Porcupyn's Blog

June 18, 2015

A trip to Switzerland – Day Five

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:42 am

We woke up bright and early. As we had the 9 O’clock travel pass, the schedule I had made up called for us to be at the Rumlang station by about nine am, to get the 9:09 train to Zurich Hbf.

At the lobby, we had a great breakfast buffet waiting for us. Based on comments I read on the site, the breakfast was not up to expectations for folks expecting a hot breakfast spread but for us vegetarians, it was the best we could hope to get :-). We had bread (choice of butter, margarine, jam, chocolate spread, etc to top it with), croissants, muessli, fresh fruits, a wide variety of hot and cold beverages. In other words, we were very full when we got up!

Remember, we had the sixpack travel passes. Based on research, I had expected these to be stickers that could be affixed to your Half Fare Card. However, it turned out to be a card that had a notch to one side with six tabs (for lack of a better word that I can think of). The card needed to be punched at the Orange machine each day prior to the first trip of the day – the machine would strip off one tab and stamp the date on the card simultaneously.

Well, our card was slightly misaligned and so, by the time I stamped it for the fifth time, the machine had eaten up all the tabs!! Now, I was at a loss as to what to do – try as I might, I was unable to get the machine to stamp the card for the sixth time. I wrote down today’s date and hoped that it would pass muster.

Realizing that there were still over fifteen minutes for our train to come by, I walked under the tracks on the subway and over to the ticket office. Though the official here had a tough time understanding my English, he realized what I was saying and proceeded to print me a fresh card with one tab and wrote down the number of the original sixpack, showing that they needed to be carried together.

Our train was late by about five minutes or so – the platform was buzzing with folks late on their way to work (maybe?). In the meantime, a couple of freight trains went by, as did a fast express train that did not stop and also another commuter train which did – both going the other direction. We were not too worried because we had about fifteen minutes of waiting time at Zurch Hbf to board our train to Chur (leaving at 9:37 am).

When we got to our departure platform at the Hauptbahnhof, our train to Chur was already waiting for us and we got in and found some seats. IIRC, it was a reasonably empty train. To our left was a large lake flanked by mountains almost all around it (except to the north and the west). Along the lake were a couple of parks and a walking/bike trail at least for some part of the way. Without much ado, we reached Chur (10:52 am arrival) where we saw Rhaetian Bahn trains standing at a siding.

As further proof that I had not properly researched this leg, we went up the stairs to the Post Bus station, which was significantly bigger than those we had seen before – at Interlaken, at Visp, at Spiez, and at Meiringen. Of course, had I researched it better, we would have taken the train from Chur to Andermatt, which is one of the most beautiful legs of the Glacier Express.

We were in Chur because I had wanted to take a train that loops around itself and, having spotted a few such loops on the route south of the Gotthard Pass (for some reason, not realizing that these happen at high speed and mostly within tunnels), I had decided to take the northbound train from Bellinzona along the William Tell route. As a result, we were headed there from Chur on our next segment.

There were at least 15-20 “platforms” for the buses – I say that in quotes, because these are just bus spaces marked on the pavement which have the number painted on them as well. The kids and I were really enthused to see a double decker bus standing at the platform marked for our destination – Bellinzona. Our happiness doubled when we realized that not many passengers had boarded the bus and – when we climbed to the upper deck – we saw that the first row was vacant. Needless to say, we occupied the four front row seats to get a straight up view of the road and the scenery ahead of (and around) us.

As a first for me, the platform had a signal right in front of the bus (for each bus). Right on time (11:13 am departure), we got our green signal and our bus departed.

Soon after we got out on A13, we saw a train in the distance that looked like the Glacier Express (I might or might not be right on this one). Then, we travelled along a river which, I realized after returning, was the Rhein flowing in the opposite direction. Along the route, we saw snowcapped mountains as well as others.

One good thing about travelling long distance (i.e., 2 hours in Switzerland) by bus or train is that it gives time for the family to interact and/or catch up on their sleep. The latter was what kids preferred and so, for a big part of the trip to Bellinzona, one or the other was fast asleep.

Photos for today are in this album (Photo Credit: Baab)

June 17, 2015

A trip to Switzerland – Day Four

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:41 am

Today was the day we had to check out of the Hotel and so we had already made up our mind on what we were doing regardless of the weather – heading to Oberwald – and therefore the fact that the sun was out did not really affect our decision. Upon further investigation (i.e., stepping outside of the room), I noticed that though the sun had come out, the top of the mountains were still covered so it might not be a good idea to change plans now.

