Did the Switzerland thing

Jun 4th, 2005, 09:56 AM
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Did the Switzerland thing

Luzern, Gimmelwald, Montreux, Murten, Zurich over 11 days. Seeing the Alps was like scratching a long-standing itch. This summary will focus just on the 5 days spent in the Berner Oberland at Gimmelwald. The rest of Switzerland is fine, but is merely a wispy shadow by comparison. See bottom of this post for a link to picture.

First, a few helpful tips. (1) The Swiss Museum Pass is a great deal. For 30 francs you can get into darn near every museum in the country for one month, easily paying for itself in about 3 visits. You can get them at TIs and major museums. (2) Phone cards in Switzerland are an insanely good deal. Calling the states costs a 0.50 franc connection fee plus 0.10 franc per minute afterwards, or about 8 cents a minute. (3) For a week or more in Switzerland, look into getting a Swiss Pass. It covers almost any train you will want to ride, nearly all gondolas, lake cruises, buses, and (this is sweet) city transportation. It's a big time-saver in that you don't have to stand in line to buy tickets -- and that's in keeping with one of my top travel rules: Spend money to save time.

Now to the fun stuff. I lucked out and got fantastic weather nearly the whole trip. My first two nights were spent in Luzern. It's a good place to get acclimated to Switzerland. It's a fun town with some culture, a casino, easy public transportation system, fun lake cruises, a pint-sized Smithsonian-esque Transportation Museum (with planetarium), and some neat day-trips to nearby mountain views.

In Luzern I stayed at The B&B, a quick 5 minute ride on bus line #1 from the train station. It's in a quiet residential area and easy to find. Elizabet runs the place and speaks fine English -- and she's very helpful. My single room cost 79 francs per night, breakfast included, and the clean, modern shower is down the hall.

Luzern was pleasant enough but it's not why you go to Switzerland. From the tourist's perspective this country is first and foremost the Alps. The best place to absorb the Alps is the Berner Oberland. And if you want take in the Alps with an IV, stay in Gimmelwald. That's where I spent my next 5 nights.

This tiny little hamlet is unlike any other in the area. It's not mobbed by tourists, traffic, tour buses, giant hotels, or tacky souveniers. Most of its 100 inhabitants make their living from farming, not from tourism. The houses and other buildings there look old and traditional because that is what they are -- not the fake, Disney-fied look that Grindlewald has. The constant background noise in Gimmelwald is not traffic or dance clubs, it's the waterfalls across the valley and the clankity-clank of cowbells. The mountain views are the best in the region.

I stayed at Hotel Mittaghorn. The place is well-worn with over 100 years of use. It creaks. But it's clean, quiet, and comfortable. And the views from all of its 10 rooms are special. 81-year old Walter Mittler still runs the place, with help from British ex-pat Tim. My single cost me 45 francs per night, breakfast included. The shower is down the hall. Be sure to stockpile your 1-franc coins because the shower meter gives you 5 minutes of hot water for each coin you deposit. Walter offers his guests a great dinner for an additional 15 francs. Even with total strangers, these dinners turn refreshingly intimate after only a litte while. It must be the mountain air. BTW, Walter donates 1 franc per guest per night to Equadorian charities. Since 1990 he's given over $200,000 to them.

You can hike yourself silly in this region and that's pretty much what I did. The biggest hike I tackled was the one from Gimmelwald to Tanzboden, a 7-hour 11-mile trek that taxed me completely. Oh, but the views are inspiring -- and you won't be disappointed if you were hoping for solitude. For more fun, count the number of wild but friendly mountain animals that you encounter. Be sure to pack along a picnic lunch from Esther's restaurant for 12 francs.

The other major quests of mine while in this region were the Schilthorn and the Jungfraujoch. I punched both those tickets on the same day with great weather for each. My unconventional opinion is that the Jungfraujoch is over-rated. It certainly has fantastic views, but considering the cost (95 francs from Wengen with 25% Swiss Pass discount), the time expense (min 3 hours), and the being herded around like cattle it's not worth it. I'm glad I did it, but I'd have gotten more enjoyment from a fine day of hiking. The thing is, I got just as much "gee-whiz" from the Schilthorn excursion which is much cheaper and takes far less time than the Jungfraujoch.

For evening fun in Gimmelwald, the bar at the Mittaghorn is always enjoyable. Or walk 5 minutes to the Mountain Hostel to listen to some spontaneous live music, play pool or cards, or surf the net. You can also do laundry at the hostel even if you're not staying there. Or take the gondola to Murren for more nightlife options.

My legs were screaming the day after my Death March hike to Tanzboden, so I opted for something less strenuous. I went down to Lauterbrunnen, rented a bike, and spent half the day cruising the valley floor. For lunch, I pulled off into a shady are and finished reading Brave New World (one of those classic books that fell through the cracks during my education).

There's lots more to share, but that's all I have time for today. Enjoy some selected pictures:

Edward2005 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 10:11 AM
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Edward, enjoyed your report and loved your pictures! You sure had great weather, so clear in all your shots. I'll be heading to the BO this summer. Can't wait!

(I must admit, however, I've never thought of Grindelwald as being Disney-fied. Cars and tourists, to be sure, but still a favorite of mine.)

Thanks for sharing.
kopp is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 10:24 AM
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You photos are superb. Makes me wonder what the &%*##@&% I'm doing in flat hot Florida at this time of year!
ahotpoet is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 11:28 AM
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You certainly DID do the Switzerland thing!!
I enjoyed this very much and those photos!!! omigod! Thank you!
Scarlett is offline  
Jun 4th, 2005, 01:36 PM
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Sure enjoyed the Swiss fix you shared today -- thanks!!

