Swiss Heartland Untour - May 6 to June 4, 2014
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Despite going to bed very late, we were both up at 5:25am. When daylight arrived, the skies were clear. This was our chance. We decided to make another attempt to walk the Grandmother's Walk, one of the most famous footpaths in the Alps. It begins high above Wengen at Mannlichen and extends about 3 miles to Kleine Scheidegg. The path is relatively level with awesome views of the Jungfrau Region and the Lauterbrunnen Valley. It normally does not open until mid-June. However, this year it was scheduled to open May 17. We had made an attempt the previous week on May 21. But the opening was delayed to May 24, probably due to the wet weather. Our previous trips in 2002 and 2004 were too early in the season for this walk. Up until now, all we had ever seen of the walk were photos. This time we wanted to experience it.
At 6:33am we had a quick breakfast of fresh fruit (strawberries, pineapple and peach chunks), a hard-boiled egg, orange juice and coffee. I poured the left over coffee in one of the uninsulated metal water bottles and wrapped it in insulating napkins secured with a rubber band. Then I realized that I didn't have the chalet key. I wondered if I had left it in the outer door lock from the previous night's late return. Yes! There it was. Apparently I was distracted last night with the rush to unlock the door to turn on the exterior light for Eleanor. Or maybe it was the schnapps.
Around 6:38am I emptied our compost materials in the bin by the garden, and deposited a bag of garbage at the designated spot by the barn. On the way back, I had to take another photo of the poppies by the vegetable garden. They were like little beacons of sunlight, even on overcast, rainy days.
We left for the train station at 6:55am. It was too late to take the 6:28am train. So the plan was to catch the next train at 7:28am. Every time I walked down the path from our chalet, I looked at a boulder labelled "1866 Heinrich Federer 1928" and wondered who this person was that had the honor of being memorialized with bronze letters and numbers on a lone boulder on the edge of a school yard. I should have asked the Britschgi family at dinner the previous night. Back in the States, I Googled this person. It turns out that Heinrich Federer was a priest, who had to retire due to asthma. He then became a journalist, writer and poet.
Eleanor managed to grab 2 apples to eat on the walk. There wasn't enough time to make a picnic lunch. On the way to the train station the Wetter-Station showed a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). It was supposed to be a nice day.
The 7:28am train would take us to Lauterbrunnen Ost, arriving at 8:55am. There we would switch to the 9:05 train to Lauterbrunnen, arriving at 9:25am. In Lauterbrunnen, the 9:37am would deposit us in Wengen at 9:51am.
Since our last trip in 2004, the Sachseln train station was improved with the installation of an elevator and passage way under the tracks to get to the other side. This made it a lot easier anyone with mobility problems, especially with regard to a wheelchair. The trains are equipped with cars that are especially designed to accommodate the handicapped.
While on the train, Eleanor remembered a story Franz told us during dinner on the subject of genealogy. There was this lady who had married a Britschgi. While in Luzern, it was necessary for her to show her papers. Someone recognized the name, and said that the Britschgi family lived not too far away. She boarded a train, and just happened get off in Sachseln. One of the railroad staff at the station said "Yes" she knew where the Britschgi's lived. She closed the station, and walked her to the house. The woman knocked, and Franz answered the door. He had no idea who this lady was. At first, he thought she might have been from Untours. Eventually, he learned the reason for her visit. Eleanor forgot to ask Franz where the woman lived. The rest of the story is missing from the journal. That must have been when Eleanor had her second glass of schnapps. Eleanor seemed to remember that Franz said that the Britschgi family had settled in this area over 500 years ago, Eleanor: "At least I think it was that long."
As we approached Interlaken Ost, the Brienzesee passed us by.
Once in Interlaken Ost, we made it from Track 4 to Track 2 easily. The passengers were disembarking from the Lauterbrunnen train that just arrived at Track 2. We had no trouble boarding. As we sat waiting for the train to leave, more and more Indian tourists boarded. There was a lot of loud talking on board once the train departed for Lauterbrunnen. In Lauterbrunnen, our train to Wengen was only a few steps away and free with our Swiss Rail Pass. Many from our train got on the Wengen train. Most of them were probably continuing on to Kleine Scheidegg and the Jungfraujoch. The trip to Jungfraujoch is very expensive. Two tickets to the Jungfraujoch in 2004 cost us 210CHF ($186 U.S. dollars). However, at an altitude of 11,782 feet, the place called "Top of Europe" is a once in a lifetime experience. Back in 2004, as we sat down for lunch in the restaurant, Eleanor sent me downstairs to the gift shop for a postcard. I ran down two flights of stairs and back up without thinking of the consequences. It took about 20 minutes to get my breath back due to the thin air. The outside terrace area was soon engulfed in a cloud, creating "whiteout" conditions. We eventually had to leave due to headaches caused by the high altitude.
