Andy’s Adventure to the land of Cheese, Chocolate, Watches and Snow! (Part 4) – Top of Europe and The South African Kuier!

After the first parts of the Switzerland Adventure, exploring two wonderful Swiss cities, the awesome Michelin Star dining experience and the beautiful train and journey to Interlaken, it was time to explore the Jungfrau Region in the Bernese Alps.

After a lovely breakfast of cold meats, cheeses, breads and hot chocolate at the Hotel Alpenrose in Wilderswil, it was time to head into the mountains on an adventure to the Top of Europe. The route would be one which would become a very well travelled one over the next week. First on the travel plan was the train journey from Wilderswil through Zweilütschinen to Lauterbrunnen. Then there was a change of trains which would continue the journey through Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg. On segment of the journey two iconic sections of the Lauberhorn Downhill Skiing World Cup course were visible. Firstly the section called Wasserstation tunnel where the course drops under the railway bridge and secondly the famous signature Hundschopf jump – about a 40-60m jump over a rock nose. The Lauberhorn Races, hosted in Wengen in mid January, have a very interesting a rich history. First held in 1930, it is one of the oldest continuously held downhill races. It is also the longest downhill on the World Cup circuit at about 4.4km when most others are typically 3.2km or so. The Haneggschuss section is where the Frenchman Johan Clarey set the fastest speed ever recorded in a World Cup race in 2013 – a staggering 161.9 kilometres per hour! Top speeds on the Haneggschuss regularly approach 160kph. For the brave adventurers the course is open to ski after the World Cup events (Downhill, Slalom and Combined) and is listed on piste maps as Lauberhorn-Weltcup Abfahrt and carries number 45.

The famous Hundschopf jump on the Lauberhorn World Cup Downhill Ski course.

Kleine Scheidegg is the end station for most people as it is an access point for the start of many of ski slopes and also has some great Après-ski places. But for the adventurers it was the sight of a change of train onto the Jungfraubahn. The Jungfraubahn has a really astonishing history! The concession for the railway was received in 1894 by industrialist Adolf Guyer-Zeller. In 1896 construction of the railway began. The Eigergletscher Station at the foot of the Eiger mountain was opened in 1898. The tunnel section to the Eigerwand Station was opened in 1903 and the tunnel section to Eismeer was opened in 1905. Finally in 1912, on the 21 February, the tunnelling crew breaks through the glacier at Jungfraujoch. In the construction years there were two explosions, a four month strike and 6 workers were killed. The station at Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in Europe. The first stop on this part of the trip was at Eigergletscher (2320m) where there is a restaurant but more of that in the next blog post. The next stop is for about 5 minutes at a viewing platform of Eigerwand (2865m) followed by another short stop at Eismeer (3160m). Finally the train stopped at Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe (3454m)! After admiring the beautiful view down the glacier, it was time to tour Jungfraujoch through the network of tunnels. The first part of the tour took the adventurers to an area containing information on the research station at Jungfraujoch and the observatory. It was here which some free Lindt Chocolate was being handed out, the significance of which will be revealed a bit later. A lift ride followed which took us to the Sphinx Observatory and out to the viewing platform to savour some of the breathtaking views of the Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. The tunnel route continued through the Alpine Sensation which had Alpine themed wooden carvings. Next was a section on the history of the construction. Then there was the Eispalast section. This whole tunnel section was made from ice and had ice carvings of animals at various points. The somewhat cooler Eispalast section prepared the adventurers for the next section of the Jungfraujoch tour – outside again but this time on the ground instead of the viewing platform of the Sphinx Observatory. This part had a large Christmas tree. The tour continued with the second last stop. This stop would be considered the best by many people. It was at none other than a Swiss icon – the Lindt Chocolate Heaven mini museum and shop! Naturally chocolates were bought at this shop. The end of the tour was at a well stocked souvenir shop. Here is a collection of some of the many photos taken at Jungfraujoch. Please click on them to see the larger image.

