Unfortunately for us, this day was the one and only time that the Swiss precision transport connection schedules let us down. The schiff was late in docking and we missed our train to Brienz – the one that would have given us the chance to take the wonderful little Brienz to Rothurn mountain steam train. I’ve done that trip up the steep mountain once and it is spectacular. However, you do need plenty of time for that excursion. The ride up takes about an hour (as does the return journey) and you need time to walk and explore at the top. But I do recommend it to anyone visiting Switzerland.
But there’s always an alternative – Plan B!
Or make up a plan as you go along… and that’s what we did.
We took a small train to Brienz along the shores of Brienzersee, a deep icy cold lake, 14 km long and about 2.5 kms wide. The River Aar runs through this lake, then through the Thunersee and finally out through the town of Thun.
Tucked at the end of the Brienzersee at the foot of the mountains, Brienz is a delightful, quiet place, renowned for its woodcarvers and wood carving school which has been in operation since 1862 . Potential students must pass an aptitude test before they begin their four year course. I have been for a tour of the school in the past and have several small pieces bought there over the years; pieces that I still enjoy. I found a blog about the school with good photos of the school and the village on: http://blog.woodcraft.com/2010/06/brienz-carving-school-tour/
I have been told that authentic Swiss cuckoo clocks have their start in life in this village. The carved ‘boxes’ are made here and then the clock mechanisms are added in Zurich with Swiss time piece accuracy of course!
Another task for the woodcarvers is to make wooden ‘headstones’ for graves… often including carvings that depict something of the life of the person such as a shepherd or a farmer. The best example of this cemetery carving I think is at Lungern, a village on the other side of the Brunig Pass. It’s well worth a stop at Lungern Church – on the hill – to see these carvings. One thing I have to say about Swiss cemeteries is that I have never seen a unkempt one. In summer the graves are usually adorned, as here, with bedding begonias rather than a concrete tops. There is real respect shown.
After arriving at Brienz station, I was keen to visit the baker’s shop. Em and I had stayed with the local baker once – and not only did we wake up to that wonderful smell of fresh baked bread, but he also made the very best ‘creme caramel’ I have ever tasted. His secret – fresh unadulterated cow’s milk and fresh eggs. (And that same secret was told to me by the chef in a small country restaurant near Trabzon in eastern Turkey when I commented on his delicious rice custard!)
But my visit to the baker’s shop was not to be. When checking the train timetable before we set out to explore the village, I noticed that the next train due was the “Golden Pass” with its special glass topped panoroma carriage. I knew that this train required a first class ticket AND pre-paid reserved seats. We had the former but not the latter. I had tried to book on the internet the night before but couldn’t do it at such short notice. So we went to the ticket office to make inquiries. And there we met a lady with a whole lot of common sense! As the train had already left Interlaken, she couldn’t reserve seats for us. BUT, she said, if we stood at a certain place on the platform, when the train came in we should just hop on board and sit down until someone said they had reserved that seat. We could always move and/or pay the conductor the price of a reservation. And that’s just what we did! We were more than ready to move but no-one even looked like challenging us for the seats. In fact we noticed others doing the same thing. What luck.
The first part of the journey took us along the fertile Meiringen valley. It’s at the foot of both the Susten Pass which winds its way east from here and the Brunig Pass which crosses northwards. Both are spectacular and worth the drive.
Our train was going to take us north across the Brunig Pass to Lucerne. I had done this many times by road but never by train. The train reverses out of Meiringen station and then, with one engine pulling and one pushing, it begins its long, winding, steep ascent through forests until it reaches the summit at 1,008 m.
When the train finally pulled into the summit station, Brunig-Hasliberg, what a surprise we had. The station buildings serve as a second hand book and furniture shop. What an interesting concept. I know the road passes through here too, so I guess they set out to get the passing trade in this very small place. But… we had no time to stop and browse.
The conductor came around to check tickets at about this point on the journey. He was a small, rotund man with red cheeks and a cheerful laugh. I was expecting to have to pay extra for these ‘panorama seats’ – but no! He just passed the ticket back to me and said, ‘Have a very pleasant day ladies.” And that was that! We settled in for the rest of the ride.
After leaving the top of the pass, the train began to wend its way through the high summer pastures with small summer farm houses dotted across the fields. It was somewhat reminiscent of scenes from the famous Heidi and Peter story.
The train wound its way very slowly down the steep mountain-side track, somewhat like a sinuous snake, until finally we could see below us the lovely Lungern valley. We had a fine view of the church with its terraced church yard full of carved wooden ‘headstones’- the ones that I mentioned earlier. I’d never looked down onto the church and village before. I’d often driven through the village and walked up to the church to see the carvings. It’s worth the climb.
After leaving Lungern station the train wandered along above the Lungernersee. It really is a delightful valley but so hard to capture in photos from the train. The windows are never spotless and the sun never at the right angle and reflections from inside the carriage get in the way! And then there’s usually a tree or a post that just happens to pop into the photo the minute you press the shutter. But we did manage a few photos to give some idea of the scenery we were enjoying.
The road winds around the lake below the train line, passing through small farming communities that have not changed over the years. I noticed only one or two new houses – built in the old style that has stood the test of time.
I guess this old, now abandoned building has seen better days – before the tree began to push its way through the wall.
Down, down – ever downward – very slowly, through spectacular scenery, until we could see the Giswil Valley below.
This was indeed a journey through some beautiful lake country. This one, the Sarnersee was almost at the bottom of the Golden Pass train’s descent on its way to Lucerne and its lake the Vierwaldstattersee – but more of that lake next time.
What a wonderful journey it had been. AND we had both had excellent seats all the way. But there was one thing left to do before we reached Lucerne to change trains for the final hour ride to Zurich. We should pay a visit to ‘the loo’.
Now remember this was a first class carriage on one of the special panorama trains in the country of Switzerland… the most expensive country to visit in the world, I think. I was first to make my way through the carriage to the WC. Just as I settled myself down to mind my own business, I was stunned by a cold blast of air making its presence felt on my nether regions! Wow! Where did that come from? When I arose, rather quickly from that ‘throne’, I was amazed to see that the loo went straight through to the track beneath. Now I haven’t experienced that sort of train loo since – well, I guess, since I was a teenager travelling the North Coast line between Sydney and Lismore.. and that was a while ago!
But we were very glad of our first class tickets on the final leg of our journey that day – from Lucerne back to the airport at Zurich. At Lucerne station, we only just made the train before it pulled out of the station so we had to get on board the very last carriage – a second class one. It was packed! People were sitting on the stairs and on the floor… it was after all the summer holidays and also knock off time for workers. We made our way carefully through the throng, passing through several carriages until we found ourselves at last in a first class carriage. There, we sank thankfully into a comfortable seat for the journey ‘home’. Yes, our first class ticket had been worth every Swiss frank we had paid.
We had one more day to go in Switzerland and that will be the subject of our final Swiss journal entry. J and A