Train climbs from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen

Dining room at Valley Hostel, Lauterbrunnen

View from our bedroom window

We quickly got ready and checked out. My plan was to leave on the 8:03 train to Interlaken Ost so we could be at Meiringen in time for the 9:25 am Post Bus to Oberwald. Upon checking out, we were told where to keep our luggage in storage for pick up when we returned from Oberwald.

Spot the little cottage in the mountain

Travelling along the Lutschine

We had a 9 o’clock travel pass for the day, so I bought two tickets to Meiringen (one way) so that we would be covered for that segment which occurred before 9 am; the pass would cover us for the rest of the day.

At Zweilutschinen

Our trip to Meiringen was very uneventful – we changed trains at Interlaken Ost and passed through Lake Brienz (or Brienzersee as it is called locally) in sunshine though there were scattered clouds where we came from.

Our train’s schedule

Lake Brienz (Brienzersee)

Meiringen Railway Station
Upon getting down, I headed towards the information office that is located within the station. The agent provided me with a map of the area and told me how to get to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and how to get to Reichenbach Falls and the Aare Gorge area (if we were interested in that).

Right across from the station was the Post Bus stop. The indicator said that the bus to Oberwald would leave from Gleis 3, but I was unable to see 3 written anywhere. However, I saw 2 and 4 and assumed that 3 would be right around there, but there was a bus in that spot (without a lit info board). Rather than assuming, I asked the Swiss Post employees, but they (this was a first) did not understand English. Therefore, though we were not really sure, as there were other passengers who appeared to be hanging around for the bus as well, we did the same and, soon enough, the bus’s info board lit up with our destination and we climbed on.

Now, when I checked on the sbb website entering June 17th as the travel date, I thought – to be honest, I am pretty sure – that the website gave me a schedule that gave us a break of about an hour or so at Oberwald. Taking that bus back to Meiringen would then put us in Meiringen around 2:30 pm after which we might (or might not) have time to visit the Reichenbach Falls before returning to Lauterbrunnen to pick up our bags.

I am saying all this because … after we got on the bus, I noticed that the bus schedule and other brochures were available behind the driver. When I started paying attention to the schedule – by this time we had passed the Sherlock Holmes Museum and also the stop for Reichenbach Falls – that I had picked up, I realized that the schedule that sbb had displayed would only be valid starting on June 20th. For today, there would be a 15 minute (or so) gap between the bus’s arrival and departure at Oberwald.

With that in mind, I discussed with Mrs. Porcupyn and we made a change of plans on the spot – we would get down the bus at Grimsel Hospiz and take the bus on its way back from Oberwald, an hour later (if we missed that, the next bus would be four hours later!). That hour would give us enough time to check out the area and get some photos. Besides, and more importantly, the trip up Reichenbach Falls was now definitely on as we would be returning much before 2 pm as opposed to the 2:30 pm that I had thought we would.

Because coming to Meiringen and on to Oberwald was a last minute change in plans (well, compared to the rest of the trip – remember that I made this plan change only after landing in Lauterbrunnen), I did/do not have a printout of the time table the way it was displayed by sbb so I can back up all this. But I sure am glad I got the schedule from the bus and reviewed it immediately, else we would have spent a couple of hours in Oberwald and not visited any of the Sherlock Holmes related spots.

When the bus left Meiringen station, it went past the main street (I assume) of Meiringen. By observing the bus route, we got an idea of how far (and where) the Sherlock Museum was and also where the stop for the Reichenbach Falls funicular was located. Because the bus stopped at Reichenbach Falls, I assumed we would be able to get down there on the way back, thus having to only walk back to Meiringen from there.

Once we left Meiringen, the scenery immediately became prettier (if I can say that!). Soon we came to the Aareschlucht stop which we understood to be the entrance to the Aare Gorge. Then, we went through a valley and climbed a bit. On the route, we passed cyclists on their exercise/practice runs :-). We also came to a sharp curve on the road – the one and only time we heard the sweet sound of the Post Bus horn (didn’t happen on the way down because the bus takes a tunnel on that leg, IIRC). Unfortunately, I was too slow on the draw and so was unable to record the sound on my camcorder.

