We make the perilous* ascent to the Top of Europe – the mighty Jungfraujoch!
*ascent may or may not be perilous
We make the perilous* ascent to the Top of Europe – the mighty Jungfraujoch!
*ascent may or may not be perilous
Venturing farther outside Interlaken and around Lake Thun, we visit both Thun and Oberhofen (which is so small we didn’t actually take any footage of it except the castle, just as we were leaving!).
We take in some of the sights just outside Interlaken. First a bus up to Beatenberg, then a stop-off at the Saint Beatus caves, and finally a journey to the top of one of the higher peaks in the area: the Neiderhorn.
Our first stop in Switzerland is the town of Interlaken, and I’m not gonna leave you in suspense – we bloody love it. Pretty much got everything you could want and then some. We check out the scenery and have a few drinks while watching the paragliders land in the central park. Wonderful! Already looking forward to going back one day. 🙂
We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.
We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.
It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.
Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.
We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.
It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.
There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.
We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.
We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!
One of the biggest tourist draws in this region is the complex at the saddle of the Jungfrau (young girl) and Monsch (monk) mountains. The buildings are reached by train from Kleine Scheidigg, a village high up in the Bernese Oberland. Another train is required from Lauterbrunnen to get to Kleine Scheidegg.
We rose at 6:15 to catch the first train, which left Lauterbrunnen at 7:07.
The train was almost full and it was the first one of the day! Mostly families and older people – I dare say not many young adults want to shell out the 200+ Swiss Francs that it costs to get here. With our Bernese Oberland Pass we rode free to Kleine Scheidegg and then 99CHF for the last section. Even at half price that’s 134 AUD. Steep in every sense of the word.
The train from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg was extremely scenic with little Swiss cottages and cows dotting the alpine scenery.
There was a bit of a mad rush to change trains and then the second section of the journey was almost entirely through a tunnel.
There is one stop before the top where viewing windows have been cut out and you can get off and look at the view for five minutes.
The Jungfraujoch station is underground and from there you can enjoy a range of thrilling attractions including a huge snow globe.
This sits in a tunnel lit with edelweiss flowers.
Weird but cute. There’s also some wooden statues in this long hall.
Then a ramp with a moving walkway that takes you past historical scenes and tributes to the workers who died during the construction of the tunnel. The whole thing was the brainchild of a Swiss millionaire who made his money on trains and wanted to achieve a great engineering feat.
There is a snow-carving gallery within the Aletsch glacier. It’s not very big but it is cute.
There are also several restaurants on different levels. We went to the cheapest and got hot chocolate in a paper cup for $10. Crikey!
The main reason for going to Jungfraujoch is undoubtedly the view so we’d been crossing our fingers all week as storms had been predicted and so far we’d only seen one shower.
Fortunately our luck held and the views were spectacular.
We’d taken warm clothes but I wish we’d had gloves. Still, we survived without and enjoyed ourselves. There is a section where you can walk out on the snow and even go for a hike but we weren’t prepared for that.
The viewing platform sits at 3571 metres above sea level, the highest either of us has ever been while still standing on the ground. Luke had a few moments of lightheadedness and I felt a little tingle in my legs but otherwise we were fine.
Last stop was a look through the world’s highest Lindt store. As we still have piles of chocolate from the class we did there was no need to buy anything.
We only stayed for an hour and a half but it was a spectacular 90 minutes and we were glad we went.
Back down to Kleine Scheidegg where we hopped aboard a train to Grindelwald, a town Rick Steves describes as tiny but which has grown hugely since he first visited.
The cog-wheel journey to Grindelwald is stunning.
The town of Grindelwald sits, as Lauterbrunnen does, in the shadow of large peaks, in this case the Eiger.
We hadn’t eaten much so we wandered up the main street to find some lunch. Everything looked expensive but we settled on a restaurant that did a cheap (ish) sandwich for 7CHF. But what sandwiches!
Also Luke kindly let me eat all his pickled onions and gherkins. What a gentleman!
Tired of hauling backpacks full of clothes around, we decided to head back to Lauterbrunnen and ended up having a nap, but not before seeing a noticeboard advertisement for some traditional folk entertainment at the local campsite. That was our evening sorted!
We wandered down to the campsite at about 6pm, keen to get a seat at the campsite restaurant as it had excellent reviews online.
We both ordered the small size of our chosen dishes.
We could’ve both survived off Luke’s plate for days.
