LAUTERBRUNNEN, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland 

  Date: July 2005.        We drove to Switzerland, just to be different, and we had a really good run down there.  Switzerland was always going to be nostalgic, not only because it had been my first and only school trip of which I had fond memories; but also because it was where Dave proposed to me, in the car park in Grindelwald, in the rain.  You know where you are with Switzerland - no nasty surprises, everything as it should be, with a ponderous sense of humour.  My only memory of the Lauterbrunnental was a coach trip on the said school holiday to the Trümmelbach Falls, so I really did look at it with fresh eyes, and what's not to like? You overdose on spectacular scenery in Switzerland everywhere you look, and with the Staubbach waterfall crashing down the valley walls right in the village, I breathed a sigh of contentment; wherever we went, the pictures would be wonderful.  But mountain weather has a will of its own, so our walk along the valley floor to Stechelburg was fated to be in the rain, with the clouds descending and rather obliterating the stunning view upwards that we knew was there.  But as we were also going inside the mountain to see the Trümmelbach Falls, it didn't really matter - we were going to get wet whatever we did.  They were as spectacular as I remembered, and I unashamedly enjoyed getting soaked in such a special way.

Wengen and Mürren were very pleasant to wander through with so little traffic and always with those wonderful views.  For July, to me, it was remarkably uncrowded which meant I could linger in little shops and alleyways whilst Dave plonked his camera wherever he could.  This is always a nice part of the job - when we are not on the trail it becomes a relaxed walk through certain parts that is always refreshing.  I love trains, to trundling on and off all these little networks was fine with me, although train fares in Switzerland are not cheap.  I was suitably (and not often!) speechless at the price of reaching the Jungfraujoch, and could have shed a tear for a family of four!  But it is worth it, oh it most certainly is.  You really feel the altitude up there, and there are signs everywhere warning you not to hurry but take your time.  The Observatory platform affords a fascinating view of the glacier, but I'm not a fan of the see-through gratings, I really have to keep my eyes fixed firmly on the horizon on these things.  I pestered Dave for a dog-sled ride, and it was over far too quickly.  The dogs are bred on the glacier, and the urge to pull is so strong that the one dog that was 'resting' strained on his leash to be part of the sled team whenever it set off.  It was very busy up there, with a constant stream of walkers following the roped guides to various viewpoints.  At the cog railway station there was a large party of Japanese tourists who came out onto the snowy observation area, had a group photo taken and then departed.  I felt that they had completely missed the experience; you need to stand and gaze around you and take it all in - it's so beautiful a single glance just won't do.

The walk from Mannlichen to Kleinescheidegg was an absolute delight - I've never seen so many alpine flowers, and an English couple who were regular visitors told us that it seemed exceptional to them too. Typically in Switzerland, the way signs were immaculate, uniform and upright, and gave the exact distance, the time to walk it and the gradient of the path as well, which was a bit too much information in a way.  It did rather take the guesswork out of it all, and sometimes, that's part of the fun.  But a Swiss map is exact, so I suppose there was never any real chance of getting pleasantly lost.  Kleine Scheidegg itself was a zoo and almost completely without character - it was just a terminus for the bahn up to the Jungfraujoch, so we didn't spend a lot of time there.  We walked down the mountain to Grindeldwald (of course!) and had a fond moment reminiscing before catching the Bernese Oberland Bahn (BOB) back to Lauterbrunnen.  

The Heimat Museum there was really interesting, although we seemed to be the only visitors there.  Granted there were an awful lot of wooden tools and objects, but there were also rare records of the first tourists to the valley, and other items that told the history of the skiing boom there - it appears the British have the honour of having invented winter sports in the valley.  The lace making group were great fun to talk to; my German is rusty but kept improving so I was able to have a reasonable chat with the ladies who have my total respect for the dexterity and nimbleness of their fingers and their total focus - I don't think I have the concentration to follow the intricacies of their lace patterns.  It is so labour intensive that it is possible to understand the demise of the industry; that and the penchant for machine made items.

As usual, the food in Lauterbrunnen was very good, but it is expensive, so we quite often bought rolls and cheese and cooked meats and made our own meals for the trails which we tend to do anyway.  Everyone is so courteous and efficient that your stay in Switzerland is guaranteed to go without a hitch, except for the unpredictability of the weather.


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