Swiss Oberland Untour, Summer of 2004 - Chapter 6
by Marlene & Frank Hench, Petaluma, CA
Chapter 6:1. The Niederhorn, Interlaken, and Aeschi For Idyll’s Farewell Dinner
2. Thun, Koniz, Bern, and Wine With Bartlomes
3. Farewell Switzerland and Hello California
Monday, July 26: “The Niederhorn, Interlaken, and Aeschi For Idyll’s Dinner”We knew that today was going to be an extra fun day. This evening we would be meeting the Idyll group at Spiez bahnhof bus stop to go to Aeschi for the group dinner. It looked like the weather was going to be nice again today.
Before leaving, we needed to talk to Susi about possible transportation to the Thun Bahnhof on Tuesday so we could take our luggage to be shipped by train to the Zurich Airport for Wednesday. She also invited us to stop by Tuesday evening and have a glass of wine with her and Rene. We graciously accepted the invitation. We knew that Susi was a person that we could have been good friends with if we lived nearby.
We were off for the day now. The dinner wasn’t until this evening, so we had time for another adventure. Today we would be heading to the Niederhorn. We took the bus to Thun and then transferred to the bus that followed the upper shore of the Thunersee to a town named Beatenbucht. There were some beautiful views of the Thunersee from this area. More pictures...how do you think I took 5,000 pictures on this trip. I see everything as a camera’s eye!
We walked down to the Thunersee Beatenberg Bahn. The TBB funicular would take us on a ten minute ride up to the station west of Beatenberg. Here we would get off and take a walk over to the first of a two part cable car to reach the Niederhorn. The views on the way up were great.
When we reached the top, people were getting off the cable car so we thought we were to get off here, but we made a mistake. This was the first station, When I read my notes I thought we would be getting off and boarding another cableway, but in truth it was the same one just two different sections with two different stations. We looked around, took in some views, and then waited for the next car coming up.
We re-boarded the cableway and we were on our way, when, “hey look who just got off the lift!” It was Carl and Linda. They saw us too and were waving back. We arrived at the top this time. The views from here were spectacular. Look at the Thunersee from here! There is a large area to walk around with panoramic views. At the top was a really long sliding board for children. It was shaped and painted like a dragon. It appeared that the child sliding down would go right off the edge of the mountain. That is, until you got up close and noticed the very large level area in front of it. Rather fun though I’m sure! Frank and I walked to the end of the path for more striking scenes for our photos of each other. As we walked back toward the station, we saw our friends Linda and Carl coming up the path. They had done the same thing as we and took the next car up the mountain.
Up on the Niederhorn was a restaurant so the four of us went in to have some lunch together. The restaurant had a lot of atmosphere. It was just what we would have expected a restaurant in the Swiss Alps to look like. The décor was rustic with a lot of wood and wood beamed ceilings, very ski lodge like. Lunch and the company was good.
After a nice lunch with our friends, the four of us walked to the cableway station, boarded the next car going back down, and back to the bus stop in Beatenbucht. Carl and Linda were planning to return to their apartment, rest and then get dressed for the dinner. We had a choice, we could go back to Gwatt to change our clothes to the nice clothing that we brought for the dinner...or...we could wear what we had on and ride the bus to Interlaken where we had seen a store that we really wanted to go into but was always closed. Tomorrow we’d be going in the opposite direction so definitely would not get there. The trek to the store won out. When we had walked through Interlaken before, we looked in the window of a linen shop. There were the most beautiful table scarfs and tablecloths on display. I had decided that I wanted to buy some scarves to take home. The hardest part of all was deciding which ones. Everything was really lovely. Most were embroidered but the owner told us that it used to be done by hand by now it is more automated. Whatever, they still were stunning. The shopping spree ended up being a great idea.
From here we hurried back to the Interlaken Ost Bahnhof to board a train to Spiez where we would be meeting the Idyll group. When we arrived in Spiez, Susanne and Beatrice were waiting with others. The bus arrived and we rode to a town called Aeschi.
In Aeschi, we got off the bus and had a little walk over to the restaurant. It wasn’t too hard a walk though. We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a really fun evening.
Talk about atmosphere in a Swiss Alps restaurant, this place had it all. If someone said for us to find a site that showed the present and past Switzerland, the Chemihutte Restaurant would be it. We walked into a building that looked very much like a huge log cabin. The grounds around it were perfectly manicured with panoramic views of the Alps. There were big buildings on the property but we didn’t know if they were family homes or did they rent out rooms or apartments here. Outside were picnic tables and benches that looked like a great place to have a lunch meal in the summer. Today we would be inside because it was evening with cloud cover.
We entered a large room set with many long tables and a few round tables. Most of the tablecloths were white and tan striped but the tables set up for us were covered in pink and white check. We were seated at the table according to what we had ordered for dinner. The people with fondue had to be seated all together at the far end so we could share.
