I’m back! I feel bad that I haven’t been blogging as often as I’d like to lately. Believe me, if I had the time these past weeks to blog I would.
Cases are on the rise again in some part of the world. The day when all of us hit the road again seems even further away. For now, I hope you enjoy this throwback post as we travel together from the safety of home.
We made Wengen our base for our Swiss Alps trip. We stayed at Hotel Edelweiss, run by warm and friendly hosts whom we got to know a little over the next few days. It was the kind of place with an “honesty box” in the lounge for the snacks and tea.
The garden had two huge bunnies and a nice playground nearby with a wooden log house our kid would’ve loved, had we brought him along. I told the Hub that Wengen looked a little like Tagaytay Highlands, except with better views. The air was so fresh and pure.
The next morning, we had a breakfast of toast with honey, cherry jam, homemade wild berry juice, cold meats, and cheese from Ultima, the hotel cow. We were set to visit Jungfraujoch that day, a mountain that billed itself as the “Top of Europe” at 3,454m above sea level. The Hub was obsessively checking each mountain’s live webcam on the hotel TV to see whether the peaks were foggy or rainy, ready to change our itinerary depending on the weather. (The webcams are also available online.) Thankfully it was clear skies over Jungfraujoch that day.
From Wengen, we traveled to Kleine Scheidegg via Lauterbrunnen, and onward to Jungfraujoch. Rail tickets are crazy expensive in Switzerland. Instead of buying individual tickets, tourists can save by opting for a Swiss Travel Pass, a 2nd class 4-day adult ticket that costs over CHF 410 and allows you unlimited travel throughout the Swiss rail, bus and boat network.
But we found the Half-Fare Card (CHF 120) to be better value for us because #1, we weren’t staying in Switzerland that long and the Swiss Travel Pass was better value only if you spread the cost over more days and # 2, most of the rail journeys we had planned were quite short. The Half-Fare Card is valid for one month and you need to have a copy with you at all times, as most conductors ask to see it when they check your tickets.
The Jungfraubahn train looked like it came straight out of a Hercule Poirot novel, with its red velvet seats and cog wheels. The route to the top takes you through the mountain via a tunnel hacked, cut, and dug by manual labour in the 1890s. The visionary engineers who designed the Jungfrau Railway were so good at their job that the railway has been running virtually unchanged since 1912. The fascinating history of how it was built is on this link.
There are two 5-minute stops at Eigerwand and Eismeer before you reach the top, except if the train’s running late (which in our case, it was). I didn’t mind too much because Jungfraujoch was just… wow.
Jungfraujoch has come a long way since the 1900s. It’s a vast complex with an observation deck, a snow fun park, a historical exhibit called Alpine Sensation, an Ice Palace full of sculptures, restaurants, and even shops selling Swiss watches and chocolate.
The best part of the day for me was when we walked out in the snow in an attempt to make it to Mönchsjochhütte, a hut with supposedly breathtaking views of the Valais mountains. I couldn’t even see it from the trail, it was such a small speck.
But oh, how I loved the vast expanse of white. The Hub said we could actually get sunburn from the chin up because the white was reflecting everything. (We both did get a little tanned by the end of the trip.) There were very few clouds, which moved briskly by, and the sun looked so close directly overhead.
I felt a little thrill whenever I slipped on the ice. What if I fell all those many meters above sea level? The snow was as soft as our kid’s powdered milk (I thought of him often on that trip).
We said yes to everyone who asked us to take their picture. We saw not one, not two, but three different waves of women stripping off their sweaters and thick jackets for a photo facing the mountains.
They looked so brave, with their “I ❤️ SWITZERLAND” pompom hats and perky breasts and YOLO, devil-may-care shrieking. I thought for a second what it must feel like to be young and carefree like that, a chilly wind on my naked chest. “Why?” an Asian tourist beside us laughed in disbelief, taking a snap. Well, I thought, why not?
The Ice Palace had sculptures of eagles and bears and a rooster with Chinese script – a nod to the many Chinese tourists we saw on our trip. They often moved in massive groups and you had to make sure to scoot ahead of them else you get caught in the tide.
We took too many photos on the observation deck which was over-full with people. I had qualms bringing our kid to Switzerland because we would be climbing peaks like Jungfrau, and I read that the high altitudes and thin air could make very young children sick. But I saw a fair number of little people on the deck, tiny ones in baby carriers and some close to our kid’s age, toddling around way too close to the rails.
We had lunch at the cafeteria. It seemed the Indian tourist groups were fairly large too because they had their own restaurant, Bollywood, right below the Lindt chocolate shop. I had chicken nuggets with fries — I suspect I accidentally ordered a kids’ meal — while the Hub had chicken in a yellow curry sauce.
While we were eating, we suddenly heard a roaring rumble. The cafeteria walls shook. A giant mound of snow, presumably from the restaurant roof, fell down the mountainside. Apparently it’s all part of a normal day up at Jungfrau, but for a moment there I thought we were going to tumble in a wild avalanche down the mountain.
On our way down we chatted with an American couple on the train who were on holiday. It turned out the guy’s stepmom is Filipino (“Her cooking is over the top, but I miss it!”). He told us about how long it took for his dad to bring his stepmom over to the US. The train conductor gave us two small chocolate bars after he stamped our tickets.
That afternoon, the Hub and I had a silly argument about stamps (don’t ask). It lasted for the length of the walk to Trummelbach Falls (around 45 minutes), during which time:
- I got momentarily blinded by an unknown insect that I had to rinse off with sweet-smelling water from a trough,
- We both saw a paraglider falling gracefully down the field next to us (first of many I saw on that trip), and
- We got turned away at the falls because they closed at 5PM.
I remember that strange, quiet walk with the Hub because later that evening, a bombing at an American pop star’s UK concert was all over the local news in our hotel. And I realised I needed to be more like the women in the pompom hats. They had the right idea. Life is too short, much too short, not to live in the present.
Think critically dear readers,