Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres

Marionnettes in Charleville-Mezieres

The day was finer but cold. A real nip of autumn in the air. We wandered into Charleville and found a boulangerie to buy almond pastries, brioche and bread. There was a large, grand, enclosed square at the top of the street, which looked really welcoming. Chairs and tables were being put out and there were signs all around saying that the world-renowned marionettes show was coming to town. But we hadn’t time to stay, and wandered back along the river Meuse, back to the van.
Five hours later we were at the Port of Calais, and with the minimum fuss and only 12pounds more, we were on the next ferry, which was only 45mins later. Couldn’t have timed it any better! Overnighting at our usual stop outside Folkestone. Incidentally though Kate was delighted that her boredom was soon to be relieved by our revised return, she warned us that we would have to expect company of three more females on Thursday. With her customary understatement, that could be three or five!!!

A La Retour

A La Retour

With a poor weather forecast, we set off back North, towards Kaysersberg. Only two hours away, so it was still early when we arrived. Even so the “aire”, a large car park within 5mins walk of the historic town, which held 80 spaces, had about 4 free spaces by 3pm!
As I mentioned before, when we called in here on the way down, Kaysersberg is a Christmas, Gingerbread of a town. Medieval, with houses dating back to the 1300s, a bridge fortified in the 1400s, it lies on the border between France and Germany. The locals speak French, but the street names are in French with German subtitles, and the delicious pastries all have German names- Kugelhopf, Linzer tarte, Quetsches. Qutcsches are blueberry tarts, and Kugelhopf are wonderfully light brioches, which can be savoury, filled with lardoons and cheese, or sweet, with raisins and almonds. As in Switzerland, the drink of choice is white beer, again something you don’t often see in France. There’s also a big thing about smoked pork, in sausage and ham form, garnished with “choucroute”/ sauerkraut! (We’ve brought some back to try for lunch tomorrow). Sitting in a café,eating sausage and choucroute, with white beer, surrounded by timber-framed buildings, dripping with geraniums, and you might imagine yourself in Bavaria!
The town was and still is famous for its pottery production, and there is a pottery market every Saturday- beautiful but pricey!
Albert Schweizer, the famous medical missionary, was born here. We visited his home/museum. He set up and ran a hospital in Africa, was a proficient organist, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in 1965, aged 90. That was when I remember learning about him in Padiham Green Junior School, aged 10!
On the way back to the van, we bought a few bottles of Gewurztraminer and Cremant, and I called in at a small “cave”, run by Francois Stoll. I apologised for my poor French and said how frustrating it was to try and have a conversation! He then told me about the story in the Bible of the Tower of Babel, reminding of how before this every one spoke the same language, and after the goings-on in Sodom and Gomorrah, we were punished by an inability to communicate with each other! Must look that up when we return! Lovely guy, who didn’t seem to mind at all that this crazy, English woman wanted a natter and was only buying two bottles of his lovingly-produced pinot-noir! The way out took me through his rambling “atelier”, full of wood and housing a 1930s motor-bike. When I told him that we hoped to cycle on the Route de Cretes,, he said he could never understand the attraction of cycling, when there were perfectly good engines there to do the job.

