An American in Switzerland – Day Nine

We got up super early to catch the second train out from Interlaken to… dum da dum… Jungfrau – the highest point in Europe that can be reached by train. Yep, we were going to be over 13,000 feet above sea level at the top of the Swiss Alps. Fabulous. It was a pretty long train ride, with a couple of stops and transfers.

Sadly, on one of the trains I lost my precious handmade scarf that Kirsti so beautifully made for me. I still have the matching beret, just not the super soft, extra wide, extra long scarf. I almost started crying on the train when I realized it was gone. I’ve put in a lost and found request for the train system, but I’m not all that hopeful at this point. Hey Red – is there any more of that blue yarn? *sniffle* 😦

About halfway through our ride, our previously empty train became packed with skiers. They all exited the train a certain spot. There were gorgeous Swiss chalets and hotels dotting the mountainside on our way up, just like a a Swiss skiing travel brochure. The mountains were even more amazing as we climbed. Just breathtaking in their beauty. None of our pictures did them justice.

At the ski-drop off point in the town of Kleine-Scheidegg, we switched to our final train to Jungfrau. From there, only about a fourth of the ride was out in the open. The rest was entirely in tunnels blasted through the mountains. We stopped out in the open one last time where there was a small restaurant and a husky station. After that, we had two other stops that were inside the mountain with large viewing windows. Even the final stop was inside the mountain.

We exited, and slid past two tour groups (one of which was the group at the fondue restaurant the night before) and stepped out into our first look from the “Top of Europe.” It was dizzying and amazing and …really and truly dizzying – both from the sheer height, but more so from the fact that the air is super thin. We both had to take it really slow the whole time we were there because of the low oxygen levels. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible the view was. I’ll be posting pictures soon after posting this, hopefully. We wandered around (slowly). The building is almost entirely made of windows, so you can see every direction.

There was also an unlocked door to the outside where you could go out and stand outside on top of the mountain above a glacier. It was very slippery and icy, because the snow had become hard-packed with so many visitors. And, when we got away from the building – the wind!! Heath managed to make it halfway up to the top of the lookout area, but I got swept to the side and ended up holding a flimsy rope to attempt to climb up to meet him. There was more than one moment were I was afraid I was going to slip down the 50 foot drop on the side and land on the glacier below. Heath came back quickly – the wind was too intense for him. He helped me back on my feet, and we slipped and slid our way back into the building, nearly ending up flat on our backs right at the door. I didn’t dare take the camera out on this part.

We ended up exerting ourselves so much on our very short hike that I ended up with my head between my knees on a bench trying not to pass out. Bleh! No fun. Heath took a picture of my embarrassing condition. Next we wandered the small museum tracing the history of climbers on Jungfrau.

After that, we decided to get a small bite to eat, and shared a rather icky bratwurst in the only open restaurant (there are three or four in the facility). I tried a Swiss drink called Ovo Drink, which is pretty much Ovaltine in an individual serving bottle, I think. It was quite tasty, though. We also stopped in at the gift shop and sent post cards from the top of the world to our parents and ourself (at nearly two francs a post card, though, heh).

We did some more exploring, and found a marvelous area called the Ice Palace. The notes weren’t clear in our brochures, but it appears that it was half built out of an existing glacier, and then had ice added on top. However it was made, it was fun. There were caves and nooks and crannies (and one super tiny crawlspace that your intrepid claustrophobic traveler managed to squeeze through). The whole thing is backlit and entirely under ice – no exposure to the outside. Pretty chilly inside. There were also cool sculptures of bears and penguins. There was a solitary visitor who took a fun picture of us in one of the sculptures, and we took a picture for him. It was just a really cool area, and I could see taking children there. Oh, but the whole floor was ice, too, so you had to make sure you didn’t fall on your rear. Luckily, there are lots of railings tacked into the ice here and there.

Next we took an elevator to the observatory (or as close as they let you get). The thin air was even harder to deal with an extra three stories up. On this area, there was an outdoor observation deck that you could walk out on to, and the wind here was far less strong than on the glacier because the building buffers it somewhat. Plus, the deck was made of a ridged grid of metal, so it was far easier to walk on. We got some great pictures of each other out here, this time with the actual peak of Jungfrau behind us. The observation area is actually about 100 meters down from the tippy top.

