So I've been working hard for the last week in putting together my Swiss trip plans. I swear I've done more research in such a short amount of time it's been making my brain hurt. So here's what I've come up with and what I think is going to give me the most bang for my buck photographically.
Day One: Arrive in Geneva, grab car and drive as only one can with no sleep and 9hr time difference > Sleep at Lausanne Guest House
Day Two: Drive to Bernese Oberland, Hike around > Sleep at Mountain Hostel, Gimmelwald [you have to take a cable car to get to it]
Day Three: Jungfraujoch? > Sleep at Mountain Hostel
Day Four: Epic Faulhornweg hike [9 miles] > Sleep at Mountain Hostel
Day Five: Drive from Interlaken to Appenzell with a slight detour for Furka Pass w/ Rhone Glacier > Sleep at Aescher-Wildkirchi by Ebenalp [see photo]
Day Six: Drive from Appenzell to Lucerne, see people again > Sleep at Backpackers Lucerne
Day Seven: Drive from Lucerne to Lausanne > Sleep at Lausanne Guest House
Day Eight: Fly home to LAX via Montreal
If you want a real laugh, I just found a blog entry from March 14th, 2002 about my weekend in Switzerland [I did a semester abroad in the Netherlands back then when I was at Emerson College]. If you can excuse the rambling text I posted another 'circa 2002' pic [that's me on the left] and the entry- it's after the cut:
This weekend was probably the best yet despite a few kinks that could've messed things up, but thankfully didn't. My friend Oliver and I left from Venlo in the Netherlands around 8:00 or so to go to Cologne, after which we transferred to go to Switzerland. It was a pretty long trip, with interesting loud German men who wouldn't shut up for the entire night, then they finally left and we thought we were going to get some sleep, but these crazy German train ticket people/army men kept waking us up to check our passport and tickets. It's understandable though, I guess they have a problem with people trafficking drugs across the border.
Not a fun night, but around 10:00 in the morning we got to Lauterbrunnen, which is in the valley of the Jungfrau region. Literally these huge mountains jump up right around the town, so it was quite a shock considering the Netherlands are extremely flat. So we shoved onto a rather small bus with many many skiers. This was ok until more and more people started packing onto the bus and we couldn't quite move. Somehow we kept making more stops and more people came on, until the point where little kids were holding onto my legs. This coupled with the fact the driver was weaving in and out of traffic and pedestrians made standing an interesting episode, but eventually we made it to the gondola station.
After waiting for 15 minutes for the "ski traffic" to weed its way out, we headed up to 1,363 meters up a cliff and into Gimmelwald. First off, in my very sided opinion, Gimmelwald has the best view in all the Jungfrau, but then again we only went to a few of the places, but to escape all the skiers and still get a great view it's the best. Anyway, thankfully our supposed reservation Mountain Hostel was right off from the gondola station, so little walking was needed though there was plenty of snow and I found out that my shoes + heavy backpack don't make for good snow transportation. After we got to the hostel some strange tour group or something was there, and the first lady we met (which I assumed was the owner) definitely didn't speak English so we got the impression the place was closed or something- so that stunk yet it didn't make much sense because Oliver had talked to someone on the phone and thought we had the reservation. Things weren't making much sense. So we found some other places which had double the price and there was no way that was going to work. With that in mind I was like, "well Oliver, maybe we didn't understand the Lady, we should go back there!" So we did and found some guy that spoke some English who essentially said he didn't know what was going on, but he did see the owner in the morning, so she's gotta be around here somewhere. So with that good news we left our backpacks in a room, had a peanut butter and soda lunch and decided to see what was down that big cliff we were on.
So we did a big of hiking which gave some gorgeous views of the mountains. Eventually we got to the mid-bottom with a sign that said "Path is Closed for Winter" and of course being the ignorant Americans we were ignored it and somehow glided to the very bottom on ice and snow to see probably the clearest water river I've ever seen. Like this stuff looked a little too clean or something. So after attempting to continue on, our my hands being the weak things they are started turning funny colors so we headed back to the hostel. On the way we met some lady who figured we were American so she told us the history of the area and why the Japanese like the big mountains (note: I don't subscribe to her views) to which we were pretty shocked but after a little talk we headed up to the hostel to which it was still empty, but we left out bags there anyway and a note to the owners saying we were going down to the valley to get a bite to eat then coming back up [2009 update: I still have the napkin we wrote the note on, it kind of makes me laugh looking at it].
So that's what we did, and had an amazing pizza dinner at a hotel restaurant, and got a nice Swiss Army Knife for poking things. After all this we jumped on the bus (despite the protest that our bus tickets were expired, which they were) and got back to the gondola station and back up to Gimmelwald. Unfortunately it was now pitch black, cold, and not a person to be seen. So we were happy to see light were on in the hostel, a good sign. This was good until after banging on the door for 5 min, a lone cleaning girl answered and told us it was closed for the season. That stunk because we wasted about $8 to get back up there (more for me because stupidly I forgot the Eurail pass back up at the hostel) so we got down to the bottom of the Gondola station, and found out that the next bus wasn't coming for another couple hours. After thinking about hitchhiking the trip back, we opted to walk all 5 km in the cold with our heavy backpacks on. This all with the fact we didn't know if we were going to get a room back in Lauterbrunnen. At least the walk back was nice. We saw more stars than I've ever seen in my life and the mountains looked more like clouds.
After about an hour and half of walking we got to Lauterbrunnen and found the Valley Hostel which our friends Alia and Jamie were staying at. We got there about a half hour before they closed reception, and it turned out to be one of the better hostels we've stayed at. The owners were the sweetest, and it was roughly about $11 a person which included sheets. A great bargain considering we were running this crazy day on about 2 hours of sleep. I hit the pillow and didn't wake up. The next morning I wanted out of there from the crazy night before, but Oliver convinced us to stay for another night and I'm glad we did. Somehow we ended up hiking despite how sore we were from the day before.
We got some tips from the owner lady about hiking to Wengen, a "moderately difficult hour and a half trip up the side of a mountain". So that sounded like fun. After around two hours of hiking (taking pictures of ourselves proved to be a good excuse to take a break) we got to the town on a cliff, Wengen. It was more like a resort town with tons of skiers and price tags to reflect a town which runs on tourism, but it was nice I thought. Lunch was at a little outdoor Italian restaurant to which we enjoyed a nice but rather strange tasting pizza, and inside the bathroom was one of the funnier I've seen. It had ash trays next to each urinal, and a nice window view of a cement wall. After all this and buying postcards, Oliver wanted to go hike some more and somehow I oked and went along with it. Hunnenfleuh a place not on any maps was only a half hour away so we opted for that one. After a pretty quick walk around long drop cliffs we got to a wooded area, and what I assume would be Hunnenfleuh, a place with handrails as the only thing protecting you from a massive swan dive into the steep valley. Quite a beautiful sight and well worth the extra walk. After some nice relaxing and taking in the place, Oliver decided to go a bit higher and I opted to start heading down into the valley.
Walking down the sun was just setting over the mountains and made the two days of soreness afterwards worthwhile. For dinner we headed back to the same place to eat. I splurged on a truly amazing great steak with garlic butter and some incredible sauce. I was in heaven. For dessert (after I couldn't hold myself back any longer) I got something called the "Moulin Rouge" which consists of fresh strawberries in creme with great European vanilla ice cream. (This part is from Oliver's notes) After Ian ate down every last possible morsel of strawberry and vanilla, the waitress came over and he proceeded to tell her how amazing the dessert was. She replied, "if it was so good, why don't you lick it?". So that was pretty funny we thought. A most memorable weekend.