Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
One Week in Grindelwald, Switzerland
Saturday, August 31
Sunny and warm.
A travel day. We checked out of our Engelberg apartment, had some breakfast in a Tea Room, then drove to Meiringen. It was about an hour from Engelberg to Meiringen. When I was planning this trip, we were planning to spend our second week in Meiringen, but I could not find a good looking vacation rental and I didn't have much time to search, so we just opted for Grindelwald, a town we know well. We spent the afternoon in Meiringen to check it out for another trip.
Meiringen is a lovely town. The main hiking area is above it, in Hasliberg. You take a gondola from Meiringen up to the next level where there are a few towns. You can take a bus from Meiringen to Engstlenalp, the place we took mountains rides to from Engelberg. I bought some hiking maps for the area so I can study them for next time.
We found an excellent hardware store and I bought more cow bells. I PROMISED myself no more cow bells - we have three hanging in the living room at home and a few more that I plan to hang - we don't need more bells. But this store had a new style - sort of the normal style but flattened. So we got one more. Plus we got cow bells as presents for a few people in Italy.
Went to an Italian restaurant for lunch - it was okay, but not great - but it was nice to sit out in the sun looking at the mountains. Drove to Grindelwald - only 20 minutes from Meiringen to Interlaken and then 20 minutes more to Grindelwald.
We checked into the apartment. We had arrived early - before 3pm - but were able to contact the owner and get into the apartment. It is a great apartment, located on the edge of town on the sunny side of the mountain with views to the Eiger and the other mountains. It is a 15 minute downhill walk to town. The last time we were here (1997) we stayed just down the street (rented from the same owners) and we always drove into town and parked and then did our hiking from there.
We went to the tourist office and bought our mountain ride pass, then to the Coop for groceries. The Coop was packed and everyone looked like a tourist. Saturday afternoon at the Coop - must be everyone who just checked into their apartments for the week. Went out to a Tea Shop we remembered from the last trip for coffee and kuchen. Then home for a simple dinner.
Sunday, September 1
Poured rain all night, woke up to the clouds covering all the mountains and on and off rain.
Note to self: Never read Minette Walters on vacation! I have been glued to her latest book. Up late last night reading, reading again today.
We woke up to heavy overcast and rain, so spent the morning sitting around reading. Finally we forced ourselves to go out. It was not good weather. We could have done a low level hike, but we felt like we needed a day off, so we took the car and drove to Interlaken. It is only 20 minutes away. We found a great Indian restaurant for lunch - a nice change from Rosti! Then we walked out along one of the canals for an hour and a half. The rain had stopped and the hike was very pleasant - flat and easy along the edge of a canal and then through the woods.
We found an old Tea Shop on a street lined with elegant old hotels and had coffee and cake before driving back to Grindelwald.
Interlaken looked beautiful today. It felt like one of the grand old European cities - like Zurich, or Geneva, or Vienna. It was a bit too crowded on the sidewalks near the train station, but the rest of the town is quiet and beautiful. Lovely old buildings, grand hotels. In the overcast and drizzle, everything looked green and full of life. Huge sunflowers, vegetable gardens full of vegetables, window boxes of flowers.
Interlaken sits between two lakes which connect through canals.
Monday, September 2
Sunny and warm, clouds moved in during the afternoon
We woke up to a potentially good day. There was fog down on the mountains, but it was lifting and we could see blue sky. We were at the First gondola by 10am.
I have been on the SlowTalk message board each night during this trip. I haven't kept up totally, but have been following some threads. Our phone connection was inconsistent in Engelberg and cut off sometimes, but here in Grindelwald it is perfect. Jonathon from Stroud posted a note about those hiking poles and how great they are. He convinced us and we bought two pairs before our hike today. They are like ski poles and you use them when you walk. They made a difference on the hike - you can use them on the uphill to help you do the climb and on the downhill they take some weight off your knees. On today's hike I noticed that everyone was using these poles - I had never really noticed them before. They cost 60CHF for a pair plus 10CHF for rubber protectors for the ends. They collapse up to small poles so we can pack them easily.
Today we wore shorts hiking for the first time on the trip. They were perfect for most of the hike, but I was cold at the very top. The First gondola is one gondola ride for about 40 minutes to the top of the mountain. From there you can do long or short hikes. We decided to hike to Bachalpsee and then to Faulhorn. This was 2 1/2 hours uphill there and 2 hours back. The first part of the walk to Bachalpsee (about 1 hour) is pretty level on a good wide road-like trail. There were lots of people on this hike.
