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Rail Journey through Switzerland Part 2: Interlaken

Rail Journey through Switzerland Part 2: Interlaken

After a relaxing trip from Luzern, the day wasn’t over. We decided to take the funicular (Harderbahn) from Interlaken up to Harder Kulm. It’s a fast, but very steep ride up. Unfortunately the rain had come back and we were in the clouds at the top station. We had been quite optimistic and didn’t bring any rain gear, but we walked to the restaurant anyway (5 minutes from the top station).

The restaurant at Harder Kulm Hmmm, nice view! At least the sign tells us what we're missing ;)

There wasn’t much of a view, so we had a cup of tea/coffee in the restaurant while hoping it would improve. The clouds did lift every now and then, giving a nice view of Interlaken, Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. We thought of walking down instead of taking the funicular, but decided it wasn’t such a good idea without any waterproof gear.

A lone woman on the observation deck Hurray, the clouds lifted for a moment and we had a view of Interlaken!

The next day it was time for our big excursion to the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe at 3454 m! It was disappointing to wake up to clouds and rain again, but nothing we could do about it. This is the big disadvantage of being on a tight schedule, and unable to postpone this trip to the next day. We got up early, and departed for Grindelwald.

A very cloudy day, even the river made its own cloud :) Destination: Grindelwald

Grindelwald is a very special place for me, I stayed at the youth hostel there during two summers and thought it was paradise on earth 😉 The youth hostel is located higher up the hill, overlooking the valley and the impressive mountains, and I went on some really nice walks from there. It was strange to be back and only change trains, especially since the area around the train station is very touristy – filled with souvenir shops and huge groups of Japanese tourists – not the Grindelwald that I remembered 😉

My dad laughing at the Japanese tourists - some were dressed in high heels and elegant clothes, while others were wearing shorts with long johns underneath :D You feel almost out of place as a white person here... nearly all of the train compartments were reserved by Japanese tour groups!

We continued to Kleine Scheidegg, and at some point we came out of the clouds and had a view 🙂 Actually we had come into a layer in between the lower and the higher clouds, which didn’t promise much for the view from the top station, but we stayed optimistic 🙂 At Kleine Scheidegg we changed onto the final train line which soon enters a tunnel (with 2 stops to look at the view from windows built in the tunnel wall) that took us to the top station.

Nice views when the train came out of the cloud layer One of the tunnel stops. The lowest one did give us a view, but the higher one was in the clouds

I had been up to Jungfraujoch once before, and tried to prepare my dad for the possibility of feeling funny because of the high altitude. The last time I was here, I came from Grindelwald (at 1000 m), where I had already been for a couple of days, and I only had mild symptoms while running up a flight of stairs. This time we came straight up from Interlaken at 500 m, and were not acclimatized at all. We both were soon hit by the strange feeling – lightheaded, dizzy, racing heart – it’s quite scary actually, especially if you have never experienced it before. We found some seats and took it easy for a while – making sure to drink plenty of water. After a while, I convinced my dad to come for a walk around the station. There is a 1 km long tunnel which partly goes through the glacier – quite spectacular! We took it really easy, walking slowly, and stopping whenever the symptoms came back.

Inside the glacier! My dad with his new toy, he bought a tablet just before the trip and became inseparable from it ;) The tunnel through the ice - looks almost like a slide here, but of course it was (almost) flat here

You could see the layers of the glacier quite nicely in the walls of the tunnel. They had also made some ice sculptures here, and there was an exhibition about the building of the train line up to Jungfraubahn, which is quite incredible – they started building it in 1896!

A layer of small rocks in the glacier A rare photo of me :)

Halfway through the tunnel walk, there is a lift that takes you up another 120 m to the Sphinx Observatory which has a viewing platform. My dad was not feeling well, so I didn’t want to risk taking him even higher up. After completing our walk around the station, he went to sit and play with his tablet (they have free wireless internet – crazy!) while I walked back to the lift. I soon found out that I shouldn’t walk too fast either though… but taking the lift up was not a problem at all. It was nice to get some fresh air, and FRESH it was – it was a few degrees below freezing here. Not much of a view though 😉

The Sphinx Observatory - it has a nice dome on top but even that was invisible in the clouds Look at the layer of ice growing underneath the information sign!!

Part of the platform was closed due to icefall – and occasionally ice rained down onto the part that was open as well. It was very windy, and very cold… I didn’t last very long out there! It was impressive to see the ice that was growing on the fence… I wonder how it can move so neatly without breaking off?