The Jungfraujoch, April 16, 2004
However, that was 2004. The Jungfraujoch wasn't on our schedule this trip. On the train to Wengen, the crowd of Indian tourists continued speaking very loudly, then added music loud enough for everyone on the train to hear. We were thankful NOT to be going to the Jungfraujoch that day.
Once we got our bearings in Wengen, we started to walk in the direction of the lift station. It was a beautiful day for a walk in the clouds.
Our hearts sank when we read the orange sign on the door to the lift station. Due to maintenance, the lift wouldn't be open until May 28th. We were scheduled to be in Zermatt May 28 and 29. That left very few days to try again, especially if the weather didn't cooperate. We knew that our chance to walk the Grandmother's Walk pretty much evaporated with that orange sign. Maybe it was never meant to be. Or maybe we are destined to return some day. Maybe this won't be the last time we live in Switzerland.
The backup plan was to take the train back down to Lauterbrunnen, then the cable car up to Grütschalp on the other side of the valley. There, the Grandfather's Walk would take us into Mürren, a distance of 4 miles. With the wheelchair, it seemed feasible. If we got tired, we could board the train at the half-way point in Winteregg, and continue on into Mürren. This walk offers a grand panoramic view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, and was a great consolation to sooth our disappointment of failing to walk the Grandmother's walk. We had attempted the Grandfather's Walk in 2004, but it was covered in snow. So this would be a new experience for us.
At 10:09am, on the way back to the Wengen train station, we stopped at a bakery and purchased 5 pastries (the last 3 apfelstrudels and the last 2 mandelgipfeln), which cost a total of 11.50CHF ($12.88 U.S. dollars). I drooled at the sight of Schwarzwälder (Black Forest cake). But whipped cream would not survive the rest of the day without refrigeration, another disappointment.
I have nothing against Indian or Chinese tourists. But they travel in such large groups that manners and courtesy fall by the wayside, and the mindset changes to "every man for himself." When the train to Lauterbrunnen arrived, disembarking passengers had to weave their way around on-boarding Chinese tourists who didn't use good manners to wait until the exiting passengers were all off. Their goal was to rush on and grab a seat before anyone else.
The train to Lauterbrunnen departed at 10:33am. We hadn't eaten anything since our meager quick breakfast 4 hours previous. So when we arrived in Lauterbrunnen at 10:51am, our minds and stomachs had turned to dreams of lunch. The decision was to walk into Lauterbrunnen and have lunch at Hotel Oberland. We had lunch there in 2004, and enjoyed it immensely. The restaurant didn't open until 11:30am. When we arrived at 11:10am, the waitress said that we could sit at a table outside until they opened. So Eleanor sat at a table and read her Kindle, while I took a walk down the road for some possible photos of a nearby waterfall.
It was a good thing we arrived there early. One section of the porch was reserved for 13-14 people. By 11:45am all but two of the outside tables were taken. Those two tables were open only because the occupants decided to move inside.
We both had Oberland Rösti (Rösti with fried pieces of bacon, and onion topped with Swiss cheese and a fried egg) - 22CHF ($24.64 U.S. dollars).
The menu contained an explanation of Rösti:
"Pronounced roesti, Rösti (sometimes spelled Röschti) is a potato dish from Switzerland. It was originally a common breakfast dish eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but today is eaten all over Switzerland. Many Swiss people consider Rösti a national dish. Although the basic Rösti consists of nothing but potato, fried in butter or dripping, a number of additional ingredients are sometimes added, such as bacon, onions, cheese, apples or fresh herbs."
For drinks, our choice was two glasses of Schneider Weisse beer at a cost of 4.50CHF (Eleanor) and 6CHF (Bill).
The last time we ate at this restaurant in 2004, we saw a steady flow of apfelstrudel dishes being served. By the time we ordered dessert, there was only one apfelstrudel left. To avoid this from happening again on this trip, we reserved two apfelstrudels when we ordered the Rösti.
The apfelstrudel with whipped cream and ice cream was delicious. The cost was 8.40CHF ($9.40U.S. dollars) each.
We finished our dessert at 12:47pm. The total bill (including a small extra tip) came to 74.10CHF ($82.99 U.S. dollars).
After lunch we slowly walked to the Grütschalp cable car station, arriving there at 1:30pm. The ride up to Grütschalp was free with our Swiss Rail Pass. Due to the wheelchair, we were led to the front of the line for the cable car, by M. Zkaska from Tunisia. He has been the cable car operator since 2006. Before that he operated the Grütschalp funicular. Once we arrived at Grütschalp, he allowed me to take his photo. He probably does not get any requests from tourists to have his photo taken. I'll bet he rarely has a conversation with any of the passengers....until Eleanor from New Jersey, U.S.A. showed up.
