Friday, July 29, 2011

Interlocken and the Bernese Oberland

The closest mountains to Bern (the Bernese Oberland) are also the most spectacular, and comprise the heart of Switzerland's alpine region.  Do I sound like a tourist guide?  Unfortunately for us, it was cloudy all day and rained at the end.  But we had a marvelous day and spectacular scenery anyway.  And this is a longer post so you may want to get a cup of coffee and put your feet up.

Katherine and I took the 8:34 am train to Interlaken (of course it both left and arrived on time) and were in Interlaken just after 9 am.

Interlaken is a major tourist center and entry point for this alpine region.
We exited the train on the west end of Interlaken and then walked along the main road, and tourist shopping district, to the east end where we caught a train to the next town UP towards the mountains.

Keep your hands inside or you'll lose them at the next pole!
Lauterbrunnen is an incredibly darling town and we were both ready to move there and look for work.  Minimum wage in Switzerland is around 20 CHF (Swiss Franks) per hour - which is what you would need to survive here I think!  This translates to about $24 per hour.  Let's see - that is over three times our minimum wage in the States and the cost of living here is expensive but I don't think it is even double what average costs in the U.S. would be...  No wonder we don't hear anyone complaining and Bern ranks as one of the top ten cities to live in world for quality of life.

And do you have a waterfall as a background in your town?
Katherine got a cup of coffee and a croissant from a Swiss Kiwi - so his English was excellent with a New Zealand accent!  Then we walked a little over an hour up the valley towards a waterfall.

Bridge on trail towards waterfall
You might think this is the gorgeous waterfall we are headed to, but no, this is just one of many that if falling off the shear walls of this valley.  We are headed to a more hidden waterfall.

A private residence with an amazing garden
Many of the "Wanderweg's" (trails) go across private property so you can get up close to many homes, gardens, and farms.  Most of the trail was through meadows and the meadows are rimmed by forest.  We eventually made it to Trummelbachfalle.  The map on the left shows the stops on the walkway/stairs where you can get views of this "hidden" waterfall.  The dotted line shows a shortcut you can take in a gondola-type apparatus that goes up a STEEP track so you don't have to walk up as far.  Then you walk up the rest of the way from there and then down all the way.  It was wild being so close to such a powerful waterfall!

So now you can see just a bit of the power of this waterfall.

The rock walls are polished by the force of the water through this "corkscrew".
You can see a bit of the walk and railing at the bottom of this picture.  It is so impressive that Swiss engineers managed to design, and the workers managed to build, something this close to the waterfall.  I wonder if they built this during winters when the fall must be frozen or much less voluminous anyway, but then how did they get the concrete to set?  It is a conundrum.

Some beautiful harebells growing off the side of the waterfall.
This is looking down valley towards Lauterbrunnen from near the waterfall.
After we finished the waterfall climb, we walked farther up the valley towards our next destination and we could now see where the hidden waterfall was located.

You can see the crack that hides the waterfall!
Our next stop was at the gondola that begins the climb up to Schilthorn, the famous rotating restaurant at the top of a 9,748 ft mountain.  We weren't going all the way up because it was so cloudy we would have paid 98 CHF just to see whiteness, so we decided to go to a lower point.  While we waited for the gondola we talked to two base jumpers from the United States.  They told us this region is the center of base jumping activity.  If you don't know what base jumping is, it is a giant thrill sport where you hurl yourself off a mountain, cliff, bridge or other high spot.  You may need to wear a "bat" suit so you can spread your "wings" to clear obstacles before you free fall and then pull your parachute cord.  I don't have any pictures of the action, but here is one of the base jumpers in the gondola.  He looked so happy I asked if I could put him in this blog!

Happy base jumper before his next jump!
The first gondola takes you to the tiny town of Gimmelwald, and then we transferred to a second gondola that took us to Murren.  All of these towns access ski slopes in the winter and hiking trails in the summer.  There were also mountain bikers on our gondola so they get a lift up, and then go cruising (or screaming) down the trails!

Murren is a quintessentially darling Swiss mountain town.  There were still gorgeous gardens, but not a view of the famed peaks...