Ice growing on the fence - how come it's so neatly out of sync with the fence? Detail of ice on the fence

We decided it was time to leave, and even while walking to the train my heart started racing so fast I thought I might actually need medical help – really scary. I’m not sure why it was affecting us so badly this time, but seems like you never know how you will react. Last time I was here, the building was full of signs warning you to walk slowly and not run up the stairs. Now there was nothing! I find that strange, because not everybody knows that this can happen, my dad had never even heard of altitude sickness, and then you’d be extremely worried if you suddenly feel so ill.

Anyway… it was all easily solved by getting on the train and descending more than a 1000 meters 🙂 We got off at the Eigergletscher station, just outside the tunnel, and decided to walk to Wengernalp, two stations away. I was amazed my dad was up for it, as it would take at least 2 hours (all downhill though) and we were started off on a tiny path straight into the clouds, with hardly any visibility 😀

Starting our hike, on a small path following a ridge near the glacier Sometimes the clouds would lift and suddenly we could see around us - the building is the station we started walking from

The hike was actually really beautiful and the clouds added to the atmosphere. We met 2 people close to our starting point, after that we didn’t see anybody. The path was easy to follow, and the abundance of wildflowers was just amazing…

A pretty flower SO many flowers... one of the reasons I love hiking in Switzerland

Suddenly we heard a loud BANG and when we looked around to find where it was coming from, we saw a piece of the glacier tumbling down the cliff. Wow! There was no danger, as we were nowhere near it, and it was impressive to watch the forces of nature at work. I almost forgot to take photos until my dad nudged me 😀

Suddenly we heard a big BANG, and when we looked around, we saw a piece of the glacier tumbling down the cliff - luckily far away from us Impressive to see the force of nature...

On and on we went, in and out of the clouds…

My dad walking off into the mist Funny flower decorated in raindrops

We found this “nest” of caterpillars, and so many wildflowers that it almost seems unreal.

Lots of caterpillars! Flowers everywhere...

At some point we saw a helicopter flying around in the thick mist, carrying buckets of concrete from a working area lower down. I just hope he had more visibility than we did!

Entering the forest Helicopter flying in the mist

We even came across this Alpine Salamander. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a salamander before! They look like a lizard, but their skin is slimy like a frog’s. It sat so still we thought it might be dead, but sometimes it made small movements. According to wikipedia, they are very stationary and apparently only move up to 12 m during a whole summer – so perhaps it’s still sitting on the same rock?? 😀

Beautiful cornflower An Alpine Salamander!

Suddenly our little path was blocked by a HELICOPTER! Yes, the very same one that we saw flying around. They were building a new skilift here, and we had to take a small deviation from the path to get around the work area.

One of the many signs on the path, it's hard to get lost in Switzerland Suddenly our path was blocked by a HELICOPTER

We had been hearing cow bells all the time, and finally we came across a group of cows 🙂 The farmers were trying to move them to the farm, by singing to them 😀

Hello cow! All the cows in Switzerland wear bells and you can hear them from far away

Pretty raindrops…

Raindrops on the grass.. quite pretty! Rain drops inside a lupine plant

The drizzle and mist had now turned to heavier rain, and we were happy when we reached our destination: Wengernalp station. It had a comfortable waiting room to wait for the train down to Lauterbrunnen. We had a well-deserved big plate of pasta in Lauterbrunnen, before returning to Interlaken.

At Wegernalp, waiting for our train to Lauterbrunnen There it is! You can clearly see the cogwheel track in the middle of the regular tracks here

The next morning we woke up to a sunny and warm day 🙂 Our hotel in Interlaken was in the ugliest building in town, a big concrete tower block. This photo was taken on the day we arrived, but the panorama showed the view on the morning we left – it might be an ugly building but it sure has the best view in town! The field in the middle is used as a landing place for the many paragliders – some passed by very close to our balcony!

Our hotel was in the ugliest building in Interlaken (at least the outside) But I am pretty sure it had the very best view!

Look at this view of the Jungfraujoch, if only we could have gone a day later… Still, I actually really enjoyed our day in the clouds! The second photo is taken from outside the train station at Spiez, where we changed trains on our way to Zermatt.

Jungfraujoch seen from the hotel... if only we could have gone a day later! View from outside Spiez train station, where we waited for our train towards Zermatt

But Zermatt will be featured in part 3, I think this blog post is long enough now 😀

Rail Journey through Switzerland Part 1: Luzern

Rail Journey through Switzerland Part 1: Luzern

My dad is crazy about trains, he is always watching documentaries about train journeys on tv – most of them filmed in Switzerland. My mum is not that interested (“all these trains look the same” 😉 ), so I always told him that I’d take him on a train journey after his retirement. He retired last year, and a few weeks ago we boarded a train from Amsterdam with destination Basel! I originally wanted organize the trip all by myself, but my dad found a perfect trip in a brochure from a train-travel agency which included all the places we wanted to visit, with all hotel bookings taken care of. Easy!

