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Wild and without a conscience: Interlaken & Niesenbahn

After a short morning explore of Lucerne, it’s time to leave. We’re heading to Interlaken, one of the most famous destinations in Switzerland. It’s nestled in the mountains between two huge gorgeous lakes and we are super excited! In particular we are looking forward to riding on the Niesenbahn funicular. This ride should be a breeze in comparison to our recent hitchhiking adventures. It’s only an hour’s drive at just under 70 kilometres.

Although we’re excited we are also sad to leave Lucerne. As ever we had an unexpected blast. Just like in St. Gallen & Chur. Lucerne is drop dead gorgeous, the food is great, the architecture is stunning, the surrounding landscape is magnificent and the campsite incredulous. A BBQ area, super clean toilets and showers, and a common room to work in, what more could you want! We will be back for sure and we absolutely recommend visiting Lucerne if you’re thinking about holidaying in Switzerland! Check out our post on Lucerne for more inspiration.

Stealth bus ride

As the journey is short, we’re in no rush to leave. We start making our way to a hitch point noted on hitchwiki, taking a bus because it’s quite far out of the city. We don’t buy a ticket, we’re poor and it’s too expensive. The bus ride takes ages but it drops us off at a pretty nice spot. There’s loads of space for a car to stop and it’s right near to the highway to Interlaken.

We don’t wait too long before someone stops, but they’re only going a short distance to a smaller village. We decide to turndown this first offer in the hope that we get a direct ride. We’ve been dropped off in a few remote places now trying to inch along and it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes these remote places have no traffic what so ever, so you end up stuck.

About an hour later a young woman stops and again offers to take us part of the way, this village is directly on the route and we can’t be bothered waiting more or turning down another free ride so we hop in. She takes us about a third of the way, to a village named Sarnen, where she lives. She kindly drives past her home and leaves us on the outskirts of town were the road joins back to the main road to Interlaken.

Stuck in a village with no traffic

We’re in a bit of a pickle now. This is a very small village and there is barely any traffic leaving it back to the main road. We wait a little while outside of town but no one leaves. The only way is to wait on the main road but we’re not sure we can, hitching on autobahns is not allowed, and fast roads in general are not good. It’s not looking great.

There is a roundabout and a slip road that shoots straight in to a tunnel. There’s no where safe to stay here. The only other option is another road which leads from the roundabout, along the lake side, through a few villages adjacent to the main road. It’s not going to be busy but it’s our only choice. There is no traffic at all, apart from a curious cyclist who stops to chat just as the only car in the vicinity passes us. Nice one.

After another hour of no traffic and hunger pains, we start walking the road to the villages. It’s long and laborious, the sun is shining down hard and our backs are aching. After making it to the village we fix problems. Get snacks, find toilet, get ride. All three tasks seemingly complicated.

Hitchhiking is hard around here, that lady really did create more problems than solutions for us, just as we foresaw. Though it is hard to be annoyed when it is pure kindness and generosity that lands you in a situation like this. The predicament is merely unfortunate.

It’s beginning to get late now. We most definitely started hitching too late. Lesson learned. Distance and time do not correlate when hitch hiking.

Shortest ride ever

We’re bored and unaware of time when finally we hear a honk from a truck parked across the road. A young guy in a pick up truck is beckoning us over. We sling our rucksacks in the back and jump in the front. Finally.

Dude is playing some sweet rock and roll tunes. No time to get comfy though. He’s only riding in to the next village, before the song even finishes we’re back on the road. A hotel car park which is comforting. If we get stuck at least we will survive.

The next ride comes quick. An old scruffy car with three Italian builders screeches to a halt in front of us. We glance at each wondering if we’ll ever fit in, to hell with it, it’s an adventure and we squeeze in, rucksacks in our laps. At this point we are just village hopping. Our new destination is Lugerne, just 8KM from here. It’s got a train station so we will try to hitch from there for a bit and then probably just grab the train in the event we don’t get a ride.

Well the Italians have a different idea, because the road we are on now joins back on to the main road to Interlaken, they decide that a lay by, just before the exit to Lugerne is better. They say we will have a better chance of getting to Interlaken. We don’t have much choice in the matter and they drop us off.

