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Berner Oberland Two Weeks in Gstaad, Switzerland, 2003

The Alps in Switzerland in the Bern Canton.


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Sunday lunch and Trottie!​

Warm, sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast

We added it up and we have spent over 15 weeks in Switzerland since our first visit in 1988 (and our second visit wasn’t until 1996). On this trip we decided to spend two weeks in Gstaad, even though we didn’t know the area, because it was just easier to book it that way (I was so busy with work this spring, that I had to take the easy way out for booking much of this trip). Originally we thought one week in Gstaad and one week in Pontresina, but I could not find a vacation rental that I liked the look of in Pontresina (except for one which was booked, but we will try it next time), so we booked two weeks here.

Even picking a vacation rental in Gstaad was time consuming this year. I was using the vacation rental data base on the Gstaad tourism web site and had made a short list. I emailed one of the owners with a few questions, got an answer to one question but not the others, emailed him back, never heard from him again. I was about to try with the others on my short list, when the Gstaad Tourism database went down, and did not get back up for several months. I reported the problem and they said it was working for them, but I did not get it to work again until I checked a few weeks before we left (and it was working again). They said it must be some problem in the US (nice try).

Earlier, they had faxed me a list of agencies, so, I contacted them. One agency sent me a listing that was the same one I got from a US agency (Villas International, I think) which was supposed to be a good quality place but was twice the price I expected. I have rented a lot in Switzerland and know how things are priced, plus I had seen prices for Gstaad rentals on the tourist office database. When Villas International sent me the listing (after waiting two weeks from my original inquiry), I figured it was so expensive because they had added on a huge commission. But the price from the local agency was not that different. However the local agency sent (by email) much better pictures and I was able to see that the view from the balcony was of public tennis courts (with mountains beyond). I didn’t want to look out onto tennis courts, so we booked with another local agency and got the apartment we are in.

We located that expensive apartment and it not only looks right onto the public tennis courts, but also to the big skateboarding area used by the local kids, and the train tracks run right behind the apartment. The location is just a block from the main promenade in Gstaad – but who wants to look out on tennis courts and a concrete skateboarding park for that price? It was about $1500/week! Our place is just over $500/week.


Vacation rental apartment in Gstaad with a tennis courts view.

So that is how we ended up in Gstaad for two weeks – laziness and the inability to decide. On several trips we have spent two weeks in one location (usually on our longer trips). The only time I ever regretted spending two weeks instead of one, was in Sorrento, because our apartment was not that nice and we did not love the area as much as we thought we would. Two weeks lets you really settle into a place. You don’t feel like you have to be out and about every day hiking or touring. Especially in Switzerland where you can get bad weather and miss hiking days – it is nice to have the extra time. We will have been here one week tomorrow and instead of packing up, we are planning a day trip to Montreaux.

Today was sunny in the morning, but then overcast on and off throughout the day. We thought we would have an easy day and not put on hiking boots and packs, but just put on walking shoes and head out. We left around noon and walked to the Eggli gondola just outside Gstaad (35 min walk). Rode the gondola up and had a Sunday lunch sitting on the sun terrace of the restaurant there. Steve had fresh trout, I had an omelette. There were lots of people having lunch. We sat at a picnic-style table and looked out to the Gsteig valley with the huge mountains beyond. Beautiful! 65.70 CHF for two (water, salad, omelette, fish, coffee) – about $45.

After a leisurely lunch, we were going to just gondola it back but we decided to try the Trotti scooters. We have seen these all over Switzerland, but never tried them. You rent them at a top gondola station and ride them down the mountain, usually on paved roads. It cost 15 CHF to rent them. It was all very casual; you handed over the money, he handed you a helmet and pointed at the scooters, then at the sign you had to follow. Trottis are just big scooters – no seat, handlebars with breaks, a place to put both your feet as your roar downhill.

Steve took to it right away and was off down the gravel hill. It took me awhile to feel comfortable, so I rode the brakes and jumped off frequently. But when we reached the paved road after about 10 minutes it was great. We whizzed down the hill on a long winding paved road. At the bottom we had to scoot along a flat area to get back to the gondola station where you turn in the bikes.

I wanted to go to the Wispile gondola (nearby) and ride the Trotti down from there, but it was getting too late in the afternoon. The gondolas all stop running at 5pm – it was 3:30 – not enough time to get up and ride back down. Plus, I was feeling the ride! I figured these Trotties were a waste of time because you get no exercise, but I think you do get some and, boy, are they fun!! What is next, parasailing?? (Steve says “no way” – because I am terrified of heights and he thinks I will back out at the last minute. I figure I could do it.) Note from 2022: No you couldn't and you've never tried.

After returning the Trotties, we walked into Gstaad, had coffee and cake (yes, again!! – 15.50 CHF for coffee and cake for two) then walked home. Nice dinner at home and I am doing laundry. What a great weekend. Plus I started the latest Ian Rankin mystery – must go read it now!!


Steve had fish for Sunday lunch.


View from Eggli top station to the Gstaad valley.


Pauline on a trotti.


Steve on a trotti.


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Day trip to Gruyeres​

Overcast, clouds on the mountaintops, sunny off and on, warm

This was to be the big road trip day!! We went into Saanan for breakfast (Fruhstuck) at a café (24 CHF for two – 2 coffees each and a basket of bread and croissants). There are two cafes in town, both small and nice.

We got gas (we were just below ½). The small Mercedes (C Class) seems to get good mileage – this was the first time we filled up on this trip. Gas is cheaper in Switzerland than in Germany (1.35 CHF / liter for unleaded). It took us a few minutes to figure out the automatic payment machine, but we ended up just pushing in a credit card and everything worked. 46.39 CHF for just over ½ tank.

