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Lenk, Switzerland in 2020

Pauline

Forums Admin
Sunday August 30
Cold and wet but the weather is forecast to improve.

We made it to Switzerland! We live in the UK and drove across France to Switzerland. We didn’t do long driving days, but did about 5 hours a day.

Wednesday it took us 4 hours to get from Dorset to the tunnel entrance in Folkestone. There were very few cars in the Eurotunnel area. Last year at this time it was packed and we waited in long lines to get on the train. We got the 3:20pm train, arriving in France at 5pm (it is one hour later there). We drove for another hour to Abbeville. On past trips we have stayed in Arras or Amiens but because of COVID we stayed in small towns on this trip.

France is not on the UK safe list, meaning you have to quarantine if you return to the UK after being in France during the previous 14 days. Since we are spending 3 weeks in Switzerland this 2 night stay in France will not cause us to have to quarantine. We were worried that France would retaliate and not allow Brits in (they announced they would do this a few days before we left), but they haven’t done this yet. There was no problem entering France. The border control in Folkestone just waved us through. At the France end of the tunnel there is no border control.

I was so anxious about these COVID rules that I forgot to be anxious about driving our UK car in France until I was on the train. But there was no problem. I drove off the train, kept to the right, and adapted.

Abbeville is a cute town on the River Somme. We did a walk around town before dinner. Most tourists come here to see the WWI sites. We stayed at the Mercure hotel (a chain) which was nothing special but is in the town center. There were a lot of other people staying there but the town center wasn’t very busy.

Another COVID precaution was avoiding restaurants. We bought a cooler that plugs into the car (we have a 12V plug in the trunk) and I made two dinners and three lunches for the trip! This worked well.

On Thursday we avoided the Mercure breakfast buffet (which is usually bad, and who is having buffets now!) and went a cafe and sat outside. Croissants!

In France you have to wear a mask in hotels, shops and restaurants. We wore masks and so did everyone else. Not on the streets though.

Since we may not stop in France on return (we may “transit” France, drive across without stopping, to avoid quarantine), we went to a large natural foods shop in Abbeville and stocked up on the French products which we try to get every year (French sea salt, organic French olive oil, some toothpaste that we like). France has very good natural foods shops - large, with a great selection - and they are everywhere.

We drove about 5 hours to Langres, all on autoroute. Very boring but we listened to Jeeves and Wooster radio plays so the time passed easily. We stopped and had a fun picnic lunch. At that stop I talked to a Brit parked beside us and he said Switzerland had announced they were closing their border to France soon. Now I wished we had driven through to Switzerland on the second day as we usually do.

We’ve never been to Langres but I read about it in the France magazine and it sounded interesting. A fortified medieval town and you can walk the ramparts. I wanted to stay in Troyes or Dijon but we decided they were too large. Langres is small, population 7,000, and I figured it would be empty. Wrong, it is a popular destination and was packed with visitors.

Langres sits up on a hill and the walls are magnificent as you drive up to it. Our hotel was in the historic center and we had to drive a few blocks on narrow streets to get to it. I had booked this hotel, and then cancelled 2 days before thinking they were going to close France to Brits and I didn’t want to lose my money, then booked it again from Abbeville. So in all this confusion I didn’t figure out the parking and we drove around a full parking lot, then back around town only to realise that they open up gates and you park in a small but well organised area in front of the hotel.

This hotel, Hotel des Remparts, was very interesting. It is a small hotel right on the ramparts and run by a charming couple from Cuba and the US. It has about 6 rooms. We had a gorgeous room looking out over the valley.

We walked around the ramparts (2 miles). There were people out but most of them distanced (not all). It was sunny and hot so we went into a small Carrefour to get me some lemonade even though we had decided to avoid shops (you let things slip on vacation). It was chaotic in the shop and when we were checking out they checked Steve’s backpack as if we might be shoplifters! The lemonade was not worth this. I don’t go into supermarkets at home, instead I have everything delivered.

