Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Contiki European Experience

Home
day01
day02
day03
day04
day05
day06
day07
day08
day09
day10
day11
day12
day13
day14
day15
day16
day17
day18
day19
day20
day21
day22
day23

Day 19 - May 17, 2005 - Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

switz.gif

Today was another relatively late 8:00 wake up.  My damp clothes were still scattered throughout the room.  Vince again assured me that it didn't bother him.  After waking up, I immediately peered out the window to check out what the weather was like.  I was very concerned our cog railway trip to Mt. Jungfrau would be cancelled.  It was a perfect day with little overcast.  Still, Rex had mentioned that just because it appeared to be nice down at the bottom of the mountain, nothing was promised way up top.
 
I took a shower and then headed down for breakfast.  On my way down, I bumped into Rex.  She said the reports were great and would be going after all.  I was so relieved.  I ate breakfast with Vince, Neil, Aussie Justin, Kent, Freddy, Olivia and Kim.  After killing some time in the dining room, we met in the lobby at 9:20 am for our trip to Mt. Jungfrau.
 
The optional included a two hour ride up the world's longest existing cog railway.  There were several observation points, an ice palace, and a glacier walk at the top.  The ride up was extraordinary.  I assume it is among the most fascinating scenery in the world.  It certainly was the most fascinating I have ever seen.  In a short time, as we ascended, the villages below were barely visible.  The presence of snow gradually increased, while the temperature gradually decreased.  It was said to us that it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit at the apex.  As the track twisted and turned throughout the peaks, I became utterly disoriented as to where our chalet was located.  I had no idea which way was which and I had no idea just how much higher we were about to climb.
 
According to my pamphlet, the name of the main observation building at the top was the Sphinx.  On one of the stops on the way up, we were peering to the mountain tops and we observed a building that, as per the illustration in the pamphlet, resembled the Sphinx.  I proceeded to ask Rex if it was, in fact, the Sphinx.  She looked at me in disbelief, chuckled, and stated, "Justin, the Sphinx is in Egypt."  I then realized she was unaware of the name of the building, so I had some fun with her.  I made her think I didn't know the actual whereabouts of the Egyptian Sphinx and I expressed my certainty that it was located high atop the Swiss Alps.  A few moments later, I pulled out the brochure, pointed to the Sphinx, and asked Rex why they have Egyptian monuments listed on a Swiss brochure.  Her reaction was a combination of being surprised in herself that she wasn't aware of the name of the building and also realizing the genius of my little hoax.  I culminated by saying, in a highly sarcastic tone, "The Sphinx in Egypt... Pfft."  It was indeed a good laugh.
 
Either at that stop, or another (I can't remember if there were one or two stops), Rex stated that the weather was unbelievable.  Out of the how ever many years she had been doing Contiki trips up there, it was the best she had ever seen it.  I took the time to soak in my striking of good luck.

laut06.jpg
THE RIDE UP MT. JUNGFRAU

laut07.jpg
SWISS SCENERY

laut08.jpg
OUR COG TRAIN

laut09.jpg
ONE OF THE MANY TOWNS ON THE WAY UP

laut10.jpg
STILL ASCENDING

laut11.jpg
THE SWISS ALPS

laut13.jpg
SNOW IN MAY

laut14.jpg
ME, YOON, KENT, VINCE IN THE COG TRAIN

laut16.jpg
MORE VIEWS

laut17.jpg
INCREDIBLE

After a two hour ride, which seemed more like four hours, we finally reached the top.  We were all starved, so we first went to the eateries.  We paid the value of a small car for a no more than decent lunch.  I guess it was understandable though.  We were in Switzerland, where prices are already astronomical.  To top it off, we were 11,000 feet high.  I didn't see any roads with tractor trailers delivering goods way up there.  While it justified the prices to some extent, I still felt like I was robbed.
 
I ate with Vince, Yoon, Freddy, Olivia and Kent.  I had spaghetti and a Coke.  I don't remember the total price, but I do remember that the Coke's price in Swiss Francs was equivalent to five US dollars.  I know, terrible.
 