It took about 20 minutes to drive to Gruyeres, in the Fribourg canton. I had read about this town in my Michelin guidebook and have always liked their cheese, so thought we would drop in here on our way to the Autobahn and then Montreaux.

We spent our whole day in Gruyere and never made it to Montreaux. We got a late start and didn’t reach Gruyere until noon (story of this whole week!). Then we had a long walk around and a long lunch and a long museum visit – – and the day was over!

Gruyere is a “tour bus town”!! It is an old village with a castle, set up on a hill overlooking the river and valley – just like an Italian hill town! There is a series of parking lots outside of town. The closest parking lot was full (cars and tour buses), so we parked in the next one and climbed up the hill to the town. The town is very small, but really cute – and all about tourists! Cheese and chocolate shops, hotels, restaurants (all serving fondue and raclette), touristy shops. The streets are cobblestone, every building is covered in overflowing window boxes (beautiful). We walked around town, looked at the view from the castle walls, walked around the castle (did not go in because sometimes these “must sees” really bore me), then went for lunch.

We picked a good looking place with a large outdoor terrace so we could watch the town action. We still did not see any other Americans – mostly German and French speaking tourists. I had my fondue for the trip and it was excellent – a pot of bubbling cheese with a big pile of potatoes to dip into it. Steve (not a cheese lover) had a local fish. Every single restaurant displayed the price of fondue and raclette outside – and they were all the same (21 CHF fondue, 26 CHF raclette). Price fixing – – or finely tuned competition? My fondue did not come with pickles – they had to be ordered separately (and I did) – so I see how they keep their prices down.

Being in the French speaking region, my own knowledge of French comes flooding back and I almost feel fluent. Seven years of French in school in Canada were not wasted!! If I needed the door closed, or the window opened, I could easily express myself! I could also tell someone my name!!

After lunch, we went to the local museum. Museum HR Giger. This is a Swiss surrealist who won an Oscar for the set design of the movie “Alien”. What an odd location for this type of museum. We had no idea it was here, but are both big fans of science fiction, so we went in. Many, many paintings of “Alien” themes. Many images of penises and female butts – and many different things going into the latter. Strange renditions of nipples (some as tongues, some as knives). Really, really creepy and odd, yet also interesting.

We saw a movie recently, “Max”, which was a story of Hitler as a young man – the story was that he was an artist who had created a whole world in paintings (the world he eventually created in Germany), but he decided that since he was rejected as an artist, he would approach politics as art (and create his dream world). Well, Giger has created a whole world in these paintings – a futuristic, half machine – half human, world. Some paintings were of cities, some of “people”.

It was getting late, so we decided to skip Montreaux and drove back home. Stopped at Chateau d’Oex for groceries (they have a large Coop). Also walked around the town again (very small). I bought some Swiss ice cream at the Coop – excellent! Simple dinner at home (leftovers).

I have started a new web site job and am in that wonderful beginning phase where all the design ideas are floating around my head. I will have to work a couple of days this week to get the first phase done on this project before we go to Italy. Steve read about a big storm predicted for tomorrow for northern Italy; if we get bad weather here I can declare it a working day. Today is the first day of our second week here – we leave for Levanto one week today. I have a few good hikes picked out and maybe we will get to Montreaux (or maybe we will just have a day in nearby Lenk).


Gruyeres town center.




The 4CHF coffee (standard price).


Museum HR Giger.


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Reading the International Herald Tribune​

We have been getting the International Herald Tribune every day (3.80 CHF). I enjoy reading this paper. Here are some recent highlights.
  • Martin Amis has a new book out this month; his first novel since The Information (which was brilliant).
  • French author Bernard-Henri Levy has a book out about Daniel Pearl (the American journalist murdered in Pakistan after 9/11) – “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” The English translation is out this week. It is a novel, but based on real events and his research, in the tradition of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Levy is a non-practicing Jew and is “anti-anti-American”.
  • Recent article “On the road, Britons 'drink and drink and drink' ”. An article about how young Brits are getting cheap weekend flights to Prague where they can drink all weekend cheaper than in London. A few quotes: “…then explained his vacation goals: 'Get drunk, I suppose; have some drinks and have a good time.' “ "Drunk and aggressive, in drag or wearing only underpants, they spend weekends staggering in packs from bar to bar near Wenceslas Square.” Maybe I will postpone that trip to Prague for now.


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Day off in Saanen​

Overcast, raining all day

Woke up to grey skies, clouds over the mountain tops and rain. So we took the day off. Steve read and I worked. I got to put in several good hours on the new web site I am doing. The electricity went out for an hour in the afternoon (but I worked on battery). This happens to us all the time in Italy, but has never happened in Switzerland. We called the agency and Yvonne was going to come over, but was busy for the next hour. We found a switch box, but it was those old kind of fuses (the glass ones) and we were not sure what to do. Then the electricity came back on. Turned out it was off for the whole building and there had been a notice posted on the front door (but we had not seen it because we came in through the garage yesterday). We called Yvonne and told her she did not need to come.

We did leave the apartment – and I drove for the first time this trip! The car drives really well and driving here is very easy (roads are not crowded, drivers are not aggressive – so I cope well). I drove into Gstaad and we got the paper, a few groceries and then went to our now favorite café (Café Charly at the Saanen end of the promenade in Gstaad) for coffee and cake. We got the last table – the place was packed. A crowded Swiss café on a cold, rainy day is quite a scene – families, couples, old people, young people, smokers, non-smokers – everyone having coffee, tea, hot chocolate and lovely cakes.


