Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In the Hills of Interlaken

Nothing like giving up completely to really get the world working in your favour.

When I woke up this morning the skies were still grey, so back to sleep with me. I'd sleep in as long as I could – and staying in a hostel that kept serving breakfast until ten made a very practical option [authors note: One Night in Bangkok plays in every hostel – but never in real life. What's up with that?] But the next time I woke up, I looked out the window, and it seemed as if sun light was streaming in. This had to be a farce of some sort, for there was nothing but rain and cold scheduled for today. Still, the initial shock of what I was seeing was enough to yank me out of bed, and down to the breakfast area where – beyond all reason and rhyme – I could see mountain peaks against a field of blue. And the video screen displaying live footage from “the top of Europe” proved that visibility was far improved since yesterday. What was I doing wasting this precious time inside?

Six pieces of bread, covered in sweet sweet Nutella (I can't believe I'd never had this stuff before this trip) and a liter of orange juice were quickly devoured. Then up from my seat I sprang with a clatter, running out the door to see what was the matter. And outside, it was as lovely as I could have hoped for, albeit a wee bit chilly. So, quickly, I headed back inside to put on my thermals, and grab my poncho.

On my way back out I overheard the woman working the counter talking to an Aussie - “Are you ok in your room?” / “Yes?” / “You're not bothered – with all the Ko-Reans?” / “...” / “There will be a couple of Indian guys coming in today too.” / “...” / “...” / “No, it's fine.” / “Well alright then. Have a good day.”

I have no idea what that was on about – but there you have it, relayed just as it was overheard. Is Switzerland known as a racist country? Did I miss something? Are Koreans known as notoriously bad bunk mates (because the ones in my room do not snore, and as such make perfect bunkmates. Mind you, it was the worst smelling dorm I've ever stayed in. Though this has more to do with the fact that our window was sealed shut all day, with each of our own unique odours combining into some sort of awful stench soup – with no bearing on the nationalities of those inside. Seriously though, it was gross. I don't care how cold it is – crack a window folks. You can close it before you go to sleep. It will be O.K.

And when trying to crack the window, make sure of how it opens, lest you find yourself with one of those, comical to others, dangerous to yourself, windows that flip open from the bottom, inwards, when the handle is in one setting, and normal right to left when it's in the other.)

Where was I? Right – so I headed outside, and decided to do a little spin about to really take in my surroundings. As impressive as they were in the rain, the sun and blue skies somehow improved upon that. Strange, I know, but there you have it. No point in denying what is true.

My first stop for the day was heading up to Heimwehfluh. A funicular connects the street and the lookout during peak season. This was not peak season. And thank whoever one thanks for that. Were it peak season the lookout would have been filled with tourist eating overpriced food because they are more elevated than usual, and children zipping around a very unimpressive little roller coaster. And I may not have walked up the trail, opting for the funicular instead.

Who a I kidding? Of course I would have taken the trail. I've far to – shall we say, thrifty, to take some sort of other transportation when walking will do just fine. But, those trails which were completely empty would have been covered in other hikers and walker and people bent on destroying my sense of peaceful serenity.

Autumn is the perfect time to visit this town, I've decided. You have the trails to yourself, the weather is at that perfect temperature where, dressed properly, you feel ever so cozy, and the trails are as beautiful as they could possibly be. In the summer the paths would just be unattractive gravel, and the views would be blocked. Instead, the trees had shed their leaves, allowing for a view all the way to the lakes beyond, while coating the trails in a carpet of reds, oranges, and yellows. Beautiful.

At the top I saw a sign pointing to the next village, which was to be my destination. However, as I walked further and further into the woods, I became more aware of the fact that I was walking a ridge line, and that the village would be down below. My map didn't show a way down from the ridge, and as the time to my destination was said to be an hour and a half, I didn't fancy discovering I was stuck, needing to spend another hour and a half back.

So I turned back, and tried to find my way. It was at this time that I pricked my left leg on something. I'm not sure what it was; a thorn, a bee sting, something foreign and potentially distressing – all I know is that ten hours later, I can still feel it. Still – I'm sure it's nothing. Right?

After trying to make my own path, and nearly falling down an ever so pretty hill (which would have been far more painful than delightful, I can assure you) I decided that I would stick to the paths – provided I made it back to them.

I saw a road in front of me. Sure this was no trail, but I'd come up the trail, and didn't really want to just backtrack. So along the road I went (there would be no slipping, sliding, or trying to make my own way here.)

Back down on the flatlands, I started following a main road to the next town. After nearly being hit by cars twice – walking down the road required hopping around a number of large containers not unlike those you'd need to inspect in XvT and jumping blindly on and off the road to progress – I turned back. There would have to be an easier way.