Mamma Mia

To complicate matters even more their crusty old car decides it’s had enough for the day and refuses to start. Oh shit. This is another one of those problems that would not have surfaced if it wasn’t for us. We are sorry but we also really need to catch another ride. We don’t fancy kipping on the autobahn. Luckily for them (and us) there is a camper van in the lay by. The owner has some jump leads and sends the Italians on their way.

We’re secretly hoping that the camper van might take us when they decide to leave but it seems like they’re waiting for us to leave, so they can all go pee in the bushes when we do. But we don’t, so they go pee anyway. Almost like they are paying us back for being present while they pee they drive off without uttering a word or showing any sign of sympathy towards us. Sad times.

The Lord our saviour

It’s starting to get dark and we are beginning to worry. It’s actually the first time we have been stranded in the dark. Still, in the grand scheme of things it is not too far to our destination. We will get a ride, it’s just a matter of time, someone always stops.

Rebecca picks us up at about quarter to six, just after the last colours from the sunset fade to darkness. She is a very petite woman driving a brand new large Audi, immaculate in condition. Rebecca is going all the way to Interlaken and she can drop us off in town where we can either walk for half an hour or grab a bus to the campsite.

She drives like an absolute champ, fast but smooth and calculated. We drive over a mountain pass where she slips the Audi out of gear and coasts down the highway descending to Lake Brienz. It turns out Rebecca is a missionary. She is on her way to volunteer somewhere where she is helping to prepare and cook a large dinner for some people in need.

A small gift

She quizzes Caroline about her beliefs, luckily not me because she doesn’t speak English or at least doesn’t try to. Caroline notices Rebecca is wearing a Hebrew wristband and asks if she has been to Jerusalem.

As we near Interlaken Rebecca decides to take us a little further. She pulls up on the side of a country road. It is pitch black but only a 5 minute walk to the campsite from here. Rebecca has one last gift to give, she asks Caroline to reach inside her door pocket and retrieve the small package that resides there.

As Caroline comes back up I see a look of horror begin to form on her face. She presents a tiny bible. Rebecca proudly proclaims that god will be with us wherever we travel.

It’s not even the first time we’ve gotten a ride from a believer!

Royal camping

We stroll in to our campsite Camping Lazy Rancho. The owners were incredibly nice and kind. They get us set up immediately and show us to our pitch. Lush green grass. A premium spot. As with the majority of our previous locations we are almost the only people camping. Low-season really is low. The campsites go from being rammed to being empty in a few weeks. It is mostly a good thing but sometimes we get a bit lonely. We thought we would meet more people on the campsites.

On the campsite is a pool, a huge kitchen with tables, cooking area and washing/drying machines. There is also a common room with a TV and WiFi. These types of campsites are really great when you want to save money but still be connected. They are also great when the weather is terrible. It reminds of us the first campsite we stayed at on this trip!

We pitch our tent and move to the kitchen to cook some food, may as well use the cooker and save our gas! It turns out there is actually a few younger guests here, utilising the more permanent accommodation the campsite has to offer. They have some cute wooden toilet roll shaped sheds they call “Love Igloo” that they sell for an arm and a leg. The campsite is crazy expensive. Like we couldn’t believe it. It only becomes sort of reasonable off season with a camping card. After food we retreat to the common room where we do some research on activities for the next days. Tomorrow we want to visit the Niesenbahn. A super cute funicular in the Swiss Alps.

Leeching off the Swiss

With the campsite comes a free pass which allows for free transport on the local busses and trains. The bus will cover us back to Interlaken train station and we can take the train in Direction Bern. We want to get to Spiez where another train goes to the bottom of Niesen and the start of the Niesenbahn, however Spiez is almost twice the distance which is covered by our free pass. We decide to wing it and play dumb tourists. After all it is only a 25 minute ride, it works out fine and we make it to Spiez free of charge. Otherwise it would have cost us €20 for two returns. We would have just hitched but we are low on time.

Now we are in Spiez. It looks beautiful here but we don’t have time to check it out. We are hungry and we have to crack on. In order to get to the Niesenbahn we have to walk 7.5 kilometres. There is a train, but again we can’t afford it. It’s burning hot, but at least we are not hiking with our massive rucksacks.