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Rural Switzerland – cats in every field​

We have been seeing cats every day. If you are walking by a field, look closely. There will be a cat sitting out in the middle of it, watching, watching for anything that moves so it can leap on it and kill it. One cat per field. Lots of cats in windows too – well looked after cats.


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Low level hike from Saanen to Gstaad to Gsteig​

Overcast on and off, sunny then cold and overcast, rain at the very end

For hiking today we wore long sleeved t-shirts and jeans, needed sweatshirts sometimes and polartec vests were needed after the hike.

We hit the trails by the crack of 12:45pm! Okay, okay – we are giving new meaning to SLOW! But we did a wonderful hike. Because it was overcast and because we got a late start, we did a low level hike today (meaning we did not take any mountain rides to the trails).

Starting right from our apartment, we walk to Gstaad (30 minutes) – part on a quiet side road, part on a lovely trail along the river. From Gstaad we follow that river all the way up the valley to Gsteig. It is only slightly uphill (a total gain of 120 meters). The hike was 2.5 hours from Gstaad (so 3 hours in total). The trail follows quiet side roads, or trails along the river or trails through farmer’s fields.

Sometimes when we are hiking, the trail takes you right by a house. Someday, I am sure, the hiking guide will read: “Follow the trail in through the front door, left at the kitchen, then out the back door.”

Years and years ago (1988) we hiked in this area and were “attacked” by two male cows. We were in the middle of a big field full of cows, but these two guys up on the hill were snorting and tail switching and watching us. Very different from all the female milk cows who eat grass and occasionally look up when you walk by. These guys started running down the hill straight for us. There was nothing we could do. We were too far from the fence to make a run for it, so we stood our ground and stared right at them. They ran to within a foot of us and then each veered off – one to the left, one to the right. I was shaking! We hoofed it out of that field.

I think of those guys when hiking here.

Today’s hike took us through many fields of cows, through lovely woods and up high into the meadows full of little flowers. We had lovely views of the big mountains behind Gsteig.

We needed to make the 16:07 bus from Gsteig to get to Gstaad in time for our 17:00 webcam date. We got to Gsteig with time enough for a coffee at a café and then hopped on the bus. We did not have Easy Access passes today – the bus ride was 6.60 CHF each (the Easy Access pass is 9.50 CHF per day).

In Gstaad, we got the paper then went to the tourist office to buy Easy Access passes for our last four days (I have the hikes all planned) and to tell them we were going to stand in front of their webcam with a banner. Swiss people never seem to get very excited or interested in things that we tell them (well, not just Swiss people). I gave them a few SlowTrav cards. She went and talked to the computer guy and he said the webcam refreshes every 15 minutes.

So we went and stood at the spot Chris figured would be best. We held up our banner and Chris phoned on the cell phone. We talked while we stood there and she watched the webcam. It updated in a few minutes. We could see people looking at us from the tourist office window beside the webcam. It updated a few more times in the next 15 minutes – so I think they were helping us out. You cannot tell if it is taking a photo – we only knew because Chris would tell us. I knew not many SlowTrav people would be watching – because it is not as exciting as the Sorrento webcam. But it was fun – although we felt pretty stupid standing there with our banner. As soon as Chris said she had a shot of us, Steve wanted to put the banner away. I convinced him to stand there for longer – and we did hold up the banner one more time – but by 5pm it was getting really cold and we had been standing there for 10 minutes, so we left.

We picked up some rolls at the bakery to eat on the way home. They have these bread-like pretzel things cut in half and spread with butter. We got them and a whole wheat croissant (gipfel). We ate them as we walked home (30 minutes). It started pouring rain for the last 10 minutes, but we had our raincoats in our packs.

Our packs were heavy for this walk – a quart of water each, rain coats, polartec vests, polartec sweaters – doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up! This is probably the reason we are so tired (hiking with that extra 10 pounds).

This morning I checked our voice mail and there was a message from a writer at the New York Times!! Be still my heart!! She left a number, but I could not make out her name or what she wanted. I called her after the hike and we talked. She was writing an answer about hiking in Tuscany for the travel Q&A column and had found SlowTrav, then found the mention of us in the recent NY Times. We talked about hiking in Tuscany (I think it is possible, but is better in Switzerland and England). She said the column will be in the Sunday, September 28 edition (but may get pushed back). I tried to convince her to visit the message board, but she said the column had to be done in a couple of days and she didn’t have the time.

Still, another mention in the NY Times!! And, hopefully, another link from the NY Times web site to us!!


Walking to Gsteig.

Walking to Gsteig.


Hiking signs in Gsteig.

Bus stop in Gsteig.


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A (very) Few Words of Swiss-German​

In the Swiss-German speaking part of Switzerland (most of the country), the standard greeting is “Greuzi” (the “u” has an umlaut over it – two dots – but we can’t type it into Blogger). Approximate pronunciation: GREW-tzih, with distinct regional variations.

Although we did not see it this year, Zurich airport has in the past greeted you with large signs saying only “Greuzi”. As you pass other hikers on the trails, you frequently hear (and should respond with) this greeting. I have read that it is something of a national game to try to identify a person’s home region, or even village, from their pronunciation of Greuzi. I like to think I can make them hesitate a few moments before labelling me as a foreigner on the basis of uttering one word which I have spoken innumerable times.

Some alternate greetings you also encounter are “Gruss Gott” (greetings from God – also common in Germany) and the standard German “Gutten Tag” (listen for the ending sound, “tahk”).

