Tag Archives: Switzerland

a walk thru the alps day 12: riviera (the end!)

Day 12: Leysin to Montreaux
Distance: unknown

Today officially ends our Alpine Pass Route hike. Our final descent took us through vineyards, alongside a castle and through what felt like sleepy French villages. We are staying tonight in Vevey, the home of milk chocolate and right next to Montreaux.

When we arrived into Montreaux we were greeted with palm trees, banana plants and plumeria–definitely a different flora than the Alpine Pass Route.

Total mileage: 250 km, more or less

Katy: “I like waffles. Belgian, not leggo my eggo. I need some kale.”

Courtney: “My body needs a cheese detox.”

Kim: She left us in Lenk for Bulgaria.

Some of our highlights:

-small cheese self-service huts–alp kases

-the waterfall view out our window in Lauterbrunnen

-fondue

-lovely British couple who told us about their travels and inspired us to do more

-composing posts, especially while sitting on the bank of a giant Swiss lake while drinking wine and watching clouds

-wonderfully friendly and gracious hotel and hostel owners, especially the owners of the Hotel Garni Alpina in Lenk

-Santa Cruz Steve

-cheerful and fun companions

-rosti with fried cheese and bacon at the train station in Grindelwald

-chocolate

-the man in spandex who just roller skated by

-inspiring home vegetable gardens in every yard (if the Swiss grow so much chard, why isn’t it on any menus?)

-cows, with melodious bells

-getting to know the Eiger from every angle

-differently flushing toilets

-turnstiles between pastures

-learning a bit of French and a bit of German

-glorious mountain vistas

-figuring out Swiss transport systems

That’s it for the walk thru the alps travelogue.

A’ toute a’ l’heure…

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a walk thru the alps day 11: random

Today we left both the Via Alpina and the Alpine Pass Route behind based solely on hotel availability. The detour proved to be both fortuitous and amusing (Katy’ sentence, she’s an English teacher). Read on.

1. Morning disagreement over price, in two languages, with hotel matron. We stood our ground and smiled and all was well. Meanwhile, entire restaurant of French Swiss old men looked on.

2. Our hike today took us along and on a major and quite paved highway. But all was well.

3. A tank. By the side of the road. We thought the Swiss were neutral. What’s up with that?

4. Upon arriving at Col Des Mosses, the tiny endpoint hamlet of our hike, we were welcomed by a straggling flea market complete with antiques, kitchy Swiss tourist baubles, freshly made raclettte, and an accordion playing English singing French Swiss hillbilly. As if that weren’t enough, toward the end of the flea market we came upon two stalls and heard a familiar language being spoken. The vendors were indigenous Ecuadorians from Quito selling traditional wares such as bags, sweaters, and wool hats. It was a crazy merging of worlds.

5. Our hotel tonight, for which we are paying less than the camping dorm of three nights ago, happens to have not just a pool, but a jacuzzi, sauna, and a hamam (steamroom) and views, from the balcony, of glacier topped peaks. It’s supply and demand–this empty off-season ski town appears happy to have the business.

6. Han Lung Restaurant. Delicious Chinese food, the first we’ve encountered on the trip. Well worth it. Even the banana beignets we had for dessert were amazing.

All in all, a detour well worth taking. Tomorrow to Montreaux, our final day of hiking.

Bon Soir. (I’m learning French. What else are you going to do while hiking along the highway?)

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a walk thru the alps day 10: twilight zone

Day 10: Lenk to Gstaad (and then to Chateux d’oex
Distance: 21km
Elevation: uphill, then long gradual downhill
Eats: the usual, plus an amazing gnocchi in Lenk and a gracious breakfast at Hotel Alpina

A few impressions:

-river valleys are much more gradual (read, less punishing) than glacial valleys
-We’ve pretty much left the land of ‘gruetsee’ and entered the land of ‘bonjour’
-just because a hike is gradual does not make 21km easy
-Switzerland is a beautiful country. Even an ‘average’ valley is picturesque.

The craziest part of yesterday, however, was descending into the town of Gstaad which was straight out of the twighlight zone, filled with stepford wives wearing sweaters over their shoulders, men driving Bentleys, and a chalet style Prada store. Needless to say, we stuck out like smelly sore thumbs and quickly caught a train to find accommodation in a less ‘steep’ town, Chateux d’Oex.

