Tag Archive: Alps


Day 60: Trümmelbach Falls

The following day we woke up to the pouring rain, so we figured it would be the perfect day to go visit one of the caves in the area. We arrived just in time to catch the bus, but when we asked the driver for directions, he informed us that the caves were closed because of flooding.

That little setback didn’t stop us. We had also wanted to visit Trümmelbach Falls, so we took a train there instead.

That day was overcast and never stopped raining, but we weren’t put out by it, considering that we all know what Oregon weather is like.

As we drove along the road, the mountains towered above us with small waterfalls throughout the cliffs. Some of the falls even seemed to empty into nothing, becoming only a misty cloud halfway up the mountain.

Once we arrived at the falls the surrounding area was so beautiful that I took out my camera and turned it on to take some pictures. It was only then that I realized I had made one of the biggest camera mistakes one could make. Charging the battery and then not putting it back in the camera.

At first I was really upset that I had forgotten my battery, but later I realized it was probably for the best, because we got completely soaked through.

Despite my camera mishap, the falls were amazing and I can’t even believe there is such a place in the world. This particular falls isn’t massive like Niagara or even that tall. From a distance it’s almost impossible to even see the falls, but this is because most of the falls isn’t outside, but inside the mountain.

There are ten different “stops” along the falls. The first eight or so can be reached by an elevator, which you can ride up and then walk down a path along the falls. The last few lookout points have to be walked, but in reality the entire hike up and down only takes a half hour if no stops are made.

Because we wanted to get some exercise and breathe in some fresh air, we decided to just walk the entire thing. The first and probably most impressive stop along the falls is just to the right of the elevator. We walked up the short flight of stairs not really expecting much, but when we rounded the corner we were met by a massive roaring spout of water shooting horizontally from a hole in the mountainside. It was spectacular!

We stood there getting completely wet, but all we could do was look at each other in amazement and laugh. There was one corner where we could stand right next to the spout of water and feel the wind and mist. It almost felt like we were standing directly under the falls.

Half of the hike is outside, while the other half is inside a sort of crack in the mountain. Inside the mountain there are lights all along the stairs and corridors, so it was easy to walk and the stairs were nice and even, making it an easy hike. It was really cool to see how the waterfall had carved a tunnel right through the mountain. Sometimes, we were so deep in the middle of the mountain that all we could see was a slim crack of sunlight high above.

Afterwards, we were all completely soaked through our jeans and in Ari’s case her purse. My purse seems to not only be theft proof, but also water proof, which was lucky because I had my battery-less camera inside.

That night we had another wonderful dinner and we watched “Whose Line” while drinking hot chocolate and listening to the rain outside.

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The following day we boarded another train (this time everyone made it safe and sound) and headed up to Berlin.

We arrived later that night and checked into our room at The Circus. It was a really nice hostel, with very friendly people as well as secure and clean. We decided against going out that night, because we were so tired, so we ate unlimited pasta served at the hostel until we were full and then called it an early night.

The lounge of the Circus

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Day 59: Jungfraujoch

I had never heard of Interlaken before going there, so it was all thanks to Ari that I even made it there in the first place! It’s almost a given that if you go to Switzerland there are going to be mountains, and big ones none the less, so I wasn’t surprised when Ari informed us that just an hour from Interlaken was one of the highest train stations in Europe.

The station is called Jungfraujoch and it stands 3,454 meters high or 11,333 feet.

The night before we had asked one of the employees at the hostel, which day was going to be nicer. She told us immediately to go on Monday, because the following day was going to have horrible weather.

Monday morning, after a fitful night of sleep (mostly everyone in the room was snoring that night), we woke up to a bright day. There were a few clouds in the sky that covered the mountains, but even before we had finished breakfast they had begun to clear away.

There are multiple ways to reach Jungfraujoch. All throughout the little valleys there are a number of small villages, all of which are connected by train. Admittedly, getting to Jungfraujoch was pretty expensive (over 100 swiss francs), but we got to ride on the train the entire way up and none of the destinations points at the top cost any money. However, not everyone who visits Jungfraujoch has to take the trains all the way up. If we had had more time in Interlaken, hiking part of the way up would have been wonderful. There are plenty of hiking trails around the area that make it pretty simple, but as it was, we traveled by train all the way up, from Interlaken, to Lauterbrunnen, switched trains to Kleine Scheidigg, and finally boarded one last train to Jungfraujoch.