Some commonly used words are borrowed from French: “Merci” for thank you, “Adieu” (pronounced more like ah-DEH) for goodbye, and “Voila” for there you go. The standard German “Auf wedersehen” and “Danke” also work for goodbye and thank you.

The word “mitenand” (MIT-uhr-nahnd) is often added to include more than one person. Examples are: “Greuzi mitenand” and “Merci mitenand” (kind of like “hello y’all” or “thank y’all” but more formal).

Now you have the vocabulary you need for the hiking trails!


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Hiking from Wispile to Launen​

Overcast, low clouds, rain on and off (mostly on) all day long

Today is the second anniversary of the 9/11 attack. We were in Italy on 9/11. We had arrived in Sorrento, from the US, the day before. That was the first year for SlowTalk, our message board. A lot of people had planned trips to Italy and cancelled them. There were a lot of discussions about whether or not people felt comfortable traveling. I have never decided if it was better that we were out of the country during that time. We did not obsess over the CNN coverage, like we would have if we were at home, but we felt isolated and far from home. It was at least a year until I could even speak of 9/11. I never did finish my trip report for that year’s trip. On that trip, in early October, we had our first SlowTrav GTGs. About 25 people came to a catered lunch at our vacation rental in Tuscany. The week before we had 8 people for a potluck lunch at the same place.

But back to the present. We woke up to heavy overcast – clouds down over the mountain tops. I had planned a gondola ride followed by a 2.5 hour hike at high level to a place where we would ride Trottis down to Zwiesimmen, but this was not going to work in the rain. I suggested a day in Montreaux (picturing shopping, cafes, a nice lunch, maybe even sunshine at the lower level location) and was dressed and ready to go when Steve spotted a break in the clouds and said hiking might be possible.

So we changed to hiking clothes and drove to Wispile (I drove again – practising my Swiss driving) where we would hike from a higher level down to a lower level.

The gondola was not running!! Steve went and talked to them and found out that they will start it up when someone comes – not many people out today. So we took the gondola up into the clouds. It was not raining, but was cold. Today we wore turtlenecks, polartec vests and rainjackets. I wished I had packed gloves and wool hats!

We hiked from Wispile to Launen. Our first hike in this area, one week ago yesterday, was from Wispile to Gsteig. Gsteig is in the valley on one side of Wispile; Launen is in the valley on the other side. For an hour we walked back from Wispile. It started to rain, then it turned to a downpour. We sheltered under some big trees and had lunch (cold rice and vegetables from the night before – looked boring when I packed it up last night, tasted fabulous on the trail). In case we had to spend the rest of the year sheltering under those trees, we planned where we would put the hot tub and which space was which room (the space without cow s**t would be the dining room).

The rain let up and we didn’t have to spend the rest of the year there. We hiked back following the same trail as the week before, except this time all we saw was cloud instead of the incredible views to the valleys below and the mountains beyond that we had last time.

After an hour we got to a fork where we turned left this time, to go to Launen. For the next hour we walked straight downhill – well not straight, but 20 foot long switchbacks all down the hill. If we did not have our hiking poles (thanks to Jonathan who recommended them last year), this hike would have been much more difficult. The trail was very narrow and muddy and steep and in woods. The poles saved me from slipping about three times.

It started to rain heavily again. We made our way down the hill, out of the woods to a more gentle downhill through open fields. If it had not been raining, this would have been a beautiful hike (but with a bit too much downhill).

We ended up in Launen where we waited for the bus with a British couple. (I said “Do you speak English?”. He said “I am English.”) The bus came in about 20 minutes. We were concerned because my schedule did not match the schedule at the bus stop (these buses only run once an hour – turns out I was reading my schedule wrong) and the bus stop schedule had a note saying you had to phone to reserve the bus. Steve went into the post office and asked about this – they said the bus would be coming.

The British couple had just finished a 10 day hike from Engelberg to Engstlenalp to Meiringen to Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen to Kandersteg to Adelboden to Lenk to Sanaan!! The did it through a UK company called Sherpa. Sherpa books the hotels, gives you the route maps and looks after your luggage being shipped from place to place. They said once or twice their bags were not able to go to the next destination so they had to carry more on those hikes. My guess is that Sherpa coordinates with the hotel to put the bags on the train to the next town, and Engstlenalp and Adelboden cannot be reached by train, so they did not have their bags there. We have done much of the hike they did and I think I could come up with a plan and their exact route (and avoid using a company to organize it). We have hiked every place that they went to.

But, they are way better hikers than we are (most hikers are – we are really walkers, not hikers). They did not use any gondolas. I was surprised they were taking the bus with us – they could have walked the valley – but it was 4pm and they had been hiking since 9am. If they had used gondolas, they could have cut several (uphill) hours off each day.

Anyway, it was a nice reality check for us – we are such hiking wimps!! Today was only 2.5 hours. We all rode the bus to Gstaad, then they walked 10 minutes to our car with us and we drove them to their hotel (saving them from waiting for a bus). They are flying home from Geneva tomorrow.
Our jeans were covered in mud to the knees and pretty wet. Our Gortex jackets kept us dry, but we were cold. We went home and I immediately put our jeans and turtlenecks into the wash. What was I thinking when I packed one pair of jeans and two pairs of shorts? I was thinking summer, I guess.

Note for hiking in Switzerland: Bring two pairs of pants for hiking and one other pair for “nice”. Gloves!! Hats!! And I usually bring travel slippers to wear in the house, but did not bring them this year. Bring slippers!!

Note from 2022: What were you thinking? Now we have special hiking trousers that repel water, dry quickly, stretch, and are lightweight. I remember Marta, a real hiker, telling us to give them a try.