We had breakfast in the hotel the next morning and the tables were well distanced.

It was overcast and raining. I had planned a drive on rural roads and the over the mountains into Switzerland but this was a mistake. The French Autoroute is boring but is easy to drive and there are rest areas frequently (called aires) and the ones that say picnic area only always have restrooms which means you can avoid the crowded rest area with restaurants. After Steve drove for 2 hours in a torrential downpour I changed our route and we were on autoroute for the rest of the way.

The rain eased as we turned off the autoroute to drive into the mountains and to Lenk. We arrived at 5pm and checked in. This is our 7th year in a row staying here, the 5th year in the same apartment right in the town center. Lenk is small, population 2,500, but is beautiful and has great hiking. It was very busy here this summer because the Swiss vacationed at home, as did the Brits who crowded out our area in Dorset, but their holidays are over and the town is quiet. Maybe it will be busier when the weather improves.

It rained all day Saturday and we got out for a short walk. The same on Sunday, but it was colder (42F), the rain was heavier and there was snow on the mountains.

I walked out in the rain this morning for fresh bread and gipfels (Swiss croissants) and got soaked. The one bakery that was open was busy but everyone lines up and spreads out. Masks are only required here on public transportation but everyone socially distances in the shops and on the street. We went into the supermarket on Friday and it wasn’t busy and everyone kept their distance. As usual, everyone is very friendly here. This morning in the bakery everyone in line greeted each other.

When we left home Switzerland was on the safe list, however it was removed a few days later. This will impact our return plans. We can take our time through France and we will have to quarantine unless we go to Italy (a safe country, but for how long?), spend 14 days there then go home via Austria (safe, I think) and Germany (safe), then transit France (not safe). But no need to think about this now because with the UK everything can change at any time. These are not usual travel conditions but I am happy that we made the trip.

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We spent the first night in Abbeville, an hours drive from the tunnel.

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We spent the second night in Langres, a small walled town north of Dijon.

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Hotel des Remparts.

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View from our room.

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We arrived in Lenk, in the rain on Friday afternoon. It rained all day Saturday and Sunday. Sunday was cold, 42F, and when the rain stopped and the cloud lifted we saw snow on the mountains.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Monday August 31
Warmer (55F), some sun and no rain

The snow is still on the mountains but it is warmer and sunny for part of the day in town. We did an easy walk out along the river towards the mountains and back (5.5 miles, 2 hrs). The route back takes you through some farms and we bought Alp cheese from a self serve fridge. These self serve fridges are everywhere in rural Switzerland, on the streets or lanes outside the farmhouse where they make the cheese.

There were other people out walking but not as many as in other years. Especially with the snow at upper levels keeping people off those trails, you would expect more people walking in town.

Our building has 6 apartments but I think only one other is occupied.

Back to the bakery for pretzels. They are big and you cut them in half and butter them. That plus the leftovers of soup I made last night was lunch.

The rest of the day was reading, listening to podcasts or books and knitting. I listen to the Pod Save America podcasts regularly and now the new Michelle Obama podcast (very good). On Audible I am listening to Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, about her husband’s death. On my kindle I am reading Frances Mayes novel Woman in Sunlight. Very light, a bit annoying and I abandoned it but then picked it again and now am liking the part set in Italy.

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Walking on the path beside the river.

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Another view from the path.
 

cindyldoe

New Member
I'm enjoying reading about your adventures Pauline. We have a trip scheduled for Wengen and Lucerne the end of this month that most likely isn't going to happen. Oh well, I can live through you for now.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We have a trip scheduled for Wengen and Lucerne the end of this month that most likely isn't going to happen.

That would be a great trip! I hope you get to do it next year. September is a good month to be in Switzerland.

Wengen is not far from where we are now, an hour’s drive. We’ve stayed in Grindelwald several times, just over the hill from Wengen.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Tuesday September 1
Sunny and warmer (60F).

