A visit to the Top of Europe.....

Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
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Trip End Oct 02, 2012


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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

12 September 25 - Tuesday

I've been finding that my routine is changing a bit now that I'm in the more "northern" countries, and I probably won't need to do laundry as often. Also, in the "hot" countries, it's better to shower in the evenings, as I was usually hot and tired from touring all day.

As I got to the breakfast room, I noticed the familiar Heidebloem bus pass by the front window, so that means the tour group I'd been speaking with is on the way to their next stop.

After breakfast I got my gear together and headed for the rail station, whichis only about a five minute walk from the Hotel.  There was a train leaving for Kleine Scheidegg right away, so that was good timing.  The small train started to climb right after leaving the station, so it was out of necessity a cog wheel type, and the gear mechanism was quite visible between the rails.  The train was packed full and there seemed to be not only a lot of people from the Orient but also a few from India.  The train slowly made its way to the transfer point at Kleine Scheidegg and the ride took about 20 minutes or so, stopping in Wengen first where some passengers disembarked and others boarded.  It also passed two other small stations, Wengernalp and Eigergletscher.

Kleine Scheidegg is a very picturesque location, given the awesome backdrop of the snow-capped Eiger and other mountains.  There are a couple of largeHotels & Restaurants there, and numerous hiking trails visible in every direction with a few hardy individuals and small groups making their way along them.

When the train arrived, all of the passengers moved like a herd to the closest red Jungfraujoch train that was waiting on the platform, pushing and shoving as they went.  I quietly went to the front of a deserted train that was waiting on another track in order to get some pictures of the mountains, trains and station.  I had just finished snapping a few photos when a staff member announced, "Top of Europe" and pointed to the train I was standing next to.  Before the “herd” got there, I stepped onto the empty train and grabbed a good seat (Note – sit on the right side when going up the mountain).  This was another case of "good timing".

The train "clunked and grinded" it's way up the mountain for about 15 or 20 minutes, and every so often it lurched a bit when the cogs and gears engaged.  After passing through the mountain for a distance, it stopped at a vantage point (inside a cave but with glass windows) and everyone had five minutes to take pictures.  Then it was back on the train and uphill a bit further to another vantage point, and again five minutes totake pictures.  From there it took another ten or 15 minutes to finally reach the Jungfraujoch “Top of Europe”, which is the highest rail station in Europe at 11,333 feet.

As the train neared the top station, I felt a bit "different", which I attributed to the altitude and was hoping that I wouldn’t have any problems.  For some reason, I thought of the scene from An Officer & Gentlemen where the aspiring Pilots were in the altitude chamber trying to perform simple tasks.  I didn’t have any trouble speaking or moving and certainly could have “shuffled cards” or whatever, but I found that I tired fairly easily when climbing stairs and had to move more slowly than I normally do.

The Jungfraujoch is an amazing feat of engineering.  The Wengernalp railway opened in June1893, and in August 1893 the first concept drawings were sketched by Adolf Guyer-Zeller.  Construction started in July 1896, using a construction force of about 100 Italian labourers.  The Kleine Scheidegg-Eigergletshcer section was opened in September 1898, but unfortunately, Adolf Guyer-Zeller, the visionary behind the project passed away in April 1899 due to pneumonia.

Further sections of the railway were completed in 1899 and 1903, but construction was interrupted for a time in 1905 due to financial problems, and all workers were "given their notice".  Eventually these problems were overcome and the work resumed.  There were a number of accidents during construction, including an explosives accident in 1899 that claimed the lives of six workers.  The daily wage of the Miners was Fr. 4.60, so labour problems were an issue at times also.  The railway finally opened in August 1912, after a cost of 16 million francs, which was twice the original estimate.  The research station was added in 1931, the Ice Palace was started in 1934, the observatory was added in 1950 and the Sphinx Observatory in 1937.  It's an amazing and very impressive site!

