Table of contents for Switzerland
It all happened in a jiffy.
Our daughter, Shaguna, who was doing a project along with three of her colleagues at Geneva, called my wife and asked if it would be convenient for her and me to visit Switzerland for a couple of weeks.
Eager to see our daughter more than a visit to Europe, she called me immediately and asked to make the requisite travel arrangements. Our Travel Agent advised that all we needed was a valid passport, an invitation from our daughter and a copy of her work permit and of course, money to buy the tickets. The formalities were completed in a week’s time and since my wife had not been to London, we decided to spend 4 days at London and then head for Geneva.
British Airways flight from London to Geneva took around an hour and half and after clearing our baggage and custom formalities (which took less than 15 minutes), our daughter drove us to her apartment at Rue de La Athenee. It was around 8.00 p.m. After settling down, we along with Shagun, Ankur, Sachil and Aditya (now our son-in-law) were on our way to Gare Cornovini (Railway station) to buy “Swiss Rail Pass”, which entitled us to 6 days unlimited travel by train, tram, bus, boat, etc in any specified part of Swiss. It cost us around Sw. Fcs. 308- each. We had our dinner at one of the small time Thai restaurants and had some mouth watering dishes.
With a view to make the best use of our investment in the Swiss Rail Pass, we planned to visit the Bernese Oberland (2 days), Lucerne (1 day), Zurich (1 day) and Zermatt (2 days).
The Bernese Oberland
The Bernese Oberland is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, the most accessible and also the most spectacular, best known for a grand triple-peaked ridge of Alpine giants – The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, cresting 4000m. Additionally, two of the largest lakes, the Thun and the Brienz are located in this area. Between the twin lakes of the Thunersee and Brienzersee, the bustling town of Interlaken is the main transport hub of the region. Interlaken is most popular as a summer resort, while Gstaad, Gridelwald, Kandersteg and Murren are both summer and winter playgrounds.
We started next morning at 5.02 by bus to reach the station (the bus was dot on time) and after a quick tea and croissants at the station bakery shop, we headed for the platform and within 2 hours and were in the tourist capital of the Bernese Oberland. Cableways and cog railways designed for steeply inclined mountains connect it with the most of the region’s dazzling sites, including the snowy heights of the Jungfrau. Switzerland’s most popular (and perhaps most expensive) mountain railway excursion, emanates from Interlaken.
We decided to go to Jungfrau straight away from Interlaken Ost. From Interlaken, there are two routes for reaching Jungfraujoch – one through Lauterbrunnen , Wengen and the other through Grindelwald. This is sort of a triangle, which meets at Kleine Scheidegg, from where one has to take a cog rail.
The Lauterbrunnen valley is simply stunning, perhaps the most beautiful valley in Europe. It’s a U- shaped valley with bluffs on either side and is reported to have 72 waterfalls. Lauterbrunnen village lies on the valley floor, while the slopes above nurture two of Switzerland’s most attractive little resorts – Murren (transfer point for cable car ride to the Schiltron Peak) and Wengen (a stop en route to Kleine Schedegg). Both these places offer some of the best hiking and skiing in the Alps. Both Wengen and Murren are car free.
Above Wengen, the train line passes through Wengernalp before arriving at Kleine Scheidegg (around 2000m), which is also the terminus for trains arriving from Gridelwald. All the trains terminate here and you must change for the final pull to Jungfraujoch. The normal practice is to go up one way and down the other.
We reached Kleinne Scheidegg at around 11.45 A.M., had our breakfast in the bright sunshine at one of the restaurants at the station. From there we changed to the highest rack railway in Europe, the Jungfraubahn.
The train passes through some of the most spectacular hill terrains and tunnels carved into the mountains. It touches the villages of Eigerwand (2865m) and Eismeer (3160M), where we could view the sea of ice from the windows. When the train emerges from the tunnel, the daylight is momentarily blinding. So it is prudent to carry a pair of sunglasses to help your eyes to adjust.
Once you reach the Junfraujoch terminus, there is chance of getting giddy until you get used to the environment. There are a whole lot of attractions in this eerie world high up Jungfrau, but it would be prudent to go slow and let your body get acclimatized. Otherwise you could get tired quickly.
