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Trip Report: 17 days in Switzerland, Austria & Czech Republic

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Sep 3rd, 2008, 05:02 AM
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Trip Report: 17 days in Switzerland, Austria & Czech Republic

We returned two weeks ago from an exhausting but fabulous trip of these 3 countries. Our broad itinerary for the trip was:
Luzern: 3 nights
Lauterbrunnen: 4 nights
Salzburg: 2 nights
Vienna: 3 nights
Prague: 4 nights
I intend to post the complete trip report in 4-5 installments. Here goes the first one.

BACKGROUND & PLANNING: We are a couple from India, around 50'ish. We are avid travelers, but had never been to this part of Europe before. And BTW, we are vegetarians; so you may find our restaurant choices a bit strange ! This trip report is as much for the benefit of Fodorites and future travelers, as it is for ourselves, as a detailed diary of our trip. So please bear with me if it becomes too detailed at times.

The primary source of information for our planning was the Lonely Planet guides (for Switzerland, Austria & Prague), coupled with a host of general internet sites. But the real planning, the fine touches, the wonderful ideas, all came from this Fodors site, which we utilized fully. Thanks a lot to all those who responded to our numerous queries, in particular bob brown, PalenQ, schuler, swandav2000, altamiro, enzian, JN, Mimar, sunstar, Ingo and a host of others. You people really helped make this trip memorable.

For hotel bookings we relied on tripadvisor.com, which has never let us down in the past. Once again, we found the reviews spot on, and were never disappointed in our hotel choices.

Day 1: Friday, Aug 1: Arrival at Luzern:
We boarded our Austrian Air flight from Mumbai at about 1am, which reached Vienna at about 5:30am local time. The flight was really cramped for legspace, and we had a most uncomfortable journey. Had about 90 minutes for changeover, and at 7am we boarded a Swissair flight to Zurich, reaching there around 8am.

The baggage retrieval was fast, and so was immigration and customs. Quick change of some currency, and we were ready to go down to the train station at the airport to board our train to Luzern. We had purchased the 8-day Swiss Pass (saverpass) before our departure, and needed to get it validated. This was speedily done at the Rail Center counter, and we also made reservations for our Zurich-Salzburg leg of rail journey for Day 8. Cost only 5 SFR each. We had Austrian rail passes also (for 3 days of non-consecutive travel), and the lady at the reservation counter asked if she should also validate the Austrian rail-pass. We said yes, and it was done in a jiffy ! I am mentioning this, as I had posted a question earlier on this forum, enquiring about where we should get an Austrian pass validated if we are travelling from Zurich to Salzburg. Fodorites were not sure of the answer, and PalenQ in particular had requested that I post an update when I return. Well, now I know that you can easily get an Austrian pass validated at a train station in Switzerland, anytime before boarding the Switzerland to Austria train.

We boarded the 9:09am train from Zurich Airport, which involved a train change at Zurich HB. When we boarded the 9:35am train at Zurich HB, there was an announcement on the train that the departure would be delayed by 5-10 minutes due to some technical snag. A young Swiss lady passenger seated next to us immediately started apologizing to us for the delay, assuring us that such events were extremely rare in Switzerland ! Good to see so much national pride in the Swiss efficiency.

We met a lot of interesting Swiss travelers on the short train journey to Luzern. It was 1st August, the Swiss National Day, and many people were dressed in the Swiss national colours of red and white. They do take pride in their nationality, and wear it on their sleeve, which is nice to see. We reached Luzern at 10:35am, and took a taxi to our hotel : Pension Villa Maria. We found the hotel very cute and warm and homely, being run by an efficient elderly Swiss lady. It has only 10 rooms; we had booked one of the few rooms which had a private ensuite shower and WC, and were very happy with the place. It is about a 15 minute walk alongside the lake to the town center, and the walk is very pleasant. However, there is a bus stop just outside the hotel, which we used a lot during the next 3 days whenever our feet were tired.

After a welcome shower at the hotel, we set out to the town center on foot, walking along the lake, past some lovely parks and gardens. When we reached the main waterfront near the Kapellbrucke, we sat down for lunch at the Rathaus Brauerie under the arched covered area. Had wonderful soup of cabbage+turnips, along with some pretzels with cheese in a tomato sauce, and some Vietnamese spring rolls with a nice dressing. Their self-brewed cloudy beer was great, and the views from this restaurant were fantastic. Nice satisfying meal.

There were thundershowers forecast for the afternoon, and it had started to rain while we were eating. We were prepared with our umbrellas, and embarked on a walking tour of Luzern. We had to start with the famed Kapellbrucke, which looks so pretty with all the flowers all along its length. On crossing the Kapellbrucke and walking on the other side, we noticed the rain getting heavy, so we entered the Rosengart Museum (which has now been merged with the Picasso Museum). It had a reasonable collection of Picasso, Klee, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir and Seurat, along with a collection of photographs of Picasso himself. Good place to spend a rainy afternoon.

By the time we emerged from the Museum, the rain had slowed down. We walked past the Jesuitenkirche, Franziskanerkirche, History Museum, then crossed back into Old Town via the Spreuerbrucke into Weinmarket and Hirschenplatz. The buildings in the Old Town area are lovely, with murals and paintings on their walls, and lovely antique water-fountains everywhere. Unfortunately, it was a holiday, and all shops were closed.

Had a quick coffee break at Pinochio Cafe at Hirschenplatz, and then proceeded to Musseggmauer (which is the city wall of yore). We climbed up one of the turrets, and walked the length of the wall, which offered excellent bird's eye views of the town.

