At first there was excitement, it then turned into anticipation and towards the end it ended up into restlessness!
There are any number of holiday destinations that evoke a deep longing of wanderlust but Switzerland, surely, will rank in the Top 3 most desired places to visit in most people's books.
This journal is a documentation of the holiday that I spent with my family - it is not a guide to Switzerland or, more importantly, the Bernese Oberland region, where we spent the majority of the time on this holiday, but rather a "recall" of the places we saw, the things we did, the food we ate - and to some extent a visual portrayal of all of the above. I might drop a line or two, here and there, as to how I shot a particular picture, but this article is not intended to be a photography tutorial
Day 1 : Basel
Unlike other major European airports that are located a fair distance away from the city centre, Basel airport is just a 20 minute ride away on a bus. In fact, the buses are so frequent that you seldom wait for too long for the next one to arrive. We took the Bus 50 from outside the terminal building and we were soon outside Basel SBB, the main train station, at the city centre. Here, we made the switch to tram Route 10 and travelled a further 2 stops away to reach our hotel - about 6 minutes away. Once we checked in at the hotel, we soon got rid of our bags in the room and headed back the same direction - towards the city centre.
We had planned this trip with a bit of precision, in terms of, arrivals and departures, check-in/ check-out times at hotels and to visiting places of interest that coincided with the public transportation timings etc., that we knew before-hand that we might not need an entire day for sight-seeing in Basel. We had simply considered Basel to be the port of entry and exit, to and from Switzerland. And we went about treating the city in that fashion - a whirlwind 2 hour bus tour that took us around the various sights in the city viz., Novartis Campus, St. Johann, the Basel Tattoo, Messe Basel and Tinguely Museum to name a few. There were also a couple of stops near the Rhine, for those keen on taking the river cruise to the opposite bank, and near the Papiermuhle or the Paper Mill. This tour is an ideal introduction to Basel for those who are hard pressed for time and also to those that might want to visit specific points of interest at a later point in time. What we did not realise in our planning was we could have done all of these aforesaid places on foot or by public transport, free of cost, as one is entitled to free public transportation pass if happening to be staying in a city hotel. After the tour, we did exactly that! We got in and out of a few trams and eventually covered most of the places that were covered by the City Sight-seeing bus. Towards the late evening, we reached the city centre and took up on a friend's recommendation for a good meal at Mister Wong's.
On our return to the hotel I had set up my tripod inside the room, facing the window, in the hope of doing a time-lapse video. I had set the intervalometer at 3 second interval and shot about 350 images and, occasionally, ramping the exposure as the light started to diminish. I had also taken care to switch off all the lights inside the hotel room to avoid unnecessary reflections on the window.
Basel Time LapseShot from the window of the hotel
Day 2 : Basel - Interlaken Ost - Grindelwald
The previous evening, we had packed a few yoghurt pots and some fruits to carry with us to the hotel, for our breakfast. After breakfast and ensuring that the phones and camera battery are fully charged, we checked out of the hotel and went to the train station to get the Intercity train to Interlaken Ost, that took roughly 2 hours. We had purchased a Bernese Oberland Train pass with 4 days validity. This included a transfer to and from the Bernese region and hence our travel from Basel was already included as part of the package.
On arrival at Interlaken Ost, we deposited our luggage at the lockers at a cost of 7 CHF and went about exploring the area on foot. Within a couple of minutes of casual amble, we were by the banks of the Aare river that connects the 2 lakes - Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. We took on a westerly heading and soon crossed a bridge and a railway line and headed to the the funicular railway to get to Harder Kulm. The tiny red funicular takes approximately 8-10 minutes to get to the top of Harder Kulm, a little shy of 4500ft. On arrival, there is a walk of about 5 minutes to what looks like a Buddhist monastery or a castle but it is indeed a panoramic restaurant - Bergrestaurant Harder Kulm. Breath-taking views of Interlaken, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and the entire Jungfrau region could be observed from here. The skyline was dotted with innumerable paragliders who must have been relishing the feeling of anti-gravity. But what took our breath away were the various snow-covered alpine peaks glistening in the sun and causing a bit of a squint if you were not wearing your sunglasses. The far side, across the valley, was quite hazy with some low hanging clouds, but the near side was as crisp as a crisp. There is an observation deck here which is called the The Two lakes Bridge. The structure extends out of the mountain slope from the restaurant and is supported by a steel structure. In the center of the deck, on the floor, is a glass surface through which one is able to see right down below. The image below was shot with 3 bracketed exposures - as metered, -3 EV and +3 EV and stitched together using Nik's HDR Efex Pro 2 and finished in Photoshop CC. This was shot from the observation deck or The Two Lakes Bridge. It was here, at Harder Kulm, that I had accidentally cracked the LCD screen of my beloved DSLR. It cost me about £100 to get it repaired after I returned to London.
