Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jungfrau - Wow!

OK; the risk paid off.  the morning dawned bright and fair and we were at Grindelwald station a little after nine.  This time, the train we took went not to Interlaken, but to Kleine Scheidegge; in itself, quite a journey.
The first stop was 'Grund', only a couple of minutes from Grindlewald; it's here the train begins its astonishingly steep journey up the cogged track (pictures will follow, honest) that we can see from the chalet.

There are a couple of request stops before KS, but there were no requests, no stops.  At KS we change trains - there's a good restaurant there so (no surprises) we stayed for a coffee and let the first train go.  Then, up through a tunnel carved in the Eiger ('the train-ride... leads through the Eiger North Face'); there are a couple of 5-minute stops just to get out and admire the scenery from the viewing platforms ('fascinating views of Grindelwald and the Eismeer' - pictures to come) and then, suddenly, there we are on 'top of the world, looking down (echo: 'down') on creation and' - cue the Carpenters.

Well, it's not actually the top of the world - but they bill it as the 'Top of Europe' - the highest railway station (3454 metres above sea-level) in Europe. 

We'd been told what to expect: the reality took our breath away.  What do you think we did first, O gentle reader?  Right - coffee at the coffee bar.  Surely the most amazing coffee bar in Switzerland.  Panoramic views of snow and mountains and snow and mountains and... wow.

Next, the viewing platform, and out into the cold and snow.  Lots of people here today (it was Saturday, after all), most of them Orientals, it seemed.  A small group asked if I'd use their camera to take their pictures together - of course I would.  Then, as we walked away, they called us back - now they wanted photos of us.  (Of course they did.)  So a pretty Korean (I think) girl linked arms with us, we smiled, cameras clicked, and we parted.

But what views!  And only ropes to prevent us taking the ultimate slide.  There were very clear notices - in English, oddly - 'DO NOT GO BEYOND THE ROPES'.  But one small group had ignored it and were about 100 metres away (see how continental I'm getting?  That's about 108 yards...) and were obviously planning to throw themselves off the edge.  We didn't see them do it, but (since they'd gone a few minutes later) they plainly did.  I half-wished I could have gone with them.  (Did I mention they were paragliders?  Fear not, good friends.)

Well, we thought that must be the climax, but we spotted signs to another viewing platform called 'The Sphinx', one that needed us to take a lift.  (Elevator, if you're reading in America.  In the UK, elevators are shoes for very small people.)  In we went; up we went.  Never have we been in a lift that moved so quick. (Fortunately, we came back down in the same lift to find my stomach was still there waiting for me.)  This viewing platform was so far above the earlier one that the people there looked like insects.  On a clear day, apparently, you can see France and Germany - but who'd want to?  We didn't look.  Well, not for those lands, anyway.  But - wow, what views. 

I didn't mention, did I, our breathlessness?  It's the altitude, of course.  No wonder the footballers need to train to acclimatise themselves. 

And I could go on.  And on.  Eventually, though, it was time to come back, so we want to the station ('bahn' - a multi-use word, it seems: station, train, road...) where we joined the queue.  The train was going to be late, we were told.  What, in Switzerland?  Yes.  Perhaps it was because of the nearness of France and Germany?  But no - there were 'technical problems'.  Oh good, that's what you want to know when you're about to descend several miles down an ice-covered mountain.  We decided not to wait in the queue - let a couple of trains go first, just to prove everything's safe.  What shall we do while we're waiting?  Elaine suggested coffee...

Eventually, back to the bahn.  A train was due in five minutes.  It came in about 20.  This was the one place in Switzerland where the workers didn't seem to know what they were doing.  One man opened a gate to let people onto the platform; another ran towards it yelling and waving, and closed it again.  One man in particular made me think of Corporal Jones - not in age, nor in figure, but in a 'don't panic, Mr Mannering' sort of way.  One Indian lady took ill - just standing too long in the thinner atmosphere, I suspect.  Corporal Jones dashed off to get the first aid kit (which was in a rucksack the size of a trunk).  Then he rushed off to the queue - is there a doctor present?  Yes there is.  'Don't panic!'  Take Doctor to lady.  Help him (!) to put the oxygen mask on.  A lady in the crowd shouts 'lift her legs'; Corporal Jones rushes over.  What does she mean?  'I know her; lift her legs, she'll be fine.'  Corporal Jones rushes over: 'Don't panic, Doctor, don't panic.  Lift her legs, Doctor, lift her legs.'

The train was, I think, about 40 minutes late pulling out in the end - nothing to do with the Indian lady.  It was just late.  Oh, Switzerland!  How are the mighty fallen!

Long journey down, very tired, back to chalet.  Not too tired to goout again for a stroll, though.  Where shall we go?  There's a coffeeshop just along the road, isn't there?

And tomorrow - Sunday.  A day of preparation, preparing to leave this gorgeous place early on Monday morning.

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