It was still raining off and on, and we walked to the Bahnhof, and took a one hour boat cruise on the Lake, starting at around 5pm. Very helpful and friendly crew on board. Too bad about the cloudy weather. After the boat cruise we slowly walked to Hofgarten hotel, which was reputed to have the best veg restaurant in Luzern. The weather had suddenly turned chilly, and we were relieved to reach the warm environs of the restaurant. The place lived up to its reputation, and we had an excellent dinner of Tomato+avacado soup, followed by Bami Goreng. Huge helpings and good wine.

We were tired, for lack of proper sleep on the flight, and the 3-4 hour time difference. So we decided to call it a day early, and at 7:30 pm we boarded a bus back to our hotel for some well deserved rest.
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Sep 3rd, 2008, 05:54 AM
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Day 2: Saturday Aug 2: LUZERN:
Fodorites had always advised that when traveling in Switzerland, one should keep the schedule flexible, depending upon the weather forecast. Hence, although we had planned a trip to Mt Pilatus for this day, the weather outlook was cloudy, so we decided to postpone it for the next day which looked much better in the forecast.

We had breakfast at the hotel, which consisted of the usual OJ/cereals /breads /cheese and coffee. By 8am we were off, boarding a bus from the hotel to Bahnhofplatz. We took a lake cruise to Weggis which departed at 8:30am, reaching Weggis 35 minutes later. By now we were experiencing the luxury of having a Swiss Pass (instead of a Half-fare card). Of course we had done the maths and found the Swiss Pass to be the best option for us, but my advice to others is that if the arithmetic is only marginally in favor of a Half-Fare card, you should opt for the Swiss Pass. The convenience of getting free transportation on buses, trams etc, the free lake cruises whenever you want, free entry to all museums - so many things which you probably don't add up while planning. And the luxury of just boarding any mode of transport without having to buy a ticket, is really a nice convenience on any trip.

Weggis is a cute little town (or is it a village?), and had that small-town charm about it. Just strolled up and down the streets, walking along the lake, admiring the swans and the flowers and the buildings, having a coffee by the lakefront, and just soaking it all in. About 90 minutes to 2 hours should be enough for anyone to see most of Weggis, and we boarded a return boat at about 10:30am, reaching Luzern in 45 minutes.

On the first Saturday of every month, there is a large open-air market which springs up in Luzern, on both sides of the river (only till lunchtime). The lady who ran our hotel had highly recommended that we visit this market, and we were glad that we did. Large number of pavement shops everywhere, especially in the Weinmarket area, selling all kinds of things, which made the place very interesting and colorful. Regular shops were also open today, and we completed our souvenir shopping quota for Luzern.

We boarded a bus to the Lion Monument, which was really very pretty and moving. Walked from there to the Bourbaki Panorama nearby, but there was no one at the entrance to let us in. Waited for 30 minutes along with many other people, but when still no one showed up, we were forced to leave. Walked past the Hofkirche, which I found to be especially beautiful, and then took a bus back to our hotel at about 1pm.

We were expecting some friends from Germany to visit us this afternoon (a nice German couple who had been our neighbors in India a few years earlier), and we found them waiting at out hotel when we reached. Meeting old friends in a different part of the world has a special flavor to it, and we were all in a joyous mood. We all drove down to the main town in their car, and lunched at the Hotel Schiff restaurant on the waterfront. Once again, an excellent meal of cheese fondue with white wine. Never realized how filling it would be to consume so much of cheese !

After lunch we all just strolled all over the Old town area, entering various churches, stopping for ice-creams and coffee, and just catching up with each others' lives. Their 12-year old son was getting a bit bored, and wanted to go paddling on a boat. So we rented a paddle boat, and had a leisurely "cruise" in the lake, in close proximity to all the pretty swans. Then we all got into their car and drove out of the town, and wandered aimlessly in the vicinity, going up and down various small mountains, and stopping for breathtaking views ever so often. I have no idea where exactly we went, but I recall seeing a sign of "Kutchnaad" (sp?) somewhere, and from one of the hilltops we could see both Lake Zug and Lake Luzern. Anyway, the weather had totally cleared up, and the sights were fantastic.

We drove back to Luzern in the evening, and just sat down in the park outside the Transport Museum, by the lakeside. The lake is so much more beautiful when the weather is clear, and we could clearly see Mt Pilatus in the distance. Finally, our friends had to leave, and we bid them goodbye at 8:45pm. We took a brisk walk from our hotel to Hofgarten, where we had dined the previous night. We still quite satiated with our fondue lunch, and just tried some wonderful soups. Myself a cold cucumber & kiwi soup, and DW a carrot and apricot soup. Took a bus back to the hotel slightly after 10pm, and retired to bed.
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Sep 3rd, 2008, 06:30 AM
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Day 3: Sunday, Aug 3: LUZERN:
Woke up to clear sunny skies, and a weather forecast which was very promising. Had breakfast at the hotel and left by 8:30am via bus to Bahnofplatz. Made telephone calls to our children, and decided to commence the "Golden Round Trip" to Mt Pilatus.

Started off on a boat trip to Alpnachstadt, departing Luzern at around 9:20am. This cruise ship was bigger, with very nice seats on the deck. The views of the lake were excellent on such a clear day. The peak of Mt Pilatus was clearly visible, but by the time the boat journey ended (in 80 minutes), we were dismayed to see clouds shrouding the peak.