The entire journey from bottom to top is amazing and breathtaking. At first we were low in the mountains and our view consisted of rolling hills overshadowed by giant craggy cliffs, but as we climbed up the side of the mountain the world began to unfold around us. Suddenly we could see hundreds of peaks stretching out and many small villages tucked safely inside the valleys.

Looking back down the hill from where we came, all we could see was bright green grass and trees, but looking ahead, the landscape drastically changed and suddenly all I could see was snow, crumbling rocks and barren land.

About half way up we were able to spot the end station, it’s so high and yet it still doesn’t reach the summit! On the right of the Jungfraujoch station is Jungfrau at 4,158 meters or 13,642 feet. To the left of the station is Mönch, which is a little shorter at 4,107 meters or 13,475 feet.

Once we reached Kleine Scheidegg the train basically dissapears into the mountain and the rest of the way up we had no view. There are, however, two spots where the train stops and we were allowed to leave the train to see the view. One of the stops was called Eigerwand (Eiger Wall) and the other Eismeer (Sea of Ice).

View from Eigerwand.

As we climbed it was easy to feel the difference in temperature, luckily the train was heated, although the one before hadn’t been. After about an hour and a half of riding we finally arrived at Jungfraujoch. The tunnel we arrived in was long and dark and as I stepped out of the train, it hadn’t quite hit me just how high up in the mountains I was.

At Jungfraujoch there are a number of things people can do, but in general people stick to the “guided” tour. I say guided, but really there were only signs telling us where to go. After exiting the train we had to walk down a long tunnel until we came to the Jungfrau Panorama. Basically this is a giant room with wonky projector screens that show you what you’re going to see outside. It was kinda cool, but at the same time I would have liked to keep the view a surprise. However, the projections of the view, as you can probably imagine, are nothing like the actual view itself.

To get to the very top of Jungfraujoch we had to take an elevator to the Sphinx. The Sphinx is the platform outside on the mountain. It has a inside viewing area with two levels and then an outside viewing area with a large deck. It was one of the most amazing and absolutely freezing views I have ever experienced. I had dressed appropriately for going to Switzerland, but I hadn’t realized that we would actually be going so high into the mountains and I forgot a hat or a scarf. Despite my lack of hat and scarf, when I stepped outside I completely forgot about how cold I was.

The Aletsch Glacier

Standing there I felt so insignificant, just looking at the Aletsch Glacier and imagining the sheer power it must take to carve through mountains. I took so many pictures of the same view that my fingers were beginning to hurt from the cold and I could already feel my ears turning red and my cheeks stinging, but we must have stayed out there for at least twenty minutes. We had been completely lucky and there were barely any clouds in the sky, so we could see for miles and miles on end. It was the perfect day.

From the Sphinx we were apparently suppose to be able to see France, Germany and Italy, although I was all turned around and really couldn’t tell which way each country was.

A helicopter far off in the distance. There were also a few jets flying overhead. They would circle the mountain and then come around and fly over Jungfraujoch, probably showing off for the tourists.

On the opposite side from the glacier. One of my favorite things was the low-lying clouds hiding in the valleys.

After we had officially all frozen into icicles we decided to head back inside and check out the rest of the area.

Exiting the Sphinx, the tour signs led us down a long hallway that came out in a room with a giant snowglobe. This part of Jungfraujoch is called Alpine Sensation. Basically, it was a long tunnel full of lights and music, and some history.

The giant snowglobe that would change from day to night and then through the seasons too.

The second thing I was most looking forward to at Jungfraujoch, after the view, was the Ice Palace. To enter the palace we had to walk down a flight of stairs and then step into a very long tunnel completely made of ice. It was really exciting and fun to slide around on the ice with our shoes and walk through little tunnels made completely of ice.

The entrance to the palace.

A small ice tunnel that I could basically touch the roof of with my head if I stood up straight.

An example of the ice sculptures that were placed throughout the palace.

After goofing around in the ice palace we headed to the last stop on the tour, the Plateau. The Plateau is off to the side of the Berghaus, or the main building, and it allows people to walk out onto the mountain. There were ropes on either side of the Plateau, but it was actually a little precarious walking out there, because it was so slippery. Right outside the door the snow sloped up to the Plateau, so we had to shuffle our way inch by inch until we could reach flat ground. It was hilarious seeing so many people shuffling along up the hill. Luckily no one slipped.

The small hill everyone had to climb to reach the Plateau. It wasn’t actually that steep, but ice makes everything tricky.