Route des Cretes

Route des Cretes, Vosges- The Ardennes

The morning started wet with little sign of improvement. We decided to abandon the cycle-ride, as it takes quite a while to take the bikes off the rack now, especially since we’ve made ourselves belt-and braces legal with a new light- board, clearly showing lights and reg . Having decided it wasn’t worth it, we motored up to the Col de Bonhomme (943m) and along the northern stretch of the Route des Cretes. This runs North-South for approx 50miles, through Alsace. Tommy, our van, handles fantastically well up and down mountain passes. It was raining harder and we decided to keep going, in fact, we both were concerned about not going back until the Sunday, as this meant we would miss Kate, who was returning to Uni that day. Let’s go back sooner, cos we’ve done what we wanted to do!
From the Route des Cretes, Sally Satnav took us into Luxembourg for about 20 mins (would like to research and go back there), and then into Belgium for about one hour, and then back into the Ardennes region of France, famous for it’s wildboar. We followed the Semoy and the Meuse rivers and ended up finding the only campsite still open, at Charleville Mezieres. Cheap enough, but what miserable weather to arrive in. I asked the cute, little receptionist if the weather was set to improve, cos she’d asked me if we intended staying more than one night, and she pulled a miserable face! So that’d be a Non. After helping her with a jammed stapler, we nestled into our “emplacement”. It’s lovely to shut the weather out, re-heat the last of the pre-prepared frozen meals, and open up a bottle of wine! All that time spent cooking and freezing meals at home has really paid off. Choose your meal in the morning, take it out of the freezer and let it thaw out during the day, then drive for several hours/ cycle or walk for several hours, return, stick it in a pan with some rice/couscous/potatoes. Ready in less than half an hour, about the time it takes you to drink your aperitif!!!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

day 7: Rest Day

Day 7 Rest Day!

Whilst Ian went off on a cycle ride to Grosse Scheidegg, 1962m, a total climb of 1450m , crazy fool, I had a potter! I cleaned the loo, sink, tidied away clothes and boots, did a bit of shopping and got on with the blog. Cloudy and sunny spells today. I wandered into Lauterbrunnen, which is only ten minutes walk away and bought some Toblerone swiss chocolate. I was horrified to read that the butcher was selling “Frischer Pferde Entrecote”. Now, my A level German is a bit sketchy but I’m sure that means horse-meat!!! Yuk, in this day and age!!!
Foods and gifts are hellish expensive. I’m so glad we stocked up on food, drink, frozen home-made meals etc before we set off, apart from three rosti meals out, and the odd applesaft juice, which is the staple drink around here, apart from the obvious beer, we’ve not been to the shops. Thank God!
The main language is a sing-songy version of German, and they then seem to prefer English to French, but then there are a lot of American and Japanese tourists. But they don’t say “Danke” for thankyou, instead they say “Mersay” with the emphasis on the second syllable, which I presume is the Swiss “Merci”.
Wilkie- we’re off for a meal tonight at “your” hotel, the Hotel Oberland. He’s full inside at 7pm. So we’ve got to eat outside, but looking forward to it. We can always stick another layer on! Opted for this over the pizza place you recommended in Wengen, Di Sana, cos the weather’s not just as good now, and we like to have a list of goodies to come back for next time!
The locals are very friendly. The transport service is phenomenal. Trains run approx every half hour and cable cars constantly throughout the day. They run to a generous number of stations dotted all over the mountains. You can go up in an infinite variety of ways, walk along, stay overnight in a number of huts of varying comfort, and return by a number of conveniently- located other lifts. It’s like a walkers’ playground! You can bite off as much or as little as you want! But there really is no excuse for not going up into this superb mountain panorama.
“Shopping List” of things still to do!!!
1. Schynigge Platte – Faulhorn-overnight stay-Schwarzhorn-Grosse Scheidegg or First
2. Isenfluh area
3. Ascend Schilthorn via Rotstock hut and down by cable car from Birg
4. Walk in the Kiental area
5. Bring mountain bikes, cos”there’s some good mountain bike trails”, or so Ian says!!!
6. Do the Jungfrau marathon from Interlaken to Kleine Scheidegg in four hours!
7. Scale north face of Eiger before lunch!!!!!!
8. Eat Pizza at Di Sana, in Wengen.
9. Visit Zermatt, Matterhorn, Reichenbach falls, Meiringen etc etc etc

Ps poem on wooden “Hut” near First, to be translated
“Allzeit Frohlich, ist Gefahrlich Allzeit Traurig ist Beschwerlich Allzeit Glucklich ist Unmoglich Eins ums Andere ist Vergnuglich/Bergnuglich”
???To always be happy is hazardous To always be dreaming is wearisome To always be lucky is unlikely One without the other is Ahhhhh! I don’t know what that last word means at all. I’ll look into it when I get back.
By the way, Wilkie, they’ve covered the whole roof of that new hut near First with solar panels. About 40 of them. They look superb and the roof with wooden shingles is nearly done!