After lunch, I went to the plateau with Vince and Yoon.  The plateau was a large, flat area, extending outside the main building.  It really hit hard both how cold it was up there and, even more extensively, the lack of oxygen in the air.  Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience.  It really felt like a different planet.  I estimated that, given the clear day, we could see for hundreds of miles.  There was nothing in sight, other than hundreds of mountain peaks.  It reminded me of the scene from Superman, which showed his home of ice in absolute isolation.  The clouds were a notable distance beneath us.  I remember dreaming as a kid of walking out onto the wing of an airplane.  I had realized on Mt. Jungfrau that not only was the dream essentially fulfilled, but it was surpassed as well.

laut22.jpg
YOON AND ME JUST OUTSIDE THE TRAIN

laut23.jpg
OUT ON THE PLATEAU

laut24.jpg
AMAZING IN EVERY DIRECTION

laut26.jpg
ONE OF THE MANY OBSERVATION POINTS

laut27.jpg
WITH KAT AT THE PLATEAU

We next went to the ice palace.  This consisted of basically an underground ice sculpture exhibition.  Everything was ice; the ceilings, the walls and even the floors.  There was some really amazing work up there.  It made me think that ice sculpting is something I have never done that I would love to try.  Although I'm sure any attempt of mine would fall laughably short to those masterpieces.

laut18.jpg

laut19.jpg
ENTRANCE TO THE ICE GALLERY

laut20.jpg

laut21.jpg
AMAZING

After having enough of the ice palace, we went on to the Sphinx.  That is the Swiss Sphinx, as opposed to the Egyptian.  It was the highest point of the whole place.  I went outside onto the observation deck and again relished the views.  As parts of the observation deck extended past the building, the floor beneath us was made up of metal grates.  Looking down, the metal grate was the only thing keeping us thousands of feet up.  I'm not afraid of heights much, but I was nervous standing out there.  I would consider it to be maybe the most surreal experience of my life.  I don't ever expect to see anything remotely similar for the rest of my life.

laut29.jpg

laut31.jpg
MORE SCENERY

laut32.jpg
IN THE SPHINX

laut33.jpg
THAT'S 2,000 FT. STRAIGHT DOWN

After a few hours up there, the lack of oxygen was beginning to take a toll.  It was difficult to breathe and I was becoming light headed.  I actually was concerned I would eventually faint.  I expected the effects of a lack of oxygen to be exaggerated and not have any bearing on the length of time I spent up there.  However, I was proved wrong and I was running out of strength.  Vince appeared to be in agreement with me, as he expressed multiple times how the altitude was affecting him. 
 
We considered going on the glacier hike, but we learned it was 45 minutes each way.  I'm sure it would have been an amazing experience, but there was no way we could make it another hour and a half, especially while hiking through six inches of snow.  Instead, we regrettably left at 2:00.  It made for one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life.  When I think about years into the future, I can imagine thinking back on this trip.  The trip to Mt. Jungfrau will undoubtedly remain among the first things I think back on.  What a difference some nice weather made for us that day.
 
After another two hour trip back to Lauterbrunnen (this one feeling like one hour), we made it back into the center of the very small town.  We stopped at their largest supermarket, which was something equivalent to a small convenience store.  We stocked up on some beer and snacks for that night.

laut37.jpg
THE EFFECTS OF ALTITUDE

laut03.jpg
DOWNTOWN LAUTERBRUNNEN

laut39.jpg
OUR CHALET

laut40.jpg
SEE THE BELLS? WE HEARD THEM... ALL NIGHT LONG

laut41.jpg
ONE OF THE MANY WATERFALLS

Vince and I made it back to our room.  I immediately checked my clothes and they were somehow still not dry.  The window had been open all day and it was probably 50 degrees in there.  I don't know how they didn't dry.  I finally gave in and threw them in the dryer, ending my hopes not paying for laundry on the whole trips.  I suppose I'm a stubborn person and it was harder to give in that it should have been.
 
I intended on getting in a nap after throwing my clothes in the dryer.  The altitude of Mt. Jungfrau really wore me out.  I did briefly nap on the ride back but I was still tired.  Instead, I ran into Matt and began telling him about our trip up, as he chose not to go.  Eventually Neil joined us.  They told me that they spent the day miniature golfing with some Swiss girls.  They also told me about the ever so common amazingly optimistic mood that hit them.  They attributed it to golfing in the middle of towering mountains, with waterfalls everywhere and the smell of the Swiss air.  I'm sure the Swiss girls added to the mood as well.  I told them that we had many similar feelings up at 11,000 feet. 
 
