I love crossing borders by train. The changing scenery, the rapid shifting of languages, stations with unfamiliar local names; its an experience in itself. Therefore it was obvious that I would get into Switzerland by train from Paris. Alas, I fall asleep and miss the transformation only to wake up in time for catching my connecting train from Basel to Lucerne, where I am to meet a dear friend for an exciting week in the Swiss Alps. A drastic change from the historic and vivacious Paris, I am welcomed into Switzerland amidst nature’s ubiquitous presence.
Lucerne is a small city and is easily covered on foot in a day: A Swiss Sojourn. After having spent a day in Lucerne, we are ready to explore the Alps and experience the Bernese Oberland. Legend has it that dragons with healing powers take residence in the mastiff of the Pilatus, an easy train ride from Lucerne. The ascent to the Pilatus is via an engineering marvel, a cog wheeled train that inches its way to the top of the Pilatus at an astonishing angle of 45 degrees. A short walk further on from the last point of the train stop, gets us to the top of the Pilatus within a matter of a few minutes. The panoramic vista from the top is a glorious view of the Alps glimmering in the Lucerne lake and the city itself in the distance. I wouldn’t blame the dragons if they decided to make this their residence! On our descent to the base, we are even treated to an impromptu music with traditional Alphorns. We delight in it for a while before proceeding to our next stop: Wengen.
Having spent a considerable amount of time and the whole afternoon at the Pilatus, we are now ready to move to the interiors of the Alps. We return to our hotel, have a drink, grab our luggage and head to the station for our train to Wengen, a car-free mountain village in the canton of Berne. Our train traverses through some stunning scenery, beautiful stations-Brienz with the splendid lake is a sight to behold, Interlaken, the bustling city and often a base for many tourists and a few smaller ones. We finally arrive at Lauterbrunnen, the famous entry to the Bernese-Oberland after dusk and make our way up with the help of a pooled taxi to our B&B in Wengen. Wengen is every thing that Switzerland shouts about in its picture postcards: scattered wooden houses, towering snow-capped mountains and warm fireplaces in the nights. It offers easy access to some of the finest treks and mountain excursions. Our B&B was going to be home for the next 5 days. We arrive late night in our Chalet Aelpli (unfortunately no longer functioning) and are cordially invited by our hosts into a warm wooden house surrounded only by carpets of green meadows and blanketed by the starry night skies.
We had hoped on getting some good weather over the course of the next few day, go on a couple of treks, a few mountain trips and perhaps enjoy some good weather. Unfortunately, our plans of going to any mountain top are dashed when we wake up to wet and foggy weather which would have made any excursions to a mountain top a waste of time and money (Switzerland is very expensive!). We instead decide to have a leisurely breakfast and spend time at the Ballenberg open air museum. Breakfast in these parts is simple and yet extremely refreshing with fresh milk and freshly prepared cheese and bread. After breakfast we decide to hike down from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen, a one hour walk. Lauterbrunnen is the last motorable village in these parts. The village is surrounded by plenty of magnificent waterfalls, including the Staubbach, which is one of the highest falls in Europe.
Ballenberg is a train away from this town. It is an authentic reconstruction of the region from the 17th century spread over a vast area. It houses traditional houses, farm animals and fields and is a throwback to the old Swiss life. We find this structure of a museum very unique and thoroughly enjoy a considerable amount of time visiting the barns, playing with the farm animals and experiencing some authentic lifestyle. As we await in the pitter-patter of rain drops for our bus back to Lauterbrunnen, we are invited by a charming lady to a chocolate store where she explains the history of chocolate, chocolate making process and entices us to buy a few from her store. Boy are they delicious! After the bus back to Lauterbrunnen and the hike up to our Chalet, we retire for the night hoping to have better weather the next day.
As luck would have it, the next morning we wake up to similar or worse weather. The mountain tops had to wait for yet another day. This time we ask our kind hostess Ramona, to suggest an authentic Swiss experience not experienced by typical tourists. She is kind enough to oblige and calls up her friend Peter, a cheese maker and arranges for us to meet him at his house to witness actual cheese making. We thank her profusely and proceed to Herr Peter’s house located beyond Kleine Scheidegg which again requires us to take a train from Lauterbrunnen. We were very much beginning to enjoy the routine trek from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen now.
We proceed to take the train from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg. The second class compartment is crowded but we manage to find seats. We see an elderly couple getting in and immediately give up our seats for them. Seeing this, the ticket collector being pleased with us, immediately upgrades our seats to first class! Perks of being nice! We can’t believe our good fortune when we discover that the fist class compartment is almost empty! It is indeed an unexpected gift. What better luck than having the vistas of Switzerland all to ourselves?
After arriving at the rain soaked station of Kleine Scheidegg, we walk towards Alpiglen to Peter’s farm house. It takes a few knocks on wrong doors before we finally manage to find the place. The smell of the cheese in the air is intoxicating and Peter’s good humour is uplifting. Cheese is freshly being prepared and pressed and we bombard him with questions about his farm, his cows, where he ships his cheese to and so on. He invites us to taste some of his fresh cheese. We talk for close to an hour enjoying slices of cheese and take leave despite being graciously pressed for joining his family for lunch. This must be one of the finest authentic experiences I have ever had.
Somewhere deep down though, I was still hoping for better weather and to experience the Alps in their grandeur…