We had this trip to Switzerland in the works for a while. My parents had scheduled a trip to visit us and we planned to meet them in Switzerland and spend a few days there together before they came to our house for the rest of the week. Unfortunately, they had to postpone their trip, but since we already had the rail passes and Randolph had a long weekend, we decided to still go.
We had an early start – a 5:30 am train. Luckily, we can just walk to the train station from our house, so we stumbled our way there and then dozed off on the trains.
We arrived in Gruyères at 1pm. Since it’s a small town it required a couple extra train transfers that added some extra time to the trip. Because Switzerland is (notoriously) expensive, we opted to pack food for breakfasts and lunches and only eat dinner out. We had already eaten our lunch on the train ride, so as soon as we arrived we dropped our bags at the hotel (Hostellerie St. George) and we were ready to do some exploring until dinner.
The town, which is at the top of a hill, is within medieval walls and it’s pretty small so we were able to cover the entire town pretty quickly. The view was very nice from up on the hill – our first look at some of the picturesque Swiss mountains from a very picturesque town. There was a wedding about to start at the church on one end of town, and on the other end was a field full of sheep and chickens. We spent some time visiting them, of course. We just can’t ever resist hanging out with animals!
We also visited the HR Giger Museum and Giger Bar. Giger was a Swiss surrealist artist who is probably best known for his design work in the movie Alien. His work is lots of very odd, otherwordly, post-apocalyptic-looking human+technology creatures. It’s some pretty strange stuff (I second the Trip Advisor reviewer who said “not for kids”), but it’s also impressive in how detailed it is. After making our way through the (surprisingly large) museum we popped across the street to the bar designed by Giger. It’s pretty funky and was just the right amount of crazy to be a cool space to hang and have a drink. Plus it’s a fun photo op! They had a menu with some fancy Alien/Giger themed drinks, but we opted to just go for simple (i.e. cheap) drinks so that we could park ourselves at the bar for a little bit to snap some pictures. And sit in the cool bar chairs!
After one more stroll around town to stop by some souvenir shops, it was time for dinner! We had decided to stick with the restaurant that my mom had originally planned for the night, Le Chalet de Gruyères, for our fondue dinner. In addition to the cheesy goodness, we also ordered a crudité salad, some cured meat, and (of course) wine. The fondue came with bread and potatoes, plus pickled onions and gherkins.
After a delightful breakfast at our hotel (the best included breakfast I’ve ever had!), we headed back toward the train station. Across from the station was La Maison du Gruyère, one of the 170 makers of Gruyère cheese. Many of the producers of Gruyère cheese are very small, making only one or two wheels of cheese a day at their family farm. I suspect that La Maison du Gruyère is one of the largest producers; they have the capacity to make up to 48 wheels a day, depending on how much milk they receive. The facility includes a self-guided audio tour that explains alpine cows and milk, then walks you through the cheese-making process. You can even look down into the production room as they’re making the day’s cheese!
The admission price includes a little sample pack of cheese (yum!) and at the end of the tour you can peek into their cheese cellar (it hold up to 7,000 wheels!).
After the tour we got back on the train to head in the direction of Interlaken, where we would be spending our second night. Randolph and I had been planning to do some hiking on one of the mountains the next day (Monday), but it was looking like it would start to rain Sunday evening and rain all day Monday. We still wanted to get in some time on a mountain, so while we were on the train Randolph did some googling of nearby mountains and activities that would get us back onto the train before it started raining. He found the Oeschinensee Rodelbahn (alpine slide), which is on the side of a mountain. Once we had our destination in mind I used my super handy Deutschebahn app to plan the train ride on-the-go. We had originally planned to drop off our bags in Interlaken before going to do anything, but to save time we wound up putting them in a locker in the Spiez train station, and then we were off on the train toward Kandersteg, the town below Oeschinensee.
The train ride to Kandersteg was very beautiful! Randolph kept trying to take pictures and videos of the scenery, but he kept getting thwarted by trees along the tracks. Pretty much the entire trip was uphill and it got more steep as we went along. There were a couple stops shortly after we departed Spiez, but then we traveled quite far before making the Kandersteg stop. The train tracks were pretty high up, so we could look down over all the cute towns. And the train also went through several mountain tunnels, too. As we approached Kandersteg I discovered that there is the train equivalent to a car ferry; the line of cars drives onto a long, mostly open train and then drives off at the other end of the trip. I looked these trains up later to find out more, and discovered that they are used in cases where there is either no road or the road is a long trip around a mountain. Since the trains have tunnels through the mountains, these car trains are a more efficient way (and sometimes the only way) to get where you’re going. So smart!
Kandersteg is exactly what you would expect from a cute little mountain town – filled with the stereotypical pretty wood chalets. Since it was a Sunday almost everything was closed, but it was a cute town to walk through, nonetheless. I’m sure that it would be very beautiful and charming when it’s covered in a blanket of snow.
