Day 05 – Sat 10 Apr 2010 – Up through the Swiss Alps

Had breakfast early and caught the 0755 to Interlaken Ost (East) on the Golden Panorama Express. I’m in a first-class carriage with huge windows (hence the ‘panoramic’ name I guess). The train heads out of Luzern through a valley shrouded in mist and through tunnels on the side of the valley slope. It’s a single track through the suburbs and narrow gauge (metre?). Already the scenery is of majestic mountains, probably rising 2000 feet above us, but still modest by Swiss standards.

Looking back on the climb up the rack railway – You can see the line running uphill left to right – and that’s no illusion, if anything it’s steeper than it looks

We go into a tunnel and break out along a lake running at about 100 feet above the edge. At Giswil we transfer onto a steeper rack section and climb rapidly. I’ve never been on a rack railway before. In spite of the steep climb It goes quite fast 50 to 60 kph or more and rack system is audible but not loud. It feels quite unnatural to be climbing at this angle in a train. Next stop at the top of the past is Kaiser Stuhl. There’s a lake with quite low water level now on our right. We’re on and off steep rack sections a few times, along a precarious edge of a mountain to a tunnel leading to a high valley then up even further to a high pass. Some snow is now on the ground as we reach the station and passing loop at Brunig-Hasliberg.

Brunig-Hasliberg station at the top of the pass

A train coming the other way passes us after about a minute after we arrive. If you think climbing is an experience, going down is creepier still at those high angles. As we descend there is a deep valley below.

First glimpse of the Alps through the mist and murk

Suddenly through the mist and murk I become aware of a vague shape and realise that’s not cloud but the snow clad Alps rising huge and majestically way up above us on the other side of the valley. It’s an absolutely breathtaking moment. I thought the Alps might be over-rated, but they are simply awesome.

Even when it’s not all that clear, the Alps are simply awe inspiring

Villages are down in the valley, waterfalls plunging down cliffs, mountain peaks towering far above. Its ‘tears to the eyes’ stuff. At Meiringen at the bottom of the valley the train reverses and takes the track to Interlaken Ost.

Back down on the valley floor near Meiringen

At major stops before the mountain sections, the train attendant checked wheels with a striking rod. I’ve heard of that being done to check if anything is cracked, but have never seen it done before.

Looking up at the Alps from the valley floor

Deep in the valley west of Meiringen is an Air Force Base. This must be the place where that awesome Youtube video of the Hawker Hunter taking off and flying through the Alps was shot.

Running along the edge of the lake

We arrive at Interlaken Ost and walk through the town to the standard gauge Interlaken West station. I caught the1036 to Bern, a double-deck train with very few passengers. We run down the southern shore of the lake to Spiez its and then to Thun and Bern.

Walked around Bern, dodging the markets which were in full swing in the streets. It’s an interesting old city, and the place where Einstein developed his theory of relativity while working at the Patent Office.

Heading back to Luzern on a rack section descent

Caught the 1204 back to Interlaken West and then took the 1304 back to Luzern. (Hell, it’s so easy to get around quickly in Eurpoe by train). It’s a standard train this time. without the panoramic windows, but still great views.  A pity it’s still so murky.

Late afternoon and the sky clears above Luzern

Got back to Luzern between three and four and was quite tired, so snoozed until about six then went out for a walk in the Altstadt. I didn’t take the camera with me then discovered the sky had cleared to reveal views of the Alps directly behind the city. Doubled back to get it and took shots of the mountains, lakes and city scenes.

Lake Luzern in the afternoon light

The medieval wooden bridge in Luzern

This place is stunningly beautiful, but I’ve got a lot to see. Time to move on.

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