Friday, November 12, 2010

Switzerland, Part 4

On the third day of Switzerland, my true love said to me,

"Rain rainy raining,
Rainy rainy raining,
And a rain bear in a rain tree!"

P.S.  Ew.

So the weather on our third day wasn't excellent.  Having been by this time on the trip the recipients of upwards of nine gazillion barrels of pure sunshine (they sell it really cheap in France!), we were pretty much total weenies and we decided not to venture up into the misty peaks.  Instead we went Tröttibiking!

The more excited I am about an activity, the less attractive my face is.  Look at how I have my satchel strapped to the back of the Tröttibike, like some kind of nerd.  Some kind of nerd, I tell you!

Let me explain Tröttibiking for you.  A Tröttibike (pronounced TRUCNISDLANLJKKJDFS) is a sort of bike/scooter hybrid that combines the brakes, wheels, spokes and storage capacity of a bicycle with the frightening instability and lack of a pedal mechanism of a scooter.  IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.  It was actually pretty much my favorite thing that we did the entire trip.  You take the tram up from Grindelwald to Bort and ride a Tröttibike down on the bike paths and roads, complete with cars, that accompany the resplendent beauty of the Swiss mountainside.  And each time you gaze up at the staggering beauty of your surroundings, you almost crash.  Perfect!  Nothing could be better!

I understand that my message might be a little bit ambiguous, so let me make myself perfectly clear.  Tröttibiking from Bort to Grindelwald was one the best nearly-an-hours of my life.  I felt so free while at the same time I felt like I was in a video game that had really good graphics.  Totally worth whatever they charged us.

We also met a cow on the way down.  She wanted to eat Sophie's fingers.  Sophie was pleased.

Arriving in Grindelwald was a huge letdown because I wanted to Tröttibike forever.  Sophie and I almost decided to play miniature golf -- did I mention that practically every tiny town in the Jungfrau region has an eighteen-hole miniature golf course? -- but in the end I spared Sophie and we took the train back to Lauterbrunnen, where we ate dinner and read (one of us may or may not have obsessively read about medical school on the Internet) and went to sleep.

Switzerland, Part 3

Sophie took all the right pills on our second day in Switzerland.  We were off to a good start.  After my whirlwind tour of the area the day before, I had a much better idea of the things that I wanted to do.  Among them were: ascend the Jungfraujoch, go back to First and go Tröttibiking, take the tram to Mürren and eat Chinese food, and ride the cog train up to the alpine garden at Schynige Platte.

Look at that map.  Make sure that it makes sense.  Ignore the red arrow and circle pointing to Gimmelwald.  We didn't go to Gimmelwald.  To make more sense of parts one and two of the Switzerland post, on the first day we took the bus from Lauterbrunnen to Trümmelbach Falls and back before I took the train from Lauterbrunnen through Wengen and Kleine Scheidigg to Grindelwald. From Grindelwald I took the tram up to First and back before taking the fast train back to Lauterbrunnen through Zweilütschinen.  On this day, however, the day that is the subject of part three of the Switzerland post, we decided to explore Interlaken and eat lunch before heading up to the alpine garden at Schynige Platte.

For some reason we lack pictures of our exploits in Interlaken (I would chalk it up to our by now general irresponsibility and incompetence as travel photographers) but someone once told me that in a situation like mine it is appropriate to refer to the equation (WORDS) = (PICTURE)/(1000).  Lucky for you I'll probably be off by several orders of magnitude.

We basically walked through Interlaken and back looking for good Asian food.  We stumbled upon a basement Korean restaurant that had spicy pork of passable quality.  One can't expect much more in the way of Korean food in semi-remote Switzerland.  It's really hard to move there.

Lots and lots of people parasail in Interlaken.  I think it might be the primary mode of transportation.  If you were to look up at the sky at any given point in time while wandering through the city of Interlaken, you would find between twenty and twenty-five parasailers, not including attached instructors, gliding towards Interlaken's landing area, i.e. central lawn.  We thought about doing it ourselves, but came to the conclusion that for the money we could get higher and stay high longer by using a train and the natural lift provided by the ground.

