I woke up early to take the 6.30 train. It was not the first one but I calculated that with a travel of a bit more than a hour, it would get me started just when the light would be sufficient in that late fall day. To go to Thun form Neuchâtel I also had to change train in Bern, one of these a-charismatic capital cities, like Ankara or Canberra (I figured, I had never been). My plan was simple, just walk around the lake of Thun that was a bit more than 50 kilometers. It would take me two days and I had booked a room that was as cheap as a cheap Swiss room could be in Interlaken on the other side of the lake. I started walking in the anti-clockwise sense (I didn’t know why, I could have gone the other way but at that moment it made sense to me), and after a short industrial segment, I arrived in something that looked more like a park where people were walking their dogs. It was a nice and quiet residential area, right by the lake. People were also jogging and the atmosphere was much lighter than in Neuchâtel where the virus had more severe impacts. After a new short industrial part and then a walk near the cars on the road that felt slight hostile, I arrived on a path that would take me through the woods and the hills. We had firmly entered fall and the trees were in between yellow and burnt colors. The dead leaves were making a noise so loud under my feet that I felt was almost improper. Thankfully, I encountered just a few people in that part, still people with dogs (do people without dogs stay home or lazy people don’t get dogs? I thought). Although the lake seemed to have an elliptical shape, rather smooth, I realized while walking that there plenty of small caveats on the lake shore that hid houses and natural parts. At some point, as I was walking close to vineyards, my favorite landscapes, I saw a beautiful castle that I hadn’t seen from the beginning. The name of the village read “Spieze”, like “Spitz” (sharp) I remembered from my German class. It was all closed but the castle on the quiet harbor was full of harmony, like in fairy tale. I could join the lake again that the path had temporally taken me away from and had a flat path close to the lake for a while. At some point, the trees started to become less frequent and I walked into another harbor, one that could see was normally very used, with many benches to sit and wait. All neat, not one graffiti, I thought. I sat down for a while and after four hours of decent walking, I was about halfway through the target I had set myself for the first day. “That is a decent walk, I thought. The path was going much more up and down that I had initially thought”. I drank a bit of water, ate cereals bar and started to walk again. The path continued to go up and down and I started to feel that my legs were getting a bit heavy. I went up for a little while and arrived on a breathtaking view on the whole lake. A lady was sitting here, quietly (or swissly) enjoying the view. I tried to take a picture and I realized it was one of these photos that depict poorly the actual scenery. I deleted it as I thought it was almost a crime to capture it so badly. The path went up again in the forests, I went through villages where the kids were going on their own to schools with a yellow jersey (the level of trust in Switzerland is high and I thought there are very few countries were 5 year old kids are left walking on their own). The way up started to be a bit more tiring and I was looking forward to reach Interlaken and eat something more consistent than bananas and cereals bars. There were signs sometimes than gave estimations of the time left. I was relieved to see one saying that I was one hour away to my daily objective. But then, every way up was more difficult and I started to use my imagination to give some strength. The meal and the beer that I would have later were part of this. I was taken over by two girls that were walking faster than me. “Time to arrive” I thought. I followed them distantly until the path continued into an urban fabric. Interlaken.
When I arrived in the small city, the first thing that struck me is that terraces and cafes were still open. Switzerland has a cantonal approach in most cases and although everything was closed in Neuchâtel, in the canton of Bern, people were still enjoying having a coffee or a beer on a sunny terrace. It brought warmness to my heart, and the first thing I did was to go to a little shop, buy a sandwich (probably sausage, hard to tell) and a large tea and to sit in the sun. I knew I would not do in a while back home. It was not late, maybe 3.30 pm, but I had been walking for 8 hours almost continuously so that break felt very nice and deserved. After I had replenished my body and soul, I decided that a shower and a nap would be the next seps. I went to my room which looked more like a small hostel than a Airbnb. It was an arty place with eclectic colors, not so common in a country where neutral is the rule. After taking a nap, playing a few chess games on my phone (everyone has addictions I believe), I decided to finish the day with a proper diner, since restaurants were still open. The closest one was a bierhaus, where I had a big hamburger and a large beer. There were quite some people and I felt that the virus was not affecting people’s mood to go out here. While eating, I was observing people’s expressions, behaviors, one of my favorite activities (it was not a coincidence that I turned to sociology). Then I went back to my room and I collapsed on my bed.
The second day, I essentially had to go back to Thun but via the other side of the lake. It was a beautiful day and the clouds were shying away behind the mountains. The beginning of the walk was flat which was perfect to warm up nicely. For more than an hour I had to leave the city and arrive in the mountains. When I started to go up, I stumbled upon a site which read St Beatus Caves. Because all sources of cultural activities had shut down elsewhere, I figured out I would take a sneak peak and see what was behind that name. The site was empty but the reception was open. I took a ticket and entered into the cave. The path was essentially a succession of caves, which each had a special name (spaghetti cave, cathedral cave…) . I walked for quite a while and after a moment without crossing anyone I started to feel strange “what if I felt bad here. No one would see me for ages…”. I started to speed up as I wanted this visit to finish. I was walking fast through the caves and a sign said here you are one kilometer inside the mountain. Puuf I started go back even faster than I had finished. I was out in a few minutes and was happy to see the sun again. Although I was not at the middle of the day I decide to stop here and have a coffee. I didn’t want to repeat the mistake of the day before and to walk in one stroke and end up tired. I would take regular breaks. The view on the mountain was spectacular. I was alone and I felt privileged. The second part was a bit like the day before, a succession of forests, mountains, vineyards, and small villages. At one point the path in the forest was ending and I took that opportunity to do the last three hours by following the lake which was a much easier walk. I arrived in Thun in the middle of the afternoon and took the first train back to Neuchatel. After an hour and 20 minutes, I arrived at the train station, and after buying some bananas, I was home 10 minutes later. Although I had been gone for a day and a half I felt I had had a real break and moment out of time. The physical effort, the difference of the landscapes, the fact of being alone, the small restaurants and a cultural break each contributed in making this experience a real break. Next lake will be Zug lake I thought.
Gaël Brulé (Interlaken, Switzerland)