I woke up with a stiff back. I think we walked too fast yesterday or maybe I slept in a strange position. A bad back is the health problem that I’ve dealt with for decades. Long drives make it sore, too much sitting.

We did the same walk again but slower. Yesterday we were powering. The day was warm and the sun was beautiful. My back was feeling better after the walk. I still have problems with one knee and yesterday I did not wear the compression sleeve and declared the knee better. Today it hurt a bit so back to my fancy compression sleeve from Germany.

On the way home we noticed a little box at the end of a farm driveway. We’ve walked by this several times already and not noticed it. They are selling dried local mushrooms! We bought some and I used them in a vegetable soup tonight. Delicious!

Just after we got home I was sitting out on the terrace and heard cow bells. It sounded like a Cow Parade, when the farming families bring their cows down from the alpine pastures to their fields in town. We saw the cows walking down the street and went into the town center but got there at the end of the parade when they were removing the bells and fancy headdresses.

The official Cow Parade (Alpabfahrt), usually on the second Saturday of September, is cancelled this year (Covid) but it looks like there may be smaller parades that we will watch out for. Those cows still have to come down the mountains. It was nice to see the farmers in traditional dress and they still dressed up the cows.

We had a nice afternoon visiting the shops for groceries. The town is quiet but there are people about still.

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I love the ring of mountains at the end of this valley.

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Self serve mushrooms.

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The end of the small cow parade.

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Removing the bells and flowers from the cows.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Wednesday September 2
Sunny and warm (60F).

Woke up this morning and my back felt fine. Good! We decided to have an easy hiking day anyway. We took the gondola up to the mountaintop. There is one gondola here and it takes you to a very good hiking area. Mountains buses take you to several other areas. Because of the snow we did low level hikes until today, but the snow is gone leaving behind just a bit of mud.

We did the easy walk down to Stoss, the middle station. This is a very good trail that does not descend steeply but curves around the mountain to go down (1hr30min, 3.6 miles). We stopped at a mountain restaurant for a light lunch and sat outside on the terrace. This was our second restaurant since March. The first was the cafe in Abbeville. The owner said even though it was very busy in the summer in Lenk, he was not busy because people picnicked instead (avoiding restaurants).

There were a few people on the trail, but not many. As we went into the restaurant a group were walking out and one of them spoke to us in German. Steve, who speaks some German, didn’t realise he was talking to us. I told him I speak English. He looked surprised (tourists from another country!) but translated to English. He was recommending the homemade tomato soup, so that is what we had (vegetarian but not vegan, which is typical here). So nice to sit outside with an incredible view of the mountains.

We took the gondola back to town and didn’t do much else. The weather is looking very good for the next week.

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Walking back into the mountains from the top station of the gondola (Leiterli).

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Someone put flowers in this water trough.

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View from the restaurant.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Thursday September 3
Sunny and almost hot (65F)

Today we drove 15 mins to the end of the valley, Simmenfalle, and did the hike up to Siebenbrunnen. On previous trips we did this hike once a week. Siebenbrunnen is one of my favourite places here. You can only get there by hiking up a rough road along the river (farmers who live up there can drive up so a car may go by on your walk). The hike is pretty steep for the first 45 minutes, then levels out for the last 15. At least that is what it was in the past. This year it took us an hour to do the climb! It is 300 meters (my watch said 1000ft). Is this it, now we can’t do the big hikes? Curse you 2020.

Anyway, we did make it up and it is beautiful up there. It was sunny and warm. There were other people up there, but not that many. Siebenbrunnen means seven springs and is a large waterfall coming down from the glaciers. It turns into the River Simme that rushes through Lenk. There is a good mountain restaurant where you eat at long benches outside.

We had our lunch sitting on a log near the falls. It was beside a fire pit. The Swiss like to hike up into the mountains then start a fire and cook sausage for lunch, so you see fire pits with logs around them for seats in many places. We had grilled zucchini but I grilled it on the stove last night.

