Day #11,039 (Bernese Oberland, Switzerland): At 6:13am, I rolled over in bed and- only 25% awake and an hour shy of the alarm- realized there was a golden ray of sunshine stealing into the room.
Oh. My. Gaw!!!
I leapt out of bed, threw open the curtains (sadly for Mr. M, who would’ve been just as happy seeing the sun when the alarm went off an hour later), and reveled in THIS:
Perhaps The Universe appreciated our sense of humor. Or perhaps weather is just a fickle beast and woke up in a good mood. Whatever the reason, the Bernese Oberland was ours to see.
Like an excited puppy on a leash, I dragged Mr. M to breakfast downstairs, packed up my snow hat and mittens, and headed for the train that would take us to Jungfraujoch, the highest rail station in Europe and the tourist spectacle known as The Top of Europe.
I literally could not sit still on the train ride up, I was so flip-a-you-know-what excited. The scenery along the route was amazing, especially since we had missed all of it the day before.
The final 50 minutes of the journey is in darkness, as the Jungfraubahn winds its way through a tunnel to the final station at 11,388 feet.
As soon as we stopped, Mr. M and I made a mad dash for the Sphinx Terrace, the upper viewing platform that I had read gets insanely crowded with visitors as the day moves on. Like the day before, we emerged from the building into nothing but white.
But this time, instead of fog, it was snow and glacier and wispy thin clouds in the Alpine air.
Words escape me now, and at the time I teared up because it was one of the most magical scenes I’ve ever experienced in my life.
After I pulled it together (get hold of yourself, girl, it’s called snow), Mr. M and I doubled back to explore the kitschy but nonetheless fantabulous other tourist attractions within Jungfrau.
From the Sphinx Terrace, we had seen a trail heading outward across the saddle of snow between the Jungfrau and Monch peaks.
The trail was supposedly quite easy and led to a mountain hut café. Eager to get out on the snow, we were off. Although at a much less lively pace than usual. That altitude really hit us hard!
Few others opted to leave the immediate area of the Jungfrau station, so there were times when we had the trail to ourselves. Our hike in the snow was magical and ended up being both of our favorite part of the entire trip. An hour later, only a bit out of breath, we made it to the mountain hut… well, to the base of said hut, which required a steep, icy climb to reach.
Mr. M & I were slipping and sliding all over the place and ended up dragging ourselves up to the mountain hut on our hands and knees.
The Serious Mountaineers equipped with walking poles and ice boots stepped over us and were very clearly Not Amused.
After surviving the icy scramble, Mr. M treated himself to a victory shot of Poire Williams (pear liqueur is quite popular in Switzerland) and a bratwurst in the hut café. The hut was far less crowded than the main Jungfrau station, and the fact that we were the least Mountaineering-looking people there added a welcome sense of authenticity, however false. :)
We literally slid back down to the trail and back to Jungfraujoch, where we started the journey home.
And soon realized that we quite possibly had JUST enough time to complete the second most famous ascent in Switzerland: the gondola to Schilthorn and the Piz Gloria restaurant used in the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!”
Mr. M and I, forever loving a challenge put forth to do as much as humanly possible on vacation, plotted out every train transfer and stop required… we could make the very last gondola up if we hit every single connection right on time. Oh, it’s ON, baby.
So instead of stopping at Wengen, we continued back down to the valley floor, where we would begin our ascent up the other side. The first step was a gondola ride from Lauterbrunnen to the tiny Grutschalp station.
My fear of missing our trip up to Schilthorn overpowered my fear of heights and gondolas, but I was still embarrassingly relieved when we made it to the top.
From Grutschalp, we took a tiny cliffside train that felt more like the kiddy train ride at an amusement park than actual transportation… albeit a ride with pretty stellar views.
The toy train left us off in the charming hamlet of Murren. Fearing we’d miss the last gondola up, Mr. M and I sprinted to the station (I was all set to push women & children aside, if need be), and… cue fanfare… made it!
With this many gondolas and cliffside whatnots, the basket-case in me was bound to freak out at some point. I do have to apologize to the large Japanese tour group on our gondola for cursing like a (very creative, if I do say so myself) sailor just about the time that the Schilthorn-bound gondola started going completely vertical.
If James Bond is out-skiing a villain + henchmen down this mountain, y’all know it must be crazy steep. I admittedly got pretty excited when we spotted a herd of chamois (goat-like alpine creatures) on the rocky hillside below. Sadly, I was too busy swearing and praying to take a picture.
When we finally pulled into the Piz Gloria station, I was ready to kiss the ground but immediately got distracted by this view:
Sometimes eloquence escapes you, and all you can do is let your mouth drop open while you stare. Sweet baby Jesus, the 360 degree views of the Alps (you can see all the way to Italy from here) were mind-blowing.
Mr. M decided he had to become part of this scenery and took off for the start of a “trail” (quotations intentional).
Turned out a start was the only thing I was capable of doing. The trail runs along the crest of Schilthorn, with steep drop-offs on either side. The views were stunning, but I was not so eager to slip and slide my way down that hill, as I had at the Jungfrau hut hours before.
(This sentiment came out in far less eloquent form in the heat of the moment: “Aw hell no. Done. What the?? No! Seriously. NO.”)
That evening, after making it back having completely spent our day, we celebrated with another amazing dinner at Hotel Baren- this time out on the patio to enjoy the sunny weather.
I’m mildly allergic to and majorly annoyed by cigarette smoke and forgot that smoking over dinner is a perfectly acceptable pastime in most other parts of the world. When the older lady next to us lit up after finishing her entree, I figured I’d have one, maybe two ciggies to breathe in before she left. Apparently, I underestimated her remaining lung capacity because the dear woman went through NINE cigarettes over the course of her dessert. Nine! Mr. M & I got the giggles over this ridiculousness (Was it like, a 20-cigarette meal? How was she still alive?) and decided it was high time to go for an evening constitutional to catch the light of the setting sun.
I got carried away and may have gone a bit Sound of Music, twirling in the meadows and embarrassing the natives. No apologies, though… the day was AWESOME.
Explore my next day’s adventures befriending sheep and recapping our favorite Switzerland moments!
You Can Do It, Too!
Tips & Tricks: Go to Jungfraujoch as early as possible. When we left the mountain (around 1pm-ish), the place was SWARMING with visitors. The magic of getting to experience quiet reflection- alright… exuberant reflection… you know me too well- at the top of the mountain was all but gone with the hordes of people descending from the incoming trains. Similarly, make a mad dash for the Sphinx Terrace as soon as you arrive to get it to yourself for a few golden moments. It’s worth it.
Jungfraujoch is perpetually snow-covered, so bring winter fixin’s if you chill easily.
The train-gondola-funicular-train connections can get quite confusing. Don’t feel bad asking one of the friendly railway staff members for assistance plotting out your course. A lovely gentleman printed us a sheet with the (many) transfers we needed to take to make our trip… including the approximate time it would take to walk between stations! Thanks, R. Marty!