Posts Tagged With: Grindelwald

The Train to Basel

Small but bursting with natural alpine beauty and man-made tourist attractions, Switzerland has more to offer than we could possibly cover in one week. Nevertheless, we tried to do as much as possible before our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River and, for the most part, we were successful. Although we didn’t do any hiking in the Alps because of Jim’s back injury, we visited all the towns and attractions on our itinerary. We planned to end our tour of the country at Basel (pronounced Baasel), where we would depart on our cruise on October 29, 2017.

Our final train journey took us from Grindelwald through Bern to Basel in just under 3 hours. As usual, I attempted to capture memories both inside and outside the train with my trusty i-Phone 7 Plus.

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Leaving Grindelwald

Inside the train, we enjoyed the company of three young ladies we had encountered at Jungfraujoch and we watched with delight as they played with a couple of Siberian huskies sharing our ride.

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Friendly canines

Outside the train, the views were spectacular as always.

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Lake Interlaken

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Bern, capital city of Switzerland

When we arrived in Basel, we thought we’d have no problem finding Gaia Hotel, as it was located right outside the SBB train station. This is why I CAN’T EMPHASIZE ENOUGH, know which exit to take from the train station. We searched for over an hour and wandered far afield while asking several people before we found our hotel which was located, as promised, right by the train station.

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Hotel Gaia, Basel

We were relieved to finally arrive and we were very impressed with our accommodations.

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Our room at Hotel Gaia

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Bathroom at Hotel Gaia

And, we were pleased to find our friends, Lori and her daughter, Heather, already happily checked into the hotel. Heather opted to stay at the hotel for the evening but Lori was game to have dinner with Jim and me. We asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for typical Swiss cuisine and she suggested nearby Restaurant Elsbethenstubli. When we arrived at the restaurant at 7:00 p.m., it was packed and the woman who greeted us suggested an appertif across the street while we waited. We gladly obliged and enjoyed our usual glass of red wine while we waited.

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A toast to our cruise

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Lori and Jim at Restaurant Elsbethenstubli

Since I had already tried fondue, I ordered the raclette and Jim ordered rosti, both typical Swiss dishes. Lori had the fondue.

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Raclette

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Rosti

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Lori with fondue

The couple seated beside us struck up a conversation and instructed Lori in the fine art of eating fondue. She learned how to twirl the bread after dipping to ensure the cheese stayed on the bread with no dripping.

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Mike and Sabine

Following dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and relaxed with another glass or two of wine before calling it a night.

The next morning we enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts of our trip.

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Dining room at Hotel Gaia

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Breakfast at Hotel Gaia

With tram passes in hand provided by our hotel, we set off down the street to catch the tram to the cruise port for our ship, the Viking Kara. After a short tram ride and another walk, we arrived at the ship.

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Lori, Heather, Jim enroute to ship

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Our arrival at the Viking Kara

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Viking Kara

We couldn’t get into our cabins yet so we dropped our luggage at the ship and set off on a walk around old town Basel which that will be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll come back.

Based on events from October 2017.

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Grindelwald Interlude

After our adventure on Mt. Titlis, we left Lucerne to travel by train to Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region. If you’ve been following my blog through Switzerland, it may seem as if we spent most of our time on trains. Believing train travel is the best way to see a country, we spent a lot of time gazing through train windows at the countryside as we traveled comfortably from place to place. Below are a few of the scenes we enjoyed en route from Lucerne to Grindelwald.

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Alpnachstad, Switzerland

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Lake Sarnen, Sachseln, Switzerland

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Giswil, Switzerland

The trees with their shadows in the image below look to me more like a  painting than a photo. I love the colors!

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Lake Brienz

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Lake Brienz from the train

To get to Jungfrau by train, you must connect at Interlaken and many tourists reserve lodging there. Rick Steves, however, recommends lodging in the smaller villages nearby so I reserved two nights at Hotel Alpina in Grindelwald. It turned out his recommendation was Gimmelwald rather than Grindelwald but my reservation was non-refundable so we decided to make the best of my mistake. On the map below, note Interlaken circled in black at the bottom. Grindelwald is up and to the left; Gimmelwald is to the right. Jungfraujoch is at the top of the map and wherever you stay, you have to connect at Kleine Scheidegg to get to the Top of Europe. But more on that next time.

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We arrived in Grindelwald around 4:30 in the afternoon. Our first impression was of a typical small ski town, surrounded by mountains and full of chalet-style hotels and high-end ski shops.

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Grindelwald, Switzerland

Although our chalet-style hotel was close to the train station, by the time we trudged up the hill with our luggage in tow, Jim was ready to rest his back. (If you haven’t read about Jim’s back fracture which occurred two days before our departure to Switzerland, be sure to read about it here.)

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Hotel Alpina

We were satisfied with our 3-star accommodations and delighted with the view for $170 per night.

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Hotel Alpina

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The view from our balcony at Hotel Alpina

After resting for awhile, we strolled through the village looking for a restaurant for dinner.

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Grindelwald

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The Eiger

Fortunately, menus are posted outside because we quickly discovered prices were sky high in this village of fewer than 4000 inhabitants. Eventually, we settled on Bebbis where we paid $45 for an average meal that was worth about $25. The other $20 must have been for the view which, admittedly, was superlative.

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Dinner with a view

I ordered the raclette, a traditional Swiss dish of cheese melted over potatoes with pearl onions, pickles, and bacon for $20.50.  Jim had the wiener schnitzel priced at $24.50.

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Raclette

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Wiener schnitzel

Although the decor was definitely kitschy, we got to see an alpenhorn up close for the first time. Historically, the wooden horn was used by cowherds to communicate with one another in the mountains, as well as to call the cows and calm the cows.