To get to the rodelbahn you walk through town to the cable car (hiking is possible, too, but we didn’t have time for that). The cable car carries you way up, over sheep and cows grazing in their mountain pastures. When you emerge you’re right next to the rodelbahn. As soon as you get out of the little cable car station you can immediately hear cow bells jingling which, of course, got Randolph very excited. He’d been so excited to see some Swiss mountain cows up close, and close they certainly were! There was a fence to keep them from wandering up to the rodelbahn, but the hiking path went right through the cow pasture, so you were free to visit the cows. They weren’t bothered by the presence of people but, unsurprisingly, they were a bit skeptical of people who walked up to them.
The soothing sound of alpine cow bells:
After a brief visit with some cows, we decided to go experience the rodelbahn before the rain started. You could get one, five, or 10 rides, so we decided to each get five – we knew only one each wouldn’t be enough. We did the first ride together. Your sled is pulled up a steep hill first and then gravity helps you speed down and around all the curves. I was in front of Randolph and I went fast enough that I wound up pretty far ahead of him by the end. He didn’t like that I teased him about going slow, so he was determined to go faster next time. Trips two through four we did separately so that we could take pictures and videos of each other. Unfortunately, the rodelbahn was getting a little more crowded right around then and we both kept getting held up by a combination of kids and annoying selfie-takers (boo!). Our fifth (and final) trip we did together again and we were determined to go as fast as possible. I saw a nice big opening with no one in front of us so we hurried back on so we could take advantage of it. And we definitely did take full advantage! I was once again in front of Randolph, but this time he kept up (so that I wouldn’t call him “grandma” again haha). I was barely touching the brakes and I got going so fast around one of the turns that half my butt slid off the sled! Wheeeee!! It was definitely a satisfying end to our rodelbahn experience!
After that, it was back to the cows. One of Randolph’s goals for the trip (his #1 goal, I think) was to touch a cow. Goal achieved, although sort of accidentally. This pretty lady was being her usual “skeptical cow” self and when Randolph got near her and held out his hand she head-butted it (note his startled expression). Fortunately, I got a picture at just the right second so that Randolph now has photographic evidence of his alpine cow-touching moment.
While we were on our last couple times around the rodelbahn we had started to feel a few sprinkles and the guy running it was keeping an eye on things and asking people to go slower if it started raining more. As we were getting back onto the cable car we realized they must have just shut down the rodelbahn from rain because all of the sudden there was a big swarm of people waiting for the cable cars. I guess we finished all of our mountain activities just in time! It would have been nice to hike over to the Oeschinensee (a lovely alpine lake), but there just wasn’t time for that.
After the cable car ride back into Kandersteg it was back onto the train and off to Interlaken (with a stop in Spiez to grab our stuff and switch trains). By this time it was full-on raining. After checking in to our hotel we discovered that our friend Kate (one of Randolph’s coworkers) was also staying in Interlaken that night. We slogged through the rain to get dinner at Schuh, a restaurant and pastry shop, and then met up with Kate at her hostel to chat and drink some wine. By this point we were already pretty soaked. After going back to our hotel, we laid out our soaked clothes in the hopes that they would dry and crossed our fingers for less rain the next day.
Sadly, it was raining just as much as the day before. Since we had to check out of the hotel in the morning, we left our bags in a locker at the train station so that we didn’t have to drag them around all day. Because I don’t have an actual rain jacket it didn’t take long for my jacket (and both of our shoes) to get completely soaked as we walked around town. We did a little exploring and went into shops looking for a good cow bell to buy as a souvenir. Right as we were buying one, Kate texted us with the suggestion that we take the bus to some nearby caves (suggested by her hostel as a good rainy day activity). So we made our way out to the St. Beatus Höhlen. As soon as we got off the bus we were greeted by a gushing waterfall (“It sure wasn’t like that when I biked past here two days ago!”, said Kate). We made the climb up to the cave entrance only to find out it had been closed due to flooding. Bummer! I was looking forward to it because I find caves very interesting. Immediately across from the caves was a view of Thunersee, one of the two “interlaken” lakes. So while we were waiting for the next bus we walked along the road a bit to look at the lake and the scenery. If the weather was nice I would have gladly walked all the way back to Interlaken, but then again if the weather was nice we would have been hiking on a mountain instead.
After arriving back in Interlaken we browsed a few more shops and then, since we were cold and wet and approaching cranky, we decided to take an earlier train back. We popped into the grocery store across from the train station for some Swiss goodies to take back (chocolate, cheese, meringue cookies) and then we were on our way back home. Changing clothes on the train into something warm and dry felt amazing!
Nothing planned yet, but we still have two days on our rail pass, I have a dirndl, and Oktoberfest just started, so you do the math. Prost! 🍻