From Bachalpsee you go uphill for 1 1/2 hours to Faulhorn, a hotel and restaurant on a mountain peak. Unbelievable views down to Grindelwald and across to Mannlichen and Kleine Scheidegg. There were lots of people on this trail too - and it was quite steep, especially the last 20 minutes up to the restaurant. About one hour into the hike, some clouds moved in. We could see the valley below was full of fog. So, in Grindelwald you had an overcast day, but up on the mountain tops it was sunny.
The restaurant at Faulhorn was not as good as the other ones we have been to on this trip, but it is the oldest mountain hotel in Europe and all supplies are brought in by helicopter. We had a bad lunch (badly cooked rosti and there was meat in it! - but a good soup) - I had my first hot chocolate of the trip, so that made the lunch better. It was cold sitting out on the terrace and I was in the mood for hot chocolate. In Switzerland, they serve you a glass of hot milk and a package of hot chocolate mix. At this restaurant they also gave you a chocolate (gilding the lily).
The walk back was quick and easy (all downhill and we used our new poles to help) and by 4:30 we were riding the gondola back to town. This was a lovely hike. It was good to have the uphill exercise and it was really a do-able uphill, plus the views were extraordinary. We could have hiked on to Busalp and taken the bus from there, but decided it would be easier just to return to the gondola which runs all the time instead of waiting for a bus.
We had driven into town and parked by the gondola station. Grindelwald is crowded with tourists and we got the last parking spot in that lot at 10am and had to pay 7CHF to park for the day. The First station is across town from where we are staying. It is right beside a vacation rental apartment building that we have a good review of on the web site (Chalet Adlenbrot). This building is right on the main street with shops below. It is across from a parking lot used by cars and tour buses. It might be noisy in the apartment, but would be quiet at night because Grindelwald is a small town and it is on the edge of the busy area. But, as I note later in this report - the sun does not hit this part of town at this time of year until around 11am! Our apartment gets the sun first thing in the morning because of its location on the south-facing slope. Chalet Adlenbrot is in the shadow of the mountains at this time of year.
We drove the few blocks to the other side of town, parked again (there is a lot by the Coop where you can park for an hour for 2CHF - but not longer than an hour - and the lot may be full, but if you wait a minute, people leave and you get a spot).
We found the shoe store owned by Heidi who owns the apartment we are renting. We had not paid yet - she was going to drop by and get the money - so we went in an paid her (in cash - they request cash or travelers checks in CHF). We rented from her back in 1997 and had a nice apartment that time too. Heidi speaks very good English, but if you ask her she will say that she doesn't.
Did some grocery shopping. There is a medium sized Coop at one end of town and a medium sized Migros at the other end. There is a good bakery and a cheese shop in-between the two supermarkets. There is a smaller, but good, grocery store just down the hill from the Coop. The Coop in Switzerland works about the same as those in Italy - put a coin in the lock to get the grocery cart, weigh and price your fruits and vegetables, pack your own groceries. I bought some of the hot chocolate in individual packages, the same ones you are served in the Tea Rooms, to take home.
Simple dinner at home - we are tired from the hike. Sore arms from using the new poles. And my face feels like it got sun. It is funny because we live at 7,000 feet altitude and this hike was not much higher than that. Still, we are out of breath walking and the sun feels strong. But, we did pass people on the trails all the time, so maybe we are better adjusted to hiking at altitude than we think. Or maybe everyone else today was moving real slow.
Tuesday, September 3
Heavily overcast and drizzling, with sun finally breaking out around 6pm
Woke up in the night to heavy rain, which continued into the morning. We stayed home in the morning. Steve worked - he is getting some work done on this trip. I messed around with the Switzerland section of the web site. Had a lunch at home (saving us from yet another meal of Rosti - we had oatmeal!) and headed out around 1:30pm.
The drizzle was light and the fog was only half down the mountain, so we figured we could do a mid-level hike. Drove into town and parked at the Mannlichen gondolas. We hopped on the gondola and watched the fog - it was clear until just below the middle station (Holenstein), so we figured we could do the mid-level hike and got off there. There would be no going above the fog today - you could see it sitting on the mountain tops.
It was raining lightly, so we wore our rain jackets. We hiked the first 10 minutes on muddy trails in fog, but then we got below the fog and the rest of the hike was great. The rain stopped after the first 30 minutes. The hiking poles were useful on this trail because there was lots of up and down and the trail got muddy. When you are hiking with these poles, you have a more secure footing on mud.
