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Report 1021: Switzerland in Slow Motion: 100 Miles on the Alpine Pass Route

By Kaydee from Tennessee, Summer 2005

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Page 6 of 19: Day 3: Engstlenalp to Meiringen

photo by Kathy Wood

Walking with the cows on the way to Meiringen

Although the weather wasn’t great, this was a much better day today for one big reason: it was all downhill! Our walk today was about 11 miles.

We awoke to a day that was foggy and a bit drizzly, but it didn’t seem to be raining too hard. There were two route alternatives today: a high route that was supposedly more scenic and a valley route that was recommended in bad weather. Given the conditions, we decided to take the valley route.

We ate breakfast with Al in the big hotel dining room. They offered a very simple breakfast: big slices of bread with butter or jam, yoghurt (from the factory “next door”), juice and hot drinks.

Kelly really wanted to visit the yoghurt factory, but it didn’t open until 9 am and we decided not to delay our departure. We gathered up our packs, put on our rain gear, and headed off down the Gental valley. The path cut down through woods, and finally emerged into a grassy valley with tall mountains on either side. After a while we were able to shed our rain gear, though the day was dismal for several hours. We did hear and then see a couple more marmots along the way. They make a shrill whistling sound that startled us at first.

There’s actually a post bus that goes to Engstlenalp (where the road dead-ends), and eventually we ended up on the little paved post bus road, a narrow one-lane road. We passed a couple of farms, some selling cheese. There were lots of cows on the road and in the fields, and we even saw a car or two. We walked quite a ways among the cows, not my favorite thing to do, though these Swiss cows seem more agreeable than the cows we saw in England. I always felt the English cows didn’t like us in their fields, and then there was the ever-present possibility of a bull somewhere among them. Maybe milk cows are happier cows than beef cows. (Hmmmm… probably a psychological reason for that!) As we walked along in the company of the cows, their huge cowbells rang incessantly and loudly, sound effects to accompany us on our walk and really very pleasant.

We left the cows behind and finally caught up with Al and walked with him quite a while. He hiked listening to music. I think he enjoyed some company, as we continued together down through the woods and by some isolated farms. Finally we came to a small settlement outside the village of Innertkirchen. There was an attractive Swiss inn, and people were sitting outside enjoying their lunch. Al decided to press on, but our family wanted a break. We made plans to meet Al for dinner at our hotel in Meiringen.

We sat down at an outdoor table and had just started studying the menu when it began to sprinkle. Although other diners seemed prepared to stick it out, we had been in the great outdoors all morning and decided we’d rather have our meal in comfort. The restaurant offered a good menu with Swiss specialties. Charley and I shared a cheese dish called Kaseschnitte, kind of an open faced sandwich with melted cheese and mushrooms. Just my kind of dish! We also had beer, which we’ll drink instead of water or soft drinks here in Switzerland. Kelly was glad to find pasta on the menu.

We passed through the village (strange to be in civilization again!), then found the path to Meiringen via the Aareschlucht gorge. The path went right alongside the Aare River, initially a gentle stream. I had read about the Aareschlucht in the Sherpa notes and it was recommended as a natural phenomenon not to be missed. So I was pretty emphatic about wanting to hike through this gorge, even though it added a bit to the walk for the day. We walked along our river path, finally arriving at a bridge and a steep set of stairs up to a road and restaurant/gift shop. The entrance to the gorge was through the gift shop and there was a small admission charge.

At this point the river changed dramatically, making its way through a very narrow passageway in a rocky mountain. I’m sure the effect of the Aareschlucht was heightened due to the rainfall the previous day. Somehow some enterprising (and very brave) people had once managed to construct a wooden boardwalk along the left side of the gorge, affixed to the rock with steel beams and supports. The boardwalk was maybe four feet wide, and traffic was moving in either direction. Occasionally someone even came by with a baby stroller! Charley has a fear of heights he's been working to overcome, and he didn’t like the Aareschlucht whatsoever. It wasn’t all that high, but he didn’t like the fact that the wooden boardwalk just hung off the side of the rock, right over the raging river. The river at this point was a swirling, ferocious torrent, crashing its way between the two rock walls.

At points the passage through the gorge dipped into the rock and became a tunnel for a brief time. Charley was much more comfortable having his feet on solid ground and preferred to take any alternatives through tunnels instead of the wooden boardwalk.

At one point he turned to me with a real look of anger. “Did you know it would he like this?” he asked.

“No, no,” I protested. “All I knew was that you walked through a gorge and that it was neat.” (I, of course, thought it was tremendously neat.) Kelly picked up on her father’s emotions and also moved through the gorge in a state of high anxiety. Eventually they both became more comfortable, especially when they didn’t have to share the narrow boardwalk with people passing in the other direction. At the narrowest point of the gorge, Kelly stopped so I could take her photo. It was so narrow that she could stand on the boardwalk and put her hand across the river gorge and touch the rock on the other side!

