Switzerland (II) Exploring Swiss Alps: Snow-Capped Schilthorn and Heavenly Gimmelwald

If you only have three days in Switzerland, please choose the rugged Bernese Oberland as your destination. If you only has one day in the Bernese Oberland, make it to the Schilthorn.

However, you need a VERY clear day to fully enjoy the region, to appreciate the magnificent mountain views.

There are a couple of ways to reach Schilthorn, below were was our route:

  • Train from Interlaken (our home base) to Lauterbrunnen
  • Change to cable car up to Grutschalp
  • Switch to train to Murren
  • Take cable car again to Schilthorn
  • From Schilthorn, take cable car down to Birg for the Thrill Walk
  • Then cable car further down to Gimmelwald, the best village in Switzerland!
  • Cable car down to Stechelberg
  • Bus back to Lauterbrunnen
Train ride to Lauterbrunnen

We were blessed with a sunny day with clear and blue sky. The train ride from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen set a tone for the day.

This is the view from the cable car — on the way up to Grutschalp from Lauterbrunnen. From Grutschalp, we then took a train to Murren. The train ride was synchronized with the arrival of the cable car. As a matter of fact, almost all rides of this round trip were synchronized.

Murren, a car-free village, faces the valley.

To reach the cable car station to Schilthorn, we walked across the town, it was about 10 minute walk. However we just lingered and wondered around and totally forgot about time.

Would this happen to you, no need to panic. The cable cars up to Schilthorn operate twice per hour, simply wait for the next lift.

There are also great hiking trails starting from Murren. Looking down Lauterbrunnen valley from Murren, it was mesmerizing!

The last leg of cable-car ride to Schilthorn!

We made it!! All the way to top, 2970-meter high!

The Skyline View Platform offered the panoramic views of Swiss apls, there were information boards to help identify the surrounding peaks.

The most striking three peaks were side by side–Elger, Monch and Jungfrau. You could catch all three in one shot, like the one on the right.

If you are hungry, there is a 360 revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, up at the summit. The 1969 James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed there, so EVERY dish (and buffet) was Bond themed. The 007 logo was even stamped on our burger bun!

Thrill Walk at Birg

After lunch, we took a cable car descend to Birg for the famous Thrill Walk.

The 600-foot-long Thrill Walk was not for everyone. It began with metal cat-walk by the cliff side, then a tightrope bridge. If those were not scary enough, you could try to walk on the glass flooring or to crawl through a chain tube staring at the valley far below!

Look at the drifting clouds. By the time we finished the Thrill Walk, the clouds completely fogged up the surrounding mountains. We couldn’t see the peaks even through we knew they were right in front of us.

Gimmerwald is a village with about 120 residents. We got off on our way descending and spent the rest of the afternoon to explore this little heaven on Earth.

Although Gimmelwald was tiny, its beauty was shining through every winding path and at every direction/corner of the town.

The magic of Gimmelwald could let you put aside all the nuisances of life, switch your attention to the loveliness of the day. Yes, life is beautiful.

So don’t waste your time on the trivial things, enjoy life!

Switzerland (I): Lucerne (Luzern), Lake Lucerne and Mount Rigi

I had been dreaming about visiting Swiss alps for years, finally we set foot on the Swiss soil this past month. It was even prettier than I had imagined!

Lake Lucrerne from the Rigi Kulm Summit!

Our day in Lucerne (or Luzern) was divided into three parts: the city walk, Lake Lucerne boat ride and Rigi Mountain.

Lucerne is Switzerland’s tourism capital, it is very pretty and walkable. We had covered lot of ground in the city in two hours, starting our walk from Lucerne Bahnhofplatz, the central train station.

The followings were our favorite attractions in the city:

  • Bahnhofplatz
  • Chapel Bridge
  • Jesuit Church
  • Lucerne’s Lakefront around St. Peter’s Chapel
  • Lion Monument
  • Bourbaki Panorama

The boat dock for Lake Lucerne was conveniently located by the train station. Our destination was Weggis (#3 on the map), from there we would take a cable car up Rigi mountain (#4). The boat cruised about an hour, perfect time for a lunch break.

It turned out that the cable car to Rigi summit didn’t run for the day because of scheduled maintenance.

So we hopped back to the boat to the next stop, Vitznau.

From Vitznau a cogwheel train, the oldest one in Europe (since 1870), chak chak us up to the summit, Rigi Klum.

The view of ascending was magnificent!! Make sure to sit on the left of the train for the best views!

We had a panoramic birdeye view of Lake Lucerne as shown in the beginning of this post. You had to have camera ready as it passed by very quickly.

Although Mt. Rigi was only 5900 feet in altitude, it was still covered in snow in mid-May. And the temperature dropped from comfortable 55 F to near zero. To make it worse, the Sun was gone too!!

To our surprise, there at the summit of Rigi stood a giant basalt rock labeled “Mt. Emei”, a famous mountain in Southern China. How miss leading! ­čÖé As it turns out that Mt. Rigi and Mt. Emei are sister mountains. This stone was shipped from China in 2015, weights 8 tons! And a similar stone from Rigi was shipped to Mt Emei a year earlier.

