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Published: August 2nd 2009
Switzerland is a small country in terms of size but it packs in a lot of natural beauty in that small size. Go anywhere in Switzerland and you will find picturesque landscape. As a tourist, you cannot go wrong in Switzerland irrespective of where you decide to go. This is what I had read in travel forums and one or two guide books that I could lay my hands on. Lake Lucerne area, Bernese Oberland region and the Swiss Riviera towns of Lake Geneva sounded like good bets for a first trip to Switzerland. I stayed for 3 nights in Lucerne, 4 nights in Murren, a village in the Alps and just a couple of nights near Lake Geneva.
After soaking in the scenic views of the landscape around Lake Lucerne, I headed towards the Bernese Oberland region. Bernese Oberland is the Mecca of summer tourism in Switzerland. Named after the capital city of Bern, Bernese Oberland region has everything that tourists associate with Switzerland. The snow covered alpine peaks, green rolling hills, glaciers and turquoise lakes make tourists flock to this region in the summer. Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are the two main lakes in the region. Interlaken
is a touristy town nestled between these two lakes.
From Lucerne, I took the scenic Golden Pass panoramic train to Interlaken. The train has large windows. The top half of the window can be rolled down. The train was almost empty! I stood up most of the way, sticking my neck out of the window. Nice scenery along the way. From Interlaken, I took a train to the valley town of Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is surrounded on two sides by high walls of granite. The view of Lauterbrunnen valley reminded me of Yosemite Valley in California. From Lauterbrunnen train station, I took a cable car to Grutschalp. From Grutschalp, a train ride took me to Murren, a small alpine village perched high on the mountain. Murren offers excellent views of the big three mountains in that area: Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. There is no paved road leading to Murren.
I stayed in Chalet Fontana in Murren. Denise, a nice English lady, is the owner of the Chalet. She gave me a mountain view room for the first couple of days. Nice inexpensive chalet. There was a Coop nearby. Migros and Coop, Swiss grocery store chains, were the mainstay of
Lucerne to Interlaken train trip
my food supplies! I could get relatively inexpensive sandwiches, other food supplies, and of course Swiss chocolates from these stores.
I woke up the next day at 5 am and looked out of my window. Wow, what a view. The peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, covered with some snow, were clear of clouds. I took 5:15am early morning walk, something I can do only when I am in a tourist mode!
My first trip from Murren was to Jungfraujoch. Jungfraujoch is the highest train station in Europe. It offers stunning vista of the Swiss Alps and is considered to be one of the highlights of a trip to Switzerland. Snow is present here all through the year. The journey to the top took almost 2 hrs. I took a train from Murren to Grutschalp. From Grutschalp the cable car took me to Lauterbrunnen train station. From Lauterbrunnen, I took another train to a tiny village called Kleine Scheidegg. From Kleine Scheidegg, I boarded another train to the Top of the Europe station. It is a touristy spot even though it is sitting on top of a mountain. Here you will see restaurants, gift shops and of course
breathtaking views of the snow covered Alps. The sun was out and I was not carrying sunglasses. I had to go down and buy one! There is an Indian restaurant on the top called Bollywood Restaurant. It was full of Indian tourists. There was no table free and the wait was long. I just settled for a couple of boring sandwiches.
After soaking in the view of the snow covered Alps from all vantage points and after walking through the cool ice cave, I went down and started walking on snow. I had seen some people hiking on the snow. Their destination was not visible from the top. I thought they were hiking to Aletsch glacier which is the longest glacier in Europe and is visible from Jungfraujoch. I got curious and followed those hikers. But it started snowing. It was almost July and it was snowing! Nice. I labored on and reached a building where the snow trail seemed to end. I thought it will lead me to some glacier views. But that was not the case. Anyway, the sun came out after some thunderstorms and made the views glorious.
After reaching Kleine Scheidegg on the way
back, I thought I could do the Kleine Scheidegg to Mannlichen hike that day. This hike is more of a walk and is famous for the view it offers. I was told by a shop owner that I did not have enough time as the last train leaves Kleine Scheidegg well before 7pm. In the evening, I walked around Lauterbrunnen, a village sitting on a valley.
