The first major hike I took in Switzerland was also the longest. This was through the famous Kleine Scheidegg, a mountain pass with excellent views of the magnificent Bernese Alps. The Kleine Scheidegg is also the departure point of the Jungfraubahn rack railway up the to Jungfraujoch station, the highest railway point in Europe. I did not take this trip as it very expensive and wanted to spend my time doing other things. It is also a waste of time if it cloudy and there was a fair bit of cloud that day as you can see by my photographs. From Kleine Scheidegg, I intended to walk down to Lauterbrunnen and the valley of the same name.
The highest point in the pass is 2,061m, which considering the good walking path, I figured the walk to Kleine Scheidegg would be doable. In my guidebook it was rated as a moderate walk. I will have to agree with this rating. I was overwhelmed by the walk up and my biggest problem was that at by the end when I reached to town of Wengen which is a hour from Lauterbrunnen, my legs were dragging. This is a 22 kilometer walk in all from Grindelwald, the trailhead to Lauterbrunnen. The trail is mostly soft gravel. I conducted this walk near the end of May and there had been alot of snow that spring, so some of the trail at the top was covered with snow. This is not a problem for a Canadian. Also I walked this trail early in the summer tourists season so there were not that many people about. I noticed that a lot of people take the rake railway up from Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen and walk down. At the time I thought "lazy sods!" but by the end I could not blame for I was beat.
Fondest memory: During my walk the sky was mixed cloud. Hence I had to be quick to take photos of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch mountains. At times the scenery was jawdropping and I was very pleased that I made the effort to reach Kleine Schiedegg. During the decent to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the cloud cleared and it was actually a bit hazy. This somewhat spoiled the views but I was still very impressed. Also diverting were the pretty mountain flowers that were coming out during my hike. After the walk I agreed that this hike is a must, especially if you are not fit enough for tougher walk in the Bernese Alps, or in my case, told not to attempt them because of snow cover and avalanche warnings.
When you get to this area of Switzerland you may want to think of buying a train pass. I am not familiar with all the different passes, but here is a link where you can read all about your different options: Swiss Regional Passes
We went for the Bernese Oberland regional pass and were very happy with that choice. This pass allows unlimited traveling by train, bus, boat, gondola, funicular and mountain train in the Bernese Oberland region on a number of days. You can choose a pass of 7 days or 15 days with 3 days of free travel when you take the 7 day pass and 5 days of free travel when you take the 15 day pass. Discounts of 50% apply on the remaining days for most train rides, boat rides, gondola's, funiculars and mountain trains. You have to use this pass in 7 or 15 consecutive days.
You get a schedule with your pass that shows which trains, bus, boat, gondola, funicular and mountain train routes you can use this pass for. Which ones are 50% off even on free days and such. When you choose a free day you have to put your ticket in the machine at the train station and it will print the date for you. If you're not sure, just asks someone in the train station. This pass is available from May to October.
There is a green area in the centre of Interlaken, called Höhe Matte. It is a piece of land that a benefactor left to the municipality of Interlaken in his will, putting a condition to it: the land had to remain a green area, without any buildings.
The Höhe Matte has become very useful for the town and its visitors: it provides an excellent landing area for paragliders, it is the perfect location for fireworks when there are big celebrations, and most important of all it makes possible to see the Jungfrau even during a downtown stroll.
The street bordering the northern side of the Höhe Matte is called Höheweg. Obviously enough the hotels that enjoy an open view of the Jungfrau across the green expanse of the Höhe Matte are the most expensive in town.
My picture shows part of the facade of the Hotel Interlaken, featuring plaques that commemorate two famous guests who stayed there: George Byron and the composer Felix Mendelssohn. It is at N° 74 of the Höheweg.
George Byron was there in 1816, according to the plaque, but that was just one of various visits to Interlaken. At that time the hotel was named Interlaknerhof and was the very first hotel in Interlaken, created by transforming what originally had been the guesthouse of a nearby monastery. Even nowadays, after all the changes that the hotel has undergone, the hotel bar is still in the same room of the old monastery tavern.
Felix Mendelssohn was another frequent visitor in Interlaken, and he had started spending holidays in this region since his childhood. In 1820 a doctor had decreed the air of this region to be particularly salubrious, and this was important when holidays were meant especially to provide a “change of air” for the sake of health.
Visitors staying in Interlaken, whether in hotels, pensions, hostels or campings, must pay a visitor's tax that is added to the bill. However, they receive something: the Visitor's Card, that is given them at the beginning of their stay. In July and August this card entitles visitors to use the local buses free of charge.
The area where the card is valid is limited, but not too small. It goes from Manorfarm (its western end) to Iseltwald and to Saxeten, including also Bonigen and Wilderswild. It is very useful for those who stay at the camping sites, which are a bit out of town, because it allows them to go downtown at no charge.
The Visitor's Card entitles also to some discounts al local attractions. They are ll listed in a leaflet you receive with your card.
I came to Bernese Alps primarily to take in the hiking. I found this most rewarding but I did run into some problems. I arrived in "shoulder season" or late May. Apparently the mountain paths are hit or miss when it comes to them being opened at this time of the year and for the most part I missed. What I mean by this is that some of the height altitude paths can still be covered with snow. Sadly many of the paths I wanted to hike still were. This was because April in Switzerland was very snowy and hence a slow melt. I still got in a fair amount of hiking in but I had opened to get in some higher altitudes.
