Posted in Travel

Lauterbrunnen: searching for my Imladris

Nearly two years ago, I read that the valley of Lauterbrunnen (Switzerland) is the inspiration for the heavenly landscape of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings book. Being a Tolkien fan, having Rivendell as one of my favorite places in Middle-earth, also liking nature scenes, I put Lauterbrunnen on my Must List.

Switzerland hiking is not exactly a cheap affair, so only now I manage to arrange a trip, after much plotting. I took a train to Basel, then changed to another train there. Had enough time in the station to buy some Sprungli chocolate. The scenery from Basel to Interlaken was very eye-pleasing, while the superb chocolate melted in my mouth. Green pastures of spring were pushing high, cherry trees were still blooming on mountainous background, and all the lakes were of turquoise color. It’s kinda unexpected to find Mediterranean aura on the Alpes.

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A side note: somehow I always had fabulous weather while travelling. London in mid-March, Scandinavia at summer end, Venice on a rainy-predicted day, they all turned out sunny. It almost feels like the sun has been stalking me.

I arrived at Interlaken Ost, looked at BLM timetable at the station, and realized that the next train to Lauterbrunnen was in 8 mins, otherwise I would have to wait for an hour; and I didn’t have a ticket. So I ran to the ticket office, queuing to buy mine (didn’t see any ticket machine), and ran back when the small train was ringing to leave, and the platform officer cried out to me “Here! Here! Quick!”. I jumped on the train, and the door closed.

The landscape from Interlaken up is, surprisingly, nothing to write home. But I liked it that way: it veiled the treasure of Lauterbrunnen. There was literally one European guy inside the train, all other were Asian. I was convinced that Swiss tourism was indeed popular in Asia at the moment.

The train arrived at Lauterbrunnen, I stepped out, and the first thing I saw was Staubbach waterfall. Pristine white like a flowing silk scarf on the sheer cliff. The entrance to the valley couldn’t have been better than that.

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I drew some Swiss notes from a nearby ATM, then looked for my guest-house. On the way, I stopped by a Coop supermarket, but it was closed due to Ascension Day. I started to worry: I got nothing to eat and I didn’t want to splurge in Swiss skiing restaurants either.

The cafe bar next to the station sold some expensive canned foods, I had to rely on them although I hated canned foods. The next day I discovered that Camping Jungfrau, not far from there, sold fresh vegetables and fruits everyday, celery and carrots all you want, with reasonable prices. Just in case anybody want to know.

While shopping in the cafe bar, I saw a table ordering a flammkuchen. One for 3 guys. It looks so tempting that I ended up ordering one for myself. A whole flammkuchen for just myself. And I finished it. The flammkuchen was bigger than my face! Not that I hadn’t had breakfast that morning.

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With 2 bags of canned foods on my hands (it was enough for just one day!), I headed to Valley Hostel. It was a cozy wood house below the road. The room was charming, with an impeccable view of the mountains and the Staubbach fall, but the problem is the guests’ luggage. It was a female dormitory of 6 beds, and there were five huge suitcases on the floor. I was the only one with no suitcase, my small backpack looked so pathetic next to their suitcases. There was no place to walk inside the room, and I tripped several times. I’d never had this problem when I stayed in mixed dormitories. A note to myself next time.

Cows everywhere. On the mountain side, and on the figure of my pillow case. Good way to immerge  into mother nature.

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There was a cat in the guesthouse who really needed to be patted

Then I realized I forgot to bring a hat. Who would have thought that an Alpine region had been so bright in early May. So I bought a hat in a souvenir shop and ventured towards the waterfalls.

The valley opened up in front of me. One, two, then three waterfalls, all splashing down from dizzying heights. Snow hadn’t yet melt on faraway peaks, but the low fields were already covered in wild flowers. The air was tranquil, no sound around except the music of the waterfalls and the cowbells. I found my Rivendell, finally. It only needed Elrond and some Elvish maiden to improve.