Soon we passed a dam to our right side, then a small lake and continued climbing. We now saw a huge dam to the right, which we got to the top of and, when the bus took a turn from the main road, we realized that we were at our destination, Grimsel Hospiz. As we were really anxious to ensure that we would not miss our bus back to Meiringen, we got down at the stop only after confirming with the driver that the return bus would be there in about an hour or so.

We spent a few minutes outside taking photos and generally looking around. I watched as our Post Bus climbed up the Grimsel Pass and disappeared out of sight. Now that I look at the maps of the area, the views from up top were probably prettier – but a) I was unaware of that and b) like I said before, we would not have had time for Reichenbach Falls.

The colours in that area are really too good. There was the blue sky with white clouds rolling in. mountains with green lichen or moss (?) and snow covering them, a greenish lake (well, two of them to be precise) and of course, those on the humans – we were not the only one there after all.

After some time, we thought it might be a good idea to see whether we could get inside the hotel for something warm to drink. Sure enough, we could – even if it was just for coffee or hot chocolate. We went for the latter, as we looked out at the great scenery. When we entered, we were the only patrons though before we left a couple of other tables were occupied as well.

The place was really stunning! I am not used to having food at high end places with great decor (except a couple of times at weddings) and this place was really up there. Even the restrooms (toilets) were spotlessly clean. It felt like a shame to be using them!! For folks not knowing German, it might have been a bit troubling to figure out the signs on the doors though 😉

The indication was that toiletten were upstairs. Made sense – toilets. Then at the doors the signs were “Herren” and “Damen”. It could be interpreted by someone as “her”s (as in plural of “Her” –> toilet – toiletten, her – herren, get it? 😉 and “Da men?” That was my little joke – don’t know about you guys, but it certainly had my family in splits!

Soon, our hot chololates arrived with a small Swiss chocolate piece each, which the rest of my family loved. I thought it was OK, nothing too great.

When we left the hotel, we still had about ten minutes of waiting time. We could feel that it had gotten noticeably colder in the 20-30 minutes we were inside. Besides, the (light) clouds had rolled down low enough that the top of the Pass was already half covered and we could barely see the vehicles coming down the switchbacks. We were glad on our inadvertent good timing. Had we arrived an hour later, our views would have been severely curtailed.

Soon, we could see the Post Bus descending the Pass and in a few minutes, we were inside the warmth once again. On the way back, we could see the scenery from a different angle which was nice.

We heard other folks on the bus talk about a steep funicular and looked out as they did and sure enough, to the right, we could see the Handegg funicular. Some of the passengers had plans to visit, and got down when the bus stopped at Handegg.

The rest of the trip back to Meiringen was uneventful, except that we missed the stop at Reichenbach Falls – well, the bus did not stop; so, either it was not a stop on the way back or we were supposed to have indicated to the driver that we intended to get down (that we did not, because I didn’t realize that we were there until we crossed that point). This meant that we had to walk all the way from Meiringen to Reichenbach Falls.

It was a very pleasant walk from the Meiringen train/bus station to the Reichenbach Falls funicular. We spent some time at the Sherlock Holmes museum (only from the outside) along the way for some photo ops. The sun had come out though there were some patchy clouds, but rain was banished from our thoughts for the day.

When we arrived at the station, we asked the operator where we needed to buy the tickets – he responded that he would be selling tickets. Then, I don’t know if it was a misunderstanding or not, but though the funicular had not left yet, the operator asked us to wait for the next trip – in fifteen minutes. So, we waited and generally spent the time looked around.

Upon the return of the vehicle, we purchased our tickets – this was one of two places where I had to use cash (Swiss Francs) – for 10 Francs per adult and 8 Francs per kid. In hindsight, this is where I am a bit upset at the attitude of the operator. He saw that we were a family and could have informed us that the “family fare” was 22 Francs (I did not know this then, and only realized this only a couple of days ago – like I said, I had not researched Reichenbach Falls fully or noted down what I had read even). Cannot say for sure about USA but surely in India, I would like to think that the operator would have informed us that there was a more economical option available. I am pretty sure I had even asked if there were any discounts as we were holding the Family Card. Oh well …

At the top, we were greeted by more commemorative clippings from newspapers and a photo op at a Sherlock Holmes cutout which we duly took advantage of. Climbing further – and it was a nice hike – we came upon the bridge crossing the falls, then walked up to the road. At this point, I was unsure where to go to get to the X-spot where Holmes had locked arms with Moriarty. Unfortunately, a) I had missed seeing the map after exiting the Funicular (maybe because I rushed to the cutout?) and b) none of the other folks who were making the climb with us appeared to know what I was asking about – and none were seen at the X-spot either.

