Steven Visits Switzerland

Staff member: Steven // Trip date: Nov 2011

Top of Europe (Jungfrau)

Our first stop after arriving in Zurich was Interlaken. We had a lovely hotel on the edge of Lake Thun, this was a lovely spot and would have been a perfect spot in summer for a swim or a water ski. This was about a 5 min bus ride from Interlaken West station and another 5-10 min from Interlaken Ost Station.

Interlaken is a very beautiful town with a small village feel with loads of places to eat and lots attractions close by. Whilst here, we also did a Flying bikes tour for a day which we rode electric bikes up through the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the 72 waterfalls which line the valley, with a stop at the local market, a farm house to sample the farms cheese and every now and then seeing the base jumpers flying through the skies above us. It was a perfect day for a casual ride and with a guide to explain it all we had a really good day exploring.

The next day we made our way to Interlaken Ost Station where the Railway for the Jungfrau began. There are 2 routes you can take but from Interlaken there is only the one train until you reach Wilerswil where you change to the cog railway and you can choose to go up through Grindelwald or through Lauterbrunnen. We had chosen to go up through Lauterbrunnen which maybe not the best choice as we had wanted to do the flyer that day (the zip line at First, then you can ride trotti bikes back to Grindelwald). On the way up to the base of Jungfrau you see some spectacular sights of the valleys below, the mountains all around and above. If you wanted to go for a hike or explore the small alpine villages which would be very busy in winter, there are a few stops along the way to get on and off.

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From Kleine Scheidegg (the village based at the foot of Jungfrau's North face) we hopped on a cogwheel train which was to take us up to the Top of Europe. As you head towards the mountain you can see the sheer face of the Jungfrau which I was in awe of. There is a video which plays in the carriages also with information as how the railway was built, where you are whist in the middle of the mountain, the journey continues through the Eiger tunnel up to the stations at Eigerwand and Eismeer, with a five minute halt at each, allowing you to enjoy the spectacular sightseeing through large observation windows carved out of the solid rock overlooking the massive glacier.

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And then on to the final stop on the Jungfrau, in the heart of a glacier world on the very top of Europe! Here you have superb views as far as the eye can see, even at the French mountains and into Austria. At the top was the start of the 22km Great Aletsch Glacier, it is the Alps longest river of ice. There was plenty to do as there are activities for families to enjoy. For the adults there is a couple of hikes, one is a 300m glacier walk which is un-guided. There is also a snow park which has snowboards, tubing course, snow sleds and a zip line which you fly over the glacier. From here I had a hot chocolate whist basking in the sun. There is also an ice palace which has tunnels through the ice and ice sculptures which was fun to explore and see the amazing sculpture work. After doing everything up there, we found it took a while, hence we didn't stop on the way back down but we did take the railway via Grindelwald which seemed like a lovely town and the train had amazing views of the Mountains surrounding the villages.

The top of Europe was a spectacular experience and really showcases what I was thinking Switzerland was all about, the amazing Mountains (snow capped), valleys with amazing views, rolling open green hills with farm houses, hot chocolate and loads of cows! (It could have been topped off with a cheese fondue in Interlaken, just to go all out!) Also the Railways which are set up throughout Switzerland in general are very good but especially around the Jungfrau region. It takes you through spectacular villages and gives visitors the chance to see everything the mountain region has to offer. This was a true Swiss experience and one which won't be topped too easy.

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Eurocity Zurich to Munich (return)

Well after spending only a day walking around the beautiful city of Zurich taking in the sights from the church tower and exploring the pedestrian streets full of shops it was a shame to leave. Even though it was a shame to leave Zurich I was pretty excited at this train journey (might have been the excitement of Oktoberfest) but all the same I was up early and we were staying not far from the centre so we found it really easy to catch the local trains into Zurich HB which is where we departed from on this morning. We had caught a flight into Zurich a week or so before, and got our Eurail Select passes validated at the airport. This was easy to do. All we did was followed the signs to the ticket counter where there was 3 or so staff who all spoke English. It only took 10 min to line up and then get the pass stamped and checked against my passport then we were right to jump on the local trains into the city as well.