The boat ride connected up with the cog-wheel rail ride up the mountain. The journey took about 30 minutes, and the 48-degree ascent was fun. By the time we reached the top, we were encircled in clouds. Chilled out on the deck-chairs at the top, enjoyed some apple strudel and witnessed an Alphorn recital. Suddenly, we got the feeling that the clouds were beginning to clear up, and quickly undertook the 10-15 minute hike to Esel peak (at 6953 ft). Once on top, we waited patiently, and after about 45 minutes, it suddenly cleared up completely for a 20 minute duration. We could get excellent views of both Titlis and the Jungfrau.

Climbed back down from Esel peak, and took the cable car down to Frakmuntegg, which took just 5 minutes. There we went for the Tobaggon run, which was great fun. A huge long twisted slide embedded on the mountain face, and you slide down the approx 2 km stretch on a tobaggon, with a lift to carry you back up. Truly a memorable experience. From Frakmuntegg we boarded the small gondola down to Kriens, which took 25 minutes. This is the most scenic part of the round-trip journey, and the views from Frakmuntegg and during this descent are the best.

From the gondola station at the bottom, it is a 10 minute walk to Kriens, where a bus meets you to take you back to Luzern. We reached back at about 3pm, and went for a late lunch at the KKL World Cafe near the Bahnhof. The place has excellent atmosphere, a great range of salads, and some wonderful passion-fruit mousse.

We took a bus back to our hotel, dumped off some excess handbags, and walked 5 minutes to reach the Transport Museum. We went inside for about 2 hours; the museum is very nice, but there is no air-conditioning anywhere, and it was a bit stuffy. Maybe worthwhile if you have some children with you, as the collection of stuff there is pretty awesome. However, this is not what we had come to Switzerland for, so we departed soon, and relaxed in the park outside, dipping our feet into the cool waters of Lake Luzern. Then walked back to our hotel and rested for an hour.

At about 7pm we went back to the main town, and took a pavement table at Mr Pickwick's Pub by the waterfront. Enjoyed excellent draught Guiness beer, and watching people go by. After an hour, we strolled to Zurichstrasse (near the Lion Monument), and dined at "Kanchi", an Indian restaurant which had been highly recommended. It turned out to be quite good and authentic, and we enjoyed the meal. Then went back to the hotel and cleared our bill, as we were departing early the next day.

It had been a relaxing 3 days at Luzern. The last day had been the best, with the nice weather and the Pilatus trip. The hotel had been completely to our satisfaction, very clean, homely, with a nice back-garden, and a lovely person running the place.
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Sep 3rd, 2008, 04:55 PM
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Having been to Luzern and Wengen last year, I am really enjoying your trip report and looking forward to more.

Sebina
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Sep 3rd, 2008, 06:49 PM
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Thanks sebinah. Hope to post the next installment within a day.
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Sep 3rd, 2008, 06:59 PM
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Looking forward to more. I love the places you visited. Great stuff! Take it from me, trip reports can NEVER be too detailed.

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Sep 4th, 2008, 01:55 AM
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Thanks maitatom. Glad to know that people are not bored with details. Will post another installment in a few hours.
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Sep 4th, 2008, 07:55 AM
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Here goes the next installment pertaining to Bernese Oberland.

Day 4: Monday, Aug 4ernese Oberland:
We woke up early by 6am, finished our packing, and were down for breakfast by 7:30am. We clicked some photos with our hostess Maria, whom we had got to like a lot. By 8am we were on a bus to the Luzern Bahnhof.

We caught the 8:55am train to Interlaken, which was a direct train, via Brunig and Meiringen. We had reached the train station early, and could easily manage two window seats. The train journey to Interlaken took 2 hours, and was extremely scenic (I think this is part of the Golden Pass Express route). When the train was crossing Brunig and Meiringen, the scenery was particularly beautiful, and it was hard to stop clicking the camera. The train reached Interlaken exactly on schedule at 10:55am, and we changed to the BOB train to Lauterbrunnen at 11:05am. Remembered to sit on the front side of the train, as the rear carriages would have ended up at Grindelwald !

The next 4 days in B.O. were expected to be the high point of our entire trip. For me, planning a trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself, and whenever I would look ahead at our trip itinerary, I knew it in my bones that the B.O. portion would be something special. Fodorites had played a large role in suggesting various hikes and mountain lift journeys, and it was many Fodorites who had steered us towards staying at Lauterbrunnen instead of Interlaken. As the train rolled into Lauterbrunnen station at 11:25am, we mentally thanked people of this site for ushering us in the right direction.

We had been informed by our hotel that there were no taxis to be found in Lauterbrunnen, and that we had no alternative but to walk the 10 minutes from the train station to the hotel. As we commenced our walk, our eyes feasted on sights that we were totally unprepared for. High mountain cliffs to the left and the right, and this narrow deep valley in between where we were, with a tall waterfall visible in the distance, and everything around us having that great rustic feel to it. It seemed as if we had arrived at the gates of Heaven !

The 10 minute walk to the hotel was a breeze, as we were too preoccupied at gaping everywhere. As we reached out Hotel Staubbach, we were very warmly greeted by Doris at the reception, who was full of information and answered all our queries. We had alerted them about an early check-in, and our room was shortly ready. We had booked their special south-facing corner room, which was their largest room, had a superb view of Staubbach Falls (which was a stone's throw away), and had large balconies on two sides, with an excellent sitout area. And surprisingly, the hotel even had an elevator, which was handy in carting our luggage up. We loved our room; OK the toilet was a little tiny, but it didn't bother us much. Their breakfast rooms were lovely and very well appointed, and they had nice lounges with comfy armchairs to sink into, together with internet terminals, chess boards, and free tea/coffee all day. Seemed like a wonderful place to stay.

