As charming as the cities and towns of Switzerland are, it is the Alps that provide
the most memorable scenery and the most impressive region of the Alps we've seen
is the Jungfrau. The Jungfrau area is a Y-shaped valley starting in the town of
Interlaken. Along one branch of that Y is the town of Grindelwald (shown here) which
is where we based ourselves for four days.
The region is known particularly for three peaks - the Jungfrau (maiden), the Monch
(monk) and the Eiger (Ogre). This is the view of the Eiger from our hotel balcony.
Note that we did not pay the extra 10 Francs a night for a room with a 'good' view.
Having seen Grindelwald, I'm not sure it's possible to have a room with a bad view.
Grindelwald consists mostly of two main streets along a ridge that contain most
of the hotels and restaurants in town. The center of town features a lot of shops
(that are nearly all closed by 6 every day) and a nice sports center which has
ice-skating, curling, swimming and various other diversions. The restaurants in town
are no more expensive than those elsewhere in Switzerland, although we found it fairly
easy to eat on our own as well given the high quality cheese, meat, and chocolate (it's
a major food group in Switzerland) stores. As mentioned earlier though, you need to
do all your shopping before 6 PM.
The Jungfrau region is connected by a vast network of trains, cablecars, chair lifts,
gondolas, buses, trams, and even a unique rotating gondola-like thing. Realistically
you don't need a car at all, at least once you get to the area. There are three major
ski areas separated logically by the Y valley. This view is looking towards the central
plateau (between the branches of the Y). This plateau is known as Kleine Scheidegg
and the central peak is the Lauberhorn. From there you can ski all the way back into
Grindelwald, although the first day we chose an unfortunate route that was a bit
light on snow and we ended up doing some hiking as well.
There are two easy ways to get to the top of Kleine Scheidegg from Grindelwald -
the cog wheel train (which ultimately goes all the way up to the Jungfrau) and the
Mannlichen cable car. You might guess which we chose from this picture. A fifteen
minute ride will bring you about 1200 meters (4000 ft) above Grindelwald. Oddly
enough (at least by U.S. standards), the ski lift passes are not particularly expensive,
especially for multi-day passes. The equipment rental was however substantially more
than the lift tickets.
The northeast face of Kleine Schedegg is a vast saddle-shaped open area for skiing.
The slopes are very wide, and in many places you really can't go out of bounds.
There is also a long and impressive sledding trail (more on that later). At the
top of Mannlichen are a couple of lodges, a hotel, an impressive view the other
direction, and also a cable car ascending from the other valley (and the town of Wengen).
Here is a picture that could have been much better, but we were limited to one
of those single-use cameras while skiing. This is the cog railway at Kleine
Scheidegg station. From here the trains travel down into either valley and also up
to the dizzying height of the Jungfraujoch at 3454m (11330 ft). We were eating
lunch at a cafe outside the station when a pack of husky dogs arrived to take up the
last car in this train (you can see a tail through the window). There is a breeding
center for mountain dogs just uphill from Kleine Scheidegg and apparently the dogs get
to take the train occassionally.
This is the best picture we have of a truly awesome spectacle. In the center of
this picture you can see a cloud of snow resulting from an ongoing avalanche. The
trail of falling snow can still be seen leading down from a ledge on the mountain.
The mountain is the Wetterhorn several miles away. We happened to be on a chairlift
at the time. This clearly falls into our growing collection of really bad pictures
of natural disasters (see Mexico, July 2000). There is nothing of importance under
that face of the Wetterhorn and no one was injured because the Swiss really understand
these things quite well. Avalanches like this one are fairly common in the region.
The cog-wheel trains make several stops on their route over Kleine Scheidegg and
each of those stops consists of at least a restaurant and a bar, usually a small
hotel as well. These make for nice places to stop and rest while skiing. One thing
we definately learned about eating in Switzerland is that drinking is expensive.
Not necessarily drinking alcohol, but water and soda as well. We eventually discovered
that many restaurants will sell a 1.5L bottle of water or soda for only marginally
more than the cost of a small glass. Lunch specials tend to be worth the savings as
well. Kase-kuchen (similar to quiche) and Raclette (sort of a mini-fondue on a plate)
are pretty common as well as Rosti (shredded potatoes) with a variety of toppings. We
also highly recommend the dish known universally around southern Switzerland as Alpine
Macaroni. It's pasta with quite a lot of things on top of it and it was always good.
Earlier we mentioned the Jungfraujoch, the highest train station on the line (and
anywhere in Europe for that matter). This lodge sits at that station between
the Jungfrau and the Monch. From there is a supposedly fantastic view to the
south over the Aletsch glacier (which can be seen creeping over the south wall
as well). We considered taking this trip, but in the end the price was just too
high (around US$100 per person). Considering we spent four days on the gondolas
and chairlifts in the area we felt the view couldn't be that much better.
Up until now we've ignored the other branch of the Y which contains the well-known
resorts of Wengen and Murren. This is the town of Lauterbrunnen which most people
visit to park their cars (Wengen and Murren are both car-free). The cliffs around
Lauterbrunnen feature hundreds of waterfalls, this is Staubbach Falls which is much
more dramatic later in the Spring when there is more water.
Sledding in Switzerland is taken well beyond the level of a plastic disc in
the park. There are several monumentally long sled runs in the Jungfrau area.
Due to lack of snow at lower elevations, the Faulhorn sled run was only 8km (5 miles)
long. Only. We rented sleds and took a gondola up three stages to First (the
name of the mountain). From there we had to hike about an hour up to the beginning
of the sled run. Dragging a sled uphill in the snow for an hour means that the
downhill section had really better be worth it, and it is. We're still not entirely sure
how you steer a sled, especially at high speeds in slushy snow but it doesn't really
matter. It took us about four hours of sledding to get back to the lowest gondola
station. The picture above was taken at an inn where we had lunch along the way.
This picture of David sledding was taken on a particularly steep bit where Joe (who
had the camera) had already fallen off. There was quite a lot of falling off. There's
also a fair bit of hiking on the flat parts but it's mostly downhill and it's
Back to the main town in the area: Interlaken. The town is so named because it occupies
a narrow strip of land between two lakes, Brienz and Thun. Lake Thun features several
impressive castles. This is the castle of Spiez in the town of the same name.
This one is Schloss Oberhofen which can be visited although we did not go inside it.
The town of Thun at the end of the lake has a very nice medieval center and an impressive
castle above it, although we have no idea how you get to it. We spent about ten minutes
circling the area before half destroying the clutch of our rental car at a terribly placed
pedestrian-filled rotary. After that we gave up and continued on to Bern.