View from my hotel window in Mürren.
I left Mürren at around 10:00, taking the BLM train to Grütschalp, the cable car to Lauterbrunnen, and another train to Interlaken Ost. I had planned to take a Golden Pass train to Luzern, have lunch on the river, then take a train to Bern, but that seemed like a lot of extra time just for lunch, and it was already noon by the time I got to Interlaken, so I took the train straight to Bern.
But then halfway to Bern I thought, why not go to Basel? The train goes all the way to Hamburg, so I could ride into Germany, but my Swiss Rail Pass only takes me to the border. Still, I can get off, walk across the border and look around, then take the train back to Bern. I can’t check in until 3:00 anyway.
As it happens, the train station is several miles from the border, but there’s a central tram stop in front of the station with trams that go all over the city. Two of the stops had “Grenze” in the name, so I picked the one that didn’t sound French and got on that tram. I didn’t have a ticket, and I don’t think local trams are covered by Swiss Rail, but I thought I’d see what happened.
The tram actually went across the Grenze and into Germany.
I got off, then realized that it was just going to turn around and go back, so I got back on again and rode back to the train station.
No one ever asked to see my ticket, nor did I see any machine that accepted tickets. But there were machines that sold tickets next to the trams. Weird.
Then I took the train to Bern, where I have the tiniest hotel room I have ever seen. Even the Japanese business hotels were bigger than this.
The hotel itself is all faded elegance, with an ancient cage elevator.
Now I’m drinking a complimentary Schneider Weisse in the hotel restaurant and planning the next day.
Today was clear and sunny, so I took a stroll to Gimmelwald, a little over a mile away. It started pleasantly enough. I watched paragliders take off to go floating over Lauterbrunnen in the valley below.
I walked along a path with a view of Eiger and Jungfrau.
The path got kind of rocky.
Some of the bridges seemed kind of sketchy.
But eventually I saw farmland.
And I arrived in Gimmelwald.
I took the cable car back to Mürren.
It took less than five minutes.
It’s snowing. It’s been snowing all day. I went up the Schilthorn anyway, where I saw this view.
I had the misfortune of going up with a Chinese tour group. There were probably at least 30 of them, all taking selfies and generally getting in the way. I did gain a few minutes at the top. While they were all crowding onto the escalator, I found a freight elevator and went up that way. I had the place to myself for about two minutes.
The Schilthorn is famous for the Piz Gloria, which is a revolving restaurant that probably has a spectacular view when it’s not snowing. The building was also used in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is the one with George Lazenby. They play this up for all it’s worth. There’s a James Bond Experience, a James Bond Walk of Fame, and numerous Bond/Schilthorn souvenirs.
All of which went pretty quickly, and I went back down before the Chinese tourists did. At the Birg stop, part way down there mountain, there’s a Thrill Walk, which was closed, and a Skyline View, which didn’t have one.
So I went back to Mürren and had lunch at the Snackbar Berry. They have good Apfelstrudel and play Tom and Jerry cartoons in German.
Driving to Switzerland took a little over an hour. They didn’t even stop me at the border. Leaving the rental car return, I had to walk along the street for about a quarter mile and through a parking lot to get to the airport, then through the airport to get to the train station.
I was planning to get lunch in downtown Geneva, but the train I got on happened to be going to Montreux, which is the end of the Golden Pass line, so I went all the way to Montreux. I had time before the next train to Interlaken, so I walked along the lake. I didn’t see the Freddie Mercury statue, though.
The Golden Pass Classic is a set of refurbished older trains from 1914 and 1964. I mistakenly got on one of the first class cars, a fact the conductor discovered after I’d already settled in and there was no more room in second class. But I could pay to upgrade to first class. This required him to work through some elaborate calculation that involved talking to himself in both French and German, then concluding that I owed 12 francs. Thus for about $12.25 I have entered the ranks of the elite. Who knew that status could come so cheaply?
The train went through Gstaad, which, based entirely on The Return of the Pink Panther, I had always thought of as a ski town high up in the mountains. That’s sort of true. It is a ski town, and it’s generally in the Alps, but it’s surrounded by farmland. As a town, it didn’t look especially noteworthy, although I didn’t actually get off the train to look at it.
Interlaken is a nice-looking town in a beautiful setting, but my hotel reservation was waiting for me halfway up the mountain. From Interlaken Ost station, I took another train to Lauterbrunnen, a cable car to Grütschalp, and a narrow-gauge train along the edge of nothingness to Mürren.
There are goats in Mürren.
I’m staying at the creaky and atmospheric Hotel Blumental. Manuel from Fawlty Towers carried my bag to my room. Really, I swear it’s him.
I had dinner at Stägerstübli, where the owner generously accommodated my attempts at German. Horse steaks are on the menu, but I went with the chicken mit pfeffersauce.
I awoke to clouds. Not a good sign. I took a shower and got dressed. Still cloudy. I checked the weather report. Supposedly it was sunny and would be all morning. Hmm.
I got a croissant and some “expresso” (as the menu said) and walked over to the tourist information office, but it was Sunday and they were closed.
Well, okay. My original plan was to go to the top of Aiguille du Midi, then descend to Plan de l’Aiguille and hike to the Mer de Glace glacier, spend some time there and take the train down. Then I decided I didn’t want to do a 2.5-hour hike in my Nike Frees, so I would do the mountain and the glacier separately with a multipass. If the mountain was clouded over, I would just do the glacier.
I walked to the cable car station to find out if it was going to clear up and decide which ticket to buy. I asked the lady at the ticket counter if it was going to clear up. This was obviously a very stupid question as it was clearly sunny right now, as anyone could see by looking at the webcam. Oh. So I asked for a multipass so I could take the train to the glacier. But the glacier is closed, she said. It’s closed? Stupid question #2. It’s closed for the season, as everyone knows. Thus my options all converged on a single point, and I bought a ticket to the summit of Aiguille du Midi.
Which was spectacular. I didn’t see anyone doing ballet on the side of the mountain, but the view was amazing. 12,600 feet is the highest I’ve been on the ground. The best part of Aiguille du Midi is that you actually take an elevator to the summit. I think that mountains like Everest and Kilimanjaro would be much improved by such an approach.
There were views.
And more views.
And a clear platform that was smaller than I thought it would be.
The view from the restroom was just as good, and I could stand in front of the heater.
I met a Filipino couple and we exchanged picture-taking services. (That’s Mont Blanc behind me.)
The last platform I visited was up a long flight of stairs. I took the stairs two at a time, like I usually do. This was a bad idea at 12,000 feet. I had to stop about two-thirds of the way up and gasp for a while. When I got to the top, there was…a display on hypoxia. Clearly someone’s idea of a joke.
While I was recovering, I read about what happens to your body at high altitudes. There was a little gizmo that you could stick your finger in to determine your heart rate and blood oxygen level. I had a little smiley face next to mine, so all was well.
On the way down in the cable car, the people next to me pointed out a donkey on the side of the mountain below. I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, but I’m sure it was Al.
For the rest of the day I just walked around Chamonix talking pictures, buying shirts (nice ones), eating, etc. Dinner was tapas and Irish coffee at a British restaurant and bar overlooking the river Arve.
Tomorrow: Geneva and beyond.