Our journey continues on this morning as we depart for the next leg of the Topdeck Mega European Tour and leave the city of lights Paris and make our way further into central Europe crossing the border into Switzerland spending the next two nights in the small village of Lauterbrunnen in the foot heals of the beautiful Swiss Alps.
The Topdeck Mega European Tour is one of the biggest tours offered by Topdeck and although we are only onto day three of this adventure we have covered a lot of ground. We started off in London making our way south to Dover in order to catch the ferry across the English Channel to Calais in France. From Calais we drove further south to the capital of France, Paris where we spent our first two nights of this mega trip.
Lauterbrunnen is a small village south of the city of Bern the capital city of Switzerland with the town being one of the starting points for the train journey to the highest train station in Europe at Jungfrau. This town will become one of my favourite stops on this whole tour and provides inspiration for future travel to return here again one day.
Paris to Lauterbrunnen – 03 MAY, 2012
This morning we depart the capital of France, Paris for our long drive into Switzerland and the small village of Laurterbrunnen at the foot of the Swiss Alps. The village of Lauterbrunnen is a magnificent place in itself with our accommodation for the next two nights located in twin share cabins at Schützenbach Backpackers & Camping. This is a popular destination for youth tour groups with Contiki and Busabout also stopping here and using the massive Camping Jungfrau as there accommodation of choice.
On arrival at our campsite we are surrounded by at least five 300 metre or so high waterfalls cascading over the cliffs that surround the entire town located within the valley. Open the door to our cabin and you are looking straight towards a waterfall that looks like it is falling straight through a house on the opposite side of the road.
For the next two nights Topdeck provides dinner in a cook tent a large marquee set up on site that caters to the three Topdeck groups that are here at the same time. Before dinner we had some time to explore the town but it is so small that it doesn’t take long to see it all but is worth it. It was a good opportunity to find an ATM and get some of the very colourful Swiss Francs as we needed to pay for our train journey up the alps tomorrow, at CHF146 which is equivalent to about AUD$155 it’s not a cheap excursion, but very much worth every penny.
During our limited free time before dinner we also checked out the waterfall closest to our campsite called Staubbach Falls. The falls have a path leading up to them which was fenced off at the time, feeling adventurous we jumped the fence and went up for a closer inspection. A tunnel goes below the falls and inside the rock behind the falls which looked like it had just been constructed or was undergoing repairs. We could tell why it had been closed off as some of the water cascades into the tunnel making it very wet and slippery. Heading back down the hill we see a sign that we think roughly translated to anyone entering will be fined CHF25,000, luckily no one saw and if they did hopefully that’s not what the sign said.
For our first night in the cook ten our dinner in Lauterbrunnen was to highlight a Swiss delicacy, a cheese fondue made up of four different cheeses. Later that night it was off to the bar for the Topdeck traffic light party, this also included two other Topdeck groups who we also passing through Lauterbrunnen at the same time as us so it was quite a long night for some.
Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps – 04 May, 2012
This morning we were all up early again, little did we know at this point that it’s an early start every single day of the 49 day tour. Today we are going to the very top of Europe for our optional extra two hour train journey to Jungfrau, at 146 Swiss Francs it’s not a cheap trip at all but after experiencing Jungfrau you would gladly pay double that price and do it all over again.
Things to note before traveling to the top, it will not just be cold, but freezing cold and this is the beginning of summer, so have a coat, beanie, scarf, sunglasses and sunscreen, you will get burnt on a sunny day with many people coming back looking like they spent the day at the beach. Not only will it be cold outside but it gets incredibly cold inside the tunnels under the mountain and at that altitude some people will find it hard to breathe and possibly fall ill due to altitude sickness. However despite being about -3 degrees at one point I was quite warm and took my coat off, it can get a bit warm in the sun if you have been walking around constantly and you can also go hiking.
There are many things to do at the summit, there is a lookout on top of the hill outside where you can stand in the snow and have the obligatory photo opportunity with the Swiss Flag. You can take a lift up to the observatory or the ‘Sphinx’ as it is called, explore the Ice Palace which has been carved inside the mountain along with the many tunnels where you will find ice carvings of penguins, seals and other icy animals, or go for a long hike in the snow on the freshly plowed walking track.
Being 4000 metres high, personally I found it the most difficult when walking through the cold underground tunnels, the lack of air made walking difficult and I needed a break. Outside was fine, but the main thing to do is pace yourself, you will spend the whole day up there anyway and will get to see everything. The whole group travels up to the summit together, but you are then able to come back down the mountain anytime you like so you can see everything at your own pace.
After we had seen everything up at Jungfrau we decided to head back down the mountain, the good thing about the return ticket is that you can leave at anytime so you are not constrained by other members of the tour. Topdeck also include a packed lunch today, as you will experience in Switzerland and particularly at the top of Jungfrau prices are very steep. Think CHF5 for just a bottle of Water (about AUD$5.50).
Today was one of the biggest highlights on the whole trip 49 day tour and one I will not forget, as an Australian we simply dont get to see snow and scenery like this, although I have seen snow many times before this was even more special. Another attraction in the Lauterbrunnen area is the cable car made famous as the location of one of the James Bond films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I really wanted to go to the summit on the cable car, but there simply was no time to go to Jungfrau and to also do this. It is my goal to return here one day hopefully in the not too distant future, something I will get to do in September 2015, with Lauterbrunnen being such a special place I’m going to spend five nights here to explore more of it.
I only wish I could have seen more of Switzerland, but time and budget come into play and Switzerland isn’t exactly a cheap country to explore so this country is defiantly at the top of my list of countries to return to. Tomorrow we are back on the bus for another long drive back into France to the small historic town of Avignon for one night.