Friday, March 19, 2010

Virgin Rail Trip

I can’t say enough good things about Hotel Krebs. Not only was the price right, staff very friendly, and the rooms well appointed, but the breakfast was delicious and they even had champagne to make mimosas! Too bad we had to head out early to catch the 8 am train to the Jungfrau region and beat the crowds. These are the 3 mountains we will get to see.

First of all, this is a VERY expensive day trip. We had no idea what the cost would be. Imagine our surprise to see 354 CHF first pop up on the screen at the train station…..oh, that’s for 2 people and includes a discount for tourists. Still, at 177 CHF that’s more than thewell appointed hotel room in Interlaken! But this is something we want to do, so we get our tickets and start on our journey. Most of the time is spent on trains in awe of the gorgeous scenery.

The first leg of the trip was a train ride up to Grindelwald (left yellow route) at about 3300 feet (Interlaken is at 1860 feet). It’s about an hour to get to Grindelwald with a few stops in between. One stop is to uncouple the train going to Lauterbrunnen, which we’ll take on the way down the mountain. The other stops are “upon request.” A lot of the snow has melted at the lower elevation. The view is lovely and we can see the mountains in the distance under a cloudless blue sky.

At Grindelwald we transfer to another train to Kleine Scheidegg (6762 feet). There are a lot of ski areas nearby as evidenced by the number of lifts we see. At this point, there’s definitely a lot of snow around us. We also see 3 hot air balloons floating way up in the sky. They look so tiny and don’t even appear to be moving.

The train to Kleine Scheidegg is smaller than the other trains and takes about 20 minutes. It’s also full of skiers and tourists. Skiers are usually wearing their ski boots and carrying their poles and skis. There are also kids and adults with wooden sleds. There are even smaller trains with wooden seats and an open cart in front for the skis.

Kleine Scheidegg is full of skiers. There are trails everywhere around us and lifts in many different directions. There’s a beginner’s hill here so a line of kids were ready to make their way downhill. The amount of snow up here is incredible. There’s a good 3 feet on the rooftops and even more underfoot. The air is refreshingly cold and clean. There are hills and mountains all around us and vast open areas for skiing.

We transfer to yet another train to go up to the Top of Europe through the mountains. Almost the entire trip is in tunnels, but we stop 3 times. Once at Eigergletscher (7612 feet) where there’s a restaurant and the start of a ski run. Eigerwand (9400 feet) has a “view point” for a photo opportunity and Eismeer (10368 feet) where we get yet another photo opportunity. I think they make these 5 minute stops to also help us get a little acclimated to the elevation. The trip takes about 52 minutes. The train is comfortable with a flat screen showing information about the history of the tunnel, the first people to climb the face of Eiger (Ogre) mountain and subsequent climbers, and what to expect at the top. In the tunnel the temperature was 2 or 3 C.
When we finally arrive at the top and it’s -15.8 C with 45+ kph wind speeds. Thank goodness the place is enclosed. But there are 2 opportunities to venture out in the cold and take photos (we did and froze our fingers). We were both a little dizzy from the altitude and tired easily when climbing stairs. We saw everything we could – the ice palace (walls, ceiling and floor of ice), the Sphinx where the observatory is (and the highest point at 11,782 feet), the outdoor plateau (brrrr!). We were limited in what we can do because of the cold and snow. Apparently in June they allow skiing and Husky dog sledding. Yes, there’s still snow up in that elevation in June! W took lots and lots of pictures in an hour then grabbed lunch and took the 12:30 pm train back down to Kleine Scheidegg.

Kleine Scheidegg was now full of skiers but it never felt crowded. I think the vast openness of the area disperses the people well. As we descended toward Lauterbrummen skiers were all around. There were lots of kids being pulled on sleds or riding face first among cross country skiers. I loved slowly pullin into Wengen (at 4180 ft) and seeing skiers ski through town between the hotels. Some could even get off the run and walk right to their hotels!

The trains back to Interlaken were full of skiers leaving for the day. Most were day trippers with no bags, just equipment. We arrived in Interlaken at 3 pm. Yes, we spent 6 hours on trains and about 2 hours walking around at the Top of Europe. Was it worth the 177 CHF? Yup! I’ve now been to the highest altitude train stop in Europe and froze my fingers in -16 C weather while taking in the beauty of some incredibly tall mountains. Plus watching all the skiers around me made me think that it would be fun to give it a try. So David….you may have to get me out there!