We lingered awhile and wandered around the small woods by the river, then bought more alp cheese from the self serve fridge by the restaurant, then walked back down in less time than it took to get up. On the way down my legs really felt the steep downhill. In recent years we’ve tried to avoid steep downhill walks because they are hard on your knees. We’ll do that this year too.

The river along the path rushes down with frequent waterfalls and in a deep canyon until the last fall at Simmenfalle. Then it becomes the river we like to walk along.

We were back in the afternoon and it was hot. We sat out on the terrace. Our terrace does not get sun in the morning but it does in the afternoon. We are on the ground level but have good views of the valley and mountains.

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Siebenbrunnen, the waterfalls.

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Another waterfall nearby.

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Steve at our lunch spot.

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The restaurant menu.

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The cheese shop.

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The cheese we bought today (2020) and a few days ago (2019, aged).
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Friday, September 4
Hot (70F) and sunny today. Beautiful!

Today we took the gondola up the mountain again and this time did a 2 1/2 hour circular walk (4.5 miles). The trail goes back from the gondola station and up about 600 feet to Stubleni, a big hill with great views. It was hot and sunny. The climb was steep but only for 40 minutes. We’ve done this hike, or parts of it, many times. I never get tired of it. The first part has views of the Lenk valley, then you get to views down to Launen, Launensee and the Gstaad valley and at the end views down to Lenk. I put some view photos below

There were a lot of people out hiking. Some bikers too. More people than we have seen this week. It must be because of the weather and the weekend. We passed a couple who were speaking English to each other, so I hailed them, of course. These were our first Brits on the trip except that they’ve lived in Basel for 50 years but are originally British. We talked about how much we all love these mountains.

We went to the supermarket for a few things and were surprised to see a row of challah-like bread, called butterzoph (butter braid). Just like Friday in Israel where everyone buys challah for Shabbot dinner. I don’t think Switzerland has a large Jewish population and this is probably some tradition left over from when they did and no one now associates it with Jews. Like the catholics in New Mexico that have a few customs that they don’t realise are Jewish because a few hundred years ago they were Jews escaping from persecution in Spain. The bread has butter and eggs, just like the challah that we make. It was good but a bit too “white bread”.

Today is one week since we arrived. We have two more weeks here. We are really settling in - I bought a stick soup blender. I’ve been making a lot of soup. Corn chowder tonight.

A panorama in four photos from our hike today. We took the gondola to the top then walked up to Stubleni where I took these photos.

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Views towards Iffigenalp and Langermatte.

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The mountains with Iffigensee (alpine lake) behind.

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Down the hill to the direction of Launensee.

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Lauenen which you get to from Gstaad.

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A cow along the trail.

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The Lenkerhof, the 5 star hotel in town, in a beautiful setting beside the gondola station.

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Butterzoph
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Saturday, September 5
Sunny and hot (70F)

Today we set out on a low level trail that we have done before. We walked out through town and then up a valley, along a river, to a waterfall. After walking up and up for 30 minutes we saw a sign saying the trail to the waterfall was closed because of weather damage. There was big flooding here a few years ago (we arrived just after it that year) and I bet this damage was from then.

Not to be daunted we continued up along the river. The river was running fast and the woods we walked through were beautiful. On the hike down from the top of the gondola we walk down this same valley but we turn off before the falls. Part of this trail is lined by painted rocks probably done by local school kids. They went on for about 1/4 mile I think. More signs saying trail closed. Then we had to duck under warning tape across the path. There is no one else on the trail.

After about 45 minutes we get to the falls. The trail turns into a series of steps beside the river, steeply going up the waterfall. We went up two sets of steps and had a good look at the falls, then turned back. The next set of steps looked damaged and some of the railings along the steep path had been washed away. I guess the trail was closed for a reason.

We took a different route back to town following a small road by farms. Not a long walk, about 3.5 miles, but we avoided the weekend crowds and I loved being beside the river.

We had a lazy afternoon out on the terrace then went for a walk in the early evening when it had cooled down. The light on the mountains was beautiful.

