Date: Tuesday, September 15, 1998
Location: The Swiss Alps

Breakfast in Gimmelwald:  Coffee or tea, slices of bread similar to italian bread, grape jam, creamy cheese (packaged ala Laughing Cow) and organic juice.

That is a loooooong way down!Ticket for the gondola down to Stechelberg.I had been hoping to join the group for "hike" #1, the gondola to Birg and Schilthorn (9,748 feet), but it's socked in.  (Later this day, in the funicular station at Lauterbrunnen, we see the closed circuit video from Schilthorn:  it's solid "fog," and snow a foot or two thick.)  So, we take the gondola down to Stechelberg, and stroll down the valley.

The path is pea gravel, and there are zillions of wild strawberry plants all over (particularly near Stechelberg).  (I find one tiny, whitish/reddish berry, but it's pretty sour.  I'll bet you can have lots of fun picking berries in the summer.)

A view up the valley.We start out feeling pretty cold, but the sun pops in and out, drastically changing our nanoclimate throughout the day.

Outside Trummelbach Falls.Trummelbach Falls ticket.We reach Trummelbach Falls, which is the primary drain for the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau glaciers.  It has carved an incredibly deep and intricate flume in the east wall of the valley.  (It reminds me a little of Watkins Glen in upstate New York, but this is much more elaborate and concentrated.)  The scenery in this valley strains my vocabulary of superlatives.  Mountains pop in and out of sun and cloud, sheer cliffs are graced with plentiful, lacy waterfalls, the deep green valley is split by a rapidly flowing stream, turned turquoise by suspended minerals in the glacial runoff of which it consists.  The meadows are filled with multitudes of delicate wildflowers.  One particular stretch, between Stechelberg and Trummelbach, is covered with lavender lupines.

Here is a sampler of wildflowers I photographed in the area...

A wildflower
Another wildflower
A lupine?  crocus?
Yet another wildflower
Look out!  This flower is wild, too.
Yikes!  Another wildflower.
This flower can't be too wild.  It looks like clover to me.
NOT a wildflower.  Slug munches a mushroom outside Trummelbach Falls.
Wild slug chows down on a mushroom outside Trummelbach Falls.

We encounter a beautiful squash garden outside a home marked "Family Karl Rubin."  The garden is basically a bunch of hay bales and manure, covered in all sorts of squash plants, including zucchini, pumpkin, and gourds.  A gentleman (Herr Rubin) drives up with a cow cart, and leads his sad-eyed cow to its barn.  We complement him on the squash garden, and ask after the animal.  He points out its lame left foreleg.  After much "awwwww-ing," we thank him and move on, to avoid further disturbing the already distressed animal.

At Lauterbrunnen, we drop into a backerei, where we select

  • a chocolate cookie (a small, shallow tart, filled with a nondescript brown, sweet paste, and covered with some chocolate).  It's not bad, mostly because it's not overly sweet.  It's not crying out for a second try, though.
  • We also buy a wedge of rhubarb tart.  The tart rhubarb covers a light custard over a crumbly crust.  Perfection.
Then, our group checks out a gift shop, closing for lunchtime (as is common in much of Europe).  The shop owner, sensing a good opportunity, defers closing for us.  She is rewarded with the sale of many Swiss Army knives, Swiss Military watches, a cuckoo clock (I believe), and miscellaneous other souvenirs.  When we leave, she closes in order to feed her now-cranky children, and to count her sudden profits.

We start feeling hunger pangs, and the cafe near the funicular station has some tempting offerings.  Nevertheless, we decide to take the funicular and train up to Mürren, to eat there.

A transportation map of the area....And we are very glad of doing so.  Rather than stand throughout the funicular trip, I convince Brig to move to a car that has more room.  We scoot up the stairs, and open the door to the (empty) driver's cabin.  It has a bench, so they must take passengers.  We hop in, followed by Connie K and some Swiss passengers, including a couple of young ladies at the prime of cuteness.  Sabrina, the more mature of these sisters, we learn is 4 years old, and has new shoes for playing in the snow (hey, those Rothenburg schneeballs were good for something -- I didn't know the German word for snow until visiting there).  Daniella is 2.  They're looking forward to playing in the schnee und sonne (snow and sun).  I should note that Connie did 99% of the communication, and managed a good photo of the pair, just as the funicular let out at Grütschalp.

Ticket to MurrenA windswept Staubach Falls, above Lauterbrunnen.By the way, the funicular ride did afford a beautiful side view of the Staubach falls that freefall many hundreds of feet from the west wall of the valley, just south of Lauterbrunnen.  This waterfall, as we passed it while walking to town, was being blown south a hundred yards, and dispersed into a heavy rain on the wall below.  This resulted in four to six smaller waterfalls lower on the wall.

The mountains reveal themselves while we're in the train to Murren...A pleasant (!) cafe view in Murren.At Mürren, we eat at a self-serve cafe, 200 yards south of the station.  Linda and Lois were already there, finishing their meals at the best table in the cafe, the southeast corner, overlooking the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains, and the snow-covered ridge behind the Jungfrau (Breithorn and Tschingelhorn?).  All three of these famous mountains finally revealed themselves during our train ride from Grütschalp to Mürren.  A Swiss lady across from us pointed out which mountain was which, and noted that there had been 20 centimeters of snow in Mürren within the last couple of days!  That is very unusual this early in the season, according to them.

