Tom and Linda’s 2008 Europe Trip

Switzerland: Interlaken and beyond

Back on the Train

After the tour we had three nights left, but had to spend the last one in Geneva to catch a 7:30 AM flight. We wanted to go to Gimmelwald, on Rick’s advice, but the train journey was a little difficult.

In the morning, Marco dropped us at the Ehrding train station and we rode the commuter train in to Munich Hauptbahnhof.

We were traveling a little heavier now, with the big red dufflebags carrying our riding gear. We didn't want to trust shipping them back.

A Bit of Oktoberfest

We looked around for some experience of Oktoberfest, but it was Sunday morning and not much going on. There was good food, though, and I bought some bits for a picnic.

We talked to the TI and got a couple options for a trip to Interlaken, our jumping-off point for the surrounding Alps. Then got on the top deck of a comfortable train to Zurich.

Zurich Station

Our route took us through Zurich, but we only saw the train station.

Between the Lakes

Then the trip was lakeside. Interlaken sits, as its name implies, between two large lakes.

Clouds and rain moved in for a while.


We arrived in the afternoon, but couldn’t get to Gimmelwald that evening, so decided to stay a night in Interlaken.

After a bit too much walking around with our packs (we’d left the red bags in a locker at the West Train Station) we ended up in a fairly expensive hotel – 150SF for the night without breakfast. But they were all quite expensive, as is pretty much everything in Switzerland.

Switzerland hasn’t changed to the Euro , but still use Swiss Francs – I understand it’s something to do with retaining the security of the Swiss banking system. Since we weren't going back where we could use them, we changed all our Euros here.

Cameras on the Top

All over town there were screens showing the current view at the top of the Jungfrau pass. At the moment, there wasn't much of a view.

It was colder than we’d expected and we were planning to travel quite a ways higher, so we spent a while walking around town looking for jackets. Everything we found was ridiculously expensive, even on sale. We decided we could make do with what we had – it had gotten us this far.

We stopped at a large market to look around, then had Mexican food at a restaurant across from our hotel. It was a little strange. The fajita meat had a lot of Hungarian paprika in it, but it was good.

Private Train

The next morning we visited the TI, Tom checked his email andwe got info on local transportation. Had another look at Rick’s advice and the TI info, then checked out of our room and caught a train to Lauterbrunnen.

This is a private train line so our Eurail passes didn’t cover it, but they did give us discounts on quite a bit of the travel in the area.


Lauterbrunnen is picturesque village a little way up the valley from Interlaken, between the most spectacular destinations of our trip.

It sits between a huge granite cliff and a river, and there’s a large and spectacular waterfall off the cliff that you can see and hear from anywhere in town.


We decided that staying in Lauterbrunnen for our one remaining night made more sense than the more desirable but less accessible Gimmelwald.

Finding Accommodation

The first place we checked, near the train station, was expensive and the proprietor a little rude. We stopped at a nearby bistro for a drink and a snack, and asked the woman there for advice. She made a couple calls and found us a place for 27SF per person.

It was on the other end of town, across the street from the church and closer to the waterfall. So off we went again, backpacks on.

Our accommodation was a small creaky room with two old creaky twin beds on the first floor of a creaky building, with a sink in the room and the toilet and shower at the other end of a long and creaky hallway.

The beds were some of the most comfortable on the trip. We got there at about 1PM, dropped our bags and headed up the mountain.

The day was clear and sunny, and we decided to grab the chance and head to the Jungfraujoch (the pass between the Jungfrau and Eiger peaks) and the Top of Europe.

So it was back to the train station again, this time to Wengen, up the mountain over Lauterbrunnen.


Solar Powered Cogwheel Trains

In Wengen we changed to a solar-powered cogwheel train with regenerative breaking (like my Prius) that took us on up the mountain.

The air here is pretty much the best in the world, and even a century ago when the train line was built, the Swiss were dedicated to preserving that. There is no fossil fuel used in the operation.


