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The Top of Europe: Jungfraujoch – Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

The Top of Europe: Jungfraujoch
Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Claiming to be “the top of Europe” (but actually just the highest railway station), Jungfraujoch is a journey well worth your time. Located close to Interlaken, Switzerland, I took the earliest train from Interlaken Ost (taking the earliest train gives passengers a discount of about 25 francs) and spent the morning wandering around this beautiful mountainside. Clear skies are essential for your visit, so check the weather before you arrive. Local news stations broadcast pictures from the top of Jungfraujoch frequently, so you can get an idea of what the weather is like.

Me with ice sculptures, note the socks on my hands
Me with ice sculptures, note the socks on my hands
Before I went to Interlaken, a fellow traveler warned me against going. “It’s freezing and you can’t stay outside because it’s too cold, and you can’t breathe because it’s too high up, and it’s boring.” Cold? Yes. Hard to breathe? Yes. But boring? Not in any way.

I dressed warmly, used my inhaler before arriving (asthmatics, carry your inhalers, and everyone should try to breathe through a scarf if possible to warm the air before you inhale it), and was struck by the beauty. There was a limited amount of things to do – and the lodge was quite touristy, but just walking around on snow-covered paths close to large mountains was plenty of entertainment for me. The lodge sells overpriced food and drink (try to bring your own if you can), and expensive souvenirs, but the photos I took will remind me more of my journey than any commercially-produced photograph would.

At the top, I was immediately struck by how cold it was-below zero degrees Celsius. I was wearing a cap, short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a ¾ length shirt, a cardigan, a skirt, a pair of pants, and tights. I also wore a pair of socks on my feet, and another pair on my hands. I had heard horror stories about the temperature, and I was prepared. Actually, outdoors wasn’t the problem – standing outside in the sun was warmer than walking around in the Ice Palace or through the tunnels blasted in the mountains.

So close I could walk to this
So close I could walk to this
I started by going to two of the observation decks and took heaps of photos. It was astounding to a New Yorker: it was August, Swiss summertime, and there was snow everywhere. Of course, we were 3454 meters above sea level, in the mountains. It was crisply cold, but beautiful.

Next, I went to the infamous Ice Palace. These human-made caves are covered in ice – the floors, the walls, and the ceilings. There are ice sculptures, and lovely lights that illuminate the walls and hallways. It is especially cold in these caverns, as you slip around the floors.

All guests can use snow disks for free – a small deposit is required to borrow the disk. You slide down a hill, and scream like a child. The second time I hit my head against the ground, and flipped over as I fell down the hill, covering myself in snow. I returned my disk after that time, and went on a hike.

I hiked down a steep and snow-covered path. Many trekkers were passing me, and I was jealous of their freedom to explore so many paths. I had to leave the mountain by 1 p.m. (a stipulation of my discounted ticket), and wanted to explore further, but could not. Instead, I walked slowly, enjoying the snow around me, and brilliant views. I continuously paused – both to catch my breath (as the air is thin and hard to breathe so high, and as I am an asthmatic), and also to take numerous photos of the astounding view. I have never seen snow in the middle of summer.

I was sad to leave here, and glad I went. If you can, budget the extra francs to see one of the most beautiful places in the world. The train ride alone produces ample photo opportunities, so keep your camera handy. This will be one place I definitely want to come back to.

From Interlaken, 2 ½ hours each way (Sfr 169 round trip; cheaper good morning ticket of 145 Sfr if you take the early train of 635 a.m. and leave by lunchtime). An additional discount exists for Eurail holders (25% off) so show your pass. Trains transfer in Grindewald, and other towns, and you can get off the train and walk around, and hop back on the train later that day. Clear skies are essential (or you are basically looking at fog, not majestic mountains) so check 033 8551022 for taped forecasts, this website, or watch the weather update from the top of Jungfraujoch (broadcast on local TV stations).

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