We only passed two other hikers on the whole trail - everyone was off the trails because of the weather. The gondola station was deserted as well.
The hike took 1 1/2 hours from Holenstein, across the mountain, to Brandegg, a drop of 500 meters. The trail was a gentle downhill, with some uphill as well as you made your way through woods and farmers fields and across a river. The trail is called the "Apfelkuchleinweg" - because the restaurant in Brandegg makes a dessert called "Apfelkuchlein". We got to Brandegg and sat outside - and had the Apfelkuchlein. Steve had coffee, I had my second hot chocolate of the trip (excellent) and we both had "Kleine Portion Apfelkuchlein mit Vanillesauce" for a total of 20.40CHF. The Apfelkuchlein was like a donut with cooked apple inside - the best dessert of the trip so far.
This was a very nice hike - short and easy. At Brandegg, we took a mountain train back to Grindelwald Grund, just a short walk from where the car was parked. Drove into Grindelwald and parked and did some shopping. I brought old worn out walking shoes on this trip hoping to get new ones and throw these away. I had not been able to find new walking shoes in my size at REI before we left. The hiking shoe store in Grindelwald had walking shoes the same size and brand as the boots I bought last week - so I got them and left my old shoes for them to throw out. Then I dragged Steve into a hat store and I got a black cotton/linen baseball cap!! And a Swiss style hiking hat to replace my gross looking (but functional) Tilley cap. Steve also got a great cotton hat that will pack well. So now my feet and head are taken care of.
Around 6pm, the sun came out! Blue sky and sunshine. We sat at outside tables of a cafe and I had my schnapps for the trip. I had five food things planned for Switzerland: Fondue, Raclette, Schnapps, Hot Chocolate, and Fendant wine. I haven't had the Fondue yet, I substituted one of those melted cheese open-faced sandwiches made with mountain cheese for the Raclette (we have not seen any restaurants doing the Rachlette outside over a fire, which is the best way to have it done), I had my glass of Schnapps today (Williamine - pear), I have had hot chocolate (plus I bought two boxes of the hot chocolate mix to bring home), and I had a glass of Fendant wine (from the Valais region of Switzerland) with one of our mountain restaurant lunches. My goals for the trip have pretty much been accomplished.
Steve's goals were more modest - do a bunch of hiking.
Wednesday, September 4
Clearing skies in the morning, overcast and raining in the late afternoon and evening
Second last day of hiking. The weather was good in the morning, so we drove into town, parked at the Mannlichen gondola station same as yesterday, and took the gondola to the top. This is a 30 minute ride - the longest cablecar way in Europe. They are small gondolas, so it was just the two of us in it - a nice long ride with beautiful views out towards Grindelwald and across to the area around First and Faulhorn where we hiked on Monday. We even saw the Hotel Faulhorn that we hiked to - on the very peak of a mountain.
In Grindelwald there are no open chairlift rides; they are all small gondolas (Mannlichen, First) or large cablecars (Mannlichen-Wengen, Pfingstegg) or cog trains or buses. I liked the open chairlift rides in Engelberg - just the two of us suspended in the air above the meadows. It was absolutely quiet except for the cow bells from below. When I was a teenager, I sky jumped (once) and it was the same feeling. The absolute quiet and peacefulness. Chairlifts are better than sky jumping - you don't have the landing to deal with!
From the top of Mannlichen, you look down one side to see Grindelwald spread out in the valley below. On the other side you look straight down to Wengen, then below that Lauterbrunnen and across the valley, perched on the edge of a cliff, Murren. Looking north you see a bit of Interlaken and Lake Thuner. South you see a row of giant mountains: Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau - all with snow and glaciers. The views from Mannlichen are spectacular.
I was feeling a bit worn out today, so we did an easy hike. A "pony trail" as Steve called it. We took the Panoramaweg to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a 1 1/2 hour easy walk with a slight downhill on a wide trail. We started out using our walking sticks, but put them away after 5 minutes - you don't need them on this trail. The trail was full of people - most strolling along. The views along the trail were again spectacular and we ended up at Kleine Scheidegg, right under the Eiger.
From here you take the train to the Jungfraujoch. We did this trip in 1988, also the Piz Gloria ride, and we will never bother with them again. We did not go to the top of Titlis in Engelberg. You pay a lot of money for the ride and it eats up a whole day - for no hiking, just sitting on a mountain ride and then looking at views. Plus it is really cold at the top of these mountains! Instead, I would tell anyone going to Grindelwald, take the Mannlichen gondola to the top and do this easy walk to Kleine Scheidegg. You get some exercise, some fresh air, and the views are incredible.