After we took some photos Ari and I decided to have a race down the hill, so we both sat down and using our hands pushed ourselves down the hill on our butt. It was a safer and much more fun way of getting down.

Completely frozen and exhausted from the altitude, we decided to get lunch at one of the restaurants in the Berghaus. We were lucky, because after we were done eating the Plateau was closed, maybe because it was too icy.

We ended the day by traveling back down the mountain. This time we went through Grindewald instead of Lauterbrunnen, because Ari and I wanted to explore some of the smaller villages. We stopped for a half hour in Grindelwald, giving us just enough time to walk down the main street and enjoy the disappearing sun.

Walking the small streets of Grindelwald.

We arrived back at the hostel late that night and thanks to a special deal we had with the hostel we were served a three course meal at one of the local restaurants called Des Alpes. It was so delicious that we decided to return the following night. For one of my dinners I ate Rösti, which is a traditional Swiss dish made out of potatoes, onions, cheese and bacon. Yum!

All in all our trip to Jungfraujoch was a day that fell perfectly into place. We got lucky with the weather, we were able to walk out onto the Plateau before it closed, and we were served a cheap and delicious dinner.

It was almost time to leave Dorfgastein. Although we had only been there for about a week, we had also gotten to know the little town pretty well. We no longer got lost on the main street (this did actually happened, but it only took us a few seconds to figure out we were going the wrong way), we hiked every hill you could possibly hike and we had eaten at every restaurant.

Instead of sitting cooped up inside the pension, we decided to head out into the town and explore one last time.As we were walking I looked up and saw the sign Römerplatz. It was only then that it hit me that I was standing in the exact same place that the Romans lived, breathed, and worked. It’s hard to think about such a distant past and such a different culture, but it’s truly amazing how a single place can connect us to the past.

We came up to a small bakery and there we decided to have ice cream and because everything looked so good, I decided to be adventurous and bought some sort of cookie with berries and peanut brittle. Both the ice cream and cookie were delicious.

With only an afternoon left, Annika (another student in the program) and I decided to take a walk along the Hauptstraße or main street to see where it would take us.

On the way we passed the volunteer fire station where we sometimes had classes. It’s only in a small town like Dorfgastein that you would actually be able to get away with volunteer firefighters.

As we headed out of the town the road turned into a footpath.It was a very nice walk along the fields and there were a lot of fun games for kids along the path. The start of the path and the end were both marked by one stone pillar. We weren’t sure what exactly they meant, but they looked as though they were built from  the different stones that could be found in the Alps.

Also along the path we came across a stone with writing on it. Zum Schutze unsere Almen.To Protect Our Pastures. Beneath these words was a spout for water, but it was dry. We really had no idea what it meant, but perhaps the well is dry so that the farmer’s fields will never have to be.

After only a half hour, we arrived in the next town over Bad Hofgastein.

Just getting out into the air and walking until we felt like stopping was a great way to end our week in Dorfgastein.

Day 5: The Schwimmbad

After our grueling hike down the mountain we all woke up sore and tired.

Thankfully were given a day off.

With so much free time we decided to go check out the Schwimmbad, or the pool.

Inside there was a spa, which unfortunately we did not have the money for, but we paid for the outdoor pool which was just as amazing. While in the water you could look out and see the mountains above you, the sky was blue and the water was just the right temperature.

The inner circle of the pool was two degrees warmer than the outside ring. There was also a colder pool down the hill, which had a slide. We went down the slide once, which really didn’t go very fast and we had to push ourselves down most of it, but mostly we stayed in the warmer inner circle and just enjoyed the sun.

That night we hiked an hour to dinner, basically straight up the mountain. It was both exciting and painful. Going up, Ewan ( our Scottish guide who works at the Institute as an English teacher) and Nick (another student in the same program as myself) were determined to make it to the restaurant without stopping for a break, so naturally we all arrived at the restaurant sweaty and red faced.

The food was great though and afterwards we had a lot of fun walking back down the hill waddling like penguins, because our legs hurt so much.

Today we went on another great hike.

All throughout the mountains of Dorfgastein there are hundreds of trails and roads that are great for hiking and sightseeing, but instead of hiking all the way up to the top, which I think is probably a day long adventure and only for the most intense hikers, we took cable cars. On the way up we could see the entire town of Dorfgastein and a few of the towns around it.

