Day 22: SNATCHING VICTORY FROM DEFEAT
At 6:30am, I awoke. When I looked out the window, it looked a bit cloudier this morning. And when I looked at the web cam for Zermatt, it looked like it was raining over there!
So that meant that today we’d give the Brienzersee (Lake Brienz) a go. I was hoping that today would be a short day visiting just a pair of waterfalls. So I was looking forward to a fairly laid-back day where the only stress would be working out the public transportation connections and logistics on visiting the falls themselves. It’s times like these that I wondered if we were better off self-driving with its associated freedoms instead of using the efficient public transport but always on someone else’s schedule.
Anyways, after the croissant breakfast at the hotel, we left at 8:50am. And after a brief walk to the Interlaken West station, we caught the train just in time for Interlaken Ost. And soon thereafter, we caught the connecting train to Brienz.
So at the train station, we went over to the info center asking about the times that the boat goes over to the Giessbachfalle. Unfortunately, when we learned the schedule, the next boat wouldn’t go until 11:15am. So what were we going to do for the next two hours?
Moreover, the boat schedule also had three other departures from the Brienz station bound for Giessbachfalle. I don’t know what it is with boats, but it always seems that excursions involving them results in a rushed or highly inconvenienced experience. We were still scarred by our rushed Nachi-no-taki experience, which involved a practically useless (time-wise) boat transport to and from the Hotel Urashima.
In hindsight, we probably should’ve taken the boat straight out of Interlaken Ost. That would’ve at least put us at the falls around 10:45am or so.
So we waited at the train station for the next one to Meiringen. Had I known better and looked at the boat schedules before setting out today, we would’ve stayed with the train we originally started with to get to Meiringen.
Anyways, what’s done was done. The plan now was to try to catch the 2:45pm boat to Geissbachfalle from Brienz. And with that, by 10:10am, we arrived at Meiringen. A bit later than I would’ve liked.
The train ride to get here was quite interesting as we saw at least two or three seemingly significant waterfalls. They’d be quite photogenic if not for the power lines and foliage almost constantly in the line-of-sight. And I wasn’t sure if these waterfalls had names nor if there was an excursion or hike to visit them.
In any case, they were neither the Geissbachfalle nor the Reichenbachfalle.
When Julie and I left the Meiringen Station, we weren’t able to figure out from the bus signs whether it takes you right to the Reichenbachbahn (the funicular for the falls). So we didn’t wait around for the bus.
Instead, we walked through Meiringen town, where we happened to see a statue of Sherlock Holmes and a house (which I imagine was the museum) right behind the sitting and leaning statue. I wasn’t one who followed the Sherlock Holmes novels, but apparently, the author used Reichenbach Falls as the venue for the end of his series. And now the local Swiss took that and ran with it making memorials like this after the fictional character.
But at some point beyond the Sherlock Holmes Museum, we weren’t sure if we were going the right way because after following the first two Reichenbachbahn signs, we didn’t see any more. Then, there was a waterfall we noticed with a cable car nearby. We weren’t sure if that was Reichenbachfalle, but we proceeded presuming that was the case.
Still, we thought it was strange that there wasn’t any signage indicating as such and the cable car was closed. Plus, the views of the falls didn’t seem to be on public lands. There was some kind of energy facility nearby and we had to walk behind its building to even get a view of the falls nearby.
Recollecting that Reichenbachfalle was 500m tall, something was wrong.
So Julie and I walked back towards town when we noticed the Reichenbachbahn sign saying 20 minutes opposite the direction of the falls we just saw. So we continued walking and we started to notice part of a tall waterfall in the distance underneath what appeared to be the peak of Eiger right behind it.
The walk seemed rather long and there was a bus that passed by us going right to the park for Reichenbachfalle.
But something seemed wrong.
The funicular wasn’t running. And when we asked the worker, she said the funicular was closed due to the high winds. We did notice these winds all the way back at Lake Brienz, but it seemed to have intensified somewhat since then.
