I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with those wee red knives.
It was hard to leave Burgundy but the mountains beckoned to us. After field after field of vineyards, we looked forward to the mountains and, oh, did we find them. After snaking our way up in altitude, we suddenly came to the Swiss border. From there, we wove our way through tunnels and along the main expressway, when suddenly we found ourselves nestled in a little valley surrounded by mountains. Our campsite for the week was a delightful little cabin at the edge of the main town called Lauterbrunnen. It was a tiny cabin but, like a swiss army knife, had lots of storage for every we needed. The beautiful view from the cabin was a lovely surprise and we spent many afternoons after our hikes sitting and gazing at the beautiful falls which dominated the view. We were to spend a happy 6 days here in what seemed like a little piece of paradise.
Mountains, Mountains and More Mountains
Did I mention that the Swiss have a few mountains? You can’t avoid them but why would you? The mountains were to feature in most of our activities. At first, we thought, well, we have mountains in British Columbia. What’s the big deal? But there is a difference. As we looked around it seemed that the Swiss have tamed the mountains and made them more beautiful in a very different way. I know you are wondering about how you would ever tame a mountain, but the Swiss seemed to have found a way. There were villages up in the highest reaches of the mountain. Just when you thought no one could possibly live here, you would turn a corner or come over a crest of a small rise and there would be a little cluster of houses and huts. You could hear cowbells in the distance singing their merry songs. Seeing all this farming and life happening in the hidden plateaus of the mountains, we realized that the main difference between the mountains here and the mountains at home was that the Rockies were untamed, wild and, for the most part, unexplored. The Swiss mountains were part of the culture and the daily life of the Swiss. It was fascinating to see and beautiful to behold.
Hiking and the Schilthorn
Of course, we did a lot of hiking here. Now, when we say hiking, we don’t mean a casual stroll along the path. Nope. Hiking here in Switzerland means a major workout no matter what you decide to do. For one of our first jaunts out, we took one of the many gondolas up the side of Schilthorn Mountain and set out towards Gimmelwald and Murren. Deanne had heard that there was an amazing playground up on the mountainside. We discovered that getting to this playground was easier said than done. The hike to the playground was a very uphill 4K walk. We trudged and trudged up the hill. Around each bend, we thought we would find the playground and be able to rest our exhausted bodies. When we finally made it, we were rewarded with an amazing playground. One of the things we loved about Switzerland was the playgrounds. Unlike many places, where the town or city puts a couple of swings and bars into the ground and calls it a playground, this playground was huge and full of things to investigate. Plus, this playground would probably win an award for most scenic background. Amazingly, the kids still had lots of energy for the playground and Liam, especially, loved the zipline. He spent most of the time going back and forth on it while Siena tried climbing every structure in sight. This was the first of many times going up Schilthorn Mountain and it was a great introduction to mountain life and activities.
On another day, we took four gondolas up to the very top of the Schilthorn. The views from the top were breathtaking with views of the three other major mountains in the area; the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. One of the cool things was that the Schilthorn had been used in one of the James Bond movies and had a wonderful little interactive exhibit. They had interviews with the cast and crew, a helicopter you could get in, a bobsled video machine where you were superimposed on a bobsled with bombs going off around you and other exhibits. It was quite fun. We then wandered around the actual building and took in the sites. On the way back down, we stopped at the next level where they had a very fun walk you could do on a walkway attached to the side of the mountain. The walkway was suspended over the valley below and at various points, you walked on see-through glass, scooted over a ropewalk and crawled through a wire tunnel, all with nothing below you. Not for those scared of heights! The kids had no problem and enjoyed the various encounters.
