End of May I did a trip in Switzerland I had been thinking of doing for some time now. I took the train to Jungfraujoch which houses the highest located railway station in Europe at 3450 meters above the sea level. The trip from my home to there took four and a half one hours in one direction, so most of the day I spent on the train, but it was definitely worth it, thanks to the beautiful weather, the breathtaking scenery and the reliable service of the Swiss national railways.
I first took the train to Zürich and from there over Bern and Interlaken Ost to Kleine Scheidegg, where the final leg on the Jungfrau train started.
At Kleine Scheidegg I had one and a half hours to spare, since I wanted to have enough buffer, had any of the previous trains been delayed. Additionally, due to its high popularity, I had a reserved seat on a specific train to the Jungfraujoch,
so instead of trying to get on an earlier train with free seats I instead climbed on a nearby hill to enjoy my lunch while observing the surrounding scenery; the North face of the Eiger and the valley spreading out in front of me in the East.
When I finally got to Jungfraujoch, after a 30-minute train ride and a five minute stop at station Eismeer, I noticed that many people were not really equipped for the winter conditions. Some were wearing sneakers, or even flip-flops, and others had only summer clothes with them. Granted, in the Sun you could be wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, but any walking in the snow without proper shoes makes you quickly get literally cold feet.
The Jungfraujoch station and its facilities form a large underground of kitschy exhibitions, displays and activities, something you could expect to be set up for masses of tourists; a superficial exhibition on the construction of the railway, a Lindt world of chocolate, and so on. An ice cave, as part of the complex, was an interesting work of art with small halls decorated with ice sculptures, although it doesn’t quite compare to the ice hotels you can find in other locations.
Leaving the complex and taking a walk to the nearby hut Mönchjochhütte gives you more air to breath and the number of people you meet reduces dramatically. Being at east mentally alone in the middle of the sea of ice makes you humble. I actually asked myself, how I might get back down without the train and in my current equipment and with the food I was carrying in my back pack; in places like these I tend to think and appreciate the simple things, being in and breathing the moment, eating my sandwiches and sinking into a feeling of fulfillment and calm.
As a travel goal the whole Jungfraujoch region is surely very interesting for someone who likes to do and is well equipped for trekking on glaciers. Without the proper training, or a guide, and equipment no one should leave the marked path between Jungfraujoch train station and the Mönchjochhütte. The glacier can be very dangerous, especially if you do not know the risks and how to act when they realize. There are organized tours that have you trek over part of the glacier and include and over night stay in a hut.
Even to someone without any intention to do hiking, visiting the Jungfraujoch and feeling the towering summits around, above and below you is calming. Also, feeling the effect of thinner air is interesting and makes you appreciate all the more the feats of mountaineers and those who built the Jungfrau railway.
The trip back
I had booked for myself two and a half hours on Jungfraujoch for my little hike, for admiring the view and for taking some pictures. But my trip back home turned out to be an adventure, and also a good example on how well the Swiss national railways operate.
The Jungfrau train took me back to Kleine Scheidegg and from there I travelled to Grindelwald. Unfortunately, the departure at Grindelwald was delayed by five minutes, leaving me one minute to change to the next train in Interlaken Ost. During the trip, the delay accumulated and before the last station before Interlaken Ost the delay was already estimated to be 10 minutes. This would have meant, due to missing the planned connection, that I would be arriving one hour later at home than planned.
However, when we departed from the last station before Interlaken Ost, the estimated delay suddenly dropped to 6 minutes. The driver also asked passengers changing for the train to Bern in Interlaken Ost, including me of course, to change quickly. This gave me new hope that Swiss railways would actually be as good as I had previously experienced, being able to make up the lost time and enabling passengers travel according to their original plans. On arrival at Interlaken Ost I dashed to the platform for the Bern train, just reaching the train when it was scheduled to depart. On the platform I see the conductor standing calmly and waving his hand casually to tell me that “no hurry, you’ll make it”. And we did, me and the other passengers.
After changing to the next train at Interlaken Ost, our departure there would be delayed by ten minutes, announced the driver. Now I was obviously thinking, whether the nine-minute change in Bern to the Zürich train would be doable. We arrived in Bern in time, so all was well. Except that before exiting the train I checked my trouser pocket for my ticket and found nothing. Checking my other trouser pocket and my wallet, I still found no ticket, and we would be arriving in Bern in about one minute. I mentally traced back my steps and actions during the trip from Interlaken Ost to Bern and ended up finding my ticket: The whole day I had been keeping my train ticket in my wallet, where I usually keep them. However, on the Bern train I decided to stick it into my other trouser pocket, where I also had my mobile phone, to keep it better available for the coming ticket inspections.
During the trip, after having put my ticket in the same pocket with my mobile phone, I had taken my mobile phone out of my pocket a couple of times. It dawned to me during that one remaining minute before arriving at Bern that the ticket may, without me noticing it, have slipped out of my pocket. Or maybe I had missed the pocket in the first place when putting the ticket in it. Either way, I crouched to look under my seat, expecting to find my ticket. But I saw nothing. Still, keeping my head calm, I looked a bit higher, at the metal rods beneath the chair supporting it, carefully looking for any piece of paper, and there it was. My ticket was lying on a metal rod under my chair, surely having slipped between the seat and the armrest. I was relieved and felt like Sherlock Holmes, having solved the mystery. The next connections went without any hassle, and finally I was home on time, in my bed, still thinking about the simple and raw beauty of the Alps.
The lesson of all this is that you should always check that you have all your belongings when leaving your place and to keep a cool head if something is missing. Another lesson was that delays can be thought of as your schedule becoming more flexible and loose. When I was still on the train from Grindelwald to Interlaken Ost and thought I would miss my connection, I looked for the next one. It would have been 30 minutes later, and that one I would have caught easily, even with some time to spare at Interlaken Ost. So, had I missed my original connection, my schedule would have become more loose and I would have been no more in a hurry to catch the next train. Changing the perspective may change you from being late or delayed to having ample time at your hands.