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A beautiful old chalet in Lenk.

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Walking up through Lenk.

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Trail is closed.

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Painted rocks line the trail.

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The waterfall.

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A fire pit with and axe and a chopping block.

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Stacks of stones so people can validate their existence.

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Early evening when the sun is blocked by the mountains on one side but it still shines on the mountains at the end of the valley.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin

Pauline

Forums Admin
Monday, September 7
Overcast and cool (55F).

Today we did our 5+ mile trip from town and along the river to Simmenfalle at the end of the valley and back. It wasn’t sunny but it wasn’t raining and it was a lovely walk. The weather changes tomorrow and we hope to do some higher level hikes again.

We are not doing much on this trip but we are enjoying it. Even walks around town looking up at the mountains are wonderful.

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Looking towards the end of the valley on our walk.

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The river beside the path, looking back towards town.

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Simmenfalle and the campground at the end of the valley.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Tuesday, September 8.
Sunny!! Hot-ish, 70F.

It was wonderful to wake up to bright sunshine after two overcast days. Today we did a big hike. Up until today we’ve done easier hikes - 3 - 5 miles. Today we walked for 8 miles and 6 of them were downhill and I am exhausted! Back to easier hikes.

We took the gondola to the top and did the long walk back down. We do this hike once or twice on each trip. It takes about 5 hours (8 miles). It starts by walking back into the mountains for an hour, including a good climb. Then you go over a beautiful and slightly scary ridge, Grydon. It is featured on much of the Lenk advertising. After that you walk along a ridge at the top of a big valley, then make your way down the valley, through fields and forests and then into the bottom of the valley to walk along the river.

After leaving the river, the last 45 minutes down to Lenk feel endless. But it is an incredible hike. Tomorrow something easier.

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Walking back to Grydon (looking back to gondola station).

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Steve ahead of me walking across Grydon. The path is narrow on this ridge.

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The fields we walked down.

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Cows!
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We are half way through our 3 weeks in Lenk. Because Switzerland was removed from the UK safe list (the travel corridor) the day after we arrived we will have to quarantine for 14 days when we return to the UK. I was hoping Switzerland might be added back while we were here, but their numbers are rising. The UK takes countries off the safe list if their cases per 100,000 in the last 7 days goes above 20. Switzerland was below 20 when we left, as was the UK, but now they are at 28.

The UK is now above 20. Germany only bans countries if above 50. I am not sure about Switzerland and other countries but we could get to a point where Brits are banned.

All this matters to us because instead of doing quarantine at home we could spend 14 days in a safe country and then go home. The UK only looks at the last 14 days before you cross the border. Italy is safe and I’ve always wanted to hike in the Dolomites. But their numbers are rising. They are at 15 now. But the UK has now said it may ban an island instead of a whole country and Italy’s spike is coming from Sardinia, so they may just ban Sardinia.

If that happens we could spend 2 weeks in Italy (or 1 in Italy, 1 in Germany), then drive home mostly through Germany, then transit France and no quarantine! We could also spend a week in a safe country and have those days removed from the quarantine days, as long as we do not stop in any unsafe country on the way. So instead of a 14 day quarantine it would be 7.

Confusing? Yes! Plus the quarantine is not really enforced. Why don’t we do testing instead? Because our testing system is a mess.

And what happens if you spend a week in a safe country, then move to another safe country, but then the original country becomes unsafe, was your stay there now unsafe? Who knows? At least it is only the last 14 days before you cross the UK border that counts.

I’ve done all my research and am ready for the Dolomites and the Black Forest. But with all that is going on we may choose to just go home. We will decide next weekend.

This person on Twitter posts the numbers daily - Paul Charles Twitter ppaulcharles. This is the latest chart.