The hotel we had booked, Hotel Buffet de la Gare, (the buffet hotel by the train) was surprisingly, right by the train station. Imagine yourself in an old Alfred Hitchcock film, set in a buffet hotel by a train station and you’ve got a pretty good mental image.

Chateaux d’Oex is a small ski town, definitely in the French region of Switzerland. Lucky for me, Katy and Courtney speak French and are enjoying practicing their skills.

Today, since we strayed from the Alpine Pass Route to find affordable accommodation, today’s hike isn’t officially on either that or the Via Alpina. With the amazing signage of Swiss trails, we should be in good shape to arrive in Leysin (where our hotel is said to have a jacuzzi!!) for our last day of hiking tomorrow.

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a walk thru the alps day 5: mythical

Day 5: Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen
Distance: 19km
Elevation: gained 3500ft dropped 4500ft
Eats: delicious fresh grainy bread, coffee, cheese, fresh local yogurt, creamy vegetable soup in a bread bowl, crisp local apples, chocolate, ovomaltine

Soup in a bread bowl…looking out at a spectacular view: the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau–three of Switzerland’s most famous peaks, glaciers carving a path through them. It’s stunning.

Mythical. That is the word of the day according to Kim. From our lunch break overlooking the three peaks, to our destination–Lauterbrunnen, the idyllic valley that inspired Tolkein’s Rivendell, mythical just about sums it up.

The hiking was somewhat brutal–fairly straight down from the pass, which is a bit rough on the knees. Apparently that’s why all the tour groups take the bus/railroad options. It is a bit disheartening to arrive at the top of a three hour climb and have to wind your way thru a huge tour group decked out in their mountain garb. Though the views from the hike were amazing.

Even more amazing is our accommodation for the night. There were no rooms left at the town hostels so we are in a hotel…only one letter different but a world apart, both in price tag but also in comfort–a private bathroom in our very own room (instead of down the hall), beds with soft sheets (instead of using our ‘sleep sacks’) and plush towels (instead of using our travel towels that are more like chammies) and even a tv (that we have yet to turn on) but most impressive, a balcony view of a waterfall and valley that’d give Yosemite a run for it’s money. Mythical. Spectacular. Stunning. It’s hard not to keep repeating words like that.

A few more Swiss impressions:

-if Switzerland is always neutral, what’s up with the Swiss army knives? (Katy wants to know)

-Swiss cheese is WAY better than swiss cheese

-the wood stacking (along every cabin/barn) would make the most OCD amongst us proud

-almost every house has a vegetable garden overflowing with chard, kale, lettuce, beans, as well as many colorful flowers–perhaps the long winters explain the brief explosion of color…

Tomorrow we have a short three hour day, though straight up the valley wall, to a car-less village and hopefully a trip up the Schilthorn…

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a walk thru the alps day 4: der nordwand

Day 4: Meiringen to Grindelwald
Distance: 21 km (plus 2 miles to the hostel)
Elevation:
Eats: bread, yogurt, hard cheese, coffee, apple, banana, chocolate, bread, cheese, pizza, rosti

Today began a dreicht Swiss day. With full raingear on, we started up the five hour ascent to Grosse Scheidegg, where we enjoyed a celebratory apple strudel with vanilla cream sauce. The up was far better than the down, which was a punishing 3 hours of fairly steep descent. A definite highlight–a black shale steep canyon with a rushing river below.

A few other Swiss impressions:
-the are cows everywhere. Thus the cheese.
-because of the cows, there are turnstiles in the fences to let you pass but not the bovine
-the Swiss seem to be big fans of the seesaw/teeter totter. They are everywhere
-we met a young Swiss wood carver today–it’s a four year apprenticeship program to become a professional wood carver. I’ve never met a wood carver before
-rosti is amazing. Picture a giant hash brown with cheese fried on top of it, topped with half a pig’s worth of bacon and cocktail onion sweet pickle garnish

Another highlight of today is being in the shadow of the Eiger. The Eiger’s North Face is legendary in the mountaineering community. There is also a railroad that runs through the mountain. We’d tell you what it’s like but it costs 210 Swiss Francs, which with the current status of the dollar is pushing $300. Instead we’re planning on heading up the Schilthorn, which has a rotating restaurant featured in the James Bond movie Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It also apparently has a stunning panoramic view. 20110807-092301.jpg

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a walk thru the alps: day 1 Attinghausen to Engelberg

Day: 1
Distance: 16+ miles
Eats: Nutella, bread, cheese, coffee, bread, cheese, salami, broccoli soup, beer, spaghetti, salad, chocolate, chocolate

After a few missed train and an express train that took us almost to Italy, Kim, Katy, Courtney and I made it Wednesday night to Attinghausen where we began our two week hiking adventure through the Swiss Alps.

