Elementary, My Dear Watson – Reichenbach Falls

The Evil Genius and I went to Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland to see Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen (Switzerland).  We’d planned to go before the unfortunate finger incident with the immersion blender and decided to go anyway.  We lucked out with great weather.

Although you can hike up to the falls (and beyond) we took the nostalgic Reichenbach funicular (a historic cable railway) which climbs through the deep gorge to the thundering falls.  At the top, there is an amazing view of rugged peaks and the surrounding countryside.  If you go, check this view out first because the rest is even more impressive.

Heading back to the viewing platform, you have a great view of the main falls. Dramatic and impressive, Reichenbach Falls is actually a series of seven waterfalls.  You can hear them from far below and the noise increases the closer you get to the falls.  They are over 250 meters (820 feet) tall.

To see more of the falls, we hiked up to view some of the higher falls and see the main falls from above.

You walk over the falls on a bridge.  I was a bit scared and didn’t want to look down.  Curiousity killed the cat.  Thankfully, I survived one quick peak as I scurried across.

While beautiful and powerful, they owe their fame to fictitious events set there.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited the area and found it an appropriately dramatic backdrop to stage the death of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty there.

In the book, The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes fought with his nemesis before both tumbled over the edge into the turbulent waters on May 4, 1891.  Every May 4th, Sherlock fans make a pilgrimage here to celebrate the his memory.

We hiked down to Meirengen on a path that skirted the falls.  It was beautiful, but I was glad that it was dry.  It seems like it would be pretty hazardous during heavy rains or snow melt.  The adjacent gulleys must become gushing rivers.

One of the benefits of hiking down was that we passed by the plaque marking the ledge where the fictional fight was set.  It also went by part of the main plunge.  From there, we had an outstanding view of the falls and of the star painted on a rock next to the fall to pinpoint the exact place of a struggle.  It marks the spot where Sherlock Holmes and his enemy Professor Moriarty went over the edge.

While steep, the hike down was picturesque and made me want to see more of the area.  On the way down, we stumbled across more anti-tank, Toblerone-style fortifications.

Long live Sherlock Holmes!

P.S.  If you have any good theories about how Sherlock survived his fall in BBC’s “The Reichenbach Fall,” I’d love to hear them.  I confess, I’m stumped.

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Thun Is Adorable And How To Finance A Bachelor Party

After a big hike in Thun, we spent the night there.  It is so cute, how could we not?  Plus, we were exhausted after the hike.

After fortifying ourselves with delicious Indian food from a stand at the Indian Film Festival in town, we off in search of someplace to watch the European Cup games.

As we strolled the town in search of somewhere to watch the European Cup games outside, we learned how to finance a bachelor party.  Gentleman (and perhaps ladies), take note.

Buddies take the groom out with some beverages.  Passers by put a contribution in the hat and are rewarded with a refreshing drink.  It’s kind of like a lemonade stand, um, more or less.

Congratulations!

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A Hike With Arcadian Beauty, Cows, And A Whole Lot Of Hay

We wanted to squeeze in a second hike after our big hike near Thun.  Thanks to our book, we found another great one that was on our way home.  We started from Rüeggisberg, in Switzerland’s Gantrisch foothills of the Bernese Alps.

Rüeggisberg is known for its mighty Cluniac priory ruin.  It is a significant stop for pilgrims along the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.  When we pulled up to start our hike, we heard music coming from the service that was being held among the ruins.

I don’t know if downtown Rüeggisberg ever sees a lot of traffic, but the typical Bernese farmhouses were dead silent on a Saturday morning.  Luckily, an old school farm town café with pictures of historic local gatherings and cows on the walls was open so we could feed our coffee addiction before setting off.

Just like we’d seen the day before in Thun, farmers took advantage of the sunny weather to cut hay.  In Europe, it is more common to use a tedder.  In fact, that’s all we’ve seen here in Switzerland.  For you non-farmers out there, a tedder spreads hay out to dry more quickly.  It speeds up the process of haymaking and allegedly allows the hay to dry better, resulting in improved aroma and color.  Can cows even see in color?

All the commotion in the fields stirs up any rodents living in them.  It cuts up any cover and small animals are in the open for the scavengers to eat.  We saw raptors circling the sky above fields and swooping down.  Cats were also out in the fields hunting the newly exposed prey.

We have only seen round bales here.

The trail led through woods.  We were excited to see the slate bottom on this creek bed.  He climbed down to take a look.  Since I still had my arm in a sling, I stayed on the trail.  Sorry there aren’t any close-ups.

We came out into more farmland.  We enjoyed checking out the well-tended farmyard.  Hopefully, you do too.

I think I have slept in places more disgusting than this pig pen.  Who am I kidding?  I know I have.

