I have to say that the mountains and lakes of Switzerland are truly awesome. We’ve spent four days clambering all around the Grindelwald-Interlaken-Zermatt area now, and there’s still a sense of wonder when we see these sheer walls and cliffs rising above us deep into the alpine forest and then above into white-streaked peaks.
When we first headed south of Basel, we encountered the mountains at Interlaken. This picturesque town, which we’d heard of before, is positioned between the lakes (as its name implies) of Faulensee and Breinzersee. Neither are as large as the Great Lakes, but they are pools of that translucent green-blue alpine water which are fringed by dozens of towns and cities along the road. We exchanged at Interlaken Ost, a common station, where we started realizing that we would have to crane our necks upward to see where the mountains ended outside the window. Both of the towns we were visiting (Grindelwald and Zermatt) are located deep in the valleys, so we changed to a local train to Grindelwald, and it was a cog railway which pulled the trains into the mountains. It’s hard to remember, but unlike cars, train wheels have no traction, so they must be pulled up any sort of significant incline. We ascended so quickly I had to pop my ears several times during the next half an hour. We went through a few stations for mountain towns which were small enough to be “stop on request”. Finally, at Grindelwald, we emerged into a misty valley town, wide and verdant, and ringed with mountains on all sides. I think that was the best part of Grindelwald and something I like better than Zermatt – the mountains were very tall on all sides. To our immediate southwest were these three gigantic mountains, the Jungfrau, the Monch, and the Eiger. Their English names are the Maiden, the Monk, and the Ogre – even the mountains here evoke fairytales.
On our first afternoon, we got settled and went for a walk around town in the rain, just looking at the town while walking on the footpaths. The Swiss mark the footpaths with a yellow diamond sign that says “Wanderweg”, which is a lovely word. However, it can mean sometimes semi-muddy footpaths in the grass which have uneven footing. We took this particular wanderweg in a short circle, which ended up at the church in Grindelwald. It seems a custom in that valley to make large stone headstones which are carved elaborately, and then to plant beautiful flowers all over the grave. People seem extraordinarily long-lived in that valley – many gravestones we saw dated from the 1920s or 1930s to the early 2000s. And they had these lovely tended graves which marked where their loved ones laid them to rest. After coming back, we made dinner in the hostel we were staying at, and then went to bed hoping for better weather the next day.
In the list of unexpected things, I have to say that somehow, we didn’t realize we’d be over here with approximately half of Asia. We had started seeing a lot of Asian tourists on the trains as we made our way into Grindelwald, but it truly hit us on the next morning when we made our way to the cable cars. Literally hordes of mainland Chinese tourists were lining up for the cable cars from Grindelwald to First, one of the closest peaks. There were also significant amounts of Cantonese-speakers probably from Hong Kong, some Taiwanese as indicated by their accent, and many, many Japanese and Korean visitors as well. A handful of Indian or Pakistani visitors stood out in fairly traditional garb (at least the women, anyway), looking kind of cold in the damp weather. We managed to get a cable car up with another couple that seemed to be from mainland China, and watched our ascent to First, at 2,168 meters. Below the cable cars on the way up, we saw wanderwegs that other adventurous visitors were on, many mountain huts/ houses, and many, many cows. At first, we heard a lovely cacophony of bells that sounded the most like a Taiwanese temple procession. Both Steve and I couldn’t believe our ears for a moment, but then we figured out that it was coming from a herd of cows which were feeding. Each cow wore a cowbell, and as the mist rolled over them on the mountain, we began to understand why they wore the bells.Continue reading Surrounded by the mountains