Jungfrau Railway

So today is going to be full of cable cars and trains… because that’s why we are here! Mr K is keen to go to the top of Jungfrau via the cog railway even if the weather is still promising to be utter shite, because it’s the highest railway line in Europe. It has a 9km long line that passes through a tunnel dug into the mountain of Jungfrau that connects Klein Scheidegg to Jungraujoch, which is the top most accessible point in all of Europe.

The view front he breakfast room was leading us into a false sense of security – the snow had disappeared overnight and it was looking positively balmy out.

First we had to go find the park and ride at Grindelwald… I was amazed at the enormous facility they have here. A four story parking building with thousands of car parks, a shopping centre, and ticketing outlets to buy all the cable car and train and cog railways tickets, to get around the area. To take a train from Interlaken to the top of Jungfrau takes about 2 hours in total. To get to Jungfraufrom Grindelwald is about 20 mins on a cable car to Eigergletcher, and then another 20 mins on the cog railway. The network is extensive…

We were taking the 360° panoramic cable car up to Eiger where we change to the railway. Each cable car carriage seats about 24 people and I imagine in busy periods, they’d be packing every seat. We travelled up with about 12 people and back with about 8… so there was heaps of space for swivelling around and taking photos.

The views were surreal… the snow made everything look black and white, even though I haven’t dumped any colour info from any of these photos.

The Eigergletscher station where we transferred to the cog railway.

Travelators, cable cars with plush leather seats, smooth concrete walls, modern trains with video monitors and a voice over in multiple languages, and no noisy ker-chunk, ker-chunk, as you went up the mountain??? This doesn’t match with anything I remember from 30 years ago!

Once we got into the tunnel, things started to look familiar… but man did this train move fast!

Got a better view of it once we arrived at the top and got off for a walk around. Jungfraujoch is at 3,464m above sea level and is the saddle between two major mountains – Jungfrau itself, and Mönch (both at close to 4,000m). This facility is the highest accessible point in Europe, so they call themselves ‘Top of Europe’.

I’m a little concerned at this point with the blue lights and the chain curtains (trying to look like moving aurora) that the experience up here has been ‘Disneyfied’. >.> We shall see!

And the weather outside is absolutely frightful! Snow piled up beside every door and temps of -14°C but with winds of 40kmph, it says it feels like -35°C with the windchill…. and I’m so not stupid enough to go outside in that!

No, nope, no fucking way!

Food options were surprising limited – oddly a canteen that was selling shit tonnes of cup o’ noodles to Chinese tourists, a serve yourself Indian curry cafe and a ‘Swiss cafe’ that turned out to have all the deep fried food in the land. Lunch choice made entirely based on where had the most seats and the quietest children! lol.

So I remember this place as having an ‘ice palace’ with some tunnels of ice, and carvings of eagles and bears and a few other things, and various exits to the mountain so you could go tobogganing or dog sledding (neither of which activity was available today – understandably!). But now it’s all full of neon lights and smooth graded paths.

And then there’s this… which I am unsure what it is supposed to be? Glowing yellow edelweiss and timber deer, and…

… a weird arse snow globe the size of a fridge! Yeah, all the stuff in it moved and the lights changed and I have no idea why it is here as such a huge feature in the Discovery tunnels.

There was a little bit of history, mostly about early explorers and the hardships of building the first tunnels.

This is Mr K’s, ‘confused tourist’, face.

Then the Ice Palace section with the Ice carvings … I quite liked this one.

Penguins in Europe make no sense!

Someone on the design team has a sense of humour:

He actually went outside… however briefly! I, did not. Mountain weather report included below so I can pull this up as evidence next time I am questioning either, 1) his sanity, or 2) his intelligence!
(PS: he never reads anything I write here anyway.)

The Saddest Ice Bar at the Top Of the World with No Barman. :’(

They have convenient provided this wall sized backdrop that you could stand in front of for an excellent selfie if the weather was as dreadful as it is today.