The owner was Paul Christen, a famous Swiss wrestler. His many trophies hung from the edges of the ceilings. Most were fancy cow bells with decorated belts attached, but there were other decorations that proclaimed his talents hanging in the room also.
For dinner we had three choices from which we needed to choose back on orientation day. One was breaded chicken and salad, the second was veal steak, rosti, and veggies, and the third was traditional cheese fondue. There were five of us who selected the fondue. Cheese fondue is served in a special pot over a small Sterno can. It is usually made of several types of Swiss cheese and some wine. Beatrice demonstrated the proper technique of swirling the chunks of bread on the end of our forks around in the fondue pot. I think the most fun of fondue dinner though is the camaraderie of sharing this dinner with others, like a little family. Tonight the three members of the Pennington family, Rhonda, Bob and Jenna, were our special family.
Throughout the evening we were serenaded by two musicians and two singers. All were dressed in traditional Swiss costumes. The two men played accordion type instruments (different names) and sang along with the two women who sang and yodeled as well as played some small instruments like the spoons. They were all very talented making the entertainment even more extraordinary. When dinner was finished, Edy, the older musician, took us all outside for a demonstration of the alpenhorn. I would say that the alpenhorn was around 10 feet long, made of wood, and actually could be broken down into two to three parts for transporting. It starts narrow at the mouth piece, grows wider along the length, and ends in a shape like a horn of plenty. The different tones are made by the player’s mouth position. Edy played a couple beautiful tunes on it to demonstrate the numerous tones that could be produced. Listening to it accented the visions of the Swiss mountains surrounding us. When Edy finished playing, he asked for volunteers to try playing it. Of course, everyone looked down on the ground hoping not to get “volunteered”. I, on the other hand, am always game. I was the first volunteer to play the alpenhorn. Now I had played the flute 40+ years ago, but not since. Playing the alpenhorn was different, probably more like playing the trumpet; however, I gave it a try and managed to get a few notes out to my surprise. Still no one else wanted to try so I volunteered Frank. He had played the trumpet 40 + years ago. Frank took the end of the horn and placed it up to his mouth and surprised himself when he managed to play a little tune on it. After us, no one else would try so we all retreated back into the restaurant. It was dessert and party time.
There were three types of desserts to choose from: the famous meringue of Switzerland, chocolate mousse, and apricot compote. Yes I have pictures of all the desserts and food served that evening. By this time, everyone was used to my camera snapping and offered their plates for picture subjects.
After dessert, the musicians started the real party with demonstrations of yodeling, with sing-alongs, and dancing. Susanne and Beatrice helped demonstrate some dances and then we all joined in; and yes, it was Europe so they did play the famous "Chicken Dance”. The evening went by much too fast and soon it was time to leave for the bus. I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave then but it was the last bus. Besides all the fun that the Swiss had provided, it was really wonderful to spend an evening with so many really great fellow Untourists.
Everyone took the yellow post bus back to Spiez where we all went our own way back to our apartments. The Bieri apartment couple traveled with us back to Gwatt. When we reached our apartment, we weren’t finished for the night though. We had the unenviable job of packing up the suitcases to ship to Zurich tomorrow. Since we would not be leaving until Wednesday morning, we had to make sure we had clothes and necessities for the next two days as well as other items that are only carryon. Feeling that everything was done, we were off to bed.
Tuesday, July 27: “Thun, Koniz, Bern, and Wine With Bartlomes”Today would be our last full day in Switzerland, how sad that was!!! We dressed and packed the last few things into our suitcases that we would be checking in on the plane. This morning Susi was graciously giving us a ride to the Thun Bahnhof so we could ship our suitcases to Zurich Airport. What a wonderful program! We would check in our luggage from Thun to Zurich, then tomorrow retrieve the luggage from the Zurich train station and check in for our flight home. It was a relief knowing that we wouldn’t have to lug them on the train with us.
Rene was also home today so we met him for the first time. He was equally a nice person as Susi. Before we left for Thun, we took pictures of Yark the dog, Rene and Susi, and each of us with the Bartlomes. With luggage in the back of the car, we were off on one of our few car rides in Switzerland.
It only took a few minutes to check in the luggage. We said Goodbye to Susi and promised we would be back in time for wine with them this evening.
In the Thun square near the bahnhof, they were setting up stands to sell decorations and fireworks for the upcoming August 1st celebration. It was quite interesting to see the different types of fireworks that were sold here. Many rocket looking things. We walked next door to a store with “Back to School” supplies in their window. We were surprised to see the supplies included were from a New York City theme collection.
Today, we were off to Bern and Koniz. Everywhere we read about Bern before our trip always said that this was the best place to go if it was raining because it had covered arcaded shops. The weather today was beautiful and we were glad that it wasn’t raining. We are not “shoppers” to speak of and were happy to be able to see the loveliness of the city of Bern in the sunshine. (Hint: Definitely visit Bern in good weather too so that you can see the beauty of the city.)
