BREAKING UP A GRAND TOUR OF SWITZERLAND IS DONE WITH EASE AS YOU DISCOVER THE MANY DESTINATIONS THAT ARE AT THE END OF A SPLENDID TRAIN TRIP.
And here I was, on the top of Europe. I had seen the mighty, snowy peaks of the mountain range that was lorded over by the Jungfrau – the number one girl in the Alps gazing down upon Interlaken. Sitting on a hotel balcony in the sun sipping coffee with eyes turned up to enjoy the view – I gave a thought to the first people to climb the mountain. What sort of day was it, sunny on the top, windy….? I can’t imagine the endurance.
But I was at the top now in the comfort of the restaurant and unable to see out the windows – I could have been anywhere. There had been rain, wind, snow and it all froze on every window of the summit’s buildings, looking exactly like it was – a whiteout.
I didn’t climb here, I didn’t walk or hike, I came by train. And in a country such as Switzerland that is populated by hills, alps and lakes the only way to enjoy the glorious upper stratosphere visits is by train – you’ll not miss a trick, and the variety of trains fits every lake-hugging curve, the huge network of long, long tunnels through mountains and up every craggy, mountainous incline.
Once a difficult area to explore – unless you were a mountain goat or expert climber, the Jungfrau Railway (cog railway) goes all the way to the Jungfrau railway station at 3454m, the highest in Europe.
Leaving my hotel in Interlaken in the early morning, I walked through an overcast day to Interlaken Ost station. From here it was 20 minutes to Lauterbrunnen, and a change of trains for Kleine Scheidegg where I was to swap trains again, this time for the top of the mountain.
The train stops on its 50 minute journey as it chugs up the incline at two stops – Eigerwand – on the north face of the Eiger and Eismer, on the south side. The stops enroute are brief but enough time to see through windows excavated from the mountain into the mountain of – white. Well, that’s all I saw going up, and I tried hard to spy the Eiger and the North Face – but nature had her way.
It’s an odd sensation chugging up through the mountain – being a tad claustrophobic I was beginning to imagine creatures living in this dank, cold atmosphere – creatures that Tolkien would be familiar with.
We hit the top and I was back in civilisation at almost 3500m. Time for lunch – and it had to be traditional rosti and bratwurst.
I did my best to explore all the cavelike tunnels with the ‘Ice Palace’ full of ice sculptures, and the long walks to more viewing platforms. But as the walls seemed to close in on me and my laboured high-altitude breathing I made for a door that led to the outside. Whew! Opening the door, there was the full effect of the white! It was wonderful, there was snow all around with guide ropes so I wasn’t going to fall anywhere, flakes landed softly on my face and I tottered across the ice that had formed at the door.
Amazing what a breath of thin, fresh air will do. Totally reinvigorated I returned inside to find the entrance to the Sphinx Observation Terrace. And it would have been brilliant on a clear day! This ascent of the Jungfrau is a mighty experience and so easy to do. Up the mountain, down again and into lakes and luxury.
The trip down the mountain was a speedy 35 minutes and as the train emerged from inside the mountain, we hugged the sheer side through a covered outdoor tunnel. Then hallelujah! The sun came out and there were the immaculate Swiss fields, green rolling hills, little alpine cottages and lots of small gatherings of handsome, placid cows.
But, the train slowed down and came to a grinding halt…no, this is a Swiss train and it must be on time, no stopping. This had to be serious. I looked out the windows and there was the culprit – a rebel cow, stopped in its tracks, on our tracks.
There was a three minute standoff, then the offender sauntered off. We continued on our way, crisis averted – but I was on the only train in Switzerland that was late that day!