“Élémentaire, ma chère Helen”: The Reichenbach Falls

It had been in the pipeline all week. Although we’d been in Geneva for nearly a month, there were still copious places that my friend from Lancaster, Charlotte, and I wanted to explore. On the to-do list was the Musée d’art et d’histoire, with a plethora of works by Cézanne, Monet and Picasso, and the Jardin botanique. We decided on a Sunday – otherwise known as Tumbleweed Day – and the plans were set in stone.

Sunday arrived quickly and I enjoyed a relaxing lie-in being woken up by a yowling Sablette at 7 o’clock. I was joined by Christian, my landlord, while I had breakfast in the kitchen and after a bit of idle French chatter, he casually asked if I wanted to visit the Reichenbach Falls that day. It wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue question: I’d already mentioned that, as a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes books, I’d love to visit them. However, I’d already promised to meet up with Charlotte and I didn’t want to let her down! I quickly explained to Christian my predicament and his solution was simple: invite her along! One speedy phone call later to a very bemused Charlotte and we arranged to meet at Geneva’s main station in just a few hours.

After few Cailler chocolate croissants (they were essential… honest!) we found ourselves zooming eastwards on an awesome double-decker train. If you’ve never travelled by rail in Switzerland before then you’re in for a treat! Then again, this is Switzerland we’re talking about, so that probably goes without saying.

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Our destination was Meiringen, home of all things Arthur Conan Doyle. Admittedly rather naively, Charlotte and I had presumed that Meiringen wasn’t far from Geneva. Switzerland’s a pretty small country in the grand scheme of things, right? Right and wrong. Meiringen is actually nestled in the very centre of the country, surrounded by the sort of lakes and mountains that wouldn’t be out of place in a travel brochure. Our journey took us to Bern, the Swiss capital, from which we headed to Interlaken and finally Meiringen. But with views like this, who’s complaining?

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 The train pulled into Meiringen just after one o’clock in the afternoon and we headed into the town with an apprehensive glance at the ominously grey clouds. The Reichenbach Falls are located just a short walk outside of the centre, and on the way there we passed lots of memorabilia hinting at the area’s famous connections.

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 It would be a massive understatement to say that the mountains here are big: they’re GINORMOUS. As we followed the signs to the famous Falls, I was getting nervous about how we’d be able to climb the sheer cliff faces. Yep, I actually thought we were going to be walking to the very top! Fortunately, we were greeted at the bottom of the mountain by the sight of the lovely funicular, which did operate on a Sunday unlike everything else. Rolling up the side of the valley in what was effectively the world’s slowest roller coaster, the views were like something out of Lord of the Rings. And the altitude! It’s clear why Conan Doyle chose the Falls as the site of Sherlock and Moriarty’s demise.

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 Safely at the top, we marvelled at how Meiringen now looked like a toy town at the bottom of the valley. I should probably now mention that if you suffer from vertigo or a fear of heights, you really don’t want to come this far up! After our tiring (cough) trip up the mountain, we realised that there was still a little bit left to climb and we followed Christian’s lead, huffing and puffing all the way despite being over half his age. Our reward for conquering the Falls came in the form of a yummy meal at a cute chalet-come-restaurant, where I was able to test my German and try some Swiss-German cuisine. Charlotte and Christian plumped for some pancake-style dumplings with apple sauce while I decided to get the bratwurst. At the end of our meal, we noticed that all the diners and staff had gathered at the window: not one but two rainbows forming a colourful bridge over the valley.

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 The funicular closed at five o’clock and, with visions of being stranded on the mountain in the rain, we headed back to the station to roll back down below the clouds. The rain poured and poured as we retraced our steps through the town and headed back to the train station.

Although it was an unexpected and somewhat whistle-stop tour of the Bernese Oberland region, it was a fantastic day spent in one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever visited. The travel bug has well and truly bitten me and I can’t wait to explore more of this amazing country. Damn, this post is getting so cheesy it’s practically Gruyere standard!

A bientôt,

Helen

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