day 6: The Last Day

Day 6 The Last Day

The last day of our concessionary rail pass, that is, and the last day of our hiking journeys into the mountains. So one last effort to plaster blistered toes, don walking boots and head off on the train to Grindelwald, and then onto the magnificent First chair lift, which rises to an awe-inspiring 2168m. We were up a bit later than we should have been, but the cloudy start and sixth day’s activity on the trot, meant that we were a bit slower than usual. But after a quick adjustment to the route, we were off. We’d made a note of the last chair-lift off the mountain, which really is our only restriction on the day, however, more of that later!!
The original route of catching a bus, or as Wilkie calls it “a buzz”, to Bussalp and walking from there up to Faulhorn and onto the Hiendertellti route up to Schwarzhorn and down to Grosse Scheidegg would take us about 7hours and was virtually impossible without an overnight stop. It does n’t really look that far on the map, but distances are really deceptive. One mention about the walking times signposted around here. Now, we don’t hang around! We’re used to snacking and drinking on the move. But the times here are tight. They don’t take into account any stops for breaks, photo-taking, slowing down cos you’re getting tired! But basically, if it’s taking you longer than the recommended time for the hike then maybe you should think again! It’s so easy to think that that peak isn’t too far away, only to find you’re still climbing it at a brisk pace, an hour or so later!
We’d adjusted the route to go from First, up and down to the base of Schwarzhorn and reaching the top of Wildgarst, recommended in the Bernese Alps walking guide, returning by the same route to First. Fairly straightforward. There is a Via Ferrata ascending Schwarzhorn, but it wasn’t recommended in bad weather. It was a bit cloudy, so we’d see how we felt.
From First onto Bachalpsee lake (which we skirted in the Schynige Platte route a few days earlier), the path split and we followed it up and over the saddle, descending through a boulder field into the “Hinterberg hanging valley”. We passed along the shores of the Hagelsee lake. Trundling on over scree, we passed another tarn called Haxenseeli, with the bleak, dark walls of the Schwarzhorn mountain filling the view ahead. If you looked closely, you could make out the ladders and metal cables of the via ferrata, used to scale the Schwarzhorn ridge. Though the mist was down, only clearing occasionally with the swirling wind, I could see a few people on the ridge. Mad! We’d come across and used via ferratas on Kinabalu and the Pinnacles in Malaysia and in the Southern Highlands NSW, Australia, but I wouldn’t like to attempt the Schwarzhorn ridge unless ascending it in good weather. Not today!
More climbing through amazing rock formations, looking up at more striped and lined grey and browny rocks. That’s something I must do. Look up some idiot’s guide to geology, so I can start to understand what’s happened to these incredible lumps of grey, white and brown, striped, razor-sharp stuff!!! At the top of another saddle, Schwarzhorn was on the right, and Wildgarst was on the left. We reached the summit in about three and a half hours from First, exactly what it said on the signposts and in the guide! Superb views all around on a better day. Today a brief glimpse here and there, enticing you to come back again and try it another day!
We’d have to get a move on to get the last chairlift off. Otherwise we’d be faced by a further two and half hours walk back to Grindelwald, and there was no chance of that happening. So a quick oat bar and cheese butty, all of five minutes rest, and then trudge onwards. With the mist completely down, navigation was quite tricky, but with recalling what the way up had been like, and staring around for the white-red-white signs painted on boulders and scree, we made our way down as fast as sore knees could pick their way through the rocks! We past a young couple who’d got a bit lost, had had to change their route and asked us how far it was to the top of Wildgarst! We politely suggested they forget it! They’d got no chance of making it to the top and back in time! And if they’d got lost at this earlier stage, they’d find it very difficult higher up! Apart from them, we only met one other couple, who did go up Schwarzhorn, and we reckon that no-one else had been up Wildgarst that day. We’d got our wish of going to a much less visited area of the mountains!
We pushed on, Ian reassuring me that we were alright for time. But when we reached the First cable car, we realised that the last gondola didn’t depart in an hour and fifteen minutes, it departed in fifteen minutes! Since Sept 8, they’d brought it forward an hour. How close we’d been to having to add two and half to three hours walking very steep downhill onto what had already been five hours and forty minutes! Phew!!!!
On the way down, there was time to relax, count our blessings, and be grateful that on the seventh day God said unto the tired and weary, take the day off!!!!

