DAY 1: The Arrival
September 20, 2015
That little town up in the mountains was my final destination.
This was a last-minute trip and studying how to get to my hostel made me want to back out. The itinerary looked so foreign and complicated.
I’ve been to Germany and Italy with the football team but this was my first time to travel in Europe on my own.
Stepping off the plane, I felt so small even though my backpack was towering over me. I was scared but I kept my eyes on the goal – the alps.
The airport is connected to the national railway company SBB (Schweizerische BundesBahn) and I easily found the terminal. Since I didn’t buy a rail pass beforehand, I had to line up at one of their ticket counters. It was 7 AM and the service was fast and friendly. I was still a bit nervous so I bought a ticket only up to the station name I could pronounce. Haha.
Later on, I’d learn that I could have bought 1 ticket for the whole journey — from the airport to my final destination. That is 1 ticket for 3 modes of transportation: train, bus and cable car.
1. Zürich Flughafen TO BERNE
At Zurich Flughafen (meaning airport), I followed the signs to my gate and found a train waiting there. I was about to step in when my instincts told me to wait since I was 1 minute early. A few seconds later, that train left and at exactly 7:43 (as shown in my ticket) my train arrived.
2. BERNE TO INTERLAKEN OST
While sitting, I checked my itinerary and saw that I only had 6 minutes to get to my next train (8:58 to 9:04 AM).
Thinking about my big backpack, my heart started to palpitate and I couldn’t sit still. I was too tired to move but adrenaline had me waiting at the door, ready to jump out at my stop. As the train approached Berne station, my weary eyes squinted as far as I could to look for my next gate. The doors opened and I was about to sprint, when I saw my gate was just in front of me. Talk about wasted potential energy!
The sleepless and groggy me needed to loosen up and start enjoying the ride. I was too anxious about everything and was needlessly tiring my brain out.
3. INTARLAKEN OST TO LAUTERBRUNNEN
I didn’t know why my tickets had “Interlaken West” written on one and “Interlaken Ost” on the other. I thought they both meant the same thing. At Interlaken West, the lady at the counter told me I was one stop early and it was OK to hop on to the next ride. I told her I was going to Gimmelwald and she issued me a ticket for the whole trip.
By the way, Ost means East.
I was amazed to see that the stations didn’t have a ticket validation machine or scanner for when you exit. The stops were open and when you get off, you’re already within the town. It was a system based solely on honesty.
At Interlaken Ost, I got on the FRONT END of the train to Lauterbrunnen. The train splits half way and only the front end goes to Lauterbrunnen.
Look, lockers to put your stuff in while you’re on tour!
As the journey progressed, the views became more and more beautiful!
4. LAUTERBRUNNEN TO STECHELBERG
Upon reaching Lauterbrunnen, I was now a little confident. I followed the crowd through an underground pass to come out to the town. I walked ’round the ticket booth many times but couldn’t see where the bus stop was.
If I were an aimless traveller, I would have stopped and stayed at Lauterbrunnen. The valley was surrounded by colorful rocks, mountains, meadows and waterfalls. *Sigh*
Focus, you have a bus to look for!
I saw a few shops lining the street and decided to get coffee and ask directions from there. I crossed the street and saw bus 141 waiting for me. I hopped in and no one even checked my ticket. Good thing I’m an honest person. *Ehem*
The ride felt like I was cruising through a never-ending postcard. It was not until that day did I understand what the word BREATHTAKING really meant.
I traveled through snow-capped alps, alongside quiet lakes and across rolling green hills. I was like a little kid, eyes wide open afraid to blink and miss a scene.Alternatively, instead of taking the bus, you could also walk this route to Stechelberg if the weather is nice.
5. STECHELBERG (SCHILTHORNBAHN) TO GIMMELWALD
The bus announced each of its stop. The gondola station had one staircase going up and the sign was very clear. There are two ways to get from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald, a 5-minute gondola ride or a steep hike for 1-2 hours.
At this point, I had to go through ticket validation before entering the cable car. It was huge and people were squeezed in.
I have no words to describe the view.
I enjoyed every minute of it!
Those aren’t bunny ears, that’s my jacket hanging out of my backpack.
The first stop was my stop. At 11 AM (4 hours later), I finally arrived at Gimmelwald. It was so mesmerizing I wanted to kiss the ground!
The Swiss Travel System is very efficient. The trains arrived on time, the staff in the stations were friendly and the signs were sufficient.
“The rail system is hands-down the best way to get around the country, as many Swiss natives actually use it to commute to and from work on a daily basis and even to go on vacation in another part of the country.”
Things I learned:
- Ask and read.
You will never get lost as long as you know how to ask, read and read again.
- Pay attention to the details in your ticket.
Check your arrival/departure time, gate number and platform section (first or second class).
- Don’t be scared of trying new things!
Your worries are always bigger and scarier than reality.
Welcome to Switzerland!