We are travelling between Luzern and Interlaken on the 9.06am train to Interlaken. It is a very busy line even for a Tuesday with families taking biking expeditions and hiking expeditions to places in between. Since leaving Luzern we have been surrounded by mountains and following the shores of lakes with spasmodic agriculture and an urban sprawl which hugs the rail line. Timber is one obvious industry, but it all appears to be pine trees/logs being cultivated and farmed. Some cattle and small acre farms with crops of what I think may be wheat or oats. The journey is likely one- and one-half hours duration and we wonder whether the cost of CHF66 2nd class could have been lessened with taking another day on our EUrail pass.
The train climbs rapidly up into the mountains and some hastily snapped phone shots are attached to show the change of scenery and altitude. Kerry has pointed out that behind me are peaks which appear snow-capped and most likely around our destination of Interlaken. Stunning scenery and I am amazed the trains are climbing the mountains like goats. Still, we climb. Sheer rock walls give way to a suburban scene whilst on the other side of the train sheer drops – we are now going down the other side and views down the valley are surprising as to the greenness and the sheer height of the mountains overlooking the valley.
We arrive at Interlaken Ost and investigate getting to our accommodation at Wilderswill. It’s on the outskirts of Interlaken and somewhat rural with a noticeable smell of cows on the air – rather nice after the smell of the cities. A quick train trip and we arrive at the Bahn and Kerry quickly spots the hotel across the rail line and we walk to our hotel within a few minutes. We walk past a train with an ominous snow shovel on its front.
Whilst checking in our hostess provided us with regional passes for the trains and buses which would prove very useful. After settling we used our pass to return to Interlaken Ost and then travel to Interlaken West. The town is split into two and we found ourselves crossing two rivers which ran into Lake Thun to visit the west. Not a lot to see but here are the photos. We strolled along what appears a residential street coming upon a square where the Tourist museum of Interlaken stands opening at 2.00pm week days. We took a rain check and moved on to a church with an older steeple than the rest of the building but immediately at the back of the church just past the cemetery a solid stone wall rose directly creating a sheer cliff face. In this region this characterises all settlements sheer mountain faces abruptly rising from the valley.
We returned to our guest house for an evening repast (you will all have seen my post on Facebook of Kerry and I relaxing with an Aperol Spritz and a Rogan Brau Dunkel). We struck up a conversation with our hostess about a visit to Jungfraujoch and she tipped us off that we should check with the information office at the rail station about the various options (our previous enquires left us so confused we thought we were going to have to purchase a 3 day pass for CHF249.00). We did that and low and behold if we got up early (6.40am to be precise) we could purchase an early bird 1 day pass for CHF170.00. For the two of us this was a saving of $150.00 but we could only purchase it on the day.
Next morning at 6.30am we were standing in the information office purchasing our tickets then jumping on the train which would take us to Gremwald where we would catch the Eiger Express cable car for a fifteen-minute trip to the eiger station where we would catch a train with all the workmen up to the top of Europe through a tunnel cut through the mountain in the 1890’s. More on that later. We met two Americans on the cable car and seemed to bump into them all through the trip around Jungfraujoch. You may notice the same faces in the following pictures.
Of course, we were too early for the connecting train and had to wait but this gave us a good opportunity to take in our surroundings at 2900m. Above us huge sheets of dirty snow and ice clung to the mountain and the breeze was strong and chill. Fortunately, the train was not long in coming (all of these trains are cog trains) and we entered the tunnel to the top. This journey would last 21 minutes – no wonder it took the tunnel builders years to dig through the hard rock. Arriving at the terminal you would not know whether you were in a modern subway or at the end of a tunnel carved out in 1890 – electronic sliding doors and ticket readers had replaced whatever had been envisioned by the builders.
The terminus is set up as a series of exhibits called “the Tour” and it commences with a long tunnel leaving the warmth of the gift shop and cafe behind. The tunnel is wet and cold and steadily ascending to a giant surround cinema showing film of the mountains Eiger Monch and Jungfraujoch in all seasons and the Sphinx (which is the name given to the building constructed at top of Jungfraujoch) – truly awesome.
