Switzerland: Lauterbrunnen

We’ve just finished our visit to Switzerland and currently on the Topdeck coach to our next stop Florence, Italy via Pisa. Switzerland is one of those countries that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit. I’ve probably been guilty of having a romantic notion about Switzerland likely because my older brother Matt worked there for a while as a snowboard instructor when I was yonger. I was however not disappointed, it was all I hoped for and more!

We were based in a little village called Lauterbrunnen which was gorgeous! Sheer cliff faces & waterfalls surrounded our campsite. The hourly church bells echoed around the whole valley creating a wonderful symphony of sounds. Lauterbrunnen itself felt a little like home (NZ), as if we were walking through a grassy version of the Milford Sounds, a former glacial trail.


20150523_184756

The town itself was reasonably small, with probably about 10-15 shops, as our guide jokingly pointed out “you can check out the town, it will take you around 2…seconds.” But to be fair Lauterbrunnen is so much more than mere shops however because around every corner is another breathtakingly picturesque view & cultural point of interest (i.e. super cute little wooden cottages with hanging flower baskets and brightly painted shutters). The real difficulty is trying to minimize your photos taking in a place like this or risk being overwhelmed with your collection when you depart!

20150524_163848 20150524_163931

While it’s undeniably gorgeous, things are pretty pricey around Switzerland. The average wage is very high relative to other countries so prices have risen to match. Fortunately on this leg of the journey Topdeck provided 3 full meals a day (whereas most days we’d cover either our own lunch or dinner) complete with cheese & chocolate fondues.

20150524_183506

This was great otherwise our wallets would be feeling a lot lighter right now! This difference in prices was also reflected in our campsite where pretty much everything was coin-operated from the showers (1/2 Swiss franc per 4min), to the laundry (5 Swiss francs for a washing load & 1 Swiss franc per 10mins of dryer use)! Even the hot water taps in the laundry and the weighing scales in the bathrooms were coin operated! (price unknown because we’re on holiday and staying well away from scales!) This was pretty darn steep (particularly laundry) since currently 1 Swiss Franc = $1.45NZ. Obviously showers were a must but for laundry we decided to just handwash essential clothing items and to wait until Rome to do a bigger load since the campsite there is supposed to have much more affordable laundry facilities.

Sleeping in a tent in Lauterbrunnen also proved an interesting challenge; located at the base of an alpine valley the temperatures got very cold overnight. So when given the option to pay for a hostel upgrade for the two nights about half our tour dropped their tent poles immediately. Jenny and I decided to stick it out however #toughkiwis because we have a motto when we travel that says “you don’t feel luxury while you’re sleeping”. So where possible we try to stay in cheaper accommodation and instead spend our money on attractions/food/cool fridge magnets etc. It did however get fairly cold; particularly the first night when it rained – I was wearing 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of long johns, track pants, t-shirt, 2 thin sweaters, 1 soft-shell jacket, merino beanie, earplugs (essential in any type of communal accommodation) & a scarf over my face. All the while sleeping in my Kathmandu Columbus Duck/Down Sleeping bag & I was only just warm enough! But hey, we survived that night and the second – what an experience!

20150523_181319

The biggest highlight of this stop easily had to be our trip up the Jungfrau which was just breathtaking! The train ride (a generous gift from my brothers before we left) and the Jungfraujoch (the final summit station at 3,454m/11,333ft) offered mind-blowing views of the surrounding mountains and glacial valleys. There was also lots to see in and around the station: ice tunnels with ice sculptures, a 4min immersive 360 degree alpine adventure movie room, a history walk including sculptures and models outlining the mountain & region’s history, an outdoor viewing deck right up the top and two snow access areas (all of which is included in your fare up the mountain). The whole complex is expansive & each area is accessible through underground tunnels, which are still pretty cold due to the ice tunnels section. So if you’re keen to visit be sure to bring along at the very least a warm jacket, hat, possibly gloves and definitely shoes you can confidently walk on slippery snow with. Other less obvious but equally important essentials are sunglasses & sunscreen (unless you prefer being blinded and sunburnt by the highly reflective snow) & a packed lunch because the eateries are limited and very expensive (we’re talking around 30+ Swiss Francs for a foodcourt-style buffet meal).

20150524_083604 20150524_091721 20150524_100754 20150524_110450 20150524_111017 20150524_111959 20150524_112215 20150524_112705 20150524_112956 20150524_113418 20150524_114207 20150524_114548 20150524_130428 20150524_131342 20150524_131346 20150524_13464120150524_154449

We also spent some time in the Lindt chocolate shop (one of the few Jungfrau shops we felt was reasonably priced), which offered some of the freshest tasting chocolate I’ve had in a variety of flavours I’d never seen before. Needless to say we stocked up on coach snacks. But our hands-down favourite activity up the mountain was tubing/sledding down the mountainside in one of the snow access areas. This was great value at 15 Swiss Francs per person for unlimited rides down the slopes and rides back up via a conveyer belt tunnel. There were two tracks; a straight one for the sleds & a curved one for the tubes. The curved tube track was definitely our favourite providing a good mix of speed, turns & exhilaration. Tubes were limited however so harder to acquire then sleds for the tamer (but still really fun steep straight slope). We found the best method to get a tube was to wait at the bottom of the two tracks offering a swap for a sled with those who’d just completed the course and were ready to call it a day. We had soooo much fun here we didn’t want to leave & subsequently decided to take a later train back then first planned. This was fine since the trains keep going until 5pm. However the crowds are pretty huge so keep this in mind because we went to leave at around 3:30pm and had to queue with TONS of people and stand in the train back down the mountain almost all the way back to Lauterbrunen (around 90 mins).

Back down in Lauterbrunen village Jenny bought a Swiss Army Knife, a bucket list item for her. She got the ‘Hiker’ model in classic red for 22 Swiss Franks including free engraving (it’s useful to note engraving isn’t available at the slightly more expensive Jungfrau store where a lot of people buy their knives). My older brother Matt who I mentioned earlier bought me one here years earlier (potentially even from the same shop!) which I still cherish and have brought with me on this trip. Matt got me an engraved ‘Spartan’ model in transparent blue. Jenny & I have competing theories about my brother’s engraving; I think they used to charge per letter and he was thus being economical whereas Jenny believes Matt hadn’t decided which brother he was going to give it to yet. Either way, he engraved it “Bro” which I think is awesome! (but let us know Matt, we have a bet riding on this!)

We’ve had an absolutely awesome time in stunning Switzerland with Topdeck! We have no doubt that we’ll return again & I encourage you to check it out too. You wont regret it!

Watch this space for our next blog post on Pisa and Florence!