We soon took the Harderbahn back to Interlaken and collected our luggage to take the train to Grindelwald. The train journey from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald takes about 35 mins and is extremely scenic. The service is operated by BOB or the Berner Oberland Bahn. You could read about it, watch videos on youtube or listen to tales from those that have already been there, but none of those prepares you to the experience of being there yourself - as this scene captured with iPhone 6s.
It appeared that the mountains were close enough to reach out and touch. From the balcony of the chalet where we stayed, we had an imposing view of the the mighty Eiger mountain and I was lucky to have gotten the alpenglow of the sunrise below during our stay. The below image was shot with an iPhone 6s and processed using Lightroom Mobile.
As it was a self-contained chalet, we decided to cut back a bit on our expenses and ended up buying a few groceries from the super market and made our own breakfast and packed lunches for the rest of our stay in Grindelwald.
Day 3 - Grindelwald Grund - Kleine Scheidegg - Jungfraujoch - Kleine Scheidegg - Grindelwald Grund
After breakfast on Day 3, we had a toss up between visiting Grindelwald First or the Jungfraujoch (aka Top of Europe). Everything depended on whether or not there was any space available to reserve our ticket to Jungfraujoch on the Jungfraubahn that starts and finishes at Kleine Scheidegg. Luckily, we had places available for the 1430hrs departure, so we went ahead with our seat reservations. We then took the scenic Wengernalp railway from Grindelwald Grund to Kleine Scheidegg.
Kleine Scheidegg is the starting point for the trip to Jungfraujoch and is an alpine mountain pass between 2 valleys. It is from here that the climbers attempt to scale the famous north wall of the Eiger mountain. As we arrived Kleine Scheidegg in excess of 3 hours to spare, we decided to take the Jungfrau Eiger trail to Fallbodensee and back. This is an artificial lake serving as a reservoir to create artificial snow for the surrounding ski pistes in early winter. The trail was like what one might have imagined a Swiss landscape to be. And more! Absolutely stunning alpine pastures and gentle sloping greens with wild flowers of various hues. The distinct jingling of the cow-bells all along the path, giving an impression that you are never alone. And the reassuring company of the Jungfraubahn train ferrying truckloads of tourists up and down the mountain.
It was soon time to queue up for the Jungfraubahn to go up to the summit of Jungfraujoch. The journey from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch takes approximately 45 minutes. The train enters a tunnel within a few minutes of it's departure from Kleine Scheidegg. A few minutes before the arrival at Jungfraujoch station - the highest railway station in Europe, at around 11,332 ft, the train stops for about 5 minutes at Eismeer - the penultimate station from where the passengers are able to alight and soak in the views through the vast expansive panoramic windows and are able to appreciate the sheer expanse of the Grindelwald-Fischer Glacier.
The first thing one might notice, rather feel, on arrival at Jungfraujoch is that the sudden altitude differential might make you a little giddy and one might develop a mild throbbing headache. This altitude sickness would soon vanish the moment you take the lift up to the Sphinx Observatory from where you are able to have 360° views - you have an option of being inside the warmth of the building or being out on the terrace. There is an Ice Palace inside with Ice sculptures, but we were not able to enjoy this very well as the floor was extremely slippery - even the floor was ice! There are multiple restaurants here including an Indian restaurant that seats up to 120 people - The Restaurant Bollywood - it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it is extremely expensive. You are allowed to step out on to the snow on the Aletsch glacier or even a hike to the Monchsjochhut. There is also a Lindt chocolate shop up here in the mountains! Top of EuropeKleine Scheidegg as seen from Jungfraujoch
A view of Kleine Scheidegg from Jungfraujoch is seen on the picture above. Just below the rocks and under the clouds, a little off centre to the right, there is the glimpse of Fallbodensee partially visible. The route traversing to the left from Kleine Scheidegg on the picture is the Wengernalpbahn route to Lauterbrunnen.
Day 4 - Grindelwald - Grindelwald-First - Grindelwald
After the exhausting excursion the previous day to Jungfarujoch, we decided to take it a little easy and decided to visit the Grindelwald-First - a minor summit on the slopes of Schwarzhorn. It can be reached by a cable car from the Grindelwald Cable car station from the upper village centre. The ride takes about 25 mins to reach First. There are 2 stops en route - Bort and Schreckfeld - where you may choose to disembark and board later.