After the cinema we found the lifts to the Sphinx – elevators taking us 80m up to the viewing platforms gift shop (Tissot is well represented) and restaurant. The cloud cover is dense but not a complete white out at this stage (the early bird catches the worm). The wind speed is 32kph and the temperature -2 degrees C. There is ice on the platform which is metal grill suspended over metres of air. We find a quiet side and I duck down the stairs carefully until I can go no further due to my freezing to death with the cold. We both then duck back inside to catch our breath (we are 3500m above sea level) and warm up.
We wandered round looking for a clear view, but none were found. The clouds were piling in and sleet was falling. We decided to return to the Tour and check out the Ice Palace and Ice Caves. The Ice Palace had some enjoyable features but moving on we found an exhibit to the man who had the dream of tunnelling to the top of Jungfraujoch. Following that exhibit is a tunnel honouring the men who lost their lives building the tunnel. Very sobering.
We came to the Ice Cave. I entered and went several metres but that was it I was now unable to bear the cold anymore and we agreed to give this a miss and return to the start of the Tour. We had packed a thermos with hot coffee and now seemed the appropriate time to drink it. We found a bench with a view which today was a pile of white cloud and poured 2 cups – still very hot and a great way to warm up. Another way to warm up was to purchase gloves and a scarf at the gift shop. I noticed a bottle of single malt whisky and was told it was distilled right here on the mountain and I could see the distillery in the Ice Cave. I bought a small bottle to try. Warmed by the coffee and insulated by the gloves and scarf we returned to the auditorium showing the movie of Jungfraujoch in brilliant weather and snowy blizzards and returned to the Sphinx in the hope of kinder weather but unfortunately the rain clouds were set in for the day. We ventured outside on the Plateau – too bloody cold even with our new armour. We made our way back to the Sphinx and were surprised to find perched on handrails and wires on the Sphinx a group of birds also feeling the chilling effects of the weather. I was really surprised to find any bird life this high up. Reassured that we were fully protected against the cold, we returned to the Ice Cave to look for the distillery. Here are the photo results.
One of the conditions of the early bird tickets is that you must return to the Cable Car station by 1.17pm. With the weather against us we decided to return earlier to Gremwald and see what was in the village. After returning on the train then the cable car it was close enough to lunch to find a place to eat and determine our next step. That next step – to look around Gremwald was a mistake – long uphill walk to find nothing of interest.
Our trip to Gremwald finished with our return to Wilderswill and the hotel. We had heard the chimes of a local church regularly and we could see the steeple from our lounge room window so we went exploring to find that church that chimed on the half hour morning noon and night. Less than 100m metres from the hotel is a small park with some history boards concerning local events and within in 50m a covered bridge giving crossing over the stream running through Wilderswill.
We crossed the bridge which is wide enough for 1 car – pedestrians have to shelter on one of the bridge cross members whilst the car passes through. Bike riders present a different problem for car drivers and with a blind corner at one end of the bridge I am sure there have been contests for right of way. After crossing the bridge Kerry found a very friendly grey Tom cat sunning on the top of the rock wall/fence atop the bank of the stream whilst I kept watch for the cars and cycles. The offending chimes commenced as she stood stroking her new friend. The local information had spoken of the many different nationalities buried in the graveyard behind the church and from where we stood, we could see headstones littered across the hill rising suddenly from behind the church. Curious we went into the churchyard to investigate.
As we entered the graveyard in front of us was a low wall which seemed to hold niches for the cremated with small graves for a few buried. Strangely all the buried seemed small graves and we speculate that even the cremated were buried with a headstone. A set of stairs divided the low wall and gave access to the slope of the almost sheer wall climbing before us. Walking up the hill was strenuous, but we wished to find the early graves mentioned on the park information board. The higher we went made no difference – the dates of death were mixed and none earlier than 1900. The big difference here was the arrangements of garden beds and the mix of flowers. Well maintained all flowers looked healthy and well tendered all the way up the hill.