To save time, we didn’t take the return cruise, instead we rode another cogwheel train down to Arth-Goldau (left of Rigi Kulm on the map), then took a regular train back to Lucerne.

Tips: All the transportation and museums mentioned above and in the future posts of this trip were covered by Swiss Travel Pass. A great deal!

Iceland (VIII): Egilsstadir and Hengifoss (Northeast)

Half way through the 12-day trip in Iceland, we had already climbed the Glymur, the once highest waterfall  before another higher fall discovered in highland; visited Go├░afoss, the historically important waterfall, and Dettifoss, the largest fall by volume discharge.  In northeast of Iceland we were ready to cross off one more waterfall from the list–the Hengifoss.

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After Dettifoss, we got back to the Ring Road and continued east to Egilssta├░ir.  We passed boundless barren land, it was striking! Deep black soil stretched as far as the eye could see, it felt like driving on the Moon!

As we got closer to Egilssta├░ir, the land turned interesting again, more waterfalls and green field and hill.

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We stopped by this bridge before entering Egilssta├░ir.

Egilsstadir7Egilssta├░ir is the largest town in the east Iceland, we found a pretty pond by the roadside for picnic lunch.

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After the break, we headed to Hengifoss, the third tallest waterfall in Iceland, second to Glymur.

Hengifoss is an hour drive to the south of Egilssta├░ir.  We caught a glimpse of the waterfall in the distance when approaching from road 931.  However to reach the bottom of the waterfall we got to hike 2.5 km.  It was very pleasant hike, we could glance the top of the Hengifoss from the trail.

The add-on bonus along the trail was this waterfall, Litlanesfoss, at 1 km mark.

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Look at the vertical columns! Formed by rapid cooling of hot running lava hit cold water million years ago.

 

It was supposed to be an easy hike, however it turned into an arduous trek.  Starting at 1.5 km mark, it rained, then it poured!  People were moving in the opposite direction to get off the hike.  We trotted on.

Only eyed to the ground in front of us, we kept moving forward and upward.  By the time we reached the base of the waterfall, my lens was wet and foggy. The landscape got so muddy and slippery, but we were on cloud nine!

We made it! Thank God for water-proof jacket and pants, and hiking sticks! And never gave up too early!

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They say if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait for five minutes.  So true!  The magic happened on our descending, the sky cleared up again.

Another bonus of the hike was the Lagarfljot Lake, we failed to notice it climbing up in the rain.  The long skinny lake shined under the sunlight, like a silk belt.  Legend said a monster lived, still lives, in the lake.  Someone even posted a video on YouTube to prove it.

The sunshine made EVERYTHING looked better. Oh, the joy!

Iceland (VII): Mighty Waterfalls of the North

The must-see waterfalls in the north Iceland are Go├░afoss and Dettifoss, part of the Diamond Circle.

There are at least two must-see waterfalls in the north Iceland: Go├░afoss and Dettifoss, both waterfalls are part of the Diamond Circle.

Go├░afoss is less than an hour east of Akureyri, the largest city in the north Iceland.

We approached the waterfall from the right bank, the foss was a short walk from the parking lot.

Oh, the sounds of the gushing water!! It felt dangerous climbing up the rugged rocks, but the fun did outweigh the fear.

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Walking away from the fall toward the bridge, we got an unobstructed view of the entire waterfall.  Can you see the bridal veil on the right?

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Great photo spot!godafoss7

The further away from the waterfall, the more panoramic the view.

We were not done yet, we crossed the bridge to the left bank

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and walked along the left bank to the viewing platform.

Before reaching the platform, we had an opportunity to walk down to see the waterfall down up.

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Go├░afoss in Icelandic means “waterfall of gods”, the name was originated from the Icelandic conversion to Christianity in the year 1000.  Idols of Norse gods were thrown into this waterfall after the people accepted the Christian faith.

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What a sweeping sight from the viewing platform!  Here we could not only see the entire waterfall but the upstream river.  See the rocky spot at the right top corner where we stood half hour ago?

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Just as we pulled out the parking lot, the sky opened up to this gorgeous blue.  Too bad no time to go back, we had Myvatn next on our schedule.

The next mighty waterfall in the north is Dettifoss.  We visited Dettifoss the next morning.

dettifoss

Dettifoss is in Vatnaj├Âkull National Park, the largest of the three national parks in Iceland.

The waterfall was viewed from the top.  With the water spray and fog,  I couldn’t tell how deep the canyon was.  An internet search reveals that Dettifoss is 330 feet wide and 144 feet deep!

No wonder this waterfall is regarded as the most powerful waterfall in Europe; and by sheer volume discharge, it is the largest waterfall in Iceland.

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Be careful to protect your camera from the waterfall’s spray! Especially if you stand at the viewing platform at this left bank as we did.

dettifoss9 To truly feel the power and energy of the waterfall, we walked down and got closer to the fall front.  Please stay on the path!

