Random Observation/Comment #169: I was filling out the Balmer’s customer satisfaction survey and found many of their questions surprisingly annoying to answer. I thought it was going to be a simple comment box where I can write something like, “The staff is always helpful with suggestions and the accommodations have been exceptional (except for the shared toilet between 30 people).” Instead, it was a ranking system that convinced me someone would get fired if I put under a three. I almost pulled my hair out and stabbed my thigh with the pen after circling satisfactory so I could just write a quick thank you. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the comment area, my frustration had exhausted my creativity. “Good job. Thanks.” I think one of my only complaints about the hostel was this optional survey. Why do I torture myself so?
The Balmer’s Herberge hostel, although slightly expensive ($30 a night), is a wonderful place to stay. Everything in Interlaken is expensive (i.e., $15 for lunch), so you will find this is quite reasonable. The hostel makes a triangle with the Interlaken East (OST) and West stations. I got lost finding this place in the middle of the night when I arrived, so for reference, when you see the large park area, you walk south about 3 blocks and make a left. It’s about a 10 minute walk from both stations, so you’re not lost – you just didn’t walk long enough. I considered living on the mountain itself, but I found that those hotels were much more expensive and the Balmer’s hostel offers you a free bus pass to get to the train. The train ride up is another 8 EUR with the discount from the Eurailpass, but I figured I wouldn’t spend all my time on the slopes. There were plenty of activities and hikes near the bottom of the mountain anyway.
The hostel itself has a maze of rooms that look surprisingly homely. It feels like you’re staying in a cabin from a grandfather that chose to move up to a cold state and live like a burly lumberjack. There are separate rooms for watching movies, reading, playing billiards and ping pong, doing laundry, using the internet, an open kitchen, a fireplace area, and a dining area. The stay comes with free breakfast vouchers, which really isn’t tasty, but settles the stomach temporarily. Taking into account how expensive food is around the area, I would say that it was worth spreading extra jam and cheese.
The staff speaks English very well, but does not necessarily know everything about where to go. They won’t give you bad directions or even inaccurate information, but they sometimes only answer your question without fully considering your situation. For example, I asked the reception where the closest Coop store was at 9PM. She told me it was around the corner, but forgot to mention that the store closes at 6PM. I’m not complaining about a night stroll, but it would have been nice if she would have mentioned it so I’m not showing up to a closed store even hungrier and more frustrated than before. In many cases, the staff was very helpful and enthusiastic, but there will always be those days that repeating the same “major attractions” talk gets a little mundane. I feel for them, especially since they are just day-dreaming about going to skiing/snowboarding for free on the Swiss Alps.
In terms of the bed arrangements, this place has a very interesting system. It does not have keys for the customers to hold and does not require checkout. The rooms are locked from 10AM to 4PM everyday and you can only open the door for the room if you flirt with the receptionists. The idea of closing the room in this fixed time is nice because it forces people to wake up early and start a nice day on the slopes, but this sucks because you have to wake up early from the previous night of drinking. Just as a side note, be sure to buy your beer in advance because you can buy 55-cent beers from the Coop store instead of $5 ones at reception. The beer may be shit, but after you see the prices for this place, you’ll want to save money.
So, after the first five minutes of talking with reception, I realized a major flaw in their system. There is no way for them to know whether or not you are living in the hostel if you walk in like you belong there. I see a lot of people just walk in and out of this area, and they are only asked questions if they look lost and have a lot of luggage. In theory, one person could check in and the other could just stay in the same room during a weekday. During weekends, this may cause trouble because your bed may be taken, but I have no idea why I was paying so much during the week when I was the only one sleeping in the room. Of course, I do not condone doing this, and it is merely an extended observation.
Overall, this place was very festive on weekends and a ghost town on weekdays. Everything closes in Interlaken around 6PM so the night just revolves around cooking something and possibly watching a movie. It gave me a lot of time to reflect and relax, but I guess it would make sense if this city was mainly used for extreme sport-goers. If you’ve been skiing for a full day, I wouldn’t want to do anything past 8PM either. I’ve actually found there is a designated showering and napping time that coincides with most skiers and snowboarders. If you’re following the system, you’ll be too tired to be bored and ripping it down the Swiss Alps the majority of the day to find little things to complain about. I’d definitely suggest for those who visit Interlaken.
~See Lemons Chill at Balmers