Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Fall 2000 - Switzerland and Italy
Nine Nights in Kandersteg, Switzerland
Monday, October 2
Drove back into Switzerland and south towards Bern and then into the mountains to the small mountain town of Kandersteg.
Checked into our apartment in Adams Alpine Eden. It is an old building on the main street. The owners (Bill and Pam Adams) have an apartment on the ground floor. There are four apartments on the two floors above. The two on the top floor are 1 bedroom with an extra sleeping loft. The two on the first floor are 1 bedroom. Ours is Blumisalp on the top floor. The living room is sparsely furnished - two love seats, one chair and footstool, coffee table, overhead light and reading lamp. The kitchen is very modern, but small. It is in a corner of the living room, with a dining table in the other corner. There is a small balcony. The apartments on the first floor have larger balconies, some have larger kitchens. The apartment is bright with glass French doors to the balcony and another window. You get some nice views of the main street and of a meadow with big mountains beyond. A TV with CNN, CNBC and a SKY channel and a VCR. They have over 100 movies you can borrow. Also many shelves full of books.
The kitchen is small, but very well equipped. No dishwasher, but a medium sized fridge, a 4 burner electric stove (one of those with a flat top and fast heating elements), a single small sink, but it is very deep. A coffee maker, an electric kettle, a toaster. Good pots except for the usual t-fal fry pans.
The bathroom is great. A deep, narrow European tub with a hand shower (that attaches to the wall for a regular shower), toilet, sink with a medicine cabinet and good lights. Even a heated towel rack. The bathroom is all tile.
The bedroom is nice with two windows, but we don't open them because of the cold and the noise. The synthetic comforter was not usable because of the smell of the laundry soap (we are allergic to fragrances, like perfume, air freshener, fabric softener on bedding), so we got them to give us extra blankets instead and that was okay. The bedroom gets some street noise. It is hard to believe there is any traffic - this is a very small town (pop. 1000) at the end of the valley. The road hardly goes any further. From Kandersteg you take a car-train through the mountains to get to the Valais. We are not near the train area.
There is an ISDN connection for the computer but no phone. There is a pay phone downstairs that everyone can use, as well as a laundry room. We could not get the ISDN connection to work. The tourist office has a computer and Internet connection you can use for 10CHF per hour (pay less for less time). The Adams let us use their computer for email.
The Coop grocery store is just a block away. The bakery and another smaller store is just a few doors down the street. The train station is only a few blocks. There are lots of visitors in town, even at this late date. One ride is running only in good weather and the bus to Seldon is no longer running, but the other cable rides are running.
Tuesday, October 3
Today was overcast and cold, with clouds covering the mountaintops. During the day a huge mountain broke through the clouds so we could see some of what is surrounding us. Big mountains on three sides - this is a narrow valley. We did an easy, low-level, downhill hike from town down the valley to Blausee, a beautiful, small lake in the woods. Had a very good lunch sitting outside on the balcony of a restaurant beside the lake. Took the bus back to town.
Walked through town checking out the stores. Found the information office and got town and hiking information. Found a store across from the information office, which sells the International Herald Tribune as wells as USA Today and some British papers. Got the Tribune. Bought apricot kuchen at the bakery.
Wednesday, October 4
Bright and sunny, not as cold. We are able to do several hikes straight from town - do not need to use the car. Walked from town up to Oeschinensee - about 1- hours straight up. Oeschinensee is a beautiful mountain lake with mountains rising straight from it. There are a couple of restaurants on the edge of the lake. The restaurants and the area around the lake were full of people. It is school break in Switzerland and many families are here on vacation. You can also take a chairlift from town up to the lake; so not everyone did the same climb that we did (although, even when you take the chairlift, there is a 20 minute walk to the lake). We took the chairlift back down - wonderful views of Kandersteg in the valley below and the mountains all around.
Pam (from our apartment) says in winter you can do real tobogganing from the top of the chairlift back to town. This would be magnificent. She said this valley is mostly used for cross-country skiing in the winter and they keep paths plowed for walking.
The storekeepers in town almost always speak English and are very helpful and friendly. Took a drive to the end of the valley to look at the mountain road to Seldon. Seldon is a very small town (we never did get to see it, but I think it just has a hotel and a couple of restaurants) that is up another narrow valley at the end of the Kandersteg valley. From the main valley you go onto a one-lane mountain road for about 10 miles up the valley to Seldon. The first part of the road, which we walked, is cut half way up a sheer rock face. It is maybe 1000 feet up the rock face and goes across it to the valley. In the summer you can take a small bus up to Seldon and then walk back. You can also drive. 20 minutes of each hour is allowed for driving up to Seldon, a different 20 minutes for driving back - an interesting one-way system. We were planning to do the drive, but we left it to the end of the stay and the day we had hoped to do it was cloudy and the valley would have been filled with cloud, so we didn't do it. Also, it didn't look like fun driving. We did walk along the road for a mile or more.
