The best day of my life, so far.

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
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Trip End Jun 15, 2012


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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Of all the days and places we could spend our anniversary, Estela and I happened to be in the Bernese Overland above Grindelwald, Switzerland for our 20th. Actually, it turned out to be the best day of my life for many reasons. I have to apologize up front, but the days my kids were born were not the best days of my life, nor was the day I was married. Life changing, of course.  Tear-jerking, emotional, of course. But for pure enjoyment, yesterday was a day to top all others.

It has been very difficult for us to find clear weather in Switzerland. For three weeks we have been looking for a clear weather window to return to Switzerland, but none have come. We decided to to make the hour-long drive in any case. Tuesday, as my earlier post will attest to, was pretty dreary, and that was after rave reviews from the weather forecasters. It rained like crazy all day. Yesterday morning was overcast in Sempach, and it rained for most of the drive, and then mysteriously cleared up just as we were driving into Grindelwald.

We arrived in Grindelwald after a drive through the most beautiful country on earth to look at our options with the tourist office. They had lots of things for us to do, lots of ways to spend our money.  One of the least adventurous options was a cable car ride up to a small outpost above town, a place called Pfingstegg. Estela was a bit unsure about the cable car thing, but she said she would give it a try. We got tickets and got in line to climb on board.

The kids could probably ride on the roof and not be bothered. Estela was sort of nervous, and I had to hold on to her. But she was fine on the ride, nobody was rocking the gondola. We arrived at the upper station and the weather was absolutely perfect. I had some allusions about doing some paragliding here, but there wasn't a breath of wind and there were no tandem riddes going on in the valley at all. At the upper station we looked around to see what there was to do there before we started the long hike back down. The view was incredible, there were benches scattered around the hills where you can sit and eat lunch and converse with the cows in a language more understandable than Swiss-German. One particular cow, with horns and a large bell (this wasn’t a bull, it had a big milk sac) was blocking one of the benches, just looking around and chewing on some grass. I felt like he would stand and chew on grass until the end of time, he had nowhere to go and nothing else to do. Ever. Ah, the life of a cow.

Above the station they had built a summer luge course made out of a very fast stainless steel track that you could ride down on, they supplied little carts that ride on wheels and have a brake that the rider operates. I bought a ten pack for the kids to each take three rides, and then I would take one. The course is fast, and it winds down the countryside for about a quarter mile, at which time a trolley track takes you back up to the top. The kids had so much fun that they talked about it all day; Mason said it was the most fun he has had on this trip. It was money well spent. In the morning I had bought a loaf of bread back in Sempach, and Estela had packed it in her back pack with some water. I’m glad she did, because we were all getting a bit hungry. We sat on one of the benches and shared the loaf while looking at the best view I have ever had, or will ever have, for a picnic.

The view above Grindelwald is beyond spectacular. You just can’t believe it, like you are on another planet.  There is so much to look at, in the sky (paragliders), across the valley, at the little towns below and the hundreds of large Swiss chalets clinging to their green hills looking like somebody going fast on skis could knock them down the mountain. We sat below the Peak of Eiger Mountain, snow capped and intimidating, where the majority of European mountain climbing accidents have happened throughout history. It was also the subject of at least one movie and one of my favorite books. I told the family that the hike would take two hours, maybe a bit more, but in fact it took about five. The reason for this was the best reason there is, the kids had so much fun looking at all the things to look at and taking pictures and picking wild strawberries, we just took our time. I had already decided that this was the best day of my life, so I went at their pace. Our destination was a small restaurant in the cleft of a mountain called Chalet Milchbach. But first, we hiked for a couple of hours along the most beautiful track ever chiseled into a mountain, part of which ran through a tunnel carved into the mountainside just for hikers. When we reached the restaurant we were pretty hungry. Dad needed a beer. The prices in Switzerland are outrageous, as I have mentioned before. But I have decided that a couple of days in this spending rich environment wouldn’t be too hard on the budget, but it is sure difficult to lay down the money at such a lively clip. Our lunch cost us over one hundred dollars, as would dinner. But the view was outrageous. I had a cheese plate, which was just a pile of shaved pieces of hard local cheese. And a beer, a big one. The girls had a plate of fried potatoes mixed with pieces of bratwurst or bacon (two dishes), called 'Rosti, bratwurst’ and ‘Speckrosti’. Mason had his usual plate of fries, but he also ate most of my cheese. The lunch was unusually good, not as expensive as I had expected since all of the food had to be hauled up miles of forest track, and the owner became my immediate best friend.

He had to be seventy years old, and had been working here his whole life. He represented at least the third generation of owners and proprietors of this chalet, and he was also a winter ski instructor. We talked for a while and he showed me pictures of when the restaurant sat beside a glacier twenty five years before. He didn’t blame it on global warming, he explained that glaciers descended and receded; that was the nature of glaciers. He seemed really interested in having me come back in the winter to be one of his ski instruction pupils, and he wanted to give me his cell phone number. He described to me the lay of the land in the winter, and the skiing here is different from what I am used to. The three resorts I have skied in Switzerland years ago are nothing like the layout here. In Grindelwald are no designated ski areas; the entire valley is skied, and different lifts are run by different outfits. It seems as though you take a lift up in one direction or another, and ski wherever you like. You go around houses, over plowed (or unplowed) roads, down to where you need to go. If you make it to the bottom of a lift to take you back up, great, but if you don’t, well that’s your problem. Or so it seems. Sounds like a great adventure on skis. I think I’ll come back.

After lunch we found the way down over a single track that was exceedingly steep, traversing down a ravine in the deep forest. Again, there was so much to look at that it took us a lot of time to get to the main road down below. The weather got even better, if that were to be possible, and every peak was completely bathed in bright sunshine. Water was pouring off cliff faces and the murky glacier runoff was running down the mountain in torrents. Estela was carrying four jackets; there was no need for any of them on this day. We were pretty beat by the time we got to the car, but we did stop for pizza in Wilderswil, beside Interlaken. The kids jumped on a trampoline owned by the restaurant (great idea!). We went home to Sempach exhausted.
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