Specks of matter circle in the air above. The meadow lies in wait. A stream of objects is thrown from the mountain, towering overhead. Support vehicles scream through the streets as tourist eyes turn skyward, taking in the absurdity of the scene. Pairs of people sit in flight, tethered to sheets of fabric, fall and spin and swirl and swoop. A small child shouts: “Look! A Paraglider!”. A brief tug of rope, and the craft comes down: people swoop, and the sheet is collected at speed. Welcome to Interlaken.
The blue green water forces past medieval wood; a river is split about a town: a river is split in order to allow a town to exist. The water is a force, of white, of crashing power, coursing around the man-made world of stone and steel. A rope dangles from the bridge, in to the water, forced in to the old stone wall. A queue of people wait for the end of the rope, watching a point just in front of the bridge. A man stands on a board, surrounded by crashing water. He maintains his balance with ease, bouncing on the board to bend the waters to his will. Ladies and gentlemen, the surfers of Thun.
Three small gardens: one Japanese, one Bulgarian and one Swiss. Each no larger than the footprint of a family car. Simple planting, mountains, stone: a message of family across borders. A small child plays on a wooden structure as a steam ship crawls in to port; a hoot rings in the air. This is Brienz.
Interlaken sits between two lakes: Thunersee, with its main town, the river-wrapped jewel of Thun; Brienzersee, and the lakeside idyll of Brienz. Thun and its lake are the larger, the more developed; Brienz and its lake are the more accessible of the two as a result; Interlaken occupies the plateau between: a result of gradual conurbation, Victorian tourism and millions of years of levelling water.
If you ever see a picture of Interlaken, chances are it will be Unterseen: old buildings, a stone church, a world away from home. Interlaken is a recent invention, a culmination of many tiny towns offering tourists somewhere pleasantly ornate to lay their weary heads. Somewhere that wasn’t in one of the existing towns, but somewhere from where the local population could benefit. A convenient base.
If you ever look for a centre to Intelaken, chances are you will be disappointed: Grand hotels line a wide boulevard, opposite a fine meadow, amidst breath taking views. More important are the links to the myriad adventures to be had in the vicinity: mountains, towns, rivers, lakes and endless snow.
All cuisines are catered for here, but none are indigenous. For a taste of truth one must go forth. Go forth to Thun, go forth to Brienz, go forth to the Jungfraujoch, go forth to Meiringen. This place is nothing but a staging place; perfectly pleasant but only for as long as it takes to put on one’s shoes.
We sat on the cable car as it swung its way up to the mountain. The more we swung the wider she flung her arms and closer she got to the floor. It had taken a lot of persuasion by our child to get her to step in to the gondola, but how often can you ascend 1,950m in nine minutes, all for the cost of a light lunch? The view expanded as the gondola rose; the ground dropped away and the mountains came up to meet us. Every bump, every unexpected swing, brought a jolt of terror to her face. And yet, slowly it went away; the green slowly drifted away from her face, just as we reached the top.
The crush of the crowds, the swell of the hordes; they never make life easy, and this tourist-built town was an epicentre of ignorance. Crowds forced us on to the road, separated us, saw through us.
The pounding of the engine was amplified by the walls of the tunnel: this time we were in a steam cog train, out of Brienz, up to Rothorn. Unfortunately the summer season had been pushed back due to technical difficulties, but we could still get half-way up. As deafening as an industrial metal gig, the pounding of the engine was close to deafening. Roar built upon roar as the ancient engine, inclined against the gradient, pushed us hard up the mountain. It maintained a steady rhythm, a reassuring clatter, and a driving pressure. They covered their ears in pain as I revelled in the swell of the sound.
It is the simple things which have the capacity to please the most. High up, above the town of Brienz, on a winding mountain track, we sat and ate lunch. A simple salad and a cream cheese sandwich, the lake far below, shimmering blue-green; the mountains rising up above us, verdant and lush, with the sound of falling water taking the heat out of the air. Earlier, on the shore of the lake itself we had sat with our eggs and salt, watching a bird feed her young with fallen seeds from the trees under which we were sheltering. Hot and cold; low and high; old and their young: all in the pursuit of sustenance.
The train from Interlaken Ost took us to Meiringen, from where we could have walked. We caught a bus with a bunch of school children, going home for lunch, and found ourselves lost amidst a set of private clinics. Gleaming concrete, glass and wellness looked out upon us. It was not what we were looking for. We needed a small wooden structure with a train in it. A train which would take us up a mountain to our base station, and to the Reichenbach Falls. Water filled the air with rainbows as it crashed through the rock it was slowly carving. Spirals and flutes formed by the falling of countless millennia of water. We climbed and we climbed, up paths and trails, past viewpoints and fences, up to the bridge. From there the peak of the falls flowed beneath us, and we each caught our breath.
Water and rock is a key feature of this part of the world: Sitting on the calm waters of either of the two lakes, surrounded by towering mountains, all of which are topped with snow and pouring with waterfalls. The sun baked our skin as we floated aimlessly from port to port, declining castles, falls and towns. We relaxed in to the bobbing of the craft, and refused to be separated from it.
As usual, the transport infrastructure of Switzerland allowed us to enjoy this holiday to its fullest. We stepped from a bus in Interlaken West to a train, off the train in Thun to a boat: we hopped back and forth, to and fro, across the lake by boat, coming back to Interlaken. Every day was as connected as this: from a bus to a funicular to a cable car to a train to a boat and back again. Every connection was as simple as stepping from one platform to another. Everything just worked. Every single time.
We had been standing on the lake shore when we first noticed this front, sitting half a lake away. It gave the air a gloom which contrasted everything around it. The weather fronts dangled across the lakes, strung like necklaces, in bands. Yet we ploughed on, accepting our wet fate. Cloud engulfed us as we reached the top of the mountain. Elsewhere, all along both lakes, all was bright blue skies and retina-scouring sunshine; here was white-out. And we wouldn’t have had it any other way; not here.