On one of our first days in Switzerland, the receptionist at our campsite mentioned to us that there was a cheese festival happening in nearby Wengen. Of course, we can’t resist any kind of a festival, especially ones involving cheese, so up the mountain we went! It wasn’t a huge event but the festival included many local kinds of cheese, which we got to sample and some of the local delicacies. It is always fun to try local dishes and we enjoyed trying Rosti, cheese bread and a dessert made from chestnuts. The rosti, which consists of a combination of potato, cheese, onion, and ham, was a big hit. The cheese bread was also very good but it was even more interesting to see how they made it. The kitchen had 5 different heaters working. Each heater had a block of cheese under it. The men would grab a piece of thick bread and scrape the melted cheese off the block and onto the piece of bread. It was very interesting to watch these great slabs of cheese being melted under the heater. The heater was only hot enough to melt the very top of the cheese block. The festival also featured a number of music acts including a group of alphorns playing different Swiss songs. Miss Switzerland Alphorn 2018 played a number of her hits, which the fans ate up with each song ending with loud rounds of applause. There was also a parade of cowbells being led by a man wearing a backpack used to carry the wheels of cheese up and the down the mountainside. The cowbells were huge and the men and women following the leader rang their bells holding the straps with both hands as they moved along the path. We learned a lot about cowbells while we were here. Traditionally, only the three lead cows wear cowbells and they are tuned differently to harmonize with each other. On very difficult terrain or particularly hilly countryside, the farmer would hold the bells for the cows leading to the modern day cowbell parades. These bells are huge and weigh quite a bit which you could tell as you watched the men and women carry them.
St. Gallen’s and Liechtenstein
On one of our days in Switzerland, it was supposed to rain so we decided to head out on the road towards St. Gallen which holds one of the oldest libraries in Europe. As it was close to Liechtenstein, we decided to make a quick stop to add another country to our list. We didn’t stay long in Liechtenstein, stopping only to have lunch and visit the Prince’s castle overlooking the capital. The Prince still lives inside the castle so we were unable to go inside.
After this quick detour, we headed to St. Gallen and discovered that the library was not as easy to get to as we thought. Europe is riddled with areas that you are not allowed to drive through, whether to cut down on traffic in the small, cramped streets of the old cities or to preserve the historic buildings and streets. In our attempts to find the library, we stumbled into one of the areas.
Hopefully, we won’t be receiving a ticket for this misadventure. Finally, we found the spot we needed to get to but finding parking was another adventure. Europeans have this hilarious notion of what a parking spot should be. While the sign indicated that there were 4 parking spots available, the parking spots revealed themselves to only large enough to park a cardboard cutout of a car. We saw car after car pulling out of spots, raced over to take the spot and ended up marveling at how on earth they ever managed to fit themselves into the crawl space. We did finally manage to find a parking spot large enough to fit our car and set out to find the library.
The library was well worth the time spent looking for the spot. The room itself was not huge but the ornate baroque architecture was breathtaking. They had several medieval manuscripts out for viewing and we spent a happy hour wandering from book to book telling the kids how old these books were. The only unfortunate thing was that you were not allowed to take pictures. I managed to sneak a couple but not as many as I would have liked.
Inside the Mountains
The Swiss have mountains figured out. Not only have they found ways to get people up mountains, they have also found ways to get people inside mountains! Twice during our stay in Switzerland, we climbed up the side of the mountain and right inside. The first was a short easy hike in behind the local falls right beside our campsite. It was actually one of the highest falls in Europe and we had great views of it from our cabin. After a steep uphill portion, you went into a mountain tunnel and came out right behind the falls. The was quite neat, though Liam does not enjoy getting wet, so we didn’t spend too much time there. The second time was also nearby but much bigger. Trummelbach Falls also climbs up the side of the mountain on the opposite side of the valley but then abruptly goes right inside. Following the path, you can view the falls thundering water pouring through the inside of the mountain. The sound of the water made talking difficult but the sight of all that water directing the glacier waters of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau into the valley below was amazing. The falls here carry up to 20,000 liters of water per second and over 20,000 tons of boulders per year!
Of Driving in Switzerland
Finally, just a brief mention of the driving in Switzerland. After France, driving in Switzerland was quite sedate. I almost felt like I was going comatose at some points. The Swiss take their driving seriously here and there were not many opportunities to go faster than 80km/h. There were numerous tunnels and every little village you drive through, you would invariably hit a 30km/hr sign. You do not get through Switzerland very quickly. Unfortunately, I think I got tagged going 87km/hr in an 80km zone in one of the tunnels.
With Morocco and Marrakesh being our next stop, I think we will be in for quite a shock after Switzerland. There was a calmness and peacefulness here that we enjoyed. While our cabin was small, we enjoyed coming back and relaxing on the little deck with the view of the falls. While we don’t mind dealing with other languages, it was nice to talk with people who could speak our language very easily, sometimes better than we could. However, we are up to our next adventure and are looking forward to what Morocco has in store for us!