Hello, Blog Fans. We have begrudgingly returned after a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable week in Switzerland. At least we are returning to the first "proper" summer in the UK in 3 years (upper 70s/lower 80s for days at a time).
Even from the UK, it took most of a day to reach our destination. To save a few £££ we flew Air France through Paris to Zurich. We then took 4 different trains (Zurich--Bern--Interlaken Ost--Lauterbrunnen--Wengen) with tight, but timely, connections to finally arrive at "our" chalet for a stress free week in the mountains.
Note: for those going, but sure to investigate the various discount cards/passes that are available. The public transportation is fantastic but not government subsidized so it is expensive. We purchased Half Fare cards which more than paid for themselves.
Over our 6 days we hiked 35-40 miles and did so with lazy mornings and evenings (for the most part). The weather cooperated and the views and ambiance were outstanding.
The bright sunlight made for some challenging photography (with my skill level) and it's hard to capture how awe-inspiring this place is. Hopefully you'll get a feel for it with the photos included below.
Day 1 - Sunday: Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg
I decided to start us off with a moderate challenge on the first day while we were fresh. It involved walking from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg (essentially route 43 until branching off for 42 near Wengernalp and 41 to KS).
View from our chalet in the morning before the walk. This is looking down the Lauterbrunnen valley.
This is the view about 100' from our chalet. Incredible.
some knobbly bits
Wengen getting smaller
a view across the valley
a slightly closer view of the snow-capped peaks
me and the kids
on we climb
a different vantage point of the mountains at the end of the Lauterbrunnen valley
our first cows (and their bells) -- quaint but also with unfortunate byproducts (farm fumes and flies)
at our destination and a peak into the next valley (to Grindelwald)
mountains behind Kleine Scheidegg
It was great to be able to hop on a train to get down the mountain after an exerting hike (down is actually harder than up due to strain on knees and toes).
We had time for a quick pool visit since we "only" did one hike. It was a nice reward.
Kuk joined in as well (I passed this time but tried it the other time we visited later in the week).
Day 2 - Monday: Grutschalp to Murren (Mountain View Trail) & Almendhubel to Murren (North Face Trail)
The second walk was "for Kuk" as it promised to have plenty of wildflowers (and naturally, nice views). It involved taking the funicular from Murren up to Almendhubel and taking the North Face Trail around the Schilthorn valley (?) back to Murren.
The second walk was more down than up. 4.1 miles in 2:42 (2:04 moving time).
I had had hints of some knee issues after my Snowdon and B-29 Peak District walks but didn't think too much of it. It really started to be an issue on this second walk and I was actually the one slowing everyone down. The downhill bits certainly didn't help. I ended up buying a knee brace the next day which helped but not completely. I should probably get it looked at but let's say I don't have much confidence in the system here (Take two leeches and call me in the morning, right Andrea?).
My good morning view again from the chalet.
Alex enjoying the water (and rocks)
Wengen from the other side
different mountain views
arriving in Murren
farther down the valley from Murren
nice one of the kids
Instead we had a nice picnic and watched the others going up and down.
up at Almendhubel ready to start walk #2
but first Alex reminding us that it's fun to be a kid
nice one of Nicole too
on we go, down into the smaller valley and in search of wildflowers
and mountain views
looks like we are headed straight to the mountains
first flower photo -- we liked the orange color of this one
great views -- this is from Allmendhubel to Blumental is what I've self-described as the Schilthorn valley
and more flowers
farther into the valley (and away from the mountains on other side)
the kids heading down through the flowers
and walking towards different mountains
following the stream to the mountains
more cows too
and different (globe) flowers
Murren from above
the clouds over the Schilthorn look ominous (we only got a few drops fortunately)
cows and mountains (with the one cow giving me the stink eye)
further around the valley (now past Murren)
a small farm along the way
road going down . . .
Alex plucked a flower for Kuk (and tried to pass it off as her birthday gift for next week)
paragliders over Murren
and our reward at the end of the day in Murren with a great view down into the valley
Day 3 - Tuesday: Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg & "Extreme" Sports
We took the gondola from Wengen up to Mannlichen and then took the easy, slightly downhill, stroll (#33) to Kleine Scheidegg (much easier than walking up from Wengen!). From KS, we road down to Grindewald and then took the gondola up to First/Bort for some fun.
and zoomed in a bit -- this never gets old (and was, in fact, hard to leave)
and again, the view 100' from our chalet as we walked into town
another bright and sunny morning as we look up at the gondola to Mannlichen
and looking back down to Wengen from the top
required photo op with kids
and another of Wengen -- Lauterbrunnen is farther down (top left)
and looking down the Lauterbrunnen valley towards Murren
a little snow left on this walk -- more to come later in the week
a peak into the Grindelwald valley and beyond
a similar view sans kids
a different group of flowers on this trail
Grindelwald valley from a view further along the trail
After lunch (food photos are at the end), we took the train down to Grindelwald, walked through town and then took the gondola up towards First. Nicole and I went to the top while Kuk and Alex got off on the first (not First) stop at Bort.
the view from First
another view from First
Nicole waiting her turn (she's next)
here come our seats -- looks a long way down, doesn't it?
