Patagonia: Day 6 (final)

One week wasn’t enough. But if it is going to be my last day exploring these Patagonian lands, let’s go out; with a bang. So yesterday’s theme was the Perito Moreno glacier; the main attraction in Calafate. I dunno, when I was looking at it, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if I had my lunch while sitting ON it. Well, let’s go.

After a drive back from Calafate to the glacier park and a short boat ride across the glacier lake, you arrive at the trail head for the … glacier walk. It’s about an hour until you reach the start of the ice but just check out the lunar surface to your right. Its like the pause button was pressed on a piece of ocean during a storm.

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Once you get close enough, the tour guides give a small tutorial and provide crampons. Ah, how I enjoy crunching the ice with my spikes. Welcome to the moon.

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My team had a whopping 3 hours on the glacier. We marched while avoiding small crevasses toward somewhere toward the center. The cracks in the ice are so juicy blue.

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Once we arrived at our lunch spot, I was surprised at where it was. I would’ve never guessed that there are small lagoons and lakes on the glacier. And the water is the super blue. This is perhaps one of my most scenic lunches ever.

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Ok, now its photo fun time.

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Yea, that’s me digesting my lunch, upside down hehe. There is still one more area to explore before heading back. The group marches toward a slightly higher peak toward the center to get a 360 panorama of the glacier and surrounding mountains. And Chile is just beyond those mountains there.

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So on the return trip, it’s never usually the same way since the glacier is always moving and there are no trails at all. Well, it only moves 2 meters per day but still, the guides make the trail based on their expertise. Every now and then, I noticed these networks of water flowing through the glacier like rivers on land.

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And then we all had to stop for this ice formation.

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Before you know it, you are back at the starting point where you first put on the crampons. You take them off and proceed the long journey back the to the trailhead through the area right off the glacier. Did I mention that there are some waterfalls on the way.

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I think it was a good way to spend my final day in Calafate and Patagonia. Well, it’s not officially over until you have the farewell dinner and feast like kings and queens with some steak. We dined at Esquina Varela and the food is very good. I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel with such a cool group of people. They were my family for a week and I hope to see them again on future travels. Be sure to check out the quality photos from one of our Patagonian companions: https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin-gt/sets/72157662800179278/

Well, that’s all folks. There is obviously so much more to explore in Patagonia. You can continue your journey into Chile and do the popular 4 day W-trek around Torres del Paine. You can do more trails in Chalten. You can go even further south to Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Falkland islands, or even Antarctica. The world is your playground, so get out there and explore it!

Patagonia: Day 4 and 5

We left our bags at the hotel to go rafting down the Rio de Vueltas. The rafting guides briefs us and then we put on our spacesuits; wetsuit and another outer layer.

 

It was a short drive to the rafting start point.

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The rapids are level 2 and 3 so it’s nothing scary. But still, you can fall off if taken by surprise. Once you survive the rapids, you celebrate with your comrades with a group photo.

After the rafting, we got our bags and headed back to Calafate to check in to our hotel. Calafate is bigger than Chalten with more hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops. We dined at La Zaina for dinner. It was perhaps the best lamb I ever had.

Perito Moreno glacier is about an hour drive from Calafate. The glacier is 3 miles wide and looks like a giant ice wall from the front (Game of Thrones?). This glacier is stable; nots not receding or growing. Once you reach the National park, you can go on the boat ride which takes you close to the glacier. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll see pieces crack and fall off within your time here. It’s a lot bluer than other glaciers that I’ve seen.

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In addition to the boat, there are platform paths nearby to get different viewpoints of the glacier.

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There is a beach nearby where you can eat lunch by the icebergs.

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This is a highlight to any trip to Calafate. There are other activities to do in Calafate such as kayaking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, glacier walks, etc. Guess which one I chose for the following day.

 

Patagonia: Day 3

Another cloudy day, but its way better than yesterday. Today’s trail is another popular hike called the Laguna Torre trail. The Fitz Roy was completely hidden in cloud yesterday, let’s see if the Cerro Torre (3,102 meters) is going to be the same.

