Switzerland 05-06: Interlaken

Once again, I’ve managed to blow my electricity. I didn’t feel like another day of sitting on my own in the dark, so I decided to go out for the day, the entire day, and not come back until about ten, so I decided to go to Interlaken. No real reason, it just seemed to be pretty far away and was on my list of places to go.
It took fifty minutes to get to Bern, then I changed trains for Interlaken. It was a double-decker train, and obviously, I went upstairs. It felt very different from a normal train. Darker, smaller, more closed in and the weirdest thing was not being able to hear the wheels properly.
I had a ticket for Interlaken Ost but I got off at Interlaken West. There was a nice mountain view from the station, and a very odd-coloured river behind it:

I had read in my guidebook that there’s not a lot more to Interlaken than a main street with a station at each end. As soon as I came out of the station, I saw a big building, very Alpine-style, which claimed to be Migros. I hadn’t had any breakfast (I meant to get bread at the stations, but I always had to run for my next train), so I went in. It was one of those massive shopping centres, but upstairs it had the biggest Migros I’d ever seen and the entrance was right in the middle, so it was very difficult to know where to start shopping. Eventually I managed to get bread, butter, Pom bears, chocolate and a bottle of apple juice. The apple juice turned out to be fizzy, but it did at least taste of apples which is more than most fizzy apple juice seems to.
I start wandering up the road, deliberately took a side-street and walked up the road. There was a sort of park with benches, so I sat down there to eat my bread:

Nice mountain view and because the field was half-dead and all brown, it looked almost like New Zealand looking across it:

Behind me, there was a coach and it started reversing. I assumed it was going to try and turn around right there in the road and get in the way of all the cars, but it didn’t, it reversed down a tiny side-street. Ok, it was going to use that to turn around. But it didn’t! It just kept reversing down there. There was nothing there, the road would come to a dead end in about 200 yards, but the coach driver knew what he was doing. I think. I finished my bread, forgot about the coach and went on.

As I was walking down the road, I saw something that didn’t quite look right. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but when I thought about it, I realised what it was…

An English phonebox. I didn’t notice the dumpy coke machine with the chinese roof next to it until I was coming back down.
The next interesting thing I came across was a church apparently growing out of a Chinese garden (a half-frozen Chinese garden). I was in the middle of taking a photo of it when a man walked past wearing a Christmas tree hat. Obviously, I had to get a photo of that, but as my victim didn’t know, he walked away as I was taking it. Here’s my attempt – that hat is tree shaped!

And here’s what he distracted me from:

Anyway, I got to the end of the road and came to the East station. Without intending to, I had managed to walk all the way up the high street. I stood down by the river and looked at it for a long time. It was an incredible colour and I took about ten photos, just to try and capture the colour. They say the sky is blue because it reflects the sky, but it’s not true. The sky was completely grey. There was no reason that I could see for it being such an incredible colour. This one gets the colour well:

This one gets the view up the river, complete with mountains in the background:

I wandered around the station, noticed there was a Coop next to it. It seemed a very sweet little arrangement: Migros next to one station and Coop next to the other:

I walked back down.
I stopped at a shop to get some postcards for my wall and when I went inside, discovered it was a toy shop. I checked it for goats but there weren’t any. Then I spotted a rainbow koosh and couldn’t resist it. I also wanted to get a picture of something I saw on the way up, but I had been on the wrong side of the road at the time. Now I was on the other, so I could get a photo of it properly….

Half a cow sticking out of a wall!!! I followed this back road. There was nothing down there. Literally, once you’re off the main street, there’s nothing there, except a couple of pretty buildings and a big wall of mountain:

I was back at the station about fifteen minutes before my train was due and took lots of photos of the German high-speed train that came in. This is only one of about six:

The view was better now, although it might not look it in the photos:

The train that I got back to Bern was only a normal one. Disappointing. I sat opposite a man with a baby (actually, they sat opposite me, I was there first!) and honestly, although it was quite cute, the baby looked like a baby orc. It had that sort of face and ears. It could have been a horrendous hour, trapped in a train with a baby, but every time it cried, the man took it away.
I had planned to stay in Bern a while, maybe have a drink, delay coming back to Neuchatel, but it was cold and I was tired, so I decided to just come back.
Back in my dark room, I threw myself on Jemma’s mercy. Peedee’s here as well, so we’re all just sitting in Jemma’s room, playing computers.

