We are continuing today on the recap of our recent adventures through three countries of Europe! I already posted about our experiences and recommendations in Paris and in Burgundy, but after leaving the French countryside, we continued on to the mountain villages of Switzerland. Although we drove through Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Interlaken, and Lucerne (on the way out) we spend the majority of our time in the Jungfrau mountain region in the town of Lauterbrunnen. We did stop off in Gruyeres on the way into Switzerland just because when you love cheese like I do, you can’t drive through a mecca like that and not stop.
I’m sharing all of the details of our stay from where we slept to what we did and where we ate. Honestly, though, it’s a little bitter-sweet to look back on our time in Switzerland. Although we ran into nothing but super friendly people, we happened to be there at kind of an ‘off’ time and then on our last day, we ran into a bit of trouble. Here’s what happened (and it’s quite the novel, so grab a warm up on your coffee).
Overall, Switzerland was gorgeous. Green fields were flanked by mountains and jaw-dropping waterfalls. The cows wanderings around all wore bells and it was a little bit of a blast to the past. Even with how beautiful everything was, we picked a bit of a strange time to go to Switzerland. We didn’t know it before we went, April is kind of a holiday month in the mountains. Ski season is huge, then summer is huge, so in April the majority of the restaurants and hotels were actually closed. Owners were taking a break between the two high seasons, leaving us with somewhat of a ghost town! The first day we kind of wandered around and wondered why it was SO quiet. Then we were kind of confused why some of the hiking paths and falls were closed. I thought back to when I was booking the hotels I was so shocked that they were all full… well, now I know they weren’t full, they were closed!
Day 1: We left Burgundy early in the AM and drove to Gruyeres. The entire town literally smelled of cheese. I wish I would have had time to do the cheese making tour, but that’s something for another time. Mainly because I drug Matt through a cheese making tour in the Netherlands a few years ago and he still hasn’t forgiven me for it. I like cheese a little more than he does. Anyway, Gruyeres was so quaint and charming. It was a teeny tiny medieval village with a beautiful castle and a town square that resembled a funnel. We ate (what else) Gruyere fondue while there. We had over 250 grams of cheese. Although it was very expensive ($70) for the fondue at Le Chalet, it was a fun experience. The very top picture in the post is from Gruyeres as well as the picture of me in front of the blue and white striped awning. Gruyeres was about 2 hours from Beaune and just another hour from Lauterbrunnen. We continued onto Lauterbrunnen, got in at about 3pm, and checked into Hotel Staubbach. We got a huge laugh out of the hotel. It was a quaint B&B style place with about 25 rooms, but we were clearly like the ONLY ones there. We literally felt like we were living in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. It seemed like everywhere we went, the (one & only) worker would pop out from behind a corner. There were no TVs or phones in the rooms, so we mostly hung out in their lounge area and played chess…. which added to the creepy factor. The rooms themselves were adequate inside and offered AMAZING views of the staggeringly massive waterfalls from the balconies. They had a lot of communal areas and there was a bulletin board of local activities where I took a mental note that there was a yodeling concert the next day.
Day 2: We were scheduled to go paragliding on our second day in Lauterbrunnen with the Airtime Cafe, but the weather was too bad and they had to cancel our excursion. I know Matt was super disappointed, but when a paragliding expert says it’s to dangerous to go out, you certainly don’t push it. Instead, the people at Airtime Cafe gave us a wonderful hiking map of the area and we started out on our 13 (!!) mile trek with a giant bottle of water and a bag of peanut M&Ms…. priorities….
We hiked down the valley to Trummelbach falls which is a waterfall inside of a cavern. You can walk up 6 flights of steps within the caverns and see the falls. This was unbelievably amazing. I actually didn’t even put a picture up because none of them even came close to capturing the awe-inspiring falls. It was worth every single penny and I highly recommend a visit.
After leaving Trummelback, we walked on to Schilbach and caught the cable car up to Murren. Murren is a tiny village high up in the mountains to which there are no public roads, so there are no cars! You have to take the gondola-style cable car up or take a train. It looked so adorable, but was also a ghost town. I can image it would be so fun in the winter as a ski destination. We continued hiking through the woods and waterfalls making a big loop back to Lauterbrunnen. The entire hike was 13 miles took us around 4.5 hours and was beautiful! There was literally nothing else to do, so we took our time an enjoyed the fresh mountain air.