The various landscapes throughout this trail are similar to the Laguna de Los Tres trail. There are several nice lookouts prior to reaching Laguna Torre. Although its considered a full day hike, it’s shorter than the Laguna de Los Tres trail with less elevation gain. So pack your water, snacks, lunch, and gear, let’s go!

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Once the terrain becomes rocky, then you know a lagoon is nearby.

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And there it is… Laguna Torre.

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We decided to have lunch just a few meters from the lake. And where there’s food, there will be big birds wanting scraps.

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The glacier in the distance breaks off pieces from time to time and end up in the lake. I found one close enough which was the size of my daypack but weighed 10x as much. After lunch we noticed there is an unmarked trail that takes you closer to the glacier and Cerro Torre. There would be more to trek back but the views are worth it.

Can you find me?

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Well that’s as far as you can go without a guide I guess. This spot is called Mirador Maestri. There were quite a few people hanging out by the last lookout waiting for the tip of Cerro Torre to come out of the clouds. After 30 minutes, we finally saw it.

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The long journey back was nice since the sun came out.

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Oh it had to be done…

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And we’re back at Chalten village.

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We dined at La Tapera once we got back to Chalten village. Really good food here. There are other trails in Chalten, but of course there is never enough time.

Patagonia: Day 2

There are so many trails around the Chalten area. Just remember to prepare for all seasons as you’ll most likely experience all types of weather on your journey.

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The whole day was dedicated to the most popular hike; Laguna de los Tres. Remember those peaks from yesterday? How about hiking to a lagoon really close to the Fitz Roy (3,405 meters). Well, it’s gonna cost you a whole day of hiking in unpredictable weather. I prefer circuits instead of out-and-backs when it comes to trails. A good circuit type trail starts from the Hosteria El Pilar. Doing the Laguna de Los Tres hike from here ensures that you can finish in Chalten village without retracing steps. It’s about a half marathon distance with 1000+ ft of elevation gain.

Well, these mountains are known for hiding in the clouds. The grand finale of Laguna de Los Tres trail is to be close to the Fitz Roy. I’ll just say that this day was not a good day for it. Please feel free to Google this hike on an ideal day (non-cloudy). Also, it rained every now and then. So you either plan around it, or make the best of it.

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About halfway through the hike to Laguna de Los Tres, there are viewpoints for glacier Piedras Blancas.

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A bit more walking through the steppe, forest, meadow, and river crossings.

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The non-stop uphill climb is more toward the end past tree level. Ice still hasn’t melted yet (mid November). After the uphill is over, and the landscape becomes completely rocky, you are there… the lagoon. Um, it’s still frozen and Fitz Roy is completely covered in cloud.

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Fail. Well, photo time anyway.

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However, it’s a short walk to get a glimpse of another lagoon that isn’t frozen; Laguna Sucia. You can take a path to the base of this lake, but we were short on time and could not do it.

We stopped for lunch. So the wild foxes come out hoping for scraps.

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Time to say goodbye to the shy Fits Roy and head back to the village through the various landscapes.

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The hills are alive…

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The wind and rain combination made it a bit messy but you get rainbows.

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The fire bushes are cool.

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And one last lookout of the valley.

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Finally back at Chalten village. Time to bathe, change, and eat a cooked meal. Cerveceria was a good choice. Tomorrow is another day for exploring Chalten.

Patagonia: Day 0 and 1

Patagonia is a place that was on my mind for some time and so I decided to finally embark on the long journey to the south. Just the sound of it, Patagonia, sounds like some faraway land in a movie. These next few posts covers a typical one week itinerary and doesn’t include the Torres Del Paine trek or the southernmost tip of South America. It does cover the Calafate and Chalten region.

This is my first time past the equator, first time in Argentina, first time in South America. From NYC, I flew an 11 hour red-eye straight to Buenos Aires. Not knowing much about the city, I just gave myself a walking tour and snapped photos of random places.