So naturally, I asked another local if it was possible to walk up to the falls. Unfortunately, she said it was pretty long and she encouraged us to take the funicular since it was short and cheap (relatively speaking). Well, that was fine and dandy except the funicular wasn’t running.
But at least she pointed out where we were supposed to walk up (it wasn’t very well signposted).
At first, I had gone partway up to scout out whether there was a view of the falls, but after ten minutes, I realized that it wasn’t going to be trivial. So I retreated back to the bottom and brainstormed with Julie what we should do.
At this time, the thought had already crossed my mind that today might end up being a total loss. But the weather forecast had rain tomorrow, and there were no guarantees that we would be able to do this excursion again later in the trip. Besides, we were already here, and all that stopped us (as far as I was concerned) was a little exercise.
And given the apparent physical challenge ahead of us, Julie decided to stay behind. So at 11:35am, I started the walk (again, much later than I would’ve liked; so there went aspirations of catching the 11:15am boat ride and the 2:45pm boat ride was in jeopardy).
The walk was quite steep and seemingly endlessly ascending. Some of the trail seemed to have gone through some sheep paddocks, which really reminded me of some of the hikes in Norway. Certainly the steepness of the hike reminded me of there.
But it wasn’t until 12:05pm when I finally started to both see and even touch some of the waters from the falls. For it was here that the trail skirted the gorge and showed a piece of the falls crashing violently and loudly. There was swirling mist wafting from the falls and then blown forcefully by the strong winds.
So continuing on, the switchbacks and stairs continued. About 12:10pm, I found one spur path that went to a dead-end with another partial view of the falls. But what made this dead-end interesting was that there was a plaque here dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, this was his death spot (or at least that was my guess after attempting to make sense of the German signs).
And after exploring above the bridge higher above the falls and realizing that there was no other access, I eventually returned to the spur path and went past the rope.
It turned out that this path was the one I should’ve taken all along. There was already a lookout a couple of switchbacks down. But as the path descended more, it then crossed over a bridge where you could see some of the upper tiers of the falls looking upstream as well as a big drop just downstream from the bridge. And that bridge was surprisingly misty because mist was being blown back up to the bridge thanks to the high winds.
Continuing on, the path then descended some more towards more overlooks. The first one on this side of the stream provided awkward sideways views of the falls giving you some sense of how tall the drop was. However, this lookout also provided interesting panoramas of the outskirts of Meiringen backed by tall, triangular snowy peaks.
Then, after descending even more steps with the winds still blowing hard and dropping twigs from the trees above, I finally reached the last tiers of stairs providing nice frontal views of the massive Reichenbachfalle.
It was also down here that there was a sanctioned lookout platform allowing you to take photos (when the mist wasn’t blowing right onto the camera, of course) and that this was where the funicular would’ve eventually dropped off passengers.
It was eerily quiet up here since nothing was open, but at least I managed to see this waterfall and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Now, I had to rush my way back to the top of the falls before rushing back down to the very bottom where Julie was waiting for me. With the looming time constraints in Brienz, I hastily climbed back up the stairs and eventually back to the trail I took up.
At that point, it was all downhill. And at one junction, instead of taking the exact way up, I took a more alternate path that was slightly more gentle slopewise, but the rocks were still jolting to my knees. In fact, I probably worked me knees real hard going downhill to the point that at some point, they got sore and eventually painful.
Nonetheless, at 1:35pm, I made it back to the bottom. That was when I saw Julie finished with her lunch.
And so we sat at the funicular waiting area anticipating the next bus back to Meiringen. Unfortunately, the schedule indicated that we’d have to wait another hour for the next bus. But Julie said buses come more frequently than what’s said in the schedule.
That was when another funicular worker came out and saw us, and then (thinking we were going to take the funicular) told us that the funicular was closed (which we knew already). But when we told her that I walked to the top, she expressed surprise and then engaged in some dialog with us discussing things like the weather as well as helping us call the Giessbachfalle funicular to see if they’re operating.
She suspected they would operate because they were more sheltered from the wind even though the winds were strong at Lake Brienz.
