Best of Swiss Alps (part 2): Perfect Blue Sky on Top of Europe? Oh My!


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Europe » Switzerland » South-West » Wengen
May 3rd 2013
Published: September 4th 2013
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I was woken up by the sound of chirping birds outside my window. It sounded like the recorded one in Disneyland, but this one is for real. I draped myself in my jacket and walk to my 2-sides private balcony – it was so cold, colder than a fridge. Its twilight blue hour; where the sun almost rises but the moon is not gone yet; and the lights from the village are still twinkling. I’m in Wengen. Somewhere in the laps of Berner Oberland mountain terrain, Switzerland. Armed with a cup of warm choco, I sat there quietly – admiring the fact that I can see a thick cloud passing over the Lauterbrunnen valley down below. Gosh, I’m higher than the clouds. This place is so tranquil; yet it still has strong & stable wifi connection. So you can relax in nature setting while catching up what your friends are doing in Facebook. Perfect. And you know what? I actually paid much less (and got their best corner room) than those tour groups staying at Interlaken as this is off season. For sure they don’t have this view as the town is just not located high enough. I feel like giving myself a pat in the back.

The sky is getting brighter and I can see that it’s blue. It looks like it’s gonna be a sunny day. I googled the train schedule (you can also get a timetable copy at hotel or train station) and the next possible one to Jungfraujoch via Kleine Scheidegg will leave on 7.54 am. If I missed that one, I’ll have to wait another 30 mins. It’s not like metro in mega cities where it passed by every 2-3 mins. Now I understand why the day before, the lady at the lobby was saying “Breakfast only starts at 8 am, are you okay with that?” I was like, why would I mind? But now I understand. Well, blue sky in the middle of Spring is more rare vs getting breakfast; so I just chomp whatever available in my room and just ran towards the train station. Literally, ran.

I grabbed a seat at the right side of the train and just pull down the window wide open. Some locals complained so I moved to another chair. There is no way you’ll “disturb” my chance of getting great shots in perfect weather like this. The weather is so great that I saw camera crew from somewhere join the same train to take promotional videos (I knew from his T-Shirt).

As the train climbs up – the nature expose herself more and more. It’s… breathtaking. I can see sun rises from behind mountains under clear blue sky. Snow are still everywhere although there are patches here and there where it’s green already. I took a deep breath and enjoy the fresh air. Gosh, you don’t get this in the city. I kept taking pictures & videos, more and more - I need some help to instill this in my memory and ensure it’s not just a dream.

Then we got to the part where it’s just within tunnel for a good hour or so. But it was not boring in my opinion. They gave you several stops along the way where you can see the view behind giant glass windows and go to the bathroom if you need to. And finally, we got to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe! It’s the highest railway station in Europe is located 3,454 meters above sea level. I skipped their indoor showcase area – nah, that’s for “rainy day option”. I marched my way to their viewing decks. And it’s wonderful! OMG! It might get crowded, but if you just wait a little bit – they will eventually go away. Especially tourist groups. No offense, but their tour guide typically only give them time like 15-20 mins in each deck (there are several decks). Mind you, the return ticket from Interlaken Ost to Jungfraujoch is around 210 USD, and the return travel can take 2.5 hours in total. It’s way too much money & time just to spend an hour total on the top don’t you think so?

As I stand there, mesmerized by the view, I thought to myself – wow… this is such a perfect day… Totally the opposite of my experience in Zermatt. I really wish I had someone to hug. That blonde guy over there is kinda cute, but nah – I’m married ha ha… I was surprised to see several eagles up there. Didn’t think they would live this far up. The glacier seems to just go on and on and on. I wonder whether they flow up to Italy. There’s a lady trying to get a cute picture; with heels, flowy skirt and all – walking in the snow. But then again, it’s a sunny day. She’ll get cold if it was blizzard like in Zermatt yesterday. Here, you can also sit on chair lounges and bathe in the sun (albeit it’s snowy). For a fee, you can also do flying fox or rent those giant donuts to slide in the snow (I forgot the name). I would’ve stayed longer, and walk further had I brought my sunglasses. It was so bright! Like up to a point where you can’t see anymore! So blinding.

After my heart is content with this gorgeousness, then I take a peak on their other indoor attractions such as Alpine Sensation and Ice Palace. It’s okay, but still if the weather is not good – I don’t think it’s worth it going up here. I take a look at the timetable and make my way to the train station. There was a slight confusion there – so many tour groups; and several coaches reserved by their group name. Since I was alone and Asian (many tour groups are Asian that day) – I decided just to blend in and got on, then moved to another coach that seems to be unoccupied. I can hear some other tourists (not part of the group) got confused and ended up not taking the train at all. But then even if they wait for the next train, same problem can happen again.

On the way down, I decided to hop off at Kleine Scheidegg. Unfortunately as it’s off season – the hiking trails were not open yet. I was very tempted just to wing it, as I heard the route of Mannlichen – Kleine Scheidegg is the prettiest easy trail ever. I walked for 10-15 mins or so but then I realized it might not be the smartest decision. It’s very snowy and muddy at the same time, and after a while you can’t really see the trail anymore. Then I remembered some old episodes of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” in TV (mostly about people stranded or lost then have to fight for their life) and my husband request for me to ensure safety first (especially in such solo trip). So, I just took picture from the corner and head back. Yeah, we’ll just revisit Switzerland again (in summer for sure!)