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There was an autonomic cheese shop along the road, next to a small farm, with no seller. The cheese pieces has price tags on them, buyers could put money into a piggy bank on the table. Below the piggy feet were some change coins. Next to it was a cheese plate to sample, with 2014 cheese divided from 2015 cheese. The 2014 one was much better. I found this model shop quite interesting.

I pointed to the cheese and asked some cow nearby: “Is it from your milk?” She gave me a nonchalant glance and continued to chew her herbs. Took it as a “Yes”, I chose a big trunk of 2014 cheese, paid into the piggy bank, admiringly took a photo of the table, and… walked away without my cheese. How could I be so forgetful!

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The afternoon was wearing away, I felt cold and returned. When approaching my hostel I remembered that I forgot my cheese. I walked back to the cheese table, only to see that the pieces were all gone. Sigh. It was a long way to my hostel. Without my coat, without my cheese, I was freezing.

I heated up the canned foods in the common kitchen for dinner. Some other Koreans were cheerfully cooking their instant noodles. There had been so many Korean travellers in the hostel these days that the staffs started to sell Korean instant noodles at the check-in counter.

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Next day, I got up early to see the sunrise. But it was not to be seen, except some tender colors of the dawn.

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Coop supermarket was open now, so I had a fresh breakfast with strawberries and blueberries. Feeling quite boosted up and ready for another adventure.

I took a bus to Trummelbach fall, the bus stop was right outside my hostel. The subterranean waterfalls were impressive and quite different from the outdoor ones. But they sprinkled water all over my camera. And I didn’t even have a good picture of Trummelbach -_-

Based on the map that the guest-house gave me, I thought it was next to Stechelberg, the cable car station, so I decided to walk. I aimed straight ahead, but Stechelberg is nowhere in sight. It took me one good hour of leisurely walking, but I don’t complain: I had the entire landscape to myself. Don’t know where all those tourists and hikers had gone. I was the only humain being on the road. The cows stared at me when I went by, and some cat accompanied me for a while. Not that its cotton feet caused any noise to disturb me.

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I followed the river, passed by Murrenbach fall, another nice one. Then, Stechelberg and up the cable car to Gimmelwald and Murren. I have acrophobia, so the cable car ride was nerve-racking, but luckily the magnificent view in front of my eyes distracted me. I was constantly taking photos instead of fist-grabbing the handrail as usual. From Gimmelwald I saw the sharp peak of Schilthorn, another inspiration for Tolkien’s Zirakzigil peak where Gandalf fought the Balrog. The sky was deep blue, but I could have heard the thunder clash from Gandalf’s staff.

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The village of Murren was cute, the mountains looked majestic, but I couldn’t see any waterfall. All shops were closed for noon time while I needed them the most: I was hungry for lunch. So I had an ice-cream instead. There were fountains everywhere with cool water from the mountain, so I didn’t have any problem with thirst.

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I passed by some hikers, and they made a contrary image to mine: them with gigantic backpacks (actually bigger than my body), and me with a camera on my neck, a Swiss frank note in my pocket, and an icecream on my hand – that’s all my provision. I knew I needed more, but I kinda hated carrying too much of thing, especially when I went sightseeing.

I walked from the Murren cable station to  Grafschaft. Again, it was longer than I’d expected, but a very pleasant walk, almost all alone. Snow flowers were thriving on the mountain side. The village of Wengen on the facing slope laying down at my feet like tiny dots. The old rail tunnel were half covered in snow – quite a vintage sight.

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I hadn’t done long walks or mountain hiking for a long time, so I was glad that my feet kept up with me in spite of the empty stomach. Once reached Grafschaft I took a cable car ride down to Lauterbrunnen, telling myself that I would try Wengen tomorrow, for the famous sight of “the valley of 72 waterfalls”. I would not leave Lauterbrunne without finding that view.