Stephanie and Cesare from Rome were going to meet us in Gstaad for this weekend, but all the hotels were booked because there is a big Country Music festival going on (bales of hay, blue jeans and cowboy boots and hats are in many store windows). If the weekend weather is like today, they will be very happy that they had to cancel. (They are spending next weekend in Levanto with us instead!!) And if it is raining tomorrow, we are going to Montreaux!! Although I hope it is sunny and we get three more days of hiking.

We are having such a good time here, that we are thinking of spending a month here next year. With all the hours we have to talk while hiking, we have been making big travel and moving plans. So far we have decided to spend three months next fall in England (but that overlaps our Gstaad plans?), move to Montreux for a year (and we haven’t been there since 1988 so really have no idea what it is like), move to England for the rest of our lives, move to California for the rest of our lives and travel to Europe like we have been for the past seven years (I vote for Sonoma, but Steve says Santa Barbara), move to California for the next two years then rent our house there and live in England for five years, stay in Santa Fe and rent out our house and move to England for a year. The only plans we have decided on is in the next year 1) two trips to California (one to Santa Barbara, one to Sonoma) to check out California yet again (we tried to move there in 2000 but could not find a town that was perfect – I am resolving myself to not needing perfect) and 2) two – three months in England next fall to see how we like living there (we lived there for six months in 1988). We’ll see!! We have 2.5 more weeks to talk this out.

Note from 2022: You did not spend 3 months in Switzerland the next fall, you did not move to Switzerland, you did not move to California, but in 2010 you moved to England and are still there.


Clouds over the Launen valley at the end of the hike.


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Hey, they don't bleep the Osbornes on MTV Germany!!​

Steve is flipping TV channels while I am posting and he found The Osbornes on German MTV and they don’t bleep them!! It adds a whole new dimension to the dialog! I must sign off and go watch!

Ossy has more of a vocabulary than you think when it gets bleeped. They are bleeping a variety of words.

The International Herald Tribune had an article about Big Brother Africa – very popular all over Africa.


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Hiking from Rellerli to Sparenmoos​

Sunny!! Sunny!! And warm!!

Today we wore light cotton pants and short sleeved t-shirts. We needed our polartec sweatshirts by 6pm when we were taking the train home. A perfect hiking day and a perfect hike.

We awoke to brilliant sunshine and clear skies. We headed out and I mailed a few things (luggage tags to people in Europe, a few postcards), then we drove to Schonried and parked at the one gondola in the valley that we had not yet ridden – Rellerli. We parked in the lot beside the gondola station (free). This is a long gondola with beautiful views over the valley. About mid point, it goes over this big tower in a rollercoaster kind of motion in order to change direction slightly. Usually this is done in a middlestation and is far less scary, because the gondola is almost at ground level instead of dangling a few hundred feet in the air. It felt to me like we were coming off the track – but we weren’t.

At the top the views are beautiful. We could see the Eiger and the Jungfrau which tower over Grindelwald. The restaurant is self service and seemed to be open but no one was about, so we gave up – which was good because we barely made the last bus at the end of our hike so we needed the extra hiking time, and was bad because I was hungry for the whole hike having forgotten to pack any food. Last year we always hiked with a few sportsbars, just in case – which is a very good idea and I wish I had done this today!

The day was perfect – we had our rain jackets and polartec pullovers in our packs just in case – but we were comfortable in light pants and short sleeves. The hike was just under three hours, flat for most of it, with some uphill in the middle, then a long downhill for 20 minutes at the end (but a gentle, easy on the knees, downhill).

Of course we had started too late. When we started we figured we could do the hike with 30 minutes to spare. My hiking info from the tourist office said the last bus was 4pm. But I had read it wrong again (really, it was badly written – they gave times of buses from Zweisimmen to Sparenmoos and we were going the other way, so I thought the last bus was 4pm, but it was 4:30). We loved the hike – we could see across to where we had hiked last Saturday – but for the last hour we were hoofing it, worried we would miss the last bus.

You can also trotti down (ride these bicycle-like scooters) from Sparenmoos, but I realized in that last hour that I was way too tired for that. I think that two weeks of hiking in the afternoons, as opposed to two weeks of our usual activity (one hour walk in the morning followed by too many hours sitting at the computer), was getting to me. Because about 500 years ago Steve and I both were runners, we always call it “hitting the wall.”

We made the bus on time, but it turned out we were 35 minutes ahead instead of 5 minutes. Sparenmoos consists of one hotel with a restaurant, a bus stop and a bunch of trottis. We took full advantage of our extra time and had glasses of beer and shared a cheese sandwich (that was all they had except for many meat things).

A group of hikers was gathering for the bus. There was no sign for the usual PTT bus stop, but the woman in the restaurant said it would come there. A van pulling a trailer full of trottis pulled up. They unloaded it. We all watched. No bus. Then the guy driving the van stood by the door and one hiker went up and paid him money then climbed in the van. This was the bus!

The van had seats for seven plus the driver. Seven of us climbed in. One couple with a bulldog stayed behind – who knows what they were going to do – and two women who arrived after all of us were pointed to the trottis. As we pulled out, I saw them wheeling out trottis for their ride down. We used our Easy Access pass for the “bus” ride.

Half way down the mountain, an older woman in hiking gear waved down the bus. He stopped and made the guy in front with him move over to the middle part and make room. The two of them shared the front seat.

