Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Top of Europe

The Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland isn’t the highest peak in Europe but it is the highest railway station in Europe. Conceived by Swiss industrialist, Adolph Guyer-Zeller in 1893, his idea was to blast a tunnel through the Eiger and Monch mountains and construct a cogwheel railway to the Jungfrau summit. Construction began in 1896 and, after numerous delays and a total cost of 16 million francs, the railway opened in 1912. Sadly, Mr. Guyer-Zeller did not live to see its completion.

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Bust of Adolph Guyer-Zeller at the Top of Europe

Due to the steep grade, the only way to reach Jungfraujoch is by cogwheel or rack rail, a system patented by Swiss engineer, Niklaus Riggenbach in 1863. As you can see in my photo below, the toothed rack rail runs between the tracks allowing a gear wheel on the train to mesh with it.

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Cogwheel track

The station is located at an altitude of 3571 m (11,782 ft) at Jungfraujoch, the saddle between Jungfrau and Monch.  Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is noted for its Alpine beauty and as home to the longest glacier in Europe.

Trains depart from Grindelwald for Jungfraujoch every half hour for a journey which takes 1 hour and 18 minutes. With our Swiss Half Fare Card, we paid $95 for each round-trip ticket. After an early breakfast at Hotel Alpina, we stored our luggage at the hotel and boarded the train departing at 9:17 a.m. When we saw all the low-hanging clouds, we were concerned our views from the top might be obscured. Those are clouds beneath the mountains in the photos below, not snow!

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Low hanging clouds

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Twenty-three minutes after our departure from Grindelwald, we arrived in Kleine Scheidegg where we changed trains for the final ascent mostly through a tunnel inside the Eiger.

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The station at Kleine Scheidegg

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The station at Kleine Scheidegg

We stopped briefly at the Eismeer Station behind the southeast face of the Eiger to view the Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier.

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Eismeer Station lookout

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Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier from Eismeer Station

We arrived at the Top of Europe at 10:37 a.m., early enough to beat the rush at this time of year.  The underground station connects by tunnel to the Jungfrau Panorama, where we stopped first for the brief 360-degree multimedia experience about the Top of Europe.

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Tunnel at Jungfraujoch

After our introduction at Jungfrau Panorama, we were ready to see the real thing. The fastest elevator in Switzerland climbs 108 meters (354 ft) in just 25 seconds to arrive at the Sphinx viewpoint. The views when we reached the top were jaw-dropping.

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View of Aletsch Glacier

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Panorama of the Aletsch Glacier, the Sphinx viewing platform, and the peak of Jungfrau behind

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Sphinx viewing platform

In spite of our winter coats, hats, and gloves, it was so cold and windy on the platform we could only stay outside for a few minutes before we had to go back inside to warm up. Jim had difficulty holding up his Iowa State University banner in the wind for a photo for the #ISUFlag program, an activity that encourages ISU fans to submit photos of the school banner on their travels.

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Jim trying to show his ISU banner

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Mission accomplished

When we saw the board inside showed the current temperature was -7.7 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) with a wind speed of 47 km/h (29 mph), we felt justified seeking views from indoors. The average temperature is -7.9 degrees Celsius so our visit was actually a little warmer than average.

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Temperature and wind speed at Top of Europe

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Jim, pointing to the summit of Jungfrau

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View from Top of Europe

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View from inside the viewing station

The Alpine Sensation opened in 2012 and I would guess it mostly gives tourists something to do if the weather up there is so bad the views are totally obscured. The history of the construction and tribute to the tunnel workers are worthwhile, however.

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Entrance to Alpine Sensation

We skipped the Ice Palace, restaurants, and shopping opportunities and opted instead to return to the station for the next train back to Grindelwald. Due to some confusion with the signs and directions, we missed the next train and had a longer wait than normal but we met a nice group of young people who made the same mistake and had a good visit with them.

On the return journey, one young man we met told us he was from the United States and working in Switzerland. He and I discussed photography and I asked him to send me his best photos of the day to post on my blog. My next post is devoted entirely to his photographs which are amazing so be sure to check back to see them. In the meantime, here are a couple more of my photos from the return trip.