We got to Kleine Scheidegg around 12:15. This area is usually a zoo because it is the place where the trains from Grindelwald end and the trains from Lauterbrunnen and Wengen end and everyone gets on the train to the Jungfraujoch. It wasn't too crowded today - but we have been here on days when there are huge crowds. You cannot drive here - you only get here by train (or walking). We hoped on the train to Wengen.
In Wengen we found a restaurant that served Fondue for lunch - so my last dietary goal was met. It was a little too "boozy" for my taste and, of course, too cheesy, so I didn't finish it all - but what I had was pretty good. The restaurant was strange - felt very closed in and has heavy smells of meat cooking. Too bad because we passed by other restaurants that would have been better (but I was searching for fondue). By now it was 3pm and starting to cloud over. We took the cablecar from Wengen to Mannlichen, then the gondola back down to Grindelwald.
In Grindelwald, we went to the Coop for a couple of things and it was quiet in the store so I took some photos for the Switzerland Food section - the weighing machine, the produce section, the carts. We got bread at the bakery and had coffee and kuchen at the Tea Shop. By now it was raining and it has continued all evening. Home for an early evening.
Is it only me that goes crazy doing laundry on trips? Our lovely apartment has a laundry room in the basement - shared by the six apartments. Our apartment is on the third floor (American third). I think I went up and down the stairs at least 100 times tonight to get one load of whites done. It is a pay machine, but not the type you would expect. There is a box on the wall where you put in coins and it gives you time for electricity for the machine. I could not figure out what coins you could use, but it cost 2CHF for an hour, so I assumed 1 and 2 CHF coins. I loaded in the laundry, put in the recommended 3CHF in 1CHF coins (tried a 1/2CHF coin, but it was rejected) and got the washer started.
The wash cycle went for over 1 1/2 hours, with several trips up and down for me to check. These trips involve going outside in the rain. (Another trip to put out the garbage, only to find they were compost bins, not garbage cans and the garbage can is way down the road, so I took the garbage back up the stairs. In Grindelwald the garbage is taxed by you paying for each garbage bag, so you can only use special bags for the garbage. It used to be like this in Italy, but I think they gave up on that.)
The Swiss love those automatic lights that either sense when you walk in a room and come on or where you turn them on and they go off after a certain time. As I am standing in the laundry room watching the machine, the light goes off every 30 seconds. Then I have to wave my arms around to get it to go back on. If you duck down to put laundry in the machine, it thinks you have left the room and the lights go out immediately. This whole laundry experience was a good workout for me.
Finally the wash is done. I load it into the dryer. I take my remaining 1CHF coin and turn the money box knob to dryer and put in the coin. I start the dryer. Then I get my second load of wash and stuff it into the washer. My theory is that you can only run one machine at a time - but I cannot believe someone would design it like this so I hope I can switch the box back to washer and put money in and run both machines. My theory proved correct - you can only run one machine. I shouldn't complain - at least there is a dryer. This is the last one I will see for a few weeks.
Only then do I notice that there is a photo on the money box of the coins it will take - 1CHF and 20 Rappen. I don't have the right coins to do the second load of laundry anyway. So I unload it all and carry it back upstairs. And my 1CHF coin was not enough to dry the load, but I found some 20 rappen coins, so on my 99th trip down I put in more coins and actually got the load of laundry dried.
Tomorrow I will get some 1CHF coins and do the whole thing over again.
Thursday, September 5
Sunny and warm - today we wore shorts.
Woke up to a beautiful day. We had coffee on the balcony in the morning sun. When we drove into town we were surprised to see the town in shadow - the sun was not high enough at 10am to put sunlight on the town. Many of the apartment rental listings say they are on the sunny, south-facing side of the valley - now I know why that is important. At Chalet Berghof we wake up to brilliant sun shining in our windows, but if we were staying in town, we would not get direct sun until later in the morning.
One of the Grindelwald hikes, Pfingstegg, is along the mountain Schreckhorn which is also in shadow in the morning. Better to leave this hike for the afternoon (which was what we did today).
We took the First gondola to the top and did a 1 1/2 hour easy walk (mostly downhill) to Grosse Scheidegg (the opposite direction from where we hiked on Monday). The views were unbelievable. We could see down into the valley to Grindelwald below, across the valley to Mannlichen and Kleine Scheidegg where we hiked yesterday, and ahead to a spectacular range of mountains: Jungfrau, Monch, Eiger, Schreckhorn, Wetterhorn.
