Day 17: The Top of Europe

 

Jungfraujoch

June 10, 2019

After a restful night’s sleep, we got ready and ate a great breakfast. This is the first time on our trip where there wasn’t an automatic coffee machine that made lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, and whatnot, but it was still some good coffee–a bit to have it American style for a change. Afterwards, we headed to the train station to make our way up to Jungfraujoch, the top of Europe! Emily elected to stay behind on this excursion, as she wanted to spend the day exploring and resting up from all the adventures we’ve already had. It was such a great place for that!

Our first train was from Wilderswil to Grindelwald. One thing about the Swiss trains is that they are very clean and nice. They are also extremely precise with their clocks and timetable. The analog and digital clocks in the train station were in sync down to the second! Our next train we took up to Kleine Scheidegg, and this was a cog train, as the grade was quite steep going up the mountain. I thought it was amazing that a train could even go up a grade like that. We enjoyed the views on the first two legs of our trip up. There were a lot of clouds, but we could still see the green pastures with cows, Swiss cottages, and fantastic waterfalls coming off the mountains. Picturesque!

View from the train heading up the mountain
View from the train heading up the mountain

From Kleine Scheidegg we took the train up to Jungfraujoch, which was primarily through a tunnel. According to a pamphlet we received, construction on the tunnel started in 1898 and ended in 1912. They showed some pictures of some of the early construction work. I can’t imagine spending all day with a pickaxe and dynamite working on this tunnel! The grade going up on this train was even steeper than before, once again steeper than I thought a train could go. But, with the combination of electric motors and railway cogs, it is possible. We got to stop at the next-to-last station called Eismeer, where we got a panorama view of the mountainside. This was probably our best view yet! It was also interesting that they called it a “station.” That basically meant passengers could get off, use the restroom, and look outside!

View from the Eismeer station
View from the Eismeer station

We finally reached the Jungfraujoch station at elevation 3,454 m (11,332 ft) and started a tour of the facilities at the top. We first went up to the Sphinx, which is the main observation point. Unfortunately, we could not see anything, as we were essentially in the middle of a cloud. It was also snowing a bit outside and COLD!! The thermometer indicated that it was right at about -1° C (30° F) with a sustained wind speed of 37 km/h (23 mph). That puts the wind chill at 16.5° F…in the middle of June!!! Couldn’t stay out there for very long!

View outside
View outside from the Sphinx…not much of a view!

 

Photo booth with the Sphinx in the background
Photo booth with the Sphinx in the background

Going back down the elevator from the Sphinx, we made our way to the Alpine Sensation area, which featured some models, sculptures, and paintings of the nearby area and Alpine life in general. There was also a tribute to the workers who lost their lives while building the railway.

Next was the Ice Palace! This place was so cool (ba dum pshhh). We went a ways down some stairs and walked through tunnels and sculptures made of ice. Even the floor was ice! It didn’t seem as slippery as normal ice though, so I’m not sure if they coated the ice in wax or if it was because it was not melting at all.

Penguin and igloo sculpture in the Ice Palace
Penguin and igloo sculpture in the Ice Palace

Next we headed to the outdoor plateau, where the famous Swiss flag sits on the mountainside. Unfortunately it wasn’t out there, and I think part of it was roped off as well. It was even colder than before, it seemed, plus with more wind. I could only stand out there for about 1 minute due to the wind chill, but mainly due to the icy snow pelting my face–ouch!!

At this point, we had used some stairs several times, and I could immediately tell that we were at a high elevation! Basically I had to sit down and catch my breath any time I went up a flight of stairs!
Emma had even told us earlier that if we started to feel ill due to the altitude, the staff would put us on the next train to go back down to Kleine Scheidegg.

After this we had some free time to get some lunch and explore the gift shop as well as the Lindt chocolate shop. The chocolate shop was nuts–so many people were in there buying so much chocolate! The lunch areas were also packed with tourists–notably more asians than others. The hallways smelled of chinese noodles and other spices, as they sold noodles there and even had an Indian buffet restaurant down below. Our hotel packed our lunch (for just €10) so I ate that. Though I did make sure to save some room for a delicious Swiss hot chocolate! It was good, but not quite as thick as I expected. They put about 3 inches of whipped cream on top–yum!! After walking around a bit more trying to dodge the crowds, we headed back down the mountain with our group.

