Last year around this time, I was getting on a train bound for Paris, where I caught up over breakfast with a dear friend from DC and boarded a series of flights that would take me to Kazakhstan, Urumqi, Shanghai and eventually Bangkok. Ah, those were the times.
This year, since it was not safe to travel home to the States, I decided to do a staycation in Switzerland. It felt too sad to stay alone at home in Geneva, which has been grey and without sunshine since November, so I chose Grindelwald, a charming little village in the Jungfrau region, at the base of Mount Eiger. I was hopeful that there would be coziness, snow, and blue skies. And I got exactly what I hoped for!
As usual, the trip involved two train transfers spanning 3.5 hours: one in Bern, and another in Interlaken, which I have already visited twice. The stations and trains were fairly empty; very few people had ski gear, and a lot of people traveled light, with just purses and flowers, suggesting that they were perhaps going to see family in other parts of Switzerland. This was the day of Christmas Eve.
At Interlaken, I got onto a small regional train that was composed of two parts. The first part was bound for Lauterbrunnen (which I visited in September), and the second for Grindelwald. At a certain point, the first part of the train split off in a different direction, and suddenly I was in the first coach. We began to climb in altitude, and there was more and more snow on the ground.
Where I stayed
I stayed for two nights at Hotel Alpenhof, which sits on a small hill overlooking the train station. Its biggest selling point is a direct, up-close-and-personal view of the Eiger. Dragging my suitcase up the hill, I was intimidated by the steep slope. I had no idea what I was in for the next day, when it actually started snowing.
The balcony offered the most stunning view.
Because most restaurants were closed, I had dinner at the hotel restaurant both nights. The first night I ordered a macaroni, which included a salad. It turns out the Swiss have quite a different idea of what makes up a macaroni. It involves Swiss cheese and, uh… apple sauce.
The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of shoveling. Grindelwald had turned into a winter wonderland over night.
I had a nice breakfast at the hotel. It’s mostly a self-serve buffet, but they can cook eggs for you on demand.
I noticed that there were at least six beagles who lived next door, and they were so excited about the snow, yapping and running around. Then out came an absolute UNIT of a dog, which I genuinely thought was a bear at first. Look at this and tell me it doesn’t strike fear into your heart.
It snowed all day. Not a snowstorm, but heavy and steady. Fog began to build in the valley, and as if by magic, the massive, imposing Eiger had vanished into thin air.
By afternoon, the snow had thinned slightly, and I ventured out for a walk.
Grindelwald doesn’t have much of a town at the foot of the hills: it’s basically just one street by the train station, composed mostly of ski gear rental stores, cafes, hotels and souvenir shops. There’s a large underground Coop that was open until 7pm on Christmas Eve.
Mask rules in Grindelwald were very strict. They were not only mandatory indoors, but outdoors as well. Social distancing wasn’t hard, as there weren’t many people to begin with.
It wasn’t too cold at around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but the snow did accumulate very quickly on my hat, scarf and jacket, even as I walked around. After months of poor weather, it was so nice to take in the pure, white, all-encompassing blanket of snow everywhere.
I spent Christmas Day watching The Flight Attendant, calling my parents, and wondering when it would stop snowing and the Eiger would come back into view. I had dinner at the hotel restaurant again and ordered the special Christmas menu this time: three appetizers (I asked for just one), a main course, and a scoop of chocolate ice cream on some tinned pears for dessert. I also got a bottle of Merlot from Ticino. I drank three glasses and then started to cry over my Christmas dinner because The Flight Attendant had brought up some deep unresolved emotions from my childhood. I can only hope none of the other diners noticed. After dessert, I stumbled back to my room with the bottle tucked under my arm.
The next morning, the fog had lifted. The Eiger had resurfaced. I was in awe of it in a way that is hard to describe with words. It was just so inconceivably massive. It was harsh and unapproachable. Something that could not be conquered, a force of nature. We humans were small and meaningless next to it.
After breakfast, it was back to the train station.
Thank you, Grindelwald, for being an oasis of peace and calm away from it all. It might not look like this next year — assuming borders open again — so I’m just grateful to have been here in this moment. Merry Christmas!