Wasted time

There are no hiking paths so we are just walking along the road which is less than ideal as the road is quite busy. We also soon realise that the main road turns in to a huge tunnel with no sidewalk so we can’t take that. We pick a different road and march on. Around an hour in, half way to Niesenbahn the side walk of the road disappears. There are fences either side of the road and it is busy, cars zoom down the road at breakneck speeds and it becomes unsafe. It is apparent if we continue we might end up in an accident. Very frustrated, we turn back and head for Spiez. We’re not sure what to do, we’ve just blasted away two hours of the day. It’s almost 3 o’clock and the days are short in October.

We do the only thing we can think of, take the train and try to swindle a free ride. If we get caught we will just buy the ticket. The train journey is one stop which takes 5 minutes. If we are to buy return tickets it will cost over 10 euros! 10 euros! We can’t believe it. Even if we could pay it, we wouldn’t want to. We devise a plan.

The great train con

We watch the platform and spot the conductor, jumping on the carriage furthest away from the one she gets on, sitting on the seat closest to the door. We only have to make it 5 minutes to Niesenbahn. Around 3 minutes in she comes in to the carriage. No matter, we have a ploy. Tickets please! We’re deeply sorry, our phone with our electronic tickets on has just ran out of battery, not to worry though we have a power bank and are just charging it up. It should be back on in a few minutes and we can show you our ticket.

She is completely unsuspecting and we feel terrible but also great at the same time. She will come back to us in five minutes. The train pulls in to Mülenen train station and we scarper out the door like the two little rats we are. Proud and profoundly guilty.

So far we have saved a total of €15 euros. Now to the Niesenbahn. The Niesenbahn is a super cute funicular that traverses mount Niesen whose summit is 2,362 metres above sea level. The literal translation of Niesen is sneeze. The mountain is the shape of a perfect triangle, like a nose. It is also often called the Swiss pyramid due to its symmetrical appearance. Fun fact: Next to the Niesenbahn track is the longest staircase in the world with 11,674 steps, it is only open one day a year for a running event.

The compromise

Again like most things in Switzerland the Niesenbahn is ridiculously expensive. A return ride to the top and back costs CHF 60 per person. However if you go after 15:30 it becomes half price at CHF 29.50 which is a lot more manageable, however, still too much for us.

The next option is to ride to one of the half way stations. We decide to take the Niesenbahn to the half way station and explore around there. Maybe hike up some more and eventually hike back down to the bottom. This ends up costing €32 for the both of us. Essentially one quarter of the full journey. We again are disappointed because we would have loved to have gotten to the top but never mind, it is what it is.

The funicular is soon ready to depart and we excitedly board and get the best spots. The train tears away from the bottom of the mountain and climbs almost vertically up it. The views are instantly incredible with the whole landscape opening up in front of our eyes, in all directions. These are some of the largest mountains we’ve ever seen.

As the train begins to slow down for the middle station, everyone gathers their belongings. We assume most people are going to be switching over to the second train to make it to the top of Nisesen. As we disembark we look for the exit sign, but it’s not obvious where it is. In the midst of the commotion we are ushered along with the other tourists in to the second train. We look around and there is no ticket inspector. We keep calm and enjoy the ride.

If you like cute trains and funiculars you will love the Schafbergbahn and the Pinzgauer Lokalbahn in Austria.

The summit of Niesen

So here we are at the summit of Niesen. We didn’t even mean to come here, it’s totally not our fault. Our savings for the day thus far now amount to €45. Not to be scuffed at! We are quite proud of ourselves.

Being at the top comes with a small complication. We are now 1666 metres above Mülenen, where we need to hike back down to. That is a long way down and now the time is almost 4PM. We decide to spend half an hour at the top enjoying the view and then descend as quickly as possible, stopping to photograph the Niesenbahn where possible (the real reason I wanted to come here).

The views are absolutely incredible up here. Mountains surround us in every direction. The whole of Lake Thun can be seen, all of Interlaken and almost all of Lake Brienz. We lean on a fence enjoying the views, first watching birds soaring and diving through the sky and later curiously watching a helicopter traverse the mountain numerous times bringing up supplies.

A Helicopter transporting materials up to the top of Niesen
Caroline snapping pictures from the top of Niesen
Panoramic view from the top of Niesen
Click this image to see the full panorama
Aydin on top of a rock on the top of Niesen

The race to the bottom

We have no idea how long it is going to take to get down but it will certainly be dark before the bottom if we hike at a normal pace. We decide in the sections that we can we will run. The path is wide and sturdy and so we set off. Straight away it looks as if the path just stops and the mountain drops all the way to the lake. It’s just an illusion, the path twists and doubles back on itself, switching down the bare mountain top. We are running like jaguars, hopping over boulders like professional parkour athletes. We’re having a blast, the weather is perfect and the views are just stunning. We’re the only people hiking on this mountain, we have it all to ourselves, all the other suckers just enjoy the top and jump on train back down.

