Switzerland

Back in 2007 I embarked on a trip to Switzerland with one of my best friends Tommy Curtis who was fascinated by the climbing world and in particular the Eiger, a mountain he really wanted to see and this all rubbed off on me too as my shelves are now filled with many books about adventurous climbers.

View of the Alps

This was to be a short trip of 5 days to experience as much as we could with some trekking and river rafting from the bottom of the Eiger and I have to say, it remains to this day one of my favourite places.

We flew to Geneva arriving at about 1am in the morning and had a quick wander round looking for food as we were both hungry, we found a place open late that did burgers, sandwiches, ect. and were both grateful for some food, strange how hunger often strikes in the early hours.

The next morning we got up and had walk around Lake Geneva, one of the largest lakes in Europe and formed from a glacier is the largest lake in Switzerland. The water looks clean and sparkling with a huge fountain named Jet d’Eau one of the largest fountains in the world set at 140 metres high which is an impressive sight, the lake has many swans and signets swimming at its edge side.

The awesome sight of Lake Geneva Fountain

Later we went to find CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which is one of the world’s largest scientific research centres, I wanted to see it as my father used to work there as a physicist studying atoms and dark matter. At CERN, the most complex scientific instruments in the World are used to study matter or the fundamental particles, in studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature, I got to see the outside of it, which I was happy with.

After this we caught a train to Wilderswill, a beautiful quiet little village not too far to Interlacken, the train journey itself had been a treat with every view being worthy of a picture postcard, we passed many mountains where waterfalls sprang out from them.

Waterfall from the melting ice

The bus dropped us at the bottom of a road so we began to walk up the narrow, windy road to Wilderswill village passing colourful flowers and snow-capped mountains in the background, it was visually stunning.

The wooden houses had different coloured shutters making them all individual and the gardens were full of roses and other beautiful flowers, may had hand carved wooden furniture outside.

One of the wooden houses

We walked with our backpacks on along the road until we found the Baeren Inn, Wilderswill (The Bear Inn) a traditional swiss Rustic Inn since 1700s with toy bears placed throughout, wood carved furniture and some of the best food I have ever tasted.

On opening the shuttered window in my room all I could hear was the sound of cowbells from the wandering cattle on slopes opposite, the view was spectacular overlooking the snow-capped Swiss Alps with red roses in the foreground, it was so exciting to be there.

My view across the Alps

The next morning we took the mountain Jungfrau cogwheel railway to the Jungfrau mountain, referred to as the top of Europe, at 3454 metres Europe’s highest-altitude railway station set in rock, ice and snow. The journey starts at Interlaken-Ost with the Bernese Oberland Railway and travels along the River Lütschine to Lauterbrunnen or you can change at Grindelwald with the next change to the Wengernalp Railway.

This takes you on to Kleine-Scheidegg set below the Jungfrau, with views of the Eiger North Wall which is fascinating to see at such close quarters. Then you take the final ride up with the Jungfrau Railway, starting from Kleine Scheidegg and leading directly to the Jungfraujoch.

North wall of the Eiger

The railway for 7 kilometres out of the 9 runs straight through a tunnel forged in the rock of the Eiger and Mönch mountains, the train stops for a few minutes at the Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and Eismeer (Sea of Ice), where you can view the mountains through the panoramic windows, the Jungfrau Railway climbs 1400 metres in 50 minutes and can give you a headache, which it did me. I had a nip of Brandy from a mini bottle I happened to have in my pocket, any excuse.

After the train we walked through tunnels and up steps to a huge platform leading out onto the Junfrau, which is close to 4000m altitude I felt excited, though still very head-achey.

Tommy on one of the tunnel walkways leading to the Junfrau

What struck me more than anything walking out of the dark tunnels onto the mountain was how bright it was, Tom and I had to share a pair of sunglasses between us as he had not brought any and without them it was difficult to see as the brightness was so intense on the white snow.

Tommy walking out onto the Junfrau

I wasted no time and started to photograph as much as I could, we enjoyed walking on the Junfrau, there were Husky dogs up there, Black Ravens and other walkers, the views were out of this world.

I watched two Ravens having a territorial fight with each other over a bit of wire that one of them had been happily perched on before the second bird flew at it trying to knock it off its coveted perch, I took a few photographs of them.

The two Ravens fighting over their wire perch

Another thing that interested me was to see a helicopter dropping off a wooden hut onto the snowy mountain, it was crazy to see the hut dangling from the helicopter.