I thought the Steel Flower was pretty cool. It’s the flower version of the Chicago bean. I heard that the petals open in the day and close at night.

I made sure to eat steak before the night was over. Desnivel was a restaurant recommendation that had good steak and the portions are huuuge. Then I had to sleep for the early morning flight to Calafate.

From Buenos Aires, it’s about a 4 hour flight to Calafate. My journey actually starts in the Chalten region and I return to Calafate for days 5 and 6 of my trip. Day 1-4 is for the Chalten region. It’s a 3 hour bus ride from Calafate to Chalten. Yea, I know, so much traveling and we haven’t even gotten to the 8 hour hikes yet. The drive consists of driving around lake Argentino (Argentina’s biggest lake) and toward Viedma lake. Huge glaciers melt into both of these lakes; Perito Moreno for lake Argentino and Viedma glacier for Viedma lake.

Between Calafate and Chalten, there is a popular pit stop right before you reach lake Viedma called La Leona where you can get some food and snacks. Only 11,168 kilometers from home.

Spotted some guanacos (like a llama) on the way.

From here, there are many lookout spots that are worth stepping out of the car/van for. It was a cloud-free day which is rare in these parts and a great introduction to the Fitz Roy massif. Fits Roy is like the Matterhorn of this area. I soon found out that these mountains aren’t part of the Andes mountain range.

Welcome to Los Glaciares Parque Nacional. It’s the 3rd largest ice-field on the planet (1st and 2nd place goes to Antarctica and Greenland). The national park is shared between Argentina and Chile.

Chalten is a small mountain village in the middle of nowhere so don’t expect the best wifi. But instead of wifi, you get some of the best views of Patagonia and the trail-heads are just a few steps away from your hotel. There are many restaurants, small supermarkets, and gift shops to choose from. Bienvendos!

As it was already midday, there are still some small trails to explore. With one hour to spare, the Mirador de los Condores trail is a great choice. Yes, from time to time, condors fly around the land here but I couldn’t get a good enough photo of any. The lookout gives great views of the mountains and village given there are no clouds blocking.

There is another main peak called Cerro Torre with its own massif which is behind the Fitz Roy massif. Beyond Cerro Torre is the ice-field.

We headed to the Patagonicus restaurant for dinner. Lamb pizza was on the menu.

Tomorrow will be a very long hiking day. Time to get some rest. But if there is a clear night, be sure to check out the stars.

Switzerland 2017 – Day 10 (final)

Day 10: Nachster Halt – Zurich

Yep, its time to say goodbye to the Alps and head back to the city where we would catch our flight home early the following day. From the Interlaken Ost station, you take the Basel bound train to Bern for an hour, and then transfer to the St. Gallen/Romanshorn bound train to Zurich for another hour or so.

From Zurich station, the Hotel Continental Zurich is within walking distance and we headed there first to drop our bags. There are a few main attractions to check out if you only have a few hours in Zurich like we did. First, you can take a stroll down their main avenue called Bahnhofstrasse street. There are plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from.

Then there is the Grossmunster church.

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187 claustrophobic steps to the top, but the views are always worth the effort.

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Another viewpoint of the city is right by the Limmat river in Lindenhof park.

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For lunch, we heard that Burgermeister is the master of burgers in Zurich, so we tried it out, and we approve. Finally, there is the Altstadt (Old Town) area. This is pretty part of Zurich with some more shops and restaurants. I don’t remember where we ate for dinner but I do remember running into any ol place to escape the sudden rainstorm. Yea, it rains a lot here in July. I wish I had more to say about Zurich but we only had a few hours and I came to Switzerland for the Alps in the first place.

And that’s it. I hope my posts gave you some ideas of what to see and do in Switzerland. I totally recommend at least a week for visiting this country. I’d definitely go back to the Alps. Maybe Chamonix and Mont Blanc perhaps, and then there is the Andes and Himilayas, hmm. Thank you Switzerland for showing yourself to me and having good enough weather for me to experience the activities that were on my list.