We continually caught glimpses of the snow-capped trio of the Alps above the fields.  If you look really hard, you can see them in the back of the photo below.  It is the view the cows had.  We now believe that happy cows don’t come from California (or even Wisconsin).  They come from Switzerland.

There were panoramic views and we could even see Lake Thun (the Thunersee), the Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau in the distance!

Hiking The Beautiful Bernese Oberland

I bought a book entitled the 50 Most Beautiful Hikes in Switzerland.  It’s a great place to get ideas on where to go.   Although we probably won’t get through them all, we’re off to a good start.

We’ve been to the Bernese Oberland several times and love the area.  With a good weather forecast, we decided to try a new hike in the area.

If you aren’t sure why we like that area, take a look at the first photo.  We started the hike from Thun with that view.  Wowzers!  After about 30 minutes of walking along the lake, we headed inland.  When you head away from the lake just about anywhere in Switzerland, you are in for a climb.  This hike was no exception.  We trekked up the Choleren Gorge.  It is a long, wild gorge with beautiful waterfalls, bends, rocks and dizzying bridges.

We emerged from the gorge to a beautiful valley full of farms.  He kept thinking we were done climbing, but the “hill” just kept going and going.  With a little refreshment, we were ready to tackle the next part.

Our perseverance was rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Thun and the Swiss Alps.  Can you believe the view these goats have?

They were headed downhill to be milked.

The snowcapped mountains (from left to right) are  Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

Along the way, we made some new friends.  We wanted to move in to this guy’s farmhouse.  It may have one of the best views ever.  He was such a sweet  puppy that we would want him to stay.  

We just kept wrapping around the mountain keeping the lake view.  The whole time, we were pinching ourselves.  We couldn’t believe we were getting to experience something so beautiful.

Eventually, we wound back around to toward Thun and began our descent.

Once we hit the woods, look what we ran into.  More Toblerone-style anti-tank barriers!

It wouldn’t have been easy for Hitler to get tanks up there.  It was a bit steep.  We shouldn’t have been surprised since we started the hike through a gorge, but this was a bit scary.  My arm was still in a sling from my kitchen accident and so my balance felt a bit off.

On the way back toward the lake, we saw this cool climbing wall on the side of a house in Hünibach.  Pretty cool.

In the park, we saw this cool Rube Goldberg type contraption.  Since we were hungry, thirsty and dreaming of dipping our feet in the lake, we didn’t linger.

We sat on a dock, dipped our feet in the water and enjoyed the view.  Then, we giggled when these guys drove by blasting the theme song from Baywatch.  Is it possible that the Swiss love David Hasselhoff as much as the Germans?

Interlaken, Your Starting Point For Canyoning, Base Jumping, Skiing or Hiking in the Bernese Oberland

Interlaken is a main town in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.  It is conveniently located on some flat land between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. The best reason to go there isn’t the town itself, but its proximity to the lakes, storied mountains like the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, fabulous valleys (like Laterbrunnen) and stellar views like that from Schlithorn.  As such, it is a convenient starting point for many outdoor activities.

The town has been a tourist hub since early in the 19th century.  Interlaken has an assortment of cute old buildings. With a few exceptions, they have been able to keep many older buildings and retain their impressive mountain views (we find the views from areas further back town the mountains even better).

The Bernese Oberland Railway and the Jungfrau Railway made Interlaken a convenient transportation hub.  It remains one and Interlaken generally seems more diverse and cosmopolitan than most of the smaller mountain towns.  We saw Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and many other diverse restaurants.  At breakfast, we heard a plethora of languages.

Paragliding, base jumping, skiing, hiking, canyoning, whitewater rafting, kayaking, etc. are available from the area.  If they aren’t your speed, you can sit down at a café and watch others shop for supplies or land in the park at the center of town.  Although we didn’t pay them a visit, we walked past the casino and an adventure park.

 

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…Or Just In Time To For It To Set

After a morning’s aborted hike in the mountains and the drive in a snowstorm, we’d lost hope that the weather would turn around or that we would be able to fit in a decent hike.

The weather in Switzerland is changeable  By mid afternoon, the weather Grindelwald had begun to clear.  By late afternoon, we’d taken our coats off.  What’s not to love?

Us…in front of some mountains

Thun, Worth Making A Stop On The Way To Interlaken

We’d passed by Thun, before.  It’s on the way to Interlaken and we’d heard there was a castle there.  We’d just never stopped to see it.  Last weekend was a long weekend so we weren’t on as much of a schedule.  Someone at his work told him that the town merited a stop and a stroll.  They were right.

The most important things to know about Thun are:

  • It is located on the Aare River at the lower end of Lake Thun.
  • The historic Old Town and the newer cafes and restaurants on the river are pretty freaking cute.
  • Of course it has a castle because no self-respecting cute Swiss town would be could dead without one.
  • The distance between the aforementioned castle is short, but very steep.  Welcome to the Bernese Oberland.

