Monday, 16 October 2017

Awesome alpine hike - Switzerland

After a scenic four hour drive from Fuessen, we arrived in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the gateway to the Bernese Oberland with its towering Alps. Our hotel is up in car-free Wengen, high above the valley, and we have to take a train up there with our luggage. It was worth the extra trip as our hotel room had a magnificent view of the entire valley, and right above it, the snow-capped mountains with the Jungfrau massif as its centrepiece. 

We debated months earlier whether we should take the Jungfraujoch train up to the top and after due consideration, decided against it given that we only have one day to spend here. It was a toss up between the much touted Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg alpine hike and the train ride to the "Top of Europe". The train ride included a good hour inside a tunnel and we thought we would have a much more intimate experience with the area on a hike than on a train.  Certainly the "Top of Europe" is worth seeing, if we have lots of time and haven't already seen many glaciers this past year in the Yukon and Patagonia. Hopefully we can visit the region again and have more time to spend here. No regrets about that decision as we had a most awesome hike with mountain views all the way along the trail. We were glad we were not just seeing the mountains from a train window.

Based on our experience, given luck with the weather, late spring or early summer is definitely a good time to do the alpine hike - it's hard to beat the beautiful alpine flowers carpeting the sides of the valley. The hike from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg was easy and scenic, surrounded by views of the Wetterhorn, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau along the trail. I would highly recommend the two hour hike (of course much longer if like me, you want to take photos of every Alpine flower along the trail).  What's so great about these Swiss alps hikes is that there is always a train at the end to take you wherever you need to go, not to mention a civilized lunch when you're hungry!

As we still have some time in the late afternoon, we visited Gimmelwald, a quaint little village hung on the cliff on the east side of the valley wall, the first stop on the cable car ride up to the Schilthorn.  We would have liked to go up to the Schilthorn but didn't have enough time that afternoon, which is just as well, as fellow travellers reported that clouds have rolled in and they could not see much up at the top although they got a beautiful view one stop below. Mountains are tricky!  

This is definitely on my list for return trips!

Lake Thun on the way to Lauterbrunnen

Lauterbrunnen with its amazing waterfall right in the middle of town and surrounded  by tall cliffs and mountains

View from our balcony at the Hotel Belvedere

The view down the valley from Mannlichen at 2,343 metres, the beginning of our hike

The view of the other side from Mannlichen
A hiker can't help himself when he saw the awesome massif!  I can totally empathize!
The Eiger and Monch in view on many parts of the trail - Jungfrau was just around the corner (below)

And here are all three in a row - Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.  The train goes through a tunnel under Eiger and Monch and emerge at Jungfraujoch, the ridge between Monch and Jungfrau
The reasons why spring is a good time to visit...

Flowers sprung up in every nook and cranny

The Wetterhorn was nearly always in view with a lovely foreground of alpine flowers

As we neared the end station, Kleine Scheidegg, the view of the big three - Eiger (3970m), Monch (4107m) and Jungfrau (4158m) was awe-inspiring

When we got to Gimmelwald, we got a view of the mountains from the other side of the valley.  Jungfrau, centre left, looked different from this side.
Gimmelwald had some quaint houses!

Watering trough

The Swiss are known for their tidy wood piles, as we could see here...

A complete collection of cowbells in Gimmelwald!
No cars can reach Gimmelwald - steep trails everywhere...
Love this "little" peak - Silberhorn at 3,95m, a "satellite" peak of the Jungfrau

Next post:  Last stop on our Alpine Tour - Chamonix Mont-Blanc

Monday, 9 October 2017

Colourful Fuessen, Bavarian town

Fuessen is a Bavarian town on the German Austrian border.  It has been around since Roman times and has some quaint old buildings and a fortress. It is now mainly the hub for visiting the Bavarian kings' castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.

We did what was prescribed for every tourist in town - visit Schwangau to take pictures of the castle.  It turned out to be a rainy morning in Schwangau, but we had our view of the legendary Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for the Walt Disney castle. It was a zoo in Schwangau, made even more so by the rain because we were not only fighting crowds to get on the bus up to see the castle, we were also fighting umbrellas!  See the photo below of umbrellas on St. Mary's bridge, touted as the best site for viewing the castle.

We did not go inside the castle because of the mixed reviews associated with it and we did not want to be tied to a schedule based on the entrance time allotted for viewing.  In any case, photos were not allowed, which would have taken all the fun away from a visit! We were not able to do our planned hike around the lake because of the rain and so we returned to Fuessen.

We had arrived in Fuessen the same time as a Medieval Festival which added much colour to our stay. Fuessen was of course the perfect backdrop for the festival with its castle and cobbled streets. We spent our time at the Festival, trying the "medieval" food that was sold, and enjoying the many people dressed up in medieval garb and camping on the grounds of the castle and commons in Fuessen. Medieval arts and crafts, military demonstrations, were in abundance as were costumed performers. Participants took it all very seriously and loved to be photographed! It turned out to be a fun day!

Neuschwanstein Castle - prescribed for every tourist in the area
The river Lech that runs through Fuessen
Central square in Fuessen

Colourful streets of Fuessen
Heilig Geist Spitalkirche with its beautiful rococo facade and ceiling (architect Franz Karl Fischer)

St. Mary's bridge - every tourist in town must visit to see the iconic view of the Neuschwanstein Castle

Waterfall into the Pollat Gorge just below St. Mary's Bridge

Basilica St. Mang

Parade through the old town

Medieval Festival
Medieval ferris wheel!
Medieval juggling?
Crowds at the commons

Oven baked "medieval" food

Medieval camping on the Castle grounds

The High Castle and its terraced garden

Stone ruins on the castle grounds

Beautiful castle grounds

All dressed up

Fuessen at night

Next post:  Swiss Alps