It was a bit difficult to figure out the layout at first, so I just wandered around and explored and eventually found everything I was looking for.  There were several gift shops on various levels selling a variety of Swiss products, including T-Shirts, Watches (of course), Mugs, Pens, etc.  There were also several restaurants including a self-serve cafeteria and a more “formal” restaurant, but as expected the prices were a bit “steep”.  One of the restaurants seemed to be exclusively for groups.

One of the first parts of the site that I found was the Ice Palace, which consists of passageways and small caves carved out of the ice, with a flat ice floor (it wasn’t overly slippery, which surprised me).  There were a number of small cubicles with elaborate ice carvings of birds, polar bears, seals and an Igloo.  I was hoping to have a picture taken of me in that location, but the place was packed and crowded so I had no chance for that.  Fortunately I was able to get a photo taken at another location.

After that I found a door that opened out onto a trail with rope railings that led off into the surrounding mountain.  It was warm at the doorway, but the outside appeared to be total whiteout conditions with blizzard force winds.  That area was also very crowded and it took me about 10 minutes to get a few feet outside the door to take a photo.  I was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt and my Vest until that point, and was quite comfortable with that.  However at this location I felt it would be prudent to put my Jacket and hood on, which was a good move.  The wind was fierce and it would have been brutal without a coat.  Most of the other people had winter jackets with gloves and toques.

After that I went to find The Sphinx which is the large building with the dome on top, seen in all the photos.  It took me a few minutes to find the route, which led through alarge cave with an audio-visual display projected on the walls.  I took the elevator to the top and that led to a small observation area with yet another snack bar (Coffee was about Ch$5).  There was a revolving
door out to the observation platform, so I ventured outside to have a look.  There's a large concrete & stone tower with the Observatory Dome on the top and that seemed to be blocking the wind to some extent. However, venturing on either side of the tower brought the full strength of the blizzard-force winds.  The weather was completely “socked in” so visibility was at best only a few metres.  However there was slight visibility down into the valley in one direction, so I managed to get a few photos.

After exploring a bit more, I thought I might have lunch at the “Top of Europe” but after looking at
the prices and the visible quality of the food, I figured I’d go down to either Kleine Scheidegg or Wengen for lunch, as it should be a bit cheaper and better quality.  I had considered staying a bit longer, considering the huge cost to get up here. However, after one more look at the queues at the cafes and the hordes of people, I moved to the rail station for the trip down.

I sat on the right side of the train on the way down, as that seemed to provide the best view.  The ride down was fairly quiet and the train had to move onto a siding and stop a couple of times to make way for other trains going to the top.  I took a few photos and “dozed” a bit.

On arrival at Kleine Scheidegg, I took a few more pictures and then had a look at the restaurant.  It looked quite busy and crowded but I eventually decided to stop there for lunch and ordered a Hamburger, Fries and a Salad.  The order was taken by a Waitress but the food was delivered by a stern looking guy that looked like a Lumberjack in blue jeans, checked shirt and suspenders.  He just said “Ein Hamburg” and dropped the plate with a “clunk” in front of me.  As usual, the portion sizes were huge although the Hamburger wasn’t that big and it was basically just the bun, hamburger patty and some mayo.  There was a huge side of fries and a medium amount of salad.  It was good but I had a hard time finishing it all (the bill was Ch$28).

After lunch I had a look at the other side of the small community.  There's a fairly large Hotel and Restaurant nearby but it looked deserted.  It probably does a lot of business during the ski season.  As I was waiting for the train to depart, I noticed yet another group of tourists arriving with their umbrella-toting Guide, and boarding another one of the trains.

When I was taking pictures of the trains, I noticed a couple of rugged looking guys with beards and long hair, wearing camouflage jackets and carrying Backpacks.  They moved to an older gold-coloured Jungfrau train that was on another of the tracks, accompanied by a couple of the train personnel.  The train departed with just them a few minutes later, and I’m not sure where they were going?  It's not unusual to see people wearing camo clothing here,but their demeanor suggested they may have been military personnel.