It sounds nice, but is pretty standard for Switzerland.

We found Thun to be unique with interesting features that make it one of the better Swiss towns.

The main shopping thoroughfare boasts terraced sidewalks built on the roofs of the stores’ first floors.  You can stroll the upper level or climb down stone stairs to visit the “sunken” street-level shops.

They have a covered bridge.

He loved the old bridge over the river. Yep, they retrofitted it to generate power.

Somehow, the town seems more colorful than cities like Bern, Zurich or Geneva.

Les Incompetents Vol. 9 – Whimps In An Alpine Snowstorm

Last weekend, we went to bed in Gimmelwald, Switzerland (accessible mainly by cable car) with this view of the Lauterbraunnen Valley in the Bernese Alps.  It could have been clearer, but it’s still a pretty sweet view.  We woke up to this.

And it kept falling.

And falling.

We’re from Michigan, so we’re pretty hardy and decided that even though we were fighting off colds, we could do a few hours of hiking… in a snowstorm… on a mountain.  Yeah.  I know.  We’re geniuses.  Neither of us wanted to be the bigger baby and complain so we kept going.

And going.

Finally, the wind convinced us to turn back.  We decided that it was getting so windy that if it got much worse they might shut down the cable cars and be stuck up there that night.

Note the pitch of the flag and the temperature of -2. Balmy. Especially when I forgot to pack a hat and gloves.

Thankfully, we were able to get down to our car.   We even gave a couple of Aussies (whose paragliding trip had inexplicably been cancelled) a ride to the train station before setting off to see more of Switzerland.

Clearly the weather was ideal at lower altitudes. We ended up having a great time though. I swear, I will tell you all about it.

 

Waking Up To The Moon Over The Eiger

When we have great views of the mountains, I wake up early and take pictures.  I can’t help myself.  When we had a view of Mont Blanc, I did it.  When we were in the Bernese Oberland last weekend, I woke up early in the morning to this view of the moon and the Eiger.    Not too shabby.

 

Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland?

A comment on yesterday’s post got me thinking about this.  Hitler even had plans (Operation Tannenbaum) to invade Switzerland sitting in his desk drawer.   Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?  Books could be written about this.  Heck, there probably already have been.  I did a bit of research and tried to grossly oversimplify things to post a bit about it here.

Switzerland impressively mobilized its army reserves and civilians.  They were well prepared, increasing food production, developing communication networks, etc.  More or less, they did everything they could to avoid an invasion.  In addition to the devastation wrought by war, the Swiss (who’d had a functioning democracy for over 500 years) were terrified of losing their independence.

The Swiss population was overwhelmingly opposed to Nazism.   They were, however, in a difficult position.  Switzerland is a country with no natural resources; it was surrounded by fascist powers, the Axis countries.

Switzerland tried to avoid antagonizing Germany by making it difficult for the Jewish refugees to enter Switzerland.  In 1938, they imposed a special visa requirement for “German non-Aryans” and expanding the visa requirement to all foreign nationals (including Jews fleeing from other countries) the next year.  They closed their border crossings and criminally prosecuted those who sheltered Jews hiding from Nazis.

With Hitler’s rise, the Swiss feared a German invasion and tweaked the National Redoubt (the Swiss national defense plan).  They installed defenses (like the Toblerone line) that were intended to slow down an invasion enough to allow it the military and government enough time to withdraw into the easier-to-defend alpine areas.  Switzerland built oodles of forts (most camouflaged like Fürigen)in the center of the country (we’re hoping to visit more of them).

Essentially, Switzerland was prepared to cede some terrain to Germany in hopes of retaining more easily defendable areas.  Sorry Geneva, you would have been left to the Nazis.   You might have still been able to take part in guerrilla campaign.  Hitler would have had to devote significant forces to conquering and holding the area (and experience huge losses).   Switzerland hoped to deter an invasion by demonstrating that an invasion would have a high cost.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?  Germany was able to use Switzerland’s train lines to Italy during WWII. We’ve all heard about the sealed rail cars that passed unchecked through Switzerland from Italy to Germany.  The Swiss rigged every bridge through the mountains with a incendiary devices, destroying the valued Swiss supply lines.  Switzerland also made economic concessions to Germany.  They hoped Germany would do a cost benefit analysis and decide that it wasn’t worth it.

Switzerland conducted a delicate and escalating dance with Nazi Germany.  For example, Germany continually violated Swiss airspace.  Germany threatened the Swiss after they shot down 11 Luftwaffe planes (that were flying over Switzerland).  The Swiss army ordered this stop, they forced the planes to land at Swiss airfields instead.  Hitler (unsuccessfully) sent saboteurs to destroy the pesky airfields.  Relations on a personal level (with bankers) were a little less tense.

In the end, Switzerland may have just gotten lucky that Hitler got busy fighting a war on two fronts (eastern and western fronts).