So, we walked back down the way we came and caught the funicular back down. After a few minutes, we were back in Meiringen station, ready to take our train back to Lauterbrunnen.

Had I done my homework, I would have realized that a) the funicular is not the only way to get to the falls – we could have taken a Post Bus that would have dropped us off above the falls (where we saw the road after our hike) and b) therefore, we could have also taken the bus right on toward Grindelwald and returned to Lauterbrunnen that way (a totally different return routing).

Be that as it may, when we returned to Lauterbrunnen, we saw that the peak was almost visible. So we decided to head up to Murren to see if the clouds held – if by chance they did, we would try our luck with a trip to Schilthorn. However, that was not to be – by the time we reached Grutschalp and started on the railbus toward Murren, we could see more clouds swirling toward and around the Jungfrau. So, we abandoned any plans to head any higher and satisfied ourselves with some photos from near Murren BLM bahnhof. It was very sunny at this point in time – just that the peaks were well covered.

That done, we headed back down the way we had come up. Once we reached Lauterbrunnen, we collected our bags and headed down the slope to the station. I went to the ticket/information window and requested a timetable for Rumlang. That was very helpful as the timetable helped us get to Rumlang the quickest way and our connection included a non-stop run from Bern to Zurich that was really quick. I did take a few photos from the train (it was about 9 pm when we reached Bern but there was a bit of daylight left) of the bridges near Bern; because of the glare off the windows though, these were not of the best quality.

After waiting for a few minutes at Zurich Hbf, we were on our way to Rumlang, from where a short walk brought us to our digs for the next two nights – the Holiday Inn Express. As I had used some hotel stay points towards our stay, we were upgraded to the top floor of the hotel, which was really nice – our view of the Zurich Flughafen excited Baab :-). He was up later than the rest of us observing the airport operations.

Photos for today are in this album (Photo Credit: Baab)

June 16, 2015

A trip to Switzerland – Day Three

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:40 am

By the end of Day Two, we had decided that there was no point in trying to postpone a trip up the mountains. Tomorrow (day four), we would need to be ready to pack up early and then do whatever sightseeing we could, come back to pick up our stuff and leave for Zurich in the afternoon (latest by evening). Besides, the Meiringen area was planned to have sunny weather for at least a couple of hours while the weather was still forecast to be dicey in Lauterbrunnen. That did not leave us with much of a choice, i.e., we got Hobson’s choice!

With that in mind, we (parents) planned to wake up early to get prepared; as it was, we got up too early – I believe it was somewhere around 5ish. There was not much to do that early, so we took a walk in the empty streets to get to Staubbach Falls. At the entrance, a sign said that the hours were from 8 am to … pm (I forget what). Like law-abiding folks, we decided against going further though I couldn’t think of a reason why the place needed to be closed during this time of the year – the rule would make perfect sense for Autumn and Winter! We just hung around to take a few photos and returned to the Valley Hostel; on our way back, we saw some other folks going right up to the falls (maybe we should have done so as well – it was light enough).

Once we got back, we had breakfast and got ready by about 9 am or so. Looking up, we saw light clouds getting slightly heavier at the top. It appeared that there was no point in either a) going to Schilthorn because there would be no views (influenced by a friend’s experiences) as a result of the clouds or b) going all the way up to Jungfraujoch (notwithstanding the fact that there were other things to do here besides the views). So, we decided to go up to Kleine Scheidegg and Mannlichen and return. In all the excitement, I had forgotten whether there was a discussion on the forums here about a preferred direction, i.e., Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg or the other way around.

Anyway, we walked over to the station and I got the tickets – when I asked the agent, he said that it would be the same either way, so I requested him to give us a ticket going up one direction and returning the other direction. We got on the first available train and went up the slope. It was pretty crowded and as we started ascending the sky grew grayer. By the time we reached Wengen, the valley was still clearly visible; above us, visibility was pretty limited. As we climbed the slope, out of the right side, we could see the mountainside covered with snow, but that was about it – we could not see anything that was much higher than where our train was.

