In the summer of 2012, my wife, Stacey, and I traveled to Europe for a 19-day vacation. We planned and executed the trip ourselves, and Wyandotte’s own Fantasy Travel was outstanding in helping us book our transportation and lodging needs. The following is a real story from that trip…well, however real a story can be based on my memories and travel journal entries.
Our Glacier Pass train ticket allowed us to get on and off at any stop on the way to and from Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. On our train ride back down the mountain, I decided I wanted to do some hiking in the Lauterbrunnen region. We had a day and a half in Switzerland and this would be our only chance to hike anywhere in the area. As we approached Wengen, the last stop before our destination, I convinced Stacey to get off and walk the rest of the way.
After stepping off the train, we found the marked trail sign that pointed our way back to Lauterbrunnen.
“See, Stacey. It’s only a forty-five minute walk.”
The walk started off fairly easy. A few winding roads in Wengen gave us spectacular views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The area looks like God’s model train village. Small passenger trains slowly weave through dense forests, peacefully winding their way up and down the mountainsides that cut dramatically into the valley. Buildings are sporadically but beautifully placed on the valley floor. The town’s church is small and humble, yet its bells are boastful, ringing out each hour. Small herds of livestock roam the rough mountainsides. Their bells quietly fill the air between the methodical strikes of the church’s clock tower.
We had followed the trail, but were lost in the beauty of our surroundings. We came across another marked sign, which brought back to us the awareness of our hike.
“Thirty-five minutes?” I looked skeptically at the sign pointed towards Lauterbrunnen.
“How long have we been walking?” Stacey asked.
“At least twenty minutes.”
“You said they were marked by average hike times.”
“We must have taken the long way or missed a turn somewhere.” I hoped that was the case and not that we were much slower than an average pace.
We continued on and the trail began to snake steeply down the side of the mountain. We weren’t prepared for this. I thought we’d have a nice relaxing nature walk back to Lauterbrunnen overlooking the valley. And Stacey thought I knew what I was doing. I kept waiting for the “What did you get us into?” look, but fortunately I never got it.
Stress enveloped my knees upon the impact of every step, like a doctor had wrapped a blood pressure cuff around my joints and furiously pumped away. Every time I lifted my foot off of the ground to take another step, my weak leg shook, warning me to stop and take a break.
Stacey was aching too. “I wish I had a walking stick,” she panted.
We marched on through the pain. The dozens of rushing waterfalls that began as melted snow plunged over cliffsides into the Staubbach River in the distance gave us the visual aspirin that silenced the aching screams of our bodies.
But what couldn't be silenced were the effects of the cheese fondue.
Earlier that evening, before reaching Wengen, we had stopped in Kleine Scheidegg on our way back from exploring Jungfraujoch. We had skipped lunch and decided to stop there to fill our eyes with beautiful views and our bellies with some fondue. We ate an early dinner at Eigernordwand that consisted of their signature fondue: a communal pot filled with garlic, onions, green pepper, mushrooms, and herbs engulfed in molten cheese. To eat this fantastic concoction, they brought an obscene amount of bread and potatoes to submerge into the bubbling cheese and absorb all the wonderful flavors. To wash it all down, we drank hot chocolate made from milk of cows whose bells we could hear clanging on the nearby wildflower covered hills.
The fondue weighed down in our bellies, working with gravity to force us to move faster than desired down the trail. This, however, resulted in having the strenuous walk help work off our dinner. Gravity pulled while the fondue pushed. I farted my way down a mountain.
The view of the valley disappeared as the trail continued to wind through a beautiful wooded area of the mountain. We were the only people on the trail, hidden in a fairytale forest of ancient pine trees. The sun’s rays found their way around the massive tree trunks to the heavily vegetated forest floor and made for a humid trek. I had already taken off two of three shirts and debated removing the third. We had started our day at Jungfraujoch in thirty-two degree weather and were now walking through temperatures in the lower eighties. No big deal though, that’s a typical spring day for two people from southeastern Michigan.
“I hope we don’t see any predators.”
Stacey laughed. I was serious. The scenery was wonderful, but we weren’t prepared for the hike. Thoughts of my mangled body pictured in the local news rushed through my head: “Tourist found mauled by bears; backpack full of meats, cheese, and beer found meters away from body.”
Finally, the valley came into view again and we could clearly see the Staubbach Falls which was near our hotel. A little further and we were back on flat land. My knees were happy for the moment, but they’d have their revenge later.
Upon returning to the hotel in the evening, Stacey flopped on the bed and refused to get up the rest of the day. She was full of good ideas. I was full of cheese, gas, and pain.
She reached over and picked up a hiking map off the nightstand. “Look. All the paths around the valley are mapped out. And they’re color coated by difficulty.”
“What’s it show for Wengen to Lauterbrunnen?” I asked.
“Red. It’s the only red path on that side of the valley. ‘Warning,’” she read, “‘walking downhill can be extremely difficult and may cause physical pain. This path is not for beginners.’”
They should add, “Especially after eating a loaf of bread dipped in a bucket of melted cheese.”