Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe

No trip to the Lake Thun area would be complete without a visit to the highest train station in Europe – the Jungfraujoch. Nestled in the saddle between the Münch and Jungfrau peaks, at 3,500 meters (11,400 feet), it was [imho] well worth the outrageously expensive train fare (180 Euros, but slightly less with a Eurail pass). I know, a number like that for a train ride almost makes my heart stop (that’s like, a week’s worth of hostels, or a month’s worth of Starbucks… yes I could easily spend 180 euro on Starbucks in one month. Don’t judge me.), but if you’ve already come so far, why not go all the way? Besides, who knows when/if I’ll ever get the chance again?

At night, I could see the train station and weather center from the Niederhorn:

That little black dot in the depression between the peaks – that’s Jungfraujoch.

After coming down from the Niederhorn, I finished my boat trip across Lake Thun and took a train from Interlaken to the little town of Grindelwald (yes, like the elder-wand wizard from Harry Potter), which is a little toursity but still very cute, and situated in some gorgeous scenery (when it’s not too fogged-in to see it):

From Grindelwald you take a special, privately-operated train to the top. The ride itself was… kind of a disaster, but also kind of funny. It was made terrible and hilarious by the HORDES of Indian tourists. Now, this is not racism. This is an honest assessment of several hundred of collectively some of the rudest people I’ve ever met, and I would say the same of them if they were Chinese, or Spanish, or American.

First of all, they came in massive groups. I’m talking tours of 50+ people, so that when they’re walking anywhere it’s like being caught in a stampede. There’s the guide in front with his little flag or sign or whatever, and then 50 or 60 people charging blindly ahead, pretending you don’t exist, and certainly not caring if they elbow you in the stomach, or step on your toes, or actually knock you over, which actually happened to me when I got caught in the middle of a group. Obviously, an apology or even a “Pardon me” would be out of the question.

I ended up on a train car in which I was the only non-Indian person present, except for one Swiss couple. But there were no seats in the car. The Swiss couple and I were standing. Now, I’m not trying to be a biddy, but I didn’t pay 150 euros to *stand* on my train ride up the mountain (this is of course the company’s fault, not the tourists’. Also, you should understand, this is a very steep ride as trains go, so the incline makes standing on this train actually pretty difficult). So I’m looking around for somewhere to perch, and the only place is one of those folding seats near the door. There was an Indian man sitting in one, and across from him was sitting… his camera bag. There are people standing on this train, and his camera bag was occupying a seat. I indicated to him that I wanted to sit there (he didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Hindi), but he refused to move his bag. So I picked it up, handed it to him, and sat down. My indignation was making me rather ballsy.

A little while later, I hear someone’s cell phone going off. It’s at full volume, playing really loud, waily Indian music. I just assumed it was a ringtone, so I didn’t really care. But then it kept playing. And kept playing. It evidently wasn’t a ringtone. Some man a few seats over was just playing his music at full-blast (nor was he showing a video to a friend or anything, the phone was just sitting on the windowsill playing at full volume). I hate to be so prickly, but think about this: I’ve paid 150 euros to be on this train, it is my airspace too, and while I actually kind of like Indian music, I don’t particularly want to listen to it while I’m in Switzerland on my Swiss adventure to the top of Europe. So I walked over to the man and indicated (again, the language barrier) that I would like him to turn his music off. And he did, which was very good of him. But when I got back to my seat not 30 seconds later, the camera bag was back! So I picked it up again, and again handed it to its owner, and sat myself in the seat.

A little while later came the cherry on top of this whole train ride. Along the ride, which is mostly underground through a tunnel in the mountain, are a couple stops where the trains going up stop to let the trains pass that are going down. At each place, the train stops for a few minutes, and there are windows in the rock wall where you can look out over the scenery. So we’re at one of these stops, and the whole thing is just marvelously, pristinely beautiful. The snow outside the window is blinding white (actually though, they don’t let you take the trip without sunglasses because lengthy exposure can cause sunblindness), and we’re looking out over this uninhabited landscape – no humans whatsoever, not even a footprint in sight.

If it doesn’t look “blindingly white” in the picture, it’s only because I took the photo through a window that was not “spotlessly clean.”

So we’re stopped here, and the train doors are open. There is a trash can about 10 feet from the door of the train. As I sit watching, an Indian woman gets up from her seat carrying a banana peel. She goes to the door of the train and stands between the Swiss couple (who were also sitting/standing at the folding chairs opposite the door). She throws the banana peel through the Swiss couple, in the general direction of the trash can. When the peel inevitably misses the can… she goes right back to her seat. This woman just threw the trash on the ground of this pristine, spotless train stop in the untouched wilderness. I know it sounds dramatic, but… it felt quite obscene. And it wasn’t just me feeling this way – the Swiss couple looked horrified (No wonder, their country is probably the cleanest in the world after the Scandinavian countries.). So I guess the only thing to do was to get off the train and throw the banana peel away myself. Which is what I did. It took me all of 5 seconds, and it wasn’t very difficult.

Ok, so that was my soapbox about insufferable tourists. I know there must be many moments when I myself am an insufferable tourist, but I do everything in my power to prevent it (sometimes when you don’t speak the language and people are yelling at you in Italian for reasons you don’t understand, it’s hard not to make a spectacle of yourself…). I think the necessary thing is to be conscious of common stereotypes about your country or ethnicity and to actively work against them. For instance, I don’t know how many times I’ve experienced the following reactions: “Wait, but, I thought Americans didn’t care about going to Europe and generally never leave America?” or, “Are you in Europe because you ran out of things to see in America?” or “Wait, you’re American, why do you know where the Czech Republic is?” (truly, this last one is word-for-word). I suppose I work against this stereotype by A. Being in Europe at all, B. Being generally interested in the history, food, culture, language of the places I’m visiting, and C. Trying to visit places most tourists do not, such as Ravenna, or Mantua, or Gimmelwald, or Rovio.

Ok, enough self-congratulation, I now feel *amazing* about  myself – let’s move on.

There was plenty to do at the “Top of Europe” – several viewing platforms where you could see not only both peaks (Münch and Jungfrau), but also the whole Grindelwald valley and Lake Thun (but it was a bit cloudy, so no great pictures of the latter). These of course made some great photo ops:

The observation deck at the top of “The Sphinx,” also a weather station.

Imperfect view of the valley below, but still a pretty picture!

The line to take a photo at this particular spot was pretty long… But pretty worth it!

I bribed a German couple into taking jumping photos… by also taking jumping photos of them. It was a win-win.

Now it was SUPER cold at that altitude, so it was necessary to come back inside every so often to warm up/wait for feeling to return to my toes. Unfortunately, this was a little difficult to achieve while walking through The World’s Longest Ice Tunnel… (or so they told us, but I feel like there must be a longer one somewhere. Possibly in Antarctica.)

A bit chilly.

But this is precisely why they were selling little bottles of cognac at the cafe!

Clearly, this is what high-Fstop DSLRs are made for…

There is also a huge expanse where people can walk out onto the snow as far as they want (apparently hardcore people do actually hike up here, so nearby there’s a mountain hut/pension where you can stay the night).

All the little people walking out on the snow…!

This is where the path eventually leads. To me it looks like (and is!) basically an ice-road going between the mountains, to who knows where!

There was also a fun-looking zipline over the snow that I didn’t try (I didn’t have gloves, and I didn’t feel like spending an extra 30 euros on a pair they were selling). Alas! But after being thoroughly chilled outside, I warmed up in the restaurant with a bowl of potato soup, some hot mulled cider/rum thing (they call it “Rhumpunsch”), and some Swiss bread and butter. Yum yum yummmmm!