We walked around the campsite for half an hour to aid our digestion and to ensure we didn’t fall into some sort of food coma, then it was time to grab a seat for the evening’s entertainment.
The choir sounded like the music from the Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. One of our favourites!
All in all an outstanding day – hopefully the weather holds for our trip up Schilthorn tomorrow!
Our Bernese Oberland Pass began today so we jumped out of bed at 6:30 to make the most of it. I’ll post more about the pass after we get to Geneva when we work out whether or not it was worth buying.
First activity for the day was catching a local bus to Beatenberg, a little village further up in the hills (I mean mountains… Switzerland’s mountains look like hills because there are even bigger mountains behind them). The bus ride took less than half an hour and we got out a few stops before the end of line and walked along the ridge that Beatenberg sits on, admiring the houses, the view, and enjoying the peace and quiet.
Everywhere around Interlaken are spring water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle with cold water. I think my favourite spring that I’ve seen so far was this one in Beatenberg.
If I could say that this part of Switzerland reminded me of another place I’ve been I would liken it to Japan. Equally clean, full of polite people, and the architecture, if you take away the geraniums, is very similar to wooden Japanese houses, only heavier and more ornate.
We bused back down to Interlaken in good time for our chocolate-making class at the Funky Chocolate Club. We were the only Aussies in a group of Americans but they were all very nice and we had a lot of fun.
First we heard a bit about the history of chocolate and where in the world it comes from. Then we tasted everything from 100% cocoa (revolting) and pure cocoa nibs (not bad) through dark, semi sweet, milk, and white. We then learned to temper chocolate to make three blocks of our own.
My favourite part was learning that correctly tempered chocolate twirls in a ribbon rather than dropping straight from the spoon. I got to use my lettering skills to write on our bars. It was harder than it looked!
You’ll probably find this hard to believe, but Luke and I did not gorge ourselves senseless on chocolate and only ate half a handful of bits during the class. Therefore we felt we deserved a hearty lunch at the bierhaus our walking tour leader had recommended the day before.
Specifically Alessandra had recommended the mac and cheese so we ordered one and a salad. It was, hands-down, the best mac and cheese I’ve had on our travels and I would’ve tried over a dozen in the US. This one was topped with fried onions, had plenty of cheese sauce and speck, plus it had a side of apple sauce. I don’t know if I’ll ever eat mac and cheese again without it – one of those unexpected pairings that turns out to be magical. Although we all know cheese and apples are good together… why did I not think of this already?
Next up was a bus ride along Lake Thun to reach a tourist attraction that I wasn’t at all keen on – the home of an ancient monk named Saint Beatus. He was possibly Irish and came to the area to convert the Helvetii and also claimed to have slain a dragon, which the Helvetii seemed to think was totally legit and so this monk lived in a cave and then had a take away shop named after him. This would’ve been pretty handy because the cave is miles from the nearest shops.
The site consisted of a long and steep ramp up to the little cave where the monk lived plus entry to an almost 1km stretch of tunnel that contained a river and stalagmites etc. Luke pestered me to give the caves a go and I said ok (I caved if you will. BOOM TISH) but we only got about 50 metres in before the roof got a bit low and I started quietly crying and had to leave. I was trying to convince myself it would be fine but the further I went underground the more a voice in my head kept saying ‘you are trapped!’ and I had to leave. Luke walked me back down to the gate and I sat outside and read my kindle. I felt totally fine when I got out and Luke went back to have a look but that’s it for me and caves. No more!
The outside was certainly attractive and worth a look. There’s a museum too but we didn’t bother.
We went back to the bus stop and caught the next bus to the base of the Neiderhorn funicular and cable car. The cost of this was included in our travel pass.
The view from the Neiderhorn was gob-smacking in every direction. The Neiderhorn is a long ridge so from the top you can see over the edge on one side and down towards Interlaken on the other.
On all the buses, the funicular, and cable car there’d been hardly a soul all day. That was to change, however, for our next activity. In the meantime we enjoyed looking at this Bernese Mountain dog being a bit lazy and catching the bus.
Our last excursion of the day was another fantastic spot to see the sights.
Harder Kulm ( or, as we like to call it, Heidi Klum) is a restaurant and viewpoint that is accessible via a long hard walk or a funicular from close to the middle of Interlaken, therefore it is very popular.