Our train to Basel was delayed, but they caught up on the lost time during the journey. We traveled first class and had a compartment all to ourselves – luxury! The journey went smoothly, and before we knew it, we were in Luzern! We checked in to our hotel, then walked to the centre to see if we could catch a boat trip with our train pass. We found out that the pass was valid on all crossings, and a roundtrip was leaving in 5 minutes – perfect! It was really nice to enjoy Lake Lucerne from a boat, in beautiful sunny weather.

Luzern from the boat View during our boat trip

After 2 hours we were back in Luzern and we walked to the old town to have dinner. It’s really pretty… with the famous bridge and a lot of decorated old buildings.

The beautiful old town of Luzern The famous bridge in Luzern

After a really nice pasta meal outside, we walked back to the hotel in beautiful evening light. What a perfect first day!

The bridge in the evening light View from the bridge itself

The next morning we borrowed bikes from our friendly hotel, and set out to explore more of Luzern. It was a quiet Sunday morning and we stumbled upon this open-air concert near the water…

The promenade along lake Lucerne A free outdoor concert on Sunday morning - how nice!

We had lots of fun people-watching!

The concert was a perfect place for people watching :) this old man dancing on his own was so cute Love her style! I am always amazed by stylish old ladies where everything matches - from blouse to handbag to socks ;)

After a while we continued cycling along the lake, until we came to the Swiss Museum of Transport. I had been there once before and was really impressed, so I thought my dad would enjoy it too. We both did, and we spent the rest of the day at the museum. It’s huge, and has lots of exhibitions on trains, boats, cars, bikes, planes… whatever you can think of really. We even got to test drive electric bicyles and an electric car (wow, so quiet!), and pretend to be a weather forecaster on tv… hey maybe I should become a weather forecaster when I grow up 😛

Playground at the museum, in the background a whole building covered in traffic signs My dad the weatherman

The next day the weather had changed to rain and low clouds. We took the Golden Pass Line to Interlaken. A lot of the trains in Switzerland have these huge windows, it’s really nice to have such an open view.

Enjoying the panoramic view on the Golden Pass Line Sometimes it felt like you were passing straight through peoples backyards

According to our itinerary, we should stay on the train until Interlaken, our destination. We decided to get out at Brienz though, and see if we could cross from there to Interlaken by boat with our train pass. It was raining heavily when we arrived, but when we came out from the supermarket where we bought lunch, it was dry and we went for a walk along the lake while waiting for our boat.

A statue on the shore of Lake Brienz Lake Brienz seen from Brienz :)

We were in luck: the next boat to depart was a steam paddler – the DS Lötschberg. With our first class tickets, we had the top part of the boat all to ourselves. It was a beautiful crossing, and the sun even came out at times. The colour of lake Brienz is truly spectacular!

My dad on the paddle steamer The colour of the lake was so pretty!

My dad spent most of the time inside though, where you can look through a large hole in the floor at the steam engine in operation…

Steam engine at work Steam engine at work

It’s so relaxed to travel by boat – we really enjoyed it. After arriving in Interlaken, we waited until the DS Lötschberg departed again, so we could get a photo from the shore 🙂

The view from our (covered) seats on top... what a way to travel :) The DS Lötschberg on its way back to Brienz

Stay tuned for part 2 of our Swiss Railway Journey: Interlaken 🙂

Paragliding video

Paragliding video

The summer school finished last Friday, and I travelled to Verbier where Paul is staying. I had booked a one-day introduction course to paragliding for Saturday. I was a bit scared about doing this, but it was lots of fun! We spent most of the day at “ground school” – learning to set up the glider and the harness, and how to take off (without actually taking off). In the afternoon I first did a short tandem flight – really great! And then it was time for my first solo flight… I was a bit nervous and I thought I’d be terrified through the whole flight but actually I didn’t get scared at all and was able to relax and enjoy the flight. It’s a great feeling to be flying on your own! It wasn’t very difficult as you are almost “remote controlled” – you have a radio and they tell you exactly what to do. The landing went fine, though I did fall over face forward – but the landing field has very tall grass and it made the landing very soft. Paul was able to take a great video of my flight, and because he had a radio on him as well, you can hear everything they were telling me…

The flight was only about 5 minutes, but it was fantastic and I am now very keen to take a course myself!! I didn’t expect I would enjoy it this much, I am usually quite a chicken and scared of everything… 😉

Paul is doing the last few flights he needs for his license at the moment, when he comes back we will leave for Vevey (near Montreux, at the lake of Geneva) until Wednesday. Paul has a lot of photos and videos of his 2 weeks of paragliding, so more soon!