France | Switzerland | Austria | Liechtensten

I’m feeling nostalgic so I’ve been looking back at pictures. We haven’t been traveling much so I’ve been playing with photo editors and planning the next big thing. What I didn’t finish last year though was our traveling from fall and winter of the year BEFORE last year, so below is the trip we took with my parents and Z’s mother in 2015.

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We had a few days between Poland and our next trip so my parents were out and about on their own during that week. We also had Zach’s mom Beth come to town during this time. We had a few plans for Interlaken but nothing set in stone so we did a little mapping a few days before to see what all we could fit in. We decided on a route and early in the morning we were off.

We decided we were going to fit as many countries in as possible on this trip just for the fun of it so on the drive down we stopped in Strasbourg, France. My parents had been there before and so had we but I love the city and it’s an excellent spot for lunch so the extra hour of travel time was well worth it. We had time for a trip in and around the cathedral and a little train tour which we had done and really liked. We had lunch on the square and then took our walk/tour, which was actually in the rain so pretty chilly for September.

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You too can ride around in a tiny train and stare up at the rain
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She was so excited for these cookies!

Back on the road, Zach and I took turns driving as his eye really wasn’t 100% recovered from Poland. We had rented a van-like Citroen and it was surprisingly fun. We tried a little French radio until we were back in Germany for a few minutes on the way into Switzerland. The change in landscape becomes dramatic in this region and the low hilliness of Germany and France quickly turns into valleys and mountains. No gradual sweeping slopes here. Zach and mom took pictures for me while I was driving.

We also briefly stopped in Basel, the Wettstein family home. Everything here is named Wettstein and we had to stop and get pictures on The Bridge.

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View of Basel from Wettstein Bridge
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On the road

We pulled up to our Airbnb chalet in Interlaken (“Between Lakes” – lakes being Thun and Brienz) that was home for the next four days; it was exactly as advertised and really cute. There was plenty of room for all 5 of us in the apartment and we were about a ten minute walk from the center of town. We put our things away and went into town for dinner. The town is centered around the train station and is completely surrounded by mountains; our chalet was backed up against one of the smaller ones but if we really wanted to we could have gone climbing in our backyard. The two lakes themselves are gorgeous colors but I tested the water and it’s frigid, even in mid-September. There was snow on some of the higher peaks but the temperature in the valley was mild, about 65 and very sunny.

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Lake Thun

The next day we decided to honor a long tradition of the area and go on a “hike.” We didn’t intend to take on any serious terrain, we just wanted to see as much of the Lauterbrunnen area as we could. There’s an excellent parking garage at one end of town near the train station which makes a good car drop point. We didn’t take the train in from Interlaken because the prices seemed a little high for a short trip and this afforded us a little extra flexibility as well. There’s also a grocery store for hiking snacks on the way into town so we stopped there, loaded up on cheese and chocolate, and started off.

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The first waterfall (Staubbach) we went to was the closest. The hike up through the cavern is fun and the trail ends behind the fall itself. At this point it might be worth mentioning my dad is a bit uncomfortable with heights and this entire country may be a little bit difficult 🙂 but we all did well and once back on flat ground took a leisurely pace through the Swiss countryside.

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There is this overwhelming feeling one gets while walking along that road. There’s a constant need to look up and all around because every few feet it seems the view of the mountain face changes completely and there’s something new to see. There’s also a quiet, comforting feeling being so completely surrounded by structures that are entirely natural and not man-made. As tall as they were, the valley is very straight and so the view appears to keep going, with tall stone walls on either side. While the road is flat, the fields of the farms on either side are not and some of them were formed by landslides, making them even steeper. The cows come right up to their fences and they have adorable bells around their necks which, if I were a cow, I’d find having a huge bell next to my ear be really annoying.

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Tunnel to get to waterfall from trail
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Slippery way up behind the waterfall
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Behind the waterfall
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The local ladies

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About an hour into our walk, we crossed the river (again, an amazing color but this time a very pretty, shimmery grey) and stopped at a cafe, Restaurant Trümmelbach. This cafe is quite old and is also the entrance to the cave waterfalls (Trümmelbachfälle). We had a quick bite and rest and then head up the trail to the entrance. There are two ways to get to the top: elevator and stairs. I recommend the elevator, because when taking the stairs back down the other waterfalls are still visible. This trail does not allow pets or strollers and it’s very damp and and a bit dark inside so be prepared if you go. It costs 11 € per adult and 4 € per child.