The train back to Lauterbrunnen was as crowded as it was on the way up, but fortunately I got a good seat, again on the right side to hopefully get some good shots of Wengen and Lauterbrunnen as it would be on that side.  On this particular trip, some of the passengers in the car were being annoying (at least in my opinion).  A couple of them were playing foreign music as loudly as possible on a Smartphone, and then singing along with it.  I guess it never occurred to them that perhaps not everyone wanted to hear that.

I didn't get back to the Hotel until about 16:30 and I was glad to be back "home" at the familiar surroundings of the Hotel.  I went back to the room and had a rest and watched TV until about 18:30.

I had considered walking around and getting more photos before sunset, but decided to stop for dinner.  The same Waiter was working tonight and I asked how big the portion size was for the Spaghetti Bolognese.  He said that I could get a half-portion, which sounded like a really good idea (I wish I had thought of asking for smaller portions before now).  I also got the soup of the day, which was a cream pea soup (it was really good!).

There was a young couple from Seattle sitting beside me and I chatted with them during dinner.  They’ll be heading for Lago di Como and then the Cinque Terre before returning to Paris for their flight home.  I gave them some information on the Cinque Terre to hopefully make their trip go well.  As I was finishing my after-dinner coffee, another guy sat down behind me and he joined the conversation.  He had just come from Oktoberfest in Munich and said that he and his buddies “had tried to relive their college years”.  I imagine a good time was had by all.

Apparently a Rick Steves “Best of Europe – My Way” tour has just arrived, so I imagine I'll be seeing them in the breakfast room.   As I headed back to the room, the Desk Clerk mentioned that they will be closing the restaurant tomorrow (Wednesday) so I’ll have to find somewhere else for dinner.  She suggested Hotel Silberhorn or the local Campsite, which is apparently a 10-minute or so walk from the Hotel.  I found it odd that a campsite would have a restaurant, but I might try it to see what it’s like.

It really feels that this part of my trip is passing by more quickly than the first part.  It’s hard to believe that only a short week from today, I’ll be on my way home.

12 September 26 – Wednesday

I got up earlier than planned this morning, and went down for breakfast.  There was a different girl working in the breakfast room, and I had the usual items and lingered for awhile over my coffee as I didn’t have many touring plans today.

While I was having breakfast, I checked the HelpLine and became aware of a bad rock slide that happened in the Cinque Terre yesterday.  It's hard to believe that it was so tranquil when I was there last week, and now a serious accident on the Via dell'Amore, which has always seemed the safest of the trails.

After breakfast I briefly checked E-mail and then noticed that the sun was starting to shine.  I figured that may be a good time to head for Grindelwald, so got my gear together and headed for the station.  I had decided to take the alternate route to Grindelwald, rather than going up through Kleine Scheidegg today, which proved to be a good decision as the route from Wengen to the top was closed by strong storm winds.  If the winds can stop a train, they must have been strong!

In order to get to Grindelwald via the other route, a change of trains in Zweilütschinen was necessary.  The transfer was all very quick and well organized, but I noticed in this station that some of the trains are “split”, with each half going to different destinations.

It wasn’t a long trip, but by the time the train arrived in Grindelwald the weather had turned again, and it was drizzling lightly.  My first impression of the town is that there are a lot of expensive looking Hotels and lots of shops, especially for sports equipment.  A lot of the travelers here seem to be using Hiking Poles and carrying small Backpacks.  They’re very focused on physical activities in Switzerland, especially hiking in the summer.

As I was leaving the station, I noticed a young guy (in his 20’s) looking at the Map of the town, and I asked him what he was trying to find.  He said that his he, his Dad and brother had reservations at the Youth Hostel but he didn’t know where it was.  There was a sign at the station for the HI Hostel there, so I figured I’d walk with him and have a look at it.  However, that proved to be more of an effort than I realized!

We walked about half a kilometer from the station and then headed uphill.  The route quickly became very steep and turned from pavement into a winding rocky trail.  After about 10-15 minutes, we finally reached the Hostel.  That’s NOT a hike I’d want to do with a 40 lb. Backpack!  The office was closed but I eventually located a staff member for him and she gave him the Wi-Fi password so he could check his reservations.  In the meantime, I had a look around.