We freshened up quickly, and immediately left for the train station, as we had to catch the 12:30pm mountain lift to Grutschalp. We were getting late, and it seemed we might miss it. Just then a Post Bus stopped by, headed in that direction. We jumped in, and saved precious 5 minutes (another benefit of carrying the Swiss Pass!), and could make the connection in time. As the large lift took off for Grutschalp, we could not help but notice that the departure was late by one minute as per their clock ! In Switzerland, they spoil you so much with their punctuality, that these things catch your attention !

The ride to Grutschalp took only 4 minutes, and as we alighted, there was a train waiting across the platform to take us to Murren. We had no intentions of boarding that train, as everyone had recommended that we hike from Grutschalp to Murren, which is what we did. The weather was lovely; sunny and clear. The trail was easy and well marked, with lots of benches at frequent intervals. Plenty of hikers visible in either direction, as this was a popular hike. And hordes of cows grazing everywhere, with large cowbells around their necks - the music could be heard many miles away in this peaceful land ! I can vouch with experience that the views that we saw all along the route (of the Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau) were far far superior to what we saw on reaching Murren. Simply breathtaking on a clear day as it was.

It took us about 40 minutes to reach Winteregg, where we stopped for lunch at the Alpine Farmer's restaurant. It was a lovely restaurant, with large outdoor seating under umbrellas, excellent views, and kids hopping on trampolines all around you. I was told that the previous day, for their famed Sunday buffet breakfast, they had a crowd of over 300 people ! We both ordered Cheese Rosti which, despite its simplicity, I would rate as the best meal that we had during the entire 17 day trip ! It was mouth-watering delicious. And we tasted Fendant wine for the first time, of which we had heard so much, which was excellent. A superb meal, and very reasonably priced.

At about 2:30pm, we resumed our walk to Murren, which was a gentle downhill from here, and made it in another 40 minutes. The weather had turned a little cloudy, but thankfully the clouds were much higher than the peaks, and the view was never obstructed. Kept clicking my camera every 5 minutes, and the musical cow-bells continued all through the journey. When we reached Murren, we found it to be similar in size and feel to that of Lauterbrunnen, with its rustic small-village charm. Very quiet and peaceful. Murren is a one-street town, and we walked on its only street, stopping at benches ever so often to admire the views. The peaks appear so close as if you can reach out and touch them ! We located the best views at an outdoor restaurant of some Hotel Edelweiss, where we sat down for coffee and gaped at what we saw.

We popped into a grocery store to buy some Fendant wine bottles, as we were not sure where we would find it again (could not source it anywhere in Luzern, but it is freely available all over B.O.). We were not too tired, and decided against taking the lift down to Gimmelwald, preferring to walk instead. It is a sharp downhill walk, taking about 35-40 minutes (would not recommend attempting it in the other direction). As you descend down, you walk into even quieter territory, with pristine beauty.

As we reached Gimmelwald at about 5pm, a tiny cute village, with a population of 140, surrounded by gorgeous landscape, we felt that we could well be on a different planet. Could not hear a sound anywhere, nor could we see a human in sight. Most houses were lying open, but I swear I did not see a single human being. Did cross 2 or 3 cats, who refused to converse in English ! With a population of 140 (as per our guide book), I presume the guide books have to issue a population amendment whenever a child is born or when someone dies !

We sat down somewhere, and gazed at the pretty chalets. All Swiss chalets have a unique charm - those stark white window frames, and deep-red louvered shutters in sharp contrast, are a sight to behold. And the flowers in every balcony make the chalets come alive - petunias, impatiens, geraniums, sunflowers and verbenas in a riot of colors ! And the occasional rock garden, with alpine wild flowers. Those lovely flower pots, made of hollowed out logs. Too beautiful to describe.

We also discussed the Swiss efficiency. The way their transports are timed to perfection. Get out of a mountain lift, and a connecting train is waiting. Get out of a train, and a connecting bus is waiting. Too good to be true. And also admired the Swiss penchant for cycling. Whole families cycling together everywhere. All modes of transport, whether bus or train or mountain lift, all designed to accommodate bicycles.

After we gave up hope of striking any human contact, we slowly walked to the lift station, and shortly after 6pm we boarded the lift down to Stechelberg. This had been recommended by the reception lady at our hotel. The ride was only 5 minutes, but it took our breath away. It is almost a sheer vertical drop into the narrow Lauterbrunnen valley, with tall mountains on either side, and streams running below you. Never experienced anything like it, and that short ride will remain forever etched in my memory.

At Stechelberg we took the Post Bus back to Lauterbrunnen, and reached our hotel at 6:30pm. Picked up some coffee from downstairs, and sat on our balcony till 8pm, never tiring of the sight of Staubbach Falls straight ahead. Thereafter, we roamed the only street of Lauterbrunnen for half an hour, and then went to Hotel Oberland for dinner. We were still full to the neck with the Rosti lunch earlier in the day, and could only consume some Cream of vegetable soup, which was delicious, followed by Apple strudel served with ice cream. And of course fendant wine of Valais, which was to be our standard drink for the next few days.

Returned to our hotel, and gazed at Staubbach Falls with its night lighting, till we fell asleep.
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Sep 4th, 2008, 08:46 AM
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Day 5: Tuesday, Aug 5: Bernese Oberland:
Woke up at 6am, breakfasted at 7:30, and were out of the hotel by 8am. The weather forecast was cloudy for the morning, but clearing up by afternoon. We abandoned any thoughts of going to Jungfrau for the day, as the forecast for the next day was much better.

