9/4/10 (Day 3)
Today we take a journey across Switzerland, starting in Geneve, changing trains in Palezieux, then stopping in Gruyeres. We’ll tour the town and then get back on the train to Palezieux, change trains, head to Bern, Interlaken, and then Grindelwald. It was challenging figuring out the route and making sure our flexi rail passes would work. But life without challenges would be dull.
We found out again, last night, how noisy it can be when you sleep with the window open. I know I woke up several times to people coming back and several vehicles. I was expecting more noise in a hostel, and it really was not too bothersome. Also, pizza is a popular dish for hostel residents, and the hallways always smelled like hot pizza.
We had no problems making our 7:10 train this morning. We have first class tickets which give us roomy seats and a table on this train. It is really very quiet on the train. Traveling on the train Europe has so far been much better than any airline experiences.
I knew today was going to be an adventure and I was not disappointed. The transfer at Palezieux was almost too easy. All of the previous trains were large, modern, and fast looking. The Palezieux to Bulle route had a much older and smaller car like those on a scenic railway. As soon as we got on the train, we were trying to figure out if we were going the correct direction and it would indeed take us to Gruyeres. There were complicated route maps on the table, but they were a mix of train and bus routes overlaid. The route looked like it would go through Bulle before Gruyeres, so we figured we might have time to visit Broc and the chocolate factory, Callier. So, we changed our plans right there and got off the train at Bulle hoping for the best, stored our luggage in Bulle, and then transferred to a train to Broc. The train to Broc was empty and only one car long.
Broc is a very small town. The station in Broc was only a block from the chocolate factory. We anxiously arrived at 9:30, only to find that it did not open until 10:00am. The best part of waiting outside was the smell from the roasted cocoa beans, the air was full of chocolate powder. Waiting for the factory tour to open, we took a stroll around this tiny town with almost no noise and no cars. There are lots of milk cows in the area with very large bells on them. The Swiss cowbells look like a swollen version of the standard cowbell, have a much lower tone, and a larger beater inside. Just a herd of 10 cows quite a distance away was making quite a racket munching on the grass. The cacophony from a large herd must drive the ranchers crazy. Rather than sounding like cowbells, a herd of cows, grazing on grass, sounds like a chorus of wind chimes.
The Callier chocolate factory proved to amaze us. We were given a private English tour with just the two of us. It turned out that the tour was a series of 9 rooms, each with an audio tour and animated exhibits. For example, the first room was decorated like an Aztec temple and lights were shifted around to highlight an Aztec god, the cocoa bean, and a curtain was opened to reveal Coronado. The doors opened automatically and no tour guide was needed. It was really a fantastic way to hold the tour in multiple languages. At the end of the audio tour we walked into a room full of bags of cocoa beans, then to a room with a production line making small chocolate bars. We saw chocolate being formed, coated, cooled, and then packaged. Then, to our surprised, all the packaged chocolate from that exact line was piled on a plate for us to eat! As much as we wanted in that room. Yummy.
The next room had windows with views over the main production line of the plant and an explanation of all the parts of the factory. Then, we got to eat more chocolate! They had a larger tasting room with platters out of every type of chocolate candy they make. Here, once again, we were allowed to eat as much chocolate as we wanted as long as we stayed in the room. Boy was this a yummy place to be. I like this chocolate factory. Even with several tour groups coming through the plates were kept full, their product line was too large to even have a chance of sampling them all. On the way out we saw a chocolate cooking class in progress.
After the tour, we knew we missed the 10:32 train out of Broc of course, but were hoping to catch the 11:32 train. However, the 11:32 was only a Monday through Friday train, so it was either wait until 12:32, or do something else. We decided to start walking to the next train station and soon found a sign saying that Gruyeres was only 3km away. Switzerland is a walking country and all the signs point in the direction of the cities and give the time it takes to get to the city if you walk! So, 1 hour, 20 minutes was on the sign, and we walked across the gorgeous countryside to Gruyeres. We got lost a couple times, but mostly we figured out where we were going. It was an adventure, and it was fun. Just the realization that its even possible to walk between cities was a big change in mindset from the US. We cut 3 hours of waiting and traveling by train into walk and a chance to explore the intervening country-side.
We arrived in Gruyeres with enough time for a quick tour of a cheese-making factory and a scrumptious bowl of soupe du chalet, a potato-gruyere cheesy soup. Mmm, mmm, tasty. We got to see rows and rows of Gruyere cheese wheels being stored for various amounts of time up to 15 months depending on the flavor of cheese desired. There was even a cheese flipping robot that took cheese off the shelves, flipped it, dipped it in salt water, and put it back on the shelf. The tour of course was an audio tour that we could set to English. Switzerland definitely knows how to do their tours so that multiple languages can be catered to. We have been very happy touring this country.
At 2:58, we caught our train from Gruyeres to Bulle where we hopped off to get our luggage. We were hoping for a chance to continue on to Palezieux, but there wasn’t enough time to pick up our luggage and make it back on the same train. So we walked into town and leisurely spent our time eating some more gelatto and people-watching. Then we caught the 4:13 – 4:55 train from Bulle to Palezieux, then the 5:01 – 5:56 train from Palezieux to Bern, then the 6:04 – 6:56 train from Bern to Interlaken, then finally the 7:05 – 7:35 trail from Interlaken to Grindelwald. We are definitely getting experience with the train stations and will be pros by the end of this trip.
The whole day in the Geneva-Broc-Gruyeres portion of Switzerland was a day of perfect weather, never getting warmer than probably 75 and sunny. Yesterday was quite perfect as well. We were anxious to see what the weather would be like in Gindelwald since I found quite the range of forecasts online from 20 degree nights/ 30 degree days to 40 degree nights/ 60 degree days. When we arrived, the weather was not freezing. In fact, we could walk around comfortably in our tshirts and pants, and then a fleece for the evening. I would estimate it got down to 50 while we were out at dinner.
Grindelwald is a small tourist and ski town. We found ourselves an easy 5 minute walk from the train station at Downtown Lodge, our hostel for the duration of our stay. The hostel is several buildings large with an multi-lingual staff that was happy to help us in English. Yay! We got set up in our room. We had booked a double, but they gave us a 4-bed room since we were here for so many nights. So, our room is about 4 times the size of our Geneva hostel which is about the size of my living room, sans kitchen. We have room to spread out, which we did. The showers are down the hall a little ways with a motion detector light that lasts only 5 minutes. This made showering rather strange having to wave a hand out the door and reset the light every 5 minutes.
We dropped off our stuff, made the bed with the provided linens and headed out on the town to find some grub. We found ourselves at a place that served fondue, so we opted for the Bourginonne fondue pot. There was no instruction like the Melting Pot gives and we dug in. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was tasty. We’ll have to try the famous cheese fondue next.
After dinner it was pretty much straight to bed as at least I was exhausted and we planned to sleep in the next morning.