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!