At this point, I was starting to get a headache from the lack of oxygen, and we’d seen just about everything we could see, so we stumbled back down into the caves, and caught the next train down the mountain. When we got to Kliene-Scheidegg, I was floored! We’d passed through this area fairly early in the morning on the way up. But now? It was PACKED to the gills with skiers of every age. It was amazing! I know I sound like a ninny, but the only place I’d ever seen skiing before was on television! And people were so trusting. They would just pile up their skis and equipment all together on racks or against buildings. There must have been at least 1,000 people there, I kid you not! Each ski lift looked full, too.

While we waited for our next train from Kleine-Scheidegg to Grindelwald (our return trip was a different route from the way up), we checked out a nearby ski shop. The prices were ridiculous for things like hats and gloves. There was a cute pair of pink gloves with an eidelweiss flower embroidered on them that I’d seen in Appenzell (which was the priciest place I’d been to) that were something like only 12 CHF in Appenzell, but nearly 40 CHF on top of the mountain. I guess if you’re up there, and you loose your pair, you’re screwed. We also picked up some pamphlets for renting equipment. One of Heath’s coworkers in Switzerland is a ski instructor on the weekends. I made my husband promise that if we ever came back, that we would rent some skis and attempt to learn to ski. I never really wanted to before, but everyone there looked like they were having an utter blast.

On our train ride back, we sat near some very loud teenage skiers who were American. They were with an all-age group with a French ski-instructor. They were all wearing brand-new clothes and equipment, and Heath and I mused that they must all be from extremely wealthy families to be able to come all the way to Switzerland to ski. I remembered that in junior high, our church offered trips to Colorado to ski, and even with a non-profit group discount, it was too pricey for my parents to send me.

Also on the way down, there was a FABULOUS toboggan/sled run that criss-crossed its way down the mountain next to (and often under) the train tracks. That DEFINITELY looked like fun, and I put it on our list to try the next time we can make it back. I only really ever sledded when I was a child living in Maryland. My parents still have my beautiful runner sled in their garage.

We stopped in Grindelwald and decided to skip the connecting train to get a bite to eat, as we were starrrrrving, and it was long past lunch time. Had some very decent French Onion Soup, a plate of local cold meat and cheese with olives and cocktail onions, and I had a steaming hot cup of gluewien. Mmmm. We also had a brief conversation with the couple behind us who were from Canada, but had retired to Switzerland.

We ran to catch our train, and I started to get a headache as the sun broke through the clouds. My last dose of migraine medicine was still miles away, though. When we got to Interlaken Ost, we attempted to find my lost scarf, and got information about how I could post it across their system. Took the train to Interlaken West, and stopped off at a tourist shoppe before heading back to the hotel to pick up our luggage (they’d been kind enough to store it for us for the day even though we’d already checked out).

We’d been up since the wee hours of the morning, but we still had a-ways to go before our day was done. Next up was getting a train from Interlaken to Zurich. I tried to type some, but my head was a pounding. We got off at the airport, and after some slight trouble with the lockers (we had to flag down an attendant), retrieved the rest of our luggage. By this point, we were both very tired and cranky, but somehow managed to find the shuttle to our hotel together.

The hotel desk attendant was the WEIRDEST Swiss person we’d met to date. It wasn’t due the fact that he was flamingly gay, or that English wasn’t his native language  – he was just weeeeeeeerid! Bonus – this hotel had FREE internet. We ambled up to our room, by which point I was a crumbled mess due to exhaustion and now a migraine. I took my meds, and Heath let me crash for a while. I knew I needed to eat, but my stomach was still a mess from the migraine, and on the other hand, I was starving.

We decided that although it was expensive, it would just be easiest just to eat in the hotel’s restaurant. The food was pretty decent. I got a Coke a Cola, hoping the caffeine would help my head, and the syrup would settle my stomach. I was miserable for most of the meal, nibbling very tiny bites praying that I wouldn’t get sick. Finally, towards the very end of the meal, my migraine meds finally kicked in (they usually don’t take that long!), and I started to feel better. I managed to stay up long enough to do a short amount of work on the computer before we crashed.

I think that this was the looooooongest day, but the most fun (even with the migraine).

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