Out of all the journeys we have undertaken, Switzerland is the only one which has racked up over 1,000 images on the memory stick. Whilst I love taking photos, sifting through them is not my favourite past time. I am anything but ruthless when it comes to discarding pictures.
Some people hoard belongings, I hoard images.
Switzerland is a delight to all senses, but most of all your eyes. Even I was shocked at the raw beauty when I finally sat down to select pictures for this post. I had to have my more-ruthless-other-half moderate when I couldn’t cull below 70! What am I trying to say? I suppose Switzerland is a story is better told in images. So I will try to accompany them with a few words.
Trying to select a destination in Switzerland is a win-win situation. Everywhere is beautiful. I simply chose the Lauterbrunnen Valley due to the possibility to visit Jungfraujoch (the highest point in Europe), and to stay in a car-free village – Wengen. Switzerland is prohibitively expensive and thus we travelled in Joel’s late October half term when everything is half price. The downside is that it is the end of the season, chairlifts are shutting down, mountain huts are closing, some villages are ghost-towns, and the already-unpredictable weather becomes even more unpredictable! The only reason why we had such a glorious time is that we lucked it in on a huge scale with back-to-back sunny days and warm temperatures, causing us to hike at high altitude with only t-shirts. The trees in the valley were turning all shades of warm golden colours, lilting red hues, vibrant oranges and smiling yellows. Having said all this, I would not choose to travel at this time of year again, as one can not have such good luck twice! The disbelief over the ‘Indian Summer in the Alps’ (as coined by the locals) was too convincing for me! Having now lived in Europe over 4 years, I look back at our early choices of destinations in the most untimely of seasons, and can only smile at our utter good fortune!
We flew into Zurich and caught a train (which of course was timed with precision, the swiss way) into Interlarken. If the journey wasn’t beautiful enough, disembarking in Interlarken was! We stashed our luggage at the station in order to get straight up into the mountains. Up the Harder Kulm cable car the vistas over Interlarken were flabbergasting. The baby-blue lakes of Brienzersee & Thunersee gazed up at us, and I could have studied the horizon line full of mountains for hours. We downed our first mountain beverage in celebration and giddy with anticipation we trekked a few hours back down to Interlarken to board our train up the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Nightfall was fast upon us as we switched to the only access point to our home base for the next few days – the magical train to Wengen. It feels like you are on one of those courtesy trains which might take you from one end of the shopping mall to the next… with the slight difference that you are winding your way up into mountain territory so spellbinding you really do feel as though you are in a whimsical novel. Disembarking in Wengen with the moon casting shadows over the mountain vista, was a moment to be remembered.
It was with bright and cheery hearts that we awoke after our first morning in our personal paradise. As it was the closing day for the “First” cablecar in Grindelwald, therefore we set our compass in this direction. As with all things in Switzerland, the journey there is just as enjoyable as the end destination. Staring out the cablecar windows (you know you’re in Switzerland as the windows are nicely polished) we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we were not dreaming. I am sitting here in frustration because I am fighting the inability to describe the beauty, alongside an insatiable yearning to return! First is a minor summit on the slopes of the Schwarzhorn, and with the legwork taken care of for you, the stunning Bachalpsee is within easy reach. There was a moment whilst gazing at this sublimely positioned lake, where there was perfect stillness. The peaks in the distance multiplied as they were mirrored in the calm water. I wondered if anyone could ever find a place more perfect if they searched a million years.
Not ones to linger when there are mountains to be explored, we embarked on an ambitious circuit of surrounding peaks, our pure awe and wonder providing the fuel for our weary legs. I was suddenly acutely aware that I was but a speck on this earth and I marvelled at the opportunity to live and breathe. Pondering pushed aside, another mountain beverage ensued. This was an interesting choice, given we had an ascent of 400m over a narrow mountain path to make in under an hour in order to catch the final cable car down!
Joel and I have an equal love for the mountains although slight differences when it comes to preferences on how we spend our time. Joel gains his thrills by standing on peaks, no matter how barren and rocky. I adore the culture of the mountains, the pastures, the farming, the way of life, the greenery and wild creatures. This is why walking along the Lauterbrunnen Valley floor ticked all my boxes. In the Springtime the snowmelt forges 72 waterfalls thundering over the steep valley walls. In the autumn many waterfalls were lingering, and oh my were they ever glorious! Set against the vibrant falling leaves with dappled sunlight filtering through, the music of cowbells echoing along the valley floor and the wooden farmhouses with their manicured gardenbeds – I promptly turned to Joel and enquired about whether my British passport would also allow us to move here!
Once we reached the end of the valley we caught the cablecar up to another car-free village called Murren and gazed at the silhouette of the Eiger north face (where the inspiration of the brand ‘The North Face’ comes from). Up amongst the mountains a crazy urge to paraglide came over us. I have always wanted to try it and figured there would never be a more beautiful place to start! I begged the lady behind the counter to fit us in today and bless her heart she squeezed us in, convincing the guides that we were two fit young aussies who could run like the wind! Little did we know, we would have to! Waiting at the cable car, the guides decided that we fit the description and that they were bored of routinely jumping off the cliff at Murren and would prefer to go higher. At no extra cost to us they covered our cable car tickets and we were bound towards the Schilthorn. People who care about James Bond will probably recognise this structure at 2970m. We exited the cable car the station below and found they were not kidding when they assessed us as ‘runners’. We had to beat the changing wind that comes with dusk and before we could blink we were running straight off a cliff into the best seat you could ever have in the alps. To date, this is probably one of the highlights of my life. We soared over the terrace of Murren, wheeling and winding our way up against the sheer cliffs of the Valley. All the while the view was like a computer screensaver. I greedily drank in the white capped peaks of the magnificent swiss mountains until my feet were once more on firm ground. We were on a literal high for days. Sure beat the cable car down that’s for sure!
We had to experience on foot what we had seen from the air the previous day – the mighty Jungfraujoch. The train there is almost worth the journey in itself. How they constructed this railway line to the top of Europe is an absolute feat of engineering second to none! Although you can see why, the vastness of standing atop a glacier as the sun rises is unsurpassed. We intended to stay only a short while but upon learning we could trek the head of the glacier, we were sold. Walking through snow at high altitude is exerting but as we ate our lunch in the middle of this hostile wilderness, we did not regret it.
With only a few hours of daylight left we opted to walk from Kleine Scheidegg (which we loved pronouncing with a harsh german accent!) back down to Wengen. This also proved an excellent decision as we wove our way down the cliffs of the valley past picturesque farmhouses, watching the soft light illuminate the pine trees until Wengen edged into view.
Both Joel and I were mystified by a dense cloud that snaked its way up the Lauterbrunnen Valley and to our doorstep the following morning. It gave Wengen a surreal feeling nestled into the side of the mountain on its little perch. The previous evening we had watched a documentary on the Eiger North Face and thus had renewed respect and enthusiasm for this most coveted climbing peak. Boots were laced up once more and we followed the shadow of the Eiger, imagining the nervous anticipation of hundreds of climbers as they prepare to attempt the peak in the prime season each year. At such altitude the mist from the valley did not reach us. It was equivalent to being on a plane and breaking through the clouds to the sunshine which reliably shines every day, except our plane was a mountain.
If I could repeat these days over and over I would, but sadly life has a habit of moving on, and us with it. Luckily our mountain adventures were not over yet, so join us for the next blog on Zermatt, coming soon!