If you see the map – you’ll see that from Kleine Scheidegg I can easily take train back to Wengen. But I decided to take another route via Grindelwald on the other side of the mountains. No, it’s not the famous Gimmelwald that Rick Steves’ been promoting; it’s Grindelwald. This one is famous for tourist groups as the town allow cars in it. Not exactly quaint village. But to my surprise, I think Grindelwald has pretty views! I really do! You can see the majestic mountain (I don’t know what’s the name) and there are hiking trails here and there. Stopped there to enjoy & have my lunch. Yes it’s a bit more hectic but nothing compared to New York.

From there the train goes lower to Lauterbrunnen. At lower altitude, it’s more “summery”. Not so much snow, much greener, with hints of wild flowers here and there. From afar I can see cows grazing. Ah, so nice! There are several waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen but I’m going to save it for tomorrow when going to Schilthorn. Today ‘s next agenda is to go to Harder Kulm to see the view of both Lake Thun & Brienz from above. But for that, I have to go to Interlaken first. When I got down, the weather is already cloudy. I’m thankful that I still experienced the sunny part at Jungfraujoch, Kleine Scheidegg, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen all the way down.

The Harder Kulm funicular is so steep. Perhaps like 45 degrees? Or was it 50 plus? It was so full that many of us need to stand. I got to stand next to the conductor – so I got a great view. On the top, you need to walk a bit before you get to the viewing deck. There’s a café on the top too, and they said you can’t picnic (a.k.a. “if you want to eat, buy from us” kinda attitude). The viewing deck seems very fragile though (although I’m sure it’s strong enough). It kept swaying as the wind blows and it scare the hell out of me. You can see both lakes from up there, but not in one view. You have to look from left to right. Even with my ultra wide angle lens, I can’t catch both lakes in one frame. If you’re interested, there are also some people paraglides from here. I’m not interested because I did it before in New Zealand. It was a great experience, but it’s expensive and the weather is not ideal right now. On the way down, it started to drizzle already. So unfortunately I had to skip their mountain goats display. I just can’t take a chance with the rain. I don’t mind getting wet; but my camera is not water proof. It was broken before in Budapest and cost a lot of money to fix it, I just don’t wanna repeat that experience.

It was a rainy train ride back up to Wengen but still – I had a BLAST! It was an amazing day. You can always buy a ticket, but it’s not every day you’re blessed with perfect blue sky. Even though it was just for half a day. I am content. From the opposite side, I can still see tourist flocking in towards the direction of Jungfraujoch. Their eyes are full of hope, in case the rain is only down below but it’s sunny blue sky up there. For their sake, I hope their wish came true.

TIPS


• Know the train schedules as it’s not like metro where it comes every 2 mins. If you miss a train, you might need to wait for 30-60 mins. You can pick up the schedule at the train station, hotel, or download in the Jungfrau website.
• Mountain peaks are pretty but having experienced it in different conditions, I can sincerely say it’s ONLY worth it if the weather is perfect. You can check out via webcam installed at the peaks and different train stations (available at hotel lobbies or Jungfrau website webcams). Don’t linger & assume the weather will be perfect all day, it changes quickly. So when you see a blue sky, run for it!
• It is VERY expensive to go up there, so it’s worth to educate yourself on what are the offerings, packages or transportation cards you can take advantage of. I personally used the 1 month Half Fare Card based on my itinerary & calculation; but one of my colleagues took the Good Morning ticketinstead. And no, Swiss Card is not necessarily the answer. Do know that most of the railways & ropeways in mountains are operated by private companies so Swiss Card only gives you 25%!o(MISSING)ff.
• If you have the flexibility to choose “when to go” – I would recommend either going in the summer or winter (depending on what you’re keen on); but not in shoulder season. As I was there in shoulder season, there was quite a lot of railways & cable ways which were not operating and it kinda limit the options.
• Where to stay? For this, you’ll need to look at the Berner Oberland mapto know which village is at. Lauterbrunnen is at the bottom of the valley. Wengen and Murren are at the edge of cliffs but on the opposite side of each other. Grindelwald is on the other side of the mountain and it has mountain view but not “cliff view”. The famous Gimmelwald that is heavily promoted by Rick Steves is a bit secluded although indeed it’s very pretty. Interlaken is just a town but down below (not exactly part of the mountain terrain). Surprisingly – in off season, it’s actually cheaper to stay in mountain village vs in Interlaken. I personally even got their best corner room (hence I got the 2-sides private balcony). So you get the most bang for your bucks. Don’t worry about food – they have Coop supermarket in each of the villages/towns I mentioned in this pointer. What you do need to worry about is the transportation. I was toying between Wengen and Murren, but then the deciding factor was the fact that the railways to Murren was under maintenance during my visit.
• Shoes! The shoes question! If you are hiking, definitely bring proper hiking shoes (not like flip flop and even sneakers are still insufficient considering the terrain). But if you’re just going from the train straight to the viewing deck and just exploring the villages; regular shoes are sufficient (sneakers are okay, heels are not logical of course).
• Bring your shades to the mountain! Snow can be blinding!


I hope that’s helpful folks! Click here for more of MY PICTURES, and here for MY HOTEL REVIEWS.

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6th September 2013

Switzerland.. one of the best country to visit.. I wish i could be there (someday) #fingerCrossed

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