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ElizaN

10+ Posts
Your commentary and beautiful photos are making me determined to revisit Switzerland. It's been way too long - I last visited on my first trip to Europe in 1971!!! I stayed in the youth hostel in Zermatt.
And in Zurich.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Wednesday, September 9
Sunny and 70F

We had a delightful day! We drove 30 minutes to Schonreid, down the valley towards Gstaad. They have a chairlift that goes up to an area with restaurants and a good hiking trail. We go here once on each trip. I love the chairlift and the hike we do is easy.

It was a perfect day for the chairlift, hot and sunny. It has a plastic cover that you can throw back so you hang up there in the fresh air. It isn’t too high and you have a good view going up of the farms below and, on the way back, views of the valley. We have to pay for this ride (31.50CHF each return) because it is not covered on the Lenk card, but it is worth it.

At the top you walk uphill for 15 minutes, then you are on a pretty flat path that goes on a long ridge with views to either side. You can see the snow covered mountains at the end of the Lenk valley.

Our walk was 5.6 miles, 2.5 hours. We walked out to the end of the ridge and had our sandwiches on a bench. This is a popular spot so we went on a weekday. The weekends tend to be busy here, which never bothered us before, but in Covid times we avoid crowds so are not doing popular hikes on the weekend. There were a lot of people walking but it was not crowded.

At one point a large group of schoolchildren passed us. As we were leaving they were just ahead of us going down to the chairlift. Instead of dealing with this crowd we went into the restaurant where we normally have lunch on this day trip and had coffee/ice tea and kuchen. I love this terrace restaurant and was happy we ended up there. A reminder how expensive restaurants are in Switzerland. Our bill was 15.20CHF (similar in Euro).

By the time we got to the chairlift there was no sign of the kids. It is great to see them out on hikes, and we’ve never run into a group like this before in Switzerland (in Israel we always run into large groups of kids on the trails).

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Riding up on the Horneggli chairlift.

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View from the trail.

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View from the bench where we had lunch.

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Hiking signs behind the bench.

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The Hornflue terrace restaurant.

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Coffee, ice tea, kuchen.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
What was the temperature in mid-afternoon?
70F was the high but it wasn’t overly hot. And it is dry. England was very muggy the weeks before we left. Switzerland is more like Santa Fe weather. Hot and sunny, but cool at night, fresh and cool in the morning.

And like Santa Fe you can get rain in August. July is great for wild flowers (we did a July trip a few years ago) but September is usually sunny, not too hot. This is in the Berner Oberland, the valleys south of the Thunder and Lightening lakes. In the Valais, where you were in Zermatt, it is hotter.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Thursday, September 10
Partially cloudy, 65F

We’ve been getting late starts these past days and I think that explains why the trails from the top station of the gondola have been crowded. Not Cinque Terre crowded by any means, but a lot of slow people that we have to pass. It isn’t always easy to pass groups of Swiss because they like to spread across the trail.

Today we were just an hour earlier, reaching the top of the gondola at 11am and there were not many people. Most of them were serious hikers so we were not needing to pass them - they were passing us. It was more tranquil hiking with hardly anyone else nearby.

We did an out and back today, walking about 5 miles in total with two good climbs (walked towards Tungelpass). We did not go all the way to Tungelpass because we could see it was in shade, and where we were was sunny, so we turned around. It was enough of a hike, with great views and mostly sunny. We are both tired Out from the hiking and may take tomorrow “off”.

Back in town we looked at electric bikes that are for rent. Steve is hesitant because he hates them and electric scooters when we’ve seen them in cities, but we would be on bike trails, not the road, and I think it would be fun. I saw Kathy Wood’s group on electric bikes in the Luberon this time last year and they looked like they enjoyed them. Let’s see if I can talk him into this!

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Heading towards Tungelpass we could see it was in shade.

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Steve on the trail on the way back with a steep climb in front of us.

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On the gondola heading down from the top station. We were in a themed car with wooden benches and old photos, even an old wool cap hanging.

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Leaving the middle station. Another theme car is approaching. The whole gondola ride is 20 minutes going down 1000 meters.
 

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