The Hostel is located in a beautiful old house with parquet wood floors.  There’s a ping-pong table and other recreational facilities on the ground floor and dining rooms and a full kitchen on the main floor.  The bedrooms are upstairs and appear to be mostly 4-6 bed Dorms.  Each of the rooms is fitted with an electronic card lock and apparently there are lockers in each room.  Rather than a Padlock, these require a Ch$2 deposit, which is returned when the items are removed from the Locker.

After looking around for awhile and speaking with some girls from a student group, we headed back down the hill.  The brother of the young guy had also made the hike up the hill, complete with his Backpack.  It turned out that their Hostel was actually in Grun, so they headed back to the station for the short train ride there.

I had a walk through the main street in town, which seemed to be all shops and hotels.  I eventually stopped at a small Bakery & Restaurant and sat on the outside patio to have lunch which consisted of Minestrone soup and a Ham sandwich.  After lunch I wandered around and explored for awhile longer and then headed back to the station at about 14:00.

The trip back down the mountain was quiet, and there were only a few people on the train.  As before I had to change trains and in this case I had to sit in the front part of the train as that’s the part that was going to Lauterbrunnen.   I was glad to get back to my home base and walked straight back to the Hotel.

I had a mid-afternoon until about 16:30 or so, and then got up for dinner.  I was going to go to the Campground as suggested, but decided to stop at the Horner Pub for a few pints before that.  The Horner is apparently where all the base jumpers hang-out, and the girl behind the Bar (she was originally from Spain) said that her boyfriend was a base jumper.

Rather than "on tap", she only had small cans of Guinness but I figured that was better than none.  The bar was fitted with an unusual Guinness machine that produced a “head” on the beer when the glass was placed on a small round surface.  I suspect that it’s some kind of ultrasonic device?  The Pub was quiet at first but it eventually filled up.  The bartender said there are three Contiki tour groups in town at the moment.  They eventually put a menu on the bar with daily meal specials which looked really good so I decided to have dinner there.  I had a Penne Pasta with bacon and onions on top and a Gorgonzola Cheese sauce.  I hadn’t been keeping track of the tab and got a big shock when I got the bill.

During dinner the couple sitting next to me at the Bar mentioned that the parade of cows would be arriving in town tomorrow, so I’ll make sure I’m here to see that.  The cows will be coming down from the high meadows for the winter, and will be brightly adorned with decorations and bells.  Should be fun!

When I arrived back at the Hotel, there were a couple of people speaking with the evening desk clerk.  It turned out that the guy was from Powell River, and the woman from the U.S.  I think they were both on the Rick Steves tour.  The desk clerk confirmed that the parade of cows will be happening here from 12:00 to 13:00 sometime, so I’ll be sure to have my Cameras ready.

After that it was back to the room to check E-mail and update my journal.  That’s enough for today.

12 September 27 - Thursday

I don’t have anything definite planned for touring today, so it should be a relaxing day, although I want to be here for the parade of cows.  I had thought of visiting Trummelbach Falls, but I'm not overly enthused about that at the moment.

The sun is out today (for a change), although it hasn’t hit this side of the valley yet.  There’s a definite “chill” in the air this morning and the faint smell of wood smoke, so fall is absolutely here!  I went out to get a few pictures after breakfast, and at about 11:30 I headed down the main street to try and figure out where the cows would be coming from.

I went as far as the Cable Car terminal as that seemed to be a logical choice as there was a road coming off the mountain just past the terminal.  At about 12:15, I could hear the Bells but I couldn’t quite tell where they were coming from.  As it turned out, the cows emerged from the mountain trail close to the local Garage, so I had to run back up towards the Hotel to catch up with the procession.  I managed to get mostly to the front and started snapping pictures and taking videos.  I wasn't quite as well organized as I had hoped, but still managed to get lots of pictures.  I was told that the most highly valued and award winning Cows would have the largest Bell and the grandest and most elaborate head decorations.