It seemed that no matter what any of my tour mates did that day, Switzerland offered something special.  Like Austria and even more so like the Beaujolais Region in France, the less heavily visited areas (compared to Paris, London, Rome, etc.) unexpectedly proved to be just as incredible.  Not only were they necessary to wind down from the major cities, but they never failed to provide amazing experiences.
 
Anyway, after our discussion, I was no longer in the mood for sleep.  Matt, Neil and I went to the staff in the kitchen and asked if there was a ball we could use.  Instead, they gave us a frisbee, which was more than sufficient.  The three of us went outside with the frisbee and continued our conversation.
 
There was a small stream running through the field we were playing in.  It was only a matter of time before someone threw the frisbee to the other side.  Sure enough, it didn't take long for that to be done.  Matt then leaped over the stream in such a way that left me and Neil hysterically laughing.  He raised his arms as he jumped in a way that made us question his sexuality.  We let him have it for quite sometime and even briefly reminded him of it throughout the rest of the trip.
 
It was soon dinner time, so we set way back to the dining room.  We returned the frisbee and sat down for dinner.  I can't remember who I sat with or what we had.  After dinner, I played hacky sack in the lobby with Matt, Neil and Vince. 
 
After we were bored playing hacky sack, we went upstairs.  All of the couples on our tour were given rooms next to each other.  They each had access to a large, connecting balcony.  We somehow made our way out there, where a large portion of our tour had congregated.  We joined them, enjoyed some of our Kronenburgs and, every once in a while, we looked back at the cliffs and waterfalls to remind us of how amazing Lauterbrunnen was.  By the way, Lauterbrunnen means "waterfall" in German.

laut43.jpg
ON THE COUPLES' BALCONY

laut04.jpg
THE VIEW FROM THE BALCONY

After our card games in the hallway the previous night, we planned to do something similar that night.  However, we weren't sure where everyone was and no one was in the hallway.  We eventually found Hayley and Kate in one of the couples' rooms and told them to come to the hallway with us.  They told us we would have to wait later because they were in the middle of something.  After implying that we would stay, they told us it was a "vagina party" and that we would have to leave.  I can't remember what we said, but I'm sure it had something to do with the title of their party, and then we left.
 
I then went down to the Bomb Shelter with Vince to see if anyone was there.  However, there were only about five people there.  We then played a game of foosball.  During the game, Kent joined us and challenged the winner.  We ended up playing a round robin tournament with a championship game.  Kent and I tied in the championship game and I finally one the second championship game.  It became very intense at times, I think mainly because the three of us were all generally competitive by nature.

laut45.jpg
ME AND MATT IN THE BOMB SHELTER

laut46.jpg
YOON, KALE, NELSON, LEONI, AND ME IN THE BOMB SHELTER

laut44.jpg
THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Afterwards, Vince and I decided that we would go back to the hallway and start playing cards, in the hopes that people from the previous night would eventually show up.  We played High/Low and Drunk Driver, among others as well.  Soon, the "vagina party" came along and sat down.  We informed them that we were having a "sausage party" and they would have to leave.  Not only did they refuse to leave but they tried to kick us out.  I explained to them that it was my hallway.  I was there first that night, and I was there first the night before while we were all ranking accommodations.  The sexes eventually stopped jokingly insulting each other and decided to have a "coed party."
 
We played a Canadian version of Circle of Kings.  I think it is, by far, the game with the most variations of rules.  I played with Vince, Neil, Team Canada (Karen, Jocelyn, Stacey, and Sue), Kate, Rachel, Kat and Hayley.  A memorable rule that ensued was to end each sentence with the words, "vagina dickhead."  Yes, it was interesting nonetheless.  Jocelyn also came up with another great rule, which she called Snake Eyes.  For the remainder of the game, no one was allowed to look her in the eyes, or they would have to drink.  It was more difficult to do than one would think.
 
Throughout the game, people kept coming out of theirs rooms to tell us we were too loud.  We ended the games earlier than we really wanted to, because there was no way to keep that many drinking people quiet.  I made it to bed at 12:30.

laut47.jpg
PROBABLY THE LARGEST GAME OF 'CIRCLE OF KINGS' EVER

laut48.jpg
THE TRASH THE NEXT MORNING