Bern, Just Like I Pictured It

I’ve been coming to Bern since I was a boy and the timelessness of its architecture, especially the Nydegg, has always found a place in my heart and soul.  It’s an unusual capital of an unusual country: Small in scale, overlooking the fast rushing and bright blue Aare, with long arcades of shops and cobblestones and trams.  The river beach or lawn of Marzilibad, which has at times a celebratory and nude crowd, was open today, but due to the rain and cold we didn’t venture in.

We went to Bern, in fact, because it is the third day of rain and cold up here, a mile high, in Muerren, and while it remains magical and deeply soothing, my hands went numb from a four walk walk above the village yesterday.

Instead, we visited Bern.  Old favorites like Ratskeller where, in Nydegg, I had a delicious Eierschwammli soup (chanterelles) followed by a farm style rosti: a fried egg atop, melted cheese, onions, and bits of bacon.

Then, after window shopping, it was time to buy underwear @ Globus.

And what better way to end a day in Bern than by having coffees at the Eichenberger near the train station.  This is one of the finest coffeehouses on the planet.  Bonus: Beautiful truffles in the front.  We’ll have these here in Muerren after three (black) truffle filled ravioli for dinner.

Capital, I say, capital.

Swiss Miss, Swiss Find

Just finishing up a collection of new essays by Caitlin Moran that are as funny as they are incisive, which is to say inspiring, and sipping hard cider after five hours on a ridge in the rain and cold walking from Muerren to Gruetschalp.

Yes, I know: Done that walk before, but with clouds obscuring everything (just about) it was a good option.

Last night we went to a restaurant in the village, a place I normally visit only to enjoy a draft at the end of a hike.  In fact, it was the first time I’d ever eaten a meal in Muerren outside of the flat where we stay.  The food was delicious: Good lettuce and fried perch with boiled potatoes.

This morning, speaking of food, I had the good fortune to enjoy a thick crusted, dark sunflower seed bread with butter and black cherry jam.  Easily the best bread I’ve had in a year.  By far.

The Swiss do simple things well.  Very well.  Bread, cheese, dried meats, and garden vegetables.


Fondue in the Clouds

Clouds obscured the mountains, valleys, and even the houses less than fifty yards away when we woke this morning, and it’s been like that all day.  Which didn’t keep me from a quick stroll to the baker and butcher, who are just down the street.  So it goes in Muerren.

It’s been a languorous day with Caitlin Moran’s extremely funny columns, and a lunch on the wooden balcony just feet away from a heavy downpour.

We’re talking fondue, salad, and a glass of Pinot Noir from the Valais.

So much for action.

The Clouds Are Coming In Again

The day began with clouds obscuring the valleys and peaks and waterfalls and cliff faces, but by ten A.M. it was clear enough to begin.

We started down the mountain from Muerren, where we are based, and within the hour were in Gimmelwald, which is a village perched on a slope with farms.

From there it was downhill to Chilchbalm, where we’d gone last year, taking us through glades, a few rugged pastures, and alongside a river.  We were in the Sefinental.

Now the rains have come, hard and steady, and, yes, that was the sound of thunder just now.  Gewitter!  Wolken!  Alles dabei!

Executive decision to be made: Do I walk to the butcher and buy cheese for fondue?  Or do we have a salad, fried potatoes, and Kalbswurst?

Into the Mountains

The sunny weather propelled us to Rotstockhutte, deep in a valley below Schilthorn, where after two hours of walking we enjoyed soups, cheese, bread, and pear nectar.

Returning to Muerren, we stopped at Edelweiss for cold beers overlooking the valley.

Tonight it’s pan seared chicken with chanterelles and leeks along with fried baby potatoes served with a good Humagne Rouge from Sion.

Talk about a perfect day.

Bernese Oberland: Day One

Having returned to Muerren late yesterday afternoon, we set out this late morning up the mountain behind the village.  Many people were there at the top, at the start, as it is where the funicular begins.  But we soon lost them as we headed on a long trail that took us through cow pastures and below barriers of slanted wood meant to keep stones, ice, and snow from descending further during an avalanche.

