Day 78 - Mon Jun 20 Nice, to Lauterbrunnen (Switzerland, near Interlaken)
(Chris) We said our goodbyes and Christophe took us to the train station (via one last boulangerie for Jen).
Ok I'm getting a little wierded out by some of our travel arrangements. There are 2 that have weighed heavily on my mind.
TGV skullduggery. From Nice, we wished to go to Interlaken, in the middle of Switzerland. There was 1 train connection that made the most sense by far, via high speed train (TGV) through Geneva. We stopped at the Antibes train station the night before to make reservations. Unfortunately, the agent told us that the train only had 1 seat left in our tier (which includes folks using Eurail Passes), so we'd have to pay E102 for the 2nd ticket, or take a route that takes 3 hours longer. We were quite bummed about this, in part because we were unaware of the tier limitation, but more because turning a 9 hour train trip into a 12 hour train trip isn't fun, and the other route had 2 additional train changes. So we bucked up and bought the ticket. Our fault for taking our time making a reservation, I figured.
But now that I'm on the train, I must say that at its busiest the train was only about 1/2 full. There are plenty of seats. So why did I buy this Eurail pass again?
British Airways fun. While waiting for the train today, we called to try to get our return flights home extended. We're currently scheduled to come back on July 21, but wish to extend a little to around July 27 so we'll have time to see a few last places at a relaxed pace. So I called British Airways to inquire about that, and was told:
1) All flights from London to Seatttle are full, from July 21-August 31 (at least), except for full fare which is $4900 per ticket.
2) Ditto for London to SFO.
3) Ditto for London to LAX.
4) Ditto for Vancouver, except there are 2 tickets available on August 7 for $1000 each.
5) Ditto for NYC, except there are tickets available on August 2 for $100 each.
So we're not encouraged about our ability to extend. We'll do some research on alternatives, but it's looking like we'll be home on the 21st, and have to skip Belgium or something (I know, pity us, but it's still quite odd). How can all these flights be full 6 weeks in advance? Beats me.
After 4 train rides, we finally ended up in the small town of Lauterbrunnen. It was about 8:30pm, and the sky was mostly clear. Initially we didn't even intend to stay in Lauterbrunnen, as it's down in the valley floor, but it's as far as we could make it before dark so there we stayed. It turned out to be gorgeous, with steep lush green hillsides, and many waterfalls pouring into the valley, one in particular that free-falls a long way.
The hotel was nice with a super view and helpful desk clerk (owner?), we had dinner in it and dozed off.
Day 79 - Tue Jun 21 Lauterbrunnen to Gimmelwald (also Switzerland)
(Chris) Unless we find a miracle way to affordably extend our flights, we will be home in 1 month.
We got up fairly early, because apparently the weather tends to be better early in the day and then cloud up every night (it actually does this). Today we'd explore the left half of the valley, and in subsequent days we'd be on the right side. We grabbed a cogwheel train (able to go up very steep inclines) to Wengen, and then a tram to Mannlichen (no jokes please, we've thought of them all already). Then we hiked about 20 minutes up to a sharp point that had a lovely view all around, of the 3 dominant peaks at the top of the valley (Eiger, Munch, and Jungfrau - in English that'd be the ogre, who is chasing the young woman who is being protected by the monk). These are all dramatic snowy peaks from 3970m to 4158m. You could also see the 2 lakes on either side of Interlaken.
We took a 1-hour easy hike with great views from Mannlichen (snicker) to Kleine-Schneiddig, where we grabbed a quick bratwurst and the jumped on another cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch, aka the Top of Europe, the highest point accessible by train at 11,333 ft. The ride was mostly in a tunnel so not a lot to see until achieving the top. Once there, it was somewhat similar to Chamonix, except there were activities that could be purchased such as sledding, dogsledding, individual tram line, and trying to hit a hole-in-one for money. There was even a small bunny ski hill that was open.
The views were quite good, mostly of nearby peaks and glaciers. But honestly it was anticlimactic, because we both liked Chamonix a bit better and had thoroughly enjoyed that morning's hike, which was less touristy. Most of the hikers here are quite serious, with full leather boots and hiking poles.