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Return to Grindelwald from Jungfraujoch

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View from the train on the return trip to Grindelwald

When we arrived in Grindelwald, we grabbed our luggage from the hotel and hopped back on the train for Basel, our next destination in Switzerland and the departure point for our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River. Keep following along for lots more adventures.

Based on events from October 2017.

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Grindelwald Interlude

After our adventure on Mt. Titlis, we left Lucerne to travel by train to Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region. If you’ve been following my blog through Switzerland, it may seem as if we spent most of our time on trains. Believing train travel is the best way to see a country, we spent a lot of time gazing through train windows at the countryside as we traveled comfortably from place to place. Below are a few of the scenes we enjoyed en route from Lucerne to Grindelwald.

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Alpnachstad, Switzerland

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Lake Sarnen, Sachseln, Switzerland

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Giswil, Switzerland

The trees with their shadows in the image below look to me more like a  painting than a photo. I love the colors!

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Lake Brienz

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Lake Brienz from the train

To get to Jungfrau by train, you must connect at Interlaken and many tourists reserve lodging there. Rick Steves, however, recommends lodging in the smaller villages nearby so I reserved two nights at Hotel Alpina in Grindelwald. It turned out his recommendation was Gimmelwald rather than Grindelwald but my reservation was non-refundable so we decided to make the best of my mistake. On the map below, note Interlaken circled in black at the bottom. Grindelwald is up and to the left; Gimmelwald is to the right. Jungfraujoch is at the top of the map and wherever you stay, you have to connect at Kleine Scheidegg to get to the Top of Europe. But more on that next time.

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We arrived in Grindelwald around 4:30 in the afternoon. Our first impression was of a typical small ski town, surrounded by mountains and full of chalet-style hotels and high-end ski shops.

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Grindelwald, Switzerland

Although our chalet-style hotel was close to the train station, by the time we trudged up the hill with our luggage in tow, Jim was ready to rest his back. (If you haven’t read about Jim’s back fracture which occurred two days before our departure to Switzerland, be sure to read about it here.)

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Hotel Alpina

We were satisfied with our 3-star accommodations and delighted with the view for $170 per night.

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Hotel Alpina

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The view from our balcony at Hotel Alpina

After resting for awhile, we strolled through the village looking for a restaurant for dinner.

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Grindelwald

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The Eiger

Fortunately, menus are posted outside because we quickly discovered prices were sky high in this village of fewer than 4000 inhabitants. Eventually, we settled on Bebbis where we paid $45 for an average meal that was worth about $25. The other $20 must have been for the view which, admittedly, was superlative.

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Dinner with a view

I ordered the raclette, a traditional Swiss dish of cheese melted over potatoes with pearl onions, pickles, and bacon for $20.50.  Jim had the wiener schnitzel priced at $24.50.

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Raclette

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Wiener schnitzel

Although the decor was definitely kitschy, we got to see an alpenhorn up close for the first time. Historically, the wooden horn was used by cowherds to communicate with one another in the mountains, as well as to call the cows and calm the cows.

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Alphorn

After a leisurely walk back to our hotel and a few twilight photos, we turned in early.

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View of Wetterhorn from the road to our hotel

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Twilight view of the Eiger from our balcony

The following morning dawned with low hanging clouds and rain, weather not conducive to a trip to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. That was actually a fortunate turn of events since Jim really needed a day of rest. He had fallen from the ladder and fractured his back just a week previously and we had kept a pretty good pace for the past 5 days. While Jim rested, I explored Grindelwald in the rain doing what I typically do when left to my own devices, I shopped. Or rather, I should say, I looked but didn’t buy because prices were extremely high. For example, the least expensive jacket I saw was priced around $300.

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Hotel Alpina breakfast room

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A rainy view from the breakfast room at Hotel Alpina

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Another view from Grindelwald in the rain

That evening, rather than spending so much on another mediocre meal, we bought local gruyere cheese, olives, wine, and a few other items to enjoy a repast in our hotel room for a fraction of the cost with a priceless view.

