I’d seen Switzerland, but not like this.
Sure, technically I’ve been to most European countries, but not exactly in the same style. As a grungy backpacker I ate greasy kebabs and slept on the couch of a wonderfully lunatic girl I met in Prague. As a Rick Steves tour guide? Oh, we just stay in a little Alpine chalet of blond wood, homemade fondue, and a view out my window of the Staubbach Falls that starts as lace but ends as mist after falling 974 feet off the side of the preposterously scenic Lauterbrunnen Valley. No biggie.
And if that place is booked, we move to another chalet, more homemade fondue, more gorgeous views, but closer to the cable car that (Did I not mention this?) will take us up 1,568 feet from Stechelberg to Gimmelwald. Impressive? As we rise into the cloud cover and look down the Wagnerian Lauterbrunnen Valley, you bet your hintern it is!
Then from Gimmelwald, another cable car takes us up a further 768 feet to Murren, where children run, ride, and presumably ski through the early morning light to school among avalanche protection tripods and evergreen conifers that stand equanimitously tranquil in both snow and sun.
All done? Nope, the next one rises an impressively steep 3,445 feet to Birg, where the air is noticeably chillier when you step out onto the Birg Skyline Walk, where the terra firma ends long before a metal grating that lets you see the cliff dropping away below your feet, and only then do you reach the clear plexiglass that lets you look straight down, only hazily encumbered, into the vertiginous expanse of glacial geologic debauchery.
Now to the actual destination. The last cable car rises another thousand feet or so to reach the Schilthorn. From there, at nearly 10,000 feet, you can look across the Bernese Alps to the storied peaks of the Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau, and walk along the ridge line, past where the marvelously redundant sign warns “You are now entering an area where hazards inherent to mountain regions may occur!” Just in case you hadn’t noticed.
And if neither the view nor the revolving restaurant are quite enough to hold your interest? How about George Lazenby? You know, the Australian James Bond? The last one you remember on Trivia Night, and only remember when the cocky guy in the corner whispers it at top volume to his friends?
Watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before you come, then you’ll recognize all the scenes that were filmed here. That will make the Bond exhibit even more interesting, though even clueless, I still found the anecdotes of people losing limbs, pioneering filmmaking techniques, and drunkenly volunteering to ski into trees at 60 mph were pretty darn interesting. Oh, and the guy who had to hold up his own head by the hair after he broke his neck while filming. That story is excellent.
So yes, I’d been to Switzerland before. And yes, it’s totally different with a Rick Steves tour. And yes, you can come with us. And finally no, you won’t have to hold up your own broken neck on the way to the doctor. That’s what the guide is for.