I looked at my map, and realized that were I to simply follow the river, I should end up where I was headed. On my map was marked another “ruine.” Having discovered that these marked ancient castles, I headed out to see this other one.

Following the river offered me a number of views of the same mountain peak with various foregrounds. An ungodly number of pictures were taken of this mountain – but that didn't seem to bother me. And with no rain pouring down on me, I could keep the my camera in the open without fear of it being completely destroyed.

The sky had started to grey, as clouds began to drift in. Had I taken this walk in the morning, I would have had spectacular views and photos of what I was exploring. As it stood, the light was wrong, and sky had changed. Still – had I walked this route in the morning, I would not have made my way up the hill later on in the day. So this was for the best. More exploration.

As I passed over a covered bridge I checked my map. The castle should be a few hundred meters ahead. And it was that miscalculation that allowed the ruin to be nearly as wonderful as the one from the day previous. Hidden amongst the trees was a castle dating back eight hundred years. Walking towards it, I found myself in a ditch that would have once been a moat surrounding the inner building. The courtyard was mostly intact, as was a large tower. And unlike most towers, steps had been constructed to replace those destroyed hundreds of years past. Standing on the top I could see to Thuner See. I decided that would be my next destination.

I paused a moment to take notes of the last few days, something I had been neglecting. And then it struck me just how amazing it was that I was sitting on the top of an eight hundred year old tower, where once more, so much history had passed by. What else had happened up here over the last eight hundred years? To bring a sleeping bag up, and spend the night would be something of a great adventure. And a story to tell for some time to come. Once more, I regret booking hostels ahead. And yet if I didn't, I'd probably never move on. So many towns I've thought, I'd like to spend a few more days, I'd like to spend a few more days. And if I did, I'd be missing out on so much more.

On that note, I pulled myself away from Ruine Weissenau and started heading towards the water. Walking towards the water, I found myself between two rivers. Here there were tiny little cabins. A woman emerged from one, filled her watering can at the river, and headed to water her flowers. Were these cottages? Houses? Cabins for rent?

Reaching the water, and having to turn back to the bridge I passed by earlier, I started following another marked trail to a town down by the water.

Boardwalks, and lookout points were marked here, along with boards depicting the wildlife, and fish that should be seen within the area. Strangely, no matter how many times I see these signs, they never seem to match that which is in front of me. Forever doomed, are the ecological signposts.

Still, this was the best marked trail I'd been on, and after a half of an hour, I wish within sight of the ferry. And this is where the trails ended. To get back to Interlaken I could either turn around and walk back the way I had come, which seemed boring, or take the roads to the next town over, and then take the connecting road back home.

As one who dislikes backtracking at all costs, I decided to head for the roads. Red signs mark the bike trails, and one of these pointed the way I was going. The fact that these signs contradicted the signs for cars was a wee bit upsetting, but I thought I'd just follow the trail. Nothing could go wrong following the trail, and there was a much less chance of getting flattened. So off I went.

I was on back roads between farms. I took a moment to video the cows, recording the sound of their bells jangling in unison. Everywhere the music of the bovine penetrates. It was at this moment that one of the cows decided to start charging me. Which would have been less terrifying if there was a fence more than a ribbon thick stopping it from reaching me. There were not. And the cow gathered its cow friends, and they also started to run. Just like stingrays, they're all fine and well one on one, but when they start massing, it's best to high tail it out of there. Sure, I ran from cows. I tell you what, they're brutal monsters. There's a reason the aliens have been turning them inside out for years (you don't hear about that anymore. Seriously, what happened to all the cow mutilations? Aliens or not, have they stopped – and if so why? And what's happening to all the bees?)

I came to the next bunch of red signs. Interlaken was no longer posted. Ohh good. And next I knew I was at a hospital, which I knew from my maps to be far north of where I needed to be. Good. Great. But – I came across a Swiss Chalet. Well, a Chalet Swiss as they were called. And it was a hotel, rather than a delicious cheap chicken restaurant. So that was worth being lost.

Turned out keeping on going where I was going would take me to another road that would sort me out. And then I headed to pick up my tradition meal of bread, pasta salad, and juice.

I ate it at the park. And as I dropped a crumb a cute little bird showed up. And then another joined it. And then fifteen, at best count were all crowding around. Some people may enjoy these little devils – but myself, I have had a sea gull try to kill me in the great episode of Edinburgh '09. I know that birds are not our friends, and Jurassic Park 2 has taught me that even the small creatures, given enough numbers, are deadly.

So passing the temperature machine (Yes, that's what I believe it to be. My father would love it so – one side has a barometer, the other – some sort of other barometer that outputs like a lie detector, pen on streaming paper, another a thermometer, and the last a hygrometer.) I headed back to the hostel.

There I freely washed my clothes, dried them, and settled in for the night.

One day left.

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