Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Swiss Alps

I can barely believe we were in the Swiss Alps. We were only there for a couple of days but it seems like such an exotic location. I can attest that it is a great place to visit in the summer. I have to admit, though, that seeing all those green ski runs made me long for some colder weather and a couple of boards for my feet.

If you are planning to come this way and you are trying to decide between the French Alps and the Swiss Alps, here is my advice. Chamonix, France is wonderfully located and has a real resort feel. It is in a valley between two mountain chains and is less expensive. The lifts to Aiguille du Midi and then on to Helbronner, Italy are THE best for Wow! Factor. You can also get a lift pass for a couple of days and hike both sides of the valley and ride a variety of fun rides for one price. In the Swiss Alps, you pay per ride and the rides add up fast. Kids under 16 pay one time ($35 or so) and then ride free with an adult. However, the views while strolling through the meadows here are unparalleled. They blow the very scenic Chamonix hikes right out of the water.

We drove from the overpriced, ho-hum hostel in Montreux to the charming, delight of a hostel in Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is up the valley a ways from Interlaken. It is very small and has a magnificent waterfall cascading down over the town. No, you cannot feel the spray. The picture on the left is the view from our hostel room. We even had a little balcony where we could sit in the afternoon sun looking this way. It almost looked like a model train set-up with the cute little trains below our room. Rhys, Tom and Julia were all sick when we arrived so we tried to keep our day quiet but we didn’t want to miss the Alpine experience so they dragged themselves along the trails gamely.

We took a bus to another little town further along, then a lift up the mountain to Gimmelwald. This is a town you don’t want to miss. It is an old alpine farming community and is just as cute as they come. Can you say, “Heidi”? You could almost hear someone shouting, “Riccola” in the background. We took Rick Steve’s self-guided walk through the tiny village, admiring the “honesty” store where you took what you needed and left the money in a cashbox. Have you ever seen that? Anywhere? One of the buildings was from the 1600’s but you really couldn’t tell. The buildings all looked the same. The only difference was the colour of the wood. They had a few old cheese sheds on stilts above the ground and a school where all of the students have their own website. The cows in the field all wore collars with big bells hanging down. The collars made the cows look like huge pet dogs. We decided the bells must all be different so the farmer knows which cow is which by the sound. It was very musical as they ate their grass.

From Gimmelwald we took another lift to Murren and then walked the gentle slope beside the train tracks down to another town whose name is too difficult for me to spell at this time. The walk was not the most scenic as we were in the trees most of the time. It felt a lot like BC. We took a lift back down to Lauterbrunnen when we reached the unpronounceable town and called it a day.

The next day we got up at 6am to catch the “good morning” train. It was a difficult morning for the sicko’s but they insisted on doing it. It was a cost savings of $100. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day; not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was cool so we were dressed in winter gear but you could see forever. The train ran all the way up the mountain to a peak over 4000 metres in the air. Much of the ride was tunneled through the rock. The train stopped periodically to let us jump off and run to a window in the rock for a peek at the scenery. At the top, it was majestic.

We were between the peaks of Monsch (the Monk) and Jungfrau (the Maiden) and could see down both sides of the mountains. It was breezy and very cold which was surprising given how lovely it had been in Chamonix at the top of Aiguille du Midi. Aiguille du Midi is about the same height. Here, the snow hadn’t been cleared and it was treacherous walking on the icy inclines. We did stay up top long before heading down into the mountain and out another rabbit hole. We looked around their ice palace which was similar to the one in Chamonix except this one had better ice sculptures and the floor was ice as well. It even had ads in the walls frozen into the ice.

Another of the little rabbit holes led out onto the glacier where they had sledding and zip-lines set up. We sat in some loungers on their “beach” waiting for the zip-lines to open but after about an hour we decided we’d waited long enough. The views from the lawn chairs were spectacular and I’m pretty sure that’s where we got our second burn of the trip. We descended by train to the mid-point at Kleine Scheidigg and stopped for lunch. They had grilled brats cooking and we couldn’t resist. We sat next to a Japanese couple who took an instant shine to Julia and offered her and Rhys Japanese cookies. We gave them Canada flag pins and they put them on their hats, then hauled our more Japanese goodies for the kids. It was a fun lunch.

After refueling we hiked to Mannlichen. This is a hike you cannot miss if you are here. You hike around a mountain from one set of spectacular views to yet another. The white jagged peaks rise above and the valley floor dotted with chalets sinks below. You are nestled in the flowering green meadows where you can drool over the numerous ski-runs cascading down the side of the mountain dressed in their green summer suits. Mannlichen is straight out of a Swiss brochure. You can see down to Lauterbrunnen off one side and to Grindelwald off the other. The Eiger, Monsch and Jungfrau tower over it all. The Monsch (Monk) is between the Eiger (Ogre) and Jungfrau (Maiden), protecting her from harm. We took many, many pictures here and stayed awhile in the meadows. I think this was my favourite scenic point, although it has stiff competition. We took the lift back down to Wengen and from there to Lauterbrunnen by train. It was another spectacular day.


maryanncart@shaw.ca said...

Fantastic picture of Tom and the one of Rhys and Julia...The scenery is over whelming! Breath taking to say the least. Love Mom