Grosse Scheidegg is a hotel, restaurant and bus stop at the top of the pass between Grindelwald and Meiringen. You can get a bus down to Grindelwald or you could walk down the other side to a bus further down the valley to Meiringen. We checked out the restaurant for lunch, but it didn't have too many vegetarian things so we hoped on the bus to Grindelwald but got off half way down at Hotel Wetterhorn. The bus was full - mostly with a large group of Japanese tourists out for a hike.
We had a really nice lunch at Hotel Wetterhorn. I had a melted cheese sandwich with egg, Steve had rosti with egg. We both had beer. It was hot and sunny and we sat outside. Our last mountain lunch, our last day of hiking, our last day in Switzerland - I was almost crying at the thought of leaving. We should have booked another week or two here and we will next year. Switzerland is the perfect vacation for us.
After lunch we wanted more of a hike so we went from Hotel Wetterhorn to the top of the lift at Pfingstegg. It was a nice uphill to start and then mostly level across the mountain face. A bit more uphill at the end to the Pfingstegg station. We rode the cablecar back to town.
Did some last shopping - more cow bells and leather holders for some Italy friends, handkerchiefs for us. I know, I was not going to buy more cowbells, but we thought they would be a good present for Bill Sutherland and Judy Diva who were cooking a dinner for us the next week in Tuscany. Also got one for Aldo Gallo who runs the bar in Panicale. Usually we buy lots of handkerchiefs in Zurich, but this trip we did not. I thought it would be more fun to get them in Grindelwald, but they did not have the selection that you find in Zurich.
We were home by 5pm and I did the other load of laundry. Even with the dryer, it took forever to dry everything and the blue jeans had to hang out in the apartment that night to dry. I started getting packed up, but had to finish in the morning.
The cost for a week of phone was shocking - 73CHF!! Plus we got our Earthlink bill for accessing from Europe. I am going to stay off the message board from now on. And I need to look into these charges. All our calls for internet access are to a toll free number, but I think the apartment owners have a set charge per minute of phone use whether or not it is a toll free call. I will have to get this figured out because it is great to be able to go online in the evenings in Switzerland.
End of Week 2
Another fabulous week. The apartment was great, the hiking was great, the weather mostly held out for us. Heidi, who owns the apartment and Heidi's Shoes in town, said the best time to come to Grindelwald is mid-September to mid-October. She said the mornings will have fog, but it lifts and there are lovely sunny days. This year it rained all July. We spent early October in Kandersteg in 2000 and had lots of rain - but that was an unusual year. My favorite time in Switzerland is July, when the fields are full of wildflowers.
The time in Switzerland went by too fast. Next year, three weeks! (Note from June 2003, just booked this year's trip with the exact same amount of time in Switzerland. I am always torn between time in Switzerland and time in Italy.)
Tomorrow we drive to Levanto in Liguria for one night and then on to Cetona in Tuscany for our first week in Italy.
Friday, September 6 - Out of Switzerland
Overcast and cloudy in Switzerland (would not have been a good hiking day), sunny as we got south into Italy, but some rain. Levanto had lots of rain earlier in the day and on the previous days.
We left Grindelwald late because we had such a great day of hiking the day before that we did not have enough time in the evening to get ourselves organized. I finished packing in the morning. Left Grindelwald at 10am, but spent 30 minutes in a small natural food store getting some supplies for Italy (organic brown rice, soy sauce, some veggie sandwich spreads). It took us an hour to drive back to Stans, at the base of the valley where we spent the previous week. If we had stayed in Grindelwald the first week and Engelberg the second week, the drive to Italy would have been an hour shorter.
By noon we were in Altdorf where we put gas in the car for the first time. (Unleaded 1.325CHF/liter, diesel 1.335CHF/liter - we spent 58.80CHF for unleaded.) By now we were tired from the packing and the drive and decided to have a good lunch in Altdorf. We walked around a bit and decided to go to the same restaurant (Hotel Restaurant Reiser) where we ate two weeks before. Had another good lunch.
Left Altdorf at 1:45pm. A very slow start to this driving day. Got to the Gottard tunnel by 2:00pm. After last summer's tragic accident, they allow trucks to go through the tunnel only in a convoy. We passed dozens of trucks waiting in a line to go through the tunnel. We drove in and had an easy drive. It is 17km long and took 15 minutes to drive.
We got to the Italy border at 3:20 but had to wait in a line of cars for 35 minutes. They just waved us through, but they must have been stopping some cars. Thus ends the Switzerland part of the trip. Onwards into Italy.
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