Next day, it was time to go to Schilthorn. Schilthorn is famous as a 1960s James Bond movie was filmed here. It is also famous for providing excellent view of the alpine mountains. The cable car station was only 5 min walk from my chalet. I did not see any clouds near the top but there were clouds nearby. I took the 8:40am cable car. From the cable car I could see the clouds making their way to the Schilthorn. Cable car ride to Schilthorn is a long one and by the time I reached the top, the clouds had already reached there! The side of the Schilthorn with the view of Jungfrau and other mountain peaks was fogged out. I stayed at the top for about an hour hoping that the clouds
a view from Murren
the village where I stayed
would move away. But clouds too love the mountains and they continued to roll in.
On the top, one Asian guy reached me and told me that somebody had stolen his camera that he had put on top of a table outside! Switzerland and theft and that too at the top of a mountain where there was no place to escape; it did not sound right. I asked him to check inside the gift shop. He came outside delighted, saying that he had found the camera!
Later in the day, I did the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike. To reach Mannlichen, I had to reach Wengen, a village that sits opposite to Murren on the other side of Lauterbrunnen valley. From Wengen, I took a gondola ride to Mannlichen and then walked down to Kleine Scheidegg. It is an easy walk with some good views of the mountains. Some patches of snow on the hills were still melting.
I had to buy a memory card for my camera as I had already used up my cards. That warranted a trip to Interlaken. It rained a bit. Interlaken is a nice touristy town that has lot more shops, hotels
and restaurants than a typical mountain village like Murren or Lauterbrunnen. Interlaken is also a hub for activities like Paragliding, skydiving. I talked to a roadside Paragliding vendor for a while. He was trying to sell paragliding jump for about 160 francs. These jumps last about 15-20 min. I had seen many hang-gliders and Para gliders soaring over the Alps and jumping down the valley from a mountain top. The thought of a paragliding jump was tempting but I would have had to spend a few hours just for a 20 min jump since my village was a bit far from Interlaken. And paragliding is something that is dependent on the weather. I just gave it a pass.
Next day, I did the hike to the beautiful Lake Bachalpsee. It is another well known easy hike in the Jungfrau region. For the hike, I had to reach a village called Grindelwald. From Grindelwald, I took gondola ride to a small place called First. From First, I did the walk to the lake. The landscape is lush green with patches of wildflowers interspersed all around. One the way back to Lauterbrunnen, I tried the newly installed zip line ride from
First. Well it did not even last 30 seconds!
I had some time left in the day after the hike. So I hopped on a train and reached the Swiss capital Bern. The last cable car from Lauterbrunnen to Grutschalp is at 8:30pm. So I had to reach Lauterbrunnen by that time. That gave me just about a couple of hrs in Bern. The old town of Bern is architecturally beautiful and is a UNESCO world heritage site. A river runs through the city. From the bridge over the river, I looked down and saw a couple of guys being swept away by the river current! I had seen it on TV and it is something peculiar to Bern, I guess. Some people just jump into the river and get carried away by its current! One way to have some fun in summer in Bern. 2 hours was barely enough time to see this beautiful town. I wish I had more time for it.
I returned to Murren. It was my last day in the area. Next day, I had to take the Golden Pass panoramic train to the city of Montreux.
Murren turned out to be
a good choice for a stay in the Bernese Oberland region. The village of Wengen, which is slightly bigger than Murren and which sits on the other side of the Lauterbrunnen valley, is another good option. Murren offered good mountain views in the morning when the sky was clear of clouds. I woke up early on all fours days I stayed there so that I could see the cloudless Jungfrau peaks. By the time it was 10am, the clouds wake up and begin their march to these peaks where they try to reside for the rest of the day!!
Three and half days were not going to be enough time to explore the Jungfrau mountains or the Swiss Alps but I did get a nice introduction to the magnificent Swiss Alps.
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