03 Dec 2014
For three days I’ve been in bed. I don’t have time for a cold on holiday. And with only three days left in Switzerland, I was determined to go out. I mean, I haven’t even seen the Alps yet because Thun has been under a blanket of low cloud cover all week. I’d been regularly checking the mountain web-cams and weather forecasts and it looked like the clouds might be lower than the peaks. I hoped it would stay like that all day.
‘Let’s go to the Schilthorn!’ I said excitedly. There is a revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria (2970m), that is reached by a 30min cable-car ride. Trains, cable-cars and the restaurant are all heated and there’s not much walking required. I’ll be fine. And it’s one of my favourite views in the Alps. I once cried tears of happiness there. I’m not kidding. It was 2001 and we were in the middle of our first big travelling adventure together. We’d quit jobs, sold off or stored our few possessions and were free. Sitting in the restaurant pear he’d on a peak and surrounded by the magnificent Alps, I was overwhelmed with happiness.
Back in Thun: After mooching around a few lakeside chalets while waiting for the next direct train, we climbed aboard the double decker train and glided quietly and smoothly around Thunersee. In warm carriages, comfortable seats and huge picture windows, we love travelling this way. Two young boys with scooters propped against their legs, chattered away in Swiss-German across the aisle.
The cloud cover was still very low in Thun but further around the lake a few breaks in the clouds revealed patches of blue sky and hinted of sunshine.
‘Oh please, oh please, be clear above!’
At Interlaken Ost we changed from the Intercity train to a smaller cog train that climbed up to Lauterbrunnen, a village tucked in a narrow valley between two sheer cliff faces. I smiled to myself as I felt the familiar gentle vibrating grumble of the cog wheels. To me this sound is quintessentially Swiss. My excitement mounted as we gradually climbed higher into the mountains.
At Lauterbrunnen we transferred to the new cable-car to Grutsalp. We remembered the steep funicular train it replaced. The cable-car launched into the sky like a soundless helicopter. We were flying. Up through frozen Pine trees, the valley floor stretched our before us, a huge stream of water turned to waves of mist as it plummeted over the edge of the cliffs. “That must be over a 100m” I said pressed up against the glass car.
In the cloud cover the forest faded into the fog, loosing definition and turning into pastel silhouettes, perspective was lost and sound dampened. My ears popped.
At Grutsalp, we transferred to a little narrow-gage cog train. We knew exactly where to sit to get an eyeful of the view. The cog train slowly climbed higher and higher, winding through the pine forest and following the ridge parallel with the valley until, around a bend, the big three peaks ghosted into view: The Eiger, Monk, and Jungfrau.
They are magnificent. They make my heart swell. And we were rendered dumbfounded. All we could say is ‘woah…’ and ‘wow…’.
From Murren Bahnhof we walked into the car-less mountain village, following the signs for the cable-car station for the Schilthorn. We were just a few meters above the clouds as they moved slowly, silently stirring and shifting between the mountains.
The village glistened in the sunshine, reflecting of the wet road. Droplets of water melting in the sun rained down, sparkling gold. Garden beds were slowly defrosting. As we walked deeper into the mountain village we noticed the timber chalets were boarded up, and the restaurants with deserted sun terraces were closed. Besides a pair of old French ladies with a little dog strolling arm in arm, Murren was a ghost town.
As we reached the cable-car station I was relieved to see it moving; a cable-car pulled out just as we reached the building. “Oh thank goodness” I sighed. We were beginning to wonder if it’d be open.
But alas, it was closed. Open only on Saturdays, until the season starts.
‘That was the maintenance engineers.’ explained the mountainous man in the ticket window. My heart sank.
‘Why didn’t I check?!’ I demanded of myself. ‘I must have checked the web-cams a bunch of times; why didn’t I check the opening times?’ Put it down to having been sick for a few days.
‘Let’s have lunch,’ suggested Dave pointing to the restaurant in the station and cheering me up immediately. We walked in and found a table by the window overlooking the mountains. Perfect.
David went to order and returned disappointed: they were closing. Doh!
Back out into the sunshine, it was too beautiful to be disappointed for long.
‘Let’s keep walking.’ I suggested looking at the lane leading out of the village and up into the mountains. Following the winter toboggan run we slowly made our way to a rise and bend in the road. I remembered there being a park bench up there somewhere.
‘Remember the picnic lunch we had here?’ I said pointing up to the bench seat overlooking the valley and towering mountains. Behind me David started listing the ingredients as we climbed. ‘Weggli (bread rolls) salami, Gruyère cheese, pickles, crisp apple, potato salad, marzipan, chocolate..’ He was making me hungry. I wished I could remember which year that was. If I had to guess, I’d say around summer 2005.
After sitting and soaking in the view for a while my gaze followed the lane up the mountain. ‘What’s around the next bend?’ I wondered aloud. I was feeling pretty good so we continued up the lane to the next bend and stopped to ogle the great white beasts around us. My heart soared.
‘These mountains speak to my soul.’ I said to David, ‘Even more than the ocean …and I love the ocean.’
In this manner we walked and climbed following the view eager to see around ‘one more bend’. We had the mountains to ourselves. A few crows circled curiously around us then left us in the stillness. The clouds continued to drift silently.
We stood and watched the sun disappear behind the alps and knew it was time to turn back.
By the time we walked back into the village it had been engulfed by the thick cloud blanket. We couldn’t see further than a few meters. But as we reached Murren Bahnhof the fog revealed a tantalising view of the Eiger glowing in the sunshine above. So beautiful.
By the time the train pulled out of the station, the cloud layer had sunk below us once more. I tried to commit this view to memory as we left it behind.
My stomach lurched a little with each pylon we passed as the descent steepened on our approach into Lauterbrunnen. The cable-car glided into place with a click and a little bounce; we were neatly in position. Spectacular Swiss precision.
Although we didn’t make it up to the Schilthorn summit, any time spent surrounded by the Alps is good for the soul.