Swiss Chocolate
Surrounded by Swiss chocolate! The Lindt chocolate shop (left) and a Swiss hot chocolate (right)

We went a bit different way back down. We went from Jungfraujoch to Kleine Scheidegg like before, but then took the train to Winteregg, and then transferred to another train which dropped us off at Wilderswil. Several of our group members kept on the train to Interlaken, a larger town closest to Wilderswil that had lots of restaurants and shops. I arrived back at the hotel and caught up with Emily, exchanging stories about what we did that day.

View from the train coming down the mountain
View from the train coming back down the mountain. Beautiful waterfalls off the mountain and houses decorated the scene.

After awhile we headed out for dinner in Interlaken to a place called Des Alps. Many of our tour friends stayed at the hotel for the Swiss dinner which was optional (€30 per person), but we wanted to pick our own place and menu. After taking the train 1 stop to Interlaken and walking for about 10 minutes in some light rain (unfortunately, but it was the first real rain of the trip on Day 17!!), we arrived at the restaurant. Our goal was to get some traditional Swiss cheese fondue! And we did. It was absolutely delicious. We ate until we popped! The cheese was not just Swiss cheese, but was a nice blend. We also got a nice white wine which our waiter recommended.

Swiss fondue dinner
Swiss fondue dinner

 

First rain of the trip, but we were prepared!
First rain of the trip, but we were prepared!

Our dinner ran us a bit more than the hotel’s dinner–about 95 Swiss francs with a tip (oops) but it was so good!!! We headed back to the hotel after dinner and had some time to relax. I ended up going to bed pretty early, around 9:30, but that was OK because I was exhausted we had an early morning the next morning–load bags at 6:15 and depart at 7!

Switzerland was just fantastic. We really wanted to stay a few more days here! I loved the picturesque views and just the sense of peacefulness that it brings. Also the culture–they are precise, punctual and clean! I also enjoyed the chance to use my German! Maybe we’ll get a chance to come back one day.

Step Metrics: 10,650 steps; 5 miles; 476 cal; 1h 52m

 

Self Q&A

Q: What’s the difference between Jungfraujoch and Jungfrau?

A: Jungfrau is the actual mountain summit itself, while Jungfraujoch is a “saddle” or “pass” connecting the two peaks Jungfrau and Mönch.

 

Q: How did they know where to set the path of the tunnel to Jungfraujoch?

A: I couldn’t find an answer to this! Anyone know? Bueller?

 

Q: How much electricity is generated by the train going down?

A: I couldn’t find the exact amount but about 50% of the power needed to ascend the mountain is recovered through the descent of the mountain.

 

Q: How do they transport food up to Jungfrau?

A: I couldn’t find an answer to this one either.

 

Q: What is the grade of the railway from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfrau?

A: The average grade of the railway is 15.4%. The gradient of the stretch reaches 25% at one point. This stretch is considered to be the “Jungfrau Railway.”

 

Q: In what year did they start using electric trains?

A: Since most of the railway is inside a tunnel, it was designed to run with electricity from conception, and as far as I can tell, this was truly the case.

 

Q: What does Eismeer mean in German?

A: Ice Sea

 

Q: How is there cell phone reception in the road tunnels?

A: The process involves physically installing a distributed antenna system connected by a system of cables running through the tunnel.

 

Q: What is the tax rate in Switzerland?

A: In 2011, the federal income tax varied from a bracket of 1% (for single tax payers) and 0.77% (for married taxpayers) to the maximum rate of 11.5%. Individuals earning below 13,600 and couples earning below 27,000 Swiss francs were exempt. On cantonal level, tax rates varies heavily, Obwalden adapted a 1.8% flat tax on all personal income following a cantonal referendum in 2007. In most cantons, the rate is proportional with a maximum rate of 6.5% in Bern, whereas in Zurich it was 13% and in Geneva 17.58-.76% (depending upon taxes as single or jointly). (from Wikipedia)

 

Fun Facts

  • The Jungfrau Railway generates electricity with the trains traveling downhill. It’s done this since 1912.
  • The Jungfrau Railway has its own hydroelectric power station.
  • Every week a railway employee checks the 5.7 mile long track between the Jungfraujoch and Kleine Scheidegg on foot.

 

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