There is a mountain back there somewhere!
We walked through Murren and more marvels of Swiss engineering are there to keep transporting people higher and higher into the mountains.  This is a funicular like the one that takes people up the Gurten, the hill in Bern that I posted on earlier.

The tracks split in the middle so the tram going up can meet the tram coming down which helps pull it.  You can barely see the uphill tram coming out of the tunnel to pass this one.
We were both getting a little chilled with all the mist around us, so we headed into a restaurant and got a window seat in case it cleared so we could see a view, and ordered some lunch.  We both had a luscious and hot carrot soup and bread as well as beer.  The beer looks even bigger than it was because of perspective!
Katherine and her bread, carrot soup, and Swiss beer!
We came out to rain, so we headed to the train station, caught a small train that met a gondola that met a train in Lauterbrunnen that took us back to Interlaken.  These connections are built so tightly that we have been on trains that have shared tracks and just passed at the small part where they have created double tracks for passing.  No wonder the Swiss are known for clocks, watches, and perfect timing!

This is the view from the gondola as we returned to Lauterbrunnen.
We walked through Interlocken in the rain and bought a few little treats and tourist items.  Katherine heads back to Flagstaff tomorrow so she was looking for small gifts for friends and family.  This last picture is of the train station in Interlaken.  The slab in front is a large flat structure with water flowing over it.  It was reminiscent of the giant vertical walls of these valleys with their waterfalls coming down.

East train station in Interlaken with massive flat fountain in front
We got back to Bern a little after 9 pm after a long but wonderful day!  Safe travels Katherine!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bern and Bears

Legend has it that Bern was named after the first animal killed in the forests around the city after it was founded in 1191 by Berchtold B. Duke of Zahringen.  The coat of arms, sporting a bear, first appeared in 1224, and there have been live bears kept in Bern since at least the 1440's.

The bears have some wood and meadow habitat and even a portion of the river.
Outside of the bear park there is another hanging metal sculpture - of a bear of course.  And you can find bears in metal, wood, and stone in many places in the city.  Here are a few of the examples.

Plus there is bear beer - and bear restaurants!

So, now that you have heard the romantic story about the bear, I should let you know that some historians believe Bern is named after the Italian city of Verona, which at the time was known as Bern in Middle High German.  I hope that isn't too disappointing for you!

More history, pictures, and adventures to come.  Tomorrow I go to Interlocken with Katherine...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Swimming pools and rubbish bins

After a week of cloudy and rainy weather, the last two days have been almost warm and occasionally even sunny.  Despite being a major fan of water, I haven't gone into the pools or river yet.  But I got close today and took some pictures of the free downtown swimming area right next to the river.

Good eyes can see the air temperature is 15 C / 59 F.  
The water temperature is warmer at 21 C / 70 F!
The Bundeshaus (Parliament Building) is the large building on the hill behind the pool.

There is a diving board and a diving platform.
This one complex has a large swimming pool, a separate diving pool, two large kiddie pools, and a "naturist" area where you can choose to be clothing-optional as they say.  I didn't find that area but I wasn't looking too hard either!

Some people were swimming in the river, but I didn't get any pictures of them.  But I did get a picture of this raft going by.

Looks like so much fun!
So why did I add rubbish bins to this post?  We have been so impressed with how clean Bern is.  There is a street sweeper that goes down our street every Monday.  There are city workers picking up trash all over the city and along the trails.  And note how many rubbish bins they have just in this grassy area by the pool.  With good eyes you should be able to see four bins for every one picnicking group!

Lots of pristine grass with NO litter!
Maybe we could solve our unemployment and litter problem in the United States with some solid Swiss cleanliness hires!  Of course, we would have to increase our public budget for that as I'm sure private enterprise isn't interested in supporting that...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sunday in Murten

It has been great having the INQUA Conference in town as we've been able to see so many people we know from so many different places.  We've seen old friends from Darrell's graduate student days, fellow scientists that do similar work to Darrell, and then foreign students and scientists that had come to Flagstaff to use Darrell's shared-use facility.  It has been really fun!

The conference took a break on Sunday so people could go on excursions in the area.  We decided to go to Murten with Darrell's past student Yarrow and her husband Chris.  They are both professors at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Murten is a small town of 5,000 just 42 minutes east of Bern by train.  My good friend Vera recommended this medieval town.  And our first view was as pleasant as our last - as you will see!