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The first sensation while in the elevator is just how dark the caves are and how high we’re going. When stepping out back into the light, the sounds from inside the caves is incredibly loud. It’s way beyond normal conversation noise levels. It’s honestly a little intimidating in a “call of the void” way. The ground is slippery and the air temperature is chilly. There is enough lighting that flashlights aren’t necessary though in some places of the caverns it would have been nice to have one. The water coming down is from Jungfrau and it’s all glacial melt; the streams have been carving the rocks for centuries and in the spring the caverns can fill to incredibly high levels.

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Very dark

After walking through all the tunnels we headed back outside for the trip back down. We took the stairs to get a view of the other 5 or 6 waterfalls and then once we were back down headed back towards Interlaken.

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A peek into the valley from inside the caves

When we reached town, Zack, Beth and I decided we wanted to make the trip up Schilthorn. For some backstory, much earlier in the year, in January when I was on my last vacation to Europe before I moved here, Z and I started watching James Bond. His coworker has all the movies so we borrowed his copies and since then we’ve slowly been making our way through them all in order. We knew one of them was filmed on this mountain so it seemed worth the trip plus, it was going to be the highest location any of us had ever been to! We got to the car and drove back through the valley to Steckelberg to catch the first in a series of gondolas to the top. My parents elected to wait below so we got our tickets and headed to the waiting area (if you go near the end of the day, tickets are discounted and it’s very much worth the wait since the normal price is quite a bit higher). From Steckelberg we’re lifted up into Gimmerlwald. From there it was onto Murren, the town that Beth was actually going to be moving to the next day to continue on her vacation with friends from PA. From Murren we went to Birg and this was the final change before the top of Schilthorn.

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The cable car services have been in existence for a long time but the cars themselves feel new or at least extremely well cared for. When on the valley floor looking up, it’s amazing to see the way these small buses are lifted straight up on what appears to be a thin rope. These cars are how most locals get up and down the mountains and there are special carts they rent to carry on groceries or other heavy household shopping. We shared a car to Murren with a lady bringing home enormous mums for her front porch. This site has a list of all 129 cable car systems in Switzerland with pictures, maintenance reports and some have a brief history.

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During the day, the sun had been shining with only a brief spot of rain. By the time we had reached Murren though, the rain clouds were rolling in. As we got higher, our view from the car decreased to grey and the cable directly in front and in back of us, about two feet in each direction. And once we reached Piz Gloria at the top of Schilthorn, the temperature had dropped to 1C and the rain was snow. The cable car drops passengers off in the bottom floor of the restaurant at the terrace level. We walked out on the terrace where in the movie a curling rink is made. Because of the mass of clouds there wasn’t a lot of viewing opportunity. There was a sign though pointing at what looked like a game trail that said “Lauterbrunnen, 5 hours” and turns out this is the end of the trail if one wants to hike up.

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In the restaurant (which was sadly closed for the day and which does still move) there’s an excellent 360 view of the mountains. The menu looked great and it would have been nice to try it. Downstairs was open though and downstairs is an entire shrine devoted to James Bond throughout the ages, though I’d say there was an emphasis of James Bond pre-19080’s. There were simulators, trivia games, every kind of poster, cutouts to take pictures with. It was a fun time. The place had a bit of an unfinished feel to it but the renovations will be completed “soon” and none of the exhibit was blocked off. The last cable car for the day was leaving at 5:30 so at that time we joined the few others who’d gone up with us as well as the restaurant staff and construction crew to head back down. The snow stopped by the time we were back in Murren and on the valley floor it had only rained for a brief moment.

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That night we stayed in Interlaken for dinner again, this time at a fondue restaurant that served traditional Swiss cuisine and then an early night to bed.


The next day Zach and I joined Beth to pick up her friend from the train station while my parents set off on their own touring. We picked her up and then drove to The Strand, a restaurant/inn on the shore (Strand means beach in German) of the western lake. We parked at the top of town and walked down as cars needed resident permits to park any closer (or hotel reservations); the walk was so nice because all the homes had huge gardens and the trail was small and romantic. The food in Switzerland is expensive, we were expecting that, but sticker shock was still real when we looked at the menu. We had a nice charcuterie plate and some coffee while enjoying the lakeside table. There is a ferry that makes constant circuits around both lakes and turns out The Strand is one of its stops; it looks like an old steam boat from Mississippi. After lunch we met back up with my parents and we drove to Wilderswil to catch a tea-time train up to Schynige Platte. This was something I was really looking forward to and I recommend the trip.

