I arrived in Zurich via bus and then took the train to Interlaken where I found an ATM and pulled out my first Swiss Francs. I’d gotten used to using Euros, so I knew this would be an awkward transition. I got myself some water and snacks, not sure what I’d be able to buy where I was staying, up in a remote village in the Alps.
The train took me to Lauterbrunnen, where I found the bus to the cable car station in Stechelberg. The scenery was instantly jaw-dropping. It was drizzling and everyone was wearing hiking boots and rain jackets, and the brown of the wooden houses contrasted the bright green grass, and the mountains rose up around the bus on all sides.
I took the cable car up one stop to Gimmelwald – my new home for the next 4 nights. This is a place where there are no cars – only cows and goats and wooden houses. My hostel lay right before my eyes as I exited the cable car station, a welcome sight after traveling for so long in so many different modes of transportation.
I walked into the hostel and was greeted by one of the managers. He confirmed my reservation and gave me the key to my room, which was an all-girls room with about 8 bunk beds. None of them were taken yet, so I chose a bottom bunk next to the window and set my stuff down. I went back downstairs to the common room – the only place the wifi reached – and saw some people sitting around a map and plates of food as they planned their hiking route for the day.
The view was unbelievable and indescribable. The entire time I was there, I stared out at the mountain range in the distance. Sometimes it was misty, other times it was clear and bright. The best times were in the morning or at dusk when the sun painted the sky with beautiful hues of yellow, pink, and orange.
I chose to stay in Gimmelwald after watching and reading a ton of Rick Steves’ travel guides. Switzerland hadn’t even been on my list of countries I wanted to visit during this trip, but seeing it in Rick’s videos made me realize it would be a fantastic place to relax and take in the calm of nature. I’d planned to visit so many big cities, museums, churches, etc. that I knew I’d probably need a break to just soak in the fresh mountain air. Thus, Gimmelwald was my choice.
I didn’t do much on my first day – I just walked around the town, took pictures of the amazing views, and made myself some pasta for dinner in the kitchen. Soon, the common room was full as the hostel guests came back from their hikes, etc. and we played card games, listened to music, and talked. I made friends with a few people who were working at a nearby guesthouse and we hung out a lot while I was there.
The next morning, I woke up bright and early and went down for breakfast. My room hadn’t filled up completely – only a handful of other girls slept in my room. Waking up and brushing my teeth as I looked out at the breathtaking scenery was so exhilarating. Breakfast was a mix of yogurt, fruit, granola, toast, and tea. Everyone at the hostel was so friendly and open. At some of the other hostels I’d stayed in until then, I felt kind of alone and kept to myself more. Here at Mountain Hostel, it was easy to sit down and strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
I had no idea what to do that day but decided to go hiking based on everyone’s recommendations. I kept hearing everyone else talking about the hikes they’d taken or were planning to take and wanted to go on my own adventure in the Swiss Alps. One of the hostel managers told me I could just take the path from Gimmelwald all the way up to the peak of Schilthorn. The cable car went to the top and stopped twice on the way up from Gimmelwald – at Mürren and Birg. I could hike up and take the cable car back down.
She told me it wasn’t a rough hike and that it would take about 4 hours. I thought that sounded great, so I packed my shoulder bag with snacks, my full water bottle, my rain jacket, etc. and set out around 9am. There were signs all along the trail pointing to Schilthorn and the trail was well-marked.
The beginning of the trail was a straight shot up a huge hill to a line of trees. I was the only one I saw going up, save for a couple with a baby in a sling and some other guys. Pretty much everyone passed me. Each time I looked down, I was shocked by how high up I was. Also, I’m afraid of heights. I began to realize I was in over my head.
At the top of the hill, I entered the forest and walked amongst the trees. Soon, I found myself near a set of farmhouses and pig enclosures. Lots of hikers also dotted the trail and I met a family that was hiking together. The daughter was around my age and we hiked together for a while and chatted. I told them I was headed for the peak and they told me, “Oh you won’t make it there – not today!” as if to warn me that I had started too late and wouldn’t get up there in time.
