Monday 11/27/06

It has been a great day but at this very moment I am doing so well because the news on CNBC indicates the market is not doing well and more relevantly the dollar is doing lousy against the Euro = 1.31 Euro against $1 and we it seems that the Swiss Franc vs. $ is going the same way!

We went to Jungfrau today. Before I go on about how good that was I have to deal with my feelings regarding my lack of sleep. When I left y'all last it was 2am and I had not fallen asleep. I fell asleep at 4am! 4 am! Well I gave up on getting John to stop snoring so he and they guy next door were doing a snoring symphony and I was the rapt audience of one. That, and the fact that the church bells were ringing every half hour: 4 ding-dongs and 4 dings during the night. They say when you can't sleep any noise makes a difference - they are right.

The lack of sleep explained my crankiness at waking up at 8am because we planned to go to Jungfrau today. The desk clerk reminded us as we headed up to bed for the night that the train left every hour at 20 past the hour and to get a full day of sight seeing it would be preferable to get the 8:20 or the 9:20am. We showered, dressed and went down for breakfast - I was going in slow motion. We took the 10:20am train. :

By the way, Jungfrau is the one of the tallest peaks in Europe, 11333 ft tall, and an enterprising Swiss fellow, Adolf Guyer-Zeller, figured out how to get a railway all the way up there in 1898 after 4-5 failed attempts by other businessmen. Two round trip tickets cost 345 francs ($290!) for 2 hr 17 min ride with 2 stops. It is the most impressive train ride I have been on! Basically you go up the mountain in one side and come down on the other. The train just keeps on going up and up and the green plains dotted with homes give way to huge grey rock formations, then to rock formations with thick layers of ice, then mounds and mounds of snow and voila you are at the peak 2 hours later feeling a little ill because of the altitude.

All the signs in the place tell you to walk slowly. At first you think it is some kind of joke but then almost involuntarily you begin to slow down because you are not feeling so hot and small tinges of nausea hit you. Even with all of that and the real threat of falling on slippery ice, the sight from the plateau at the base of top of the mountain is breathtaking! Snow everywhere and in the distance you can see the tiny dots of villages that you passed during the train ride. If you look hard enough you also see a few people walking the trails and a couple of others mountain climbing - they are insane!

The complex at the peak (mainly hollowed out of the mountain) is rather sprawling with tunnels leading to new sights to discover. The panoramic view windows and the little trekking area were fun but the two must sees are the Sphinx tower which looks like something out of star trek. It is an observatory with a deck so you can get to see Jungfrau as well as the two other major peaks that make up the attraction Monch and Eiger. The other must-see if the Ice Palace which is an underground system of tunnels made from ice which is really layers and layers of snow that has fallen through the years. Running through this ice structure, about waist high, is a black line which is really the demarcation of snow that has fallen since 1947! The neat thing about the tunnels is some of the folks have been rather creative and there are ice sculptures all around. The ones I likes were of bears, and igloo habitat, and the most intricate was that of 2 eagles with wings slightly upright as if about to land. The detail was just exquisite.

It took us almost 2 hours to see all the public areas of the observatory which included a museum. We were pretty much exhausted by then from the thin air that high up but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the next train which was at 2:45pm. I slept a good part of the way down only getting up to change trains - I guess altitude and lack of sleep were finally catching up to me. Coming down on the other side of the mountain was also a treat because it was a contrast to what we saw going up and it was much steeper.

It was almost completely dark by the time we made it back to the hotel which was only a 5 minute walk from the station - thank goodness because I was sleep walking. The best thing overall about going up to Jungfrau was there were a manageable number of tourists (it being a weekday). We weren't tripping over hoards of people and it was not filthy - not that I can really imagine anything in Switzerland being truly dirty.

Tonight we decided to go for a traditional Swiss meal - fondue. We got a recommendation from the receptionist which was a 10 minute walk away. We had a little down time before the 8pm reservation because we were still not settled from the trip up Jungfrau.

I had the chicken Roschti and John had the cheese fondue. Rochsti is really a bed of hash browns and you can get a variety or meat and vegetables on it. It was good albeit a little oily. The cheese fondue was good, strong, and pungent. Whiffs from the bubbling/boiling cheese sauce are just about enough to knock you over. I have only had it once or twice and I can understand why one can't have loads of it - if you don't eat it regularly beware that it will do a number on your stomach. I mean there will be a little guy in your stomach having an extensive conversation with you. Also, I would warn you that the version we eat at home is definitely watered down. Ooohhh wee! That stuff was good but goodness was it ever rough on the nose! If you don't like the way blue cheese or some of the more interesting European cheeses smell then this is not for you.

We walked back to the hotel - it has become much colder here over the past day or so. The weather here was just as good as that in Geneva which rather unexpected - some of the folks we talked to remarked that this lovely warmish weather is uncharacteristic for this time of year.

Update on the Fiat Multipla: we decided not to deal with it this morning but John called the Hertz in Interlaken before we went to dinner to see what could be done about the car, that is, get some explanation on how to figure out what kind of gas the car is using. The local hertz guy said John could visit to discuss the car. This morning John had talked to a lady who said when the gas pump button we discovered the day before is off (or on (?)) it means the car is using natural gas. Huh? What was she smoking? Trying to pin her down to a single answer was the equivalent of trying to climb up one of those Vaseline-greased poles in New Orleans during mardi gras - impossible (the storekeepers in the French Quarter in New Orleans devise a rather clever way of deterring people from climbing up the poles in front their stores. The incentive for climbing up these poles was to get to the upstairs balconies to have a better vantage point to catch beads). John said he just wanted to return the car - he went in to return the car and the only thing they had available was a micro car. No offense to all of you who may like really small cars but there is no way, if I have any control over the situation, that I am riding in a death trap like that especially on an unknown highway! He came back a little frustrated still holding the key to the Fiat. We will be going to the Bern Hertz tomorrow to see if we can exchange the car.

On funny anecdote, the car takes what is called erdgas to keep its organic self going. On one of the signs we passed by the train station advertised erdgas. With hopes high, John read the sign which said erdgas was coming to a station near you in 2008. Now explain why Hertz would cars that run on gas that will not be in the mainstream till 2 years from now! Anyway, the guy at hertz said there was an erdgas pump in Interlaken (who knew!) -- maybe tomorrow we'll go seek it out and try to fill up the tank before we return it. This saga with the car has been so nuts!

With that, I say good night. Have no idea what we will do tomorrow out last full day here - stay tuned.

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