From Switzerland With Love

After a few days in Grindelwald and the trip to Jungfraujoch, both of which were pretty touristy, I treated myself (again, I’m just always “treating myself,” aren’t I?) to a sojourn in the teeny tiniest village I could possibly find that still qualified as a “village.”

This was Gimmelwald. But it’s nothing like Grindelwald. The tiny town is situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley (the village on the valley floor is called Lauterbrunnen and is big enough to have a train station, at least). Gimmelwald is only accessible by funicular, in true Swissalpen style. There are only about 20 houses in the whole place and, according to Rick Steves, almost everyone in the town has the same last name of Brunner (and yes, the lady with whom I booked my accommodation was indeed named Brunner).

For sale at the “Honesty Shop,” one franc per egg!

I stayed at the  “mountain hostel” and met some really nice American girls to hang out with. Within fifteen minutes of my arrival, one of them gave me the following instructions regarding dinner: “Walk straight down the dirt road, about five minutes. You’ll pass cows on your right, but if you go past the goat hutch you’ve gone too far. When you see a little wooden house with purple flowers in the windows, ring the bell. A woman named Helga will sell you sausage and cheese.” I couldn’t resist, but did exactly that. Helga Brunner wasn’t at home, but her cousin, Rolf Brunner was, and he showed me their cheese-curing room.

The cheese he had to sell me was one and two years old – this year’s cheese was still too young (you can see it on the shelves!). He let me taste each, the “Jungkase” or “young cheese” and the old. The old was much stronger, and the young already hard and crumbly but still smooth-tasting. I opted for the jungkase.

The rind of each wheel of cheese is stamped with a number, according to the order of its production.

He also sold me some beef sausage, and together that made a perfect dinner. Thanks, friend Rolf!

You’re welcome, Steffibunny!

After this, a couple of us took the cablecar up to the next town (Mürren) for a “Volksabend” or “Folkloric Evening,” which turned out to be a free concert featuring traditional dancing, yodeling, playing of the traditional alphorn, and twirling of the Swiss flag. This was particularly enjoyable because, unlike the tourist traps in Salzburg and Innsbruck, the people performing at this evening were part of real societies preserving their historic culture. For instance, we saw the “yodeling choir” and several traditional dance troupes. These are all locals who participate in these clubs in their spare time just for their own enjoyment, not as a gag for rich tourists.

But the reason most people go to tiny, picturesque Gimmelwald, is as a stepping stone to the local summit, the Schilthorn. The Schilthorn itself is nothing much to look at, kind of bald and barren-looking actually, but it’s the view from the top that make it one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. I would come back here before I went back to Jungfraujoch, in a heartbeat. One of the biggest attractions up there is the Piz Gloria, a 360-degree rotating restaurant. It. Was. Incredible.

Apparently, part of From Russia With Love was filmed here, and they offer a James Bond Breakfast Special: The biggest breakfast buffet you’ve ever seen (in true Swiss style – coldcuts, cheeses, breads, butter, soft-boiled eggs, muesli, and some scrambled eggs and sausage) at the center of the circular restaurant, and also bottomless coffee, AND a glass of champagne, just to make you feel completely glamorous. So two Americans from Ohio and I opted WAY in, and sat for almost two hours just sipping, eating, chatting, and watching the mountains from eye-level. It might be the best breakfast I’ll ever eat.

After that, we all hiked back down to Gimmelwald! Well actually, I let them get about a 20 mintues head start, because I really prefer hiking alone. I’m not antisocial or misanthropic, just that when I hike I tend to be a follower, not a leader, and I go into “horse-mode,” and just follow the butt of the person in front of me without making my own way. So I said, “no offense!” and waved the other two girls on their way, and spent a few extra minutes hanging out on the observation deck.

Needless to say, the views were unbelievable. The day was almost cloudless, so you could see as far as Italy in one direction, to Germany in another, and to France in another.

The Schilthorn boasts “the best views of Jungfrau,” and I think they’re right. You can see them perfectly lined up here: Eiger, Münch, and Jungfrau.

The hike down is not too long, 1600 m difference in altitude from top to bottom (that’s about 4,800 feet!), and it took me about 5 hours total (with a lot of breaks though, and at a leisurely pace). That sounds like an awful lot to me, but this chart on the Schilthorn says it’s true! It didn’t feel that hard, but my glutes were feeling it for days afterward haha.


Here’s the view from the top down:

You can see part of my trail, that teeny thing at the bottom!

