Following a Viking Rhine River Cruise, three of my girlfriends and I decided to take a day trip with Viator. Our trip was to Jungfrau to visit the “Top of Europe”. We hired a driver pick us up at the airport and drive us to Interlaken, Switzerland. Our journey drove us through the alpine wonderland and back to Basel, Switzerland, where we would spend the night and sightsee.
From Interlaken, the travels consisted of cogwheel trains gently creeping up the frozen Swiss landscape and snow capped mountains. Our ride took about four hours, stopping along the way to change trains and acclimate to the altitude. My favorite stop was the Grand Hotel, offering “pretty as painting” scenery, souvenirs, and an awesome photo op.
The trains were comfortable; we had plenty of room to move and large viewing windows. The higher the train traveled, the deeper the snow and the taller and thicker the trees became. Soon, we were in a near whiteout of snow and clouds that could only be separated by the occasional pine tree or glimpse of the mountains. The air smelled extremely fresh and my lungs happy. We noted that our elevation at the Kleine Scheidegg stop was 6762 feet elevation and at Eismeer, 10,368 feet. The snowcapped Alps were visually stunning.
We were escorted to the tourist center at the top of the 11,333 feet mountain. The center was spread over seven levels and we began at the top level since it is dangerous to climb up stairs at this altitude. I was not prepared for the blast of perpetual white snow that blasted me in the face when I walked out to the Sphinx Observation Terrace. Of all days, I had forgotten my sunglasses. Oh the struggle! I have never experienced anything so penetrating as the extreme solidarity of white surrounding me, blinding me with the degree of brightness; not at all what I had anticipated about arriving at the viewing platform.
Most online sites and posts talk about the weather being extremely cold and windy, but for me, that was nothing like the sheer visionary workout my eyes were getting. One of the perks of the trip was to see the 66 square mile Altesch Glacier. I have no idea if any of the white we saw was that or not. We took a few quick pictures and quickly headed inside. So much for the Christmas card picture I had envisioned.
Jungfraujoch’s Ice Palace platforms were devoted to ice sculptures and complimentary lights, the 360° panorama experience, alpine sensation, and snow fun. There were snow globe scenes, animals, sea creatures, and walkways made of nothing but ice. Be sure to hold the guardrail as you travel through these exhibits!
After all this traveling, we had worked up an appetite so we stopped for lunch at Berghaus, the onsite cafeteria. I enjoyed a creamy soup that was just as beautiful to look at as it was to eat. We shopped for postcards and souvenirs in the gift shop then met the group for our transit down the mountain.
My friends and I spent the night at the Best Western Hotel Stücki, which we booked on Priceline. We were very pleased with the accommodations and affordability of the hotel. The Best Western in Switzerland was much nicer than the ones in the United States, plus breakfast was included. My friend Angie and I added one extra day to our itinerary to explore the charming city of Basel. Good thing we had not planned more than one day because Basel is one most expensive places I have been. Our hotel reservation did include a city pass that included free public transportation throughout the town. This came in handy for us since we really did not have an agenda, so we opted to take the tram exploring the city.
Basel is located in the northwestern point of Switzerland and also bordered by both France and Germany. It is a city split by the curvy Rhine River. The touristy side is Grossbasel, which is the medieval Old Town made up of stately buildings and cobblestone streets. The ultimate tourist part to town is Marktplatz, home to the red sandstone Rathaus, or Town Hall. Marktplatz is an enormous Renaissance palace, hand painted featuring a gorgeous clock, and is on the tram route.
In this same part of town is food, flower, and craft stalls, a food truck invasion, and a friendly crowd. Other nearby points of interest include the Spalentor gate tower with its iconic gargoyles and Theaterplatz’s fountain. Strolling the streets in Basel is a fascinating free thing to do, with several narrow alleys to choose from, many holding unique treasures.
My favorite part of Basel was the gorgeous Mittlere Brücke and Schifflände 13th century bridge. The bridge is decorated with proud flags waving across the entire waterway and was the first bridge across the Rhine River. It is located in the town of Kleinbasel and takes you from Lake Constance to the North Sea. From the bridge, you can stroll the boardwalk for miles and it is a wonderful place for capturing lovely pictures. Look for the intriguing, somewhat hidden statues.
Other things I loved about Basel was a particularly gritty kebab joint (bar) that Angie and I ventured into one afternoon that had delicious meats. Later we visited chocolate stores which sold slabs of chocolate stuffed full of a variety of fruits, nuts, and candies. Basel was a wonderful place to wind down a busy river cruise and completed a special vacation. It was also the perfect city to be in for a full day of having nothing special planned, but then having it all end up feeling special. I would gladly go back.