Monday, 22 May 2017

Alpine excursion

We had another early start for an excursion to Luzern this morning. Clare decided not to come along, and took herself off across Basel on public transport to visit Colette, a colleague from Geneva days who lives in the southern suburbs. As we drove along the eastern ring road past the vast industrial estate of pharmaceutical factories, I remembered how we'd first driven this way in 1976, with the children in a Citroen Dyane, towards the Gottard pass on our way to a group holiday in Palazzola, Rome. Indeed, we stopped overnight in a small hotel in a village near Luzern, to get some rest, after having driven all day from Bristol. The place names along the route are still familiar to me, as I'd rehearsed the route with a map several times before this first experience of driving on the continent.

We made good time to Luzern and the coaches dropped our party conveniently in the town centre and then went to park elsewhere. Each tour group is allowed to do this, booking a drop off time to suit themselves, and a return pick up time. All is expertly marshalled by a man wearing a Securitas branded luminous vest. I enjoyed an hour of brisk walking around taking photos, before returning early to observe the comings and goings at the coach stop. There seemed to be mostly selfie stick wielding Chinese and Japanese visitors in town at the same time as us. Many of our group were toting cameras or smartphones, but not one had a selfie stick that I noticed. From Luzern, we drove on into the Bernese Oberland,  past Lake Brienz, then turning into an climbing up a valley on a narrow winding road, to Lauterbrunnen. 

There, we boarded a mountain railway train cremaillere, similar in design to the one that ascends from Yverdon les bains to Ste Croix in the Jura. It offers great views of spectacular scenery as we climbed to 2060m to stop off for half an hour at the busy station of Kleine Scheidegg, passing Wengen on the way. The station serves two different railway lines that link the pass with Grindlewald in the valley 1500m below. This is a hub for winter sports, skiing, hiking and mountain climbing, situated at the top of a pass from where the still snow clad slopes of the Jungfrau, Moench and Eiger peaks can be seen towering above. At station level, most of the snow had gone, though only recently, we were told. The higher mountain passes are only now starting to open for the summer season.

After our brief look around and photo opportunity, a different kind of train took us down the eastern side of the pass to Grindlewald, where we were met by our four coaches punctually. From there it was a a two hour return drive past Interlaken, alongside the Thunersee towards Bern, then back to Basel. Despite rush hour traffic, we were back at the ship by six. It can sometimes take an extra hour if there's any  traffic problem.

Then, a final supper, and bag packing, ready for a nine o'clock departure for the Dreieck Flughafen, and our flight back to Heathrow. Four and a half hours in a coach today, and tomorrow another five hours in a coach plus an hour's flight, to get us home. An inevitable surfeit of sitting, I'm afraid, but with delighful memories and photos of all the places we've seen this past week. It will be good to get back to decent speed internet again. Doing anything apart from emailing this week has been a nightmare of delays and dropped links. And this on a new ship. I think the travel industry that caters for 'silver surfers' greatly underestimates their need for connectivity at least as good as at home.

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