Thursday, October 5
Woke up to bad weather and decided to do a low-level hike. On bad weather days the mountains are covered by clouds, so you do not want to hike at high level. You will be hiking in thick cloud and maybe with snow. Walked south to the end of the valley - not on the main street, but through small streets then on a path along the Kander River. Walked to the gondola station at Eggeschwand, then took a path up along the river (the Chluse Gorge) to the mountain road to Selden. Followed that to Hotel Waldhaus.
Hotel Waldhaus is a small, old wooden building on a farm. They have a few hotel rooms and a small restaurant. We got there in the afternoon (around 2pm) and there was only one other table full. The Swiss can sometimes be rigid about meal times - but the family running the restaurant were happy to give us lunch. We had our best meal in Switzerland: rosti (fried potatoes) with two fried eggs on top. The room was all wood: wood floors, low beamed ceilings, wood walls, wood furniture. They had a fire burning. It was cozy and cheerful.
Hotel Waldhaus, Kandersteg
The fog had lifted around 2pm, but it was settling down again as we left the Hotel Waldhaus. Watched the Belgrade revolution news on CNN. We are not so far from there.
Friday, October 6
Fog over the mountains and some rain today. An off day today. I worked on my web site. Tonight we went out for our only dinner out in Kandersteg. We have been making all our dinners in the apartment, but having most of our lunches out.
Landgast Ruedihaus, Kandersteg
The upstairs restaurant had nothing that would work for us (no vegetarian, no fresh fish), so we had cheese dishes in the Stube. It was crowded and full of smoke, but there was no room for us, so we sat in a quiet room in the back. Pauline had great cheese fondue with bread and potatoes and the local Fendant wine. Steve had Raclette and a beer. It was a fun evening and a great meal - more cheese than we usually eat in a year!
The Adam's have many videotapes and we have been spending our evenings watching old movies (Woody Allen's Sleeper, Black Adder, all the Mad Max movies).
Saturday, October 7
Fog over the mountains, fresh snow can be seen, very cold. We decided to go for a drive. Adelboden is another hiking town just over the mountains from Kandersteg. To get to it you have to drive down the valley, out of the mountains and then drive up the next valley over to Adelboden. Adelboden is different from Kandersteg in that it is perched on a side of the valley, not on the valley floor. It is larger than Kandersteg with many more people, stores and restaurants. It looks like it would be good hiking (but I think Kandersteg is the better base in this area because it is on the train line). We went to a wonderful old-style Tea Room with views out over the valley and had lunch. Did some shopping. Got Steve a polartec vest with a high neck to keep him warmer than his other vest (like the one we got me on our spring trip to England). Also got some shoe cleaning things (the Swiss know how to clean shoes). Found a hardware store and got several small and medium size bells, also a round shaped bell and belt (the belt goes around the cow's neck).
Sunday, October 8
Sunny, warmer and beautiful. But the night had been cold - the car had to be scraped off! Really feels like winter is coming. Drove to the end of the Kandersteg valley to the Sunnbuel gondola (only 2 miles). Took the gondola up to the top of the pass and did a wonderful hike from one end of the pass to the other (about 2 hours each way). Stopped on the way at Berghotel Schwarenbach - a dormitory style hotel and restaurant (www.schwarenbach.ch - everyone has a web site in Switzerland) for a good lunch. The end of the hike (where you turn around) is the Gemmi Pass where you look down on Leukerbad and you can see the Valais mountains (the Matterhorn and Dent Blanche among them). From here you could take a gondola down to Leukerbad, then a bus to the train and a train back through the train tunnel to Kandersteg. Or just turn around and walk back, which we did.
It was 3:00 when we left Gemmi Pass and the last gondola back at Sunnbuel is 5:20, so we quickly did the mostly downhill return. After the halfway point we realized that Steve's watch had stopped at 3:45pm (and I don't wear a watch), so we really didn't know if we were on time for the last gondola. Maybe it was later than 3pm when we turned around. There were a few groups ahead of us on the trail, but no one behind. We just missed the second last car at 4:55, but got the last one at 5:20. Even the dog who greets each gondola took the last one down. Steve's watch started working again the next day and has been fine since. Maybe it was the cold.
This was a great hike and the weather was very good. It was cold in some areas, but the day was bright and sunny and we were surrounded by incredible mountain peaks. There were lots of people out on the trail.
Monday, October 9
Woke up to sunny, fog settled over the upper levels at noon, sunny at the end of the day.
