The Price of a Comfort Stop!

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Sep 30, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel Oberland Lauterbrunnen
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Friday, September 24, 2010

We left Geneva this morning after driving through the northern part of our intended walk route - the district of international organizations headquartered in Geneva. The United Nations Plaza was impressive with all the flags, then we got lost somewhere behind the World Health Organization. The GPS led us out through some pretty interesting suburban neighborhoods and onto the freeway along Lake Geneva to Lausanne (pronounced loo-ZAHN).

We heard that Lausanne, a former Olympic city, was pleasant, and considered it as an alternative to Geneva. It was clean and inviting, but we still like the variety our Geneva walk offers. Leaving Lausanne, we picked up the lakeside highway, looking for signs to the "Corniche", a narrow, winding vineyard road reputed to snake through tiny charming villages with great views over Lake Geneva.

We found the Corniche and were soon proving the reputation correct. Needing a comfort stop, however, we parked in such a tiny charming village and looked for a café or market that would offer the chance to justify use of their toilets with a purchase. 

Public toilets would, of course, be unheard of in such a small village – our European friends have survived for centuries, millennia even, without this patented American luxury. The Romans apparently were among the first to use public toilets, and I wondered if Julius Caesar and friends had similar problems when they crossed the Alps and conquered the Swiss locals (a Celtic tribe called Helvetii). 

As we wandered the town humiliated by our need, and lack of success, I imagined that public toilets were one of the first things the new Roman conquerors attended to in the lands they subdued.

We found a small inn with a charming terrace overlooking Lake Geneva. In a somewhat relaxed mood traveling along the lovely lake with my wife, I was not fully engaged in tour guide mode. I allowed the situation to get out of hand. We asked about toilets. The lady managing the terrace café asked if we were staying in their inn (of course she knew we were not). We said we intended to have something to eat at their terrace, which earned her assent.

As Linda attended the ladies room, I procured a table, telling Madam (we are still in French-speaking Switzerland) that we only wanted something light. Noticing that the café was serving full meals, and the locals were not holding back, I realized that my first thought about buying a coke and enjoying the views on the terrace for 15 minutes before moving on was probably not going to fly.

When I mentioned “something light”, Madam had referred to the possibility of a salad or apple tart. So without reading the menu, we ordered an apple tart each and a bottle of water to share. The tart was delicious, and the water was expensive. Actually, the entire experience was an spendy reminder of the need to manage comfort stops (even when traveling without a group). 

When the bill came I swooned! Thirty francs for one bottle of water and two apple tarts (albeit ala mode). The water was five francs alone (the franc is now about on par with the dollar). Linda is learning that water is often the most expensive drink on the menu. We just burned $30 on a comfort stop with a great view over the lake.

Leaving Madam and the café, we continued along the lake to Chateau de Chillon, a dramatic 14th century castle on the shore of the lake. The history involves the aristocratic Savoy family and ongoing conflict between the catholic French Swiss and the protestant German Swiss. We didn't take time for the tour, but this is a true castle that a good guide and some time to explore could convert into a memorable experience.

The day ended with a delightful drive across the mountains into the first of the pro-typical Alps (meadows cleared for grazing) and window box-trimmed wooden chalets. We arrived Lauterbrunnen, in the Berner Oberland region of central Switzerland, about 5 pm. A masterfully-prepared 3-course meal ended the day and we retired early with doubts about tomorrow’s weather. The plan was to show Linda the Jungfrau excursion, complete with a train trip to the highest rail station in Europe, and a walk through the alpine meadows.


We awoke this morning to scattered clouds. It appeared the cold front was moving in, but was at least partially delayed. Breakfast was a delight – all the wonderful breads and jams and cheeses of central Europe – then we walked to the rail station to purchase our tickets. We bought tickets only to the Kleine Scheidegg station. There, we’d assess the weather at the top – the Jungfraujoch – and decide whether to continue or come up with an alternative plan.

We shared our car with a lively bunch: a man from Bombay and a couple from New Delhi who were not traveling together, and a couple from Connecticut. All were good humored and soon we were taking pictures of each other, and leaning out of windows like kids to capture the views with our camera. Clouds obscured the best panoramas, but still it was impressive, and we enjoyed their enthusiasm as we approached Kleine Scheidegg.

The ticket agent there showed us the webcam broadcast from Jungfraujoch – a gray screen of clouds. Since the ongoing ticket was priced at about $200 (for both), we decided that was pretty pricey cloud viewing and changed our plans. I’d heard the trail to Mannlichen was good, so we found the trail head and made our way through the hills and meadows – about 5 kilometers – with cloud breaks and some wonderful views at the end down into Lauterbrunnen valley.

A gondola ride down to the village of Wengen (served only by rail and helicopter – no roads) gave us a few minutes in this touristy, but charming town before we caught the train back to Lauterbrunnen.

As we got off the train, we were met by Anthony and Iris, friends of ours from the eastern part of Switzerland who have helped set up walks many times over the years. They had graciously agreed to join us in Lauterbrunnen, and over lunch we caught up (it’s been at least 5 years since I’d seen them), and talked about walk plans for our Pure Alpine Delights adventure.

Chatting with locals is always one of the highlights of international travel for me, providing rare and valuable windows into the culture, especially if they are open and willing to talk about hot issues that are of interest in their home country. Our conversation with Anthony and Iris ranged from family to politics to volkssport to travel to religion to their intended visit to Washington and Oregon next May. It was indeed a pleasure.

The afternoon ended with rain, and more forecast for tomorrow. We were thankful, however, to have seen the Jungfrau valley and Mannlichen and finished another busy day with another great meal in the hotel restaurant.
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