We decided to use the morning hours in exploring Lauterbrunnen. We walked to the cemetery very near our hotel. The flowers planted on the ground in front of every grave were very beautiful. We next walked by the Staubbach Falls, and continued walking a mile or two further, in the direction of Stechelberg. As we moved away from the town, it got even prettier, and very peaceful. One waterfall after another, till we lost count.

We walked back to the small church next to our hotel, where we boarded the Post Bus to Trummelbachfalle. This was a tourist "must see", and the hotel receptionist had insisted that we show our hotel guest card to claim a CHF 1 discount on the entry price ! We went up the falls on their lift, and came down slowly by the stairs. It was what we had expected, an awesome sight of water cascading at various stages inside the mountain, carrying all the glacier melt of the Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau. Pretty unique viewing.

We took the Post Bus to Lauterbrunnen station, from where we boarded a train around 11am to Zwielutschinen, where we changed to another train headed for Grindelwald. This part of the train journey was very pretty, and we alighted at Grindelwald at about 11:45am. Our immediate observation about Grindelwald was that it was much larger in size to either Lauterbrunnen or Murren, and had a lot more hustle & bustle about it, together with much more traffic. When we were planning for this trip, we had considered staying at any one of 4 places: Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Murren or Wengen. I know that many Grindelwald lovers on this forum will curse me for saying this, but I was glad we had not selected Grindelwald. It lacked the peaceful atmosphere that we were seeking, although the views from there are no doubt very nice.

We walked slowly to the Grindelwald BGF station, where we boarded a gondola to First. There was not much of traffic, and we had the small gondola all to ourselves. The ride was long (about 25 minutes), and the views were great as we lifted off from Grindelwald. As we climbed further up, the weather turned very cloudy, which obliterated the view. We reached First (7100 ft) at about 12:45pm, and headed to the Terrace restaurant for lunch. Had an average lunch of some soup, with noodles in mushroom sauce, with some beer (DW was hooked on her newly discovered soft drink called Apfelschorle !).

Shortly before 2pm we commenced our hike to Lake Bachalpsee. The first 15-20 minutes were very tiring, as it was steady uphill, but after that it was fairly level, with soft ups and downs most of the way. At one point DW almost gave up, and it required gentle persuasion for her to continue. Once again, lot of hikers in either direction, and a very safe hike despite the altitude. Our fatigue vanished when we finally reached Lake Bachalpsee at about 3pm (1hr 10min hike). A small lake surrounded on all sides by mountains, straight out of a picture postcard. We took a well deserved rest for about 45 minutes, soaking in the view, and burning up the memory card of my camera.

We left Lake Bachalpsee at 3:45pm to return to First. The cloudy weather had started to clear up, and the views on the return journey were much better, thanks to the weather. All along we had the imposing face of the Eiger staring at us, and the background music was provided, as always, by the grazing cows all around us. The return journey took only an hour, as it was downhill for the last stretch, and we rested our legs on reaching First. The return gondola ride was much better, as the sky was clear, and we could see much more.

We reached Grindelwald at about 5:30pm, and sat down at a pavement table at Hotel Bellevue, which had the most fascinating facade, and sipped some wine. Then strolled all over Dorfstrasse, the main street of Grindelwald, popping in and out of stores. Decided to go for an early dinner at "Memory" in Hotel Eiger. We had by now tried the Swiss Rosti, and the Fondue. Tonight it was the turn of Raclette. Unfortunately, we didn't like it as much as the other two Swiss specialities; perhaps a bit bland for our tastebuds.

After dinner, we strolled some more in Grindelwald, and finally boarded the 8:20pm train back to Zwielutschinen. The connections at that hour are bad, and we had a long wait at Zwielutschinen before we got the train to Lauterbrunnen. Reached at 9:20pm, went to our hotel, checked our e-mail messages, and crashed out in bed.
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Sep 4th, 2008, 09:58 AM
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Day 6: Wednesday, Aug 6: Bernese Oberland:
The weather forecast did not change thankfully, and we woke up to a bright sunny day, with not a speck of cloud anywhere. After breakfast we made some telephone calls back home, and then took the Post Bus to Lauterbrunnen station, to commence our journey to Jungfraujoch, the high point of our trip (no pun intended).

We boarded the train to Wengen at about 9:15am, and enjoyed a thoroughly panoramic train journey. The best vistas appeared at the end, just before the train pulled into Wengen. The moment we got down, we felt compelled to walk back some distance until we reached the point that we had crossed on the train journey. The views of the Lauterbrunnen valley from there defied description.

Wengen appeared to be a lovely town, and we immediately fell in love with it. Fabulous views everywhere, as it it is on a height, small and cozy, perhaps a little livelier than either Lauterbrunnen on Murren, but not bustly like Grindelwald. We had absolutely no regrets about having selected Lauterbrunnen as our lodging destination, but if we ever visit again, we would definitely select Wengen for a change. Murren would be too quiet and a bit cut off from the other destinations, and Grindelwald is perhaps suited for those who desire some more "action".
Wengen is just about perfect.

We decided to defer our lingering in Wengen to the evening, and quickly walked to the lift station to take the 10:15am lift to Mannlichen (at about 7500 ft). This cable car journey was very very pretty, and in my opinion much better than the gondola ride from Grindelwald to First (I know bob brown would contest me on this). Unfortunately, the ride was over in 10 minutes. We stopped at the Terrace restaurant in Mannlichen for a cup of tea, an excuse to sit and gaze at the stupendous views. The three peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau staring ahead, in crystal clear weather.