Most of the tourists get into the resort complex, where there are five different restaurants to choose from. There is a cafeteria too, where you can have a quick cup of coffee and snacks. Beer and other hard drinks are also available. To my surprise, at the open restaurant, we saw the packets of sandwiches and burgers marked in English and Hindi. Probably the traffic of Asian population made them to do this gesture. We did meet some of the Indians from Gujarat and West Bengal and there were quite a few Japanese tourists too. It seems that the Japanese like to travel a lot. Recently, I met a Japanese girl on train from Jaipur to Delhi and she told me that India was the 43rd country she had visited.
We Indians, wherever we go, wish to leave our footprints behind. True to our nature, we saw the names Sandip, etc scripted on the walls of the resort complex.
I wrote a picture post card depicting Jungfraujoch, stamped and posted at the resort. When I called back home, my elder daughter, Smita confirmed receipt of the post card within 4 days of posting. I was impressed with the efficiency of Swiss postal services.
Close to the post office, an elevator took us to a corridor leading to the famous Ice Palace. Every thing in here is made of ice, including the replicas of vintage automobiles. After returning to the station, we took the Sphinx Tunnel to another elevator, which took us to an observation deck called the Sphinx Terraces, overlooking the saddle between the Monch and the Jungfrau Peaks. Someone pointed us to the Aletsch Glacier – a 23 km river of ice – the longest in Europe. We were told that the snow melts into Lake Geneva and eventually flows into the Mediterranean.
If you are a little adventurous, you may take a sleigh ride, pulled by stout huskies. Little more adventurous can take a helicopter ride to see the different mountains in its full glory.
Jungfraujoch is known for its snow sports and you can see these there in plenty. We could see at least a dozen of tourists carrying their skis’ and moving merrily from one hill to another.
On our way back down the mountain, we returned to Kleine Scheidegg at around 5 in the evening and took the train going through Grindelwald, which offered an equally panoramic view. All through the route you could see cable cars transporting tourists from one resort to the other.
We reached Interlaken Ost Railway Station at around 7.15 P.M. and headed for our youth hostel, the “Funny Farm”, which, we were told by the cafeteria owner outside the station, was around a kilometer walk. The place was moderately good but provided a good evening’s stay.
We got up early in the morning and right through our windows could see the snow clad peaks of Jungfrau. The weather being very pleasant my wife and daughter ventured into the beautifully maintained lawns of the hotel. The huge black dog relaxing near the reception area was probably taller than Shaguna.
We had our breakfast at the hostel and headed for railway station, where Ankur, Aditya and Sachil were to join us on their return journey from Mount Titlis.
Since we had time at our disposal, we deposited our luggage at the station cloakroom and decided to take a stroll in the close by areas. The hospital clean town of Interlaken (for that matter the entire country, which believes in cleanliness to the hilt) has an excellent transportation system. Bus service being totally dependable, we hopped from one bus to another and could do a bit of shopping at the market places. The Swiss Military Knives being a specialty of Suisse, most of the tourist buy these. Vitoria Jungfrau Hotel was well worth a visit.
We decided to take the “Golden Pass line”, which connects Central Switzerland and Lake Geneva for trip back to Geneva. The panoramic Golden Pass steamed through some of the most beautiful flower-bedecked age old chalets on its way to Gstaad, favourite playground of the rich and famous. The brochures picked up at the Interlaken station announced that Gstaad was visited/ home of some of the dignitaries including Elizabeth Taylor, the Italian auto magnate Giovanni Agnelli, Blake Edwards and his wife Julie Andrews.
Then the train makes an electrifying descent towards Montreaux passing through vineyards and country estates.
Mostly known for the scenic Chateau de Chillon and the Jazz Festival, it was well worth a wander through the streets of Montreaux with the half a day at our disposal.
On a breezy afternoon with slightly overcast sky, the walk around the lake was simply mesmerizing. The Freddie Mercury Memorial facing the lake, the Chateau de Chillon, a historic castle on a small island in Lake Geneva, only a few meters from the shore, (is also famous for having inspired Lord Byron’s poem, The prisoner of Chillon) and the Montreaux Jazz Festival and other musical events which are held at Auditorium Stravinsky and a couple of small open air stages were a few of the places worth a visit.
After having a stimulating cup of coffee and some snacks at “Mokaccino”, we headed for the station to catch the 6.40 p.m. train for Geneva, which passes through Lausanne and Lyon.
Before concluding I would like to say one thing – Switzerland is not only a country of chocolates, cheese fondue and banking, it is a country with great culture too, about which I will write in my post on Lucerne and Zurich.
Thanks for visiting.