The saddle between the Eiger and Jungfrau peaks, our destination.



After a bit of confusion, when we didn’t realize we needed to change trains in Kleine Sheidegg, we got the train up and through the tunnel the Swiss dug through the Eiger more than a hundred years ago - that red dotted line at the top of this map.


Hiking Options

There are hiking trails for those more energetic, and these signs along the way.


Tunnel Entrance

About half of the journey up from Kleine Sheidegg is through tunnels.

Views from the Tunnel

The train stops at a couple places on the way up to let people go look out windows that cover the openings made as air shafts when the tunnel was dug.

Views out onto the glacier were quite beautiful, and it’s amazing that people even climbed those slopes, let alone built this system to make it easy for us to go there.

Jungfraujoch Station

The train station at the Jungfraujoch is actually underground. I wanted to see the top first, so we followed the tunnel, lit by tubes of LED lights, from the station to the Sphinx elevator.

Top of Europe

The Sphinx, on the top of the Jungfrau peak, was built as a scientific research station, with an observatory and other equipment mostly testing atmospheric conditions.

A tourist observation center was built around the station and called the Top of Europe. The views were spectacular, right on top of the Eiger Glacier and a clear view to other snow-covered peaks miles away.

It’s all in the photos.


The walking paths below us were certainly occupied.


Ice Palace

We also explored the shops and the food. Since we had an hour between trains, we walked through the Ice Palace. Its hallways are carved through the living ice of the glacier and include animal sculptures here and there. The floors are all ice as well, but don’t seem to be particularly slippery. It was quite cold in there, though.


The Train Back Down

We caught the last train down, along with the staff, at 5:30 PM. This time, there was a little movie in the train as it went through the tunnel, showing pictures of the things we’d just seen. When we came out to the surface again, we enjoyed the views on the way back down – different with the change in the angle of the sun.


Soon we were back in Lauterbrunnen.

Restaurant Windowbox Flowers

We stopped for dinner at a hotel on the main road on the way back to our room. It was very good – salmon with a dill sauce and rösti, a delicious Swiss version of hashbrowns. Tom had sausage with his.

Then we strolled on through town, past the thundering waterfall, and to our beds.

Church Bells All Night

In spite of the comfy beds, neither of us slept well. The church across the road never stopped chiming the hour, and I think I heard every one. At least it stopped chiming the quarter-hour after midnight.

I kept worrying about making our early morning flight out of Geneva. And there was the long, creaky walk down to the toilets.

Last Day Plans

Up in the morning, we packed our bags again and hiked back to the train station. Bought tickets to the Schilthorn via bus and cable car, and stowed our bags in a locker between the bus and train stations. It was cloudy down in the valley, but cameras at the top showed a clear view and we decided to chance it.

On this map, the Jungfrau is at top center, Schilthorn at top right, and Lauterbrunnen in the valley between them where all those red lines meet. Interlaken is in the center at the bottom.

Travel By Gondola

The trip began with a bus to Stechelberg, which was a fairly level drive on up the valley.

There we changed to the first cable lift gondola, which took us to Gimmelwald, up into the clouds.

A series of three more cable lifts took us through the clouds to Mürren, Bilg and Schilthorn, on the peak and above the clouds. Most of our trip up was in clouds, so we had little view of the mountainsides below.


Breaking Out

As we approached Birg, we finally broke out above the clouds.



Our destination was this spectacular building. If you're a James Bond movie fan it might look familiar - it was used as the evil genius’s lair in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” They blew it up at the end. OK, it was only a model.

James Bond Breakfast

It’s actually a restaurant, where you can get the James Bond breakfast buffet (this is only part of it) and sit at a table that makes a full circle in an hour. And the views are truly full circle.

The sky was clear when we sat down, with other peaks around us poking up through the clouds. As we ate, the clouds began to rise, and we were soon fogged in.

