About Me

I am a 45 year husband and dad, currently adjusting to life back in the United States after living in Italy for a little over two years. I love spending time with my family, cycling, model railroading, mosaics and watching TV and movies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

M is for: Matterhorn & Murren

Our big 13 day trip of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Slovenia began today.

We woke up early so that we could be on the road by 7am. Our first destination of the day was the Matterhorn, about 3 ½ hours from Vedano. We plugged in our GPS and were on our way.

Within the hour the terrain changed to rolling hills, then bigger foothills and finally the Alps. We were heading toward Brig, just on the other side of the border. I’ve never driven through so many tunnels as we did today, and some were quite long. By the end of the day we had driven through 28 tunnels.

The Swiss Alps!

We reached the town of Issel, Italy and drove through the Italian and Swiss checkpoint, where we were waved through, no problem. I had read that this is where we would need to catch an Autobahn train to go through the tunnel into Brig Switzerland. Once there, we realized that semi’s were driving over the pass, so we should too. That turned out to be a good decision. We would have never seen so much amazing scenery inside a tunnel for 30minutes. The drive was incredible. Snow covered peaks, waterfalls, colorful chalets and fantastic bridges. We even back tracked a couple of kilometers to get better pictures of a bridge.

Brandon and his cats enjoying the Swiss Alps.

An old church on the mountain pass.

More Swiss Alps.

Once over the pass, we descended into Brig then turned up a side valley toward Tache. This is as far up the valley as tourists can drive. Once there, we parked the car and rode a train/cog to Kermatt. It was only a 20 min ride. Kermatt is very much a touristy town. Lots of shops, hotels and restaurants. When we first arrived, we walked up the main street (there aren’t any cars in this town) to find a good view of the reason we were there….the Matterhorn. Now that is an impressive mountain! The skies were blue and very clear, so we had great views.

Train to Zermatt.

Zermatt, a busy tourist town.

Is there a place that doesn't have McDonalds?

First glimpse of the Matterhorn.

Once we spotted the mountain, we backtracked to find some lunch. We hadn’t really eaten anything all morning, so we were a bit ‘over hungry’. We had some trouble deciding where to eat and finally ended up buying brats from a vendor grilling them on the sidewalk. They were great. Brandon chowed on his.

Katrina and Brandon pose at lunch.

Brandon loved his first brautwurst.

After lunch we decided to walk down by the river and hopefully get some better views of the Matterhorn. We did! I can see why it is such a popular tourist destination. It really does have a character all its own. We followed the river upstream through town until we reached the trams and lifts. Katrina and Brandon stopped to eat a strawberry custard pie from one of the local bakeries. I was holding out for chocolate.

Two more views of the Matterhorn.

Another Matterhorn picture.

Small taxi in Zermatt. No regular vehicles are allowed in town.

Once we had seen all we wanted to see, we worked our way slowly down the main street toward the train station. Of course, we walked slowly since Katrina had way too many photo opportunities with all the interesting chalets and flowering window boxes.

We rode the train back down to Tache, bought a few snacks (chocolate for me), got back in the car and headed for Murren, our stop for two nights.

Switzerland is a hard country to drive in. Not because of the drivers, or the 40 Swiss franc permit we had to buy to drive here, but because there is so much to see! It’s very difficult to drive the mountain roads and not want to stare at the scenery.

We drove through several towns and through many tunnels. It started with a long switchback climb partway up the mountain before we turned into a long tunnel through the mountain. When we came out the other side we found ourselves in a canyon. After a few more kilometers the GPS told us to turn at a train station. We were confused, so we checked the Google Map instructions I had printed before the trip. Sure enough, we had another big tunnel to go through and we were supposed to get on the train to do it. No going over the pass for this one.

We turned into the entrance of the train station and found ourselves entering a lane for a toll booth. It cost 20sf (about e14 or $20) to ride the train. After the toll booth there were several lanes with cars lined up in each lane waiting for the train. The instruction booklet told us that we would drive onto the flat cars and pull as far forward on the train as allowable, making sure not to park with the car sitting across two flat cars. Then we were to turn off the engine, set the parking brake and enjoy the ride while sitting in our car. How wild is that!

All loaded and ready to go.

We only waited about 5 minutes before the train starting moving. We entered the tunnel almost right away. Katrina turned on the dome light to read. Brandon played with his cats and I watched the tunnel walls go by. Occasionally we were surprised by the lights of trains going in the opposite direction. I think we were in the tunnel for almost 30 min when we exited it and arrived at the other end. There was a loaded auto train waiting to go in the opposite direction. We even saw some tour buses loaded on a few cars. Not much clearance!

Autobahn waiting for clearance to go the direction we just came from.

The train stopped, we drove off and headed down the road again. Soon we were descending to the lakes of Interlaken. We make our last turn, heading up the Lauterbrunnen Valley through the town of Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg.

Waterfall in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

In Stechelberg we caught the Schilthorn Tramway, riding to Gimmelwald, then Murren.

Murren is a pleasant alpine resort. It is traffic free and filled with bakeries, caf├ęs, souvenirs and people with walking sticks. With a little help from the trams and funiculars, there is an endless supply of hiking trails available for all abilities. Sitting on a ledge 2,000 feet above the Lauterbrunnen valley, Murren is surrounded by mountain peaks.

Waiting for our departure up the mountain.

And we have liftoff....

Almost at the top of tramline 1 of 2.

Historic Murren, which dates back to 1384, has been overwhelmed by development, yet is still maintains its peaceful alpine charm. Many of the businesses do not stay open year round. Most of them are open from mid June to September, then December to April – a clear indication this town is either lively or completely dead, depending on the season. In season population: about 4000. Permanent residents: about 400.

We had to walk to the opposite side of town, about a 10min walk, to find our hotel, the Eiger Guesthouse. We rented the ‘apartment’, which is an extra room behind the hotel and 70 steps up the hillside.

Our room for 2 nights.

We have a nice simple clean room with two beds, a table and chairs, mini kitchen and bathroom. It was so cold in the room. Even me Mr. Heat Generator, was cold.

After settling in we went back down to the restaurant to finish our check in and have dinner. The food was very good. Katrina enjoyed some Swiss cheese fondue, although it made her a little sick later in the evening.

Evening in the Alps.

Before bed Katrina and Brandon went for a walk to take some evening pictures. I went back to the room to read and get ready for bed.

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