Monday, January 22, 2018

Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland: no small adventure

After spending a few days in Switzerland in 2013, I reached two conclusions about the small country bordered by France, Germany, Italy and Austria: It's expensive, and it's naturally stunning.

I also learned a little about myself, namely that for me beauty sometimes trumps budget. I vowed silently to return one day, not to Lucerne, whose emotive Lion Monument nearly moved me to tears, or to bustling Zurich, but to the mountainous Jungfrau Region.

And I wanted to share the experience with my teenage daughters.

That opportunity arose several months ago after I found a relatively cheap round-trip flight between Orlando and Copenhagen. (No, Denmark and Switzerland are not close geographically. However, discount airlines in Europe make it easy and affordable to travel among cities.)

After landing in Copenhagen, we flew to Milan, Italy, for an overnight stay that included shopping, a viewing of The Last Supper, a visit to the Duomo and some pasta and gelato.

Next up on our whirlwind adventure: Switzerland.

We boarded an early morning train bound for Brig, where I planned to purchase train tickets to our ultimate destination of Kleine Scheidegg. I must admit my jaw dropped when I found out just how much those tickets would cost: roughly $250 for the three of us. (See "It's expensive," above.) Then I fished out my credit card.

We were on our way.

We made connections at several stations before reaching Interlaken, a popular resort town, where we switched to the train to Kleine Scheidegg.

As it chugged through several small towns, picking up skiers and snowboarders at each stop, verdant ground gave way to white, then even more white.

When we reached Kleine Scheidegg, which sits almost 7,000 feet above sea level, there were blankets of snow everywhere. A cloudless blue sky afforded spectacular views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains.

In awe, and practically giddy, we checked into Mountain-Lodge, dropped our bags in the room and set out to explore.

It was obvious that Kleine Scheidegg is a hot spot for skiers and snowboarders. The area around our lodge and the nearby Hotel Bellevue des Alpes was bustling with hundreds of people enjoying some downtime a few yards from the slopes, eating and drinking both indoors and outdoors, shopping and just relaxing.

We browsed in the gift shops before heading to Rostizzeria at Mountain-Lodge for a late lunch. Because it was such a sunny and beautiful day, there was no seating available outside. We enjoyed a cheesy dish with pasta and potatoes inside, and the fantastic vistas through the big windows.

I had chosen Kleine Scheidegg largely because it's the closest major railway station to the Jungfraujoch — Top of Europe, the highest railway station in Europe at an altitude of over 11,000 feet. In 2013 I had visited the Jungfraujoch on a cloudy day, so I wanted a do-over, and this was the perfect day. Unfortunately, everyone had the same idea. We went to buy tickets only to learn that the Jungfraujoch was sold out. We would try again tomorrow.

At the Wyss Sport shop we modeled ski hats and checked out all the ski equipment and accessories that are foreign to my daughters and me, native Floridians. We inquired about ski lessons — we were in the Swiss Alps, after all — and decided to take a one-hour lesson early the next day, before all the skiers and snowboarders descended on Kleine Scheidegg. We figured we couldn't get into too much trouble with a sled, so we rented one for 24 hours for $10, bringing it to our room with plans to use it once the resort area cleared out when the last train of the day left at dusk.

With its departure we virtually had Kleine Scheidegg, now eerily quiet, all to ourselves. We ate some cheesy dishes at Rostizzeria before playing in the snow under the cover of darkness (and stars). And a-sleddin' we went. What a blast, and thankfully no experience was necessary.

That changed a bit the next day. We were fitted for ski boots and skis, and gingerly made our way from the shop down to the lesson area. We worked with Peter, our instructor, for a full hour trying to stay upright and avoid breaking anything. It was fairly draining, so when we were done we turned in the girls' equipment (I had high hopes of trying to ski later that day) and prepared for the trip to the Jungfraujoch. Getting tickets, which cost more than $300 for the three of us, was no problem — and no surprise on this cloudy day, about as gray as it could be.

Once at the Jungfraujoch we shopped a little bit, walked throughout the Ice Palace, which features carved sculptures, and learned a little about the history of the railway. There are numerous outdoor observatories, but on this day visibility was nonexistent and weather conditions pretty miserable. We did venture out once, at an elevation of 11,401 feet, to pose for a photo in front of the Swiss flag. It wasn't our best, the pain evident on our faces as we were pelted by what felt like sheets of ice in winds of about 45 mph. (The woman we asked to take it didn't seem too thrilled, either.)

Dripping wet, we went back inside to have lunch at Crystal, a nice sit-down restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows. Fondue felt like the right thing to do, so 'due we did, dipping bread, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and pickles into the bubbly cheese.

We opted to get dessert at the Lindt chocolate store, a new addition to the Jungfraujoch since 2013. We bought some gifts and picked out about two dozen different-flavored truffles for ourselves. Goodies in hand, it was time to head back to Kleine Scheidegg so we could catch the train to Interlaken.

As we prepared to board in Kleine Scheidegg, the snow began to fall.

We couldn't have scripted a more picturesque ending to a magical, albeit short, journey.

Contact Dawn Cate at [email protected]

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