Part of the secret of the lovely garden was that seedlings were on sale at the foot of the graveyard – a big tray and an honesty box for the cost of purchase. Even the gravestones were different – some utilised old stones which readily weathered giving the appearance of an old grave, one or two had old stones with stained glass ornamental panels attached to the stone and others were “caged rocks” formed in a monument. I will let my pictures finish the story.
After the graveyard visit we returned to the apartment rain was commencing to fall. It was still overcast and drizzling when we arose the following morning. Fortunately, we visited Jungfraujoch yesterday as today it is raining continuously. Overnight we had looked for some further place to explore and Kerry had found St Beatus Caves. I then did some bus route investigation and determined how we might travel there on our bus pass. Voila our day was planned. So, we caught the local bus into the station at Interlaken West then caught the bus to Thun hopping off at the Caves – all free so far. However, the caves are located in the side of a mountain and the walk to the caves in a straight line would need climbing gear but there was a zigzagging path sometimes breathtakingly steep crisscrossing the stream flowing from the cave. It is still raining. By the way the road below was scratched into the side of this mountain and at least 100m drop to Lake Thun. This would have a part to play in a later scene we witnessed.
We arrived at the entry to the old monastery now converted to a tourism gateway to St Beatus caves. The caves are named after an Irish missionary who arrived in the 2nd century to spread the Christian gospel or so the story goes – a missionary possibly an Irish missionary that is questionable as there were no Irish pubs in Interlaken at the time. Further investigation required. The legend says that he lived in this cave system and hence once beatified it became St Beatus’ Caves. They have a rather prison like cell displayed with a forlorn St Beatus and later in the museum (halfway down the hill) there were various paintings on the life and death of St Beatus.
After the cell the cave system starts, and it gradually climbs over a distance of 900m by 84 metres. Although it resounds in places with falling water and there are pools and streams all the way through, it seemed dry to me compared with other cave systems of this type we have visited. The stalagmites all appeared stunted or new if the legend is that the cave system has been active for 1800 years or longer. After climbing to the “Ende” we turned around and went down again until we reached a bridge back to the entrance. My photos follow.
After completing the journey, we used the facilities bought a cup of coffee and something sweet – it was still raining. Our €10 umbrella was getting a workout. So down we went to the museum which did not excite me other than the sketches of St Beatus and his funeral where he is shown being buried with one of his followers – I was uncertain if the follower was also dead and if he was whether he was some sacrifice – 2nd century Christian sacrifice that is?
After watching some of the visitors to the museum (particularly a Muslim mum trying to get a cup from the attendant for the bottle of water she had brought with her) we went to the bus stop. We had arrived first thing and no one was around. Now by 11.00am the road is a traffic jam with people fighting over the limited car parking spaces available (there is an off-road car park a little distance from the entrance, but everyone wanted the spot beside the front gate). The traffic jam delayed our bus and watching the performances would have been humorous if we had not been delayed.
Once on the bus we were quickly transported to Interlaken West. Carly our daughter and her family were in France at the time, and we expected to run into them in Sanary sur Mer. She invited us for a swim at her mother in laws house with our grandsons. Now we have lost our luggage which included our swimwear, so the hunt was now on to buy some swimwear. All efforts in Interlaken West failed so we went to a Restaurant Hotel we had passed for lunch – it was still raining, and we were now damp for the 2nd or 3rd time. Lunch was interesting. This was a little bar with a small menu likely only to appeal to the locals with simple accommodation above and our waitress had lived in America for part of her life, so she had some comprehensible English. It is here that Kerry was given the tip where to buy swimwear cheaply. It required that we go to Interlaken Oust (East) and go to a particular bargain centre close by. It was still raining.
The journey between west and east was a regular journey for us and presented no difficulty however to find the bargain centre meant walking in the rain for almost a kilometre through semi-industrial buildings (so no shelter) and then we were wet. After purchasing the swimwear and a rain poncho we returned to the station and returned home to dry out. But on the bright side I purchased a bright yellow pair of swim shorts made in Australia – how’s that!
Our last day in Wilderswill ended with a very enjoyable repast. The staff had made us feel welcome and the apartment is large and commodious, so it was very restful while we were “home”.
Next is Lyon the 2nd largest city in France.