Experts on this site had suggested that we first climb the crown of the hill at Mannlichen to enjoy the views, before embarking on the hike to Kleine Scheidegg. But we were so excited with the lovely views of the three peaks ahead, that we completely forgot all about it, and commenced the hike to Kleine Scheidegg ! Maybe we will go back some day to see what we missed. Of all the hikes that we undertook in B.O., this was the best by a very wide margin. The hike was extremely gentle, a steady downhill all the way, but never steep. Wild alpine flowers all around, and fabulous views at every inch of the journey. No wonder everyone rates it as one of the best walking trails in Switzerland. We had started from Mannlichen at 10:45pm, and made it to Kleine Scheidegg at the stroke of noon. Normally, by the end of any hike, our weary legs would be glad that it was over, but this time we were disappointed and pained that it it all finished in 75 minutes ! We wanted more.

Loved the views from Kleine Scheidegg, and the wonderful atmosphere around that small place. Sat down on some rocks and admired the scenery. Promised ourselves to stop for longer on the return journey. Then we bought our Jungfraujoch tickets, and boarded the train at 12:30pm. The train was very crowded, but luckily we managed to get seating. The train took much longer than the scheduled 50 minutes to reach the top; in fact it took about 75 minutes. On reaching the top, we headed straight for the self-service restaurant where we had an average lunch, redeemed by excellent fendant wine.

After lunch we ventured out to the viewing plateau just above the restaurant, where we frolicked about in snow, and got fabulous views of the Aletsch glacier. Next was a trip to the Ice Palace, where I was frankly disappointed at the quality of the ice sculptures. Then a long long walk inside a "cave" which led us to the Sphinx Observatory. First we rode the elevator to the top, and went out on the terrace to catch the views. Next, we came down on the elevator, and walked through another short "cave" before exiting at the tip of the Aletsch glacier. This is the fun part of Jungfraujoch, where we went sliding down on Snow Discs. Unfortunately, the dog-sleds stop operating at 2:30 pm, and we missed that. It was my DW's first real experience of snow, and we were like little children, throwing snowballs at each other, and running about everywhere.

Fabulous views all around. You can literally point your camera anywhere and click, and you wont go wrong. An experience not to be missed. Also made calls to our kids to inform them that we were on "top of Europe" at 12000 ft. Finally, we decided to leave and catch the 4:40pm train back down. As we retreated from the glacier tip back inside, the weather suddenly changed from crystal clear to very cloudy, and a light drizzle started. We had been indeed very fortunate.

As we headed to the train platform, we experienced the worst nightmare of our lives. There was a huge crowd up there, and everyone was trying to catch the train going down. It was a virtual stampede. Train schedules had been thrown completely off-gear, and they probably needed 5-6 trains every hour instead of just one. We had to stand for an hour in that melee, packed so tightly that even cattle would complain of such treacherous conditions. No effort by the authorities to form an orderly queue, and there was pushing and jostling everywhere. Coming from India, we are accustomed to facing such crowds every now and then, but this surpassed anything that we had ever experienced. It was truly a nightmare. I don't know how we finally got on to a train, where we only got standing room for the entire one-hour journey. The great impression that we had built up of Swiss efficiency took a nosedive today. After charging so much for the journey, if this is what they subject their passengers to, it was shameful. They should have either had many more trains to ferry back the passengers, or they should have restricted the amount of people they transported up. Every passenger was in a foul mood, and everyone was giving a tongue lashing to the Swiss authorities for this situation.

We reached Kleine Scheidegg well after 6pm. We had really wanted to stop here on the return journey, but we had no energy left after the ordeal. We immediately took a train to Wengen, and reached there shortly before 7pm. At Wengen, we picked up a map from the Tourist office, and walked first to Hotel Baren for dinner. It was a very nice place, and we had an excellent meal of Mushroom raviolis, flat noodles with baked vegetables, and refreshing draught beer. Would highly recommend this restaurant.

We had planned on doing a lot of wandering in Wengen during the evening. But we could still feel the exhaustion of the train station jostling. After some minor strolling, we sat down on a bench at a park near the train station. The weather was clear again, and the views were pretty once again. It was only 8:15pm, and the next train to Lauterbrunnen was due only at 9:08pm. So we knew we had a longish wait ahead of us. To our surprise, we saw an unscheduled train roll into the station. We quickly boarded it, and were back at Lauterbrunnen by 8:40pm.

Ambled back to our hotel, picked up a cup of tea from downstairs, and relaxed on our room balcony before retiring to sleep.
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Sep 4th, 2008, 11:56 AM
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Very nice report, enjoying the read and it's inspiring me to plan a trip to Switzerland in the near future! thank you.
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Sep 4th, 2008, 01:03 PM
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Enjoying your report very much, I stayed in Wengen this summer and did the Mannlichen to KlienS hike and loved it!
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Sep 4th, 2008, 03:12 PM
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We stayed in Wengen for 6 nights this summer. Stayed at the Baren Hotel and ate there every night (1/2 board for only $20 pp) Also did the Mannlichen - Klein Schleidegg hike. Fond memories! Thanks for your report.
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Sep 4th, 2008, 07:08 PM
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Thanks everyone for the compliments.
owlwoman: yes you must go to Switzerland; it is different from any other country.
bozama: glad to know that I remind you of your Wengen trip and the Mann-KS hike. Can anyone ever forget that lovely hike ?
nannibray: oh, so you stayed at the Baren ? Isn't their restaurant lovely ? And the waitresses were so nice and pretty too !
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Sep 5th, 2008, 02:54 AM
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Thanks for the great trip report. No, it's not too much detail.

