Thursday, August 16, 2012

Switzerland

We took the train from Vienna to Bludenz, and then from Bludenz to Zurich, Zurich to Luzern, and then Luzern to Meiringen. This was my first time using the rail pass, and the process was more involved than I thought. First, you validate the rail pass at the opening train station. This requires lining up at the train station ticket counter even though you actually aren't going to buy train tickets. Fortunately, I allocated an extra hour or so as standing in line took far longer than I thought it would: 20 minutes. You have to show the passports attached to the rail pass to validate it, and once you've got it validated you have to fill in the dates when you use it, as well as the trains you're actually taking.
From Europe 2012 Selects
With all that settled, we got onto the train into the first class compartment. In my past adventures in Europe, I'd never paid for first class tickets, but with a child and a wife in tow, I figured the minimal extra expense was worth it. The nice thing about first class is that most Europeans think like me, so they never bother paying extra and so you have a lot of room to yourself as a result. And the staff is also more free. So much so that the staff members started playing with Bowen! We would later discover in Switzerland that all the other passengers in first class were also rail pass users from the US. This explains why when I was in Munich, I never met anyone who bought first class tickets on a regular basis: it's the foreigners who use it!
From Europe 2012 Selects
Alas, we arrived in Rosenlaui in the middle of a storm, which meant that our time in Rosenlaui was mostly spent indoors, or in the town of Meiringen, or in Grindelwald. In a fit of optimism, I bought a Berner Oberland Regional Pass for both XiaoQin and I, betting that over the next 14 days we'd find 5 good days on which to use it.

Rosenlaui is always gorgeous, and I've recommended this place to many people, but most people are too unadventurous to visit. For one thing, the rooms don't have ensuite toilets or baths, so all bathrooms, and toilets are shared for each floor of the hotel. What those people are missing is the amazing four course dinners that Andreas prepare, and the amazing service that Christine will provide: you're not staying at a faceless hotel chain, you checkin directly with the owners and they care, deeply about you as a person. For instance, when Tracy's flight was delayed and she missed the last bus from Meiringen to Rosenlaui, Christine sent a Taxi to pick her up at 9pm. When we were running out of diapers because Tracy's baggage with the extra diapers were lost, Christine had the post bus bring up diapers for us! I rarely repeat the same trip year after year, but Rosenlaui is for me a must-do when I visit Switzerland. (You won't find it in Lonely Planet or Rick Steve's, so the place has very few Americans)
From Europe 2012 Selects
For the first time this year, I stayed at Rosenlaui on a Tuesday night, when they had a special music night. After 3 days of rain, the sun finally came out on the day we had to leave to transfer to Murren. Since the weather was clear, we took advantage of the rail pass to go up Kleine Scheidegg (rather than the boring Meiringen/Interlaken route). Neither XiaoQin nor Tracy had been up to Jungfraujoch before, so they bought tickets to that train station. I would go with them to Kleine Scheidegg, but I had plans to take Bowen hiking instead. Cynthia and Kekoa had decided to hike around First instead, so got off the bus at Grosse Scheidegg with their backpacks.
From Europe 2012 Selects
If you ever want attention, hike a mountain trip with your baby on your backpack. First of all, Bowen was just as happy to be out and about after being cooped up for days. Secondly, he smiles at everyone, and so groups of hikers going the other way would stop to say, "Wow, that is the cutest baby we've ever seen." I don't know whether it's because they hardly ever see Chinese babies in Switzerland, or whether the good weather after 3 days of rain put everyone in such a good mood. At the end of the hike, I took the gondola down to Wengen, and then hopped back up to Kleine Scheidegg in time to meet up with everyone else and then take the train to Murren.
From Europe 2012 Selects
I was last in Murren in 2008, and the memories of the beautiful area near it always haunted me enough to jump at the chance to come back. I was not disappointed. Over the next few days, we hiked several trails, and even XiaoQin was impressed by the fields of wildflowers and beautiful, easy hiking.
From Europe 2012 Selects
About the only place in the world with better hiking would be the Coast to Coast in England, and that's only because I'm insane and enjoy getting lost. One consequence of buying the regional pass is that we felt obligated to use it, and use it on the expensive trains in the area. Fortunately, I already had a list of recommendations from Jobst Brandt about which steam trains are particularly great to ride on.
From Europe 2012 Selects
First was also included, so I took XiaoQin and Bowen hiking over to Bachalpsee, which was as pretty as I remembered. I also tried the First Flyer, which was a zip-line type flyer between one gondola station and another. That was a bit short but I guess it was worth it, since I'd never think to do it the rest of the time.
From Europe 2012 Selects
The Brienzer Rothorn on the old-fashioned steam train was also a lot of fun, though it was hazy the day we visited so we did not always have the clearest views. Nevertheless, it looked like the hike would be quite easy and pleasant if we had had the time. Unfortunately, traveling with Bowen mean that we couldn't always quite catch the earliest trains up or risk missing the last train down.
From Europe 2012 Selects
I would be remiss if I did not mention the daily, gorgeous views from Chalet Boeb's in Murren. I could and did stare out the window for hours, especially when it rained, since whenever it rained, since that created waterfalls that put anything you could see in North America to shame.
From Europe 2012 Selects
By far the prettiest of the expensive trains was the ride from Wilderswil up to Schynige Platte. From Schynige Platte, we had not just classic views of the mountains, but a complete panorama of the Thunsee and Brienzersee, which were the two lakes that the well-known town of Interlaken straddles.
From Europe 2012 Selects
The short Panorama trail was so pretty that it inspired XiaoQin to declare that she would like to come back and do the 6 hour hike from Schynige Platte to First some day.

The only trip that we thought wasn't worth it was the trip up Harder Kulm, but the reality is, even for XiaoQin, Murren was so pretty that she thought she would like to come back and repeat the visit and do more hiking. As for myself, I'm still missing the hikes I wanted to do last time, so it's definitely on my list. 15 days just isn't long enough in a place as beautiful (though expensive) as Switzerland. Nevertheless, given a choice between cycling and hiking, I know which option I would choose.

Cynthia's Trip Report for Switzerland

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