Walked over to the Allmenalp ride - got there around 11:30. We were the only ones in the small gondola. It was bright and sunny until we bought our ticket, then a fog descended over the area where the ride ended. The ride up was terrifying - straight up high over the valley until you almost hit the rock face then up higher and over another valley then finally over a meadow. I closed my eyes for most of the ride. There was no way we wanted to take it back. We had planned to hike back anyway.
Because it was so late in the season, all the restaurants along the way were closed. As we hiked the fog settled in so that most of the hike (about 2 hours) was in fog. I think we were walking along the edge of the mountain, but you could only see a few feet in front of you. The fog cleared as we got down lower. Just missed the bus at Sunnbuel, so we walked back to town.
Drove to Frutigen, a town down the valley, to get a few things in the larger grocery store there and get another (bigger) cowbell and three belts.
Tuesday, October 10
The weather is taking a turn for the worse, and more bad weather is coming, so we decide to leave tomorrow for Locarno and then into Italy.
Sent faxes from the post office to book hotels in Locarno and Ravenna and mailed home a parcel with my cowbells and handkerchiefs (cost 50CHF for priority - would have been 39CHF economy). You have to fill out detailed forms for the faxes and for shipping the box. Went for a last walk in the woods.
Wednesday, October 11
Raining and windy in Kandersteg, overcast but no rain in the Valais, heavy fog and almost snow on the Simplon Pass, heavy rain from Domodossola to Verbania to Cannobio to Locarno. The rain never stopped in Locarno.
Pam told us before we left that the Simplon Pass into Italy had been closed because of a mud slide a couple of weeks ago, but now it was open for a few hours each day. Since it was open from noon to 2pm, we thought we would be fine.
We got the car-train through the mountains from Kandersteg to Goppenstein, drove down to the valley, through Visp to Brig, where we followed signs to the Simplon Pass and Domodossola and Milano. We drove by a couple of signs saying Simplon was closed certain times of the day, but we were expecting something more official. We just kept driving and driving the pretty good road up into the mountains until we got to the top of the pass. When we got quite a bit down the other side (it was nearly 12:30 by now - we had been driving since 11:30 from Brig), after going across the Italian border, we were stopped by a policeman who said the road was closing in 10 minutes and would be closed for 5 days and we should turn around and take the train from Brig. We could not understand why we shouldn't just drive through, since it was still open. He said to turn around. This conversation was going on it Italian between Steve and the policeman - and Steve was rusty because it was his first Italian on the trip. A car passed us and drove through and we asked him could we go through and he said yes. The next policeman just waved us through. We saw part of the road, an onramp to the beginning of the bigger highway, where it was washed away. We kept thinking we would be turned back, but we got through. In the end we think he saw our Swiss plates and was telling us we shouldn't go because we would not be able to get back. And why wasn't the road staying open until 2pm as the signs said on the Swiss side and at the Goppenstein tunnel train office? Things are frequently a mystery when you travel in Europe (a mystery to us Americans anyway).
We had planned to drive through a supposedly beautiful valley from Domodossola to Locarno, but the weather was so bad and I think the road is narrow and winding. So we drove Autostrada to Verbania, then up Lake Maggiore (which we could hardly see) to Locarno. This road was very narrow and winding. We had lunch on the main piazza along the water in Cannobio, a town where we went for lunch back in 1996 when we had spent the week in Locarno (we are such creatures of habit). Then, still in the rain to Locarno. You end up on the narrow city center streets, but we found the hotel easy enough.
We spent the night at the Grand Hotel Locarno (Best Western, 4 stars, ocean view room). It must have been "grand" at one time, but no longer. We had a huge room with ugly and worn out furniture. The old style tiled bathroom is as big as some hotel rooms we have had. Kind of fun, but I wouldn't want to be there longer than one night.
We like Locarno. We spent a week there in a vacation rental in 1996. That was the apartment where you had to walk uphill through the historic center and then walk straight up 200 stairs to get to it. It had a beautiful view over the old town and to the lake, but was about level with a church bell tower and those bells rang all night long. It was a beautiful apartment, though. In 1997 we spent the night in Locarno on our drive from Zurich to Siena. And here we were again. Locarno is right on Lake Maggiore, with mountains rising up behind it. The historic center is large and charming. There is a long arcade full of stores and restaurants on the main piazza. Locarno is in Switzerland, but it is the Ticino region, which is Italian speaking. It feels more like Italy than Switzerland. It is a good place to stop on your way into Italy.
It was pouring rain, but we walked along the covered arcade. Lots of people out. Gelato, chestnuts, pizza, stores. We got a bag of chestnuts and some bottles of water (our hotel bathroom only gives hot and warm water, no cold). Back to the hotel for a bit, then out for a nice pizza dinner.
Tomorrow we head into Italy.
For a description of the hikes in Kandersteg, go to Switzerland: Hiking - Kandersteg.
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