Caroline running down from the top of Niesen

After shaving a few hundred metres off our hike I spot a decent location to photograph the Niesenbahn, a perfect backdrop of lined up mountains. A blue haze filling colouring the valley. The track uncovered and descending at almost 45 degrees. I scout the perfect location and bide my time, patiently waiting for the train to come in to frame.

The Niesenbahn

The race starts again. On we go. A few more hundred metres of running and we reach the tree line. In to the forest we go, we are almost half way down now. A small clearing emerges where we hear some people packing up. They leave a burning fire in a patch with wonderful views of Lake Thun. We figure it would be rude not to take a break and enjoy this fire, after all we have just descended 800 meters in record olympic time.

Realising the time we pick up the pace. The path becomes more tricky to navigate. Obstacles present themselves in the form of tree trunks, rocks and sodden patches of trail. I succumb to the dangers, twisting my ankle after placing my foot badly on a rock. There’s no time to wallow in pity, on we must go.

Morale and energy are withering away. I find another potential location for photographing the Niesenbahn. Stone archways bridge the gap to allow the track to run at a perfect angle. The trees are cleared around in so that the mountains can be seen towering above the track. The sun is setting and warm tones reflect in the snow on the peaks.

The last section of the trail is uneventful, fairly dark and through the forest. Our knees and legs are aching, we have descended 1600 metres in less than two hours. Quite an accomplishment. Especially when we see the base station of the Niesenbhan come in to view.

The Sunsetting over Jungfrau with a cute alpine village in the foreground

Back to Interlaken

Now we begin to wonder how we will get back to our campsite. The road back to Spiez seems to be quite busy so we decide to try our luck at hitch hiking, maybe we can get at least one legitimate ride today. We wait by the road watching a robot mow the lawn.

Tempting fate again we catch a lift during the last rays of light of the day. A metal dude takes us back to the outskirts of Spiez where we walk the 10 minutes back to the train station. We can’t be arsed walking or waiting any longer and so jump on the train back to Interlaken. We spend the 30 minutes sweating, watching the carriage door, looking out for the conductor because we are thieving scumbags and we didn’t buy a ticket again. It seems we are getting a taste for a life of crime.

One last free bus journey and we make it back to our campsite unscathed, saving ourselves a total of €60, much more if we would have paid for a return Niesenbahn ticket. A great day of adventure and mischief. Fuck the system! Just kidding, pay the price, don’t be shit heads like us.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

Train and car are your best bet. Also hitchhiking – so far we have found Switzerland to be pretty great when it comes to getting a ride. I don’t think we’ve waited longer than an hour for a ride here. We even got driven halfway across the country on a private tour.

There is an airport in Bern, a 45 minute drive or train ride away. A bit further away is Zurich airport, a 2 hour drive or train journey.

Things to do in Interlaken

There is so much stuff to do in Interlaken it is crazy, we’ve listed some of our highlights below:

  • Ride the Niesenbahn – a super cute funicular traversing Mount Niesen.
  • Enjoy the lakes, swimming, hiking and exploring.
  • Visit beautiful old towns and villages: Spiez, Thun, Ringgenberg, Brienz, etc.
  • Hike in Grindelwald, check our upcoming post for more info.
  • Jungfraujoch – Ride a train to the highest train station in Europe.
  • Visit towns only accessible via train or cable car, no roads. Mürren & Wengen.
  • See the valley of 72 waterfalls from Lauterbrunnen.

Accommodation

We really loved our campsite. Lazy Rancho has everything you could possibly want, including more luxurious options, igloos and bungalows. It even has a swimming pool.

If you’re camping off-season (September until May usually) we recommend getting a camping card. It has saved us a lot of money!

Otherwise check out the Booking.com widget below for some of the latest deals.

Booking.com

Pro Tip

Don’t forget to ask for your guest card at your accommodation. With it you get a bunch of discounts on local transport and attractions. You can see all the available discounts here.

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