The adventurers then had a choice to either search for some lunch at Jungfraujoch or head down to Kleine Scheidegg for some lunch. The decision was made to head to Kleine Scheidegg. After a bit of a wait the train journey was undertaken in reverse, with only the Eigergletscher stop. A late lunch was had at Röstizzeria comprising of a dish which would be repeated many times over the remainder of the Swiss Adventure. This was traditional Swiss Alpine Macaroni. I will divulge into that in more detail in the next post. The local Rugenbräu beer was enjoyed as well. Then it was time to catch the Wengenalpbahn back down through Wengen to Lauterbrunnen. The Wengenalpbahn is actually the world’s longest continuous rack and pinion railway at 19.091 kilometres. It links Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald with trains from both terminating at Kleine Scheidegg which is located between the two. From Lauterbrunnen the Berner Oberland Bahn train was travelled on to Wilderswil.

Swiss Alpine Macaroni with Rugenbrau.

The evening was all about reuniting with old friends, for some, and meeting new friends, for some, but most importantly having a good old South African kuier, for all! While the two adventurers were frolicking in the mountains the other South Africans, who now live in the United Kingdom and Ireland, arrived. These were Lindie, Louis and Wilco. Our fantastic hosts, Carel and Ryan, kept all our glasses filled with Moët and/or Chocolate Block red wine throughout the evening. The dinner of lamb, vegetables, salad and a strawberry dessert was excellent. Carel and Ryan did, in the words of my Grandfather, excel themselves! After dinner the kuier continued with music and dancing as well as the European tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. For all my non-South African fellow adventurers the word “kuier” is an Afrikaans word meaning visit according to a strict translation but is also used in the wider sense of really connecting with the people present through the related activities etc of the visit. After a great kuier it was time to recharge and catch some sleep.

The delicious dinner with Champagne and red wine.

If you enjoyed this adventure to the Top of Europe then please like and share so that others can also experience the adventure we (you and I) have just been on. Comments are appreciated. Please check back soon for the next episode of the Swiss blog posts. You can also see more pictures from the Switzerland Adventure on my Instagram – @andyrlapin.


Andy’s Adventure to the land of Cheese, Chocolate, Watches and Snow! (Part 3) – Three Trains and a Van with Amazing Views!

After the first two parts of the Switzerland Adventure, exploring two wonderful Swiss cities and the awesome Michelin Star dining experience, it was time for the third and longest part of the entire adventure.

After a leisurely breakfast it was time for the last “mission” in Zürich – a trip to the Nespresso shop. On the way the two adventurers made one last stop in Lindenhof to admire the crisp and cloudless views of Zürich. Then it was time to fetch the luggage and to say “Wideluege” to the Sorell Hotel Rütli. That hotel was fabulous and definitely my choice for future trips to Zürich. The two adventurers enjoyed the short stroll, with a few items of luggage made heavier by Christmas Market and Nespresso shopping, across the bridge over the Limmat River to Zürich Hauptbahnhof. Although on the bridge there was the final rest stop to admire the beauty of the sun sparkling on the Limmat River.

The view of the Limmat River towards the Zurichsee.

The first leg on the train journey would be on the 13.35 InterRegio departing from Gleis 10 and stopping at Thalwil, Baar, Zug, Rotkreuz and finally Luzern. The train was a double-decker train and had one of those typically Swiss red locomotives. While waiting for the train the obligatory Brezelkonig pretzels were purchased.

A SBB CFF FFS locomotive of the train that would transport us to Luzern.

