Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mürren, Switzerland 2/8 - 2/11

We left Chamonix early Friday morning and began our journey to Mürren, Switzerland. There were no direct trains between the two, so we needed to make four train transfers. For some unknown reason, the Mont-Blac Express train was not departing from Chamonix town center. We took a bus from the town center to Vallorcine where we caught the Mont-Blanc Express train down to Martigny, Switzerland. This brought us to a total of five transfers. From Martigny we transferred to a regular Swiss train and departed for Brig, Interlaken Ost, Lauterbrunnen and then finally on to Mürren. With a recovering stomach from food poisoning, a morning of beautiful views was more than welcome, even with all the transfers.

Route to Mürren.
One of the many towns outside Chamonix that seem to dangle from the steep mountain sides.
Riding past Lake Thun just outside Spiez, Switzerland

Mürren sits above the village of Lauterbrunnen, which is the main train station hub to several surrounding mountain villages reachable by train. It is the last town reachable by cars. We transferred from the main train and hopped on a suspended tram up a mountain cliff. The tram had a unique under-storage compartment for luggage. We transferred from the cable tram to an old train that traveled along the cliff edge to the village Mürren.
Mürren and surround sights and mountain villages
Passenger cargo and town supplies are transported under the cable suspended tram.
Video of luggage transfer from tram to train.

Our last two transfers were full of skiers because Mürren sits amidst a ski area.

Mürren is located in the center of Switzerland at the northern edge of the Alps. It is a traditional mountain village dating back to 1257 with spectacular views of the mountains Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. Once trains were built to easily reach Mürren and other surrounding alpine towns, the region quickly developed into a popular skier and hiker destination. To this day, the town has a small population of 400 and yet it has 2,000 hotel beds for the summer and winter tourists.
It felt as if we were stepping back in time.

Once we stepped out of the Mürren train station, we discovered that our roller suitcases were going to be a challenge along the snow covered roads. Since the roads do not need to be cleared for cars, they remain covered with snow during winter. That made it great fun to ski or sledge (the British word for sled) through the town. We later learned that hotels offered large sledges to transport luggage. Thankfully our hotel was not too far from the station.
Skiing around town instead of driving - our kind of town.
These village roads are part of the ski runs of the mountain.
Roller bags do not work well with snowy roads.

We stayed at Hotel Edelweiss, which was quaint and had an amazing view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau from our balcony. The atmosphere was homey especially in the evening when a teenager came in and played the popular songs on the piano. We have to admit that we were not impressed with the hotel restaurant's dinner, but we enjoyed the simple complimentary breakfast.
Taking in the view.
View from our hotel room.
We did not have to worry about anyone catching us walking around our hotel room naked.
Out on our balcony.
Our favorite part about breakfast in Europe were soft boiled eggs and pastries.

On our first full day, Saturday, we woke up to a blanket of fresh snow. In the morning, the mountains were socked with clouds with low visibility on the slopes. With all the freshly fallen snow, not even the poor visibility could put a damper on our day. Shortly after an afternoon break in a mountain hut along a ski run, the clouds began to lift and we were able to take in the mountain view. In the evening we enjoyed strolling through the village and slegding down the streets. We stumbled into the community center where half the town was celebrating the victory of two Special Olympics Winter Games medals by the locals. It was a warm and welcoming celebration with refreshments and a live traditional Swiss band.
Mountain hut that rents beds to adventurous outdoor enthusiasts.
We ate at its restaurant on the ground floor.
Clouds lifted in time to enjoy the ski route down to Lauterbrunnen
Instead of watching out for cars in town, you have to look out for sledges.
These sledges are way cooler than what we have back at home.
Curling game at the community center

On the next morning, Sunday, we had to face a hard decision. The clouds had cleared and there was still plenty of fresh snow on the ground - a prefect day to ski or sight see. We could either explore other parts of the mountain by snowboard or visit the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe), Europe's highest railway station. It was a hard decision but we chose sightseeing. We traveled down to Lauterbrunnen to buy the tickets up to Jungfraujoch and were floored by the train ticket cost - over 150USD per person! We sighed, handed over the money, and hoped the trip up to the Top of Europe would be quick enough that we could squeeze in some snowboarding in the afternoon. Getting to the top station was a nice journey. The views were spectacular all the way up, and even while the train made its way through mountain tunnels, there were several stops to look out through mountain windows. The Jungfraujoch offered tourists a few actives; nice vistas, a glacier cave, shopping, and a few lunch options. After a self guided tour of the sights, we enjoyed a fondue lunch overlooking the glacier ice field covered in freshly fallen snow.
A pit stop to look out the vista windows as we traveled inside the Eiger mountain.
Excavators found Scrat with his acorn.
Glacier cave.
Traditional Swiss lunch with a view.
View down towards Lauterbrunnen as we are heading back to Mürren.

While leaving the Top of Europe, we were a bit disappointed with our decision. The visit to the Jungfraujoch took nearly all morning and afternoon, leaving us no time to snowboard. The views at the top and the self guided tour of the visitor's center were all nice but overall the experience was not worth the cost nor the missed day of skiing. On a train back down to Lauterbrunnen, we met an old lady from New Zealand. We shared travel stories about skiing around the world. We learned that her husband passed away and this was her first season skiing without him. They had met through skiing and their stories reminded us a lot of our own relationship. Even though our last day did not turn out like we planned, we were really glad we met this lady and shared stories. We spent that evening sledging the steeper streets of Mürren, taking a stroll to a nearby town, and enjoying a good dinner at a new restaurant. 
Looking North from the Top of Europe
Nice view but not worth the cost

As most travel destinations, we wish we could have stayed longer. There was so much more of the mountains to explore. Mürren is well known for its backcountry ski terrain, but the weather conditions and lack of time did not permit us to explore very far. The weather also held us back from trying ice climbing. If we ever make it back here during the summer, we consider hiking, camping, biking, glacier trekking, and canyoning - plenty to keep us busy. Hopefully we will stay longer next time.