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Published: October 3rd 2016
The first morning at the hotel was amazing as we looked out our window, seeing the Lauterbrunnen valley, sheer cliffs, and Staubach waterfall so clearly it seemed able to reach out and touch them. This valley was stunning. As a Californian, I feel guilty in saying it, but the area was more spectacular in many ways than Yosemite Valley. The sheer cliffs were not as high, but the surrounding mountains were much higher.
We had two main goals in the Bernese Oberland, as the region is called: the Jungfraujoch and the Schilthorn. When we went would depend on the weather. Fortunately the first two days were to be beautiful. We first headed to the Jungfraujoch, taking two different cog railways. The train station was a very short walk from the hotel, making most journeys easy. The second cog railway was almost completely in a tunnel behind the face of the Eiger, going up to over 11,000 feet elevation, weather perfectly clear, right at freezing. The top is built into the hillside, with a restaurant, an ice tunnel with multiple ice carvings, “the highest elevation Swiss watch shop in the world”, and a display of how Lindt chocolates are made. The display was very interesting technologically. One display was a large book of a few pages, held to the table, and when you flipped the pages, a projector would add motion pictures to the page and the background display also changed accordingly. And there was a very three dimensional view of a chocolatier making different confections: the image was projected onto an otherwise transparent screen, so the image was in the middle of the room, like a hologram effect. Going outside there was a play area where you could buy a very short ski run, or ski bike, or inner tube run, or sled, etc. There was also a zip line with an ending landing on your back sliding in the snow. We did not do any of it, but walked outside to see it. The main attraction was taking an elevator up quite a ways to a meteorological, climatology research station just below the Jungfrau and overlooking a major glacier. We look forward to seeing the pictures when we get home. We got back to the hotel just in time for our dinner reservation, having had another wonderful day.
The next day was Gary’s birthday, and he chose to have dinner in the rotating restaurant at the top of the Schilthorn. The restaurant doesn’t serve dinner, there were no reservations for lunch, and it looked very cloudy and foggy at the top. No matter, we had an impressive pair of cable car rides, with a short train and a walk through the carless tourist village of Murren. The cable car had a capacity of about 100 persons and was (maybe still is) the longest cable car run in the world. It had snowed some the night before but did not stick. The Schilthorn peak was below the level of continous snow, unlike the Jungfraujoch. The main “attraction” at the top is information about filming the James Bond “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” there. The restaurant was unfinished, and the movie makers paid for completing it, so the movie was important to it still, today. The “museum” was actually quite interesting. The skys did occasionally clear to see some mountain peaks. We did sit in the restaurant, said to be the first rotating restaurant in the world. (But wasn’t the Seattle Space Needle finished in 1963?) The meal was a buffet and rather disorganized and hectic - and crowded - largely because we didn’t know the routine. Well, all part of the experience! Gary was happy with his birthday. On the way down, we stopped at he Birg station to take the catwalk cantilevered out of the cliff side.Not a good place for acrophobes, but we found it a piece of cake. We also looked at the village of Gimmelwald, highly recommended by Rick Steves, but we thought it way too quiet. We did investigate staying there, but all five (or so) rooms with ensuite bath were taken. We decided we were much happier in Lauterbrunnen.
Our last day in Lauterbrunnen we took it easier. The highlight was Trummelbach Falls where the creek that drains the Eiger, the Jungfrau, and the Monsch peaks has carved a narrow cleft in the cliff. An elevator went halfway up, then stone steps cut inside the rock took us to ten different waterfalls of the same stream. After climbing up the upper half, we walked down the entire height. We had a picnic lunch by the side of the river, then Gary used the local coin laundry while Madalyn did some preparation for her Dream Tending Workshop.That night it rained fairly hard for a bit and we got to use our umbrellas for the first time, walking back from dinner. We frequently commented that if we returned we would want to do a lot of hiking.
Our final day in the Alps was driving to Ascona on Lake Maggiore. We asked at the desk for their recommendation of route, to take the “scenic” route over the Sustenpass, about 7,000 feet, or play it safe going the longer way around and taking the very long tunnels through the Alps. We were concerned for rain or snow on a very twisty road. We were advised a third way over the Furkapass and Gletchpass, reaching 9,000 feet. We went for it and more spectacular views at the summits. To our surprise and delight, the route approaching the Furkapass included what might be the very well known set of switchbacks down into a valley and more back out. At the top we entered the Canton of Uri and the road suddenly got much narrower with no real guardrail at the steep drop below. Gary had his most challenging drive and was very glad to get to the bottom and the major highway that existed before the autobahn tunnel was cut underneath Gotthard Pass. Reaching the autobahn itself was quite a relief. We found our way into Ascona following the well-marked signs, were let into the pedestrian zone to get to the hotel, and happily found our home for the next four days at the Hotel Tomaro.
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