From Zug to Brienz and on to Frutigen

Saturday morning  sunshine found me at the window with a calmer spirit after the previous long day of travel.  During breakfast at the youth hostel in Zug, I asked a man at a table near me in a cycling jersey where I should store my bicycle on the train, and whether or not I must pay an extra charge for taking it. He assured me that I would have to purchase a Velobillett, and that it would be about 12 Swiss Franks for a day pass for my bike.  During the course of our conversation, he shared with me some information about the Tour de Suisse, a cycling event which was starting today in Rotkreuz and lasting two weeks as participants cycled a ring route around Switzerland. It’s odd to me that it’s starting in the middle of the country, but he said it starts in a different city every time. I had never heard of it before and wondered about the conditions of the route for this year.

When I checked out of the youth hostel, I collected my newly purchased youth hostel membership card, which I had decided to get because I thought that I would use the hostel system again in July for weekend overnights. Non-members pay a higher rate, and the card pays for itself within the first four uses. The clerk asked me where else I was going and whether or not I knew about the other hostels in the area. When she learned that I was heading towards Interlaken, she recommended that of the two possible routes, I take the one which went through the Brünig Pass because it was so beautiful. By 8:15 I was at the train station, where I bought a ticket from Zug to Brienz, via Luzern and the Brünig Pass. Glad I took the train for this leg of the journey. I had forgotten about the Brünig, and it would have been long and difficult.

At 8:29 the regional train came through and I loaded my bike into the compartment with a bicycle logo on the sliding door. On the way, a Swiss girl and a German guy sat down near me and began cuddling each other’s knees and kissing. He was wearing cycling gear and was going on some kind of a ride. It seemed that she was seeing him off. They sat across from each other, the girl on my left, and every time she spoke to him in Swiss German, he responded back in measured standard German. From the context, it seemed that he was from Berlin. I watched the misty landscape outside, and noticed a long length of river which had been transformed into a sculling area, with the occasional sculling team pulling their way through the dark waters. Within half an hour, we were in Luzern and we stayed there for about ten minutes or so, and lots of people got on and off. Then the train started heading back the way it had come.

Luzern station

I had forgotten to get out at Luzern at and change trains. The train was heading back to Zug. It wasn’t until the ticket man came by and looked at my ticket funny, that I realized what I had done.
The German man across from me consulted his phone and advised me to step out at Zug and take the next connection back to Luzern. I gathered my things and changed seats, but at 9:29 the train left Zug and I had again forgotten to get out and change trains. Realizing that I had made a double blunder, I glanced over at the couple, who met my eyes across the train with a mixture of sympathy and confusion. It really was a simple matter of getting off the train at the right station.

At this point, I pulled my bike out of the metal stabilizer and backed it past the other passengers into the doorway, so that I could immediately leave at the next stop. At this point I had to continue on to Thalwil, and while I waited, I talked in the train to a marketing specialist for the Emmi Caffe Latte, who was also cycling and gave me advice after consulting her SBB app. She was also departing at Thalwil to meet up with a friend for a cycling tour to Flims, south of the Vierwaldstättersee. I was concerned that I would have to buy another ticket, but she said that she also had made mistakes with changing trains many times, and that the ticket men were nice, and would understand what had happened. Finally, we both took our bikes off the train at Thalwil, where I took the next train to Luzern. This time I stayed in the doorway the entire time to ensure that I wouldn’t look track of where I was.

11:00. I arrived in Luzern and changed trains. As I approached the platform, a group of eight or nine older men in matching white dress shirts converged upon each other with a sing-song greeting, “Grüezi miteinand! Grüezi miteinand!” and, in a cluster of greetings and laughter, headed for the same train platform. I wondered if they were in a singing group together. We all got on a train headed for Interlaken Ost. I had to hang my bike vertically in the bicycle compartment, and sat next to an old person who held his bags, and I had to press myself into the seat to fit. There weren’t many other places, and I didn’t want to stand. We talked a little, and I found out he was from Wengen, which I’m familiar with. It’s a small ski village above Lauterbrunnen, and he was traveling there to check on a Ferienwohnung he has there. As the landscape passed by the windows, I remembered why I find Sarnen one of the most beautiful, sleepy little lake towns in Switzerland. It’s not as spectacular or touristy as Interlaken, and it’s nestled in a small valley north of the Brünig Pass. The waters were a brilliant light turquoise blue, and people boating and fishing.

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As we passed through Meiringen, the colossal Reichenbach Falls crashed down the mountainside in long dramatic tiers, and I remembered visiting it back 2007 with Benjamin. Meiringen, the falls and the Sherlock Holmes museum were probably some of his favorite parts of the trip through the Berner Oberland. We had stayed overnight in town, hiked up to the top of the falls, and had spaetzle and beer in a small Gasthof overlooking the valley. Then we visited the museum, in which was housed Victorian and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, displayed as a life-size replica of Holmes’ and Watson’ 221B apartment rooms. Both were very enjoyable, but I didn’t have time to go back and visit either on this trip.

A digital screen on the train wall displayed an advertisement for a Gesangfest, a singing festival, in Meiringen, taking place this weekend. The group of men, who had been talking and laughing gregariously during the entire train ride, all got out at Meiringen, and I was satisfied that they were very likely there to perform together. I was sad to miss it, but I only had enough time to visit my friends in Adelboden before I had to head north to Freiburg.

12:55. I arrived in Brienz three hours later than I had anticipated. I unloaded my bicycle and headed to Ringgenberg via the town road. The Brienzersee sparkled in the sunlight, its emerald-blue waters inviting and clear. A man in a wetsuit was swimming out in the waves. The yellow and red Berner Oberland flag fluttered from the buildings or appeared on signs on houses and signposts. Etched carefully on chalkboards, local menus from cafes and restaurants stood outside near the street. Dark, traditional timber frame houses with large overhanging roofs lined the streets and edges of the lake. It wasn’t even 1:00 yet. I planned to head towards Ringgenberg and spend an hour or two investigating the village before traveling on towards my friends house.

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Brienz is located at the far northeastern side of the lake, and Ringgenberg/Goldswil is a small dual village on the northwestern edge just before Interlaken. Opting to stay near the water, rather than taking the marked bike path higher up the slope, I whizzed along the lower elevation on smooth pavement, with cars passing me just two or three feet to my left. On some roads there is a marked bike path, but not every time. There are many pedestrians as well, so it’s not always a good idea to avoid traffic by riding on the sidewalk. Motorcyclists and other bikers passed me in both directions, and the sun shone warm and bright overhead. I was frequently tempted to stop at any lakeside cafe and enjoy a traditional meal and a glass of white wine, especially when the beautiful white tourist boat churned past, its large square Swiss flag streaming out in the wind behind it, its decks crammed full of people gazing out at the mountains. Instead, I contented myself with a handful of Studentenfutter, a kind of trail mix of nuts and dried fruit which I kept in a small pouch behind my handlbars. There would be time for a good dinner with friends tonight, so I kept pedalling towards Ringgenberg.

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