“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”
Don Williams, Jr. (American Novelist and Poet)
POSTED BY MYLENE GONZAGA
This article is lovingly dedicated to my mother-in-law, Rose Marie Gonzaga, the leader of our posse, who passed on November 3, 2016.
She lived to travel and eat, preferably with a glass of Chardonnay in hand. She refused to vegetate in one spot. Traveling to her meant not just an escape from life, but for life not to escape her.
Thank you for showing us the world Tita Rose! You were the epitome of an awesome, fearless and forever adventurous “Traveling Tita” Cheers!
I really am more of a countryside / lakeside kind of girl. I also love immersing myself in quaint and picturesque villages with historical provenance. My traveler mother-in-law, however, has a fascination for mountains; and not just ANY mountain. It should be the highest, the most famous, the longest, the oldest, the steepest, etc. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Swiss mountain pass of Jungfraujoch was aptly, at the top of her list.
Our home base was the lovely town of Interlaken. It lies in the heart of the Jungfrau region and is the main gateway to the mountains in the Bernese highlands of the Swiss Alps.
From the train station at Interlaken Ost (East), we made our way up to the nearby village of Grindewald. From there, we boarded a cogwheel train to reach Kleine Scheidegg, another mountain pass. The stunning Alpine panorama alone between these two places is already worth the price tag of this trip.
At this point, we were only a little over halfway up Jungfraujoch at 2,061 meters or 6762 feet above sea level. Some people with a fear of heights actually get off at this point and end their trip here. Either they stay a while to do a bit of hiking, spend time soaking in the sweeping landscapes of the famed Bernese Alps, or head to one of several local restaurants to enjoy some regional cuisine. The glorious view of the famous triple peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau is reward enough.
At Kleine Scheidegg, we boarded the Jungfraubahn. From here on, the true spirit of this journey starts to unfold. The steep uphill train ride ran almost entirely within the tunnel running through the Eiger and Mönch mountains. There are two stations in the middle; Eigerwand and Eismeer, with a 5 minute stop each. One can get off the train for a good stretch and enjoy the view before it makes a final stop at Jungfraujoch. There are windows, cut into the rock face, built for viewing the Alpine panorama.
Initially I thought these 2 stops were just designed for admiring the views at specific heights. It turned out, another reason, albeit a more important one, was for everyone to get acclimatized with the dizzying heights and thinner air. We saw people actually getting nauseous.
After almost 2 hours and 20 minutes of train ride from Interlaken, we finally reached Jungfraujoch! At a staggering elevation of 3,454 meters above sea level, we were officially at the highest railway station in all of Europe!
It was a 50 minute, 9 km railway stretch from Kleine Scheidegg, 7km of which was inside a mountain tunnel. So it was truly a shock to our system when we finally stepped out into the open air at Jungfraujoch, 11,332 feet up.
At the Top of Europe, we were greeted with a spectacular panorama of the Swiss Alps enveloped in snow and ice. Naturally, my kids made a beeline for the outside, into the snow and did what came naturally….throw snowballs at each other! After being cooped up inside a train tunnel for a long time, who could blame them? It didn’t matter that the temperature was at -10 degrees
Next stop was the Sphinx Observatory. It is touted as one of the highest astronomical observatories in the world. The Jungfraujoch radio relay station which is not accessible to the public, is installed in the Jungfrau ridge. It is Europe’s highest radio relay station. The glass Sphinx observation hall provides a view of the glaciers in any weather. From inside the Observatory there is an elevator that takes you to a viewing platform at a height of 3,571 meters or 11,716 feet. The “Great Aletsch Glacier” is directly at the foot of this observation platform. It is Europe’s longest and largest glacier, stretching 14 miles (23km). From this vantage point, one can see the snow-capped peaks of neighboring France, Germany and Italy. These are views that leave you with a feeling of being on top of the world.
HOW TO GET THERE
To get to Jungfraujoch, take the Swiss train system from any part of Switzerland (sbb.ch/en) to get to Interlaken Ost. From there you can go via Grindelwald or Luaterbrunnen (or up one way and back the other) to reach Kleine Scheidegg. Then the Jungfrau Railway will take you the top.
Seat Reservations between Kleine Scheidegg – Jungfraujoch are recommended for travel between (May and October) at an additional cost. Reservations can be made at the following Jungfraujoch Rail Stations: Interlaken Ost, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, Grindelwald-Grund, Murren and Wengen.
If you are travelling to other parts of Switzerland, research on the Swiss travel Pass and the Swiss Family card (swisstravelsystem.com/en).
Another option is to join a bus tour from the central Zurich bus terminal. The duration of the full day tour is 11.5 hours.
The nearest airport to Interlaken is in Bern, 1.46 hours away, followed by Zurich at 2.25 hours.