Switzerland 2017 – Day 9

Day 9: Nachster Halt – Grindelwald and First

I heard a lot of great things about Grindelwald. Aside from being a scenic town, there are a lot of fun activities to do there as well. Lets go. From Lautebrunnen, you just have to take a short train ride back to Interlaken Ost and then transfer to the Grindelwald bound train. Even on a cloudy day, Grindelwald is a pretty place with plenty of hotels, shops, and restaurants.

You can take a cable car to one of the nearby peaks called First (7,110 ft / 2,167 meters above sea level) and walk on the Tissot cliff walk which is similar to the one by the Schilthorn but the views are always unique and worth it.

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From First station, there are plenty of hiking paths to explore especially the 3 km walk to Bachalpsee lake. We already visited some very nice lakes and besides, we wanted to be one of the first in line to catch the First Flyer zip line. Pray for good weather, and this zip line will be open; totally worth doing.

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The zip line takes you from the First cable station to the Schreckfeld station, but not all the way to Grindelwald. Nope, the descent just begins. Right after the zipline, after seeing free range cows with huge bells on their neck, you’ll see the mountain carts (mario kart).

 

Little did I know that this was going to be a highlight of my trip. Just imagine getting in a mario kart, and driving down a mounting for like 10 minutes with the best view on your left (and also a cliff hehe).

Once it was over, I couldn’t accept it, and rode the cable car back up to the Schreckfeld station just so that I could do the mario kart twice. Trust me, do this!

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Just one tip here, toward the beginning, avoid cow poo at all costs, especially your front tire. Didn’t happen to me but it happens. Well, back at Grindelwald, we had the best lunch at Restaurant & Bar Golden India. Since it started raining again and we had some time to spare, we decided to check out the Gletscherschlucht gorge which is a short bus ride from Grindelwald. It’s a nice stroll between to rock walls and water flowing between.

There is a blue net that hangs across the rock walls and above the water. This alone, would be the price of admission. I jumped until I had no more jumps left in me.

As the sun came back out, we headed back Interlaken for our last night in the area for some last-minute chocolate and gift shopping. We ate dinner at Laylat Beirut (lebanese food) which was perhaps the best meal we had in Switzerland thus far. We then headed back to Lauterbrunnen and packed our bags. Our next and final day is back in Zurich.

Switzerland 2017 – Day 8

Day 8: Nachster Halt – Jungfrau

Jungfrau; the queen of the mountains. It’s not the biggest mountain in Switzerland but it’s probably the highest anyone can go by train. If you want to experience winter in the summer, look no further. It’s also a very expensive train ticket so hopefully you decided to go during good weather. Many tourists come from their Interlaken and Grindelwald hotels to get to Jungfrau. It’s best to wake up first thing and try to beat the crowds.

It was an unbelievably nice and clear day but the mountain forecast had thunderstorms on the itinerary for the afternoon. More reason to get things done early. From Lauterbrunnen, we headed to the small town of Wengen via a short train ride. Wengen looks nice, like a mini Grindelwald. If I ever returned, I’d stay here.

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Anyway, from Wengen, we took the cable car up to Mannlichen. We didn’t want to be late to Jungfrau, but from the Mannlichen station, there is a peak 15 minutes away which has great views of the valley. Nevertheless, Mannlichen station has its own views.

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I read somewhere that one of the easiest and most scenic hikes is from Mannlichen station to Klein Scheidegg station; the main station for the Jungfrau train. It’s about an hour or so and yes, it’s the most scenic hike I’ve been on.

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Did I mention it’s mostly downhill.

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Halfway through the path, you make a right turn, and suddenly the big 3 decide to join the party. These guys know how to make an entrance.

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Once again, strategically placed benches; the Swiss know the spots.

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And if you’re into construction, you can try it out I guess.