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Looking at The Strand and over the lake
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Overlook from Schynige Platte
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From the restaurant

The mountain is a tall one and it took about an hour to reach the top on the old train that did no more than 8MPH. It was really cold this day though so no eating out on the terrace for us. We did enjoy our tea and cake inside near some big windows and dad got to get up one of the taller mountains 🙂 That night Z, my parents and I decided on dinner up yet another mountain that this time required a funicular train. We finally had our Swiss fondue at the top and beers and other Swiss treats. There was a great, glass viewing platform we liked for pictures and we were right on top of our chalet at the bottom (we could see the lights from this restaurant from the backyard) so we could see the whole neighborhood and western half of Interlaken.

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More fondue
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Potatoes in a basket

The next day the four of us departed for home; we turned on the GPS, decided to go the “go through as many countries as possible” route and set off.

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This stretch was fun

The drive from Switzerland out towards Austria/Liechtenstein is a twisty, high and beautiful drive. We left Lauterbrunnen after a quick coffee and immediately started the drive up the mountains. The GPS looked like a pretzel all the way up the first mountain range, including through a tunnel. Driving along some of these roads on the outside, with huge semi-trucks coming down the inside, quickly woke us all up. We didn’t have much planned for this day, mainly trying to hit as many countries as possible, but we did stop and see a few sites.

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To Liechtenstein

Other than having really rich people live here I’m not entirely sure how the little principality of Liechtenstein has survived this long independently but I can say I was able to read to all of us the Wikipedia page in the time it took to get from the border to the capital city, Vaduz. There’s a convenient parking garage in the middle of town if you’re interested in stopping with a bridge over the main street to the pedestrian zone. The one street we saw (not sure there’s really more than one) had the souvenir shops and a view of the Vaduz castle. We spent just enough time there to find a flag to buy and for my mom to lose her glasses (sorry mom…). I can definitely recommend stopping for the novelty of crossing a border, can’t say I know much else about Liechtenstein.

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To the right from the bridge
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To the left from the bridge
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Lichtenstein Castle

Then it was off to Neuschwanstein. One of the first stops we had to do was just inside the Austrian border to pick up our next vignette (we also had one for Switzerland). In total, we spent 8,80 EUR for about 19 minutes of driving inside the border before we hit Germany again.

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The view!

I was a bit disappointed when we first got there, because it felt a little Disney-ish. This, I’m sure, would thrill some people but it’s not entirely my thing. Lots of parking lot and restaurants around that to me take away from the history, but I got over this quickly because that castle is just so beautiful no matter what surrounds it at the bottom.

We arrived a bit after lunchtime so we stopped at the first restaurant we saw. After filling up on schnitzels, we started the walk to the road that winds through the forest and up the mountain to the castle. We saw some horse and carriages and decided this would be a better experience than making the entire walk. The cost was 5 euro per person and a long wait. But eventually we grabbed a carriage to take us up. Once we got there, the sun was at an angle that made all our pictures in the waiting area a bit bright.

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The actual, non-zoomed in view
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From the forest walk up, looking back over “town”

If you buy tickets for a tour (which we did not) you can walk around the courtyard and look over the short wall into the valley. It’s a pretty meadow with a small village in the middle. Around the patio will be lots of other tourists with tickets and everyone will gather near the bus-stop-like area with the group number and time or time remaining on a lit up display.

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Castle in the sun

 You don’t have to have tickets to go into the castle courtyard though. If you would rather not go inside you can walk up the long driveway and look around the inner wall.There are so many architectural details out here that it was worth it for us to not go inside. There is also a bridge in this area that is famous because of the unobstructed view of the castle. Unfortunately at this time it was closed so we will have to go back.

We walked back down to town instead of waiting for a carriage and as it wasn’t too warm, the forest is very pretty to walk through. At the end is the big lake and the old inn. We spent some time putting our feet in, watching the swans, and just generally avoiding getting back in the car.

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On the way home we hit a construction site right as it was getting dark and had to detour through some tiny and not well lit villages (after driving through the narrow construction zone which if you haven’t had the privilege of driving on an autobahn under construction before, you are in for a treat if you ever do!). But we made it back home, about two hours later than planned, and all agreed we would absolutely do it all again.

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