Schilthorn is so high up that often the view looking out gets clouded with heavy fog in the afternoon, and many people try to get up there before the fog sets in. I wasn’t too worried about that – I just wanted to finish what I started. It started feeling like a real challenge to conquer this mountain, what with me being unprepared (no hiking boots, not enough water, my fear of heights) and I never back down from a challenge. I made it my mission to prove them wrong, so I picked up my pace and waved goodbye.
The cows all around the valley had bells around their necks that chimed and tingled and it was so peaceful, despite me running out of breath each time I got to new altitude. I reached a section in the trail where I realized I didn’t know if I was going the right way or not. I stopped for a bit and met three Finnish girls who were going the same way as me. We realized that we were roommates! They’d come in late last night and slept in my room at the hostel. I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable going it alone anymore, so they agreed to let me join them.
I slowed them down the whole time, and I stopped more often than they did, but they were nice about it. One girl even shared her Toblerone chocolate with me! We had a great time talking and commiserating how hard it was to climb this dang mountain. We came upon the couple with the baby as the mom was breastfeeding and were shocked that they were actually hiking faster than us. We passed them, but not long after, they passed us again!
The terrain became rough. It was rocky and steep and there were occasionally ropes staked into the ground so that hikers could hang on as they pulled themselves up. We reached a frozen lake with sheep laying down nearby. It was really cold and I had to wear my jacket, but after a while, I was so sweaty that I took it off again. We got to a section that was just rocks and they let me lag behind as they continued on. I was scared they had left me completely, but they stopped at a lookout point for me. There, a monument stood remembering a woman who died at this point – she was struck by lightning.
We were almost there – people coming down assured us we could do it and that we were about 40 minutes away from the cable car station. I just wanted a cheeseburger. I ran out of water and now we were straddling the top of the mountain; one slip in either direction would mean a nasty (and probably deadly) fall. From here on out, it was all ropes and bridges. I hate bridges. I really didn’t think I could do it, but it wasn’t like I could go back down! One of the Finnish girls let me hold on to her shoulder as I tried not to look down as we hiked the last few meters.
Finally, we came up to the steps of the cable car station. In total, it took me five and a half hours from Gimmelwald to reach the peak. I was so tired, my legs were so sore, and I was shaking from my phobia that I’d fall off this mountain and die. They cheered me on and we opened the doors to the gift shop. We immediately went to the bathroom, filled up our water bottles, and got a table at the revolving restaurant.
They had cheeseburgers!! And this cable car station was built especially for an old James Bond movie (the 1969 movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), so the burgers even had 007 logos stamped into them. I ordered a huge Sprite and a brownie for dessert. We rested at the restaurant, laughing about the crazy thing we’d just done and enjoying our full stomachs. We walked around the gift shop and the 007 museum, and then we went outside to the lookout. It was pretty foggy, so we couldn’t see down that well, but we’d just hiked the entire mountain, so we knew what it looked like from every point along the way.
My roommates decided to hike back down. I thought they were crazy. I took the cable car down alone. It was funny being in the cable car with other tourists who clearly had not just hiked this mountain because they were scared at how high up we were and I was finally feeling like my phobia might be cured. At one of the cable car stations, I got out and went to the lookout point to take pictures, since it was less foggy. A Korean family was trying to get pictures, so I offered to take their picture together and they were shocked that I spoke Korean.
I took the cable car back down, and in the station when I was buying my tickets, the ticket seller noticed my Harry Potter jacket and asked me if I went to London! When I said that yes, I’d just been, he asked if I’d seen the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play and told me he’d seen it too, and that he loved it. It was fun to meet another HP fan that way. Back at the hostel, I ate my leftover pasta for dinner. I was so tired that I just hung out and talked to the other guests before collapsing in my bed. Thankfully, my Finnish roommates made it back safely around 9-10pm.
