Where did I go: Meiringen and Interlaken, Switzerland
When did I go: May 2015
1130: Landed in Zurich. It’s raining.
1215: Having a chai latte at train station Starbucks; also having my first taste of the high cost of living in Switzerland. The latte costs 6.10CHF (about £4.15, compared to £2.75 at home).
1247: On the train to Lucerne. Train leaves bang on time. The train has an upstairs and downstairs. I’m travelling standard class, but there is plenty of space and comfortable seats. The train is practically empty.
1257: Arrive in Zurich HB which I understand is the main station for Zurich. The train is filing up a bit now, but still 50% or so empty.
1318: The train is passing on the edge of lake Zurichsee. There are neat wooden houses on the banks overlooking the lake.
1349: Arrived in Lucerne. Just as I’m getting off the train, my next train to Meiringen arrives.
1407: Train to Meiringen departs. It’s 2 minutes late – I thought Swiss trains worked just like clockwork! Unlike the Zurich-Lucerne train, this one has no upstairs, but it’s still very spacious and has massive picture windows.
1428: Stopped at Sachseln, on the edge of lake Sarnesee. This is picture postcard Switzerland – enormous blue green lake surrounded by mountains. Spring is well and truly here – everywhere is a different shade of green, except for the mountain tops, which are still snow covered.
1444: The train is making its way through the valley and up the mountain. Every turn brings more and more amazing views of lakes, mountains and what I decide to call “seasonal waterfalls”. I had read somewhere that May was one of the best times to visit Switzerland, and now I know why. The snow melting on top of the mountains creates many waterfalls, which are only here till the summer.
1530: Arrived at Park Hotel du Savage. The hotel at in the past has been called “Englischer Hof”, made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes story “The final problem”. It is from this hotel that Sherlock Holmes left on the 4th of May for his fateful encounter with Professor Moriarty at Reichanbach falls.
Hotel lobby, corridors, bar and other common areas are impressive and has many period features. The rooms however, are a different story. You would be disappointed if you expected the grandeur of the hotel to continue inside the rooms. They have been refurbished in the 1960s or so, broken up into smaller rooms.
The view from my room at the back of the hotel more than makes up for shortcomings of room. The mountains rise up behind the hotel and I count 8 waterfalls – including the famous Reichanbach falls. I can hear the roar of the Reichanbach falls, and the sound of the funicular railway that takes visitors to the top.
16:14 I arrive at the Reichanbach funicular station, a 15 minute walk from the hotel.
16:30 On the way to the Reichanbach falls. The funicular railway is steep – a 15-20% gradient at least. It’s a straight ride to the top and as you go past you can see the waterfall crashing down on its way to the Aare river on the valley floor below. From a distance it looks like a bushfire with lots of smoke but this is the mist and spray from the falls.
1635: I’m at the top. The roar of the falls in deafening. This is one very angry waterfall. It is thundering and spraying water everywhere. It is impossible to take a photo without getting drenched, and within 5 minutes, I’m soaked to the bone. The spray and mist is so strong that I can’t see the pool at the bottom. I make my way up the path to a place out of the reach of the water spray, and stare at the falls in awe. I can see why Conan Doyle thought this was a good resting place for his hero. The top part of the falls is a narrow, sheer drop of about 100 feet, where the water hits a boulder jutting out of the rock face. This create a massive spray and mist, and the falls go down further 100 feet into a pool. The falls continue like this in seven stages, until it hits the valley floor and joins the river. The only way to see every single part of the falls is to take one of the many hiking trails around, but I don’t venture out today as I need to catch the last funicular to the bottom. Plus it is very quiet and there’s no one else around, and one slippery step and I could be sharing the bottom of the falls with professor Moriarty (but not with Sherlock Holmes, as he was never really at the bottom of the falls).
1715: I’m on my way back on the funicular. I cannot but marvel at the Engineering ingenuity that went into creating this funicular in the late 1800’s, which has been cut straight through the rock. Sherlock Holmes must have been very popular indeed for them to go into this much trouble. Much like Harry Potter these days, I’m guessing.
1730: I make my way back to the hotel taking the time to see a few other waterfalls on the other side of the valley.