Soon, we were in Kleine Scheidegg, and as we stepped out of the train, we encountered a slight drizzle. OK, it is just a passing shower, we are in Switzerland not in India, we told ourselves 🙂 especially because (I do not remember whether or not I had looked at the forecast that morning) the last time I had looked at the weather forecast, I remembered that it called for 0-2 mm of rain.

We walked around a bit – checked out the artificial lake (Fallbodensee) and took photos of the trains descending to Grindelwald and Wengen, and climbing to Jungfraujoch. I felt bad for the folks on the tours – at least, we had made our own decision, but they were more like captive travellers, rain or shine!

Talking of rain, it started pouring on us right about this time. We were already wearing our ponchos but were still caught unawares, as we had not expected the skies to open up like they do in Mumbai during he monsoon. We walked/ran as quickly as we could back to the shelter of the train station area.

When we got there, we saw a tourist party entering the restaurant – we did the same thing and got ourselves seated. It turned out that the seating area was reserved for a tour group, but our hostess was nice enough to let us sit in the same area as well. We were there for the next 30-45 minutes waiting for the rain to stop (it did not). While waiting, we had our only sit-down meal of our trip. We shared a plate of Rosti and Raclette, which was sufficient for us as we had not yet started feeling hungry.

Finally, we were ready for our walk/trek/hike to Mannlichen in the gloom. The rain had by now lessened to a drizzle, but it was enough for us to definitely need to wearing our ponchos.

We walked for a while, my family a troika of colour – I had a blue poncho, Mrs. Porcupyn and Baab had yellow ones and Katya wore one in pink (Hello to anyone who saw us 🙂

We thought we would encounter a few people. It turned out the conditions had made many change their minds – we saw only a handful of groups (and based on what happened when we got to the other end, probably even fewer followed behind us in our direction). There was a family from South India (Tamil Nadu to be precise) with two sons, a young Oriental couple followed by an older one, two ladies from Canada who were nice enough to take a group photo for us (and we did the same with their smartphone), and then – like I mentioned on another thread – the Swiss version of Buddy Backpacker. This was a five-year old kid who was with his father. They live in Wengen and apparently father and son go for hikes all the time up and down the mountainside. This time they had walked all the way up from Wengen to Mannlichen … and now to Kleine Scheidegg, and were planning to take the train down from there,

When we met the father-son pair, we could see what we thought was the gondola station just around the corner (relatively speaking). So, I asked the father whether that was it. No, he said, we were only at about the half-way point – bummer! It turned out that what I saw was the chairlift (??) for the winter sportsfolk. By this time, it had started to get really dark indeed. Not knowing what would be the indication of the weather changing to a thunderstorm, I got worried (though the forecasts had not called for thunderstorms) because we were on the open space at the top.

I started walking faster, leaving family behind, to see if I could get to someone quickly in case of any emergency. I would walk for five minutes and wait for a couple for everyone to catch up. Along the way, we encountered piles of snow – especially at one spot it appeared that the snow had been recently cleared to open up the path as there was snow right above and right below. We rested (literally sat/leaned against it) on the snow for some photo ops 🙂 There were also a couple of spots where it was pretty obvious that there had been landslides (don’t know how recently) which was a bit worrisome.

Anyway, we reached Mannlichen without any incidents and were glad to get back in shelter and remove the ponchos. Needless to say, visibility was pretty poor. It was so bad that we could barely see four gondola(?) cars on the Mannlichen-Grindelwald stretch before they disappeared. In the few minutes that I observed it, not one person stepped off that station. In fact, no one came out of the Wengen-Mannlichen cablecar either. As we waited, we had some snacks and wondered if we would have the cablecar all to ourselves. That did not happen as one couple showed up just as we were getting ready to board.

While going down the hill, everything was white around us. It was like being in a plane as it approaches the airport and gets into a thick cloud bank. And just as suddenly as it sometimes happens with the planes, the cloud cover broke when we were quite close to the ground.

Upon reaching Wengen, Baab and Katya spotted some rabbits in a pen close by. They joined other kids who were feeding grass to the rabbits. From the rabbits’ viewpoint, greener or not, the grass definitely was tastier on the other side of the fence and they hungrily munched the grass being offered by the kids.