She also said that the winds weren’t anything new. In fact, it had a name (which I couldn’t hear over the howling winds on how she pronounced it). And it meant relatively clear weather here, but would mean rain in the Zermatt area.
She then went on to say that rain was expected to come this weekend as the winds subsided. And that this weekend would be the time to check out the Zermatt area since bad weather here typically meant decent weather down south according to her.
And as she realized our intentions of visiting the Giessbachfalle, she realized that the bus wouldn’t be coming in time for the next train back to Brienz to even catch one of the infrequent boats to the falls. So given that, we walked back to Meiringen at 1:50pm, eventually catching the 2:21pm train to Brienz.
By 2:35pm, we arrived at the boat dock in Brienz, which was now crowded with people ready to get on (some with luggage). There wasn’t anyone manning the ticket office, but eventually someone did show up just a minute or two before the boat was to take off. And that was when we showed her our Swiss Pass, and she said it was included in our pass.
So with that, we ran over to the boat, being one of the last ones to board.
But just like the lady at Reichenbachfalle said, it was definitely calmer here. The violent winds were definitely not felt here, but we could see the whitecaps on Lake Brienz in the distance indicating that the winds were still there.
Once we got up to the top of the funicular at 3:15pm, we learned that the next funicular back down was at 4:05pm, which would be just in time for the 4:15pm boat back to Brienz. It was once again another instance where boat transport departure/arrival times resulted in a rather rushed experience.
In any case, we took photos of the impressively tall waterfall, which we could see just outside the funicular and in front of the historical hotel. We also noticed a bridge further upstream, and so we walked up to it just to see how else we could experience this falls.
By the time we got up there, we noticed that there was a path that went behind the falls, which was pleasantly surprising considering all the trouble we took to come here.
Eventually, after completing the loop and finishing off touring this part of the falls at 3:45pm, we had about 15 or 20 minutes before the funicular would take off back down again. Part of me wished we hadn’t bought the round-trip ticket and walked down alongside the falls instead, but what’s done was done.
There certainly wasn’t enough time to check out the historical hotel here, which was once again a consequence of a very infrequent boat schedule tied to this falls. And once again, it made me wonder whether we would’ve been better off self-driving to here as we saw a car park on this side of the lake.
Anyways, we caught the 4:05pm funicular as planned, then the 4:15pm boat as planned. As we boarded the boat, Julie was inconsiderately bumped by a rather large woman who merely glared at her and didn’t even apologize. Rather inconsiderate of her and quite fortunate that Julie wasn’t injured. I guess the best we could do going forward was to try to prevent a recurrence by avoiding such contact as best as possible.
At 4:40pm, we were back at Brienz and caught the train back to Interlaken Ost. This was a very busy train, and it seemed to have a rather unusually high number of inconsiderate passengers (as one dude took 3 seats and didn’t seem to be using the other 2 other plus another car was full of youngsters being loud, playing music, and mixing alcoholic drinks randomly). Oh well, at least we were headed back to Interlaken and this was only a temporary ride.
Speaking of ride, I took a few more photos of the Giessbachfalle across the lake. This wasn’t easy in a fast-moving train while the line-of-sight was full of foliage, power lines, and poles getting in the way.
Eventually at 5:15pm, we finally made it back to the hotel. Thus, it ended off what turned out to be a surprisingly long and tiring day. And I was looking forward to some traditional Swiss food to get back some of the calories lost today in the unexpected physical challenge up to Reichenbachfalle (especially after having 2 straight Asian dinners).
The food we ended up eating as the Baren Restaurant in Unterseen. Aside from dealing with cigarette smoke, Julie enjoyed her bratwurst salad, and I liked the traditional cheese fondue where there was a hint of alcohol spiked in the cheese.
Julie and I were going to share a hot chocolate for dessert, but the nice waitress at the restaurant recommended against it because she thought it would be milk overload. So we took her advice to heart and even decided against indulging in chocolate fondue this evening despite the fact that we were looking forward to it.