Murten is on a lake with many water activities to enjoy.
Murten has a wall dating from the 1400's that you can walk on around the old town.  The wall and towers must have come in handy during a 13-day siege from the Burgundian Charles the Bold in 1476.  The Bernese force ultimately arrived and reportedly 10,000 people were slaughtered.  And now it seems such a peaceful place!

First view of the castle
Darrell, Chris and Yarrow on the wall.

Classic drinking fountain - still used by thirsty tourists!

Beautiful gate to the city
We wandered on down to the lake, walked along the promenade, and had a picnic of bread, cheese, apples, carrots, and of course, chocolate!

Yarrow, Chris and Darrell at the lake
We saw Hansel's and Gretel's house along the promenade!
Street view of old Murten
We had a wonderful day in Murten.  Now it is Monday, and back to the conference again!  We hope to see a few more friends before they head back to their home countries on Wednesday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gurten or Bust!

After walking for hours yesterday in the rain, and looking at the upcoming forecast of more rain, I decided today was the day to go to the top of Gurten, the local hill that rises over 1000 feet above Bern, whether I would get any views or not!

It is possible to take a tram to the top - but I am too frugal to pay for that when I can still walk.  Of course, the tram passed me on the way up!

The up-tram and down-tram pass each other halfway up the hill.
When I got to the top I climbed this tower - which people who know my fear of heights might be surprised at.  I counted all 122 steps - it was a good way to keep me breathing and getting too scared!

They should have a wind turbine at the top!
I took a few pictures from the top, but the alps were not that clear, so you get a picture of town.

The Bundeshaus (Parliament) is the big building in middle of picture, left of river.
The top of the hill is actually a broad expanse.  They just held a huge music festival there last weekend (see that included three stages plus three dance tents, numerous bars, and a huge camping area.  They were still taking apart all of the temporary construction they had for the festival.

Taking apart a temporary structure

Map shows permanent structures and large park area - note the ski jump on the right side!
It was a lot easier walking down than it had been going up, so I continued walking upriver on the west side of the river where I hadn't walked before.  This is what the trail looks like on both sides of the river. In many places, the river is on one side and a quieter back-channel is on the other.

One of the straighter sections of the trail.   Lots of runners, bikers, and hikers use the trails.
When you get to an intersection, there is often a sign that points people in the right direction - that is if you know where those places are!

Note they give you walking times as well as connecting transportation.  I ended up taking the tram from Muri!
To cross the River Aare so I could get on the "Wanderweg" (trail, I presume) home, I took this lovely wooden bridge.

Pedestrian bridge across River Aare
I started heading back on the other side of the river.  There were large fences and verboten signs around this property.  Notice how there is only one person in the pool!

Lovely pool by the river.  Many pools are free and open to the public, but not this one!
At this point I had been walking for over five hours - not to mention up and down over 1,000 feet - so I finished up by crossing a meadow, being cheered by this cow, and then catching the trolley car home!

Many cows where large bells that ring as they walk!
Teaser for my dad: I am collecting pictures of local plants for an upcoming blog.  They look like ones on Grey Cloud Island to me!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

River Walk

This morning I left Darrell happily getting ready for the upcoming INQUA (International Quaternary Association) meeting which begins tomorrow.

I went to meet Katherine, his hard-working lab manager, at the train station as she arrived for the meeting.  We immediately went out for coffee - who knows what time zone Katherine is on!  But she wanted to stay awake long enough to go for a walk along the river.

After she got settled, we began strolling along the River Aare.  We took one of the many bridges towards the north and then walked along the path you see on the left side of the river below.

While I have seen a few kayakers, this was my first time seeing a wave runner.  The line was attached to a tree far upstream and then she played on waves formed by the current.  It looked like fun!

The trail then went by the nicest looking auto-repair shop I have ever seen.  Pretty much everything here is about as darn attractive as you can imagine!

We rounded the bend and started heading back towards Katherine's place - but not before seeing this wonderful place built right into the river!  Notice the gardens on top.

Okay, that's all for tonight.  This little cowgirl is riding off into the sunset!