Day 5:Chilling on the Eiger Trail

Day5 “Chilling on the Eiger Trail”

“Chilling” because this well-established walking trail takes you directly under the infamous north face of the Eiger, which casts a giant shadow over the trail, making it cold and sunless.
We set off walking into Lauterbrunnen at 9am and catch a train to Kleine Scheidegg, transferring to the Grindelwald train, and coming off it just one stop later at Alpiglen.
The Eiger trail leaves Alpiglen and comfortably winds its way up the mountainside back towards Eigergletscher hut (Eiger glacier hut). A lovely ascent which takes you underneath and close to the Eiger north wall. Absolutely awesome. On the way over we greeted people passing, and came across and English group. She recognised the accent as a Burnley accent, and I explained that we lived near Bakewell now. She said she came from Sheffield area! When we narrowed it down, it turned out she came from Froggatt, about 5mins walk away from where we used to live, and knew one of our present neighbours, whose husband organises the White Peak Walk which I’d completed in July this year! We concluded it was a small world and weren’t we having amazing weather and continued on our way.
We wound our way up to Eigergletscher hut, pausing to take even more photos of the stunning glacier, which seems almost within touching distance. Then back down to Kleine Scheidegg. At this point I feel I must apologise to Wilkie and Team for seriously letting the side down. We ditched the idea of making cheese butties ths morning in favour of a great lunch at a bar in K.Sch. We were so hungry and the rosti and schwenfilet plus two beers went down without touching the sides!!
After that off up the other “side” of K.Sch. onto the Mannlicher ridge, with more stunning views looking back towards Eiger, Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn, and Finsteraarhorn (being the biggest at 4724m). It’s weird that it’s the biggest of the mountains and yet far less famous, but the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are known best because they stand close together, I presume.
We met up with an American guy, from Memphis, who was “in love” with the whole area. When we said we were from England, he said he would love to spend some time walking there, and so I recommended Alfred Wainwright’s books, not just for the walking routes or the beautiful pencil drawings, but also for his dry, northern commentary. He said he would google him as soon as he got down the mountain, and that talking with us (well, me, really!) today, had been the best experience of his stay there! Methinks, he doth exaggerate, but kind, enthusiastic words, so typical of the Americans, which are only outnumbered here by large groups of Japanese visitors, some confined, sleeping, to trains, but some do make it out onto the more straightforward treks.
We caught the Mannlicher chair-lift back down the mountain to Wengen and then the train back to Lauterbrunnen. We rarely get back before 6-7pm each day because of the transport required to go on these walks. By the time food has been cooked and washing-up done it’s getting on for 9pm. Busy, full days!
Forecast if for more cloud building over the next few days, just as I hear it’s improving at home! May affect what we do over next few days, but we have had the best weather!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Day 4: Day Off