The dark bread from Sprungli I am eating now with Norwegian salmon, the fish delicate and bordered by dill, is delicious.

We reached Winteregg, finally, and then went down the mountain a bit to walk along the rail line that heads to Muerren.

All in all, with views constantly of Eiger, the observatory atop Jungfraujoch, and, in the distance, Monch, a day filled with deepening joy.

How better to end it than cold drafts outside of Hotel Edelweiss in view of Lauterbrunnen valley–said to have inspired Tolkien to write, “Lord of the Rings”–and then to return to the flat and see the mountains again?

Then, too, a decent Barolo and black truffle stuffed ravioli.  On the agenda, that is.

Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau (Redux)

I’m sitting on a wooden balcony of a flat where we’ll be nearly two weeks in view of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.  The village is Muerren and on its one main street a few passersby from China, Japan, India, England, the United States, etc. can be seen, but mostly it’s empty.

We arrived in mid-afternoon after a night in Arlesheim, a village adjacent to Basel, where we spent time with friends I’ve known my whole adult life.  We talked about families, and then took a cinematic stroll through the village, where I’ve been since I was seventeen, looking at my friend’s Kindergarten, his grammar school, and the house he grew up in, which he and his brother and sister are renovating to turn into two rental apartments.  The house, which is magnificent and 83 years old, is below a deciduous forest (there’s a ruin of a 700-800 year old castle there) and next to a vineyard on a sloping hill.

A dog barks.  Two long waterfalls fed by glaciers catch my eye.

Muerren is far more touristic than Braunwald, but it compensates for that by having these shocking views, through being a mile high, and through its well stocked market.

Tonight it’s Norwegian salmon and crespelle stuffed with Steinpilzen and ricotta.

Christmas in July

Of course the day we are leaving Braunwald, a car free village of about 350 year round residents lined by cow farms with a panoramic view of the Glarus alps, the sun is shining, then skies are blue, and the temperature is warm.  Yesterday it rained, tomorrow it snows.

That’s right: Snow.  Snow is predicted up in Muerren, the village where we are headed after visiting friends in Basel, and that means books to read and write, fondue, World Cup, and naps.  Did I mention naps?

For our farewell dinner last night night I cooked kalbs schnitzel and fried potatoes, and Madeline made a delicious salad, strips of zucchini pan seared in olive oil and garlic, and sliced, raw fennel.


Auf Wiedersehen, Braunwald, und bis bald!

Right, so it’s the final day in Braunwald, nearly a mile high, and clouds rolled in this morning and we are engulfed in them so that visibility is no more than ten feet, and the rain falls steadily, and the effect is to make one feel in awe.  It is wondrous.

A short walk, two miles there and of course two miles back, to a farming settlement in Nussbuhl where there’s a lovely, tiny restaurant.  A lunch of rosti, soups, and a sausage, and, yes, a beer, and then through forests and pastures.

Tonight it’s pounded kalbs schnitzel with fries, salad, and zucchini, and then tomorrow we leave the mountains temporarily for Basel.  On Friday it’s back to the alps, west of here, to the flat in Muerren with its shocking views from the narrow wood balcony of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau.

World Cup Dining

It is not the best plan, emotionally, to root for the underdog, but who can help it?  I can’t.  So Argentina beat Switzerland in overtime and now, no pun intended, I’m blue.  It was the same the other night when the last team from Africa in the Cup fell.

And soon?  Soon the US will fall to Belgium.  Mark my words.

Meanwhile I’m here to tell you that on the bluest day yet in these Glarus alps, it was a repeat, for the most part, of a long walk to a remote alpine lake, preceded by a hiker’s breakfast of bacon and eggs, and punctuated by a lunch of dried sausage, bread, and water, and followed by a good Graubunden Pinot Noir served with grilled kalbswurst, red cabbage, salad, and oven roasted baby potatoes.

Did I mention the Eichenberger truffles?