Eventually, it was time to head back to Grindelwald… at one point a train conductor came along and punched our tickets – I wasn’t expecting that given we had to scan ourselves in and out through turnstiles on the way up and down. Unlike any other train conductor I’ve ever seen – he was giving passengers chocolates after the exchange!

The views on the way down were just as beautiful…


Thus ended our train adventure to Jungfrau.

In the end I was kinda glad we couldn’t go out cavorting in the cold… when packing for this trip, I was super distracted, visitors in the house and things were a bit hectic. I pulled out my hiking boots (twice) and swapped them (twice) for these little Blundstone farm boots; rationalising that they are good for walking around town in wet weather when full-on hiking boots aren’t needed.

I haven’t worn them since GNW last year and hadn’t noticed at all that the rubber soles had completely deteriorated! Fair enough too- I bought them at Yass in 2005, they were a boy’s size 3 and cost me barely $70, but have done great duty… but today they just gave up the ghost and I must have been dropping bits of sole rubber everywhere I went! Nearly every trip, I take old sneakers with me and say I’m going to throw them out and I rarely do – they always come back home again, and some have even gone on multiple long trips with the intent to throw them away. But these ones were so totally trashed, there is no way I was wearing them another day, let alone taking them home. So into the bin they went!

I need new shoo-hew-hew-hew-oos!
Luckily we are heading to Paris next week, and I understand this might be a nice place to go shoe shopping! 😀

Kurobe Railway at Unazuki Onsen

The Kurobe Gorge Railway (黒部峡谷鉄道株式会社) is a private narrow-gauge railway system that operates in the gorge along the Kurobe River at Unazuki in the Toyama Prefecture. It was built to transport the construction workers and materials in and out of the gorge during the construction of the Kurobe Dam for the Kansai Electric Power Company. It was built in 1926 and extended to Keyakidaira in 1937.

The rail is still used for service and construction workers to access the dam site – which appears to be going through building phases currently. The train line was opened to the public in 1953 as a scenic sight-seeing service and it’s considered one of the most scenic train trips in Japan. The railway runs a daily schedule of open carriage trains from April to November every year, and shuts down for the winter due to the heavy snowy conditions.The startlingly green colour to the water here is due to the white granite below – I imagine in the spring it looks particularly lush and green. There are a lot of photos in this post, it was so beautiful I had a hard time editing them out. 🙂

There are multiple waterfalls down the rugged cliff sides along the route. This place has a spectacular location. The railway winds its way up the gorge past many beautiful vistas, through loads of tunnels and past several stops – some of which are open for the public to stop at and explore and others that are for the access of workers and equipment.
It got quite cold – especially in the chilly air in the tunnels and we were glad to have bought coats , scarves and beanies. I failed on the footwear front though – I should have put on my boots!Kurobe DamThe autumn colours are gorgeous.

Running alongside the length of the railway is the Winter Path – a fully enclosed concrete pedestrian tunnel that is used when it’s snowing too heavily for the trains to run, which allows the workers to continue to get access to the dam.

We could see slits in the tunnel for ventilation but I can imagine in the middle of winter – it’s bloody dark and really bloody cold walking through these concrete tunnels. Meanwhile outside in the autumn sunshine…

The water is seriously this green – I didn’t use any filters or make any image adjustments.At the end of the scenic railway track is the Keyakidaira Station where you can disembark and spend some time exploring. They have very thoughtfully built viewing platforms, a pedestrian walkway to go further into the gorge, a gift shop (of course!) and restaurants. We found ourselves some warming chicken and curry for lunch and I mostly just found that saké was helpful to warm back up again! 😀 Mr K was pretty happy wish his wash. Found a new favourite light and dry saké (I’m not super keen on the sweet ones). This one is from the Tateyama Sake Brewery and it’s called Honjozo saké. Turns out their brewery is on our way to Kanazawa tomorrow so we might try and stop by to check it out if it is open to the public. ( www.sake-tateyama.com/en/ … that’s more for me than for anyone else).