Day4 –Day off. “Using different muscles.Feet getting increasingly sore and blistered. Too much time spent cycling to get fitter, but feet feeling as soft as a baby’s bottom, as a result. Getting out of bed to go to the loo in the middle of the night was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable, with super-sore thighs. So it was decided that we would have an easy, “rest” day today. We’d use some different muscles and give our feet a break. We planned to set off nearer lunch-time, giving the sun time to get up and warm the valley. We did a bit of washing (they have real washing-machines, and driers and a fantastic free drying room, where we can put our wet towels overnight, although someone does seem to have taken a shine to our brand-new towel!) We did some repairs to a damaged window mozzie net, and I up-dated the blog.
We set off about 12am, cycling down the valley towards Interlaken. Yet another glorious, blue sky day. We cycled across the airport runway, pausing to take photos of some very large raptors, which looked a little like eagles. Then we rose above the lake and road, on a hilly section, pausing again at Iselwald, at the Hotel Bellevue. We made a note to come back here for a special wedding anniversary. It was a modest, small hotel, but had tables set up right on the waters edge, and they specialised in fish dishes, so that’s a promise! We quickly ate one of the famous cakes with a coffee- plum tart! Absolutely huge and equally delicious!! But it was 2pm, and we hadn’t had anything to eat. I find I can’t eat a proper meal when I’m working hard cycling!
Up and down again, on to the splendid Giessbach Grand Hotel. The whole area down by the lake has a very old wealthy feel about it, almost Riviera-style, with boats ferrying people up and down across the Brienzersee lake. The lake itself is expansive, separated from an equally large lake called the Thunsee, by the town of Interlaken. Both have a love turquoise colour, and on a day like today, with no wind, the water was still. I was surprised to find it quite quiet down by the lake, considering the stations are quite busy, but when you get out into the mountains it’s quiet there as well!
We took photos under the Giessbach falls which tumble down the mountainside at the back of the hotel, rather like the Lauterbrunnen falls at the back of the campsite. From the falls, onto the head of the lake and Brienz, which didn’t seem particularly striking, as we shot through it at a speed that a half-digested plum tart will allow!
We worked hard all the way from Brienz to Interlaken, on the opposite side of the lake, stopping at Interlaken to watch the paragliders landing in the field nearby, and called in at the station to buy some 1920s style mountain railway posters. Incidentally the Swiss will be working towards and celebrating 2012, like us, but for a different reason, celebrating the railway centennial, so it would be a great time to come back then, although I’ll be amazed if we don’t return yearly whilst we have the van, because we’ve both agreed it’s an amazing place!
From Interlaken it’s a gradual climb of 12k back to Lauterbrunnen, and I was ecstatic to see Lauterbrunnen railway station appear, around the bend, up the hill. I was feeling shattered but really pleased when Ian told me we’d just covered 41miles, yes miles not ks. Not bad for a rest day!
We ate a pre-prepared frozen chicken tagine with couscous and loaded up with all the food we’d missed that day, and stayed in to watch “Harry Potter” on dvd..
It’s weird but I can see what pulls Wilkie and team back to this area every year. We’ve only had one day in the valley, and we can’t wait to get into the mountains again. A bit like an addiction really, you do get a feeling of such euphoria when you@re up there in the sunshine, looking at those views!

Day 3: Schynige Platte

Day 3: The Happy Wanderers plus two. First to Schynige Platte (aka (one of) the most wonderful walking routes in the world!)