I rested in the hostel for a few minute, recharged myself with some strawberries, then go to Airtime cafe bar for a brownie. It lived up to its reputation.

I’d heard that Camping Jungfrau gave one of the cheapest and best meal in the valley, so that was where I dined. It was the only restaurant which served cheese fondue for a single person, with an acceptable price. But anyway, cheese fondue can’t be served in a half pot, so they gave me an entire pot, a basket of bread, a pickle plate, and I, having ordered a salad for my vitamin quota of the day, found myself facing a giant meal. I finished it. And no, I’m not obese. It was my lunch and dinner combined.

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As mentioned, Camping Jungfrau was also a good place for shopping for grocery and Swiss knifes – I bought two there, one for Fluffy (me) and one for Fury (my bro), they engraved my name onto it, freely.

I returned to the room. Some girls had departed, together with their suitcases, but some other girls had arrived with equally big luggage. They put their suitcases right next to my bed and dugged into it 10 times/day to look for their myriad of clothes and cosmetic. I didn’t have anywhere to put my feet down. Why on earth do they need to bring twenty jeans, twelve bb creams and three different kinds of shampoo?! They don’t even do hiking. It was hopeless.

The next day, I checked out, put my small backpack into the hostel’s luggage room (I don’t even want to bring my 1kg of luggage up the mountain).  On, to Wengen as planned. I prepared myself for the view. I chose a good seat on the train next to the window, took a handkerchief out of pocket and started to wipe the window glass, as that would be my camera lens. The two guys sitting in front of me had a good laugh of it. They told me: “Good idea, but why don’t you just open the glass?”. Bingo.

The train started to going up, and everybody went “Ooh!” and “Aah!” for the view. It’s spectacular. You saw the cliffs, the waterfalls, the villages, and then the whole view of the valley. The ride alone worthed the trip to Switzerland.

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From Wengen station, wood houses scattered everywhere, so I hesitated which direction to head. At first I tracked along the railway. Up and up. Nothing remarkable. It’s a hot mid-day, the air was so stiff I could hear the buzz of the bees on the wild flowers. I climbed onto every hotel’s terrace, every public garden, but the valley remained hidden. I asked people for the church, as I’d read on internet that the church in Wengen gave the best view. They pointed me to the church. I went into the church. I went around the church. There was no sight at all.

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I felt a little bit disheartened and came back to Wengen station. There was still 15 mins till the next train down, so I decided to take a look at the main street. All shops were closing. After 10 mins walking, I saw a direction board to my right: “English church”. Suddenly, I knew that was the one I was looking for. I hurried to it. The black sheeps nearby was startled by my steps.

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Here was the church terrace. The barring cliffs rolled away and the entire valley  was in front of me. I sat down on a bench and enjoy my time at Rivendell. The outside world vanished; I could just sit there for days. Was it what Bilbo felt?

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Here is a drawing of Tolkien for Rivendell’s illustration, it really resembles the pic above:

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My stock websites for photos: https://www.picfair.com/eressea

6 thoughts on “Lauterbrunnen: searching for my Imladris

  1. I am now 57 years old and me and my wife would like to visit the Lauterbrunnen area during summer. We would prefer to stay at a guesthouse type accommodation.

    Do you know of an affordable & clean place in Lauterbrunnen, Wengen area ? We are from South Africa.

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    1. Hi Marinus, sorry for replying you late. In Lauterbrunnen you may stay at Valley Hostel as I did, or
      Camping Jungfrau nearby. They are all clean, as in Switzerland. The level of “affordable” depends on your definition, Swiss alpine housing is never really cheap. You may look on booking.com and choose the cheapest guesthouse which is rated at least 8.0

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  2. Last September, I stayed 5 nights in Valley Hostel. A lovely and clean place. However, the weather was most disappointing during my entire stay there. Have been to most of the places you mentioned! I loved Schynige Platte the most and I missed the cowbell!

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