1930: Dinner at the hotel restaurant.
2130: Back in the room looking out at the famous falls. It is illuminated at night. None of the other 7 waterfalls is accorded this honour, but it’s a small price to pay for putting Meiringen on the map. If it wasn’t for Conan Doyle, Meiringen will be the same as dozen or so villages dotted around this valley. But thanks to Conano Doyle, it a popular tourist town. There’s a Sherlock Holmes museum, Sherlock Holmes hotel, Sherlock Holmes restaurant, a Sherlock Holmes lounge and a Conan Doyle place. To top it all off, Sherlock Holmes is an honorary citizen of Meiringen, the only dead man, who never lived and hasn’t died yet, to have this honour.
1000: At the west entrance to the Aareshlucht (aka Aare Gorge), a gorge formed by river Aare cutting through the rock over thousands of years.
1140: Having finished visiting the gorge, I decide to walk back the 1.5km to Meiringen rather than wait for the train. This turns out to be a good idea as I am able to see the Reichanbach fall from another angle.
1240: At the Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen. There is a statue of Mr Holmes. Next to the statue, there is a plaque on which there are clues to all the 60 stories Sherlock Holmes stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. I look at the clues, but can only work out “the cardboard box” and “the solitary cyclist”.
There are also 10 panels telling the story of “The final problem”. The museum opens at 1330 so I decide to have lunch whilst I wait for the museum to open.
1330: The Museum is open. It’s fairly small museum, but has an exact replica of the 221B Baker Street living room with some great period pieces. There is a helpful audio guide which tells you a lot about the period and how the room is in a mess because sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson had to leave in a hurry for the continent (as Moriaty was after them) The rest if a musem is about Conan Doyle. I ask the lady in the Museum why Meiringen is so quiet – she tells me it’s because the tourist season hasn’t started yet, but even then she says, it is not very busy here, unlike Interlaken or Lucerene.
1420: I board the train to Interlaken for the next stage of my journey.
1445: Arrive at Interlaken-East station and change trains to Interlaken-West.
1515: Arrive at Hotel Krebs, my home for the next 3 nights. Krebs is a 4 star hotel, with nice modern interior. I have a room at the back, which means it is quiet, but I don’t get a view of the Jungfrau. Instead I have a view of Harder Klum.
1530: I go for a walk around Interlaken. It is very different to Meiringen. It is very crowded and 90% of the people I see are tourists. Many of the shops and restaurants are catering to tourists and have all types of souvenirs. There is a nice park with great view of the Jungfrau, but can’t see much today as it is very cloudy.
1700: Back to the hotel. Think I’m done for the day.
0815: It’s raining. Breakfast at hotel. They have got rice and curry and miso soup for breakfast (among other things). First time I’ve seen a hotel in a western country catering to Asian an Indian tastes at breakfast.
0905: On the way to Lauterbrunnen aboard the Berner Oberland-Bhan.
0925: Arrived in Lauterbrunnen. It’s still raining, so I decided to catch the bus to Trummelbach falls rather than walk.
0945: Arrive at Trummelbach falls. This is a cascade of 10 glacier waterfalls inside a mountain. The Trummelbach alone drains the ice on Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains and carries upto 20,000L of water per second. An elevator takes me to the top, where I start with fall number 10 and work my way down.
This is indeed one of nature’s marvels. Much like the Aare gorge, it is a testament to the power of water. The top most fall is a fairly short 15-20 feet drop, but the sheer force of the water has carved a bowl out of the rock to receive the water. The flow path curves and then it drops again, creating another waterfall and so on. The force of the water is shaping the rock at every stage, and you can see the signs that the falls has been doing this for many thousands of years. It is conceivable that many millenia ago most of the flow path was outside the mountain like any other waterfall, but the ferocity of the water caused it to cut deeper and deeper into the mountain.
1045: Going up to view the falls provides an unexpected bonus in the form of sweeping views across the Lauterbrunnen valley. I’d call it a picture post-card view, but that would be doing it an injustice. The wide valley floor is lush and green and dotted with matchbox houses. The Trummelbach stream flows down the middle of the valley. On each side of the valley are two huge mountain ranges rising up almost vertically. Many waterfalls of all shapes and sizes come down. I take lots of photos, but my phone camera simply cannot capture the beauty of it all.
