8:05 a.m., Thursday, September 8
We are on the train heading towards the Jungfrau (Young Wife) which is in the real Alps. I would like to spend another day giving my blisters a chance to heel, and a four-hour train trip, each way, to the Alps and back seems like just the ticket. The mountains around Lucerne are lovely, and interesting to a Midwesterner, but I have become jaded. I want to see some real Alps, with snow and glaciers. Mt. Pilatus is about 6,000 feet above sea level. The Jungfrau (billed by Swiss Railroad as "Top of Europe," is 13,680 feet high. Although the peak of Mt. Pilatus is above the tree line, there is no snow on it this time of year. It was hard to know how to dress. Mt. Pilatus was not cold at all. I assume Jungfrau will be colder (note to self; refrain from obvious jokes.) But, if the sun is shining, as it is certainly is in Lucerne, I do not want to have to drag along a coat and be hot. So, I am compromising with a long sleeved shirt. I assume Swiss Railroad would not be selling excursions to some place we have to rough it very much.
We are now traveling through beautiful farming country. Lots of cows; lots of pasture. Once in a while, a field of corn, that looks just like Illinois corn. Amazing. Again, the train is very quiet, but not deathly so. People are talking. Some English-speaking kids are sitting several seats away and chattering. Although we are in a no-smoking section of the car, the smoke drifts in from next door. The Swiss sure do like to smoke.
Maria usually puts out breakfast at 7:30, but we really need to be leaving the pension by 7:30. We went down a few minutes early, and she took the interruption in her schedule in good grace, even making cafe au lait for us quickly. She is a great hostess; always full of bonhomie and efficiency.
8:40 a.m. We are in a tunnel, approaching Berne, and I am updating my journal. I have my feet propped up on the seat opposite to bring my knees high enough for my briefcase to rest on them and form a writing desk. The conductor walks by and makes me put my feet down. It is hard to follow all the Swiss rules when you do not know what they are.
9:00 a.m. We arrive in Bern precisely as scheduled. In my short experience, I have never known a Swiss train to deviate even one minute from the published schedule. We have to switch trains here for Interlaken. We have six minutes to find the train and get on. No problem. The only problem is that we inadvertently get on a smoking car. We move.
9:10 a.m. We are leaving Bern. Still no sign of any Alps. I know, I know, I should have checked a map and gotten the geography straight in my head before I started complaining.
9:25 a.m. We are starting to see some small mountains, but nothing very Alpsy. We are at Thun. I am thinking about asking for my money back.
9:42 a.m. Nary an Alp to be seen anywhere. I specifically told the guy at the train station that I wanted to buy a ride through the Alps. This is what he recommended. We get to Interlaken in 20 minutes, so at the very best in a two-hour train ride we will have 20 minutes of Alps views.
Well, it is a comfortable ride anyway. My feet are happy, even if we do not see any Alps. The views have lakes, small hills, tidy farmsteads, with piles of chopped wood. But no Alps.
9:55 a.m. We are pulling into Interlaken. Rosalee keeps saying how gorgeous it looks, and she is right. It is gorgeous. I see one lone Alpsy looking peak in the distance. This is not the Swiss Alps as I pictured them.
10:20 a.m. At Interlaken, we switched to an older, I believe, narrow guage, train to Lauterbrunn. The map has nice pictures of Alps at this location. I do not see any. False advertising.
10:31 a.m. We just got to Lauterbrunn and I have spied an Alp. It has snow on the top. But I wanted a plethora of Alps.
10:35 a.m. Nice local color. I just saw two men with hand scythes cutting hay on a steep hillside. This is just the way my ancestors would have done it 350 years ago. The mountain streams are starting to look muddy. This area had serious flooding and mud slides several weeks ago. The trains were shut down. Maybe the Alps slid away.
10:50 a.m. We have switched trains again, this time to a cograil train composed of five or six cars. The engine is straining to get us up the grade. The views are spectacular. I guess this must be the Alps because I see more than one mountain with snow at the top. But it is not a plethora. But, I guess I will not ask for my money back.
11:15 a.m. This is amazing country. It is so picturesque, it seems like it must be a movie set. We are sitting on the train, stopped, waiting for one in the opposite direction to go by, I guess. We are up very high on a mountain; the hillsides are very steep, but there are still farms around us. There is a continuous clanging of cow, sheep or goat bells. The sun is warm, but the air is crisp. Gradually, the sounds of paradise are broken by the sound of a helicopter. Two cograil trains pass us going down the mountain. These trains are all electrical, so the train itself makes no sound as we sit here. The third downbound train passes us, and we are off again, up the mountain.
12:15 p.m. We have changed trains again and are still on the way to the "Top of Europe." We have been in a tunnel for the last 20 minutes, so the scenery has not been so good. Now, we have stopped, so people can go to observation windows and look out. We`re somewhere in the middle of a mountain. There is lots of snow and ice outside the windows. It is very cold, off the train.
12:37 p.m. We`re at the Top of Europe. The Jungfrau. The temperature outside is -.8 C. I am not sure what that translates to in Farenheit, but I believe it is pretty cold. We are all snug and cozy inside the huge complex, with three or four restaurants, and tunnels and elevators taking us all the way to the top. Outside, there are some ski tracks and Rosalee spots several skiers. Let them have their fun. I prefer the touristy inside.
Unlike Karen Carpenter, when she was "on top of the world," we are hungry. We enter the cafeteria and are greeted by signs in German and English. The German menu say, "Tageshit." I know what "tage" means in German, at least in Pennsylvania Dutch, it means day. I decide to order the pork cutlets off the English menu and let the Germans have their shit. They deserve it. I believe it was Mark Twain who said that the man who invented German should be shot, but I cannot find the quote right now.
We take an elevator to the summit, at 13,680 feet, about 500 feet above where the train took us. The very top is socked in with clouds, so there is nothing to see out the observation windows but white. So, every takes turns posing for pictures by the sign proclaiming the altitude and weather. Then we ride back down the elevator and catch the first train back. Very little walking. I did not need any warmer clothing. And the scenery is even more beautiful going down.
A man on the train several seats away remarks to his traveling companion, "He`s reading Mark Twain`s A Tramp Abroad." I guess he does not realize that I can hear him. Or he does not care that I can hear him but does not want to address me directly. That is okay. I did not want to talk to him either.
Scene on the train to Berne. Four elderly women in hikers` gear across the aisle from us are talking. A fifth woman comes in and they ask (with gestures, they are all speaking German) Rosalee to gather up her stuff from the seat next to her so she can join them. Then, a sixth woman, similarly attired, comes in and starts to talk with them. I start to gather my things from the seat next to me so she can join them, but one of them says to me in English, "Leave your things. She can sit somewhere else." I wonder what that was all about.
We get into Bern, again have just six minutes to change trains, have some confusion because the conductor on the train into Bern told us that the train to Lucerne was on a different track than it turned out to be. We hop onto the right train, literally seconds before it starts moving. At the end of another hour, we will be back in Lucerne. We will take the evening off tonight from concerts and get to bed early.