Anyway, for lunch, we had

  • potato soup and a beautiful multigrain bread
  • rösti (pronounced rushdee, like the famous low profile author).  This is a dish that was recommended to us as a very local specialty.  It's similar to hash browns, but minced a little finer, and this version was served covered with melted cheese, a slice of ham, and a sunny-side-up.  Note that rösti was not prominent on the menu.  If you ask for it, they will serve it, even if out of season -- which is apparently winter.  It's very hearty (but not in a cardiac-healthy sort of way!).
  • a slice of apricot küchen (cake/tart).  Another slice of heaven, topped with apricot.  Again, the pastry cream is only slightly sweet.  The apricots and glaze do the sweetening very nicely.
After lunch, we walk around Mürren, looking for souvenirs.  Mostly, we buy (what else?) Swiss chocolates, for coworkers.  Then we stroll down the hill to Gimmelwald, for a nap.  Along the way, we appreciate the wildflowers, cows, and mountain views.

While Brig naps, I update our journal.  Suddenly, a loud BANG! resounds through the valley, followed immediately by jet engine noise.  Neato!  A sonic boom.

While we quietly relax in our room, three fearless souls from our group (Julie, Carl, and Lora) are riding the gondola down to Stechelberg, taking another gondola 300 feet in the air, and then JUMPING OUT, trusting their lives to the power of elastic and Velcro.  Most of the rest of the group assemble below, to observe.  Reportedly, Lora went first, starting to scream long before she actually jumped.  Julie was next.  Carl was last.  All landed safely, undoubtedly with significantly increased cortisol and adrenaline blood levels.

Dinner began with fondue at 6:30.  Brig, who normally despises the concept of soaking bread in anything at all, enjoyed this fondue (which seemed to be a combination of emmenthaler cheese, white wine, nutmeg, and perhaps a touch of garlic?).  I also enjoyed it.  Then,

  • a clear vegetable soup (nice)
  • "Hungarian Chickenleg," which turns out to be a leg and a thigh, pan-fried until the skin is crisp, served over a mushroom sauce of little distinction
  • peas and rice.  The peas are undoubtedly from the hotel garden.  The rice is Uncle Ben's, or the Swiss equivalent.  I used a Swiss seasoned salt on it, which improved the flavor a little.
  • dessert was another slab of vanilla ice cream, with some kind of cocoa sauce on it.
Well, you don't go to Walter's Hotel Mittaghorn for the cuisine.  It's cheap, wholesome, and filling.  Oh, and you don't come for the variety, either.  Hotel Mittaghorn appears to have two menu sheets, which are posted on alternate days.  "Today: spaghetti, Tomorrow: hungarian chickenleg" and vice versa.  I like the spaghetti dinner better.

After dinner, a local farmer joins us, bringing his button accordion.  Christian works the fields by day, and does gigs (for recreation and free drinks?) at night.  He has a very red nose and cheeks -- I would too, if I were in the alpine sun all day, and sipping Fendant (the local white wine) at night.

Christian plays several tunes on his accordion.  The instrument has the usual chord buttons, but on the "keyboard" side, there is an array of larger buttons -- no piano-style keyboard is evident.

He manages to get us to sing along (no words -- just tunes).  He appears to be quite shy, but manages to engage us and have some fun.  Several couples attempt to polka along.  One couple polkas right out of the room, only to reappear with a changed partner, then again, with another changed partner, then again, with two men, then again with two women.  They've got us in stitches.

After Christian's set (Gene later indicates that Christian stayed far longer than he has ever seen before, so we must have been a very entertaining audience), we start trying to remember some songs to sing.  These attempts, most of which break down into tune humming interspersed with refrains, are lubricated by (what else?) alcohol in the form of Fendant, beer, and a nefarious concoction known as a "Heidi cocoa."  I suspect that the latter elixir was devised to get some Heidi out of her knickers.  It consists of a conventional cocoa and a shot of peppermint schnapps.  The cocoa masks the schnapps very well.  At altitude, the hot, sugared alcohol does a number on you!

Oh, Brigid insists that I mention that I managed to participate in the revelry.  This was fueled by my half of our Heidi cocoa.  I hasten to add, however, that no amount of alcohol could induce me to enjoy singing Burt Bacharach (we butchered "Close To You," among other tunes).
As we considered ending the torture of good and bad lyrics, a group of 20-something travelers showed up for drinks.  Someone murmured, "Why did they come here?"  I offered, "Maybe we are the night life in Gimmelwald, today."  "There's a frightening thought!" was the response.

Things generally went downhill from there, with the new kids getting frustrated with butchered, pre-70's songs.  The dueling generations went on until 10:30 closing time.  The new guys did sing "Giligan's Island" and one rock tune, though...

Things to come back for:

  • More pastries
  • cheese tasting
  • check out the Fondant wine
  • Take the Schilthorn and Jungfraujoch rides
  • more strenuous hikes
  • more wondering at the fabulous scenery