Left the van with sandwiches packed and met up with the Happy Wanderers at their hotel in Lauterbrunnen at 8.30am. We needed to set off early because we had a long walk ahead of us, with a number of connecting train journeys. Another blue sky, cold morning, with sun streaming down the shaded valley, Wengen glinting in the sunshine above us.
A train to Grindelwald, and then chairlift to First, high up in the mountains. Superb chairlift ride. Wilkie needed a few minutes to do some introductory filming, and then we were off. We climbed up from First to a stunning lake called Bachalpsee. Alistair took one of several “money shots”, which he would run on ahead and take throughout the day! Gorgeous views all around as we made our way up to Faulhorn, to the first of our huts. But no time to stop as we moved on on a high level, undulating walk well-known as the Schynige Platte, taking in ever-changing views of mountains, giving way to views down to Brienzersee and Thunsee, and Interlaken, which separates the two “sees”. As we walked on, we were already planning our “rest day” tomorrow, which would see us cycling around Brienzersee, a route that the “Team” had down a few days earlier. Just a little mention here that Wilkie and his mates are not exactly “spring chickens” but they’ve not stopped since they got here, going out every day doing really tough walks, and, as Roger aptly put it, the tanks were beginning to register close to empty, but still we pushed on at quite a brisk pace Ian’s previous pace up the Shilthorn had earned him the nick-name “Billy Whizz”, but today we needed to push on.. You have to if you want to do the whole of the Platte and get back in time for the last train off the mountain, and back before dark!
As with most long walks, the last few miles seemed to go on for ever, with the Bergstation in the distance never seeming to get any closer. Wilkie started to sound like everybody’s annoying Dad, saying that it was just around this bend, only to find another extensive path winding along the top of the hill in the distance. It was beginning to heat up as well, on another cloudless, windless, sunny day.
One lovely little moment of joy- a voice in the distance singing loud and even breaking into a yodel. As we got closer the elderly owner of this superb voice became rather shy and clammed up. The white-haired swiss gentleman, left his tractor in the meadow and greeted us on the path with the customary “Grusse” (greetings). On realising we were English, with Wilkie complimenting him on living in a beautiful place, he said that he saw this every day, and that he envied us our…. our…., at which point we wanted to help him by selecting vocabulary like, our pubs, our music, our dodgy politicians, our roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, but no, he finalised with “our queen”. Well there you go , God Bless our Queen!
5 hours and 20minutes later we were at the station, having covered a mere 13 miles, which felt more like a marathon, but feeling full on mountain scenery.
After a slow, sleepy journey on the historic railway which weaves it way down the mountain-side to Wilderswill, and then a connection to Lauterbrunnen, following the milky turquoise river up to the town, already back in the shadows, and beginning to feel cold. The 6 day travel pass had proved really good value today, saving time queuing, and covering four journeys.
Too late to cook and so off to the café for a beer and a rosti. Wilkie and co’s last night, so Ian stayed on at the local pub to “see them off”! And as a ps regretted it most of the following day. But we’d planned to catch up on some “housekeeping” tomorrow, giving us time to draw breath and the sun time to warm the cycle ride down to Brienzersee.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Day 2 : Eigergletscher

Day 2: Wengen-Kleine Scheidegg-Eigergletscher (Eiger Glacier)