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Alphorn

After a leisurely walk back to our hotel and a few twilight photos, we turned in early.

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View of Wetterhorn from the road to our hotel

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Twilight view of the Eiger from our balcony

The following morning dawned with low hanging clouds and rain, weather not conducive to a trip to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. That was actually a fortunate turn of events since Jim really needed a day of rest. He had fallen from the ladder and fractured his back just a week previously and we had kept a pretty good pace for the past 5 days. While Jim rested, I explored Grindelwald in the rain doing what I typically do when left to my own devices, I shopped. Or rather, I should say, I looked but didn’t buy because prices were extremely high. For example, the least expensive jacket I saw was priced around $300.

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Hotel Alpina breakfast room

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A rainy view from the breakfast room at Hotel Alpina

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Another view from Grindelwald in the rain

That evening, rather than spending so much on another mediocre meal, we bought local gruyere cheese, olives, wine, and a few other items to enjoy a repast in our hotel room for a fraction of the cost with a priceless view.

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A rainy view from our room

As we rested up, we hoped for suitable weather the next morning for our excursion to Jungfraujoch. After our Grindelwald interlude, or as Jim called it, our Grinderlude, we felt sure we’d be ready for the Top of Europe. Please check back to find out what happened.

Based on events from October 2017.

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The Best Laid Plans for the Swiss Alps

We enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise in October 2016 so much we were eager to go again. In April 2017 when I saw an affordable Rhine cruise sailing that October from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, we booked it. We’d never been to Switzerland and this was a great opportunity to visit a new country. As I began my research, I quickly learned two things. First, Switzerland is expensive and second, a week wasn’t enough time to see everything in this small country. Thing one, however, limited us to one week. After all, we still had the 8-day river cruise and a couple extra days in Amsterdam afterward.

Part of what made this trip with Viking a good deal was their offer of free airfare. Upon checking, I discovered we could request an “air deviation” for $100 per person. With the air deviation, we extended our trip to depart a week early and return two days later and flew into Zurich instead of Basel. We would fly to Zurich on October 22, board the ship October 29, arrive in Amsterdam November 5, and fly home on November 7.

With the dates for our journey established, I began planning in earnest starting with an online search of the top sights in Switzerland. There were so many I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d heard of the Bernina Express, a scenic rail trip through the Swiss Alps which I thought maybe a good place to start. My research, however, introduced me to another route further south, the Glacier Express, which appealed to me, too. As it turned out, the Glacier Express was closed from mid-October until mid-December and the Bernina Express was closed from the end of October until mid-December. I was so relieved to find one of them open during our visit that I actually built our trip around the Bernina Express.

We decided early on we would travel by train. My brother and his wife had recently driven through Switzerland in a rental car. Their tales of adventure convinced me my anxious personality wasn’t suited to riding by car in the mountains or the cities. The train was a better choice for us. That said, deciphering the rail system in Switzerland was a challenge, to say the least. I spent days poring over the various options and comparing the cost of rail tickets with no pass, with a Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Travel Pass Flex, and Swiss Half Fare Card. A special offer for a second person to travel for free only added to the confusion. Three websites were especially helpful: the official Swiss Federal Railways, Seat61, and My Swiss Alps. In the end, I only purchased a reservation for the Bernina Express in advance. A rail ticket will get you on the train for the Bernina Express route but you must reserve a seat in advance for the observation car. All other tickets could be purchased on-site with no difference in price so I held off but I was quite certain the Swiss Half Fare card was our best option.

We considered purchasing day trips out of Zurich or Lucerne with various tour companies to the popular tourist sights. Both the price and the time it took to travel out and back discouraged that plan. Besides, we generally prefer to do our own thing rather than be herded with a group on someone else’s schedule.

I reserved hotels in advance for every night. Traveling by train, I didn’t want to arrive in a city and not find a room for the night. I selected hotels based on location, price, and reviews. Since we would be dragging our luggage, I preferred a hotel close to the train station but I also wanted a reasonable price with good customer reviews.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1. Arrive in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. and take the train from the airport into the city. Store our luggage in lockers in the train station and take a self-guided walking tour of the old city which would get us to all the highlights. After seeing Zurich, take the train to Chur (pronounced Koor) (2 hours). Overnight in Chur at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck.

Day 2. We had reserved seats on the Bernina Express departing from Chur at 8:32 a.m. for a scenic 4-hour journey through the Alps. Rather than carry our luggage, we decided to take the train back to Chur to spend a second night.

Day 3. After an early breakfast, we would take the train to Lucerne, which takes about 3 hours. We planned to see Lucerne on foot and spend the night at Waldstaetterhof Swiss Quality Hotel right across from the rail station.

Day 4. We would leave our luggage at the hotel while we took a boat to Pilatus or the train to Titlis, depending on the weather. When we returned we would take the train to Grindelwald (2.5 hours) where I reserved a room at Hotel Alpina.

Day 5. We planned to take the train up to Jungfraujoch, then spend another night at Hotel Alpina.

Day 6. Take the train to Basel (3-3.5 hours) to meet our friends Lori and Heather at the Gaia Hotel before our cruise the following day.

Day 7. Board the Viking Kara for our cruise on the Rhine River.

You can see our planned route highlighted in yellow below.

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It was an ambitious plan but still didn’t allow visits to the Matterhorn, Geneva, and many other highly recommended sights in Switzerland. As events unfolded, we were lucky not to have committed to more. Be sure to check back to read how these best-laid plans went awry.

 

Based on events from April to October 2017.

 

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Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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