We arrived in Interlaken late on a Monday afternoon, fairly tired from a long day’s travel through the mountains. The Youth Hostel was able to give us a room for only one night: they were fully booked for the rest of the week. And what a room it was! This must be the ritziest Youth Hostel in the world; it’s very stylish.
The next morning a trip to the Information Centre hooked us up with a lovely apartment only a stone’s throw from the Interlaken West railway station, and gave us Visitor Travel Cards for the duration of our stay. These provide free rides on all Interlaken buses and trains, a great idea which New Zealand should adopt.
We tested out our Visitor Travel Cards by getting onto a local bus. Unfortunately we didn’t work out where to get off, and ended up in the town of Thun at the far end of Lake Thun. This is well beyond the intended scope of the Travel Cards! But trying to set our guilt aside, Thun is very pretty, has some great shopping and an interesting history.
We had an unpleasantly cold, wet day on Wednesday. We did a little walking around town and discovered the local cemetery. We learned that the Swiss, rather than place cut blooms on graves, plant the graves with living flowers. Personally I find this a much more satisfying idea.
On Thursday we drove to Lauterbrunnen and took the cog railway train up the hill to Wengen. In places the route has a gradient of up to 25% (1 in 4). After lunch in Wengen we walked back – a fairly easy downhill saunter, although it was quite steep in places and I now better understand the Swiss fondness for walking sticks. The entire area is lovely; we visited the Staubbach Falls and drove up the valley, finding gondolas and hang gliders, tractor and trailer buses and cows with bells.
We did the Jungfraujoch trip on Friday, taking the 6.14 train from Interlaken West and changing at Interlaken East, Lauterbrunnen and Kleine Scheidegg. Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454 metres above sea level. It’s a work of engineering brilliance begun in the late nineteenth century. The final rail line, which starts at Kleine Scheidegg, largely runs in a tunnel to the viewing station on the Jungfrau mountain. It was a good decision to make an early trip; we’d not been long at Jungfraujoch when tour parties started to arrive en masse. But we managed to see and enjoy all the Jungfraujoch has to offer, including the outside temperature of -30 degrees.
We took an alternative route down the mountain and had a very nice lunch at the town of Grindelwald before returning to Interlaken.
Interlaken is sufficiently lovely that we’ve willingly put up with how expensive Switzerland is. Most purchases are about three times the price they’d be elsewhere in Europe; a casual coffee can be up to five times the Italian price but, sadly, without the Italian quality. However, we have eaten some great food while we’ve been here, including contemporary interpretations of traditional local dishes. And we do understand that these prices and the underlying taxation structure, are what allow Switzerland to be the country it is.