At Grütschalp, most of the passengers hopped on the train to Mürren. The rest were there for the hike. I took a few photos before beginning the walk. A young couple with a baby stopped to change the baby's diaper. Even though we had the wheelchair with us, Eleanor wanted to try walking the entire length of the Grandfather's walk. So she started making her way up the steep path, which was not easy in view if the gravelly surface. Having a handrail there was helpful. The time was 1:51pm.
The Wanderweg sign indicated that the walk to Mürren would take 1 hour 10 minutes for the average person. That didn't apply to us. We would be stopping frequently for photos and to rest Eleanor.
Eleanor stopped at the top, where the surface leveled off, and waited for me. I began to take a photo of Eleanor just as the young couple with baby caught up to us. The young mother offered to take a photo of the two of us. We agreed. She took a number of photos at different angles and compositions. That is what an experienced photographer would do. They didn't have a camera visible. Otherwise I would have offered to return the favor. We thanked them as they continued on their way.
Ten minutes into the walk I stooped down to take a closeup of a wildflower. Within seconds two little dogs were jumping all over me trying to lick my face. They were obviously puppies. I laughed and gave them some love, after which, they moved on with their owner, looking for their next victim. After the excitement, I managed to capture a closeup of one of the flowers.
We took it easy, making frequent stops for Eleanor to rest while I took photos.
The vast majority of hikers were moving in the opposite direction (Murren to Grutschalp). At 2:32pm we stopped to rest on a bench. A young lady passing by noticed me taking a photo of Eleanor on the bench, and offered to take a photo of the two of us. I set my Canon ELPH 300HS for fill flash due to the bright sunshine, and handed her the camera. She took a number of nice photos. We were pleased with the results, and told her that we appreciated it very much. Photos of the two of us are a bit of a rarity. It require setting up the tripod, which is a bit of a time consuming affair.
One of my favorite photos is the one I took of Eleanor admiring the mountain view at a beautiful spot on the Grandfather's Walk.
The fields of wildflowers were particularly eye catching. I tried to capture their beauty with my camera. However, the resulting photos didn't even come close. It felt to me like a beautiful painting that I could never duplicate.
We finally arrived in Winteregg at 3:40pm. The temperature was 66 degrees Fahrenheit. The restaurant was closed. The nearby Wanderweg sign indicated that it would only take 40 minutes to walk to Mürren, and that Grütschalp is only 30 minutes away. It took us almost 2 hours to get where we were. We were tired and running out of time. It was disappointing, but Mürren was out of the question. The decision was to take the train back to Grütschalp, and make our way back home to Sachseln.
We crossed over the tracks and walked slowly past the restaurant and down the curving ramp just as the train to Grütschalp was arriving. But it was on the other side of the tracks! The train driver was nice enough to hold up the train to learn where we were heading. We were able to walk across the tracks and get into the front car just behind the driver. "Vielen dank!" (Many thanks!) is what we said to the driver as he helped get Eleanor and the wheelchair on the train.
By 3:53pm we were back in Grütschalp and on the cable car heading back down to Lauterbrunnen. We boarded the train to Interlaken Ost at 4:02pm. Arriving in Interlaken Ost at 4:27pm, we boarded the 4:33pm train to Meiringen. In Meiringen at 5:07pm, we had to wait for the 5:41pm train for the final leg home to Sachseln.
During the Meiringen to Sachseln leg of the journey, we ate one of the pastries purchased in Wengen earlier in the day. We were disappointed. The Wengen pastries tasted "factory made." They weren't as delicious as the Sacheln pastries we were used to.
Across the aisle from us was a young lady with a case on the seat opposite her. It wasn't until the head of a miniature pincher dog popped up that we realized what was in the case. I asked the lady "Wie viel jahren?" (How many years?) and pointed at the dog. The dog was only 11 months old. For that age, it was very well behaved. After looking around, the dog settled back down in his little carrying case and went back to sleep.
At 6:28pm we stepped off the train in Sachseln, and back in the chalet at 6:45pm. Louise left some homemade cake for us at the chalet door. For dinner we had a salad (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper and cheese) with Italian dressing, multi-grain bread and red wine. Some cake was consumed soon after. The thermometer outside our door read 70 degrees Fahrenheit at 8:13pm. After finishing dinner at 8:20pm, I got on the computer and sent Franz Britschgi the following email:
"Dear Britschgi Family:
Thank you everyone for such a fine evening and meal at your home. We apologize for staying very late. We were having too much fun, and forgot the time. The raclette was delicious as well as the ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream. It was good to try the very special schnapps. We were surprised and pleased with the gifts of the Swiss knives. I have attached a photo taken last night.
Bill & Eleanor Kover"
An email was also sent to Francy at Untours. Eleanor forwarded emails from Bob & Doris Miller to Franz Britschgi as well.
We both hit the sack at 9:30pm.
Total distance walked that day: Bill - 5.98 miles, Eleanor - (not recorded, but probably about the same as Bill's)