1115: On the bus to Stechelberg get the cable car to Murren.
1130: After a quick change of cable car at Gimmelwald, I arrive at Murren, at 1638m above sea level. I get out of the cable car and my jaw drops. The majestic Eiger (The Orge) Monch (The Monk) and Jungfrau (The maiden) rise up on the other side of the valley like 3 giants looking down on us. All three peaks are still snow covered, but many “seasonal waterfalls” are draining the snow away. The Lauterbrunnen valley stretches below. On the other side is the Schilthorn mountain range with the villages of Murren and Gimmelwald perched on the sunny terraces.
12:10 Murren is partway up to the Schilthorn peak, so I continue my journey on the cable car.
1230: The cable car is whizzing us up to the Schilthorn peak (which is 2970m above sea level). Schilthron was featured in the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” where the villain Ernest Stravro Blofeld had his Alpine reach institute and plotted to take over the world. In the film, the peak was called Piz Gloria.
1240: On Schilthorn peak. I step out of the cable car and go to the terrace to take some photos, but my fear of heights sets in, and its freezing cold. So I retreat inside and headup to the rotating restaurant at the top of the peak. This turns out to be the best decision I’ve made all day. I grab a table by the window and order food. What a great way to enjoy the view! Instead of being outside and cold, and having to walk around the terrace to get the best views, I get to sit down, in the warmth and comfort whilst the restaurant rotates 360 degrees giving me a panoramic view. I sip a hot chocolate and have Swiss egg noodles (which looks and tastes much like macaroni and cheese). Best of all, my vertigo shows no signs. I’m there for almost an hour, absorbing the surrounding crisp white mountain tops, lush green valleys and the blues lakes.
1345: Having a look around the James Bond exhibition which talks about the making of the movie. I even get to ride in the helicopter simulator and which emulates Bond’s ride to the Piz Gloria. I can also go on the Bobsled Blofeld used to escape, but I don’t get a chance to try this. There’s also a movie theatre which shows clips from the movie.
1400: Heading back down in the cable car. My vertigo threaten to make a reappearance so I keep my eye firmly fixed on the the mountain peaks and don’t look down.
1415: Get off the cable car at Birg. Birg is halfway between Schilthorn and Murren. On the tourist guide, the top peak, Schilthorn is labelled as the “view”, for obvious reasons. Birg is labelled as the “Thrill”. The reason for this soon becomes clear – Birg has a “skyline walk” which is a platform located over the precipice and the floor of the platform is a metal mesh (and in some places glass), which means you can see in to the depths below. My legs refuse to take me out to this platform, so I snap some photos from the safety of the concrete floor terrace. There is a further thrill walk planned for next year, which gets people to down the rock masiff further. If I come back in the future, I’ll give this a wide berth I think.
1435: Back down in Murren. I decide to walk down to Gimmelwald – 35 minutes on foot. This turns out to be the second best decision of the day. The walk gives me time to soak in the scenery and take countless photos. There’s also time to say hello to some Alpine horses and goats too!
1540: Arrive in Gimmelwald. The walk takes over an hour as I stopped every 100m for photos. Gimmelwald claims to be the last car free village in Switzerland and has a population of 650 people, but today the village population seems to be zero. There’s hardly any one around. Even the village Honesty shop is closed.
1600: Back down to Stechelberg in the cable car. Couple of quick snaps of the Stechelberg waterfall before boarding the bus to Lauterbrunnen.
Halfway on the bus ride I make the third best decision of the day. I get off the bus at Trummelbach falls and walk the rest of the way to Lauterbrunnen. Rain and fog earlier in the day has cleared and the sun is shinning over the valley. The walk gives me a chance to take in the beautify of the valley and get close-up shots of the many waterfalls.
Lauterbrunnen is called the valley of a 1000 waterfalls – there’s not quite a thousand falls, but I count 27 waterfalls in all shapes and sizes in my 2km walk. The most beautiful of all of them is the Staubbach fall which is in the village of Lauterbrunnen. It’s over 200m tall. The water falls down and almost evaporates into a mist before hitting the rock face again.