The next day, I decided to go to Grindelwald, which is a bigger town with lots of adventurous activities. I took the cable car, the bus, and a train, and was finally there. On the way there, I saw the family I saw the day before when hiking! They were on the same train as I was and we caught up. I informed them that I had, indeed, made it to the top, and they were impressed. I said bye to them once again as I stepped off the train at Grindelwald station. I walked around until I found the tourist office where I bought a pass for two activities: ziplining and mountain carting. The guy told me to hurry on up to the top of the mountain and that it was crowded already, so I did just that.
The cable car up was more like a ski lift (actually that’s exactly what it was) and I was alone. It crept up the mountain and even stopped for a few minutes, leaving me dangling above the trees and the people biking down. After my hike the day before, I was decidedly less scared of heights, so I chose to enjoy it. I rode the ski lift to the very top station and got some lunch at the restaurant there. I also frolicked around the field getting pictures, and I found two Korean girls with a camera and asked them to take my picture, too. They were happy to and were great at getting me to pose so that the shot looked cool.
Then I got in line for my first activity – the zipline. The wait was pretty long; I stood there for about 40 minutes. I chatted up some of the people in line as we all nervously stepped closer to the tall wooden platform. I love ziplines, but the climb to the top is always scary. They only let two people go at a time, so I was paired with a Middle Eastern guy and we both nervously laughed as they hooked us up. We were suspended with our feet dangling, but there was a metal gate in front of us, blocking our view. I held onto my phone as tightly as I could and started recording right before they let us go.
The zipline was amazing. It was a pretty long ride down and the view was spectacular. I screamed with delight the whole time and got a decent video of the descent. As soon as I got to the bottom, I realized my hairband had come off. I was so sad that I forgot to take it off and that it would be lost forever, but I had to keep going. I walked down a little ways to the mountain cart guy and gave him my ticket.
The mountain carts were like tricycles almost. They had three wheels and brakes but no pedals. The path was entirely downhill, so there was no need to speed up on your own. I got a helmet, chose a bike, and was off. This was probably my favorite thing I did! It was so much fun just letting gravity pull me down this gravel path that hovered over the rest of the valley. The view was incredible and it was so much fun speeding down the winding road.
After this, I found the cable car station leading to Pfingstegg, where the luge is. you sit on this seat that has a brake and go down a metal slide. There are places where you need to go uphill, and it will pull you upwards like you’re in a roller coaster cart. This was fun, too, but I was tired and only did it once. I got back to the main part of town and found a place to have fondue. After that, I went to the community center and went swimming! They had an indoor pool and it was empty save for a few families, and they even had a water slide! It was so nice to relax and swim and then take a shower before heading back to my hostel.
The next day was my final full day in Switzerland, so I decided to take it easy by visiting the town right above Gimmelwald: Mürren. It was cloudy and threatening to rain, so I knew I couldn’t plan any outdoor activities. Mürren was setting up for a marathon to come through, so there were lots of people about and there were banners and flags everywhere advertising the run. I took some pictures, walked around, and went to a Chinese place for lunch. I kept craving Chinese food, so when I finally got my sweet and sour chicken, I was happy.
Then I went to the sports center and relaxed and read a book on the patio. Some of the other hostel guests/workers showed up and we all went swimming in the indoor pool. Actually, we mostly stayed in the hot tub since it felt so nice and was starting to rain and get cold outside. After that, I had a massage booked, so I went up to the spa center and waited for my masseuse. I hadn’t really known who I was signing up for when I booked it the day before, and he ended up being a man. It was kind of awkward, but I felt great afterwards when my muscles were all relaxed.
I made my way back to the cable car station, stopping for groceries on the way, since our hostel wasn’t near any places where one could get real food (the hostel itself stocks some veggies and pasta ingredients). I went back to the hostel, made some dinner, and did my laundry. It was my last night in Switzerland and I’d had an amazing time.
Switzerland became one of my favorite stops by far, and I dream about it every day. The next morning, though, I was headed to Italy!