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Backroads of Switzerland

Author: Stephen Goch
Date of Trip: June 2012

We had been looking at a tour from AFC Travel called “Backroads of Switzerland” for quite some time, but wanted to tie it in with a river cruise. This is actually a misnomer as there are no roads to the places we visited. Since neither Kathy nor I had been to Switzerland, we thought we could tie a Swiss tour in with a river cruise like we did with our Baltic cruise in 2010. That way we would do two tours and only have to do one Atlantic crossing.

Our task was to coordinate both trips so there are no overlaps. We found a French Waterways river cruise that fit the criteria and booked that also.

The AFC tour date did not meet our schedule, but we had the AFC itinerary for the Swiss trip, and Kathy in her wisdom said, “Why don’t we do it ourselves and not have to follow the yellow umbrella?” Thank goodness for the Internet, because I got all the train and hotel information, and laid out the trip schedule.

We planned to have an extra day in Nice, but I found out the hotel the river tour was putting us up in was in Monte Carlo, which is on Kathy’s “bucket list”.

To get from Switzerland to our river cruise, we will have to take the train from Wengen to Monte Carlo, changing in Basel and Geneva, but if we could make it from Wales to the Lake District in England changing twice, this should not be a problem. The difference was there were 5 changes of trains instead of 2! We were resigned to only taking 2 suitcases and 2 carry-on’s for this 22 day trip.

While visiting my mother before this trip, I suddenly had an idea! I could put the 2 carry-on bags back to back, and strap them together with a luggage strap, reducing our bags to four.

ZURICH

Because we had an overnight flight and would arrive in Zurich about 3 PM (midnight in California), we felt it would be wiser to stay overnight in Zurich and head out the next day. The hotel we picked was near the main Zurich train station, and was not too far from the airport. Getting to the hotel was an experience, as none of the traffic lights in Zurich seems to be synchronized. The hotel was very nice, but the restaurant was extremely expensive ($25 for a hamburger). I went out in the area and found a small kebab restaurant and brought back some gyros and salad that were great!

The next morning we awoke refreshed, and took a taxi to the train station.

LAUTERBRUNNEN / WENGEN

Upon leaving Zurich we boarded the first of 3 trains and traveled through the rolling Swiss landscape past sparkling lakes up into the massive Swiss Alps. We had to take a train from Zurich to Bern, then one from Bern to Interlaken Ost (East), then one from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. This was reminiscent of our Ireland trip, where it was taxi, ferry, 3 trains and a taxi!

As the trains rolled, the scenery is increasingly spectacular as we skirted Lake Thun, one of 2 lakes in the Bernese Alps.

We arrived in Lauterbrunnen, with its towering cliffs and fantastic waterfalls. It was very reminiscent of Yosemite, but without Half Dome. We also met the cog rail train that we would be riding many times during our visit.

Upon arriving in Wengen, we discovered we could look down on the beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley with its cliffs, waterfalls, and charming Swiss chalets.

The first order of business was to buy our Berner Oberland Passes. The pass was good on all the trains, trams, cable cars and buses in the region. By the end of our visit, we had used them so much that the ink wore off. The stationmaster complained about that, and I told him he was the one who issued them to me in the first place.

The second order of business was to buy some softer toilet paper. The paper in the hotel reminded us of blank newspaper on a roll. I went to the market next door, and in sign language asked for the softest toilet paper they had. The clerk looked at me strangely, but my point was made. One of the true luxuries of the USA is our toilet paper.

LAUTERBRUNNEN VALLEY AND SCHILTHORN
The weather at the Jungfrau was overcast, so we boarded the cog-rail for an excursion to the glacier carved Lauterbrunnen Valley. We then continued by bus to Stechelberg to take the cable car to Murren. From there we took two more cable cars to get us up to the Schilthorn, to go to a revolving restaurant called Piz Gloria at the “top of the world” for lunch. It was featured in the James Bond movie, “On her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

On the way up we passed another beautiful waterfall.

JUNGFRAUHOCH/ THE EIGER

The weather had improved, so we rode the rails up to the Jungfraujoch Mountain, traveling to an altitude of 11,133 feet through a tunnel built in the mountain of Eiger. Kathy was a little unsure if she wanted to do this because of the altitude, but saw a segment on TV where Matt Lauer ended up at the observatory on the mountain. She did quite well, even though she had never been at this altitude before.

There were two stops in the tunnel with viewing windows on the way to the top, and the first one at Eigerwand was socked in! When we got to the second stop at Eismeer, it was severe clear! We breathed a sigh of relief and got off at the top of the mountain. We then took an elevator up to the observatory at the top of the mountain called the Sphinx because of its resemblance to the one in Egypt.

The view was absolutely spectacular! Looking down, we could see a snow play area where people could take a tube ride down then catch a little tram back up. Imagine this much snow in June!!! By the way, I love the telephoto feature of my new camera!

After our visit, we went down the mountain to the Kleine Scheidegg station, which is the junction to go either to Wengen or the village of Grindelwald via the cog railway. The views of the surrounding mountains from the town were spectacular! The vistas changed as the clouds would roll through.
We stopped at a little snack bar for lunch, and the lady who owned it had been a nanny in the states at one time. We chatted for some time, and it turned out she collected the US State quarters. Kathy and I checked our pockets and came up with a few for her she did not have.

We then headed back to Wengen by train and cog train to our hotel.

SCHYNIGE PLATTE

The lady in Grindelwald mentioned that there was a steam train up to Schynige Platte, so we headed down the mountain to Wilderswild to catch the train. When we arrived, we were told the steam train only ran twice a month, and we had missed it.

We boarded the train which was pulled by an electric engine, and slowly made our way to the top.

There was a hotel at the top with a huge observation deck and a restaurant. We ordered the soup, which was a potato soup with porcini mushrooms that was fantastic, and finished lunch off with strudel.

INTERLAKEN / LAKE CRUISE

We took the familiar route from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken. After a 5 minute walk, we were at the dock for the Lake Brienz steamer. While waiting for the ship, we looked up and there were three paragliders who had launched from the mountain behind us!

TRUMMELBACH FALLS AND MANNLICHEN

Today was our last day of touring, so I wanted to see Trummelbach Falls. Trummelbach consists of ten glacier fed waterfalls inside a mountain. Up to 4,000 gallons a second flows through the falls, and it is the only glacier waterfalls in Europe inside a mountain. The upper falls are accessed by an elevator that goes part way up, and then the lower falls are accessed by a series of stairs leading down.
It was dark wet, and slippery, and Kathy was glad she had not gone with me.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Switzerland, especially since we had not been here before.

This trip was a lot of fun because of the flexibility we had to do things on our own. It is understandable that some travelers would be uncomfortable doing this, but you give up flexibility for security. As an example, we saw hordes of tours going up to the Jungfrauhoch when there was nothing to see because of the clouds. We, on the other hand, could wait for a clear day, which we did.

A trip like this was made possible because of the highly developed rail system in Western Europe. This would be impossible to do in the USA or other places in the world.

To get to Monte Carlo to meet up with the river cruise group for the second part of our adventure entailed quite a bit of travel. The routing was Wengen to Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken to Bern to Geneva. We then took the TGV (fast train) to Nice and then a local to Monte Carlo. We booked first class on the TGV so we would have a place for our entire luggage, as we were sure the luggage racks in 2nd class would be full. We left at 8 AM and got to our hotel in Monte Carlo at 8 PM.

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