After this slight detour, we walked over to Wengen station for some photos, then headed to the COOP for some munchies as the walking had made us all hungry (and me grumpy a bit).

Finally, we took the train down to Lauterbrunnen. We took off our wet socks and shoes. I crashed on the bed for a while, to relieve that feeling of frustration; besides, none of us was not wanting to go out yet again.

After some time, however, Baab decided that he wanted to go check out Staubbach Falls. As no one else was keen on going, he went by himself and came back after a while. At this point, I decided to check it out as well.

I had assumed that it was an easy walk up to it, but the climb to the viewing platform would not be trivial for folks who are not used to climbing stairs, especially older folks. It was not an issue for me and so, in a few minutes, I was at the platform and took a photo of the valley from behind the veil of water. The flow was not as large in volume as I had assumed (not that I thought it would rival Niagara Falls, where we have been behind the Falls and the sound was deafening).

And that, folks, was our third day in Switzerland. The wettest one we encountered. For the rest of the trip, though we encountered drizzles, it was thankfully not anywhere close to disrupting our plans. But then, we had already decided that tomorrow we would be going to Meiringen and on the day after, from Zurich, we would be heading towards – and through – the Gotthard Pass.

Photos for today are in this album (Photo Credit: Baab)

June 15, 2015

A trip to Switzerland – Day Two

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 7:39 am

Day two came upon us bright and sunny. OK, I lied. It was not all that bright and it was cloudy! Based on the forecasts, I had decided to go the Zermatt today (Monday), and try our chances with the mountains above tomorrow (Tuesday).

I got out of the room to the balcony and watched the trains leaving for Wengen. As family was still asleep, I spent some time gazing at the mountain as the train ascended. Wengen being on a shelf cannot really be seen from Lauterbrunnen (well, not from the Valley Hostel anyway). After taking a couple of old-style selfies (with a self-timer), I headed down to the bathrooms to get ready. Luckily for us, it appeared that most of the other folks were either a) even earlier risers than us or b) later, much later, than us. On none of the days we were there did we encounter the terrifying (to me) scenario of there being blocked out of using the toilet facilities!

That taken care of, I went to the Coop right after 8 am to bring home the bacon, well, the vegetarian version of it at least! I returned in a few minutes with essentials such as sugar, milk, teabags, rice, jam, butter, chocolate, etc. By that time, the rest of the family was up and ready for breakfast. I let my wife take care of the kitchen duties – too many cooks … and there were many cooks in the kitchen, believe me!

We had bread toast with jam or butter or both. In addition, we sampled the chocolates and had tea (kids had milk). By the time we were all ready to leave, I realized that we were just about too late for the 10:03 am departure to Interlaken Ost, so we hung around for some more time talking with other hostel guests.

After an uneventful journey to Interlaken Ost, we got onto a train to Spiez. We were glad to get into a compartment that was relatively empty. In a few minutes, the ticket examiner entered our compartment and started examining the tickets of folks at the other end from us, while I got our tickets ready for inspection. In a couple of minutes of overhearing the conversation made me realize that we had – all my train research notwithstanding, I must admit sheepishly – made a rookie mistake. In our eagerness to get into a not too crowded compartment, we had neglected to check whether it was a second class or not! Thankfully, like the other tourists, we did not get into trouble, but were – obviously – summarily evicted from first class! 😉 Well, at least we learned our lesson and were not caught in the first class afterwards. All I can say is that first class was not that big a deal compared to second class (else we would’ve realized our mistake as soon as we got in).

At Spiez, we took a fast train to Visp – through the Lotschberger base tunnel. Before we entered the tunnel, we travelled through a shower. I hoped at this point that the shower would not affect us south of the tunnel! The train did not appear to be going too fast in the tunnel, though it obviously was, because very soon we were in Visp. We then changed to the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn (MGB).

Up until this point, we had travelled by several trains – the first day we took the plain two-tone coloured liveries from Zurich Airport to Luzern, then to Olten and back to Luzern, Next, we were in the Luzern-Interlaken Express which, though beautiful from the outside in red livery, did not have windows that opened. Of all the trains we had travelled in Switzerland until boarding the MGB, my favourite had been the Berner-Oberland trains from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen/Grindelwald. I liked the yellow livery and the fact that you could open the windows.