Our conversations that day centered largely around the book I was reading, "Unhinged," by Daniel Carlat.  The author is a Mass. General trained psychiatrist who is fed up with the horrendously unethical relationship between psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies.  He calls for reform and says that psychiatrists should see patients for longer than fifteen minutes.  No big surprises.  Google the name "Charles Nemeroff."  You will probably want to stab him a little bit.  We would all be a lot better off if men and women with sociopathic tendencies somehow stopped being able to obtain positions of power.  No big surprise there either.

The train to Schynige Platte left from Wilderswil, one stop back towards Lauterbrunnen from Interlaken. We had somehow managed to miss the hourly train by two or three minutes and decided to walk there.  Did I mention that I lost my compass yet?  I think I did.  I didn't have my compass.  We got lost.  Twenty minutes after walking to nowhere on the advice of a runner we asked a friendly construction worker how to get to Wilderswil.

"Wilderswil?  Oh no, that is not that direction.  You must go in that direction.  I would suggest you take the train, yes?"

Twenty minutes back to the train station and we only had a twenty minute wait before the train left.  While we were there I booked our train reservations to Salzburg.  It's always better to do that at remote train stations because the workers, well, rarely work and so are generally a lot more willing to help.  To be fair, though, workers in Switzerland are on average a lot more congenial than workers just about anywhere else.  The semi-remoteness of Interlaken just sealed the deal.  Good use of time, Sophie and Joe!

The cog train to Schynige Platte and the alpine garden, built in the early twentieth century, was extremely slow.  A steam train still ran daily and, if you were willing to pay twice as much money and wait twice as long to get to the top, you could ride it up instead of the electric.  We weren't.

See here the views as we wound up the mountain.

We arrived at the top and walked to the alpine garden, where I made Sophie pose for a photo.

The alpine garden was put at the top of the amount for the express purpose of attracting tourists willing to pay for a train ride up a mountain to see an alpine garden.  The views of the surrounding area are probably better at Schynige Platte than anywhere else near the Jungfraujoch, however, and a lot of people take the train just to see the big mountain when it's out.  We weren't quite so lucky, as it was raining a bit, but it turned out that the alpine garden was totally worth it and we ended up with some very beautiful pictures.  Among the plants you will see is Digitalis, best known for being pretty and yellow and nearly taking James Bond's life in Casino Royale.

Sophie gets all the credit for the flower pictures because she is the one who took them.  Wowzers!  So many!

We walked through the alpine garden twice in all.  We had wanted to go on a longer walk, but the rain made us drowsy and cold and we decided to explore the area just around the alpine garden instead.  News for weary travelers: a mushroom village, when found, is recommended for resting as it will always be warm, cozy, and perhaps a little bit confusing.

Weird, huh?

That night we had fondue with herbs at our hotel restaurant, which was really quite good and very Swiss.  It was Sophie's first fondue in Switzerland and she enjoyed it very much.  So did I.  The End.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Switzerland, Part 2

The train rolled up the mountain.  I passed a stream.

Soon the valley of Lauterbrunnen lay below me.

The town of Wengen sat beside me.

Sooner still it was behind me.

I passed tree, pasture, stream and mountain.

And I came to a town very near to the top.

I befriended two kids (the kind that are goats).  Why were they sitting there?  Nobody knows.

I also met cows, but they weren't as nice.

Nor was the goat with the slit in his eye.

A train took me down to the Grindelwald side and a gondola up to First.  The light grew much worse, as you can well see.

That's Grindelwald down below.  Although I was wandering first and foremost, my trip up to First had a purpose.  A zipline.  On the mountain.  On the top of the mountain to be more precise.  From behind, the behemoth First Flieger:

It was in some ways lucky that Sophie was tired.  I don't think that she wanted to go on this ride, as I offered to pay for a later return.  She politely declined.  From on top of the ride:

I believe I inquired, "Does anyone die at the end of this ride?"

"Sprechen sie Deutsch?" said the attendant.

"I am totally fucked," said my mind, out loud.

"You'll be fine," said the attendant.

It was a lot like flying, if flying was a lot like sitting in a hammock next to a fan while watching Planet Earth.  From the bottom of the ride:

Those springs that you see are what stop you.  Those springs that you see hurt my back.  Looking back up:

A French man and his daughter sat with me on the Gondola down.  Their accents were enchanting.  I am very sure that they were talking about something important.  How could they not have been?  That's how French works.

Walking back through Grindelwald, I bought Sophie a box of Swiss chocolates.  So ended our first day in Switzerland.