town of Steffisburg. Frank's great grandfather was born in Steffisburg, and that is why the trip to Steffisburg was important.
We were getting hungry and headed back into town. The walk through Thun was very pleasurable. Some of roofs of the houses we passed looked like they were right out of the Disney movie "Peter Pan". I could just picture Peter, Wendy and the kids flying out of those windowed alcoves in the roofs.
Remembering the outdoor cafes, we headed back to the river for lunch. It was a beautiful day to eat outdoor by the Aare while watching the swans swimming and the Ferris wheel twirling. We walked back to the bus stop across the street from the Thun bahnhof. It was here that the bus to Steffisburg stopped. In my research for the trip, I had found a website describing a walking tour of the town of Steffisburg. It was on a genealogical site. The problem with the tour is that he walked from Thun to Steffisburg, a few miles, so we didn't start where the author did. He had written about the ancient village church in Steffisburg. This is where we started. The patron saint of the Church was St Stefan leading to the name of the town as Steffisburg later.
The Church was once Catholic but today it is a Reformed Church. The church building underwent a complete restoration between 1980 and1983. At that time there was extensive archaeological excavations done. These lead to a remarkable detailed history of the church which dated from 700 AD up until the present church was built in 1681. This was the same church that stood in Steffisburg when Frank's great grandfather was born there. Perhaps his family attended church here.
Having taken in as much of the church as possible and picturing what is was like in the 1800s, we left the church grounds and walked down the streets toward the Town Dorf or center. Although I tried to follow some of the tour that the website had mentioned, it was very difficult. However, we were able to locate a few of the landmarks talked about on it. When we saw the Mulebach, mill stream, we knew we must be near the old mill. Not far away we found it, the restored Gfeller mill. We stood and watched as the waterwheel still turned as the stream water poured through. More than likely, this mill was a working mill when Great Grandfather was growing up here.
Leaving Steffisburg, we took the bus that ran all the way to Gwatt. Later we enjoyed a good dinner at a Alpha Restaurant near the Strandbad bus stop, then returned home again.