At the top lift, called Bergstation, Berg meaning mountain, we could see out across the whole valley. Although it was cloudy while we were at the top, we could still see most of the mountain range streached out in front of us. The view was made even more spectacular by the deep blue reservoirs that sat on some of the smaller hills below.

On the ridge it was very cold and windy, but it was a great place for paragliding. Throughout the week we’ve been able to look up into the sky and see at least four or five brightly colored paragliders spinning around in the clouds. Apparently, on this hike we also saw the brother of a very famous Austrian skier strapping on a helmet to go paragliding.

From the top the hike was all downhill. We started out along the ridge, which allowed us to see on either side of the mountain.

On the left we could see Dorfgastein and on the right we could see further into the mountain range and also a few little homes here and there. All along the path there were also signs that talked about Yin and Yang. In one spot, the sign would tell you to leave all your negative thoughts and energy behind and then you would walk over to another, more beautiful, lookout and there you would think only positive thoughts. It was refreshing to let all my worries go while standing on top of the world!

After only a half hour or so, we made it to a crossroad. One path continued up, while the other turned down and went back into the valley. The path that went up eventually went to the halfway point and also the highest peak in the area. On the very top we could see a large cross.

We decided to head back down and go towards another Alm where there was a hut for eating and drinking. I’ve come to realize that in Austria the only “true” meal as Americans would see it, is dinner. Breakfast so far has consisted of bread, cheese, meat, and chocolate cake (which I very much approve of) and your choice of orange juice, vitamin juice, coffee or tea.

Lunch is also very similar to breakfast and usually very light.

So far the only food I’ve had for lunch is a small sandwich and a peach. Even after all the hiking we’ve done and all the traveling, I haven’t found myself searching for more. It’s been surprising how much extra food I consume when I’m just sitting at home in front of the TV.

Before heading down we stopped at a small cabin, which turned out to be a shrine. There we took a break and made sure to put on a lot of sunscreen, most of us having woken up in the morning with a sunburn from the day before. From there we headed down into the Mushroom Field. I never actually saw any fields of mushrooms, but dotted here and there in the woods were some large Mario Kart looking mushrooms. The winding trails and thick trees reminded me very much of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Halfway down we also wandered onto a logging road and I felt at home.

Whenever I’m walking or hiking I would probably say that I would rather go down than up. After hiking down to Dorfgastein this has changed. We hiked down some of the steepest trails and roads I’ve ever been on and they were not very forgiving on the knees, legs, or butt. We were all hurting so much by the end that soon we all just decided to run down the hill, both because it was easier on the knees and because it would get us back to the pension faster.

It was definitely worth the pain.

Day 3: Sportgastein

After getting settled in to Dorfgastein for a day we took a trip farther up into the mountain to Sportgastein. To get there we had to travel by bus through some smaller towns and eventually we make our way  through some very long and dark tunnels. The trip us was beautiful with a lot of great views and many cute towns along the way.

In this area where we are staying there are three main towns. Dorfgastein, which is family oriented has many restaurants, pubs and small guest houses, Bad Hofgastein has more shopping and I guess what you would say is more teen oriented, then there’s Badgastein which has healing spas, a casino, and is, in general, a great place for people to get away from the rush of everyday life. Lastly, Sportgastein is the most scenic of the towns and is great for hiking. Naturally, all of these towns are covered in tourists during winter when the ski season is in full swing.

We arrived in Sportgastein to find ourselves completely surrounded by mountains. I’ve seen a lot of mountains before and there aren’t many places that I’ve been that can rival Mount Hood, Mount Rainier or Mount Saint Helens, but the Alps were stunning. The Alps are a different kind of mountain range. There are hardly any foothills. One minute there’s no mountain and the next your looking up and wondering how such a giant beast could have snuck up on you. The Alpine peaks towered above us and the rolling green hills made me constantly look over my shoulder to make sure that Julie Andrews wasn’t running down the pasture singing “The hills are alive”.

Not only was the scenery beautiful, but there were also cows and goats wandering around and hanging out with people like it was no big deal. Dotted everywhere were little huts, where people could stop and drink and at each one there was a small band singing and playing the accordion. Many of the local people were also dressed in their traditional clothing, the men in lederhosen and the women in dirndls. Usually Sportgastein isn’t so active, but we were there during the Almfest. I’ve come to realize that for many people hiking in the Alps, the main goal of the trip is to hike to a hut, sit down and finally have a drink with cheese, bread and maybe some meat. All in all it doesn’t seem like such a bad way to live life.