After getting back to the hotel, we cleaned up and headed down to the common area to drink some cocktails and play some chess before dinner. I popped the idea to Matt about going to the yodeling concert after dinner. He was in (yessssss). I kind of felt like, if you’re in Switzerland and there is a yodeling concert that just happens to be going on the one night you’re there, you should go. We went to dinner at Restaurant Weidstübli which was really great! They have a really cute patio and traditional Swiss food. It started raining a bit, so we got our car and drove the 1 mile to the concert. On the way to the concert, the rain got really heavy and we had to turn the wipers on high. As soon as Matt turned up the speed on the wipers, the blades FLEW off of the car! He got out and grabbed the wipers, then tried to get them back on, but they were not going. Turns out, they were totally the wrong size and had been forced onto the car in the first place. We’d deal with it the next day in the daylight. We went on to the yodeling concert, which was quite an experience. It was such a crazy kind of awesome.
Day 3: We were scheduled to leave Lauterbrunnen very early because it’s a 6 hour drive to Cinque Terre, which is our next stop, and from what I’d read the winding roads were not something to be done at night. We checked out of the hotel, packed up the car and drove out of town. About 3 miles outside of Lauterbrunnen, the car started to act weird. We were in the middle of a mile-long underground tunnel, so I just prayed that we made it out the other side of the tunnel since there was nowhere inside the tunnel to pull over. We barely made it out of the tunnel before the car came to a complete halt just on the outskirts of a tiny village. We were both just kind of in shock and weren’t quite sure what to do. We walked to a grocery store and asked if there was a garage or mechanic to take a look at the car, but apparently they were all closed on weekends. Lovely. We walked to the other side of the town square to a small hotel to see if we could use their phone to call the rental car company. After getting ahold of Avis, they sent a tow truck driver to pick up the car. The driver spoke little to no English and but was able to communicate that he was required to take the car to a dealership and that it wouldn’t be looked at until the next week. Matt and I were crushed… would be be stuck in this village and miss out on the next leg of our trip? We couldn’t get anyone from Avis on the phone to discuss the details and the only line of communication we had was with this tow truck driver. He said he was taking the car to nearby Interlaken, so we hitched a ride with him there.
Once in Interlaken, he dropped us off at a youth hostel and then left. We were basically stranded. The youth hostel looked like a decent place, so we went there and used their wifi and phones to do whatever we could to try and reach Avis to see what we should do – stay and wait on the car, or get a new one. We spent a good hour trying to get someone on the phone. I was transferred to the pick up location (Paris) to the EU headquarters (Barcelona) to the Swiss representative. Each one kept telling me that they didn’t know what we should do, and that it wasn’t their problem. Interlaken didn’t have an Avis, so on a total whim, I looked up a local Avis in the next town over – Thun. I told the lady what was going on and she was just kind of like, “well, if you can get here, maybe we can get you a car.” It was only a maybe, but I figured it was worth a shot. We walked to the train station, bought two tickets and cruised the 25 minutes up to Thun. Upon getting there, we managed to find a random taxi and get to the Avis office, which was really a gas station with one car to rent out. Luckily, the lady at the gas station was SUPER nice. She brought the car around for us, had us sign a paper saying that our car was towed and that was it. I was expecting something a lot more official. Regardless, we got in only to realize there wasn’t GPS (which the previous car had and we had paid for). Since it was their only car, there wasn’t really a solution for that, so we bought a good old fashioned road map and set off for a six hour drive to our next stop – Italy.
All in all, it doesn’t seem like a huge deal at first, until you consider that we can’t speak the local language, everything is closed on Sunday, and we were in the tiniest towns just schlepping suitcases around, oh yeah, in the rain. We were lucky that between the kindness of the tow truck guy, the youth hostel girl, and the gas station lady, we were able to cobble together a solution and get back on the road with just a half day delay. I’m still irritated with Avis that not only did we get a defective car (even the windshield wipers were wrong!) but also that they’d tow a car without communicating a plan for a replacement… essentially leaving us to fend for ourselves. Luckily Matt and I are pretty resourceful and made the best of a bad situation.
I think we learned a lot in those several hours. We learned that there is always a solution to the problem, that depending on the kindness of strangers isn’t a bad thing, and that a sense of humor can ease a whole lot of pain. After that, we were both looking forward to putting a bad situation behind us and getting to Italy, stat!