I agree that Wengen is the best place to stay in the BO. In Lauterbrunnen I stayed in the Hotel Oberland some years ago. Liked it, too.

Looking forward to the other places.
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Sep 5th, 2008, 04:28 AM
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Hi indiancouple,

Yes, with everyone else, I am really enjoying your detailed report! I mean, how can we have a vicarious trip without all the details? I do appreciate your writing it!

I agree so much that Wengen is the perfect compromise of convenience, size, and location. It's been my choice for two trips to the BO, and I've never been sorry about it.

Yes, those trains around KS can be truly mad -- that's one reason why many of us on these boards suggest that visitors avoid August if possible -- or at least make the ascent as early as possible so as to return before the crowds get bunched up. Anyway, I'm glad you didn't let this problem influence your mood for the day!

Looking forward to more!

s
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Sep 5th, 2008, 05:40 AM
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Hi Ingo and swandav2000. You two were people who had responded to so many of my queries earlier, and as already acknowledged in my trip report, you were partly responsible for making this trip memorable. It feels especially nice when people like you read the trip report and appreciate it.

Ingo, I know that Hotel Oberland has the best food in Lauterbrunnen. But is it also a good place to stay ? Haven't heard much about it. We were very happy with Hotel Staubbach.

swandav, I must have missed that piece of advice about returning early from the Jungfrau, and it caught us totally by surprise. I guess the fact that it was such a clear day must have also contributed to all the tour groups piling up at the top that day. I had actually forgotten all about that bad experience; only the pleasant thoughts have stayed in my mind. Only when I was consulting my travel jottings yesterday, did I recall about that bad train journey. I guess these things just happen once in a while.
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Sep 5th, 2008, 07:54 AM
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Day 7: Thursday, Aug 7: Bernese Oberland:
This was our last full day in Switzerland, and we had planned on being away from the mountain-tops today. A chance to explore the plains in that region. The weather forecast was good for the morning, but thundershowers were in store for the afternoon.

As usual, we were up early, and out of the hotel by 8am after breakfast. We walked to the Lauterbrunnen station, and took the train to Interlaken Ost, reaching shortly before 9am. Just outside the train station is Lake Breinz, and we boarded a cruise boat on the lake at 9:15am. Only later did we realize that this was a very slow gentle cruise to Breinz, reaching there at 10:35am. Anyway, the cruise was nice; loved the color of the water in the lake, sort of an aquamarine shade. The weather was bright and sunny. Lovely castles around the lake.

At Breinz there was a connecting bus waiting to take us to the Ballenberg open-air museum (West gate). Bought a map at the museum entrance and went in shortly before 11am. We had high expectations from Ballenberg, but to be honest, we were disappointed. Posters on this site had mentioned: "Ballenberg is a place where you are either enchanted, or quickly bored". I guess we fell in the latter category. Just models of farmhouses from different regions of Switzerland, with the interiors authentically done up. We had expected large number of demonstrations on cooking, cheese-making, chocolate making, weaving etc. Alas, there were only 1-2 demonstrations per day, and frequently in odd corners of the very large museum. That day's speciality was a demonstration on lime-burning, which we were not the least interested in. Maybe the place would have appealed more if we had little children with us. I don't know why we spent 2 hours inside there; I guess we were hoping that it would get more interesting as we went along.

We finally exited at about 1pm, and took the bus back to Breinz. We lunched at a place called Steinbock restaurant. Had Rosti, plus ice-cream. The rosti was decent, but not a patch on the wonderful stuff we had eaten at Winteregg on the way to Murren. The ice-creams were huge and delicious. We next wandered about Breinz town, looking at the stores selling wood-carving items. The largest shop was a walk away, beyond Hotel Baren, which had a huge collection. We went beserk shopping there for a large number of souvenir items.

We slowly walked back to Breinz station. The town itself was cute and nice; reminded us of Weggis (near Luzern). We boarded a train to Interlaken Ost, reaching there at about 4pm. At Interlaken, we decided to walk the length of Hoheweg, all the way to Interlaken West. The place is littered with fancy hotels and souvenir shops. Ritzy town, but lacks the authentic Swiss charm. We popped in and out of stores, buying cowbells, and embroidered lace stuff. Did cross a very beautiful "Friendship Park" on the way. By then the weather was turning nasty, and there were spells of rain.

At Interlaken West we boarded a train at around 5pm for Thun, reaching there in 35 minutes. Thankfully, our arrival at Thun also coincided with the skies clearing up completely. We had heard that there is a free folklore show in town every Thursday, but to our dismay it was scheduled for very late in the evening. We first walked to Obere Hauptgasse, the split-level street with funky shops, and really enjoyed walking around there. Stopped for a coffee at a pavement cafe. Shops were quirky, selling all kinds of unusual items. Great for window-shopping.

Next we strolled on to Bailliz, which had swanky shops, and a festive feel along the river bank. We had started really liking this Thun town, and were cursing ourselves for arriving here so late in the day. Parts of Thun were almost like a smaller version of Luzern town, complete with a lake, a river, and lots of bridges (including one that resembled Kapellbrucke). And the atmosphere about the town was very jovial and full of merriment. Reluctantly, we had to pull ourselves away, and we ambled back to Thun station, where we stopped at a bar to sip some wine. Nice views of mountains and the surroundings from near the station. Met a waiter from India, who engrossed us in his life story!