First impressions?
-The Swiss have amazingly clean bathrooms.
-The Alps are gorgeous–imagine Yosemite, factorial
-It’s fun to hike amongst friendly Europeans
-Gifts of free Swiss chocolate by a group staying at our hostel = yummy
-Valley of multiple waterfalls = beautiful
-Getting to sleep each night inside on a bed (instead of on air mattress in a tent) could be habit forming.
-Ditto above re: ability to shower daily
-Ditto above re: alpine huts for lunch stop of hot soup, beer, bread, cheese and processed meat served by cute Swiss mountain man

The one downside of the day: we were not able to go to Europe’s tallest karaoke bar on the top of Mt. Titles. There’s always next time…

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place

How do you experience a place? An esoteric question? Perhaps to those who sit at home. But it is a very real question to those who would venture out to travel the world.

When I was in college I took my first trip ‘across the pond’ to visit a friend who was working as an au pair in Switzerland. Not only was it my first time stepping foot off the North American continent (I had grown up visiting my grandmother who lived in Mexico so travel was hardly a foreign concept) but it was also the first non-family, non-youth group expedition. With my brand new guide book in hand, a camera and a few rolls of film (yes, I am old enough to have used film in college) I was prepared. The only problem was, I did not know what to do. So I diligently searched for every item pictured in the guidebook and tried to copy them as best I could with my own camera.
More than a decade and 25 countries later I have overcome this awkwardness in being a tourist, but I still am left to wonder—how does someone truly experience a place?
The question has arisen once again as I am the only under 50 member of a barge cruise up the Rhine 295130928_hsuL3-Mriver. Each day brings a new town and with it the question. For the retiree crowd at least, it seems that the way to experience a place is to go on a walking tour, complete with headsets that allow an all-knowing guide to regurgitate his knowledge something like a mother bird feeding her young. The point is information—to be informed about the place is to experience it. When was that cathedral built? What is the significance of the statue on its spire? Who founded this city and how many years ago did it happen?
Perhaps its not entirely the retirees fault. The guidebooks and tour companies must shoulder some of the blame for the misperception that information somehow equals experience. Its not altogether surprising in the midst of a consumer culture. To experience a place must be to consume it in some way, mustn’t it? What better way to conquer a locale than to know its important facts and figures? Cologne? It’s the fourth largest city in Germany. It’s cathedral is the largest in Germany and in the top five largest in the world. It sits along the Rhine river. Check. Next?
But what if there were something more? Shouldn’t there be? Is that the big secret surrounding travel, that it is little more than being able to check places off a list or add them to your countries visited map on facebook?
Today we stopped at a town called Koblenz. It is a small, ‘cute’ German town along the Rhine, at the intersection with the Mosel River. The optional excursion was to tour a castle. I chose to opt out and instead found myself sitting at an outdoor café, sipping a cappuccino, and reading the English language International Herald Tribune. The sun was warm but not too hot, the sky blue, the apple strudel delicious. To be honest, I felt a bit guilty for opting out of the castle tour, where all of my group of retirees were to be found. But I was absolutely content to sip my coffee and enjoy the town square from my seated vantage point. After taking the last sip I got up and walked around town a bit, even doing some shopping along the way, and arrived back to the barge just as the buses were dropping off the castle-goers.
As I boarded the boat I was chastized by the tour guide. “You missed out!” she accused. But I’m not convinced. Granted, I did not spend 33 Euro to have a guided tour of a bunch of old stones on a hillside. I’m sure it was interesting—I’m not arguing with that. But what I wonder is, can simply enjoying being in a place count as experiencing it? Or, to put it more directly, can I travel without a guide book and without an ‘expert’ informing me and still consider it worthwhile? It’s not that I will never visit another museum or photograph another landmark. I’ll probably just make sure to do it after having coffee and reading the morning paper along the town square.