Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Baker Street connection

Switzerland is a land of architectural contrasts - here in a rural town, we find a farmhouse that dates back to 1586 and just a little way further on, a brash, bright example of modern building that lends an almost festive air to the neighbourhood. And they co-exist quite happily.

I would have liked to travel a completely different route to the one we partly travelled yesterday as we need to double back a bit to today's destination - but there is no road over the mountains here, so we have no choice but to re-trace our 'steps' a bit. In deference to the fact that we had already seen the area, we will today take the shortest possible route and use the motorway! This ever so slightly different route does take us through Lungern on Lungernsee (Lungern Lake) - again demonstrating that amazing colour that is the alpine lakes. I will never get sick of looking at them!

We are en route to Mieringen, the neighbouring town to the Reichenbach Falls which was the spot that Arthur Conan Doyle chose for the setting of the final conflict between his famous character Sherlock Holmes and his arch enemy Professor John Moriarty. This came about after Doyle had visited Mieringen and subsequently the falls themselves. In The Final Problem (1891), Conan Doyle wrote of Reichenbach:

  • It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip.

The Falls are reached either by a walk up the mountainside, or via a funicular railway. And when I tell you that the path of that railway is at an average grade of 60%, you will understand why we chose it, and not to walk! The actual trip up to the falls only takes about 10 minutes but that journey is spectacular! As you near the top, the first thing that you notice is how wet you are going to get. The rail stop is actually very close to the falls as they tumble on their second step down into the valley far below. This series of waterfalls have a total drop of 250m. At 90m, the Upper Reichenbach Falls is one of the highest cataracts in the Alps.

At the rail station at the head of the Falls they have a small gallery displaying items relevent such as the history of the falls and the rail system, the link to Arthur Conan Doyle and the annual projects of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London whose members make an annual pilgrimage. They then provide plastic rain ponchos so that you can stand outside in the mist of the falls to view the second and longest drop come plummeting over the rock ledge. At this point, the fall divides into two streams, with one bouncing off the rock face and the other tumbles down through a chute (hole) that over time it has worn in an adjoining rock. From the station, you can climb the remaining cliff area to the head of the falls, and so off Michael sets. The path is very steep consisting of a series of steps and gravel or earthern paths (and slippery as his bum discovered on the way back down!) While he is gone, I take the opportunity to have a good look at their exhibits.

And finally when Michael gets back down, he stands fall side in the cutout of Holmes, on which he places his very out-of-place Akubra for the obligatory photo. And on the trip back down, as in the trip up, I can't look down and sit backwards for the journey! I know, I know, I'm a wuss - but I have always had an issue with heights. Michael of course is on a big high!!

Today, Mieringen capitalises in every way possible with this link to the famous character - in fact a bit like Maryborough does to Mary Poppins! We see place names like Baker Street (courtesy of the City of Westminster), Conan Doyle Place, and the Das Hotel Sherlock Holmes with its Restaurant Sherlock and the Sherlock Alpenclub!

We are ready for something to eat now and head to a local cafe/restaurant for a pasta meal (Michael has Spinach Ravioli with sage butter sauce while I have tagiatelle with pesto and we share a green salad), but not before Michael first raises the issue of his disappearance with the local Sherlock Holmes bronze statue. In the main square in town a former church has been converted to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Michael goes over for a look while I head to the local computer store that offers public internet access to upload the blog from yesterday and to find some accommodation in Bern for tomorrow night. When Michael gets back full of praise for the 'authentism' of the Holmes sitting room in the museum (and with a whole swag of photos to boot), he takes his turn on the PC to check his email. At this point, I sit in another chair and open the local tourism magazine. And there I find ...

Information on Aareschutal - The Aare Gorge. Now, I remember the Aare River from our visit to Bern in 2006. It is a particularly beautiful alpine river whose waters are a milky blue. The headwaters of the Aare pass through this accessible gorge just up the road from us. So even though it is later (5 pm), it is still as light as, so we head off to have a look. And if the draw to Mieringen was the link to Sherlock Holmes, even Michael agrees that the Gorge trumps all!

The Haslital, one of the large valleys in the central alps, stretches from the Grimsel Pass to the Lake of Brienz. The flat valley floor of the lower Haslital is separated from the upper valley by a rock formation called the 'Kirchet' that lies between Meiringen and Innertkirchen. Over thousands of years, the Aare River eroded a path through this rock formation resulting in a gorge which is 1,400 metres long and up to 180 metres deep.

In the late 1800s, members of the local community began to build a series of timber walkways through the gorge and today, through a series of timber boardwalks, tunnels and gravel paths, we too can experience the immense and breath-taking beauty of this wonder-filled place. The boardwalk passes through crevices, under overhangs, and hangs off the cliff wall to show us not only the furiously rushing water of the Aare River, but also the amazing formations that have been carved by the power of water over the millenia and waterfalls that fall in delicate veils, or that tumble in a fury off the top of the cliff, falling half way out in to the river. Believe me, these photos just don't do the place any justice at all, but they are the best we could do.

Oh yes, and the other claim to fame that belongs to Mieringen is the Meringue! This delectable dessert was first created in about 1600 by Gasparini, a local pastry chef, naming it after the town in which he was employed. It was then spread through Austria and southern Germany and then throughout Europe finding favour with the court at Versailles and the name 'Meiring' was changed to suit the French tongue. In 1985, a world record was made in Mieringen with the towns' pastry chefs making two giant meringue shells from 2500 eggs and 120 kg of sugar. They were backed in a specially adapted sauna cubicle! And so, we, of course, support the local industry and buy a box of eight from the Frutal Ofenfrisch. Very nice! And as we leave Mieringen, we are diverted down back roads to accommodate the weekly music market that is held on Wednesday nights in July - but they are just setting up and we still have a drive of 90 minutes ahead of us.

So it is back to Engleberg and the Youth Hostel for the night. On the way back, we stop to get a photo of some of the felled timber we have been passing over the last couple of days. The largest log in this photo is from a tree that was 228 years old (yep, I counted the rings!). And as we pass the spot where we took the photo of Lake Lungern this morning we pass only the second car crash we have seen in our six month journey to date - at least no one appears to be hurt, although one one the cars is a write off. Can't believe we haven't seen more.

We decided to eat in town and drive in past a number of 'angels' that are found across the town(?). There is not a real lot open and we end up at La Strega, the restaurant in the Ramada Hotel. Expensive sure (as we expected in Switzerland) but ever so worth it - the meals were the best we have had all week! Our choices?
We are served with a small plate of dressed leaves and ham paste and foccacia with olive oil
Gazpacho con pomodori e cetrish - Gazpacho, kalte tomaten & gurtzensuppe (Tomato & cucumber soup, served chilled) Michael
Filetti de sella d'agnello - Lammrückenfilet in der Kräuterknuste (Lamb rack fillet with herb crust) Michael
Corn-banana con salsa al curry - Maispoulardenbrust mit Bananen-Currysauce (Chicken breast with Banana curry sauce) Maria
Both are served with fresh vegetables and mine has the added joy of a whole heap of tropical fruits served warm - cherries, strawberries, pear, nectarine, kiwi fruit - that balanced the curry sauce beautifully. We are well sated and have no need for desserts, but do finish with Espresso coffees.
And those angels? When quizzed, our waitress explains - Engelberg = Angel Mountain! Ahh, of course!

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