Needless to say, I didn't get any photos on the way down as I didn't trust myself to hold onto the camera. It was a quick ride down with an abrupt stop at the end. I got the jump on Nicole with my lb advantage but she quickly caught up. It was fast enough to cause tears and we enjoyed it but it wasn't the coolest thing ever or anything.
We then road the gondola from Schrekfeld to Bort to find the other two. This was on the way.
Great views on the way down, but not too many photo ops when you are coasting downhill!
It took Kuk a little while to get the hang of it, but she eventually caught up.
and passed us at one point
and Nicole with me (and my knee brace) trailing
The Trottibikes were loads of fun and the views/experience were great. Unfortunately, 75% of the group had a minor wipe out at some point. The first occurred when Nicole started to overtake Alex which caused him to speed up. He lost control and crashed. Nicole was able to stop. However, when Kuk came around the bend she got distracted by the crash (well) ahead of her and also wrecked (quite painfully, but no real damage other than pride).
We later came out of this path/track and started riding on some small city streets. Nicole was hugging the curb and lost control by hitting it and crashed. Great cries and screams to get me to stop since I was leading at the time. Again, a few scrapes to take home.
Extreme sports -- fail. I guess we are too tame. The kids agreed with me that it was fun though and we would certainly do better a second time. Not sure Kuk would concur (nor did she seem interested to even be contemplating it!).
Day 4 - Wednesday: Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg & Trummbach Falls
my breakfast view once again
in Lauterbrunnen with a view of Staubbach Falls (remember Alex's earlier shot by the feeder stream?)
and a peek down the valley
closer to the Staubbach Falls (apologies for the crooked photographer)
back down the valley
down the valley (zoomed in)
all the falls appear to feed the river down the middle of the valley (Weisse Lutschine)
link). These are 10 glacier fed waterfalls -- the largest subterranean falls in Europe (apparently). You start by taking an elevator up half way and then walk to the top and then all the way down. The falls are powerful and awe-inspiring. My photos don't do it justice. This was a big hit with the family.
Kuk, me and my gut. Oye.
After the falls, we chose a nice spot by the river for our picnic.
another waterfall along the way
Alex always likes to stop to look at the stacked stones (and envy the good skipping ones)
We had a couple of options at the end. Since we'd been to Murren we decided to simply take the bus back to Lauterbrunnen and then the train to Wengen and then back to the pool!
Day 5 - Thursday: Schynige Platte to First
Stretch goal time. I had placed this long walk towards the end of the week to see how we were all doing. I knew it would be tough but I thought we could do it (and we did). Multiple sources had said this was one of the best walks around so I really wanted to try it.
The walk is from Schynige Platte to First (lower right to upper left in map above). Unlike most other walks, there really aren't any off-ramps so you are committed to the long haul. It's walk #62 above.
We needed an early start since it takes about 2 hours just to get to Schynige Platte (train to Wilderswil via Lauterbrunnen and then the long ride up, up, up on a 100 year old cog train line) and the gondola in First stops at 6:30 pm (and there is no way I would want to walk down 3000' from there to Grindelwald).
So, to play it safe and not feel rushed we got the 7:03 train out of Wengen and started the walk about 9:15 after toilet breaks and general looking around.
If felt good to complete the walk -- definitely a sense of accomplishment. It wasn't perfect. I didn't realize that we missed most of the views down to the Brienzersee with the route we chose and the late cloud hampered our views in the second half of the walk.
The worst bit was the remaining snow on the trail. I actually slipped twice, fortunately in safe locations. I'm sure my knee didn't help. There were places where we had to cross the snow/ice and a slip would have been serious if not fatal. It was stressful for all of us (except Alex who was somewhat oblivious and enjoyed the snowy bits that were safer -- he did really well though).
Perhaps the loop around Schynige Platte is a better option for most, especially early in the summer season. There were plenty of others doing this walk (and some considerably older than us, but that doesn't mean much). Not too many families -- none with kids Alex age or younger that I noticed.