Mr K on the bridge, starting to do ‘the YMCA’… One thing we did notice was that there didn’t seem to be a lot of wildlife visible from the train. I mean, we did see some cheeky monkeys near the monkey crossing bridge on the way back but that was pretty much it. Mr K spotted this poster which was asking members of the public to report sightings of local wildlife… I have no idea what this funny looking llama crossed with a dik-dik thing is, but we didn’t see any of them.The views on the way back were just as spectacular – though some of our travelling companions mustn’t have thought so as there were many on their phones and I even saw one man sleeping on the way back.

Gorgeous! Gorgeous! Gorgeous! All of the photos, no apologies. I believe the building behind this bridge with the red roofs is the Enraku – the ryokan/onsen that we have booked to stay tonight.

Oh and just because I love a good taxidermy fail – I have included this bear that I saw at the Kurobe Railway Unizaki Station! Spectacular!

Life in the Fast Train

I’m awake bright and early this morning to pack my suitcase and get my shit sorted because we are heading to Lyon!  We’ve got to take a train from Leighton Buzzard to London, then a cab from Euston Station to St Pancras, then the Eurostar from there to Lille in France then change to the TGV to Lyon… so we are setting off from ‘the Buzz’ (I’m almost local now so I get to call it that 😉 ) at 0900 and fingers crossed – we should arrive in Lyon at 1900.

Right… let’s skin this cat!

I’m back.  Strangely we will have a bit of time today sitting around on trains and naturally glued to our phones. Got to the train station, and this is totally not connected to anything at all, but there is a cool sprung section of pavement at the Buzz that generates electricity when you walk on it… it’s beta test of some sort to see whether or not larger areas of spung walkways could generate power.  Very cool, I wonder if it’ll become a thing.

However, I digress.  The first segment of our transit went ok… train from the Buzz to London was fine. Met a nice cabbie this time who didn’t make a song and dance or try to rip us off over a short fare from Euston to St Pancras and so for his trouble I gave him £12 for the £8 fare… Take note, Sydney cabbies – it pays not to be a prick!

Once at St Pancras we found we had to wait around until the passengers from previous Eurostar trains had been cleared away before we could be checked though. There was scant little seating but we managed to find somewhere to wait about half hour. The rope lines they have set up are worse than bloody Disneyland and everyone not happy about being directed around like cattle. Anyway, eventually we went in, got scanned out of the UK, went though security and then in through French customs. Was reasonably painless but then we were herded into a large departure lounge with about half as much seating as was required. People were sitting around all over the floor or perched on luggage or coffee tables. But silly really. We managed to snavel a pair of seats and then time completely stopped!  It seemed to take forever for our 12:40 boarding time to roll around. No idea why… it’s a mystery.

Eventually our train was boarding and we settled ourselves onto the Eurostar premier economy seats that Stephola had chosen. Very comfy all round… chairs were good, tables were a useful size and the meal that came with our ticket was quite nice with a wee bottle of rosé to go with it.

The train is incredibly fast and amazingly quiet. Everyone was also abiding by the unwritten rules of being quiet in snooty class travel, which I have to say – I’m really getting used to. I don’t know why economy seats on planes and trains are always so noisy – people playing games and phones not on silent, people just talking too loud… it’s maddening but there’s always a sort of hushed serene atmosphere that comes with more pricey seats. Dammit.

Going through the Chunnel was cool and I honestly had no idea who quick it would be. One minute it’s gone black – the actual tunnel is about 50km long and you’re through it in about 30mins. Before you know it, you’re hurtling through the French countryside which looked beautiful as we passed fields and quaint little villages.

We arrived in Lille to change trains to the TGV much sooner than I expected (possibly because my phone hadn’t automatically changed time zones for me) and then it was a short amount of confusion regarding bathrooms (that were miles away) and platforms (which was the one we had just come up from!) before we were settled on the next train to Lyon.

