Friday, August 22, 2008

Steppin' Out

After the first few days in London, Maggie and her dad, David, went off to Paris to enjoy themselves while I stayed behind in London. Not to be totally left out of the European explorations, I flew to Geneva on the weekend and took a train to the Swiss capital Bern where they met me the following day.

Bern street view

When Maggie and David joined me, we drove from Bern to Lauterbrunnen, just under an hour away by car. The Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the most visually stunning places on the planet, similar in many ways to Yosemite Valley, but on an even bigger scale. The valley was J. R. R. Tolkien's inspiration for the valley of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings (think Thomas Kinkade with elves), and it's easy to see why he was so inspired. Towering over the valley are the Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau, all of which are over 13,000 ft. tall, there are waterfalls everywhere you look even in the driest part of the year, and everything is green and glorious.

Lauterbrunnen Valley view from our hotel room

After we arrived, we took a short hike up to Staubbach Falls. The Swiss have a wonderful habit of building stairs (and roads, and trains, and buildings) in places that look absolutely impossible, and they seem to do it simply because of the challenge. I'm happy that they do these things, because I get to walk behind a massive 1000 ft. waterfall or take a train that goes through the Eiger up to the Junfraujoch at over 11,000 ft.

While hiking and climbing up the stairs to Staubbach Falls, we kept running into this American guy who was, for some untold reason, eating frozen bonbons while walking. Why he was eating bonbons on a hike is beyond me, and the irony was that he was constantly showing off his mountaineering prowess to his girlfriend and coaching her on how to properly ascend a mountain and not slip on gravel, all the while stuffing his craw with chocolatey bonbons. Mr. Bonbon then planted himself right in the middle of exact spot that everyone wanted to photograph, so we all got pictures of his bonbon container. When he reached the bottom of the trail, he no longer had the bonbon container and had clearly dropped it on the trail somewhere. I'm sorry world; we Americans are not all like Mr. Bonbon, I promise.

Mr. Bonbon and Staubbach Falls

The following day, we took the gondola up to the village of Mürren, a place built for postcards. The picture would have been totally complete if there had been a man with a jaunty cap and an alpenhorn and a girl in pigtails. We took an idyllic hike along the ridge munching on wild strawberries and bilberries and listening to the subtle clanging of the cowbells in distant ravines. Needless to say, this was all very nice.

View of the Lauterbrunnen Valley from the gondola

View from our Mürren hike

Monkshood in bloom

Downtown Mürren during rush hour

As the weather started to turn a bit grey and threatened to rain, we made our way back down to the valley floor, and, not content to end the day without having climbed massive amounts of stairs, we went to visit Trummelbach Falls. Unlike most of the other falls in the valley, Trummelbach is essentially a series of cascades inside the rock of the mountain. Once again the Swiss proved that they can build anything anywhere and built a stairway that follows the waterfall up through the mountain.

Because the water is glacial melt, the cave is icy cold, but, because the trail snakes in and out of the cave, you go through tremendous temperature changes on this hike. The best parts of the trail are when you are inside the mountain right next to the waterfall experiencing the intense force of the rushing water. No photo could possibly capture this sensation, but I did record a short video:

Even that just looks like a bit of flowing water with some noise, but trust me that it was quite exhilarating to stand so close to such a powerful force inside a dark, icy cold cave.

Above Grindelwald

Getting to the top of Trummelbach Falls involved climbing many hundreds of stairs, so we swore that we would avoid stairs entirely the next day and take a nice drive up to Grindelwald and take it easy. Wanting to take a short walk in the morning, we drove past Grindelwald with the intention of going up to the Grosse Scheidegg for a walk in the high alpen meadows (near where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moriarty fought to the death in The Adventure of the Final Problem). Unfortunately, the road is closed to cars for the last bit (but open to cows), and the bus that would have taken us to to the top wasn't set to leave for over an hour, so instead we followed signs to a trail that lead up to the nearby glacier.

Cows allowed

As it turned out, this wasn't merely a trail, but in fact was an incredibly steep and long staircase straight up the cliff face handmade out of logs, and naturally we couldn't resist one more set of stairs. After climbing for ages you reach a scary suspension bridge over a gorge that was quite fun, but the advertised view of the glacier wasn't all that interesting, especially compared to the views of the mountains and the lush green valley.

The triumphant trio on the bridge

For our next vacation, my vote is to go somewhere flat, sip on a piña colada, and do very little. Of course, looking at our calendar, our next trip is to Norway with hopefully a visit to a fjord or two. Hmm, fjords are flat right?

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