The helicopter with hut mid air

Finally dropping it down onto the mountain

After spending a few hours on the mountain walking and enjoying the views we went back into the tunnels to catch a train back out of there, I had enjoyed photographing the mountains.

View from Junfrau

Back through the entrance we did walk through the ice tunnels, wall to wall of solid, slippery ice, I had a job to keep my balance in there.

The tunnels of solid ice, very slippery!

The next day we walked from Wilderswill to Interlacken, a beautiful trail, there are so many trails to walk in the area and all of them are marked and sign posted with directions, mileage and how long it is estimated to take you to the next point, if only we had that in the UK, it is so useful.

Interlaken is a small city set between the two lakes Brienzsee and Thun, it is full of outdoor gear shops for climbers and other outdoor sports plus of course the classic shops selling the famous Swiss watches, Swiss army knives, cuckoo clocks and chocolate.

Tommy bought himself a watch and I bought a cuckoo clock which reminded me of the lovely wooden houses in its classic style.

We walked back never tiring of enjoying the spectacular views of which there were many, in fact every direction you looked was amazing beyond words, Switzerland really does have it all.

Saegistalsee Lake

Later on we took a train to Grindelwald, the small picturesque town at the foot of the Eiger for close views of the Eiger, there are telescopes dotted about so that you can watch climbers as they attempt this awe-inspiring mountain.

View of Eiger from Grindelwald

It was a lovely afternoon spent watching the mountain, you could spot the climbers easily enough and many of them wandered the town, looking up at the mountain also, watching, waiting to see what the weather would do.

The next day we took the cogwheel train from the Schynige platte railway from Wilderwill via Breitlauenen Alp to Schynige Platte mountain to see its beautiful Alpine flowers, the train station ends up at 1,957 meters above sea level.
This mountain in the Bernese Oberland has a magnificent panoramic view of Lake Brienz, Lake Thun, Interlaken and the famous mountain trio of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The Alpine Botanical Garden displays over two-thirds of all the Alpine plants that grow in Switzerland can be seen as you walk around the mountain side, it was a bright sunny day and there were many butterflies, metallic beetles and crickets to be seen in this area too.

The flowers were the real attraction to this mountainside though and they were stunning, vibrant blues, reds and yellows dotted the area.

Walking on the mountainside

Some of the beautiful flowers

The following day we were booked to go white water rafting from the bottom of the Eiger, the weather up to now had been great but today it poured with rain, rain and more rain. Still we went to the start point to get kitted up with life jackets and we were instructed on how what to do.

The river rapids we were to ride began at the bottom of the Eiger and were very fast flowing especially with the pouring rain, if anything the river looked angry.

We went for it, we were put with a team of others and once in the water on that raft there was no going back, it was taken by the current and we had to go with it and just paddle like mad and hang on, the concentration it took all of us not to fall off was quite intense.

None of us cared about the rain, it mattered not as we were soaked from the rapids anyway, which were freezing, it was shocking at first how cold the water was, but as we worked to keep the raft in order we soon forgot about it.

We all managed to stay on, which was impressive considering what we were battling, afterwards the cold set in as soon as we were off the raft and were grateful to have brought a change of clothes to get dry and stop the shivering. It had been a great experience though.

The next day was our last and we chose to walk the route between Grutschalp and Murren after taking cable car up from Lauterbrunnen, it is a scenic route and so peaceful with the sound of cowbells to accompany you.

We had been walking a while when we saw a woman running towards us, she was waving her arms and naively at first we thought she was just out for a run and waving at us out of friendliness.

However we soon realised that she was signalling for help, she hurriedly told us that her husband had fallen over a ravine and that she was going for help, we said we would try to find him and stay with him until help came.

We ran up the trail to where she described the fall had happened, we kept calling out but no one answered and we could not find the man, help did eventually come in the form of two medics on foot with the woman and we decided to leave them to it.

It shows that is not a game though, walking the Alps may sound like a safe option, however it still has its hazards and must be respected at all times, stay on the obvious paths, it is not safe to stand on the edge of anything as the ground can always give way at any time.

The trip to Switzerland is one of my favourites for its sheer beauty along with getting up close and personal with the mountains, I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of going, it was relatively inexpensive and with the efficient railway system is easy to get about.

I would love to go back one day and hope to do some trekking.