A Postcard From The Alps – Part 2
Switzerland is cold.
After sitting on the train from Lucerne for a few hours, I was eager for the journey to finish. So eager in fact, that when I saw a sign flash past the window that read “Interlaken”, I was up and ready to depart in a matter of seconds. Now I’ve read that around 2 km2 of Interlaken consists of buildings and roads. I’m pretty sure I managed to see around 1.50 km2 of that while hunting for my hotel. Why did no one tell me Interlaken has two train stations (Interlaken Ost and Interlaken West), and three roads with the same name? Needless to say, I later found out I had left the train one station too early. Good start.
After trudging around the town for three hours and exploring every possible wrong place, I finally made it to the hotel. Slightly exasperated upon check-in, the manager asked me what I planned to do whilst in the area. “I don’t care, I just want to see some snow”, was my response (this being the height of summer, I thought snow would be a rarity). Surprised, his eyes lit up in excitement, and he quickly exclaimed “Ah! Us Swiss have just the thing for you! Here…” and a pamphlet was thrust into my hands, titled “Jungfrau – The Top Of Europe”. It looked good. After a quick skim read, and a rather high amount of foreign currency landing on my credit card, I had booked it all. Fast forward to 8am the next morning…
The journey started with a bit of train station hopping across the valley, until I reached the station with the rack railway train that would eventually deposit me at Kleine Scheidegg, where I would have to swop trains. The first part of the trip up the mountain was uneventful to say the least, but since I had a window seat, I could stare out into the rather spectacular scenery that this part of the Alps offered.
Klein Scheidegg is a mountain pass between the Eiger and Lauberhorn mountain peaks, sitting at around 2000m above sea level (my starting location in Interlaken was about 500m above sea level). Upon disembarking here, there really wasn’t all that much to do. A hotel, some small stores, and a few brave cows, as well as the actual station. I had a quick look around before boarding my second and final part of the journey. I must emphasize though, that if you ever need a break from the world, hop on a plane, traverse the autobahns and railway systems, and relocate to Klein Scheidegg. If money was no worry for the rest of my life, you would be able to find me here.
The second part of the journey started off great. Rising higher into the mountain peaks, I was glued to the window. In fact, I was so engrossed at gazing down into the mountains below, that I didn’t notice the railway leading into the side of a massive alpine peak. And just like that, the view and outside world disappeared. We were now en route to the highest train station in Europe. Darkness engulfed the train for the remainder of the trip, with only the occasional break at a station along the way to remind us that there was a world outside. Also, if you’re afraid of small spaces, or darkness, its probably best that you don’t go up here. During the entire trip inside the mountain, I kept thinking about the millions of tons of solid Swiss mountain sitting above our heads, and what would happen if it decided to suddenly come crashing down.
At just below 3,500m above sea level, the altitude at the final station is no joke. Climbing out the train and noticing my sudden shortness of breath, I was greeted with two signs. “Snowpark”, or “Observation Centre”. With the majority of the passengers heading directly to the snowpark, I made my way to a lift that would take me 150m higher, up the the peak of The Sphinx. The lift drops you off at the Sphinx Observatory, which is perched precariously on the ridge. Braving the wind, I walked out onto the steel frame walkway, and was greeted by multiple sights, including one of the Aletsch Glacier below.
After taking hundreds of photos, I ventured down to the snowy expanse that lay below. Of course, I was woefully underprepared for the conditions, as I didn’t have any proper snow shoes, or anything to protect my eyes from the blinding light. Regardless, I spent a good hour playing around in the snow (after all, snow was the main reason I had ventured all the way up here). Eventually becoming concerned for my eyesight, I headed back inside the mountain to see some of the other attractions on offer, like the ice castle. What else can I tell you about the Jungfrau? I’m not sure…you really just have to go and see it all for yourself.
For no apparent reason, the train on the way back down took me to an entirely different town/village, this time a place by the name of Grindelwald. Since it was only about 4pm, I decided to stay for an early dinner, before trying to find my way back to Interlaken. While sitting here, nestled in the shadow of the Eiger, I had some time to reflect on my day. I had set out in the morning, on the basic mission to just “see some snow”. However, along the way, it seemed that the journey had been just as memorable as the “Top Of Europe” experience. All the new small towns that I’d discovered, all the new facts and views, and all the other cheesy stuff that comes with venturing into new areas. Would I go back? Without a doubt, yes.
Oh, and it turns out Grindelwald is only a few kilometers away from Interlaken. So getting back was no problem. And this time, I disembarked at the correct station.
It was a sad event the following day when I dragged my bag to the Interlaken train station. I was due to catch a 2 hour train to Basel, and then a short flight later, I would be deposited back in the urban grey blur that is London. The train journey to Basel was nothing to report on, but once in Basel… hmmmm.
Basel was clearly the end of the line, so I stepped off into the most confusing train station I’ve ever had the luck of being propelled in to. Knowing I had to somehow get to the airport, I eventually found a sign with a small aeroplane symbol. This will be easy… maybe the station is actually part of the airport? Well, guess not. The sign pointed towards a bus that had no signs to hint towards the destination. It didn’t look like you had to pay for this bus either. Could it be?
Clambering in to the back of the bus, I tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I should also add at this point that my phone battery was entirely flat, since the charger was still having a holiday in Germany. No point in trying to Google this. So if I did disappear, the last knowledge of my whereabouts would be a blurry CCTV snapshot from Basel train station.
Trying to keep the thoughts of Taken out of my head, the bus soon departed. No one asked me for a ticket, so I just kept quiet, and tried to spot any signs of an approaching airport in the distance. With every passing minute, my mood increased a bit. “Hey, at least if I get thrown off here, it will be less distance to walk”, was my thought pattern for the majority of the trip. Eventually, the bus stopped, and there I was. Basel airport. Time to leave Switzerland. Until next time… thanks for being so unnecessarily clean and precise.