I do love my mountains mixed w/water, however. To each his own.

swandav2000 is online now  
Jun 4th, 2005, 04:47 PM
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Thanks for sharing the photos - simply wonderful! I have enjoyed following your posts on Switzerland for several months now. I knew you were going before us - I just happened to log onto Fodors now. It must have been good karma as we're about to leave for the airport! So glad I caught your report and terrific pics! We're leaving tonight and we'll be in Berner Oberland next weekend! Yeh!
DeeDee is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 04:58 AM
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Thanks, Edward, for sharing your impressions and the great photographs. Like s', I'm a lakeview-w/mountain vista fan, and one daytrip to Grindelwald was enough for me. (Your synopsis at No. 34 hit the nail on the head.) But for the first time, I'm really tempted to give one of the less beaten tracks a chance. At No. 16, is Murren at the top and Gimmelwald the straggling cluster at the bottom? One more question, is the Murren to Gimmelwald 30-minute walk as smooth as it appears in your picture? If I sound like a whimp, well so be it. I'm a flatlander.

I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip, because IMO, the Oberland is far from being the only reason to visit Switzerland. Details, please, including the museums? Thanks, J.
jmw44 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 07:22 AM
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Thanks, Edward, for the information about the Oberland. My family is leaving June 7 for Switzerland and Italy, and your opinion on Jungfraujoch vs Schilthorn is helpful. I am new to Fodor's. Can any one explain how to view Edward's pictures? Thanks, Linda
LindaLouise is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 10:08 AM
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Edward, thanks for sharing. I've been wanting to go to Switzerland for a while now, and your pictures just whet my appetite even more. Beautiful.

china_cat is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 10:18 AM
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It has been a few years now, but my famiily and I did the walk from Murren to Gimmelwald and really enjoyed it. It is downhill all the way but I don't remember ever feeling it was too steep or strenuous and I'm not a big hiker. The kids remember it as being fun (they were 11 and 14 at the time.)

I'm envious that you get to be in that beautiful country soon. We can't wait to get back there someday!
KathrynT is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 10:33 AM
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I'm glad ya'll have enjoyed the pictures. jmw, yes, that is Murren at the top of #16 and Gimmelwald at the bottom. The hike from Murren is a nice paved downhill walk.

Linda, to see the pictures copy the URL I gave and paste it into the address bar of your browse then hit enter. It should take you to a page where you can launch a slide show.
Edward2005 is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 10:44 AM
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Wow what great photos. Thank you for making them available for us to see!
wantagig is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 12:14 PM
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Thanks, Edward. I got to the site, hit launch, and nothing happens. Will keep trying. Linda
LindaLouise is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 06:05 AM
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Thanks, folks. The Murren/Gimmelwald walk sounds just my speed. Copied and pasted. J.
jmw44 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 06:53 AM
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Interesting report and appreciated; perhaps someday you'll actually visit the rest of Switzerland that you currently feel is just a "wispy shadow by comparison..."
AuntIda is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 07:21 AM
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Auntida, I certainly hope so. To clarify, only the places I visited paled in comparison to the Oberland. I have not visited, say, the St. Moritz, Appenzell, or Zermatt areas.
Edward2005 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 08:14 AM
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Hi Folks,

Auntida, I really agree with you!

Edward2005, if you like to get away from the tourist areas, look into the towns of Zuoz, Guarda, Bever, or Sils in the Engadin; don't go to St Moritz! I didn't see ONE trinket or tourist shop in those towns. You can also see beautiful, untouched villages on the border of western BO/Romande area, towns like Saanen, Chateau d'Oex, Rougement, etc. Also recommend you stay away from Zermatt and head to a smaller village like Saas-Fe, though I haven't actually been there. And if you want to get away from standard tourist hotels, check out "Sleeping in Straw" http://www.abenteuer-stroh.ch/en/default.asp or "Swiss Farm Stays" (http://www.bauernhof-ferien.ch/englisch/). Or even stay with a family in a b&b (www.bnb.ch). There's really a whole lot to the country beyond the BO/Jungfrau.

swandav2000 is online now  
Jun 6th, 2005, 08:59 AM
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Edward, great report and pix.

You seem very knowledgable so I have a question for you. My daughter is going to Gimmelwald for a few days 2 weeks from now (Mountain Hostel). The Gimmelwald website says to take the route to Murren if you need groceries since there is no store in Gimmelwald.

You say you ate at Walter's hotel. Can Mountain Hostel visitors eat there? Or does the hostel serve any food? In other words, if you arrive in Gimmelwald with no food in your backpack, will you starve?

march123 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 09:49 AM
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march, there is a small restaurant next to the hostel so your daughter won't starve. There are also a few huts in town that sell cheese and picnic lunches for hikers. The Mountain Hostel has a neat little sub-culture of food. Guests bring in groceries and cook/share their own meals in the kitchen. The hostel sells some very basic inputs for this (like spaghetti and sauce), otherwise there is a grocery store in Murren.

I believe Walter cooks only for his guests at the Mittaghorn. FYI, the Mittaghorn also has loft beds for 25 francs. If your daughter is college age, the hostel will probably be more her speed.
Edward2005 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 10:49 AM
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Edward, nice report and good pictures, it was fun to look at them: "hey, I remember that!"

It's difficult not to have good time in Switzerland!

And I was surprized by how cheap the phone calls are! I made probably 15 calls to my family members and didn't use all 20 Sfr, next time I'll opt for a 10 Sfr card.
FainaAgain is offline  

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