The bus was supposed to leave at 4:30 and our train in Zweisimmen was at 4:50 with the next one on my (incorrect) schedule at 6pm. Steve wears the watch but has no idea where we are going and never looks at any schedules. I memorize schedules but don’t wear a watch because I don’t own one (my wrist breaks out from the metal on the clasp, so I gave up wearing watches years ago – besides, who needs one in Santa Fe?). I think a better plan is that the person who wears the watch also follows the schedules. So Steve thought the train was at 5pm and we pulled up to the train station at 3 minutes to 5pm. He said “we can make the train” and I assumed the 4:50 train, although it seemed to me like more time had passed and the bus had been late leaving.

Zweisimmen is a good sized train station with 8 platforms. We ran up to the train schedule, I looked for the 16:50 train and found the track. We ran to the track but it wasn’t there. Then we realized that Steve had been thinking 5pm, but the train was 4:50pm. So back to the schedule, where I see a 5pm train listed (that was not on the schedule the tourist office gave me), but that was on track 5, so we ran for that and it was pulling out. If I had just looked up when we first arrived, I would have seen the sign for Gstaad because we were at track 5. So, we ended up on the 6pm train.

I was furious, but Steve and I hardly ever fight and never scream, so I gave him a good glare, he “accepted responsibility” (although I think it was my fault too – I really should carry a watch and I could have looked at a clock) and I made him spend 10 minutes in a store for penance. I bought a Donna Leon detective book in English. We walked around Zweisimmen, then had coffee and pear kuchen at the tea shop we went to last Saturday.

I am going to call this type of thing, which happens all the time to us, the “tourist dance”. That little dance you do, at totally unexpected times, that shows you are not local, that you don’t know how things work. I was furious because I was so tired. Steve mixed up the times because he was so tired. Luckily my fury vanished in about 3 minutes. (We also needed to get home early because Steve had a business phone call to do.)

At home, a simple dinner and a nice long bath. Now shall I put aside Gore Vidal’s “Julien”, which is good, and read the Donna Leon, because I am such a detective novel addict. I still have the new P.D. James to read but I am “saving” it – I like to have it and look at it for a few weeks and anticipate reading it – before I read it. Sick, but true.

I cannot believe we only have two days left in Switzerland. I want to have a drink at the big castle hotel in Gstaad where I think they may have filmed one of the Pink Panther movies, I want to trotti down from Wispile, spend a day in Montreaux, and do two more hikes that I have planned out. We always leave Switzerland wishing we were staying longer – probably because we go to Switzerland at the start of our vacation – but we could easily and happily have spent a month here.

Note from 2022: The Rellerli gondola no longer runs in summer. You can get the bus to Sparenmoos, and hike down to Schonried instead.


Top of the Rellerli gondola.


Hiking signs at the top of the Rellerli gondola.


On the trail to Sparenmoos.


On the trail to Sparenmoos.


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Country Days in Gstaad​

This weekend is a big country festival. There have been signs up all week and “American” displays in shop windows with signs for the festival (bales of hay, cowboy boots, jeans). It seems to be a big festival. I think it is a fair that goes on during the day and concerts at night. We may drop in tomorrow during the day.

Tonight as we were driving into Gstaad, there were crowds of people walking to the festival. Many were wearing cowboy hats, cowboy boots, jeans – the whole outfit. For people who live in the American West, where this type of outfit is normal, it was hilarious to see all these Swiss people in costume. Many were wearing bolos (in Santa Fe, this replaces a tie).


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An afternoon in Montreux​

Sunny and warm

Today we had our fill of hiking and took a day away from it – we drove to Montreux! It was just over an hour drive from Saanen. We went in the direction of Chateaux d’Oex then Bulle and then onto the Autoroute. On the way back we another route, towards Aigle, then up into the mountains, which took about the same length of time.

Driving into Montreux was easy – not much traffic and it is a small town (population about 20,000). There are big parking lots in the downtown area. We pulled into the one in the Palace Hotel (a big hotel on the main street, looking towards the lake). It was nearly 2pm and there were not many people about – everyone was having lunch I think! We walked around looking for a street with lots of restaurants and finally found a main street up by the train station.

It turns out that we parked a few blocks short of the main area and if we had walked a few blocks along the lake we would have got to the main area. But we ended up in a nice area, just outside the busy tourist area and had a great lunch on a terrace overlooking the town and the lake. Steve had perch and I had cheese-tomato fondue (we both liked our dishes). I also had a salad, which was very fresh and great, but so far the best salad I have had on the trip was in Konstanz (where they have a small island where they grow all their salad ingredients).

After lunch we walked through the shopping area which now was full of people. We found a bookstore and I bought “Living and Working in Switzerland” by David Hampshire. He wrote the Italy version of this book with Mary Jane Cryan, a member of our message board. We went into a few drugstores looking for a tube of French Clay that we had got on previous trips (you use it for a face mask), but we did not find it. Big splurge – I bought a hairbrush made in Switzerland.

Then we walked along the lake. The lake is huge and beautiful. Across the lake are the very high peaks of the alps above Evian (France). We have been buying six-packs of Evian water because here it is “local”. You can look towards the peaks in the Valais. Montreux is built along the water and up the steep hillside, like towns on the French Riviera. There is a lakeside promenade all along the town and continues onto the other towns on the lake, I think. In Montreux, the promenade is planted with flowering bushes, flowers, palm trees.

At one point we came to some crafts market with crowds of people – we didn’t stop to look. Around 4pm we left and drove along the lake to Aigle, then up through the vineyards into the mountains to Gstaad.