On the way back down we had a late lunch at Kleine-Schneiddig, where we got to size up some of the Swiss food. They seem to be big on 3 main things: sausage, melted cheese (fondue etc), and hashbrowns (called roschti). I can pretty well get by on just those 3 things, so we're doing ok here. Andre your fondue is still a little bit better than any we've had in Europe (Jen's is great too, I have to say that!).
Internet is crazy-expensive here for some reason - the cheapest we've found so far is 12SF/hr, or $9. So we're holding off on updating the site, even though we're WAY behind!
We checked into our place in Gimmelwald, a tiny tiny town perched up on the edge of a cliff that Reeck recommends visiting. The town's livelihood is mostly based on raising cattle and gathering hay, though in recent decades it's been supplemented by running ski areas and tourism from Reeck. Pretty much all the tourists in Gimmelwald, and many in Lauterbrunnen are from America. It's sort of strange after spending time with folks from all over the world.
Day 80 - Wed Jun 22 Gimmelwald
(Chris) Around the world in 80 days, hmmm...
Today we woke up and let our gracious host Esther cook us breakfast, and then set off to explore the right side of the valley. We took a tram up to the more touristy town of Murren, and shopped around for a hotel for the 23rd. Then back onto the tram, all the way up to Schilthorn. There they have a circular rotating restaurant (ala the Space Needle - I had my 3rd roschti in 2 days), and great views in all directions. The 35 year old James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed in part there, lots of ski chase scenes, so they had a quick film with excerpts from that. But there really wasn't a lot to do up top after you'd had a look around. So we took the train back down.
Then we took a very steep train (funicular) back up to a slightly different spot on the hill, and commenced a 2-hour hike along the 'North Face' trail. We hiked through numerous mountain meadows, which often had cows with cowbells eating (I love the sound of the bells out there - some of the cowbells were surprisingly as big as a basketball - Hagan if you really want more cowbell you should come out here), and some with sheep though the sheep stayed far away (no the sheep didn't think I was a Kiwi ;) ). Wildflowers were abundant, predominantly yellow, purple and white (I put my Claritin to the test and it helped some but the wildflowers won - achoo!).
When in the forested areas, the terrain feels an awful lot like home. The Evergreens look the same, the underbrush is the same, etc etc. For a few minutes I felt like I was on Tiger Mountain. Then you step out from the trees and it's quite a bit different.
We passed under a few idle ski lifts, past many small wooden barns & sheds, and waltzed back to Murren. I snapped a lot of photos so it took us longer than it should've. I love digital photography - it's free to shoot! We have 1GB cards so no worries.
Like in Berlin, most folks here speak excellent English. Maybe that's why there are so many American tourists. Or vice versa.
At the Murren grocery we got spaghetti fixin's and brought them back to Esther's for a fine inexpensive meal.
Day 81 - Thu Jun 23 Gimmelwald to Murren (also Switzerland)
This morning, after another Esther breakfast (she is always around, late, early, wow), we decided for a change of pace to head to the valley floor and visit Trummelbach Falls. We trammed to the bottom and walked about a half hour each way to get there. Just stunning and about 85 degrees out. Trummelbach is a special waterfall that is mostly contained within a very narrow canyon, not visible from the valley floor. So apparently some enterprising Swiss folks built tunnels around the waterfall and an elevator about 2/3 of the way up it.
The waterfall was very cool - you could feel the power of it while walking through the various tunnels. It turned numerous directions with power. Reeck calls it 'God's Band Saw' and I think that's a pretty apt title. The gorge was at least a couple of hundred feet deep, though most of the time we could not see out the top, just some faint light reflecting off the rock.
Afterward we gathered our things and returned up to Murren, where we checked into the Edelweiss Hotel, which is beautiful and nicer than we've become accustomed to. The Edelweiss is built maybe 100 ft back from the cliff face, and our room has a gorgeous view of the mountains across the valley. In the late afternoon the sun finally slipped away, replaced with a thundering rain/hail storm. The sounds were impressive (though not as loud as Chamonix), and dusted the mountains with a fresh layer of white. Fun!