I’m sure most of you have read, or at least heard of, the famous Sherlock Holmes story where the famous detective takes on his nemesis, Moriarty, in a fight to the death at the Reichenbach Falls.
I had the opportunity recently to visit the falls, and the Interlaken area, with around 80 members of the Sherlock Holmes Society.
This group, whose members come from all walks of life, hold regular meetings about the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. However, every few years, they organise a pilgrimage to an area highlighted in the stories.
The pilgrimages are taken very seriously, with each attendee taking on a character and wearing full Victorian costumes and various scenes are re-enacted. Members are given full VIP treatment, being met by Mayors and the leading lights in the places they visit. Having said that, the pilgrimage also has plenty of ‘down-time’ along the way.
Flying into Zurich on the daily flight from Dublin with Swissair, I was slightly put out by the fact there wasn’t an Alp to be seen. I had fully expected to see one snow-capped high peak after another immediately.
However, it wasn’t until the very efficient Swiss Rail train from Zurich passed through Bern that I started to see the high mountains I was expecting, though what I didn’t realise was the huge mountains I was seeing where just babies compared to the big mountains!
From the Hotel du Nord in Interlaken, I could see I was totally surrounded by breath-taking mountain scenery. From the Harder Klum mountain, reached by a near vertical Funicular ride up the side of the mountain, I got a birds-eye view of the town and got my first glimpse of the ‘big’ mountains in the distance.
I did ask myself what it takes for a person to look at a mountain and say “I must build a railway up the side of that”.
I answered my own question on a trip up to Jungfraujoch – at 11,333 feet, the highest point in Europe. The journey from Interlaken involves 3 train journeys over 2 hours, and takes you past some unbelievable scenery and alpine villages.
Nearly half of the journey takes you up through the middle of the Eiger using a tunnel created 100 years ago. It is a technological marvel and runs in all weathers (even through snow drifts!) Train operators in the UK & Ireland could probably learn a thing or two.
Now, before you think the top of Europe is a bleak rocky outcrop, I was amazed to discover a full visitors centre, restaurants, a snow fun area and a number of exhibitions. I also had the somewhat surreal experience of enjoying a nice meal while looking out the window at mountain climbers trudging up the 20km glacier outside.
Now, I am sure you are wondering what the “Sherlockians ” were up to while I was on my Alpine experience – well, they were there too! They had sing-songs at the top of the mountain, Moriarty hatched a plan to take over the railway and Mr Holmes stopped him in his tracks (so to speak).
We also witnessed the Cardinal being buried at sea from a boat on Lake Brienz and, of course, visited Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty re-enacted their final battle.
To be honest, standing there surrounded by Holmes, Watson, Queen Victoria and all these people in their costumes, virtually living as their personas, it was hard to remember that Holmes was a fictional character. The Society members take their roles quite seriously and obviously use it as an ‘escape’ from their usual life. Members I spoke to included Teachers, Lawyers, Police Officers and Doctors.
From a tourist perspective, Interlaken acts as a magnet, and be warned, prices are set accordingly. However, if you visit or stay in surrounding towns like Meiringen (which I discovered is where Meringues were first created) you will find them substantially less expensive.
Public transport is excellent in the area too. I think the Swiss invented punctuality. The Swiss Pass allows you to use buses, trains and ferry transport in the country and offers excellent value for money.
From a language perspective, Swiss people seem to use a mix of German and French in everyday conversation, but English is widely used. Despite being a European country, the currency used is the Swiss Franc