Finally we emerged from the Aareschlucht, passing through an entrance and large restaurant on the other side. I thought it was great, what an experience! What a unique thing to see! Charley liked it all much better once it was over.

We continued on our way to Meiringen, not far now. Meiringen is a more substantial town of about 4,600 people, a long-time destination for tourists to this area. Part of Meiringen’s notoriety is its connection with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used to vacation here. Doyle set one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes stories at Reichtenbach Falls above Meiringen, where Holmes fought with a Professor Moriarty and supposedly perished (though later reappeared). I don’t know anything about the story, but Kelly had read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and was excited about being near Reichtenbach Falls. Meiringen is also known as the home of the meringue, and there are several bakeries which specialize in this delicate dessert. I know a lot more about meringue than Sherlock Holmes.

We trekked on through the little main street of the town toward our hotel. The streets were decorated with colorful banners and Swiss flags. Al was enjoying a beer and a book at the outdoor table of one of the restaurants as we walked by. We stopped to check in with him and talk about the walk through the gorge. Now that it was over, Charley was much more enthusiastic about his experience in the gorge.

The Hotel Baer is at the far end of Meiringen, attached to the post office and the bus station. It’s kind of a modern, sterile place with a bar and a restaurant, not a tremendous amount of Swiss charm. There isn’t really a proper reception desk, and we had to go to the bar to get the key to our room. Our triple room was fine, looking out over the big bus parking lot (a surprisingly busy depot) with the mountains beyond.

We were reunited with our luggage (which we hadn’t seen since Engelberg), cleaned up a bit, and had time to explore Meiringen. Kelly and I walked up to the Sherlock Holmes museum in the center of town. It’s an old church with Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle memorabilia. In one area you press a button and it lights up a reproduction of the drawing room of 221B Baker Street where Sherlock and Mr. Watson used to live. Kelly enjoyed the museum a lot. Outside the museum is a full-sized statue of Sherlock Holmes sitting on a bench in his detective hat with his pipe. Kelly sat on the bench, as I suspect thousands of other tourists have done, so I could take her picture.

We met Charley back at the hotel and all walked across the street to a little grocery store to get a few provisions for tomorrow. We’d rather carry a light lunch tomorrow instead of taking the time to stop in a mountain inn along the way. Tomorrow will be a long day for us, 13 plus miles and uphill again. We’re also questioning the wisdom of stopping for a big lunch on this walk, although I do enjoy a relaxing break at a pretty place. But we all tend to eat and drink too much, which complicates our afternoon walking. So we bought a couple of apples, a loaf of bread, some cheese and of course that all-important hiking provision: candy bars.

When we got back to our room, Kelly realized that she had left her precious stuffed badger “Baxter” at the hotel in Engstlenalp. She’s a stuffed animal girl and got Baxter a year ago when we were in Scotland. She’s carried him with her all this time, sleeping with him every night; she’s become quite emotionally attached to him. Although we had almost no luggage with us in Engstlenalp, somehow while packing up the room, he must have been left in the bedding on her futon.

Kelly was horribly distressed, but I’m only thankful that we hadn’t taken the most special stuffed animal (Barli) with us to Engstlenalp. That would have been emotionally devastating to both of us, since the worn-out stuffed bear Barli had been MINE as a child, now passed onto Kelly. Thankfully we had both decided Barli was too precious and old to carry in a backpack, and so he had bypassed the trip to Engstlenalp and arrived in Meiringen safely snuggled in Kelly’s suitcase. But now we had lost the almost-as-loved Baxter.

Charley and Kelly went downstairs to get help from the hotel people to call the Hotel Engstlenalp. The hotel manager there said he would investigate and call us back. We headed down to dinner, Kelly quite impacted by the loss of one of the few special possessions she still had with her at this point in the trip.

We met Al for dinner again tonight. It was definitely fun to have someone else to talk to, after all the three of us had been together almost non-stop for thirteen and a half months! The dinner was served in a large, rather sterile hotel dining room, which was used only for people on the hotel meal plan. We asked if we could eat in the busier main dining room and they started to seat us, but then we were told no, we must eat in the other room. There was just one other table of guests, a family with a teenage daughter. The environment was very hushed and the service was horribly slow. I don't even remember the meal.

After dinner the hotel staff told us that the hotel manager from Engstlenalp had called. Baxter had been found and would be put on the first bus to Meiringen in the morning. That bus wouldn't arrive until after 10 am, quite a bit later than we planned to leave on our long walk tomorrow. We really needed every minute of daylight to get to Grindelwald, since the day involved 13 miles and almost 4,500 feet of elevation gain. But Kelly was frantic that she wasn’t going to leave without Baxter.

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