Our first stop was the town of Koniz. Frank’s great grandparents’ families had lived there before immigrating to America. We hadn’t been able to find much information on Koniz during our pre trip research, so we weren’t sure exactly what we would find there.
We would have to go to Bern first and transfer to another train to Koniz. The views along the way to Bern looked like mostly farm lands, but we knew we were approaching Bern when we saw the bridge. Bern’s bahnhof was very impressive with an extremely large number of tracks, and many shops inside the bahnhof itself. Yes, there was a McClean here too.
It was time to catch the train to Koniz so we went to the track heading toward Schwartzenburg. I have to mention here something that the Swiss are not proud of. The Swiss people pride themselves on their cleanliness, but the youth have become infatuated with large graffiti. It is found everywhere including the walls along the train routes.
It wasn’t very far to the town of Koniz. We got off at a small bahnhof. As we started walking toward town, we saw not only a Migros store but a Coop also. Soon we spotted a Pet Store. I knew they must have one somewhere since they loved their pets so much. We had to go in and see what kind of souvenir we could bring home to our adorable and highly spoiled dachshund. I really wanted to find a St Bernard barrel to hang around her neck. Wouldn’t that have made a great picture of our dog wearing it! No such luck though, so we chose a toy.
Down the street we noticed a map. Across the top it said “Schloss Koniz”. Yes, they had a castle!!! There was something that had withstood the ages and would have been here in the time of the great grandparents. We followed the Schloss signs which led us to a narrow path and finally the castle grounds.
Some of the buildings of the castle looked like they had been restored while others looked like they were scheduled for restoration. The buildings weren’t really open for visiting so we walked about and took lots of pictures. In one of the “to be restored” buildings, furniture pieces were being made. Tables, chairs and doors were sitting outside. Perhaps they were for the restoration projects. We walked over to the Church. It like most Church buildings had a bell tower with a clock. This too was a Reform Church so the interior was not as ornate as the old Catholic Churches.
Having taken in all corners of the Schloss Kirche (Church), we left and started our walk back toward the bahnhof. We boarded the train returning to Bern. In Bern, we embarked on an exploration of the city. What a beautiful city it was too, very clean, great architecture, and friendly people. I loved all the fountains we passed in the streets.
We had heard about the Munster Cathedral and the Great Clock Tower in Bern and were heading, we hoped, in that direction. Before us was another church that called to us to visit. Some of the best artwork in Europe is in churches, you know. A sign on the outside called it the Heileggelestkirche and had a date of 1726-1729. We walked in the main door and it was truly stunning.
We didn’t stay too long here because there were a lot of things we wanted to see yet. We walked along the streets and through the arcade housing many shops until we reached the Marketplace. Bern was having their Market Day today and there were a lot of vendors selling wares of fruit, vegetables, plants, clothing and other trinkets. Musicians entertained with their singing and playing. Cafes lined the sides of the streets so we stopped for lunch at a place called Gfeller.
After lunch we walked further into town and came to an area that was like a government square. There were fountains springing up from the ground in the middle with tall beautiful government buildings surrounding them. There was some construction going on so my pictures don’t show its real beauty. It was here that we got our first glimpse of “The Munster”Basilica. There was a spire standing out between other buildings.
Continuing walking under the arcaded shade, soon the Cathedral’s spires loomed larger over us. We were almost there. If we thought the outside of the Cathedral was awesome, we were not prepared for the stunning interior.
In the back of the church they sell books about the Cathedral in English. Well worth the few francs. I read in one of the books that the Church was dedicated to St. Vincent, Patron Saint of Bern. The original church was built in the 12th century. A second larger one was built in the 13th century and finally the present Cathedral was begun in 1421 and was finally completed in 1893. “The Cathedral of Bern is the largest and most important late Gothic edifice in Switzerland.”
Frank wanted to walk the many steps of the tower, but I wasn’t up to it. I gave him my camera and sat for a bit and people watched. Then I walked around this magnificent structure taking in as much as my eyes and mind could hold at the time. Meanwhile, Frank found a viewing area at the top of the tower which beheld a panoramic view of the city.
When Frank returned to the main church, I was prepared to take all the pictures that I had seen in my mind. As we left Bern’s Cathedral, we knew that we had been a part of something that would be hard to duplicate again in our lives.
Although the visit to the Cathedral was a highlight of our trip to Bern, our day wasn’t finished yet. There was still more to see and we had yet to find the famous Glockenspiel of Bern (Clock Tower). We walked along the streets again, sometimes under the arcaded sidewalks next to shops, and sometimes in the streets viewing the beautiful fountains. We noticed the street sign of Kramgasse and followed it because it was the location of the famous Clock tower. Also, we had read that it was at #49 Kramgasse that supposedly Albert Einstein lived when he developed his Theory of Relativity. Of course we needed to look for this Einstein-Haus along the way.