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A rainy view from our room

As we rested up, we hoped for suitable weather the next morning for our excursion to Jungfraujoch. After our Grindelwald interlude, or as Jim called it, our Grinderlude, we felt sure we’d be ready for the Top of Europe. Please check back to find out what happened.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Mt. Titlis Adventure

Clear weather is a must for a successful trip with good views from Mt. Titlis and we knew we couldn’t plan ahead with any certainty. So when we awoke on October 26, we were gratified to learn from hotel staff the weather on Mt. Titlis would be suitable for our trip up the mountain.

After an outstanding breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof, we set off for the railway station and the 45-minute ride to Engelberg, the village where we would begin our ascent of Mt. Titlis. We watched delightedly as a group of young children with their caretakers boarded the train, sat on the floor while they rode to the next station, and waved goodbye to us when they departed. Notice the knotted rope at the feet of the kids; they all hold onto the rope at a knot to keep a proper distance but stay together as they walk. It’s adorable and safe.

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Breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof

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View from the train 

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Swiss kids on the train

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With a population of less than 4000, the Alpine village of Engelberg offers many activities including skiing, hiking, and bicycling. The main attraction, however, is Mt. Titlis, the highest peak in central Switzerland at just over 10,000 ft (3020 m) and the only accessible glacier. When we arrived, we had no idea how to find our way to the cable car station but we soon found a sign that indicated the route.

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Sign showing us which way to go

After a 10 minute walk along a lovely trail with alpine views, we arrived at the cable car valley station. There is also a bus to the cable car station but the walk was pleasant on that sunny clear morning.

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The trail to Titlis cable car station

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Entrance to cable car station

With our SBB Half Fare railcard, we purchased tickets at half price for $46 each at the cable car station. After a brief wait, we boarded the 8 seat cable car for the first leg of the climb to the summit of Mt. Titlis. We knew we were early enough to beat the crowd by the numerous empty spaces in the parking lot and the short line to board the cable car.

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Cable car to Titlis

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View from inside the cable car station

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View from the cable car

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View from our cable car with another car headed down

The views from the cable car were spectacular and in no time, we arrived at the stand station where we boarded the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first rotating cable car, for a standing ride with 360-degree views to the summit.

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Titlis Rotair

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View from inside Titlis Rotair back to the stand station

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View from Titlis Rotair with other tourists

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Another view from Titlis Rotair

When we arrived at the summit station, the view was absolutely breathtaking. As I look at the photos now, it’s still hard to believe we witnessed such dazzling sights.

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View from the Summit Station of Mt. Titlis

After taking in the magnificent panorama, we headed to the Cliff Walk, Europe’s highest suspension bridge with a 500 meter (1640 ft) drop. By chance, I captured this bird soaring in the photo below.

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Titlis Cliff Walk

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Selfie on Cliff Walk with the peak of Mt. Titlis behind us

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Laura on the Cliff Walk

As a recovering acrophobe, I was a little nervous due to the movement of the suspension bridge as I peered into the abyss but the experience was totally worth it. Jim, on the other hand, was fearless and couldn’t get the smile off his face the entire time we were up on the mountain.

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Jim on Mt. Titlis

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Vista from the summit of Mt. Titlis

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View from Mt. Titlis

After extensive oohing and aahing at the scenery, we descended to the 150-meter (492 ft) walkway through Glacier Cave, 20 meters (65 ft) below the surface of Titlis Glacier. With a constant temperature of -1.5 degrees Celsius (29 degrees Fahrenheit), this icy subterranean tunnel contains ice up to 5000 years old.

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The line to enter Glacier Cave

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Inside Glacier Cave

We didn’t ride the Ice Flyer, a chairlift ride with views of the glacier, but I’m sure it would have been thrilling (and a little anxiety-producing), too.

When we finally dragged ourselves away, we took the Titlis Rotair and the cable car back down to the valley station. Another passenger on the cable car kindly offered to get a photo of us which shows just a bit of the scenery surrounding us.

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Cable car ride to the valley

We enjoyed the pastoral scenes framed by mountains as we rode the train back to Lucerne to collect our luggage we left stored at the hotel.

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Scenes from the train

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Swiss countryside

Satisfied with our day’s adventure to Mt. Titlis, we boarded the train again for a nearly three-hour ride to Grindelwald. We would spend the next two nights in Grindelwald to visit nearby Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. Please join us again for more adventures in Switzerland.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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