Switzerland 05-06: Chateau d’Oex – International Balloon Festival

Peedee has been looking forward to this for months, since about May, she says.
We got up very early on Saturday morning because the train left at 7.34. Peedee was convinced she was dying and was set on flying back to American first thing Monday morning and never coming back because she hates the germs in Switzerland. We got our train to Lausanne, changed trains to Montreux, which was fine although for some reason, the entire station looked completely different. The trouble with the second train was that it was packed full of skiers and snowboarders and although we hiked the entire length of the train, there was nowhere to sit, so in the end, we stood in between the carriages, where apparently my bag kept setting off the sensors which opened the door. The soldier standing behind me got very annoyed and eventually disappeared, or so I’m told. I think I’m completely innocent of this one. When we got to Montreux, we changed trains again. I’d looked at a map of the station early in the morning, so I knew platform 3 which we arrived on and platform 5 which we were leaving from were in fact opposite sides of the same piece of concrete. It didn’t look far on the map but it would take over an hour. We found that this was because it goes very steeply uphill through the local villages and stops everywhere.
We arrived at Chateau D’Oex (pronounced day)

just before ten and bought our tickets for the day (8CHF) and were each given a yellow tag to wear, which made us feel like we were being evacuated. We walked down through the town and into the showground. It was still early and there were only a handful of balloons blown up, which gave us a chance to watch how they’re blown up. First a big fan is used to get it full of cold air, while people run around pulling it in various directions on ropes. Then they fire the hot air into it and eventually, it starts floating upwards. The basket starts off on its side on the ground, but at this point, it begins to move, so people on one side pull it and people on the other push it and eventually it’s upright. There we were, surrounded by people from all over the world, real jetsetters, photographers, reporters etc and then Peedee spotted Miss Suisse in a balloon:

I don’t know what her name is, but there were lots of people taking photos of her. This is the fire:

You can really feel it when it goes off that close to you! By now there were about twenty balloons ready to go and some of them went. They fire lots and lots of hot air into the balloon, the short blue flames, not the big pretty yellow ones like that ^ and then the balloon begins to hover and then lots of people have to push it around to make sure it doesn’t start floating off in a random direction. Once the first one was up, the others quickly followed
As far as balloons went, the most exciting bit was over. We watched them until they were out of sight and then stood up on the field watching as one or two more balloons at a time were blown up and sent away.

Then there were a handful of odd-shaped balloons:

(here a clown, a mobile phone and half an orange)
We went into the big hall which I think used to be a barn, and had lunch. Jemma and Peedee had bread and vegetables and made sandwiches and I’d bought a baguette at the station before we left. Then suddenly Peedee said “Look, there’s a flying castle.”
I’d finished eating so I ran outside to take a photo and saw when I described at the time as “a tartan penguin lying on the ground.” Five minutes later, when I went back out again, it was in the air:

Not a penguin. I ran back inside, said “You have got to see what’s in the sky out there!” and ran back out again. It was surreal standing outside, among a crowd of people with this in front of me:

listening to “Amazing Grace” played on bagpipes over the loudspeaker. Really weird.
We’d intended to go up on one of the free balloon flights but there were no balloons, so we decided instead to go for a ride in a helicopter. It was 60CHF and between, we managed to make enough money. We bought the tickets, then went and stood in the snow in the queue. Peedee took a picture of me “with the ticket in my hand!”. I never figured out why it was so incredible or funny that I was holding the ticket. Jemma was doing exactly the same thing. I was scared – I’ve never been in a helicopter before. We got in and were still trying to figure out which seatbelts went where when suddenly we were wobbling into the air.

I didn’t take any photos while we were up there, although Peedee has photos and video. It was amazing, flying around over the mountains, seeing a frozen reservoir, going over into the next valley, trying to work out where I was from up high. Was I above Chateau D’Oex or was I somewhere completely different? The pilot was a master. All too soon we were landing, coming in far too fast, then going around in a circle before hovering slowly downwards into a perfect landing. It was noisy, but not deafening like I’d expected. We turned around to take photos of it as soon as we were out but it was already taking off to refuel and spraying us with pieces of snow and ice which were falling off it as it moved.
We were going to go and have a look around the village, since everything else seemed to have finished but as we were crossing the field, I heard something about parachutists, so we waited for that:

before going into the village. Everything was closed but up by the church we got a great view of the snow:

This is the showfield:

glistening with snow in the late afternoon sun. We went down the hill and had hot chocolate and vin chaud. This is what was opposite us:

