Trip report

Old Jul 26th, 2003, 11:38 AM
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Trip report

My wife and I just returned from our 2 week trip to the Berner Oberland area. Local people are polite and helpful when asked but more reserved than Italians, for instance. Tourism in general, American in particular, is down. About 80% of the people we met were German speaking, 10 % Japanese, and the other 10% English speaking (American, English, Irish, etc.) I was surprised how little the locals understood English but we got along OK. Most spoke the Swiss-German dialect. The local hotel keepers say American tourism has not rebounded since 9/11. Expected high prices but still experienced "sticker shock". With the devaluing of the US dollar everything is very expensive these days. Used my American Express card most everywhere. Got cash at ATM's when needed. Must look for EC or Bancomat signs, not ATM. Countryside is remarkably green and generally well kept. Toilets were remarkably clean everywhere. Lots and lots of cows...and what goes with them; ie., smell of manure, cow pies and flies. There were flies EVERYWHERE, even up to 10,000 ft. (Schilthorn). It is one thing to see the flies on the cow pies but quite another to see it on the food in restaurants, grocery stores and bakeries. Yuckk! When we were there it was very hot- in the upper 80's and low 90's. No air conditioning.

We spent 4 days in Grindelwald at the Hotel Alpina. Lovely hotel just off the main street with wonderful views of the Alps. Frau Wolf and her son Peter were friendly hosts who spoke excellent English. Hiked at Grosse Schiedegg, Pfingstedd, First to the Bachalpsee, etc. We were very disappointed by the fact that the whole time we were in Switzerland there was a haze throughout the Valley...I guess from the heat melting the glaciers but I never got a pristine view of the mountains or lakes, even in the early morning. I guess for the best views one must travel in the Winter or Spring, maybe Fall. It was still very beautiful.

The best view of all, IMHO, is from the Mannlichen Rridge. We had a spectacular view of the Big Three and the Lauterbrunnen Valley. We had a nice leisurely stroll down to Kleine Scheidegg, about 2 hrs. on a gentle slope. We continued hiking down to Wengen and that was a big mistake. Don't do it! It is very steep on a slippery, gravel path with little or NO view. It took over 3 hours. Wengen itself is a cute little car-free town but with little in the way of any view. You can see the back-side of the Big Three and the Lauterbrunnen Valley, Grutschalp, and Murren way off in the distance but not much else. For a better view stay in Murren

We stayed one night in the Hotel Alpina in Murren and 3 nights at the Hotel Edelweiss right next door. The Hotel Alpina has a great view but it is an old, musty, cramped hotel with no elevators. The Edelweiss right next door has the same terrific view of the moujntains and, at nearly the same price, a wonderful, clean, large, modern, recently renovated hotel. Sandra Allmen was the lovely Manager and spoke excellent English. I highly recommend this hotel. Gimmelwald was quite a disappointment. It is a tiny moutain village with one hostel and one restaurant and not a very nice view compared to Murren. We met a couple from Ca.who stayed at the hotel Rick Steeves recommended. It had a shower in their room but they had to use the community toilet down the hallway. No thanks. Trummelbach Falls in the Valley was awesome and I highly recommend a side trip there. Quite a bargain at 10 SF too. Went to the Schilthorn and hiked down from Allmendhubel to Murren.

Spent the next 2 days in Interlaken at the Hotel Chateau Oberland. Our nicest hotel with a fabulous breakfast buffet. Took lake cruises to Thun and Iseltwald on Lake Brienz. Had a terrific lake fish dinner in Iseltwald. Wish we spent more time in Interlaken. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk away from the self-service laundromat in town as well a 5 minute walk from the Interlaken West train station. Also used the laundromat in Grindelwald for about 7 SF but the laundromat in Murren charged 25 SF. Took the early morning ride up to the Jungfrau and Harder Kulm lookout. Again, most views were partially obscured by the haze.

Last 4 days spent in Lucerne. It has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Took a lovely sunset dinner cruise on Lake LUCERNE. Nice trip up to Mt. Pilatus. They had a "Blue Balls Festival" there while we were in town with day long music concerts. Had a great, but expensive dinner at Hotel Montana overlooking the city. Rented a paddle boat on the lake. Took a trip up to the now bankrupt Chateau Gutch for a view of the city. Bought a beautiful Rado watch from the store in front of the Schweitzerhoff Hotel. Stayed at the Hotel Waldstaterhoff, conveniently located across from the train station. The tourist information office at the train station was very, very helpful in providing useful tips for getting around Lucerne. There is an internet store across the street from the train station that only charged 5 SF for 30 minutes of internet time. Most places charged 4-6 SF for 15 minutes.

We got the Swiss Saver Pass which allowed us free passage on most boats, trains, and buses as well as a 20-50% discount on the mountain funiculars, cable cars, etc. As I said, Switzerland is very expensive so just hand over your credit card and close your eyes until you get home. The Swiss rail system is remarkable for its efficiency, cleanliness and smoothness. I wish the officials at our government subsidized Amtrack system would go there to learn how to run a modern railway system properly. For instance, we got to one train station at 6:30 for a 6:32 train. No train...but at exactly 6:31 and a half the train we wanted pulled in and then left on time. Remarkable. At other times, the trains are coordinated so that when you get off your train you can catch your next connecting ride within 5-10 minutes on an adjacent track. We had no problems traveling by rail and I highly recommend that mode of travel. Spoke with some people who rented cars and they said parking was a problem.