Finally, we boarded a train for Interlaken Ost at around 7:30pm, and immediately connected on to a train for Lauterbrunnen. Walked to Hotel Oberland for dinner, which was again an excellent meal of fondue with mushrooms and herbs. Then reached our hotel, settled our bills, finished our packing, and went to bed.

If I had to do it again, with the benefit of hindsight, I would certainly have planned this day differently. Perhaps I got a bit greedy, and tried to pack in too much for one day. I would have skipped Breinz and the Ballenberg museum, gone straight to Thun, and spent the better part of the day there. Then returned to Interlaken, and perhaps spent a little more time there too. Oh well, no trip can be perfect.
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Sep 5th, 2008, 08:35 AM
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Day 8: Friday, Aug 8: Zurich/ Salzburg:
This was our travel day during the trip, when we were to be inside a train for the better part of the day. For traveling to Salzburg, it was necessary to go back to Zurich, and we had already reserved our tickets for the 1:40pm afternoon train from Zurich to Salzburg. We were determined to explore Zurich for a few hours before departing for Salzburg.

Got up at 5:30am, had an early breakfast, and caught the Post Bus outside our hotel to the train station, so that we wouldn't have to tow our luggage all the way. Boarded a train from Lauterbrunnen at about 7:30am, changing first at Interlaken Ost, and next at Bern, reaching Zurich HB at about 10am. Put our luggage in the lockers, and walked out on Bahnhofstrasse.

The weather was nice, and Zurich did not have a big-city feel to it. Felt very comfortable there. From Bahnhofstrasse, we turned on Kuttelgasse, on to Furtungasse, till we reached Lindenhof. Nice views of the city and the river from the Lindenhof terrace, amidst the thousands of pigeons. After resting there awhile, we walked down to St Peter's Church, then the Fraumunster, and across the Munsterbrucke to the Grossmunster. There we turned left into the old town area, and walked the length of Niedelhofgasse. Then turned left again to reach the riverfront, and walked along the river to the Zurich Lake.

There was a restaurant nearby which had been highly recommended by Lonely Planet, called "Tidbits by Hiltl", which turned out to be a very "in" place of Zurich. A fabulous buffet spread (100% vegetarian, although very few of the patrons were probably veggies). Items from across the globe, all very tempting. The modus operandi was to fill your plate from the buffet spread, take the plate to the cash register, where you place it on a weighing scale. The weight is recorded, and you are charged by the weight of food purchased! There was a very helpful Swiss lady who explained us how to go about this unusual routine. The atmosphere was trendy, and the food was delicious. Excellent salads, samosas, fried jalapenos, to name a few. We simply loved the meal, and DW keeps talking about this meal even today.

From the restaurant, we boarded a tram to Bellevue Platz (our Swiss Pass was still valid !), where we walked to the edge of Lake Zurich and sat down to watch the hungry swans being fed biscuits by tourists. Then bought a wine bottle for the train journey, and took another tram to the Hauptbahnhof. Retrieved our luggage from the lockers, and boarded our 1:40pm train to Salzburg (one of the few direct trains during the day). This was the last day of our 8-day Swiss Pass (which we had availed to the full), and we could use it for the Swiss portion of the journey. We were using one day of our Austrian pass for the Austrian portion till Salzburg.

As we settled into our couchette, and started consuming our wine, we struck a nice conversation with a fellow traveler who was a professional chef, and was traveling to Salzburg to work as a guest-chef in some restaurant there. He gave detailed instructions to DW on how to cook a Rosti and a Fondue.

Many cups of coffee later, we finally reached Salzburg at about 7:45pm. Took a taxi to our hotel, Bloberger Hof, which was some distance away from the main town. Very nice hotel,extremely clean and well maintained, run by a family. Had an excellent dinner at the hotel of Herbal Soup, Mushroom Ravioli, Baked Potatoes, with white wine and Almdudler (DW's next favorite soft drink now !). It was raining cats and dogs outside, and it was pretty late, so we had no desire to venture out that night.

We felt sad on having left Switzerland, where we had enjoyed a wonderful 7-8 days. Who said that the Swiss were dull and boring ? We had found them to be very warm and friendly, outgoing and easy to converse with, and they all spoke excellent English without any trace of an accent. We had rehearsed some key German words and phrases before starting this trip, but never needed to use it. And what a gorgeous country they have. The memory of our first arrival at Lauterbrunnen, the steep cable car descent from Gimmelwald to Stechelberg, the fab lunch at Winteregg, and the Mannlichen to Kleine Sceidegg hike, not to forget the views of the glaciers atop Jungfrau, all were vividly coming back to mind. And although we spent only 3 hours in Zurich, we really liked that city. Very cozy compact feel to that city, despite its financial importance. One can see why it is so highly rated amongst the most "livable" cities in the world.
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Sep 5th, 2008, 08:45 AM
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Indiancouple, i enjoyed reading your post. we're planning a 3 night stay in switzerland before going to munich for 5 days. i haven't booked the airline yet but we're planning on flying in to zurich and out of frankfurt. from zurich, we were thinking of basing ourselves in interlaken for 3 nights, with the climb up the jungfrau as a highlight of the trip. your report made me think of lautaubrunnen (sp?)as base and doing at least 1 of the easier hikes you mentioned in your trip report. would you recommend it? i haven't booked any of our hotels yet.

thanks again for your trip report.
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