Interlaken: Buses, Chocolate Making, Cable Cars and More.

Our Bernese Oberland Pass began today so we jumped out of bed at 6:30 to make the most of it. I’ll post more about the pass after we get to Geneva when we work out whether or not it was worth buying.

First activity for the day was catching a local bus to Beatenberg, a little village further up in the hills (I mean mountains… Switzerland’s mountains look like hills because there are even bigger mountains behind them). The bus ride took less than half an hour and we got out a few stops before the end of line and walked along the ridge that Beatenberg sits on, admiring the houses, the view, and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Everywhere around Interlaken are spring water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle with cold water. I think my favourite spring that I’ve seen so far was this one in Beatenberg.

So stylish!

If I could say that this part of Switzerland reminded me of another place I’ve been I would liken it to Japan. Equally clean, full of polite people, and the architecture, if you take away the geraniums, is very similar to wooden Japanese houses, only heavier and more ornate.

We bused back down to Interlaken in good time for our chocolate-making class at the Funky Chocolate Club. We were the only Aussies in a group of Americans but they were all very nice and we had a lot of fun.

First we heard a bit about the history of chocolate and where in the world it comes from. Then we tasted everything from 100% cocoa (revolting) and pure cocoa nibs (not bad) through dark, semi sweet, milk, and white. We then learned to temper chocolate to make three blocks of our own.

My favourite part was learning that correctly tempered chocolate twirls in a ribbon rather than dropping straight from the spoon. I got to use my lettering skills to write on our bars. It was harder than it looked!

You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but Luke and I did not gorge ourselves senseless on chocolate and only ate half a handful of bits during the class. Therefore we felt we deserved a hearty lunch at the bierhaus our walking tour leader had recommended the day before.

Specifically Alessandra had recommended the mac and cheese so we ordered one and a salad. It was, hands-down, the best mac and cheese I’ve had on our travels and I would’ve tried over a dozen in the US. This one was topped with fried onions, had plenty of cheese sauce and speck, plus it had a side of apple sauce. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat mac and cheese again without it – one of those unexpected pairings that turns out to be magical. Although we all know cheese and apples are good together… why did I not think of this already?

Next up was a bus ride along Lake Thun to reach a tourist attraction that I wasn’t at all keen on – the home of an ancient monk named Saint Beatus. He was possibly Irish and came to the area to convert the Helvetii and also claimed to have slain a dragon, which the Helvetii seemed to think was totally legit and so this monk lived in a cave and then had a take away shop named after him. This would’ve been pretty handy because the cave is miles from the nearest shops.

The site consisted of a long and steep ramp up to the little cave where the monk lived plus entry to an almost 1km stretch of tunnel that contained a river and stalagmites etc. Luke pestered me to give the caves a go and I said ok (I caved if you will. BOOM TISH) but we only got about 50 metres in before the roof got a bit low and I started quietly crying and had to leave. I was trying to convince myself it would be fine but the further I went underground the more a voice in my head kept saying ‘you are trapped!’ and I had to leave. Luke walked me back down to the gate and I sat outside and read my kindle. I felt totally fine when I got out and Luke went back to have a look but that’s it for me and caves. No more!

The outside was certainly attractive and worth a look. There’s a museum too but we didn’t bother.

We went back to the bus stop and caught the next bus to the base of the Neiderhorn funicular and cable car. The cost of this was included in our travel pass.

The view from the Neiderhorn was gob-smacking in every direction. The Neiderhorn is a long ridge so from the top you can see over the edge on one side and down towards Interlaken on the other.

On all the buses, the funicular, and cable car there’d been hardly a soul all day. That was to change, however, for our next activity. In the meantime we enjoyed looking at this Bernese Mountain dog being a bit lazy and catching the bus.

We don’t blame you, buddy. It’s 30 degrees out there.

Our last excursion of the day was another fantastic spot to see the sights.

Harder Kulm ( or, as we like to call it, Heidi Klum) is a restaurant and viewpoint that is accessible via a long hard walk or a funicular from close to the middle of Interlaken, therefore it is very popular.

