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 1

Day 1: Nachster Halt – Interlaken
Interlaken is a scenic 2 hour train ride from Lucerne. There are many hotels and restaurants to choose from. The turquoise Aare river flows through it and the Alps are right next door.

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Interlaken means “between lakes” and indeed it is; between Breinz lake and Thun lake. You can see all of the small towns during your train/bus ride along these lakes. Interlaken is typically used as home base for exploring the Alps and for all related activities. So be prepared for the crowds of tourists. Also, if you look up, you will most likely find people paragliding high in the air almost anytime during the day.

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So there is Interlaken Ost (East) which is the central rail station. And there is Interlaken West which is where most shops/restaurants are. Our day starts in the West, with a chocolate making class at the Funky Chocolate Club. The Swiss are masters of chocolate, not because they have cocoa, but because they have cows (milk). By the end of the class, you learn the basics of chocolate making and actually create 3 large chocolate bars on your own to take home. Totally worth the price of admission.

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Other than paragliders, you may also notice a building on top of a large hill when looking up. That would be Harder Kulm; an overlook accessible by funicular which gives you the ultimate view of Interlaken. The funicular is closer to the East side of town. It was cloudy, but I hear you can see the big mountains (Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau) from here on a clear day. But still, you can clearly see 2 lakes on both sides of the town, and the valley behind it leading to the Alps.

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After a good lunch at El Azteca, we decided to head to St. Beatus caves via 20 min bus ride by the Thun lake. There are of course other nearby towns to explore as well as the Aare Gorge, Giessbach Falls, and Thun Lake castles but we had to choose one. Check these out and let me know how it was. So the entrance to the caves is a short scenic path up a hill by a waterfall from the bus stop.

If you’re into stalag mites and tites in dark caves then this is for you.

I recommend that you stay in Interlaken for a few nights as there is so much to do especially beyond the Lauterbrunnen valley toward the mountains (stay tuned for the day 7-9 posts). Instead, we headed back to Lucerne and dined at China Restaurant Jialu (tasty but pricey) and went to sleep. The mountain adventures start tomorrow…