Lauterbrunnen valley is like no other place I have visited before. It is so beautiful that I can’t find the words to describe it.
It reminds me of the floating mountains of Pandora (from the film Avatar) – with the waterfalls that fall to nothingness and the lush green foliage.
1730: I’ve arrived in Lauterbrunnen and catching the train back to Interlaken. I’m completely knackered and my legs are screaming, but I would be hard pressed to think of another day when I have seen so many beautiful things.
0905: On the way to Lauterbrunnen to start my journey to the Top of Europe.
0930: Arrived at Lauterbrunnen. Now on the train to Kleine Schiedegg. Even better views of Lauterbrunnen valley than yesterday.
1000: The three giants (the Eiger , the Monch and the Jungfrau) come into view again.
1020: Arrived at Kleine Schiedegg. Here you change trains on to the Jungfrau train that takes you to the top of Europe.
1030: On the train to Jungfraujoch. Most of the journey is in a tunnel through the Eiger, but there are brief stops at Eigerwand and Eigersmeer. These stations allow you to get off the train for a few minutes and enjoy the view through the panoramic windows. At Eigerwand you’ll look straight down the famous Eiger North face.
1117: Arrived Jungfraujoch- 500m below the peak of Jungfrau. There is a whole tourist complex built on the mini valley between the peaks of Jungfrau and the Monch. There is a cinema, viewing terrace, ice palace, several restaurants and souvenir shops and a high altitude alpine research station.
1140: The “Sphinx” viewing terrace provides spectacular views of the Alestch glacier and many other mountain ranges, including the Schilthorn peak that I visited yesterday.
1215: There is also the opportunity to go out into the snow and experience winter sports or take a walk on the snow and take closer look at glacier.
1245: Quick tour of the Alpine room and the ice palace.
1310: I’m starting to feel really tired. Is my lack of sleep catching up with me or as a guidebook said, is it the lack of oxygen on this high altitude?
I think about getting some food, but both restaurants I can see are catering to groups only. I can’t be bothered to look around any further, so I decide head back.
1335: On the way back. Feel really tired. Is it me or is most of the carriage looking tired?
1345: Nope, not just me. Most of the carriage has fallen asleep. I think about the whole “Top of Europe” experience whilst drifting in and out of sleep.
First of all, Top of Europe is a bit of a misnomer (I think Mont Blanc will have something to say on that regard.) It is not even the top of Jungfrau. It’s more like Europe’s highest railway station.
Also, it is a bit too touristy for my liking (yes, I know I’m a tourist in every sense of the word) It is extremely crowded and the whole place is geared to handle crowds and get them in and out in the most efficient way possible. The whole place feels a bit regimented and you feel herded around a bit and there is no opportunity to discover things for yourself. Nevertheless, I can’t see myself becoming a climber anytime soon so this is probably the highest I’m going to be going.
1420: Back at Kleine Schiedegg. I get on the train to Grindelwald. The train ride down provides great views of the valley floor below.
1545: Grindelwald valley lies at the foot of the Eiger, on the other side of Lauterbrunnen. It’s popular hiking area in the summer and a skiing area in Winter. I walk around a bit, but just like Murren, Gimmelwald and Meiringen most of the village is closed.
1649: Catch the train back to Interlaken.
173o: Arrive back in Interlaken. There is enough time to do a bit of souvenir shopping before calling it a day.
0845: At Interlaken-West to catch the train to Bern.
0915: On the way to Bern. More beautiful lakes and mountains.
0952: Arrived in Bern. Probably the least impressive station I have seen in Switzerland so far. All the platforms are underground. Station is surrounded by 60’s concrete buildings.
1004: Board the train to Geneva. All the announcements are now in French instead of German.
1120: Passing through Lausanne. Beautiful city on the edge of Lac Leman.
1146: Arrived in Geneva. There is just enough time to spend my last few Swiss Francs on a pretzel and board the train to France.
1212: There is no sign or anything, but google maps tell me that I’ve crossed the border into France. The nice weather seem to have decided to stay back in Switzerland.