We crammed aboard the funicular to make it up in time for sunset and a lovely meal of schnitzel and salad. Despite some bad reviews on TripAdvisor we found the staff very friendly and welcoming. Luck of the draw, perhaps.

The space at the top has a viewing platform that extends out over the valley a little and was filled with people getting their photos taken.

We decided not to linger as we knew the funicular would be crowded on the way down and so we lined up and ended up having a nice chat with a high school girl from the Netherlands who was travelling Europe solo in her school holidays. How wonderful to be a teenager in Europe. In country NSW we had a choice between Queensland and Sydney for our getaways. Yawn!

We walked back to our hostel via a sculpture in town that I wanted to take a photo with – a Bollywood director who had filmed many of his hits in Interlaken. Our walking tour guide had even been in one of the movies as an extra!

We were exhausted by the time we got back to the hostel but I’ve been a complete trooper and finished this entry straightaway. What a champion I am!

A photo of me with an empty bowl. How intriguing!

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

We booked a day trip with ‘Elegance Tours‘ (possibly the most basic-looking shop front you could imagine – all laminated photos and hand-drawn signs – nice people though) in Zadar (pronounced ZAHdar, not ZaDAH as we kept saying) for our first full day.

Our trip was basically just the bus there with a stop at a restaurant/minimart for supplies on the way in. We were told food was expensive at the park but we found it to be fairly similar to other places we’d been – more expensive than buying at a supermarket or bakery though.

The falls are a two hour drive from Zadar and involve travelling through quite a number of tunnels until you reach the other side of the mountains. The landscape on the coastal side is very rocky and dry but once you get through the mountains it is lush and there are fields of wildflowers. I panicked a bit as I’d stopped taking my hay fever meds but there isn’t much in the way of grass near the lakes – mostly trees and bushy plants.

Our driver was German and spoke almost no English. When he asked if anyone spoke German I indicated (rather foolishly) that I had the tiniest fraction. Luckily I understood his instruction that we’d stop for twenty minutes and then it was twenty minutes to the park. We had a little bit of confusion regarding whether we’d be at the park four hours or be picked up at four o’clock, but eventually cleared it up.

The bus company suggested a particular route around the park which took in the upper and lower lakes but used a train/bus to cut down one leg and a boat transfer (both included in the ticket cost) to speed it up. In the end we possibly could’ve walked the whole way as we took just over four hours to do the loop but it’s hard to estimate that sort of thing on your first go. We are moderately fast walkers and didn’t linger anywhere, however in a few points the crowd bottlenecked to the point where people stopped. I’d guess that we walked about 8 km in total.

The lakes and falls are all exceptionally beautiful. The intense colours come from a combination of limestone sediment, moss and algae. During most of our visit there were clouds and a cool breeze, which was good, but I imagine that sun would bring out the colours even more.

I was pleased to see many, many fish in the lakes and threw a few crumbs in, even though I probably shouldn’t have. The fish do hang around near the boardwalks so I think I’m not the only one.

Our biggest moment of excitement was when a fellow walking in front of us mis-stepped and fell into the water at a point where the boardwalk crossed a small fall, which meant he got stuck on some rocks but with the water flowing very fast around him. We leapt forward and Luke helped a couple of other people grab him and pull him up and I picked up a camera that another lady had put down in order to help as I could see it was going to get kicked in. Poor guy was ok but wearing jeans – he must’ve had a very unpleasant time walking around after that!

We made it back to the point where our driver was meeting us with nearly two hours to spare so we had a drink, took some photos by the largest waterfall viewpoint and relaxed. We saw people from our bus group congregate but they were a fairly standoffish lot who didn’t return our smiles so we left them alone.

The bus got back to Zadar at 6pm and we thanked our driver and walked back to our apartment to make some dinner and plan our next adventure!

Bus: 220 kuna/$55 AUD each

Park entrance: 250 kuna/$62.50 AUD each

A Bit of Buttermere

I camped the night by the lake in Keswick and then caught the 77a bus to Buttermere via Honister Pass. Last time we were in the UK we risked death and drove Honister Pass ourselves in dark and misty weather. This time I wasn’t driving and it was broad sunshine. Far superior!