More photos are on Facebook -

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Interlaken....not to be confused with Interlochen, MI

I'm spending the weekend (Saturday & Sunday) in Interlaken, Switzerland. It was a good 2+ hours on the train from Thawil....after changing trains in Zurich, Olten and Bern (actually I didn't have to get off the train in Olten because my train continued to Bern....luckily I had enough time to get back on after figuring this out).

I love the Swiss trains. They run on time (like clockwork!) and it's easy to navigate their train stations and figure out where to stand to catch the second class cars. It's not cheap, but then everything in Switzerland is expensive. My roundtrip train ticket cost 130 Swiss Francs, which is about $123. A roundtrip ticket from Thawil (about a 10 minute express train) to Zurich is 12 Francs. But the system is so well coordinated that the connecting trains arrived after a 5 minute (or so) wait.

Interlaken is in the southern part of Switzerland between 2 lakes that are a beautiful crystal clear green-blue in color thanks to the mineral content of the water. We're surrounded by tall, snow-covered mountains. It's known as the Jungfrau region. We're here to go up to the "Top of Europe" at 3454 meters and see the 3 surrounding mountains - Eiger (Ogre at 3970 meters), Moench (Monk at 4107) and Jungfrau (Virgin at 4158). The Moench is between Eiger and Jungfrau so that he can protect the virgin. We'll take a 2-hour train ride up into the mountains and stop at Eigergletsher (2320 meters) before taking a cable car up to the Top of Europe. It'll be cold, but should be spectacular....if the skies are clear.

Today we walked around a small portion of Brienzersee lake to take in the sights. There are lots of walking trails in this city and people were out getting fresh air and sunshine. The mountains are absolutely beautiful covered in snow. I've played tourist in Luzern in the fall when the caps were covered in snow, but this was breathtaking.

Interlaken appears to get a lot of Asian tourists. The shopkeeper across the street said they get a lot of Chinese, Korean and some Taiwanese tourists. There are a LOT of watch stores here, obviously catering to the Asian tourists. My friend Ken says that people stay in Interlaken and ski during the day nearby because it's cheaper than staying in a resort town (he just skied in Zermatt for a week and spent $3,000 for a hotel, food, and ski passes). We're staying at Hotel Krebs for 150 CHF, which is incredibly reasonable for Switzerland. Breakfast, internet access, and a tourist card (ride the bus and train between the 2 Interlaken stations for free) are included. A perfectly situated hotel near the train station. I highly recommend it to anyone staying here.

Overall, Switzerland is a pricey place to stay and especially to eat. All week we've been spending about 50 CHF to 100 CHF for 2 people to eat dinner. The inexpensive end is for 2 soups and salads and wine (wine is usually less than 10 CHF) or a pizza and pasta. Tonight we went to an Indian restaurant (typically inexpensive in the US) and spent 81 CHF for 2 vegetable dishes, 1 chicken dish, 2 orders of bread and 3 glasses of beer (at 3.50 CHF that's inexpensive). Might be better to drink more and eat less. I'm so glad I'm on an expense account!

I have more photos of Interlaken and from the train ride at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cold, Snowy Switzerland

It's been frigidly cold since we arrived on Sunday. -3 Celcius upon arrival and every morning it's below 0 - between -1 and -5. As I write it's snowing. Small flakes gradually coming down with bursts of more rapid movement in between.

We've been working long hours and I've had no time to blog. But a quick post....

We love the coffee breaks during the day and coffee time after lunch. If you eat with a European in the canteen (cafeteria), at the end of the meal he/she will ask if you'd like to have a coffee. We bus our trays and walk over to the "cafe" side of the canteen, get a coffee and sit around small round tables. Because the Lindt chocolate factory is not far, eating Lindt truffle balls with your coffee is common (dark chocolate is a favorite). It's a wonderful way to relax, chat and digest before returning to the office.

I'm heading to Interlaken on Saturday to meet-up with a friend. It's a 2 hour train ride into the Alps. I'm looking forward to seeing another side of Switzerland. Too bad I don't ski!