Nomad Guide – Switzerland
It’s been a year since I breathed in the wonderment and drama of the Bernese Oberland, standing near the door of the train, with the window open and imagining the smell of books, caramel, woodsmoke and fresh laundry – a strange heady mix of crispness that only Switzerland manufactures. My store of memories, rummaged through too often, has gotten a little stale now… lost its incantatory powers to draw on details and visuals of that second visit, but the sum total of the Suisse experience was melancholic, voluptuous and so damned appealing.
I loved the sense of having nothing to do but breathe in the different air, eat cheese, watch the green abundance of the vast countryside and the mofussil towns with the population of 2 pass by. And of course, there was all the cliff diving, and snowboarding and DDLJ murals and hiking down waterfalls and then, my favorite thing happened, we got lost. It was nice.
If you ask me now, I don’t remember a thing about the flight to Switzerland (both times). I don’t know when we got there, or how long it took; what I do remember is the weight of my hurriedly packed backpack, the foreign sensation of feeling refreshed, even though I was tired in my bones. The first time Apples and I went there, I was completely unprepared and knew little of what Switzerland had to offer. The year was 2013, and we had wanted to backpack through Europe the way we hadn’t had a chance to in our student years. The second time around, in the summer of 2017, I couldn’t wait to take A with me, it was a hunger I had carried with me for four years.
Switzerland offers soul food for everyone, from hidden villages in the mountains, luxurious spa resorts in the clouds, to adventure capitals for the masses. It offers you solitude of a different variety, one you can store away in your mind for particularly uninspiring, unmotivated days. Apples and I were trekking through France (Paris, and then all the way down to Aix-en-Provence region) and wanted to discover Switzerland in the time we had before we went to Italy and coastal Spain.
Interlaken seemed the obvious choice for first-time visitors, it nests at the base of the Jungfrau, which is Europe’s highest peak. It is a buzzing hub for adventure enthusiasts and the main Eurail juncture connecting nearby towns and villages.
We had slated canyoning in Grimsel, and a hike down the Trummelbach falls in Lauterbrunnen for the three days we were in the area. Canyoning is a fun word for an otherwise scary experience that includes mountain diving, scrambling, jumping, zip-lining, and swimming in freezing glacier water. My favorite memory from that experience was feeling famished and discovering a new respect for Swiss cheese sitting out on a barren field at the base of a river, drying up and munching on cheese, bread, and tomatoes. Trummelbach falls, on the other hand, was a tame, relaxing experience. One of the highlights of this trip was the incredible train journey from Chur (or Davos) to Tirano (in Italy) on the Bernina Express. The train coaches are outfitted with glass ceilings and windows to watch the breathtaking views as the train takes you through scenic mountains and narrow valleys.
One of the many views on our hike down Trummelbach falls
The second time around was something of a religious experience for me. It is difficult for me to write about it because I’m not sure what righted itself but at the very least I can describe it as a humbling trip for us. I was researching the Bernese Oberland region online when I came across the Murren region, and a small hostel in Gimmelwald called Mountain Hostel. The only way to get there was via a cable car or a two-hour hike up the mountains. I had seen pictures but nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty and vastness that waited for us up there. The mountains seem abrupt, almost sudden and most certainly larger than one’s vision can acclimate to. The food was blasé at best, but then we didn’t go to Switzerland for good food. A seemed perplexed at finding ‘honest’ stores all over Switzerland – unmanned stores with no concept of CC TVs, that operate purely on the basis of good faith; I was less so. The concept of greed, workaholism, dieting, envy, all go out the window here, as do the atavistic and the evolved, the blessed and the damned, the public, the political and the personal.
View from our window at The Mountain Hostel
This time our hazardous undertaking of choice was sky-diving from a helicopter circling at 3,000 ft near the Eiger mountains in the Bernese alps. It was nowhere as scary as canyoning, but every bit as exhilarating as advertised. Mountain carting was an activity offered on the other side of the Jungfrau region at First, near Grindelwald. Now that I recollect, the canyoning experience didn’t hold a candle to the scariness of the cable car ride up First. It was a tiny dwindling tin-foil box which swayed all the way up 7,000 ft and it seemed like such a stupid, death-defying plan to have your life hang in the balance, literally! I don’t regret a minute of it. We took our chances with a rain forecast that particular day, and had the time of our life traipsing down the mountain on tiny three-wheeled mountain carts that depend upon the steep curve of the mountain for acceleration. No one else was up there with us, It was 7:00 am and we just beat the rain on our way down.
Precarious cable cars mounting up to First
Highlands leading up to the mountains
Above image purely for scale purposes
If you haven’t been to the Bernese alps in Switzerland, I urge you to make a trip. You won’t regret it, I promise.
A few resources and tips for your travel:
- I recommend traveling via Eurail. It is comfortable, punctual and easy to plan trips using the Eurail website.
- Travel light. As simplistic as that advice may be, in these parts you don’t want to be caught hauling heavy suitcases and backpacks. You want to be mobile, ready to hike steep curves and carry your luggage up the stairs.
- Athletic wear, comfortable shoes and a couple of warm sweatshirts or spring jackets are your best friends in these parts – even in the summer.
- Book your adventure sports in advance, you will get cheaper rates and better availability. Several tourists don’t realize just how much Interlaken has to offer in terms of adventure sports and end up booking last minute or regretting the lack of availability.