Fondest memory: The scenery, when the mountains are snow capped like this, is stunning. As I said, I could not get up to high into the mountains but when these Alps are covered with snow, they are very impressive.
Favorite thing: Unfortunately, most travellers are tourists at heart and just as people from abroad come to Ireland seeking leperachauns, other people go to Switzerland looking for cows with bells. In Gimmelwald I smelt cows very pungently and could hear their bells ringing in the distance but I didn't see them. Faced with the prospect of going home without a photo of cow with bell ( equivalent to leaving Copenhagen without a pic of the Little Mermaid), I was seriously depressed. Plus, I really love cows and enjoy photographing them. However, just outside Interlaken the day was saved and a splendid herd of cows, all with bells jingling, looked up from their grazing beside the river. I'm not sure how comfortable those large bells are for the poor cows and perhaps the constant noise drives them crazy but it does make a lovely picture. Mooooooo !
Favorite thing: Between Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen the train frequently followed the course of a river. The water in this river and others I saw in Stechelberg, was completely white. I found this amazing as I'd never seen white water before but then the term 'white water rafting 'sprang to mind. Is this true for all rivers in mountainous areas I wonder or is it peculiar to the Alpine regions?I've been in lots of other mountainous regions in different countries but never saw rivers with pure white water before. It looks really nice, if a little odd.
Meeting New Places and Seeing New Places
These tips are based on my last 8 weeks of traveling in Europe/Africa:
1. Buy/pre-order as many museum/attraction tickets online as you can.
2. Ask the taxi fare before taking off in a taxi, especially if it’s late at night or coming from an airport.
3. Charge your camera batteries every night.
4. If you have a Eurail pass and need to make reservation make them in Europe. It’s a lot less expensive.
5. If you’re climbing a few hundred steps up a tower, monument, etc. go only a clear, sunny day.
6. Learn at least Hello, Thank you, and Goodbye in the foreign language of the countries you are visiting.
7. Turn your cell phones off inside churches, museums, etc. If it rings and you must take the call, do it outside!
8. If there’s a running commentary (live or recorded), be polite and be quiet.
9. Dress appropriately and be respectful in churches.
10. If you’re traveling with children, don’t let them disrupt others around you. If they cry or throw a tantrum, take them outside.
11. If you have a complaint, do it reasonably without yelling and cursing.
12. Regarding pictures:
a. If there are signs saying “No pictures”, don’t take pictures! There’s a reason for the signs. Do you really, really need that picture of Mona Lisa to prove you’ve seen it?
b. Learn how to use your camera before the trip. If there are signs saying “No flash”, make sure you know how to use the camera without it.
c. If you see a couple or family with one person taking pictures of the other(s), offer to take a picture of both/all of them. Maybe they’ll reciprocate.
13. Check local holidays. Since many museums and stores will be closed, you’ll need to have other plans for the day. (Most stores throughout much of Europe are closed on Sunday.)
14. Don’t try to do too much. Leave some open time to just explore.
15. You’re on vacation so relax and have a good time!
I stayed at the Grand Hotel - Victoria-Jungfrau. An amazing hotel that will empty your wallet staying there. Every Room has a view of the mountains. As all tourist know, pictures NEVER do these types of pictures justice.
Fondest memory: The views 360 degrees, every angle.
If you do not try Swiss fondue, in all its glory, then you have missed out! I had part of three fondues... in one night!! We decided that fondue was going to be what we ate that night. So, we went to the restaurant across from Interlaken West (sorry, I cant remember the name), and soon discovered that there are varieties of fondue. Cheese, meat and, oh yeah, chocolate fondue! We got them all! We barely finshed the meat, all of the cheese, and there wasn't a lick of chocolate left.
It is the biggest "Must Eat" in Switzerland.
Favorite thing: I was absolutely stunned by how friendly and helpful the people of Switzerland were. And the farther you get away from Geneva and Zurich, the friendlier they are. Getting into Interlaken, and more so to Gimmelwald, I was treated with so much courtesy and respect that I laughed more than a few times at just how accomodating these people are. Not once in my entire time there did a worker act even the slightest bit rude or unpleasant. Absolutely wonderful.
Fondest memory: As the sun rose from the West each morning, it shone beautiful pink rays on the mountains to the East. It was gorgeous! Unfortunately.... the picture is not so gorgeous. Since my scanner is broken, and this picture was from a disposable camera, I tried taking a picture of the picture with my digital camera... and this is the result. So maybe it would be better to imagine your own picture of beautiful pink, snow-capped mountains, rather than looking at this!
Fondest memory: Each morning my family would get up and go for a walk down on the paths that go along the river. It was very relaxing, especially becuase there weren't any other tourists! We seemed to have to place to ourselves.
Getting around Interlaken, you will find the Trümmelbachfälle, reaching Lauterbrunnen. It is a weird waterfall because it does not flows out but inside the rocky mountain, forming gorgeous cascades. So, we had to get into the mountain through an elevator (and after paying CHF 10 for entrance) in order to admire the wise of nature.
Fondest memory: The mountain circle around Interlaken, as well as the blue sky of August.