Upon arriving in Luzern a quick look at the train departures board and time calculation followed. The two adventurers then dragged all the luggage out the Bahnhof Luzern and onto the bridge where the Reuss River leaves Lake Lucerne with view to the right of Lake Lucerne and to the left the famous wooden bridge of Luzern – the Kapellbrücke. The Reuss flows from the Gotthard Massif into Lake Lucerne at Seedorf at the southernmost point of the lake. It then flows out the lake at Luzern in a north-east direction and, after various confluences, eventually flows as the Aare River into the Rhein River at Koblenz. That is the Swiss Koblenz to the north west of Zürich on the border between Switzerland and Germany. The obligatory photographs of the interesting and historic Kapellbrücke were then taken. The wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss was named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel. It was constructed in 1333 as part of Luzern’s fortifications, although the Wasserturm predates the bridge by about 30 years. The Wasserturm is not a “water tower” as the name suggests but rather stems from the fact that the bridge was built in water. The bridge is also the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world. Inside the bridge are paintings dating back to the 17th century. A unique and interesting fact is that only Luzern’s three bridges – Kapellbrücke, the now destroyed Hofbrücke and the Spreuerbrücke are the only the only wooden footbridges in Europe which featured interior triangular painted frames. Sadly after the fire in 1993 only about 30 paintings were fully restored of 47 that were collected. Initially there were 158 interior paintings.

The famous Kapellbrucke with Wasserturm in Luzern.

Then it was back through the frontage which is all that remains from the station constructed in 1896. The whole station in Luzern was destroyed by fire on 5 February 1971. The present station was opened on 5 February 1991. It was the 15.05 InteRegio “Luzern-Interlaken Express” which would convey the two adventurers on an extremely scenic route passed picturesque towns such as Giswil and Lungren and then over the mountains to Meiringen and onto Interlaken Ost. It was in the mountains around Brünig-Hasliberg that the first bit of snow was sighted! Meiringen might ring a bell to some of you who have read about two characters who were created by British author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and also went on adventures such as “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and “The Adventure of the Empty House”. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact. These two characters were none other than Sherlock Holmes and his dear Watson. Meiringen is the location of the Reichenbach Falls which is the location of the presumed death of Sherlock Holmes.

A remaining frontage of the 1896 Bahnhof Luzern with the new station in the background.
The route of the “Luzern-Interlaken Express”.
Snow in the mountains near Brunig-Hasliberg from the train.

The train journey continued passing along the shore of the beautiful Brienzersee with clear blue water. The sunset and clouds provided an amazing addition to complete the view of the water and distant snow capped mountains. Eventually at 16.55 the Luzern-Interlaken Express glided to a stop in Interlaken’s Interlaken Ost Station. The other station is Interlaken West. But the two adventurers’ journey was not complete just yet. It was now time for the extremely short third leg of the day’s train journeys aboard the Berner-Oberland Bahn to Wilderswil, essentially the gateway to the Jungfrau region. After disembarking it was a very short walk to the fabulous Hotel Alpenrose. This hotel will be covered in more detail in the next blog post. The time had arrived to finally meet our hosts – Carel and Ryan. Over the course of the next 10 days they would become friends whom I hold in very high regard and it was definitely an honour to have met them.

Beautiful view of the Brienzersee.
The third and final train.
The two adventurers happy to eventually be in Wilderswil.

Finally it was time for some greatly anticipated dinner and along with some wine. The four South Africans shared a bottle of The Chocolate Block red wine originates from Franschhoek in South Africa. Starter was a delicious soup of the day followed by Rösti with Bratwurst and onion sauce. After the delicious dinner it was time to travel back to Interlaken – luckily in a van this time and directly to our final destination. A quick unpacking and orientation followed. The two adventurers then walked along the side of the Höhematte Park to Ice Magic. In a few days time this would be the scene of the beginning of another adventure which will conclude on 1 March 2016. But for this evening, Ice Magic was the perfect setting to relax and end off the long day of travelling from Zürich with coffee and Glühwein.

The Hotel Alpenrose!
The Chocolate Block wine.
Soup of the day at the Alpenrose.
Rosti with Bratwurst.
Ice Magic in Hohematte.
Ice rink at Ice Magic.
Delicious Gluhwein at Ice Magic.

If you enjoyed this train adventure then please like and share so that others can also experience the adventure we (you and I) have just been on. Comments are appreciated. Please check back soon for the next episode of the Swiss Adveture blog posts. You can also see more pictures from the Switzerland Adventure on my Instagram – @andyrlapin.