Soon we reached the Zeitglokentrum (or Zytglogge), Clock. It was 15 minutes before the hour, so we walked around all sides of the clock tower. The crowds were already starting to form waiting for the parade of figures to start at 5 minutes before each hour. Both the time clock and the astrological clock are located on the Kramgasse side of the tower, so if you wait on the other side, you will miss the show. As the figures moved around and the bells rung, I felt like belting out the song from “It’s a Small World”. Don’t worry I contained myself!
It was now after 6 PM and the local shops were closing as were most of the sidewalk cafés in that area. We decided that we would look for someplace to eat dinner here in Bern rather than return to Thun for dinner. We had promised Susi and Rene Bartlome that we would join them for a glass of wine later this evening.
What a great dinner and the day still wasn’t over! We walked back to the bahnhof with lighter steps, hopped on the train to Thun. At Thun we caught the bus to Gwatt and our apartment. After dropping off our backpacks in the apartment, we went downstairs and knocked on the door of the Bartlome’s home. Susi met us there with a warm smile and led us through their home to the back patio. It was a beautiful evening and the sun was just about set for the day. Susi lit some candles on the patio table. Rene was already seated there. Susi poured us each a glass of wine and served some garlic bread that she had made special for our visit. It was so much fun sitting there talking with them. It seemed like we had been friends forever. Rene’s English turned out to be pretty good and any words he needed help with Susi could usually fill in. He delighted us with tales of his glider flights across Switzerland. The evening went by far too quickly and all of us really wanted to spend more time together. We gave them our heartfelt thank yous as we prepared to leave, said we hoped that we would see them again in the morning before we had to leave. Susi insisted that she was going to take us to the bahnhof in the morning. Even though we protested that it wasn’t really necessary, she still insisted. We could tell she really wanted to go.
We left their part of the house and climbed the two flights of stairs back to our apartment. There were a few things that we needed to fix and some cleanup to do before going to bed.
As we lie there in bed, we couldn’t help but think what a great last day we had in Switzerland.
Wednesday, July 28: “Farewell Switzerland and Hello California”We arose very early today. Our train from Thun to Zurich would be leaving about 7:15 this morning. We dressed, packed the last items into our carryon luggage, and made sure the apartment was tidy before leaving it.
When we got downstairs, Susi was there waiting for us. Frank put the luggage in her car and we were off to Thun. We felt very sad leaving Susi and I know I saw tears in her eyes also. We would always remember how she and Rene touched our lives and would be a big part of our Swiss memories. Waving goodbye again, we headed off to the bahnhof door.
We boarded the train a little before 7:15 AM. Since it was an early train, we looked for the diner car to have a leisurely breakfast on the way Zurich.When we finished eating, I wanted to return to the comfortable seats of First Class since this was a long ride to Zurich and our last train ride. Frank said that he sat there reflecting on the trip and then thinking to himself that he needed to pinch himself to realize that here he was riding on a train from Thun to Zurich, his first trip to Europe completed. He had dreamed so long of such a trip and now it was ending.
Arriving in Zurich Bahnhof, we had to pick up our luggage that had been sent through from Thun the day before. With luggage in hand we headed for the airport across the way and sought out the Swiss Air counter. We stood in line and checked in our luggage and in for our flight. We needed to go thru the Customs booth and show our passports before entering the terminal. After going through security, and all the rest, we still had time to wait before the flight.
As time got closer, we headed to the boarding area. Here we met our Gwatt neighbors again. All of our seats were in the last rows of the plane but it turned out to be okay. We were now on our way back home.
We landed in LAX around 4PM Pacific time, and had to go through customs there. It was a zoo. The signs were really unclear especially for new world travelers like us. We were in one line and an employee told us all to move to another. We ended up in a very long line with people and problems in front of us. When it was our turn, we were asked why we stood in that line when returning residents could pass through the quick line, just where we were in the first place. After that we needed to check our luggage again for our flight to San Francisco.
Having finally survived the Customs fiasco, we left the Tom Bradley International Terminal and returned to the domestic terminal. Our flight would be taking off at 6:20 PM and what seemed like a lot of free time was now very little wait. Soon we boarded the American Airlines flight and were heading back home. In comparison to our long flight from Zurich to Los Angeles, this flight seemed extremely short. We arrived in San Francisco on time at 7:30 PM, retrieved our luggage and yes it was all there. Halleluiah! By the time the luggage came down the shoot it was too late to catch the first Airporter bus home, so we had to wait for another hour for the next one. When we reached Petaluma, our family had dropped off our car at the fairgrounds where the bus stopped. We were now home safe and sound with great memories stored in our minds and on our cameras.