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It was a nice day and all but without any shade, the sun will mess get you hot and uncomfortable so bring sunscreen and water. Keep in mind that you’ve been 7,000 feet above sea level this whole time. After a scenic hour, you’ll arrive at Kleine Scheidegg.

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Now here is something that I learned and didn’t know beforehand which is really important. The train to Jungfrau is limited and you have to get your tickets prior to arriving otherwise you may find out that tickets are sold out. Trains leave every half hour or so with a certain number of seats. When your competition is busloads of tour groups, you have to take what you can get. We ended up with train tickets but had the earliest one available which was in 2 hours. Eh, that’s ok I guess, we were hungry anyway so we just ate bratwursts and such at the restaurant. And there is wifi, so an hour can go fast and smooth. And one more tip, when booking the return train, give yourself 3 hours instead of 2 because you may want to take your time.

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Choo choo, onward to Jungfrau. Much respect to those who blasted the mountain to make the these tunnels above 10,000 feet years ago. As you ascend you may have to put layers on. When you first get off, you may want to go straight to the Sphinx Terrace observatory. Remember to put on your shades before getting off the elevator, its bright out there. You’ll notice that you’re in a winter world surrounded by snow, ice, and rock. And Aletsch glacier (Europe’s longest glacier [22km] is in front of you as well.

From the observatory, you’ll also see fun stuff going on below like skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and zip lining. What is this place? Well, time to head below and play. Right along the glacier, is the Snow Fun Park. We didn’t hesitate for a second and just got on snow tubes. Before you know it, and hour or so passed. Sledding is cool too but you’ll get your legs more wet from the snow.

We didn’t do the zip line because it was kind of short for what it was worth, but stay tuned to a Swiss zip line that I think is worth it in the following post. And if you wanted to trek 45 minutes across the glacier to the Monch hut, you could do that too.

There are other areas to explore such as the Alpine Sensation (museum with lights and music) and Ice Palace (ice cave with ice sculptures similar to Zermatt’s glacier paradise ice cave) but we didn’t get a chance. Snow fun park was too fun for anything else lol.

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And before leaving, make sure to stop at the world’s highest-altitude chocolate shop. We started to notice some big clouds swarming the mountain, well it’s time to go anyway. As we headed back down to Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken from Jungfrau, it rained hard; totally dodged that nastiness up there. Always check the mountain-forecast site for the weather before planning your next day, it helped me a lot.

 

Switzerland 2017 – Day 7

Day 7: Nachster Halt – Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Schilthorn

From the Pennine Alps to the Bernese Alps.

From Zermatt, the trains to get you to Lauterbrunnen are the following:
– Visp/Fiesch bound train to Visp (~1 hr)
– Basel bound train to Spiez (~30 min)
– Interlaken bound train to Interlaken Ost (~30 min)
– Lauterbrunnen bound train to Lauterbrunnen (~20 min)

Yea I know, crazy commute with luggage in 80F+ weather but this was the quickest path. Why did I choose Lauterbrunnen instead of Interlaken or Grindelwald? I thought it was a central spot for home base. Maybe it would help if I show a map of the area.

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As you can see, Interlaken (refer to the Day 1 post), is farthest from the action (on the left of the map) but at the same time, has the most restaurants and hotels. To the right of Interlaken is a valley that forks into 2: Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. Grindelwald would be ideal if you weren’t planning to check out the Schilthorn (which I planned to do today). Actually, there are many small towns upon the valley walls such as Murren and Wengen that are also great for staying in a hotel for a night or 2. Wherever you decide to go, just remember that you’ll have great views. We stayed at the Hotel Silbelhorn which wasn’t bad. Again, no air condition in these hotels and it was very hot. The perfect solution after a long travel day from Zermatt was to just drop our bags and go to the nearest mountain for some cooler weather. Onward to the Schilthorn.

