Porcupyn's Blog

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.

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