Interlaken – Barcelona
As I stepped off the train arriving in Interlaken, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote from the children’s book Oh, the places you’ll go!: “Kid, you’ll move mountains!”. This is undoubtedly one of my favourite books in existence, and if you’ve ever read it, you’ll know that it’s actually pretty inspiring. Sometimes people just need a bit of encouragement to get out there in to the world and explore the beauty of it all – combine that premise with some classic Dr. Seuss magic, and you’ve got yourself one seriously quotable book. At least, this passage was certainly ignited in my memory as I was welcomed to Switzerland by the imposing beauty of the Alps.
With regards to the mountains I’ll be moving, Interlaken had quite the offering. Surrounded on all sides by peaks, this small but new town is centered almost entirely on natural beauty and outdoor pursuits. On every corner there’s a tour service; in every hotel an extreme sports representative. My hostel had its own paragliding company housed on the first floor. I didn’t get the chance to take advantage of this, though – bookings must be made far in advance, evidenced by the countless parachutes that swoop low between the hills and over the surrounding buildings.
Here in Switzerland, my plans were once again thwarted by the weather. I didn’t manage much other than a trip to Lidl that first night, what with the torrential rain and thunder clapping across the grey sky. Perhaps I should have checked the forecast for this town before my departure from Italy, as the main reason I made this stop was for the hiking. The Jungfrau region is notorious for breathtaking views and some of the best walking opportunities on the continent, but I couldn’t even see the majority of the mountains for the clouds, let alone climb them.
Thankfully, the morning of day two was much more forgiving. After a quick trip to the local electrical store (travelling does not agree with flimsy headphones and I’d somehow already filled the 80gb of camera SD cards I brought along), I set off on the hike up to Harderkulm (not Heidi Klum, I was told sternly in response to my mispronunciation) viewpoint, 1,388 meters above Interlaken.
Speaking to the hostel staff beforehand, I was recommended to walk up to the viewpoint – which took an hour to an hour and a half, apparently – then catch the funicular back down again. It soon became quite clear that these staff members were either considerably fitter than me, or have never actually done the walk themselves.
Two and a half hours later, I finally reached the summit. The path was long but well-established, steep at times and slippery from the mud generated in the rain the previous day, but offered spectacular views of the town and the two lakes it sits nestled between, Thun and Brienz (hence the name, Inter-lake). Under clear skies and sunshine, it’s so easy to fall in love with how beautiful it is here, with the snow-capped mountains framing turquoise blue waters littered with boats.
At the peak of this climb is a pagoda-like building that houses a restaurant, an outdoor cafe and seating area, and the reason for my own hike: a large, glass-floored platform that juts out over the forest and offers unparalleled views of the landscape. From here, you can see in all directions, from one lake in the west, across the mountain range on the horizon, to the other lake in the east. It is so, so incredible to see. By the time I got here, it was no longer morning, and I watched as the anticipated rain moved towards me, falling in sheets and rippling across the hills. Again, I tried to take a time lapse, but the platform itself is far from steady and the vibrations made for a shaky video.
Worried about my camera in the weather (as well as the possibility of being hit by the lightning I had seen in the distance), I headed to the funicular station to get myself back down on solid ground. I was swiftly informed that the lack of ticket machines was no concern – you buy them directly from the driver. Cash only. Swiss francs only. Guess who forgot to get any Swiss francs out when she arrived. Left with little choice, I strarted the long walk back down in the rain, although the lightning had thankfully passed by then. I did, however, slip on the muddy path and nearly fall down the mountainside at least four times, so I’m still counting my blessings.
Back at my hostel that evening, the downpour continued, confining me to the common room with my new book. Frustrated though I am that I didn’t get to do nearly as much hiking as I’d planned, the walk I did fit in between the storms was definitively worth the diversion. I was never going to get perfect weather for five weeks straight anyway; this had to happen at some point. And I can always return – in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m quite an outdoorsy person, so Switzerland is somewhere I’m bound to come back to.
From here, I’ve got a long route ahead of me. I was originally planning on spending a night or two in the south of France for a quick pit stop, but I’ve decided to economise on travel days and I’m heading straight across to Barcelona now. A word of advice for any budding inter-railers: get the unlimited pass. This is the first time I’ve had to compromise on my travels, and will hopefully be the last, but it’s just not worth the risk unless your heart is truely set on a very definite route. Unfortunately I realised this too late, and now I’m moving at high speed past the rolling French countryside I had hoped to experience first-hand. At least now I know what I’m missing, and I have an excuse to come back. Every cloud.