It is still one of the most dramatic roads I think I’ve ever been down (almost equal to Canada’s Icefields Parkway and certainly more hair-raising) – if you’re in the Lake District do yourself a favour and catch the bus and see for yourself.

Although I wasn’t driving I didn’t manage any decent photos through the bus windows so you’ll have to take my word for it and go.

The bus was packed and it was a relief to get off in Buttermere village, a tiny hamlet that sits between the two bodies of water that are Buttermere and Crummock Water. Naming towns and lakes the same thing is annoying and it happens a lot in Cumbria. There’s also about a dozen each of Angle Tarns, Castle Crags, Raven Crags and Blea Tarns, to mention but a few. Also you wouldn’t believe how many Grouse Butts I’ve found on the maps (tee hee).

The bus stops at the picturesque Fish Inn.

Buttermere has been recommended to me by many people and also features heavily on Lakeland Instagram communities but nothing really prepares you for the beauty of its steeps mountains and crystal waters.

First I walked up the side of the valley towards Bleaberry Tarn until the path became too steep (story of my life) then I did a lap around the lake.

The water was so inviting that I took off my shoes and socks and hobbled a little way along (some of the stones are a bit sharp) and was surprised at how warm the water was.

It was good 6km round and there was a man in a van selling ice creams halfway.

There were many people and many dogs all the way along, a great deal of whom seemed to want to speak in a shouting volume or walk in large groups across the path and at a glacial rate. Still, I was there, so I suppose I can’t really resent everyone else for wanting to be there as well. I just wish they’d all pipe down.

The bus back was even more packed than the bus there and we got to experience that classic moment when two large vehicles come around a bend and one has to reverse, with a stone wall on one side and cliff wall on the other.

I had complete faith in our driver as he reversed the bus about 20 metres back around a sharp corner so a truck could get by.

We all gave him a round of applause after, obviously. As the truck indicates, it was indeed pure Lake District;-)

Back in Keswick I felt in need of an early night but first had to take a few photos of the canada geese that had brought their goslings up the bank to ravage the grass.

On my Instagram and Facebook I’ve posted a video of the moment one of the geese took offence at my presence and I squealed and scurried away.

Into town for a bite of dinner and a couple of little bottles of gin and I was set to lie in my tent giggling away to PG Wodehouse’s ‘Joy in the Morning’, which is the best Wooster and Jeeves book I think I’ve read yet.

I’m not really achieving my reading goal for the year but it’s mainly because I’m so tired each evening – not a bad thing at all!

The Dales Way

But you haven’t finished the Cumbria Way! Yes, I know. I am thinking I will come back after Belfast (which is where I am going after Cambridge) and finish the Cumbria Way by walking from Carlisle to Keswick, then go and do the rest of the Dales Way from Burneside to Ilkley.

Yesterday I inspected my maps and decided that a good challenge would be the westernmost leg of The Dales Way. It is a long distance walk that goes from Ilkley to Bowness and takes five or six days to travel 80 miles/124 km. It is generally considered one of the easiest long distance walks in the UK.

I got the bus to a spot outside Burneside and walked to the point where I could start on The Dales Way. I’d estimated that the walk would be about 15km but I’d already done 4 just walking from the B&B to Windermere station and then down from the main road to the first DW sign. I seem to always underestimate how far I’m going to walk but then hugely overestimate how long it will take.

Apart from an amusingly-named fish and chip shop that was next to a church…

Burneside was unremarkable. Oh, the church was nice too.

Also the weather was perfect.

The Dales Way mostly follows waterways and so there aren’t any huge hills.

There were lots of lovely scenes but also the smell of cow manure and many many flies.

I ended up walking 20km/13.5 miles and it was the easiest day’s walking I’ve done so far – I was home by 3:30 and now I have to work out what to do with the rest of the day… probably plan tomorrow’s big adventure to my highest peaks yet!

I have created another Technical Masterpiece below to show my journey. The red is where I walked and the yellow is where I caught the bus. The red squiggly mess is where my B&B is in Windermere.

Most of the way was through fields and a bit of footpath walking. Two fields of cows – and close cows too. That was the worst of the walk. The best was the BLUEBELLS!