We crammed aboard the funicular to make it up in time for sunset and a lovely meal of schnitzel and salad. Despite some bad reviews on TripAdvisor we found the staff very friendly and welcoming. Luck of the draw, perhaps.
The space at the top has a viewing platform that extends out over the valley a little and was filled with people getting their photos taken.
We decided not to linger as we knew the funicular would be crowded on the way down and so we lined up and ended up having a nice chat with a high school girl from the Netherlands who was travelling Europe solo in her school holidays. How wonderful to be a teenager in Europe. In country NSW we had a choice between Queensland and Sydney for our getaways. Yawn!
We walked back to our hostel via a sculpture in town that I wanted to take a photo with – a Bollywood director who had filmed many of his hits in Interlaken. Our walking tour guide had even been in one of the movies as an extra!
We were exhausted by the time we got back to the hostel but I’ve been a complete trooper and finished this entry straightaway. What a champion I am!
A photo of me with an empty bowl. How intriguing!
Before heading off to Switzerland we spent the weekend in Cambridge attending Andrew and Lila’s wedding celebration (one year after they married – Lila is from Taiwan and they married quickly last year due to visa issues) and it was a cracking party with a proper ceilidh band calling the Scottish dances. The kind of thing I would’ve completely detested as a teenager but now love. Luke and I even got in some time on the dance floor to do some rock and roll steps. Everyone had a brilliant time and I’m very glad we were there for it. Thanks, Andrew and Lila, for putting us up!
We also had a chance to play with Jeffrey, Andrew’s parents’ new puppy. He likes biting everyone and everything but was delightful nonetheless.
I also used the time in Cambridge to buy several kilos of fruit and vegetables to undo the effects of all the pizza, pasta and cheese in Italy, then made us a tub of fruit and some salad rolls to take on the plane. We have been warned by everyone that Switzerland is expensive, particularly for eating out, so I filled all the camping-equipment space in my bag with muesli, rice, pasta, tins and sauces so we can cook most of our meals in the hostels. Obviously we’ll be going out for fondue and schnitzel etc at some point though!
On the Monday we caught the train from Cambridge to Liverpool Street then the Dockland Light Rail to London City Airport, which we’d not used before. Many airports around the world seem to be moving towards holding people in a large central area then telling them the gate only minutes before boarding starts, which means you have to fight for a seat or sit on the floor in an overcrowded area then hustle if your gate is miles away. London City Airport is not like that. Plenty of seats at the gates, all the flights are smaller aircraft and it is a walk of only a few metres from the train station into the airport, through security and to the bar for a quick drink. So civilised ;-).
We decided to buy some duty free gin and vodka to take to Switzerland and the fellow manning the duty free drinks told us his brother lived in Switzerland and he’d been to visit and we were making the right decision if we wanted to save money.
We flew with Skyworks, an airline we’d not heard of previously but which has been around for decades, apparently. They only have six aircraft and each seat 50 people so it was quite a different experience to our usual flights.
The view was lovely when we flew into Bern airport and customs took all of five seconds, with a cursory stamp and a queue of four people in front of us.
We caught a bus from the airport to Belp, then a train to Thun, following the advice of a friendly Swiss family and a girl from Hong Kong who had been before.
In Thun we changed trains to get to Interlaken and it was an incredibly scenic journey around a lake where the sun was shining on turquoise waters, people out swimming and sailing, and mountains rising dramatically in every direction.
Interlaken (as the name suggests) sits between two lakes. The city is almost completely flat but ringed by mountains, the furthest of which are snow-capped.
We walked from the train station to our hostel in about 20 minutes and admired all the beautiful wooden houses along the way that had that distinctive Swiss look. We also saw dozens of people paragliding and could hear faint ‘yippeeees!’ Coming from the sky.
We are staying at the Balmer’s Hostel, the oldest private hostel in Switzerland (or so they say) and our first hostel together for this trip. While I have seen people here who are older than me it’s definitely more of a 20-something party-place with a nightclub on the premises and a bar that is busy all evening. We shared a giant burger and sweet potato fries on our first night. They weren’t cheap but they were good.
We’d hardly been in Switzerland a few hours before Luke remarked that it was my spirit animal (or, you know, country). Clean, well-organised, a recycling bin on every corner, friendly, vegetable gardens in every front yard, fruit trees everywhere and one of my favourite things – natural springs where you can fill your bottle with cold, clear water… it’s heaven.
We’ve only been here a day and we’re wondering when and how we can come back to see it in Winter. One day!