Zurich HB (a lovely grand old station) is really easy to get around and has large signs that advised the train times and numbers so it's very easy to find your platform.
Seeing this was my first European train experience I found it really helpful that at the start of the platforms and also along the platforms they had a letter system which shows A,B,C,D sectors along the platform. This is used to show where the carriages pull up so you know where to wait for your coach, for example the train that we caught had on the sign sector A, 1st class and dining car, sector B, second class sector C.. We had also reserved seats with our pass that we had which we had done before we left Australia as I knew it was coming towards the end of their summer which is still busy and also extra busy going into Munich as it was the start of Oktoberfest (which actually starts in the middle of Sep, if you're planning on going or heading anywhere near Munich). The train was, from what I could tell sold out. The train departed on time and we settled into our comfy seats for a 5-hour trip from Zurich to Munich.

*** I was aware of this but as someone found out on the seat across from me that this particular train runs from Switzerland into Austria for only a little bit and then Germany so if travelling on a pass, your pass must include all countries which the train goes trough. ***

Our seat was in first class and we had two single seats facing each other along the window, while the other side of the carriage had a set of 4 seats, two wide facing each other. All seats had a folding table in the middle of the two seats with luggage space behind and above the seats and also at the end of the carriages for those very large suitcases. The seats also had a coat hook above them with one power point between every two seats, which was very handy to recharge the phone or computer. Once we were on our way the conductor come around to check our tickets and in our case the Eurail pass as well. This was quickly followed by the coffee cart. After the smell of fresh coffee I went for a walk through the train to the dining carriage which had a lot of seats with some of the tables having room for 6 or 7 people which would have been perfect for a small group wanting a meal and a drink. As there was most of the train heading to Munich for the beer fest there was a number of groups in there with a great atmosphere tucking into some breakfast and a couple of glasses of the local brew!. The food looked really nice, not just heated up meals but food that was freshly prepared onboard served by waiters which was at a reasonable price. I would recommend instead of a baguette from the station, jump on board and find yourself a seat in the dining car and enjoy the chat between fellow travelers while having breakfast lunch or dinner. If you didn't want to do that there was always a snack cart which had sandwiches, biscuits etc, following the coffee and drinks cart which moved up and down the train for most of the trip.

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So as the train passed through the scenic farm lands of Switzerland with the mountains in the background we then passed (as above) into Austria and newspapers, both in German and English, were offered around our carriage, as well as a little Swiss chocolate . All up the train was really smooth, even though the scenery along the way wasn't as spectacular as the trains through the Swiss alps like the Golden Pass, it was still an interesting trip seeing the houses and scenery change in 3 different countries as we passed through.

Arriving into Munich HB was really convenient with all the major hotels and hostels only a stone's throw away from the entrance of the station as well as the shopping district which was a short walk. I'll be honest and say I didn't see much else of Munich as Oktoberfest was on but there is a hop on hop off bus tour which takes you around the sights and gives you live commentary along the way. Munich is a great city and especially in and around the time of Oktoberfest as the whole city gets involved in the festival by dressing in the local dress and the visitors in the local dress as well.

Also just a reminder that all the trains around this time are very full and if you do need to change trains or get seat reservations while there, there is a Eurail aid office where they have English speaking staff members who can help you out getting tickets or advising what you can do. We had a later train booked to depart Munich back to Zurich but we had to check out early so the staff member advised to get onto the train as there were some seats which are left unreserved even though the train is fully booked.

The Eurail pass is a great way to travel between the European countries as by the time you check into the airport you could be halfway to another country and your next experience! Once you land in Europe there isn't a better way to get to see everything and passing through the country side in the comfort of a train, it's the best way to do it.

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