I actually swore a bit when it first came into view. Such colour! Such density! It was gorgeous and totally made my day.

Then I saw another one! It was on a different hill and it was interspersed with ferns, but it was also wonderful. I was pleased that the sun was behind a cloud so that my phone didn’t struggle to pick up the colours – well not as much as last time.

Magic!

Langstrath to Keswick

From my hardest day to the easiest. The walk from the campsite through the tiny but charming village of Grange, all the way to Keswick, was like a walk through a park. I even bought an ice cream in Grange as the sun was so warm. The flavour was ‘chocolate toffee explosion’ or something equally exciting. Totally worth paying over two pounds for one rather small scoop.

I chatted to an older couple (you’d think there was no other type of people in this area, that’s how frequently I meet them) who told me that the Borrowdale Valley is often thought the prettiest square mile in Cumbria. I don’t know if that’s precisely true but it certainly wasn’t bad at all.

I stopped for an early lunch by an abandoned slate quarry and had a wander through.

On my first day in Ulverston I bought a chunk of cheddar to take with me on my walks and it lasted a surprisingly long time, especially since I didn’t have it in the fridge at all. Well, I mean night times were fridge temperatures, but it survived the days too. I would cut off bits to mix through couscous and it wasn’t a bad meal with an apple on the side. I am also loving my soft water bottles. They fit into any space in my bag and take up no room when they’re empty. I’m glad I chose those rather than the hard sort.

Here’s my first sight of Derwent Water.

Most of the rest of the day was taken up with meeting two more older couples. The first couple took my photo.

I think I look sort of happy-yet-pathetic in this picture.

The other couple were American and we talked and walked for about an hour and then we got to a little village right before Keswick and they bought me lunch! It was incredibly kind and I think I reminded them of their children, one was born the same year as me. They told me that if I couldn’t find accommodation I should come to their cottage and they would be happy to let me sleep on the couch.

People have been so generous and friendly and kind to me so far, I really can’t get over it.

I waved them farewell and headed to the lakeside campsite and found they had tonnes of room. I pitched my tent and revelled in the sunshine.

Here’s a few more photos from the day.

Splendid!

Langdale to Borrowdale: My Second Encounter With Mountain Rescue.

I caught the bus from Ambleside to The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, a place I’ve heard a lot about as it appears on many UK hiking blogs. Because the first bus didn’t leave Ambleside until 9:30 and didn’t get to TODG until 10:30ish I didn’t go inside and now I’m kind of sorry. At the same time that day turned out to be the hardest slog yet so I’m glad I didn’t hang around.

The Langdale Valley on a sunny bank holiday Saturday is less a peaceful stroll through a stunning valley and more a walk along a busy high street. So many people! More than I’d seen on all the walks I’d done previously put together. At the end of the valley the track splits off in several directions though so that helped thin the hordes. Also at the end of the valley were a trio of mountain rescue vehicles and I learned from a conversation later in the day that it definitely wasn’t a drill and they’d been there since 8am. No idea what happened though.

As I faced the steep wall of Stake Pass I stopped thinking about other people and mainly started feeling sorry for myself. No one else was carrying a huge pack and it looked like maybe 1000 steps or more to the top, most of them moderately steep and all of them uneven.

I did find, once I got going, that is wasn’t so bad. Because the path had water running down it (they almost all do) and I had to look at every step for footing, I only ended up stopping a few times and with the view getting better and better, it was exciting to climb higher. I’ve never been great with heights but I think this experience is definitely helping me take more risks and be brave. I know some people would bound up stairs like that but for me it was a challenge. When I got to the top I felt like I’d conquered the world.

Over the top was an open grassland area for a short space. It was up here I met a group of uni students from Preston University. We swapped Instagram details at their insistence, then it was down into Borrowdale. Instead of uneven stone steps the path was loose gravel, which is my least favourite surface. I ended up walking on the grass edges on the narrow path that wiggled back and forth. I stopped halfway down and cooked some pasta (taking the advice of several people to actually have decent break when I felt tired) and while I did a man from, of all places, Redcar, came past. This was funny for me because Redcar is a tiny town in Yorkshire and Luke and I stayed in the nearby town of Saltburn last time we were here. The people we stayed with had nothing good to say about Redcar and made this point quite a number of times. Then I meet this guy and he said exactly the same thing.

