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Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

After travelling for 6 hours from Kitzbühel and changing trains 4 times (which highlights the fact that travelling light is non-negotiable), we boarded a cute little cog-rail train in Lauterbrunnen for the last leg of our journey. A 7 storey car park next to the station is a clue that Wengen is car-free. A day already spent gazing at beautiful farmlands, ancient villages, waterfalls and gorges, mountain scenery and castles from the train windows, was crowned when the train finally reached Wengen after patiently grinding its way up and up deep into the high mountains. I fell in love with Wengen from the moment I stepped off the train: fresh clear mountain air, the silent little village as there are no cars and no pollution and stupendous views down a glacial valley to other mountain villages.

Cog railway Wengen

Cog railway train approaching Wengen


Wengen, situated at an elevation of nearly 1300 m is a resort town within the imposing Eiger – Mönch – Jungfrau mountain range in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. Its permanent population of just over 1000 people swells to ten times that in winter. An unusual excursion is to take the train to the Jungfrau, with its incredible train station right inside the glacier.

Electric trolley

Electric trolley to transport luggage

We pulled our luggage through the snow on the foot path, going even higher up to the chalet we rented while the last skiers of the day crossed our path with wobbly, tired legs. We stared in amazement at the small electric vans and trolleys used for the most essential services in the town.

The skiing was incredible: the skipasses link to a huge area that is impossible to cover even in a month of skiing. One can use any number of cog-trains, lifts, cable cars on the mountains and the ski busses in the valley which link the slopes for the ultimate ski adventure. We were lucky to spot deer on most days: mountain sheep with their large semi-circular ridged horns and groups of chamois with their short backward curling horns, grazing on the very steep mountain sides. One day a snow rabbit hopped over the ski path on one of the forest runs.

Wengen has always been very English: it was here at this village where skiing started as a sport by visiting British holiday makers a century ago when a few English men persuaded the hotel and the railway people to run the cog rail train in the winter. So even today there is a sizeable resident English population. On our Sunday there we went to the evening service held at a tiny English church in the village. The church was currently lacking an organist, so the small congregation singing the familiar hymns unaccompanied sounded almost like the chanting in a monastry high up in Nepal.

Apartment Wengen

Our apartment in Wengen

The sermon reflected our surroundings as the minister talked about sheep, mountains, streams and wild animals. We walked back through the snow to our chalet as the remaining light of the day threw long purple shadows. We looked forward to the pot of Hazelnut-milk and white asparagus soup, with home-made Walnut and dried fig sourdough twisted batons I prepared and baked beforehand for our supper.

I was pleasantly surprized to find an organic shop in the town, apart from another large supermarket. The chalet we rented was so pretty and neat: the matching fabrics of the soft furnishings even matched in colour with the crockery! I loved having my own kitchen, and every second day I would make a nut milk (hazelnuts, almonds or walnuts) and use the pulp to make my own ‘cheese’. By just replacing the dairy creams with nut milks and creams, I could replicate Swiss recipes rather successfully: I made us steamed broccoli with a walnut cream sauce; baked white asparagus and almond-olive oil and dill cream poured over; and parsnip soup with hazelnut milk. I saw an unusual pastry in one of the bakeries in Wengen, and after enquiring about the ingredients, I made my own vegan version that evening after a day on the slopes: here is my recipe of Poppy seed “Hornchen“.

Interlaken

Interlaken

Although Wengen is in the German part of Switzerland, I struggled to understand the mountain accent of this area. It is extremely glotteral but at the same time spoken with most words swallowed. We took a day off skiing to visit Interlaken. We had morning tea in a marvelous chocolate shop. While my husband had an intricately layered chocolate torte slice, I enjoyed blocks of a 90% dark vegan chocolate bar from the shop – divine!

Chocolate shop Interlaken

Chocolate shop Interlaken

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Lenk is a small village that forms a string of mountain villages in the Simmental valley of the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. It takes a little effort to get there: after a flight into Zurich, we took a train ride involving 3 changes, with a final change to a mountain cog-rail train from Montreux on the Lake of Geneva via Zweisimmen which links the Gstaad-Saanenland region. Lenk is at the end of the railway line deep in the mountains. We thought it would be more fun cycling to our A-frame ‘Heidi’ wooden chalet than taking the bus that patiently snakes its way up the mountain. The 40 minute uphill cycle with all our luggage quickly jolted us out of our jet-lag!
Lenk in the Simmental valley

Not wanting to repeat this invigorating uphill cycle ride on a daily basis (the shops and town sits in the valley below), we went shopping once at the beginning of our week’s stay. It took some careful menu planning – but what fun to play around with our stash of colourful vegetables and fruit, various nuts, 1 kg of wholemeal spelt flour, nut butter, dried pulses and soy milk. Upon exploring the town a few days later, I discovered to my surprise that I could buy most of my ingredients for vegan cooking in a “Molkerei” (dairy)! There, I bought far better olive oil than at the local Spar supermarket, I drooled over the range of nut butters, various dried mushrooms, bottled eggplant, choice of spices and organic seeds and nuts.

For the full day’s hike we planned one day, Hiking in the mountainsI decided to bake us something that will sustain us – a sweet loaf containing slow burning carbohydrates. I basically used all our left-over muesli ingredients for what I called: Spicy Simmental fig loaf.

Because of Lenk’s isolation it developed a peculiar form of German which, surprisingly for me as a speaker of the German language, was incomprehensible. Although everyone could understand me at the shops, cafes and bakeries, they had to make a switch from their mountain-German to high German for us to have a conversation. Not only is the language of this valley unique, but also their building styles, food, pastries and cow in Simmental valleybread, to even the type of cows that are suitable for the terrain. A century ago there was probably also differences in the way they dressed, their music, song and dance. It is not uncommon for subtle differences in the mountain communities from one village to the next. Exploring various cultures (even in one valley community) and discovering past traditions fire me on to keep on travelling and learning!
wooden chalet

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