I can’t think of a better way to spend 5 hours. The top of the trail was still snowed-in, so the first half hour was spent slipping and sliding over snow-slash-glaciers, but after I descended a little, the trail was clear.

I told you the Schilthorn itself wasn’t that pretty…

One of the best things I found on the way down was a glacial lake. It was completely clear, and had this subtle blue tinge. Half of it was still frozen as snow, and it was SO clear that I actually filled my waterbottle from it.

Even in my bottle, the water was spotless, and tasted great!

All the publicity for the region claims that the hiking around the Schilthorn features some of “the most beautiful alpine scenery most people will see in their entire lives.” And I absolutely have to agree.

This is like The Lion King, if The Lion King happened in Switzerland instead of Africa.

Yes, my camera really took this picture. Yes, this is a real place.

My leg muscles may have remembered this hike for a few days, but I’m pretty sure I will remember it forever.

The Cablecars of Switzerland

After four days in Venice, I took off for not just the next city on my list, but the next country!

Unlike Italy, which is all about the art, the museums, and the cities, Switzerland is all about the the outdoors, the hiking, and the breathtaking views around almost every corner.

Through my whole time in Switzerland, I didn’t spend more than an hour or so in anything that could be considered a “city” (like Lugano, Zurich, Bern, Geneva), so unlike my blog posts through Italy, which each focused on one city, we will have to try a different approach to blogging Switzerland. Because, after all, one adorable small town in the mountains is much like another.

But here’s one thing all Swiss towns (and cities!) have in common: the funicular. It is almost impossible to get anywhere worth going without making at least one part of your trip in a cablecar or gondola.

These can be as cheap as 2.50 round trip, or as expensive as 85.00. But whatever I paid, I pretty much never regretted going – the higher you go, the better the scenery gets, no?

I took my first one in Bergamo (which is technically in Italy, but… whatever), when Steven and I took a daytrip there from Milan:

We took it from the citta bassa to the citta alta (those higher buildings in the picture), and the view was pretty fabulous:

A few days later, in Lugano (an Italian-speaking town just over the Swiss border), I took a cable car up to the tiny church of San Salvatore.

Up, up we go…!

And the views from the top were fabulous:

On June 20, I took a cablecar-cum-gondola from Lake Thun to the top of the Niederhorn, about 1900m up (this amazing spot, where I spent my birthday, will have its own post later).

It was a dizzying ride. About halfway up you stop in the village of Beatenburg, where you have to transfer from your lovely, rail-bound cable car, to an unsupported, wind-buffeted gondola.

My beautiful backpack, he/she still needs a name! Any suggestions? Giacomo, Wolfgang, Grendel…?

It was amazing to watch the lake I’d just traversed by boat gradually shrink as I went higher and higher!

And the views from the top were some of my absolute favorite (evidenced by the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to leave, so I spent three un-planned-for nights in the hotel at the top!)

Across the lake in Grindelwald, I took another gondola up to something called “First” which is apparently another summit. I say apparently because the day was rainy and so fogged in that I couldn’t see anything beyond the walls of my little gondola (it was wonderful actually, like traveling through blank white space). And when I got to the top, I couldn’t see a thing (I had planned on hiking back down, but by then it was raining just a little too hard). So at the top I ate some hot soup and drank a hot toddy and went back down through the same white mist.

According to Google, this is the view I was missing… Bummer. :-/

And finally, after staying in Grindelwald for a couple days (again, more details on this in another post), I took a several trains and a gondola up to a teeny-tiny, confusingly-similarly-named village called Gimmelwald, which is only accessible via gondola. From this little hamlet perched on the edge of a cliff, the cable car continues to the most spectacular summit yet, the Schilthorn (2900 meters, 9800 feet). Even though this was not the highest place I went in Switzerland, it’s view of those higher places was the best. Aka, when you’re on the Jungfrau (a famous mountain we’ll revisit later), you can’t actually see the Jungfrau.

(Actually that reminds me of a great anecdote about Harkness Tower in New Haven: Apparently Frank Lloyd Wright once said that if he could live one place in the world, it would be on the top of Harkness Tower, so he would never have to look at it, it is so ugly. Lulz.)

But anyway, the Schilthorn was absolutely magnificent:

I swear my camera actually took this picture. This is not just some postcard that I scanned in. The highest peak on the left is the Jungfrau. Please please please do click on the picture to make it bigger – it’s so pretty!

And that, my friends, concludes my cable-car tour of Switzerland. Actually, I think that made a nice overview of all the places I visited, some of which now I will blog about separately.

Auf wiedersehen!