After yesterday’s incredible hike through the Berner Oberland, we were convinced to stick around and do some more hiking today. Unfortunately, we’d been told by more than one person to expect lots of rain in the morning, so we had gone to bed simply hoping for the best because the peaks here simply aren’t visible in bad weather.
For whatever reason, I woke up around 5:30 and already the weather was only partly cloudy. I got up to snap some photos in the diminishing darkness and I could see the little town of Wengen still lit up on the side of the cliff, hanging on to the last bit of night. As we packed up through the morning, we kept our eyes heavenward, willing the skies to stay mostly clear – and they did.
The views from the cable cars are amazing, but because they are so high in elevation, cloudy weather can mean that you get stuck right in the clouds and see nothing but fog from the top. We had checked the live cam before we left and it looked mostly clear with only a few big fluffy clouds hanging around, so up we went. We first took a cog wheel train up to the town of Wengen and then headed up the cable car to Mannlichen.
When we arrived at the top, we were amazed to note that on one side of the mountain, the views were perfectly clear and we could see the Lauterbrunnen valley, Wengen, and all the surrounding peaks perfectly. The Grindlewald side was bathed in thick clouds, blocking our view of the valley floor, gently masking the sun which diffused the light perfectly, bringing out the incredible green grass and brilliant fields of wildflowers. I wasn’t sure anything could match our hike from yesterday and thought that perhaps today would pale in comparison, but I was absolutely wrong. The wildflowers were just as vibrant and the views were just as majestic as anything we had seen yesterday. We stood at the top of the lifts, made a short hike up to the actual top of the peak, and then sat watching the enormous fluffy clouds pass literally right over us, enveloping us in thick fog as they went.
After an hour or so, the bulk of the clouds had floated away and we began our hike, once again soaking up the incredible views. By then, we were able to see Grindlewald sprawling through the lush pastures and backed by tall, snowy, Alps. There were small, beautiful blue lakes, rocky fields, and more wildflowers than we ever could have imagined lining our way, and yet again we stopped about every three minutes to try to capture just a slice of the grandeur that surrounded us.
It seemed that everyone else who was hiking along our same trail was trying all kinds of creative ways to get their entire group in a picture using the self timer on their camera with varying degrees of success. Ben offered to shoot pictures for a lot of people, and most asked if they could return the favor. We repeatedly accepted even though most random strangers have a difficult time operating our SLR camera and the photos usually don’t turn out that well. The backdrop today was exceptional however, and some of the pictures weren’t so bad. We’ve never been in so many of our own pictures in one day!
When we arrived at a train station that marked about the halfway point on our hike, we found masses of people waiting on the platform, waiting to take the Jungfrau train to the “Top of Europe”. The station was bustling with activity, and among those hanging out were a handful of goats. They sat sprawled out on the pavement to hang out, as small children (and me) would come up to pet them and onlookers would snap pictures. These goats, as do the cows, have full run of this place. The cows here apparently have rights, and are legally protected. In the winter months an owner of such animals is required to take the cow out for exercise something like 2 times per week!
The hike back to Wengen moved more quickly than the first half as our lighting, while still good, was not quite as magical as it had been toward the top. We kept our eyes on the clouds hovering over Eger, Monch, and Jungfrau – the three peaks that dominate the valley – and caught them once or twice as they peeked out from breaks in the fluffy clouds. This place is absolutely unbelievable.
Taking the cable car back down to our car parked hundreds of feet below on the valley floor, we were still in awe of today’s hike. We are so incredibly glad that we got kicked out of Switzerland by mother nature at the end of May. Without that storm, we would never have fallen in love with Slovenia, and we would not have seen these mountains at their finest. Today kicked butt.
We left our new favorite valley, past the beautifully turquoise Thunsee, and headed north out of Switzerland and into France. We drove through some lovely little villages which, in spite of their French address, had a very Germanic feel. Continuing up the Rhine River, we found some very nice and some more or less industrial areas, and finally a large castle overlooking the river came into view. After realizing that we were very close to a campground and the hour was getting late, we quickly made our way over, only to find that it had a less than ideal location in what felt like an industrial district, and did not have a good feel to it. This happens from time to time even on the bike. Today we had the luxury of a car, which can make it to the next campsite in no time flat. That is exactly what we did – and we ended up staying at a very well manicured and maintained campground on the German side of the border with a funny old man running reception.
We have realized, as we did the first time we returned to Italy, how much we enjoy Germany. Between the wide selection of good, inexpensive food, super friendly people, and clean and efficient everythings, it is a good place to be.