7.30am. Cold, cold start. A quick burst of heating in the van for 20mins, just to take the chill off. Porridge and bananas, as usual, for breakfast. Rucksacks packed and we were off for about 8.30. Ten minute stroll to Lauterbrunnen station and we were on the WAB train to Wengen, 1275m. The beauty of this campsite, apart from spectacular scenery, is its proximity to Lauterbrunnen, its pub, restaurants, but most important of all, its stations for chairlifts and trains, being the main form of transport up and down the mountains.
20mins later we were in Wengen, in the early morning sunshine. Clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight and the prospect of another glorious day in the mountains. We had a steep climb up from Wengen on good, wide tracks leading up through coniferous forests. Passed a helicopter team busy shifting felled trees around. The helicopter is the Swiss workhorse around here, waking us up at 7.45am every morning, if we weren’t already up!!
About 3hours later we turned the corner to Kleine Scheidegg. Wow what a view! You felt like you could almost touch the Eiger, right in front of us, dwarfing the tall, wooden chalets of Kl.Sch. Its infamous North Face (Nordwand), in total shadow, dark and menacing. The little red train could be seen, weaving its way up the increasingly steep, narrow track, achiving its busy goal. Kleine Scheidegg is a busy little crossroads with trains arriving and departing constantly. Just a couple of swiss-style hotels and lots of bars and cafes. If you want to be careful with cash, like we do, you make your own cheese butties and tea-loaf to keep you going on the hike. But you needn’t fear of going hungry or thirsty on all but the mountaineering routes in the Oberland! Paths in the middle of nowhere can be guaranteed to work their way towards a “hut” of varying degrees of comfort, ranging from four walls with a view to die for, to one selling bed and board, fruit tarts and beer!
But if you’ve got an itinerary, linking with trains off the mountain and getting back before dark, you can’t stop for beer and rosti, so cheese butties on the side of the mountain will have to do!
Today, “lunch” was under the Eiger, looking down towards the valley where Grindelwald sits. A quick call to Kate, back home, to check that all was well. She was bored, had organised a fitness regime for herself, and wanted to know where the cardboard, sugar-paper and glue was, to make Vicki her 21st birthday card. They always used to share the same birthday party when we lived down in Buckinghamshire. A rather surreal phone call to be having sitting under the Eiger. “Yes, the cardbord’s on top of the utility unit and the glue’s in the cupboard. We’re looking up at the Eiger!”. “Oh, that’s nice! Anyway got to go, mum!”
We walked along to the awesome Eigergletscher, a massive glacier working its way around the base of the Eiger. Ian told me of how, in 1936, a climber lost his life, dangling off a rope, on the Eiger, with people trying to reach him through “windows” cut out of the Eiger, formed when the railway to the Jungfraujoch, “Top of Europe” was constructed. The poor guy died whilst being so close to safety. Not worth losing your life over!
On the spur of the moment we decided to go to Top of Europe/Jungfraujoch, which sets of from Kleine Scheidegg and takes approx an hour with two five minute stops, to get to the top. The highest railway in Europe, with 10km of it tunnelling through the mountain side. Amazing engineering. Surrounded by a carriage full of sleeping, jet-lagged Japanese, with relaxed on the train ride, stopping first at the aforementioned Eiger wand, a window cut out of the Eiger, which can be used to rescue endangered climbers. Then we stopped briefly at Eismeer, which looks out onto the Monch mountain, one of the “Holy Trinity”/ the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau, which dominate most of the trails.
Finally we arrived at the Top of Europe, and could look down on the beautiful Aleitsch Glacier, which is the one that you see on most of the famous photos of the Swiss mountains. Restaurants, gift-shops and sculpted ice gallery all had to be ignored. A spur of the moment decision meant that we hadn’t long to spend, (but long enough for Ian, I suspect!), so we headed straight for the walk out onto the snow and ice, with unimpeded views over the mighty glacier. Clear blue sky, blindingly bright white snowy mountains, no wind even 3500m up. Life doesn’t get much better than this!
Two train journeys later, we were back in Lauterbrunnen. The sun had gone off the valley, even though it was still shining brightly up in Wengen, and it was beginning to get cold. But we managed to round a perfect day off with a bbq!
Ps. At 80euros, being half-price as an extra bonus of taking the 6day pass, this was an expensive trip. Glad we tagged it onto the walk, though, rather than making a whole day of it, because this briefer visit was enough, when there so much else to see here!

Day 1: We join the Happy Wanderers

Day 1:We join “The Happy Wanderers”!

We were there at 9.30am as planned. 9.35am and Wilkie came down to the reception of the Hotel Oberland, shaking his head and muttering that it was like getting a party of children ready for an outing. But there were four men, sleeping in the same room. All trying to get into the bathroom at the same time, and all trying to give it some time before they went into the same bathroom, if you get my drift! Wilkie and his friends, Dave Ed and Roger have been coming here for 25years, walking in the mountains, so it was great to be looked after by them, ferried onto trains and gondola-style ski lifts. That’s the only way to get around here. In fact, Wengen, in the high hills, can only be accessed by ski lift, service tracks or on foot!!
We finally get under way, with mutterings about dicky tummies, and tiredness due to a bad night’s sleep. We get the gondola up the mountain-side to Grutschalp, then the railway along the plateau to Murren, and then another gondola to Birg, which took us to 2600m up the Schilthorn. A few hundred metres later we were on the Schilthorn, famous for its starring role in the Bond film, (which bombed) On Her Majestys Secret Service!
With Wilkie waxing lyrical about the scenery, Roger, the hairdresser from Blackburn, cracking increasingly risqué jokes, Wilkie’s son, Alistair, buying the biggest cow-bell he could afford, and Dave Ed introducing us to Roger and Wilkie’s night-time habits, we had a great time making our way down from the Schilthorn. All the time accompanied by the most stunningly beautiful mountain views, on the clearest day, with the bluest sky. Astonishing! This went some way towards taking the pain out of tired knees and blistered feet, that had been softened by bike pedals for some time. We may have gibbed by making the main exertion downhill, but what a downhill! 4500feet of descent!
Unfortunately I had a stinking migraine on the way down, which I can only put down to altitude, reaching nearly 3000m in about an hour on our first outing. But I felt grim! Two migraleve later, and a little rest and I was ready for something to eat! We ate in the campsite café which proved to be great value. I had the local Rosti: grated potatoes, cheese, ham and mushrooms- absolutely delicious!
Slightly easier day planned for tomorrow, but we’d purchased two six day rail passes at 150Euros each, so we were committed to making the most of them during our stay here!
Really cold at night, once the sun’s gone down, which is quite early here in the valley, about 5pm

