I took an early morning train from Salzburg and after spending a few hours in Liechtenstein I arrived in Interlaken at 18:30. It is no secret that for the majority of American backpackers Interlaken is Switzerland. Interlaken's 3 hostels (Backpacker's Villa, Balmer's and Funny Farm) are located a few hundred meters within each other and offer numerous adventure trips--canyoning, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, ice climbing, paragliding, etc. Basically, if you stay 2 weeks in any of these hostels, you can have an activity for every day of your stay, as long as you can afford it. The prices are as steep as the Alps.
|Look closer! Yes, that's right. Did you know that it's legal to grow pot in Switzerland?|
My best description of the Interlaken hostel scene is a college frat party, Spring Break and American summer camp rolled into one. Some people like it that way! English is spoken everywhere. Music, dancing, occasional pot smoking, drinking. Frankly, you don't need to fly 3000+ miles across the Atlantic Ocean to experience it.
I stayed in Interlaken only one night. I stayed at the Funny Farm, which turned out to be quite a peculiar place. The hostel itself was a big house where chaos was the state of mind. There must have been 50+ more people staying there than this house could handle. In any case, the floor of the main huge living room was filled to capacity with people sleeping on the floor or on top of each other when the floor space ran out. That didn't seem to bother anyone though. How all these people could ever take a shower in the morning with only 3 shower stalls remains a mystery. This is not to say that the hostel is all that bad. It's not. In fact, it has many positives, like a swimming pool, a tennis court, a beach volleyball court and alledgedly the best social scene of the three hostels in the neighborhood.
I must admit that I was tempted to stay longer because I really wanted to experience at least one of the adventure trips. But I figured the opportunity cost was too high. I chose a different path--the one less traveled--the path that most American college students never take in Switzerland, which is very unfortunate in my opinion. The Alps!
In the morning, I teamed up with two girls from Minneapolis, Stacy and Kari, whom I met in Interlaken (and also on the Fussen-Munich train a week earlier--it's a small world!) and together we headed for the mountains--to Gimmelwald.
From the hostel it's about a 15-20 minute walk to the Interlaken Ost train station. There we caught a train to Lauterbrunnen. It's one train but only until Zweilütschinen where the train splits in two, the first part going to Lauterbrunnen and the second part going to Grindelwald, a touristy resort under the north face of Eiger. The views kept getting better and better and from the windows of the train I could already see the snowy mountaintops of the Alps, which were invisible from Interlaken. 20 minutes later we arrived in the village of Launerbrunnen at the bottom of the valley of the same name. Here we faced several transportation choices and we chose the least expensive-walking. It was a beautiful sunny warm day in the Alps. There was no reason not to take advantage of it.
"Lauterbrunnen" means the valley of waterfalls. There are hundreds of them. The two most famous ones are Staubbach Falls, which is trickling right from above the village, and the impressive Trümmelabach Falls, which is a powerful waterfall (up to 20,000 liters of water per second) inside the mountain right in the middle of the Lauterbrunnen-Stechelbeg road.
From Lauterbrunnen it is about an hour and a half walk to Stechelberg, from where the cable car departs for Gimmelwald every half hour on its way to the peak of Schilthorn. It is a flat road along the bottom of the valley. It took us a bit longer to get to Stechelberg; we had our full backpacks and stopped several times to take pictures. Taking pictures is a real problem in Switzerland because there are so many great views that once you take a shot, another better view arises almost immediately.
There are two ways to get from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald--a 5-minute gondola ride or an hour and a half hike (a gain of 500 meters in altitude). We decided to take the gondola all the way to the Schilthorn peak while it was still sunny. At 6 o'clock we took the last gondola down and made it to Gimmelwald. July 2nd, 2000, 6:25pm.