On arrival at First, we decided to take the trail to Bachalpsee - an alpine lake very famous for stunning reflections of Schreckhorn - also called the mirror lake. It was not very difficult to find the Bachalpsee trail. We were energised when we saw that it takes only 45 mins to get there. We soon started our hike and was taken in by the beautiful panorama that confronted us. We had plenty of cows and mountain goats, for company, along the way. After about 20 mins of walk, we realised it was time for a sit down and munch on some snacks that we carried along. There are plenty of benches with stunning views along the way and we decided to pick on one just vacated by a bunch of oriental tourists who flouted the "selfie safety" rules. The image below had them crossing the protective barrier for that all important shot!
.....And we kept on walking and resting and walking, until we almost gave up and decide to return. They must have sent a marathon runner to cover the distance to Bachalpsee to decide it took 45 mins to get there. After an arduous 75 mins, we decided to ask an oncoming trekker for how long it might take to reach the lake, he said another 15 mins. Reassured with this knowledge, we walked further for another 20 mins to reach this magnificent setting - crystal clear blue-green waters of the lake, snow-covered peaks providing the perfect backdrop and absolute serenity about the place. What did disappoint me was the number of people that had jumped in to the lake and had caused a lot of ripples - so it was no longer a mirror lake. However, I had a 10 stop ND filter in my arsenal, so I had set up a 30 second exposure to capture the below image.
After picnic-lunch by Lake Bachalp, we returned to the cable car station. Just before we reached, we decided to take the First Cliff Walk by Tissot - if you are not afraid of heights, this is a must-see attraction. It is a one-rope long suspension bridge with bird's eye views of the surrounding mountainside. It is precipitous and in windy conditions could sway a bit. At the end of what appeared to be a crawling walk, due to people in front of you freezing from the sway of the suspension bridge, you reach an observation platform with it's narrow end sticking out of the side of the mountain. It is, when you get closer, you realise that the last few feet, the floor is made of glass - I have seen the expression on the faces of people change from an uncomfortable smile to downright horror. Strangely, I felt nothing as my focus was to take a picture of the sheer slopes of Eiger. The below image was shot using an iPhone 6S.
Day 5 - Grindelwald - Bern
After some fantastic alpine experiences, we were ready to start our journey in the return direction. The next stop was Bern - the capital of Switzerland. Besides the attractions of the Altstadt (old town), we were keen to understand what makes Bern one of the Top 10 cities in the world for the best quality of life. We decided to drop our luggage at the hotel which was about 8 stops by tram from the Bern Hauptbahnhof (central station) and started to explore the city on foot. We don't know if it was this prior knowledge that we were already aware of the "status" the city enjoys, and hence, we found the people to be quite content and happy. Whatever be the reason, we found Bern to be absolutely charming with it's quaint cobblestoned streets with a bit of disorder - tram lines criss-crossing the bus routes and pedestrians and cyclists jostling for space. Yet, there was no road rage, everyone had a smile and wished each other and made way for each other. Despite the seeming chaos, everything went about like clock-work - a quality that Switzerland is renowned for. You could set your watch with the arrival and departure of the train. Picture below is the famous Kornhaus Bridge that spans over the River Aare.
The picture below was taken with a bracketed exposure of 3 shots - as metered, -3 EV and +3 EV. They were exposure blended in Photoshop CC for the final output. This was captured from Kornhaus Bridge looking towards the Lorraine Bridge and the Railway Bridge on River Aare.
The historic Aldstadt or the Old Town is largely medieval and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The city is full of Al Fresco dining opportunities and another indication and proof of the quality of life.
Perhaps the most famous sight of them all - Zytglogge - the Time Bell. It is the spire, on the image below, that is seen behind the building in the foreground, that houses the Zytglogge - an elaborate clock tower with moving puppets. The old town boasts of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe. Having looked at the scene, I knew even before I looked through the viewfinder that this would be a Black & White image!
We finished our holiday in Switzerland with a fantastic choice of pizza from Da Vinci Pizzeria and Pasteria, not too far from the place from where I shot this picture.
Day 6 - Bern - Basel - London
It was soon time to get back to reality. Our time to depart was upon us and we told ourselves that we will travel again to a different part of Switzerland the next time - perhaps Matterhorn, may be Geneva, perhaps do a couple of Panoramic train journeys, travel into Italy - the options are endless, whereas the resources are finite.
Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen, Au revoir, Ciao!