Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Check out the pictures from our Jungfraujoch Trip (The Top of Europe) or read all about it: Interlaken sits in the valley of the Jungfrau region, between the Thunersee and Brienzersee from which it takes its name (between the lakes). The view from our hotel room window faces west, to some minor hills in the valley . The defining tourist trap for the Jungfrau region is a trip up to the Jungfraujoch, aka the "Top of Europe". We noticed that most of the locals chortle when the ubiquitous automaton voice of the Swiss Rail System (a disembodied floating voice that reminds me of the central computer in I, Robot...). Perhaps they laugh because, no matter which language the train voice is using (german, english, french, italian, japanese) the highest train station in the world is always subtitled "The Top of Europe". You take three separate trains from Interlaken, to Lauterbrunnen, and finally to the saddle between Jungfrau and Moench that is home to the T.O.E. The second and third trains are cog trains, meaning they use gears to propel them up the steep terrain. The final leg, on the Jungfraubahn, runs through a four mile tunnel. Along the way, there are two stations with windows carved into the north face of the Moench . At Jungfraujoch, the ever-engineering Swiss have built a remarkable structure that includes a museum of mountain transportation (most interesting exihibit was of the two-seater open-air carriage that was the original Jungfrau train), several restaraunts (including a quite fancy one) and a long tunnel into the permanant ice of the glacier that remains on Jungfrau all year. The tunnel is filled with eternal ice sculptures . There is also an "Platte" that allows dramatic views of the Jungfrau glacier, which forms an ice river that feeds the lakes below and gives the Brienz and Thun lakes their azure color. Caitie and I managed a self-portrait on the first try: . Despite the overcast weather (Jungfraujoch was actually between two cloud layers), we got some decent pictures of the peak: and, of course, a quick panoramic video . Caitie noted that the ground on the platte looked like a Boston sidewalk in January . Despite warnings, caitie decided to hop the fence... (right). In an incredible waste of space on my camera, I took a picture of the avalanche zone warning sign . Another 300m up from the Platte is the "Top of Europe", which has an outdoor, grated rotunda that provides ample opportunity for vertigo . On the way home, we rode through Grindelwald, one of the major towns in the area, slightly up-mountain from Interlaken. The ride reinforced our impression that Switzerland is actually a life size toy train set, complete with dainty dairy cows , and scenery that goes beyond idyllic to actually just being cute . Caitie really enjoyed the scenery on the way down: . A good travel tip we stumbled upon -- pony up for the first class ticket. No one else pays th 10% surcharge, so you actually have room to stand up and store your bags .

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