On to the photos:
First, my good morning photo of the day.
the train we took up returning back to Wilderswil
family photo before the start (it was a little cooler this early morning)
a quick see-saw before we start -- check out that background
and we are off to First -- 6 hrs estimated time (obviously we, and the snow, are below average)
a smidge of downhill at the start
and yet another unique flower
the big mountains (looking back)
more cows along the way -- I decided to say hello this time
these guys were blocking the path though -- up and over
the views were amazing as ever
big, pale snail
a small pond in the valley -- [Lake] Brienzersee is on the opposite side
a different look back at the snow dotted landscape
a welcomed break (and a hope that we were through the snow -- not to be)
some sheep/goats at the half way point
3 hours to go (half way)
and unfortunately the low clouds -- that's Faulhorn behind the clouds
a nice view down to the pond and lake on the other side though the clouds are starting to encroach
(nearly) walking in the clouds
more snow -- at least no drop offs with this one (Alex loved this bit; I found it rather tedious in my state!)
[Lake] Balchapsee in the distance (and more snow)
we knew we were getting closer but still a little ways to go
And finally the view from First.
In hindsight, perhaps not the best hike for us to try given the remaining snow (and my knee to a certain degree). It was unfortunate about the cloudy views as well but there's no planning for that as it was a clear day at the start. It did feel good to accomplish this tough 10 miler and the views we did have were impressive. Perhaps still doubting my judgment a little . . .
Day 6 - Friday: First to Grosse Platte
I had mapped out the first 5 days pretty well. With my goals achieved, I left it to the troops to decide what to do on our last day. We had many options:
a) return to Schynige Platte and do the loop walk for the lake views and wild flowers
b) travel to the Ballenberg Folk Museum (across Lake Brienz)
c) putter around the lakes for a day
We'll, after listening to the input I suggested "other". There was a "Marmot Trail" walk that I knew would be a long shot but might get us some animal sightings (which had been disappointingly few) and then we could also do the toboggan runs out of Pfingstegg for the kids.
Since it was our last day we wanted to leave a little time for shopping and packing and most of the other options (at least the lake ones) were all day affairs.
back to First
near Schilt and our lunch spot
as I said, Alex couldn't get enough of the snow -- he decided to have a little climb
okay not so little
climbing over -- now the walk down to Gross Scheidigg
over varied terrain
the kids ran down ahead to get on this big rock (a little easier to access from the rear)
and a closer shot
a look further down the valley than we had seen before
a nice look back in the direction of Grindelwald
and another, with wildflowers thrown in
and looking again in the opposite direction
a final wildflower shot near Gross Scheidegg
We waited about 15 minutes and caught the bus back to Grindelwald. We were all set to ride up to Pfingstegg when I had my first (and only), wait a minute, it costs how much moment? The cost of the tobogganing was managable. Each kid would get a half dozen runs for about 15 CHF ($16) each. However, the cost to get up to Pfingstegg would have been about $50 for all of us since it's a separate company and our Half Fare and Family Cards were not accepted. Too much (in part in principal) so we baled. The kids took it well.
. . . and the flowers on this one
We've never been to the Alps before nor have we seen all that is available in America. However, we did take the kids to Glacier National Park in 2008. I thought it might be similar to the Bernese Oberland area so I had a flick through the photos. A few are shown below (mainly to look at how cute the kids were).
It's true there are some similarities but it's hard to make a direct comparison. Both are fine options (and Glacier certainly would save you a transatlantic flight). Glad we could experience both.
Aww (Nicole was 9 and Alex 6). Surprisingly, we did about 35 miles that week as well.
this was at a Swiss like hotel with a glacier in the background
A few more:
We made good use of the chalet and actually ate in more than I expected. Some of that was to save costs but it was more out of laziness! After a long day, we would come back and get cleaned up and not want to go out again. I cooked simple meals our first 3 nights and then we had a meat, cheese and bread meal later in the week (with multiple cheeses from the local cheese shop -- yum).
We ate out lunch twice at the wonderful train station restaurant at Kleine Scheidegg and had 3 dinner meals out (two of which are shown below).
the local apple pie/cake with cream (1 for all of us) -- pretty good
Hotel Baren (Wengen)
Kuk's mixed plate starter
my mixed salad
Kuk's steak (and a funky plate)
Hotel Schoenegg (Wengen)
complimentary (unknown) tartare w/ avocado
another salad for me
a unique lemongrass soup (more Indian style, i.e. curry than the thin Thai style we are used to)
Nicole's rosti main (good, but not as good as KS)
Kuk's mushroom pasta -- anybody know what type of mushrooms these are? must be local
and finally my veal rump steak (a first) with mushrooms -- outstanding
It was a great week. Thanks for reading.