We had a chat about things other than Redcar and he told me I should definitely do some wild camping at some stage and I agreed (we’ll see) then he moved on. I slowly inched my way down the slope and then struggled along the rocky and muddy valley floor. This was the point that I finally gave up trying to keep my feet dry and just walked through the mud. Within about two kilometres there were about 20 streams to cross and I managed most ok but it was slow going. I met an older couple (I should start tracking how many times I use that phrase) who told me this was as dry as it gets and quite often water is sheeting down the valley walls. Christ almighty.

The water was beautifully clear though.

I decided, as I always do, to stop at the first campsite I came to. It was pretty basic and so busy it looked like there was a music festival going on. I pitched my tent then went in search of the closest pub and had a pint of cider in their sunny beer garden. Lovely!

A Day In Coniston

The guidebook I bought for the Lake District years ago did not have nice things to say about Coniston. It basically implied it was a tiny mining village with little to offer. Times must have changed if property prices are any to go by.

One of the main intersections in Coniston.

Actually Coniston has a number of historic pubs, beautiful views, a useful range of shops and most of the accommodation, if booking.com is anything to go by, isn’t cheap. A lot of the houses in the village are built of stone and have that dark, brooding gravitas that slate lends to a place. I really like it.

I decided, on my one full day here, to go for a boat ride around the lake then go and look at Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin. The only other person staying at the pub is an American fellow who is an historian with an interest in John Ruskin so he told me a little at breakfast and then I ended up seeing him at Brantwood later in the day.

I walked down the hill to the lake and did a little Facebook live video while I waited for the boat and went for a walk. Being a teacher, I’m perfectly happy to drone on at length about nothing in particular, although I did find myself talking about socks and wondering if anyone was still listening. When I listened back to it I realised the wind noise was unbearable but lesson learned, I will do them indoors or on still days from now on.

I had meant to go on the steam boat but this was the only one there when I got to the dock.

I was the only passenger on the boat so I had a private tour and enjoyed asking lots of questions and getting a more personal insight into the area. We motored past the island that features in Swallows and Amazons, which is a series of children’s books and two movies and is apparently a big deal even though I hadn’t heard of it until I read my guide book. I have downloaded the first book though and will read it next.

The boat dropped me off at Brantwood, which is almost directly opposite Coniston on the other side of the lake. It’s a group of buildings where John Ruskin spent the last few decades of his life. He was a great thinker, writer, artist, poet… basically a Victorian renaissance man. He went mad in his later years and it sounded a lot like bi-polar to me. The video introduction, that the man at the front desk insisted we watch, was a bit odd. Apart from having weirdly dramatic synth music playing over the top, it completely neglected to mention any female or non-famous person’s presence in JR’s life. I came away wondering if he’d ever married, which of course was a tip-off that his relationship was scandalous and not entirely happy. The gift shop had lots of books on his wife and her achievements but I didn’t investigate. Really, I was here for the gardens and wallpaper.

He designed this wallpaper himself and JR was a big supporter of my favourite art movement, the Pre Raphaelites.

The inside of the house was lovely although insanely creaky. No creeping up on anyone here!

The views from from the windows were stunning in every direction. Forest on one side, lake on the other.

The grounds were supposed to have areas with distinct themes but mainly they were semi-wild with a few bluebells and ferns. From the dock to the buildings was better maintained but I dare say it’s one of those National Trust places where the income doesn’t really cover the upkeep of everything.

John Ruskin’s chair. Surprisingly comfortable in angle but I can only assume he took a cushion or two.

Several people had touted the cafe and it was indeed very nice. I had a carrot and honey soup. After the oversized breakfast at the hotel, soup seemed like a good choice on a cold and relatively sedate day.

All in all a very pleasant day where I learned, looked and listened. My feet and shoulders enjoyed the break and by evening I felt almost ready to tear myself away from the cloud-like comfort of my bed at The Sun. Onwards and upwards tomorrow!