Used Delta airlines and got upgraded to Business Elite class just by asking. Wonderful. Fodorites, thanks for your help on this board. Next, planning a return trip to the Amalfi Coast in italy.
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Old Jul 26th, 2003, 12:10 PM
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Forgot to mention that the customs tax on your return to the US is now $800 per person or %1600 per couple. I was really fretting about the taxes after I bought my watch but no worries. The tax is different for the watch band and watch itself so can't really help but I was afraid I would have to pay an exhorbitant amount on my watch. Really debated about buying my watch in Switzerland or off the internet when I got back to the states but got a better deal in Switzerland.
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Old Jul 26th, 2003, 02:15 PM
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Thanks Anec, so happy to hear of your wonderful trip, an area I am unfamiliar with.
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 06:13 AM
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Hi aneckc,

Thanks for the trip report; enjoyed your descriptions of these beautiful areas. I'm happy to see how much you enjoyed Luzern, and I agree with your assessment! Some folks think that the obvious tourist industry in Luzern spoils its beauty, but I think the scenery is just unbeatable!

I'm curious about how you feel about staying in three separate places in the Berner Oberland? That was an interesting approach, considering how close the towns are -- do you think you'll suggest this to other travelers?

Anyway, thanks for the report!

s
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 07:01 AM
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Is the Chateau Gutsch out of business or just facing financial difficulties??
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 07:16 AM
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I just wanted to comment on the amount of flies you encountered. Yes, there is a definite insect population explosion this summer in the Alps due to the unusually long heat wave. You can read about it here-http://www.nzz.ch/2003/07/24/english/page-synd4064873.html
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 08:46 AM
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I wanted the full mountain experience so chose 4 days in Grindelwald, 4 days in Murren, and 2 in Interlaken. In retrospect I would have chosen 3 days only in GrindelwaLD and Murren. Both places have great views; Murren perhaps is TOO close if that is possible. I know Bob Brown likes to stay in Lauterbrunnen and start his trips from there but I didn't want to spend half my day riding trains, etc. to and from the scenic areas although it was still very easy getting around. There was not much in Lauterbrunen itself.

The Chateau Gutch is completely closed down although you can ride the funicular up to the hotel for a view over the city. The funicular worked very erratically so we walked down instead.

Just a correction- we stayed at the Hotel Chalet Oberland in Interlaken and I would recommend it highly.
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 09:46 AM
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Aneckc -

Sounds like you had a great trip! I agree with you on the walk from Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen - we could barely move after that one! Who knew walking downhill could be so difficult?

I've found the views from Wengen to be spectacular, but perhaps the haze you refer to obstructed it somewhat. On a clear day though...WOW.

It is hard to beat the "in your face" views from Murren.

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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 04:56 PM
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Thanks for the great trip report. We are going to be in Grindelwald in Sept. and am curious how you liked the food (besides the flies) and if you found any good restaurants.
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Old Jul 27th, 2003, 08:14 PM
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Marcia -

Our favorite restaurant in Grindelwald is Ristorante Mercado below the Hotel Spinne. We eat there on every visit to the area - great pizza.
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Old Jul 28th, 2003, 10:19 AM
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We had a pizza from the Mercato restaurant as well. It was "different" in that it had no tomato sauce. One comment about the food in Switzerland: if you order anything with cheese on it-fondues, raclette, farmer's macaroni, or rosti, etc. be prepared for lots and lots of cheese. I could hear my arteries graoaning. I thought about asking for 1/2 to 1/3 the normal cheese. I had a wonderful lunch at Kleine Scheidegg but couldn't stomach all the cheese. The locals work so hard I guess they can eat like that all the time butI can't unfortunately. To be honest, we did not find any restaurants that we really were impressed with in Grinderlwald. We had half board at the Hotel Alpina where the food was beautifully and artistically presented but quite mediocre in taste. I think the Swiss tend not to season there food as much as us Americans. One of my best meals was in Murren- smoked medallions of venison at a restaurant at the base of the Allmendhubel funicular.

Rick Steeves recommends buying a picnic lunch at the local COOP or Migros stores to save money. I concur but eating on the cheap like that gets old pretty quickly. Everything is really expensive period.

Hopefully, you will find better weather and less crowds in Sept. Have a nice trip.
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Old Jul 28th, 2003, 10:49 AM
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Since I am not so much fan of potatoes I am also not very much impressed with the food in the Bernese Oberland - just too much "Rösti" . But I love cheese and cannot get enough of it.

You find an excellent restaurant in Wilderswil, a little village between Lauterbrunnen and Interlaken. Hotel Alpenblick there has a gourmet restaurant (16 P. Gault Millau) where you can get fantastic food (at high prices of course!).
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