The water was grayish; this river upstream was Vatnaj├Âkull glacier.  I had a hard time believe it glacier water–before we met this mighty giant, glacier waterfall in Iceland was clear, pure and drinkable!

A fewer hundred meters away, there is another waterfall, Selfoss.

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The opposite bank offered a better panoramic view of the fall.

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FYI:

There are two roads from the Ring Road lead to Dettifoss: 862 on the west and 864 on the east of the fall.  Dettifoss can be viewed from both banks, however the roads don’t cross.  We chose to take 862 and viewed the waterfall from the west bank because the road was in better condition–862 is a paved road while 864 is a gravel road.

Iceland (VI): From Borgarnes to Akureyri, Part II (North)

Continue north, our next town was Hofs├│s at the Tr├Âllaskagi Peninsula.  Hofs├│s was one of my favorite small towns in Iceland.  Maybe it was because the overcasting clouds were finally cleared up when we were there; maybe it was the infinity pool or the free fish; regardless the day turned into a bright day after Hofs├│s.

We walked across this bridge a couple of times.  I just liked the rustic look, it remained me of a classic painting, like walking into a world of a fiction–an art realm.

The Icelandic Emigration Center was right by the old port.  200,000 Icelandic immigrated to America from 1870-1914.  It was a time of difficulty with the volcanic eruptions and the hardship of bad cold, especially in this northern part of the country.

Strolling along the tiny harbor we met a couple.  They were cleaning fish, apparently they had just finished unloading from their boat.  It turned out they were vacationing from Reykjavik and they owned a condo in Hofs├│s.

This was their annual trip; every summer they came to Hofs├│s fishing, then froze and brought them back to Reykjavik to eat during the winter months.  We chatted and felt like we were old friends, at the end they gave us a huge haddock–no, not a “hot dog”. The gentleman gut the fish and cut it into half so we could cook it easily later on! How thoughtful!

Icelandic people are the nicest people!

Another highlight of the town was the thermal swimming pool.  This infinity pool was a gift to the people of Hofs├│s by two wealthy business women.  What a panoramic view!

It was really hard to say good bye to Hofs├│s, but Akureyri was still 2.5 hours away.  The drive from Hofs├│s to Siglufj├Âr├░ur was scenic. Yet I don’t have pictures to share the parts of roads that were winding, narrow and without railings! I was holding my breath in fear of missing the turn and tumbling down to the cliffs…

There was a herring museum in Siglufj├Âr├░ur. We missed it because it closed at 6 pm. But we walked in town and found a grocery store, picked up a salt shaker and some fruits and bread to go with the haddock dinner.

While lingering along the road, we smelled strong scent of licorice.  I knew licorice was a popular Icelandic candy.  Immediately putting our noses to work, we bent over to smell the grass and bushes, and trying to nail down the source.

And I found the plant!  The seeds tasted very sweet, just like licorice.  Imagine my excitement about this discovery!  In my high, an Icelandic lady approached and chatted with us.  After I shared my finding with her, she smiled, yes this wild plant was indeed from a licorice family, but it was not the source of licorice candy though.  Then she pointed to the plant besides it and remarked “never put that in your mouth, it is poisonous.”

I thanked her profusely! She was the second kind person I met in one day, and she was on vacation from Reykjavik too.

There were at least three tunnels from Siglufj├Âr├░ur to Dalv├şk, some double lanes and some single lane.  It was quite an experience passing a 10-km long single lane tunnel, especially when there was a car coming right at you!

Finally we arrived at Dalvik, it was well pass 8 pm.

The last beer bath was at 8 pm.  It turned out we didn’t miss much: the beer bath was to soak in a hot tub mixed with hot spring and young beer, which had zero alcohol content. So instead of beer bath, we ordered a beer, a local-brewed authentic Icelandic beer.  It tasted just like beer.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in Akureyri at 9:30, the dinning room was already closed.  Don’t you just love long-day light in the Icelandic summer?

No microwave was provided in our hotel room, nowhere in the hotel, so we inquired the front desk.  The gentleman there was the most helpful receptionist ever! He called the kitchen and sent us there right away despite the fact the kitchen was already closed. Luckily someone was still there washing dishes. The kitchen was the only place in the whole hotel that had a microwave!

When the fish was finally put on the table, I happened to look out the window–

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Hold the fork, I had to take pictures!!

Our first Icelandic rainbow!  Within minutes, the rainbow grew into a full arch, and then a double rainbows!  What a brilliant sight! Its warm glow invigorated our body and refreshed our spirit!

rainbow

It went on and on…  Actually we needed no rush, by the time we finished our dinner, the rainbow was still there!!

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It was the midnight sun, the rainbow lasted more than an hour! That was how our day ended, at a rainbow high note!

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Now put on the door knob the “Do Not Disturb” sign, we were going to sleep in tomorrow. Good night, sweet Iceland!

 

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