That changed when we got aboard the train to Zermatt. Bright red and white with windows that opened, this was indeed the real deal. Maybe not really a panoramic car experience, but this was the Swiss trains that I had always wanted to ride on.

First thing I did on getting to Zermatt was trying to figure out where the Matterhorn was! As there were clouds in all directions – and because I had not done much research on Zermatt (not in our original plans) – I was unable to figure out where the mountain was located (and even now am not really sure of its orientation relative to the MGB station). Oh well …

Next, I found out where the train to Gornergrat was starting from, and we entered the building. One look at the Gornergrat webcam and I gave up the idea of considering going all the way. Instead, we discussed what might be a good alternative short trip and decided on going up to Riffelalp and then hiking from there.

As the train was still about 20 minutes or so later (IIRC), we decided to hang around the area – did some window shopping and got some junk food (well, it was a very delicious cake) from the COOP.

The train we got on was quite empty, though the views were more out of the right side (towards the direction of travel). In a few minutes, we had gained quite a bit of elevation over the Zermatt valley. Where we thought the Matterhorn was, we could only see the base of the mountain as the peak was among clouds. Very shortly, we came to our stop where we got out and took a few photos. We started walking along the trail towards Riffelberg – there was a little train track next to the hiking trail.

In a few minutes, we reached a restaurant and play area that even included a Tennis clay court. Had I been permitted to play with my hiking boots (no way, Jose!) and/or had there been anyone in attendance, I might have fancied spending a few minutes on the court (if not on hiking boots then barefoot). As it was, the place was closed and no one was around, so we continued on our walk/hike. In a couple of minutes, the gradient picked up and only my teen and I were keen to continue walking. Needless to say, we were a bit constrained in that we had decided to be back in Riffelalp within two hours so we could get out connections to get back to Lauterbrunnen.

As a result, we did not make it up to Riffelberg after all. Once we saw the elevation needed to get close to area with the avalanche shelter for the train (after which, now that I look at the map, the gradient reduces), we decided to call it quits as I could not afforded to walk slower and/or halt to catch my breath.

We met a few folks from Canada who were hiking down from Gornergrat;; they said that it had taken them over three hours. Apparently, they had reached very early in the morning – at about 9 am or so – but had still been unable to sight the Matterhorn peak. In retrospect, maybe we should have taken the train to Riffelberg and then walked down to Riffelalp and taken the train back from there. It would likely have taken the same amount of time and we would not have been backtracking the way we went up.

Anyway, once we reached Riffelalp, we had a few minutes of waiting before the return train came by. This one was not as empty as the one going up, but we were still able to sit relatively close to each other.

Back in Zermatt, we visited the COOP once more to get some munchies. We got some pizza slices and some milk as well as some more junk food. Then it was back to my favourite train once again. Zermatt to Visp, to Brig, then the Lotschberger to Spiez – that was the plan, which we did without any major issues.

I was disappointed in the Lotschberger. Nice green livery, but there were no windows that could be really opened – unless you consider the little peep of a window set really high in two places (I think) in the entire coach. However, the views were great. The train gains a good height immediately after departure from Brig and the valley looks really nice down below – we even caught sight of a mainline train speeding towards Brig over there.

Along the way, we were subjected to a light drizzle on and off – the train did not stop at many of the places I had assumed it would such as Hohtenn, Ausserberg and Goppenstein (IIRC; some of them were demand stops, as I realized based on the announcements). Because of the lack of windows that opened, my camera was relatively quiet on this leg of the trip though I did take some photos with reflections off the window because of lights inside the train as well as clouds outside which had blocked the sunshine.

Muelenen came and went, but not before I caught sight of the Niesen funicular. The pyramid mountain had been one of the destinations I had researched; as it was, however, it would not have been worth attempting a trip to because it was covered by clouds almost to its base!

At Spiez, we were directed to a Bus by my timetable printout :-)., At this point, it was raining heavily once more. There were others waiting in the same area, either for a bus or a train, and were staying inside the station platform to avoid getting soaked. After a few minutes, our bus opened its doors and we all trooped in, as did others who wanted to take that bus. There was an ICE train option that would have been quicker and one that my teen wanted to go on; however, I over-ruled him as I thought this would be more scenic. It was a nice 30 minute ride, and by the time we got to Interlaken Ost bahnhof, the rain had petered out into a much more manageable drizzle.

