Yesterday was our last day in the Swiss Alps, and I imagine it was what many people picture when they think of visiting here. It was also Swiss Day, a celebration much like 4th of July in the U.S., and thus yesterday marked the first time we were really drunk on this trip. More on that in a bit.
We started the day off by taking a steep funicular that runs behind our hotel up to Allmendhubel, an even smaller town that lies up the mountain in the direction of the Schlithorn. When we arrived in Allmendhubel, we took a leisurely hike through the colorful flower trail loop, before heading off on the North Face trail that would eventually take us back to Murren. Hiking in the Alps is so much different than any of the other hiking I’ve experienced and I have to say it is the most rewarding in terms of views and culture. I found myself walking through flowered trails with panoramic vistas of the Monch, Jungfraugh, and Eiger peaks, while we passed charming chalets and pensions along the way. As you hike you have to open gates which indicate you are leaving one person’s property and entering another. The gates are designed to keep the cows and other animals on the property of their owners. As I mentioned earlier, yesterday was Swiss Day, so along the trail we heard many fireworks being shot off and passed many chalets proudly waving numerous Swiss flags. Our hike eventually took us to a chalet-restaurant in Schittalp that sits in a perfect position along the trail as it provides a good resting point for many hikers coming from either direction. We decided to take a break and ordered two beers and some homemade cheese . As I sat their enjoying my beer, nibbling on perhaps the best cheese I have ever had, listening to the smoothing sound of cow bells, and taking in the mountain views, I was well aware that I was enjoying a quintessential Swiss moment.
After our little respite, we continued on with the trail narrowly winding back down the mountain, passing through people’s backyards where we came up close with some cows, and some Swiss locals barbecuing and drinking in the middle of the afternoon. I couldn’t help but think how very similar Swiss Day seems to Fourth of July and how many cultures share so much more than we differ. Much like coming across a bunch of drunks in the U.S., these particular locals were a little tipsy. Though we’re not entirely sure what they yelled out to us, we were fairly certain it had something to do with their dog liking to bite girls in the ass….Needless to say, our pace picked up after that and we continued through shaded forests scented with pine, and eventually back down into town to shower, rest, and pack.
Last evening, we decided to eat in the restaurant located in our hotel as it is highly recommended by Rick Steves, which seems to be a big thing here as many hotels and restaurants proudly advertise his recommendations. In fact, on the night we arrived, the woman who walked us to our hotel told us that many people now stay in Gimmenwald, the village located just below Murren, because Rick Steves recommends that is where you should stay. Based on this very recommendation, I actually did stay there on my last trip to this region five years ago. I remember sitting at the breakfast table in the guesthouse “Rick” recommends and watching everyone reading his book. Being a huge Rick Steves fan, I find it comical, and at times fascinating how one man can have such a profound effect on a region’s tourism industry. In fact, as began writing this very blog the man in the room next store to us just came out on the balcony with his Rick Steves book and referred to it as “the Bible”…you can’t make this stuff up!
Now to the part where we get drunk. For Swiss night we reserved a table outside our hotel that sat right on the main road which was perfect because there was a parade scheduled to come down the main street of town at 8pm to begin the Swiss Day festivities. Our waiter was a gregarious and adorable Italian man who laughed when we ordered our wine; instead of getting one bottle with two glasses, we told him we each wanted our own bottle. We were determined to celebrate Swiss Day with the best of them. The wine was accompanied by an amazing meal for both of us, followed by a dessert that was out of this world. We both agreed that this was the best food we had had since we arrived in Switzerland, which would become important later. Around 8pm we heard the sounds of cowbells coming up the road and eventually saw the beginning of the parade. Excited, we reached for our cameras but soon realized that the parade consisted of about 10 men playing cowbells, followed by villagers walking, not much more. Still it was rather fun to see all the local children running around with balloons and flags, so excited for Swiss Day. We quickly paid up our bill, then tried to find the festivities. Being that the town takes about 10 minutes to walk through I don’t know how we missed it, but when we couldn’t find where the parade had gone we assumed everything was over and got ourselves another glass of wine at Stagerstubli, the only restaurant in town that isn’t in a hotel and a place where many locals come to drink and recount the days events. At around 9pm we paid for our drinks and asked the waitress if there was anything else going on for Swiss Day. She headed us in the direction up the road where it seemed everyone in the town had congregated and we were lucky enough to catch a little of the festivities before they ended. There was traditional music, drinks and food, with the celebration culminating in an impressive fireworks show that rivaled those of Jones Beach. After the festivities ended we heard thunder rolling in and it started to rain, so we decided to finally check out the alleged “hotspot” for nightlife which apparently was in the cellar of our hotel; the Disco Blumental. When we arrived it looked like there was a light on so we walked down the stairs, when I opened the door I did not expect to see an actual disco, but there they were, strobe lights, a dance floor, and a DJ booth that was blaring Donna Sumner when we arrived. Laughing, we approached the bar only to realize that the bartender was our lively Italian waiter from earlier in the night. Shortly after, more locals started to role in, including a woman named Gloria who we found out was the cook in the restaurant where we had our amazing meal earlier. We enthusiastically thanked her and complimented her on her excellent cooking skills. When she realized we were staying in the hotel, she asked us which room we were staying in. When we told her “room 19” she replied jovially “That room was a catastrophe!” Apparently, not only was she the cook in the hotel’s restaurant at night, she also cleaned the rooms during the day. Highly embarrassed, we offered to buy her a drink to which she graciously accepted and we all toasted. As the night rolled on, more and more people arrived at the bar and it did appear that this was the place to be in all of Murren at night. We continued to talk with Francesco, the bartender, and Gloria, the cook/maid, and recognized many of the locals from around town. Amused that this little disco/bar was below our hotel the whole time, we kept ordering drinks until we were sufficiently drunk. Luckily for us, we only had to stumble up the stairs to make it home. All in all, Swiss Day was a fantastic experience and even though we missed a little of the “traditional” celebration, we wound up celebrating as authentically as you can, getting drunk with the locals in the only bar in town.