“He is on his way to Gstaad.”
“Yes, today a paradise in the Swiss Alps. Tomorrow a wasteland.”
– Movie, The Return of the Pink Panther, 1975

For the last two weeks we have been looking up to the Palace Hotel, a castle-like hotel (with turrets) sitting above Gstaad. We drove up there. This is where the Return of the Pink Panther was filmed. We have a copy of the movie but forgot that it took place in Gstaad. A friend in Santa Fe started quoting the movie when we told him we were going to Gstaad, so we watched the movie again. You don’t see much of Gstaad in the movie: a scene at the train station, one on the road to the hotel, another in the revolving doors of the hotel and in the lobby. The rest takes place in a hotel room. We recognized the road to the hotel and the entrance from the movie. I asked the man at the desk if he had been there when they made the movie. No, but people still come to the hotel because of the movie. It is a lovely old-world type of hotel, with balconies looking out to Gstaad below and all the surrounding mountains.

We had a drink in the bar – sitting in one of the turrets with views over the whole valley. The sun sets late here – not until after 7pm even at this time of year. We must be pretty far north. If you draw a line from Santa Fe around the world, it is at the same longitude (or is it latitude?) as Northern Africa.

Home to do laundry and ironing. Microwave popcorn for dinner tonight after our huge lunch.
Ironing is much easier in Europe because of the higher voltage. The iron is very hot. Tea in our electric kettle boils in a couple of minutes. Of course, if you stick your finger in the socket, you die – but the benefit is easy ironing.


Lunch in Montreux, perch.


Lunch in Montreux, fondue.


Walking along Lake Geneva.




Gstaad Palace Hotel, used in the Pink Panther movie.


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A wonderful, wonderful last day in Switzerland​

Warm, sunny, clear blue skies. Not too hot. Wore short sleeves and cotton pants.

I don’t want to leave!!

I need to figure out how much time we have spent in Switzerland (mountain towns only – not counting time in Zurich and Geneva):
1988 2 wks Grindelwald
1988 2 wks Zermatt
1988 1 wk Kiental (Macrobiotic Summer Camp)
1988 1 wks Lenk / Le Grange (2 places)
1996 1 wk Davos
1996 1 wk Locarno
1997 1.5 wk Grindelwald
1997 1 wk Crans-Montana
1997 1 wk Zermatt
2000 1.5 wk Kandersteg
2002 1 wk Engelberg
2002 1 wk Grindelwald
2003 2 wks Saanen
TOTAL 17 weeks

After two weeks we have both decided that this Gstaad-Saanen valley is the perfect Switzerland place for us. We have spent about 17 weeks in Switzerland mountain towns since 1988 and been to many places, and will go back to many of them – but this valley is perfect.

Gstaad is not really jet-setty – not like St. Moritz. Saanen is the perfect small town. Next time we stay for a month. I would probably pick a different apartment (although we have been very comfortable here and this place has many good features), just to have one with a better view and a balcony and more direct sun on the balcony/terrace. Actually, this apartment one floor up would be perfect.

We managed to get up a bit earlier today. I realize our sleeping problem (other than that we stay up too late) – the bedroom has blackout curtains so we don’t wake up when the sun shines in, like at home. Last night I left the curtains partly open. We did not get bread yesterday, so had to go out for breakfast. We packed up ready for hiking and stopped at a café in Saanen. The breakfast was great – croissants, fresh bread, butter, jam, coffee. We had two coffees each. Kleine Fruhstuck (small breakfast) for 9 CHF each, 3.50 CHF each for extra coffee.

Then we drove up the Lauenen valley from Gstaad (the one we had hiked to on that rainy day). We parked just above Lauenen, because I though you could not drive to Lauenensee, but it turns out you can drive there. I saw a big sign showing parking lots and assumed it meant you had to park and could not drive, but the sign was just explaining about the parking at Lauenensee.

Anyway, it is good that we did not drive all the way, because instead we did a perfect two hour round trip hike to Launensee. The hike started out through the village of Launen which is located near the end of a long, green valley. We looked directly to huge rock mountains with glaciers showing behind them. It was brilliantly sunny and warm – but not really hot.

The one hour to the lake was slightly uphill through farmers fields. At one point we heard a group of women’s voices singing – but could not see them. I think they were in front of a farm house that we were walking behind. The lake is small and right at the base of the huge mountains. It is very beautiful and surrounded by lovely woods.

We walked along the edge of the lake and now there were lots of people on the trail. These people drove up and parked, then did a 45 minute walk around the lake – then they all went to the one restaurant there and consumed vast quantities of meat. We know, because we watched them. We stopped at the restaurant thinking we might have lunch, but the menu was all meat. We should have left, but decided to have coffee and hot chocolate. It took forever to get our small order taken, and then even longer to pay. The restaurant was somewhat busy when we arrived, but totally packed by the time we left. Sometimes I would give anything for a cashier that you walk up to and pay, instead of trying to catch the eye of a harried waitress carrying plate after plate of grilled sausage. Normally I am not disgusted by meat (heh, I ate meat until I was 25), but this time with the open grill and all that sausage – ugh.

The trail back was through woods along the river. It was also beautiful, but a bit muddy.
There is are hotels in Lauenen – this would be a lovely place to stay if you wanted to look out at the beautiful mountains and be in a peaceful small town for a few days. We stopped at a hotel in Lauenen and had lunch on the terrace. Steve had fish, I had an omelette.

But, the day was young. After all, we were an hour earlier starting and we did a short simple hike (not a long gondola ride before and then bus or train after). So we drove into Gstaad, to the Wispile ride, took the gondola to the middle station and rented trotties (those scooter things). These ones were more like mountain bikes than scooters and had springs on them and were higher off the ground with big wheels. The trotti path from the top station is a dirt road, but if you start at the middle station, it is a dirt road for 300 meters, then paved the rest of the way.