Another couple of hours in a comfy carriage and next thing we knew we were pulling into Lyon. The Lyon Gare de Part Dieu is being renovated atm so it was a bit of a clusterfuck looking for a bathroom – and ffs France, really?  €1 to use the loo?  Don’t you know that’s really expensive for Antipodeans?! We’ve just paid a small fortune to take a train is it too much to ask that you maintain comfort stops for passengers?  Harumph.

Found our way out to the taxi ranks and met another lovely cabbie (man, I hope that Sydney arsehole got sacked!) who drove us to our hotel… where, oddly enough, every other guest is walking around in black with metal bands on their shirts. Yep. We’re in the right place.

Threw our stuff into our room and went down for a late dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Discovered my French is way too rusty when we ended up with mineral water we didn’t want and two serves of fries we also didn’t want. Never mind we had a nice meal and took a spare bottle of wine to take up to the room.

Slept like a dead thing. Tomorrow – chill out day and then Rammstein!
Very excited. 🙂 

Darwin… waiting for a Train.

Arrived in Darwin yesterday – had a lovely and uneventful flight.  Business class worth every penny (well, QFF points, but same/same) for the Tall Guy who for the first time had leg room to spare.  A couple of piccolo bottles of sparkling and the flight passed quickly enough.

Darwin is quite the change from my recent cool and relaxing trip to Tasmania. It’s hot and unpleasant, and feels very deserted – literally no one was around and the streets felt eerily empty, at both 2pm when we arrived as well as 8pm when we went out for dinner. 

There’s more CCTV cameras than central London and more massage parlours per square inch than Bangkok – together these give a palpable sense of imminent violence and/or criminal activity.  With signs that say children are not allowed in stores without being accompanied by parents (and similar), the local business owners aren’t exactly doing their bit to dispel this notion either…

Had a late dinner reservation at a place called, ‘Phat Mango’ – was widely and positively reviewed as being a ‘foodie favourite’ in Darwin but actually was a bit of a disappointment.  The entire restaurant smelled of burnt olive oil from the moment we walked in, and every dish seemed to be deliberately charred.  For whatever reason, this restaurant that prides itself on local produce had exactly three seafood offerings – some barramundi (smoked and served cold; wasn’t great), some king prawns (served charred with a nondescript creamy sauce) and peri-peri Spanish mackerel?! Go figure.  There was some kangaroo sausages (which of course, being kangaroo, fell into dry crumbly mince as soon as you cut it), a Brahman hump silverside bruschetta (served with some weird pickles that didn’t complement the cold grey silverside), a beef marrow dish (which had oil drizzled all over it because marrow isn’t rich enough?!).  For a ‘local produce’ restaurant – I was curious where all the buffalo, crocodile, emu the plethora of fresh fish options were?  We tried seven different dishes and shared them tapas style. None were super impressive. All up about 6/10, chef needs to buy a sous vide and branch away from the chargrilled everything.  

After our late dinner we wandered back to the hotel for a quiet night in… lest we be caught between all that CCTV, the heightened police and seemingly anticipated criminality of those visiting beautiful family friendly Darwin!

Thankfully, some friendly travellers named Mat and Iz left themselves logged into their Netflix account so we watched a rather good mini-series called ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ (starring a rather sweary Michelle Dockery who we haven’t seen this angsty since Cousin Matthew was killed in an automobile accident).

Tomorrow… I have BIG plans, (HUGE!), for staying out of the heat while we continue to wait for our train.

PS: thanks so much to the Branch Da-Gideons for their in-room bible… it’s been super useful: as a support under our afternoon snackage of washed rind D’affinois, a block out for some annoying LEDs on the TV, a door stop for the odd plastic (?) bathroom door, a coaster and as a prop/chock to hold open the fridge cabinet which seemed to be overheating.