Interlaken

2 08 2007

21st June, 2007

I was told by many that I couldn’t leave Switzerland without visiting Interlaken, and having seen the photos my parents took there a year ago I could hardly argue. As the name suggests, Interlaken is situated between two lakes (Thun and Brienz), in a very mountainous area of central Switzerland. The views are truly incredible, with the mighty Swiss Alps dominating the skyline in all directions. A favorite spot for adventure sports, Interlaken hosts non-stop hiking, canyoning and para-gliding in the summer season. It also sits at the base of a trio of famous peaks – Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, for some serious climbing action.

Jungfrau has the distinction of holding the highest railway station in Europe – 3,454m above sea level, with an observation station above it. I decided to take a look.

Given the extreme steepness, altitude and complete lack of roads, I opted against the bicycle, taking the cog-railway up to Jungfrau station instead. Absolutely amazing views on the way up – real picture-postcard views of rolling green fields, alpine lodges and rugged coutryside as we chugged and clanked our way to the terminus.

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Walking through the heavy glass doors into the lobby, I was blasted by a wave of excited Korean & Japanese, all trying to out-slur and out-position each other – apparently a couple of tour groups had just finished up, and they were crowding the bar, killing time and brain cells waiting for the train to arrive. Five minutes later they departed, and silence suddenly ruled the complex, with the softly wistling winds and echoed footsteps being the only misfits.

The rapid change of altitude had really affected me, having gained about 3000m in two hours, and I felt a bit googly and impaired as I considered my viewing options. Two seconds of deliberation found me at the bar, ordering a ‘Jungfrau Coffee’ – coffee with schnapps, which hit me like a Zurich tram. Perfect.

I then ambled over to the Ice Gallery, which promised all sorts of amazing ice carvings and works of frozen art. In fact it was rather crap, with only two or three half- melted ice statues, poorly lit and uninspiring for the most part – though these blue crystals were kind of nice. 20070621-ice_palace01.jpg
The walk through the ice tunnels to see the ‘amazing art’ was scary stuff in my cycling shoes – the floor was as smooth as a skating rink, and my steel cletes offered exactly zero grip. White knuckles on the handrail, I half slid, half stumbled out the door. 20070621-ice_palace02.jpg

I then decided to go outside, where I could get an unimpeded view of the magnificent peaks and glacial valleys around me. Despite the reportedly frigid temperatures, I didn’t feel cold at all, and quite enjoyed the massive dose of UV rays I received while staring into the blue infinity above.

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I visited the Sphinx, an astronomical observatory built atop the station, and was surprised at the number of birds that glided and wheeled above it. If I were a bird, I’d certainly consider a vacation here…

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Then it was time to catch the last train out of there, or I’d be forced to walk 45 minutes to an alpine lodge to stay the night, traversing a ridge along the way (or so I was told by a staff member – on a mountain bike!). Last train in this case was only 6:00pm, which seemed a little early to me, but I was glad to get back down to a normal atmospheric pressure and oxygen content.

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I wish it hadn’t been quite so cloudy, but overall I had a fantastic time in Interlaken and up on Jungfrau – the views, the experiences and the people I met at the hostel in town – all added up to a really great detour on my trip. Highly recommended!

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