Just in time for a cycle

Just in time for a quick cycle!

Door to door, Home to Lauterbrunnen campsite in two days! And welcome to Switzerland!
Great campsite run by Australians and English! Sign on the door saif closed until 3pm, and it was 1pm. Ah well, maybe have to kill some time having a beer, but no, the proprietor, who doesn’t hold with the continental way of closing for the rest of the day, could be summoned on his mobile and was there with the famed Swiss efficiency and immediacy!
Less than an hour later we were parked up, and away on the bikes for a quick cycle up the valley. We went out one way towards Wengen, and then Ian remembered that the reason why he couldn’t find a road up to Wengen was because there wasn’t a road up to Wengen! An idyllic alpine village, complete with wooden chalets, alpine meadows, and jingling cow bells, perched high above the valley floor and only accessible by the wonderful Wengern Alpen Bahn WAB, for short, a series of funicular railways developed since 1912, which connect all the Alpine villages in the area, Wengen, Grindelwald, Murren, Kleinescheidegg, to name but a few. Absolutely magical.
We cycled out the other way towards Stickelberg, and then having orientated ourselves we returned to the van. Later that night we met up with a friend of ours, David W, aka Wilkie, aka the Doctor, in a local hostelry. He was there for his 25th or so visit, with his old school chums, Dave Ed and Roger, and his son Alistair. We got together, and discussed plans for walking tomorrow.
Incidentally, the weather is wonderful. The forecast for the next few days is great, and the scenery is outstanding. What’s more, the recent rain has settled as a good drop of snow on the glaciers and mountains, cleaning them all up, covering the dinghy tired snow-tops with a fresh covering of crisp, white snow. So in short, it couldn’t be better and we are so lucky to be here!

Monday, 7 September 2009

We shouldn't be here

We shouldn’t be here!

No, not some existential crisis! We really shouldn’t be here! We’re supposed to be in Cornwall, and even booked a meal at the excellent Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow, but with a week to go and the forecast of more howling wind and torrential rain, we sat down and booked a trip across the Channel again!
Sea france ferry to Calais, and then five nights booked at a campsite in Lauterbrunnen, in Switzerland.
I’ve never been before, and Ian’s only been once about thirty years ago with Keith and some mates. He went to Grindelwald and loved it! The site is within walking distance of Lauterbrunnen, with the prospect of tons of walking in the Bernese Oberland, the Eiger and Jungfrau being our nearest neighbours!
Van loaded up. Lots of meals prepared and frozen, because this is an extra treat, and I’ve heard Switzerland can be an expensive destination! Just over five hours drive to Folkestone and overnight stay at a n inexpensive caravan park. Early start at 5am for an early ferry and then we’re off on quiet autoroutes, leaving the SE England behind with its very busy, dug-up roads!
We overnighted in an aire in Kayserberg, after 650km covered, with pouring rain keeping us company all the way down. We awoke to a better morning, and had a wander around the extremely quaint Alsace town, and promised ourselves that we’d come back here for some beer and a fruit tart. No prizes for guessing who promised who what!!!!
Oh and we saw storks for the first time, nesting in the spire of a village timber-framed building. Huge nest perched right at the top, must have been at least five feet across, with the biggest birds I’ve ever seen before sitting on top! Amazing!!!