Top of Europe

Today we woke up to clear blue skies – a great day to take the cog railway up to Top of Europe.

Top of Europe is the highest railway station in Europe, located in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland. The railway was started in 1893 when Adolf Guyer-Zellar decided that there should be a railway station all the way up to the top. The station is built into the rocks in the cradle of the mountains in between Mönch and the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps. This year is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the railway all of the way to the top.

So what is a cog railway?  It’s a railway with a toothed center track instead of the two parallel tracks. The teeth connect with a cog underneath the the train cars. The cog and track create more traction for the train on steep slopes like mountainsides. While safe they move slowly – which we would soon find out.

After breakfast at our hotel, with cheese, meat, bread, yogurt and lots of toppings (nuts, dried fruit, jam, muesli – very healthy), we headed to the Wengen train station. Before long we were on one of the bright green and yellow cars taking us on the first leg of the trip to Klein Scheidegg. There we changed to the Jungfraubahn train, another cog for the rest of the way to the Top of Europe, located at 11,333 feet (Jungfraujoch Station).

For the best views on the trip up the mountain, arrive early and take a seat on the right side of the train. But don’t be surprised if some passengers think it’s ok to climb, lean and bend over you to get a better view for photos.

The trip from Wengen to Top of Europe takes about an hour and a half with stops at a few other small stations along the way. The scenery is breathtaking and always changing. There are some stretches in tunnels or avalanche sheds, but it makes the trip just that much more interesting to think what a feat it was to have tunneled through the mountain 100 years ago. The rail stays open during winter months providing service to  ski runs located along the route.

Before beginning the trip, first here is a view of the sunrise in Wengen from our balcony at the Hotel Edelweiss. We were on a south facing upper floor.

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The train climbs 6523 feet from Wengen, which is at 4180 feet. The ascent is pretty steep (25%). In fact it’s so steep that seats are angled on the train to prevent rear-facing passengers from sliding off. The trip up the mountain was filled with one amazing view after another with brief stops at stations. The stations were starting points for several hikers.

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The weather at the Top of Europe was crystal clear  and we were able to see Interlaken, Bern and the Black Forest. Days as clear as this are unusual – last week it was overcast and snowing.

If you’re a James Bond fan, and Top of Europe looks familiar, it was featured in the movie Octopussy.

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And here are a few more photos of Wengen.

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Yes We Do Hear Cow Bells…

One of the first things we heard from our room in Wengen, Switzerland  were bells somewhere in the distance. I immediately thought – cow bells. I asked the manager here at the hotel about it, and he said yes, there are several pastures in the area, and farmers use bells to keep track of the cows. When I was growing up in Wisconsin, we used to go to a small Swiss town called New Glarus named after Glarus which is near here, and I remember the cows in the pastures there also wore bells. They were the most beautiful brown Swiss cows that looked like this… 20120617-214625.jpg

We Love Switzerland!

We love Switzerland! The country is beautiful, the people are gracious and friendly, it’s clean and everyone drives fast – but safe. I love driving here, especially in our zippy little Renault. The highways are in excellent condition and efficient.

On the way to Wengen, we visited Gruyere (yes, where the cheese is made), and it has been one of our favorite places so far. It is a beautiful quaint, village with cobblestone streets, and buildings dating back to medieval times. In addition to the village, there is a cheese making institute, and a faint odor of gruyere cheese throughout the village.

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And now that we are in Wengen, how did we get here? Since leaving Portland, we have traveled by plane, Chunnel, TGV, auto, and lastly cog railway – and it has been worth every second, every heavy suitcase and every mile!

Wengen is simply – stunning. We are staying at the Hotel Edelweiss, which is more like a B&B, than hotel. The service is personal and the host makes you feel like you are at home. And dinner, a traditional Swiss meal, was excellent – the best yet. Our room is simple, almost spartan, but the view from it is, well….. You decide.

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20120616-214457.jpg      Hotel Edelweiss, Wengen Switzerland

Wengen Switzerland      Wengen Switzerland

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Wengen Switzerland     Wengen Switzerland     Wengen Switzerland

This is the cog railway we took to Wengen from the station in Lauterbrunnen.

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