The procession made its way through town and ended at a field next to the Church. The Cows were all herded into a vacant grassy field and everyone continued to take pictures of them, still with their brightly adorned headpieces and clanging bells and the occasional "Moo".  One of the herd appeared to be a bit of a “bully” as he would pick on any other animal that dared to get too close.  Outside the field, there were a couple of guys with a herd of goats also.  After I finished taking photos of the Cows, I went to get a few shots of the goats.  When I patted one of them on the side, he “raked” my leg with his horns so I figured that was a hint so I left him alone.

After the procession of Cows, I headed for the Horner Pub for a Cheeseburger and a Guinness.  It was really quiet and there were only a few base jumpers there reviewing the latest video of their jumps on a Laptop.  An English girl (from Lancashire) was working in the Bar today.  I spent quite awhile visiting with her over lunch.  As I was leaving, a Biker from Norway arrived at the Pub.  He said that he was a “good” biker and not part of the criminal biker groups that are quite prevalent in the Scandinavian countries.

After that I headed back to the Hotel for a much needed rest as chasing the Cows had worn me out.  I walked part way with one of the base jumpers from Sweden, who was heading for the Cable Car terminal to make another jump.  I asked about the cost of the gear he was carrying, and he said that with the "squirrel suit" it was over Ch$3000 worth of kit.

I got up after an hour or so and then headed to the station to buy my rail tickets for tomorrow.  After arriving at the station, I checked the SBB App on my iPhone to confirm which train I wanted to use.  I decided to stick with my original plan and go with the 11:33 departure, which would get me to Bern at 12:52.

After buying my tickets, I looked for a way to get across the river so that I could see the town from “the other side”.  I headed down a small road at the end of the station and ended up at some kind of lumber mill.  I located a narrow path that went up through the woods as that appeared to connect with a foot bridge that crossed the river.  When I got to the top, there was what seemed to be an electric fence blocking the way, but I stepped on it and bent it over so was able to get across (my shoes have thick rubber soles).

I walked through the small community on that side of the river and got some more pictures, and eventually went across a vehicle bridge near the Museum.  I made my way back up the hill towards the Church and into the main part of town.  After getting a few photos of the cog wheel train heading up the hill to Wengen, I headed back to the Hotel.

I had a fantastic dinner tonight of Chicken with tomatoes and cheese on top, Risotto in a cream sauce and a local Reisling.  It was an excellent meal!  While I was dining, a Heidebloem Bus drove by the Hotel (I was sitting on the patio that's next to the main street), so it looks like another Rick Steves tour group has just arrived.  After dinner I headed out for an after dinner walk and ended up at the Horner Pub again. On the way I spotted the RS group having a “Happy Hour” on the patio of the Hotel Jungfrau and I stopped to say “Hi”.

There were a few people at the Pub and I sat at my usual spot and ordered a Guinness (I learned that the cost was Ch$6 EACH, so that explains the high bill from last night).  When I was on my second Guinness, the lights went out and the Dutch girl from the kitchen came out to sing “Happy Birthday” to a girl sitting at the other side of the Bar.  I eventually had another Guinness while visiting with the other girl that was working at the Bar.

Eventually the girl that I had visited with in the Bar at lunchtime came in with her Brother, and I had a nice visit with them (he and the father had arrived a few hours ago from the U.K.).  The Spanish girl that was working the Bar last night also stopped in for a visit.

Back at the Hotel, the waiter from dinner was still working, although there was only one customer left on the patio.  He had told me earlier that he was an amateur Magician, which I thought was interesting.  It's unusual to find anyone doing that sort of thing these days.

Thankfully I don’t have to leave early in the morning, so I can take my time getting my gear together.  I already asked the Hotel if I can leave at 11:00 and they don’t seem to have a problem with that.

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Comments

Julie on

Sounds like a wonderful way to spend your birthday

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