So we took our time and enjoyed our breakfast. And it is, of course, a champagne breakfast. The food was very good.

Geological Samples

The stairs down from the restaurant to the shops and observation deck are walled off by this artistic barrier that features labeled geological samples of precious and semi-precious stones from the excavation and building of the place.

Clearing in Patches

Then it got patchy and we started seeing the more spectacular views, particularly of the hiking path up. It doesn’t look like a difficult climb, but it’s certainly a long one.


Beginning the Long Road Home

By the time we were ready to leave, a couple hours later, the ride down was only through spotty clouds.

We started down the mountain, realizing it was really the beginning of our long journey home.


We stopped for a half hour in Mürren for a walk around town.

Múrren is a pretty mountainside village with well-paved streets and a marked walking path that loops around town. Because it's basically accessible only by gondola, there are very few vehicles in town.

There are a lot of hotels and B&Bs, however.


As chilly as it is here this time of year, the place is still covered in flowers, and there are little vegetable gardens all over the place.

One of the village fountains. The water is probably largely snow-melt from above.

Besides the beautiful scenery, we passed a wedding just ending. The bride and groom were out in the road posing for photos.

The guests, including the best man in formal kilt, were waiting to throw rice at the little three-wheeled electric cart that must have had 50 large tin cans tied to the back.

Before we got back to the cable car station, the happy couple rattled past us on their victory lap around town.


We also stopped in Gimmelwald to see what we’d missed. This is Rick’s recommendation for staying in the area.

We walked up the long steep path to the Hotel Mittaghorn, straight up the hill from the cable car and quite a hike.

Out front is a field with cows wearing large and ornate bells

and a little café (Walter’s) where they serve breakfast. Coming down the hill towards us there was a large group of Americans, all traveling on the Rick Steves plan.

We wandered around the picturesque village for a while, enjoying the views and the strange contrasts of old and new ways of life.


Looks like a fireplug out in the middle of a field full of goats.

Tried to get this little guy to look at the camera, but he was busy.

Saw a man cutting long grass with a scythe,

and a few houses away was another with a large walk-behind harvester who was talking loudly on his cell phone.

Civic kitch?

Down to Stechelberg

Here comes the last cable car, down to Stechelberg

In Stechelberg we changed to the bus in a crowd of people, some of whom were quite rudely pushy. First time we’d run into that since Nueuschwanstein.

Prize Cows

On the bus ride back, we stopped for a herd of cattle, all wearing huge bells and what looked like little Christmas trees on their heads. I understand it was something to do with prizes at a fair.

On the Train Again

We reached Lauterbrunnen, gathered our backpacks from the locker there and caught the train to Interlaken.

Arrived at the East station, had to catch a train to the West where we'd left our red bags. Picked them up and, after an hour-long wait, got on a train to Bern.

In Bern we transferred to Geneva on what turned out to be a commuter train – very crowded, even in first class, leaving just at 5PM. Lots of folks in suits with laptops that they plugged in on the train and typed away on. They thinned out at each stop along the way.

These are apple orchards, not vinyards, on the banks of Lake Geneva.

We took the train on past the Geneva Main station to the Aeroport, its last stop. Tom found a cab driver who took us hotel-hunting. We took the second one, even though it was quite expensive. The cab was a bit pricey too, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of time searching.

The hotel was just a short bus ride to from the airport, and they provided the bus pass. We had an early flight out, so just had a little walk around and dinner at the pasta place next door.

Really on our way home now.


1 Beginning 5 Paris 9 Frankfurt and the Night Train 13 Bavaria and Tirol
2 London to Edinburgh 6 Bruges 10 Vienna 14 Motorcycles in the Alps
3 The Fringe 7 Amsterdam 11 Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut 15 Switzerland near Interlaken
4 Scotland and Wales 8 Bacharach in the Rhine Valley 12 Salzburg 16 Home again

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