We zoomed down the hill. I thought we were doing really great – stopping for a few view shots and shots of us with the cows – when this guy on a trotti roared past us like a Mercedes in the passing lane on the Autostrada. I guess that is how you are supposed to trotti – fast! You get about 30 minutes of a zoom ride down the hill, then 15 boring minutes of scooting the thing along the flat path back to the gondola station where you return it. 14 CHF per person from the middle station.

The day was older but not over. It was about 4:30 and there was still one town in the valley we had not been to – Lenk. We spent 3 nights there in 1988 on our grand Europe trip and loved it. We wanted to see it again. It is at the end of a valley from Zweisimmen. It was about 30 minutes from Gstaad.

As we drove out of the Gstaad-Saanen valley, you could see people everywhere having a great time. The day was perfect and people were biking, riding motorcycles, hiking, walking their dogs, paragliding, flying small planes, driving convertibles with the roof down – it all seemed like a Swiss outdoors playground.

We got to Lenk, drove around, decided it was not nearly as nice as where we were staying, found the hotel we had stayed in, had coffee and apple kuchen, then drove back “home”. The last night before moving on. I am doing two last loads of laundry, some ironing, made dinner, and am almost packed. Packing while on vacation is so much easier than packing for a vacation. I have not bought much (a few tea towels and some books) so everything will fit!

Tomorrow, we finish packing, load up the car, check out of the apartment (Yvonne is coming here at 9:30), have a last Frustuck, then drive through the St. Bernard tunnel to Aosta and then to Levanto. I know we will love Italy – we always do – but tonight I am sad that we have to leave this area. But, now I must pack!!


Happy goat on the trail to Lauenensee.


On the trail to Lauenensee.


Back in Lauenen at the end of the hike.


Cows just love me.


View of the Gstaad valley from Wispile.


Lenk, the place we thought was not that interesting, but where we now go for 2 - 4 weeks every September.
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Driving out of Switzerland​

Monday, September 15 – Leaving Switzerland​

Sunny and warm

Yvonne came to the apartment at 9:30 to check us out. We were making such good time – car packed up, ready to hit the road – but we chatted with her for an hour, putting us behind schedule. We talked about vacation rentals in Switzerland and in Italy, her company’s website, Americans coming to Gstaad, how to spell the Swiss greeting “gruezi” – many things. Well worth the delay.

We were happily anticipating our last Fruhstuck at the Tea Shop we liked the best (Tea Room Mueller, on the main street), but it was closed and so was our backup. We ended up in the bakery where they had a couple of tables and did not do Fruhstuck, but did give us coffee and a couple of rolls (if they had added butter and jam, it would have been Fruhstuck). Then we bought some of those pretzel-bread things that they slice and butter, and by 11am we were driving out of Saanen. Another Cohen/Kenny early start to the day.

The weather was perfect – warm and sunny, clear blue skies – would have been great hiking.
Our route was:
– Mountain roads from Gstaad to Aigle (1 hour).
– Autoroute to Martigny.
– Mountain roads (but good ones) from Martigny to the St. Bernards tunnel (reached the tunnel after 1 hr 45 mins from Gstaad)
– On the other side of the tunnel, you are in Italy. Mountain roads to Aosta.
– Autostrada the rest of the way to Levanto (arrived around 6pm – 6 hour drive).

We got our second fill of gas for the trip – 3/8 tank, 40.10 CHF. Gas is cheaper in Switzerland than in Italy, so we thought we would fill up.

Between Martigny and the St. Bernard’s tunnel, we drove by two towns that had been on my short list when planning this trip – Verbier and Champex in the Valais. But I am happy that we decided on the second week in Gstaad instead. This area has very steep mountains and the villages are perched up in mountain. I think the hiking would not have been as plentiful or as good.
The drive to the tunnel was fast (1 hr 45 minutes from Gstaad). We had to pay 27 CHF toll for the tunnel, then we drove through Italian customs – they waved us through. Very different from crossing after the Gottard Tunnel last year where we sat in a car lineup for 45 minutes at customs. That time was on a Friday. This was a Monday. The traffic was very light for the whole drive and only thickened around Genoa.

Notes about Driving in Switzerland: If you are looking for the Autobahn/Autoroute, follow the green signs and ignore the town signs. Blue or black and white town signs will take you to the towns, but not on the Autobahn. Follow the green Autobahn signs.

A sign Steve saw in Switzerland: An ad for a casino “The name is Pot. Jack Pot.”


Driving into the Valais through hillsides of grape vines. The grapes are being harvested.


Onwards towards Italy.
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That is the end of this September 2003 Switzerland trip report. Part two of the trip is in Italy and I will post that in the Italy Trip Reports forum.

I had a lot of fun re-reading the trip report and adding photos. This was 19 years ago when Steve and I were living in Santa Fe and traveling to Europe once a year (sometimes twice). We had to travel in September because of Steve's work (he wrote high school scheduling software that the schools finish using when school opens).

I like how much I complained about dialup for our internet connection and that we did not travel with a GPS for the car - how did we find our way anywhere? And that I didn't wear a watch - now my Apple Watch is always on my wrist.

After this trip we returned to the Saanen area, staying Gstaad for 2 weeks, but it was Lenk which I dismissed as boring that we fell in love with. We've gone there every September for 2 - 4 weeks for the last 8 years and, finger crossed, will be there this September. You really can't judge a place on a day trip. Lenk is perfect although I would happily stay in Saanen or Gstaad again.

I have been posting old SlowTrav trip reports and enjoy re-reading them so decided to dig out my own.

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