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On board the London-Lauterbrunnen express


What does a British metropolis of 7 million people and a tiny village in the Swiss Alps famous for its waterfalls have in common? A British Bank Holiday Weekend, and an unforgettable journey to the Alps.

A last-minute decision to spend a Bank Holiday Weekend on the continent resulted in the hasty purchase of a Brussels-bound Eurostar ticket, and a weekend to remember.  I boarded the Eurostar for Brussels Friday evening after work. My first Bank Holiday weekend after landing my new job in London, and a chance to break free of my shoebox-sized flat for a few glorious days on the continent.

Not wanting to commit myself to one city for the entire weekend, and sub-consciously knowing that I had a Eurail FlexiPass in my back pocket with a few travel days still left on it,  I neglected the obvious necessity of  room reservations in Brussels.  Arriving in Brussels, as to be expected there was not a bed was to be had. No problem I thought, on to “Plan B”.  Let the adventure begin!

Bern

I scanned the departure boards for a suitable destination, and a train departing for Zurich at 22:10 that evening caught my attention. A Bank Holiday weekend in Switzerland I thought, perfect!  I boarded the train half an hour early in order to choose my compartment. Just before departure, a gentleman from Geneva joined me as well as a woman traveling home to neighbouring Luxembourg. Two Belgian train conductors arrived on the scene half an hour later, completing the evening’s cast of characters. I would get to know these train conductors well during the next couple of hours, as I quickly learned that train travel in neither Belgium nor Luxembourg was covered with my FlexiPass.

The conductors thought it fantastic that citizens of so many countries should be together in one train compartment, and between ticket-collecting shifts would join us to tell jokes, returning after each station stop. Shortly after crossing the border into Luxembourg, one of the conductors came to my compartment pealing with laughter. At the last station stop before the border in Belgium, a group of women had boarded the train, racing past the compartment door window on their way down the corridor. (They were apparently Belgian prostitutes traveling into Luxembourg to work for the night where the wages were higher.) As the conductor approached their compartment, he had  noticed another fairly tall “woman” in a skirt standing in the corridor next to the compartment.  Assuming “she” was part of the group of Belgian prostitutes, he asked for her ticket and was greeted with a deep masculine voice. Apparently the “other” women in his compartment had asked him to step outside while they changed for work. As the conductor repeated his story to me 5 minutes later, I poked my head out the compartment door to see who he was talking about. Yes, there indeed was the Belgian diva waiting impatiently to return to his compartment.

The entrance to Trummelbach

When the train reached the French border the conductors shift ended and they were forced to say goodbye. My traveling companion and I claimed our individual bench seats and attempted to catch some sleep before arriving in Switzerland at 7am.  My slumber was interrupted almost hourly with people boarding the train at various stations throughout France. Apparently we had chosen one of the few smoking compartments on the train, so as you can imagine our compartment was very popular. When the train finally arrived in Bern, I was glad to say goodbye to my smoky train compartment as I proceeded through customs and set foot on Swiss soil.

Bern greeted me as only Bern could: a beautiful city set on a small oxbow high above the River Aare. It is no wonder it is referred to as one of the most romantic cities in Switzerland. The city itself is typically Swiss. A large clock tower marks the center of town, and a beautiful bridge connects the city to the surrounding landscape. Winding down to the river are a multitude of old streets lined with stone shops and houses, and inviting views draw the traveller in at every turn.

 From Bern I headed for Interlaken. Probably for no other reason than there was a train which suited my Bank Holiday schedule! During the 2 hour journey I happened to meet another traveller planning to catch a small private train at Interlaken bound for a village in the Alps. I was invited to come along, and with no concrete plans, happily accepted the suggestion of the village of Lauterbrunnen as the final destination in my Bank Holiday excursion.  

After arriving in Interlaken, we each paid our five Swiss Francs and  boarded the small private Berner-Oberland-Railway bound for the Alps. After winding our way up the mountainside  we arrived in a setting as far removed from the hectic streets of London as could possibly be imagined. A beautiful green valley set amidst waterfall-laden cliffs at the base of Switzerland’s famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau Mountains greeted us at the train station. Apparently it is known throughout Switzerland as the “Valley of 70 Waterfalls”. 

Lauterbrunnen Valley

The cliffs along the valley are so high that the water appears powder-like as it falls to the ground. The most famous of the powder-like waterfalls is the Staubbach waterfall which cascades a full 300 metres to the valley floor below. The only sound breaking the picturesque silence, was that of the sheep and cow bells in the verdant valley. Stopping at the village shop to purchase some culinary supplies for my self-catering holiday, I was once again reminded that I was in Switzerland, where the budget-conscious traveller can only afford a small piece of cheese and a loaf of bread at the local bakery.

The accommodation of choice for non-camping budget conscious travelers was the Valley Hostel in Lauterbrunnen, although with its down-filled duvets and French doors leading to the balcony with a view of the falls, it hardly gave the impression of offering only a budget night’s sleep. My traveling companion and I checked in and then headed for another of the the famous waterfalls, the Trümmelbach falls.  The Trümmelbach falls consist of 10 glacial waterfalls carving through the interior the mountain, draining the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau glaciers. We climbed the stairs to the entrance of the Trümmelbach and were rewarded with the sound of rushing water at a rate of 20,000 litres per second. After visiting the Trümmelbach Falls, we made the most of the afternoon, hiking and reveling in the natural beauty of the valley before finally returning to the duvet-laden hostel for the night. As I set my alarm clock I was reminded that my time in this idyllic dream would come to an abrupt end in another 12 hours.

Waterfall in Lauterbrunnen

I awoke early the next morning, and with once last look at my valley paradise I begrudgingly headed to the quaint train station for the start of my return trip to urban reality. Within an hour I would be Brussels-bound from Interlaken to catch the Eurostar back to London, my little piece of eden left behind for the next traveller to discover. Perhaps on another Bank Holiday Weekend………

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