Kristin's visiting for a few weeks and wants to see some Alps, so here we are for a long weekend at the Pension Sonnenberg. She has a way of finding the perfect places, usually on the Web, but this time in the Marcia and Philip Lieberman book, Switzerland's Mountain Inns: a walking vacation in a world apart (Countryman Press, 1998).
9 August 2008: We've been two hours on the motorway, via Berne and Interlaken, up to Lauterbrunnen (795m) to leave the old VW to the kindness of strangers in an enormous carpark, and up the cablecar to Grütschalp (1486m). We're bound for Mürren, where cars, even old VWs, are not welcomed. Based on previous visits, I expected a funicular railway to Grütschalp, but it's been mothballed and the new cablecar has been laid on -- it seems that the mountainside was gradually sliding down the hill and making permanent funicular tracks uneconomical -- in fact, we were told, that's what "Grütschalp" means, the "alp that's sliding down the hill". Thence a beautiful train ride four kilometres along the level balcony above the cliffs and voilà -- we're in Mürren (1645m). That wasn't so hard, was it?
Welcome to North Mürren, outside the train station on the edge of town (1645m). We're headed for the Pension Sonnenberg just above the village -- just follow the hiking paths to "Blumental", we're told (which sounds like "Valley of Flowers" in my highschool German).
On the higher road through town (one of only two), we're passing the Sports and Tourist Centre, and the daily flea market, and the mini-golf, looking for the Valley of Flowers.
We've been told that it's above the village somewhere, but nothing's 'just a little bit' above the village -- in fact, it looks like it's up there on those meadows in the distance. We're wondering if bringing an airline wheelie-bag is as good an idea as it was when it started out.
It seems that nearly every well-known mountain village in Switzerland is the very one where 19th-century English tourists put mountainclimbing on the map. This is another.
At the moment, we're dragging our wheelie through the village looking for the way up to the Blumental (we missed the first one, the "panoramaweg", but there's another at the far end of town).
We've found it, and it's straight up. Two hundred vertical metres with an airline wheelie. (Actually, we knew that, but it still came as a shock that most of the roadway isn't paved.)
Mürren falls away beneath us, as we pause from time to time to gaze around (i.e., at one minute intervals).
We're finally topping out in the Blumental, planning to get into better condition over the next few days if possible.
And there, like a mirage, is the Pension Sonnenberg, beckoning. (This is the view we saw on the Web site and, look, the road is paved here.)
It's a morose and overcast day, but we're far from morose, finally summiting at the Pension Sonnenberg just about at Happy Hour.
A suitably festive inn awaits us. We're congratulating ourselves already.
The view from our corner window back down the way we've just come.
And the view from the balcony on the other side, as we unpack our books, magazines, newspapers, meds, and extra socks and start wondering about dinner.
The best part of the view is seeing Kristin happy about seeing the view.
Still, it's a weathery sort of day, and we'll be spinning the prayer wheel for a brighter day tomorrow.
It's nearly dinnertime, and the moon's over the mountains to the south.
We're awaiting the dinner gong with the Guardian and the Trib to keep us company. The Pension Sonnenberg (1835m), like many mountain inns of this type, has a full and imaginative alpine lunch menu but a fixed meal for guests in the evening. The Sonnenberg stands out because it's run by Steve and Monique Ambiel -- Steve is a chef from California who spent some years in the kitchens of the Schilthorn restaurant, about a kilometre straight up above us, before taking over this place, and he's added countless surfer American and Mexican bits and bobs, like a free appetizer of guacamole dip and nacho chips and a special spiced cucumber, to the normal slate of Swiss mountain specialties.
A gratuitous photo of the view as we tumble down for dinner.
Especially fortunate tonight, because a UBS trainees' group, including a number of high-fiving young American men, was here for a bonding retreat, and Steve laid on an astonishing all-you-can-eat buffet of meats off the grill outside and salads.
The rest of our stay, no buffets à go-go, but still some interesting and varied stuff, and almost enough of it.
The Alpenglow, as the exciting evening winds down and we retire to finish our newspapers if time permits.
The next morning, 13 August, MUCH BRIGHTER. Proving that there is a god. Up there is the Birg middle-station of the cablecar from Mürren up to the Schilthorn, the world's first revolving-restaurant (1968, I think), and immortalized in a James Bond film of the next year under the name "Piz Gloria".
A sunny shot of the Sonnenberg's Sonnenterrasse as we await Kristin for starting off on our hike with.
Our room is on the top left. It doesn't get any better that. Except in terms of proximity to the loo, which is over on the right.
The Birg middle station, as we set out.
The general aspect of things -- that's the Pension Sonnenberg dominating the Blumental, as we commence our promenade over a few ridges to the Rotstockhütte and back again in a big big loop up from below.