The shutters kept randomly opening and shutting and they were very pretty when they were shut. A horse and sled went past:

and eventually we went back to the station and got the train back. We were going to stop in Montreux for a proper look but it was very cold, so we had a hot chocolate each in a bar (where there was the most gorgeous golden labrador puppy!). On the platform an American man asked Jemma why there were so many people with skis and snowboards, was there somewhere nearby to ski? Jemma didn’t know but apparently I know everything so he asked me and I explained about the mountains and villages behind the town, where the trains go. Then we were approached by an American girl and an English one who wanted to know which platform they needed to be on to go to “Egg”. I was baffled, then I realised they were saying Aigle which I guessed was the other side. The English one was very English. When I said it wasn’t this one because the train was going completely the opposite direction, she said “Oh, how awful!” in a very Eton-esque accent before they ran off to the other side like I guessed.
We got the next train out of Lausanne. Peedee bought a cup of some kind of herbal tea at the station while we were waiting and we were back in Neuchatel by 7.30. That’s a record.

Switzerland 05-06: Gor de Vauseyon

This gorge is the most obscure trip we’ve done. I spotted it in a leaflet Jemma had in her room, and after a bit of work, found it where it was – the leaflet claimed it was in Neuchatel town centre which seemed weird. It’s actually only a couple of stops outside it actually. I was going to just go and do a finding-out trip while Jemma and Peedee did other stuff but in the end, Peedee wanted to come too. We met at about ten down in town, got something to eat, then got on our bus. The moment it was empty enough for us to find seats, we were at our stop. We had to follow a path past buildings, through car parks etc under the road, then I spotted the hotel. What I’d ben able to find out about the gorge was based around the hotel, such as the directions because they’re next door to each other. The first most obvious thing was a bit outside climbing wall. I have no idea what the rules are for using it because there’s no supervision, no one in charge or anything like that. Do we just turn up with ropes and harnesses? There was also a stone construction, for lack of a better word, which I climbed up inside and through various small tunnels and holes, not very high but high enough to be scared of coming down again. Then we went down to the gorge.
The first bit is a very icy platform with holes in it which you can see through, down to the water below, or in this case, ice. Then Peedee discovered some steps, so we went underneath and into what turned out to be the ruins of an old mill. The ceiling was decorated in little calcite straws, there were icicles on the wall and the ladder to get back out was very narrow and wobbly. We went up the steps onto the top of the gorge and walked above it, then down to a kind of beach. The shore was all frozen, in fact, half the river was frozen and it looked incredible.
This is just downstream from the beach:

From there, we could see the mill but the only way to get a good photo of it was to use the stepping stones above the frozen river:
and this is what I achieved:

We went back onto the planks, across the river and down the other side. From here, we could see a frozen waterfall:

going into a very green and very deep splashpool. Chunks of ice had broken off in little circle shapes and they were floating round and round in the water. Then the river narrowed down and went through a tunnel. We couldn’t get down there (well, we could if we went through the wire netting over the locked gate) but I looked closely at it and then I noticed something:

An absolutely massive icicle curtain, with a longer icicle at each end, like an enormous fang a little way inside the tunnel! We tried to get so many pictures of that but it was just too far in to get any clear ones. We followed the steps up and out of the gorge, hoping to find the other end of the tunnel. We went through more industrial places, through car parks, past where metal fences live when they’re not being put up to make pens for crowds, across some random train tracks, and eventually realised our path went right over the motorway and up the hilly bit of town on the other side. That didn’t look right at all, so we decided we would have to turn round and go back.
We went back to the hotel and then I discovered some icy stone stairs, which turned out to lead to another bit of gorge, in the other direction. This was probably my favourite bit.
There was a half-frozen waterfall, going into a windy pool, where one side was completely lined with icicles. Top to bottom:
Peedee made a few videos of it, we discovered that we couldn’t go any higher, and anyway, the gorge stopped there and turned into a calm if slightly icy river, so we went and had a look at the climbing wall instead before we made our way back to the main road. We went in Coop so I could get some chocolate to make some bus fare out of my 5 franc piece which the machine won’t accept, then we had to run because the bus appeared. My camera fell out of my pocket, but we did manage to get on in time. Three, maybe four, stops later we were at the top of the hilly shopping street in Neuchatel, so we jumped off there and went to a random bar for coffee and hot chocolate.