Saturday, October 24, 2009

Day 30 - The Alps - They Were OK, If You Like That Sort Of Stuff

Greetings from Switzerland Everyone,

Time to switch things up a bit as I leave the cities and towns for the mountains of the Berner Oberland in the Swiss Alps.  I hopped a night train to Zurich from Vienna and then from there to Interlaken, Switzerland.  I'm staying at this very small village up in the Alps called Gimmelwald.  Wait till you see these pictures.  Now to each their own, but you could stay in Interlaken for $250 a night and have a couple of more amenities or you could come up to close to 5,000 feet above sea level and get the views that I had for $25.  You're choice entirely but just so you know, there is only one right answer and it's not the former.

In addition to the beautiful scenery I was in fine form today as I had not one but two Classic Kenny Moments all before noon.  This may be some kind of record, even for me.

So here's a shot on the train from Zurich to Interlaken.  I've said it before, but it bares repeating.  Looking out my train window and seeing this immediately reminds me of home.  Uncanny the similarities that we see here.

So here's Classic Kenny Moment #4.  After the train dropped me off in Interlaken, I had to take another train, a bus, and then a lift to get up to Gimmelwald.  This is the bus portion of the ride.  If you'll remember from the Day 0 post, I have a very heavy bag and a small day pack that goes everywhere with me.  Obviously these aren't just heavy but big as well.  So I always try to get one of them stowed.  I was sitting on the left so I tried to put it over my head.  Well the bin above me was really really small so I naturally looked to the right.  There was tons of room over there so I went that way.  Well, I don't know if it's clear from the picture, but the reason there is so much more space is because there isn't a rack over there, just that red bar that people who aren't sitting hold onto.  Well you can imagine my surprise (as well as the very understanding older man who ended up wearing my day pack on his head) when I put my bag over the bar and let go only to watch it plummet to the ground.  Nothing better than apologizing profusely to someone in a language they don't understand in front of a whole bunch of strangers (he was fine btw).  I quickly went back to my seat and stared out the window for the rest of the bus ride.  Yes everybody, I am your representative to the world.  Rest easy Houston, you're in good hands.

Here's the view from my hostel.  I don't think I would have picked another place to stay in Switzerland.  Years ago, some very savvy locals had Gimmelwald declared an avalanche zone (it's not, but they pulled the right government strings) which effectively killed any plans for somebody from the outside to proceed with any commercial ventures.  Without a doubt, this is the village out of the storybooks folks.

This is a common sight around here.  The Interlaken region and the surrounding mountainside are popular destinations for thrill seekers.  These are paragliders but this is also a popular place to base jump as well.  Unfortunately I didn't get to see anybody doing that.

So a cool story followed by Classic Kenny Moment #5.  I had just  checked in to the Mountain Hostel, and decided I would go up to one of the highest peaks on this range, The Schilthorn (close to 10,000 feet elevation).  Well, I'm not going to hike that, so I planned on going up the lifts.  While I'm waiting, a couple of girls come up to buy tickets as well.  I could tell they were American so I asked them where they were from.  Not only was one of them from Houston, but she works at Methodist, the same hospital I work at!  They were both Dietitians who did their graduate work at Texas Womens' University in Houston.  Unbelievable.  Never seen her before in my life, and I run into her in Gimmelwald, Switzerland.

Well obviously, we were all pretty excited to bump into each other, so we talked right until the lift got there.  Turns out they were leaving to go home, but somehow I had the impression that they were going up the mountain before doing so (they weren't).  Well, we were so busy chatting, that I hopped on the same lift as them completely oblivious to the fact that there is a separate lift for going up and going down. You really want to make sure you are going the direction you want to because, at least on this mountain, there are no rocket packs to shoot you back the right way if you head down the wrong one like I did.  Of course I realized what was happening about 10 seconds after the door closed and the lift started moving.  Thus the most recent hour of my life that I will never get back.  Here's a pictorial representation for all you other future first timers.  On the plus side, we did get to talk for an extra 10 minutes and I will never make that mistake again.  Great meeting you ladies.

So eventually, I made it up the mountain to the Schilthorn.  It was a crystal clear day so I felt good about deciding to do this today.  You could see forever.  Here's some shots from nearly 2 miles up. .

Here's a shot of me in front of the big three peaks:  (from left to right) The Eiger, The Monch, and the Big Momma herself, Jungfrau.  All of these are over 13,000 feet up and the highest point in Europe reachable by train is on the Jungfrau.  You'll be seeing these three a few more times over the next couple of days.

Another shot in a different direction from the panoramic viewing deck.

After that, I came back down and did a bit of hiking around Gimmelwald for a couple of hours.  Here's a couple of shots.

Here's your next Christmas Card.  For a small fee, I'm willing to provide each of you with the rights to use this very professional looking shot.

Lots of brooks and streams and things running through here.  Made the experience even better.

When I went back to the hostel, I ran into three other guys and we decided to do a hike the next day.  Tune in to see how it went.  Later. . .