Right from the Lauterbrunnen station, you catch the cable car to Grutschalp and then transfer to a Murren bound train for 2 stops to Murren. Between the cable car and train ride, just enjoy your view of the Lauterbrunnen valley.

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You’ll even catch your first glimpse of the big 3: Eiger (left), Monch (middle), and Jungfrau (right). As the story goes, the Jungfrau (young maiden) is being protected by the Monch (monk) from the Eiger (ogre).

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Murren is a small town with some restaurants and hotels. As you walk the main avenue toward the Schilthorn bound cable car, you’ll come across a tree trunk with perhaps one of the best views you’ll find that day.

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At the end of town, you’ll find the Schilthorn cable car. But you don’t just go straight there because there is one stop between at the Birg station where you can walk the Skyline Thrill walk. Its pretty much a platform walkway that circles the cliff.

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And then there is this cylindrical fence thing that you could crawl through, but don’t look down…

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After the Cliff walk, you then return to the cable car to finally arrive at the Schilthorn. Here is a miniature model of the Schilthorn area.

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Since one of the James Bond movies was filmed here, there is a small James Bond museum. There is a cool simulator which you sit inside and the screen shows yourself inside of a high-speed 007 chase scene. You can also walk around outside and take some photos of the Bernese Alps, even if it’s a cloudy day.

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Honestly, there isn’t much else to do up here unless you want to hike around some trails. But we were kinda tired from traveling earlier and hungry also. So we just headed back to Murren, ate at the Eiger Guesthouse restaurant, and then returned to Lauterbrunnen. If you have free time at Murren, you should take the funicular to Allmendhubel. There are some short trails around there that look nice.

One cool thing about Lauterbrunnen is that the Staubbach waterfall is within walking distance. Also, I was not aware that you could walk up a long staircase and through tunnels to get behind it, let’s go.

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We headed back to the hotel and called it a day. We had to get up early for the big one tomorrow… Jungfrau: the “Top of Europe”.

 

Switzerland 2017 – Day 6 (part 2)

Day 6: Nachster Halt – Gornergrat

Similar to the Rothorn, the Gornergrat is another peak in Zermatt that is accessible by public transportation; you don’t need to hike to the top. Its 10,285 ft / 3,135 meters above sea level. Instead of cable cars, it’s a nice train ride to the top.

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The Gornergrat is closer to the mountains and glaciers than the Rothorn. There is a hotel in the last station and so hiking paths to last you a week. Once at the top, you’ll have the view of the Grenz and Gorner glaciers without wearing any crampons.

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Hey, see that highest peak in the photo below… I was just there! Feels great to say that haha. Breithorn. And the little “spike” to the right is the Klein Matterhorn station. So you know that trekking from there and back is about 4 hours. Now you have an idea of this piece of Earth in the photo.

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At the top station, there is a restaurant, hotel, and gift shops. It is here that I spotted the largest Matterhorn chocolate in the world.

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You can just explore for hours and enjoy the cool weather and views. The Matterhorn is still in view and always makes a good background for photos.

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One station before the Gornergrat station is called Rotenboden. Whether you walk there or take the train back one stop is up to you. But I think it is here where you can find the best lake Matterhorn photo. This lake is called Riffelsee.

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And you know it had to be done…

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There are trails all around. From time to time, you’ll come across benches. I think that the Swiss strategically placed benches throughout the trails to inform the hiker to sit down, rest, eat a chocolate, and enjoy the views.

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I wish that I was in Zermatt for at least a week. There is so much more than the touristy spots and a few trails. This will be the last time I see you Matterhorn. Thanks for not being shy and hiding in clouds all day.

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Once back down from Gornergrat to Zermatt village, after a long day and relaxing at the hotel pool and hot tub, we dined at the Bubble Bar & Restaurant; perhaps the best food we’ve had in Zermatt thus far. Then we packed our bags and went to sleep early.

Goodbye Zermatt, and hello Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Grindelwald, Shilthorn, and Jungfrau! Stay tuned for Day 7, 8, and 9.