Unlike popular (expert) opinion on this forum, I rather liked the quaint town of Interlaken – would have been worth exploring for a half day if we had time to spare (we didn’t). Yes, it definitely looked touristy, but then so do most touristy destinations, don’t they?

After a few minutes’ wait at the station and another quick trip to a COOP (we got there a few minutes before its closing time of 9 pm), it was back to our most-travelled train, the train from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen.

Photos for today (Photo Credit: Baab) are in this album.

June 14, 2015

A trip to Switzerland – Day One

Filed under: Family — Porcupyn @ 7:38 am

We reached Zurich at about 6:30 am in the morning; however, after an eventful morning that included some unwise decisions from me, as luck would have it, we reached our destination, Valley Hostel Lauterbrunnen, only at about 3:30 pm. We immediately checked in without any issues and freshened up.

Looking up towards the mountains, we could see the blue sky partially covered by clouds. But as we had nothing to lose and nothing else planned for the day (plans had been squashed because we got there so late in the afternoon), we decided to take the train to Wengen. As (our) luck would have it (and as we now know), that afternoon was the brightest it ever was during our three-day stay in Lauterbrunnen. When we reached Wengen, we realized that the clouds were getting thicker at the top (we had never caught sight of the top of the Jungfrau anyway) and so decided to hang around in the Wengen area for some time. My son and I walked up the path along the railway line for about half an hour. We were able to hear the sounds coming from the cowbells as the livestock grazed along the mountainside.

We then walked back to the station and took a train back down to Lauterbrunnen. As it was still daylight outside, though the clouds were getting thicker at the top, we decided to go up to Murren using the Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen Murren (BLM) via Grutschsalp. There was minimal waiting and we were on our way. The sight was spectacular (obviously) but I was so sure we would be back within the next two days to go up to Schilthorn anyway (that was my destination #1 for the trip).

After getting down at Grutschalp, we got on the railbus (that is the best way I can describe the little train) to Murren. As we were on our way, the clouds decided that they could hold water no more. It started drizzling. By the time we got to Murren, it was a good-sized downpour. As we were prepared (weren’t we?!!), we unfurled our ponchos and put them on. It was already past about 7 pm or so, and getting dark (more because of the clouds than because of sunset), but we gamely trudged on in the rain to the Schilthornbahn station at the other end of town. At this point, we were a bit anxious – if we did not find the other station or if the rain really got to us, we had to be back at the BLM station within an hour for the last connection to the gondola to Laterbrunnen. So, we did not really enjoy the sights around us but focussed on getting to the Schilthornbahn.

It took us about half an hour to get there without further incidents, though our ponchos came through in style. They got wet, but we didn’t! After a wait for a few minutes, a cablecar was ready to go down; however, I had figured out that though this cablecar would get us to Stechelberg, there was no connection from there to Lauterbrunnen for half an hour. So, we decided to wait at the station and let the empty cablecar go down. As we waited, we explored a bit. I discovered that a bach right by me (Murrenbach?) was flowing down the mountainside right next to the cablecar. Also, there is a nice water fountain at the entrance to the cablecar station where we filled up our water bottles.

We got on the next cablecar towards Gimmelwald. There were hardly a handful of people in the cablecar. At Gimmelwald, we changed to another cablecar to Stechelberg. As we were planning to come up to Schilthorn again and as it was still raining, we did not even consider getting out and about in Gimmelwald. (In retrospect, could we have been more wrong??!!)

From Stechelberg, we got the PostBus after a wait of a couple of minutes and a few minutes later, we were back in Lauterbrunnen. After getting down, I noticed that the PostBus was a Mercedes. Are all Post Buses in Switzerland made by Mercedes? I meant to observe – but as it turned out, I failed to do so. So, that is still a standing question! Anyone??

Today’s photos (Photo Credit: Baab) are in this album.

June 3, 2015

Sense of Humour – a Katya Tale

Filed under: Humour,Uncategorized — Porcupyn @ 7:37 am

It has been a while so I have forgotten the context. It had something to do with me complaining about folks in the household lack a sense of humour.

Katya: Appa! You have only two senses – a sense of humour and a sense of anger.

Porcupyn [Taken aback]: What do you mean?

Katya: Well, you have a sense of anger because you are mean to me sometimes, and you have a sense of humour because sometimes you laugh for no reason at all!

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