Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day Nine - Jungfraujoch

Today ended on a better note than it started, thank goodness. We're staying at a campground called Camping Jungfrau, in a mobile home that we're renting from Eurocamp, a UK based company that rents space at campgrounds around Europe and has tent camping and mobile homes. It's ideal for a larger family - the place we have has two bedrooms plus a kitchen and bathroom, and although everything is miniature in proportion (think 1 foot from edge of bed to the wall) it works.

What didn't work was the heater. And that leads me to

#3 Lesson I Learned The Hard Way: It gets cold in the mountains, especially at night. Even in June.

How on earth did I leave my home which is directly next door TO A MOUNTAIN and not figure this one out? Am I just absolutely, completely the most unobservant person on the planet? I bet there are aborigines in the deep jungles of Brazil that would know to pack a sweater for a vacation in the Alps. (Are they called aborigines in Brazil? See, there's something else I don't know!)

I made everyone pack long pants and a hoodie for the trip, but somehow I never truly pictured what the temperature would be like in the evening, so everyone's pajamas are shorts. The afternoon and evening had been warm, so I thought that the two blankets on each person's bed were just a nicety. More like a necessity, I learned.

By about 10 pm it was clear that it was getting chilly in the house, so I attempted to get the heater in the living area going. It's gas, and I am barely capable of running gas appliances. They scare the crap out of me, from carbon monoxide poisoning to a giant exploding fireball, there are just so many ways that a gas appliance can hurt my family that I pretty much want them banned. At least, banned from me. But I had a vague idea of what to do, I found the dial that turns it on, but nothing happened. I tried it a few times, then realized I probably needed an ignition thingy. I couldn't find it. Of course, it was dark and this is about 2 feet away from Darcey's crib, so it's not like I could shine a big light on it or anything. I grabbed one of the "extra" blankets from our bed and (even though now I had to be afraid of her smothering in the huge thing) laid it on her.

At 2:30 when Darcey woke up crying, it was probably 50 degrees in the house. I was freezing, Darcey was freezing, the house in general was freezing and I couldn't fix it. I put on the nearest hoodie I could find then put Darcey's winter coat on her and snuggled her back into the big blanket. I found the sole remaining "extra" blanket and put it on our bed, then tried to keep my shivering from shaking the whole bed and waking Ryan.

When I woke up at 6:30 this was the running commentary in my head:

I hate camping. Why am I camping? I hate camping! I know I hate camping, and you know why I hate camping? Because I hate being cold! I'm always cold when I'm camping and I hate being cold and I hate camping!

Needless to say, this was not a positive way to start the day. I wanted to scream when Zack woke up Darcey at 6:50 and then when Ryan tried to talk logically to me about fixing the problem, I just about bit his head off and ate it for breakfast. I had the presence of mind enough to say that I was so miserable that I was clearly not functioning rationally and that talking to me was probably not a good idea. By 7:30 I all but threw Darcey at him and went back to bed for another hour of sleep.

I was much better when I woke back up. I even got dressed (albeit under the blanket that I had cocooned around me) and then Noah and I set out to find an employee to figure out the heater. The employee found the ignition button, turned the heat on, and we were starting to thaw within a minute of the guy getting to our door. Nothing was broken, I just didn't know what I was doing, so shivering all night was totally human error. Man, I hate that.

So we ended up with a late start to the day, but that was all right. We met my parents and Tim at the base of Staubbach Falls, which is this mammoth waterfall right near the base of our camp. We hiked up it and the path led behind it. The walk was steep, but brief, and my dad was walking at about my pace anyhow, and Tim enjoyed our slow company so the three of us were the caboose of the hike. The view from the top was, of course, beautiful and the boys loved dashing through the water as it dripped down through the tunnel. Under the fall itself was a constant spray, and from the back of the pack listening to the boys screech and yell out of pure joy I told my mom, "This is why we brought them. Everyone asked if we were bringing the kids, and this moment is why we did." It's fun to watch them enjoy themselves in such a non-commercial environment. They could have just as much fun in a Chuck E. Cheese, but somehow this seems purer.

When we got back down, most of us were damp but Zack was completely soaked, not from the waterfall but from playing in the water fountain at the bottom of the trail. I took his shirt off and put his coat on, zipped him up, and forgot for the rest of the day that he was basically shirtless.

The charming clock tower in the town of Lauterbrunnen struck 12 as we walked back into town, hoping to get some lunch and some info from the tourist office. What we failed to realize was that the ringing was actually a "last call" - make your purchases and get out of the store, because the entire town closes down at noon. By 12:15 the cafe and the tourist office were both closed, although we know for a fact that the tourist office worker was still there, as she opened a window to tell my kids to stop playing in the alley. Disrupting her nap, probably.

The train station is always open, thank goodness, so we went in there and decided on the spur of the moment to buy tickets for Jungfraujoch, which was an outing best enjoyed on a sunny day, and since the sun was shining right then, we decided to take the plunge.

Jungfraujoch is this amazing station at the top of Jungfrau, the peak named after the "young girl" being protected by the Monch ("monk") from the Eiger ("ogre"). The Eiger is one of the more famous rock climbing mountains, and the train we took actually stops in a tunnel halfway up the north face of the Eiger, with observation windows so you can see the view from the Eiger. That is, if the weather was clear, which it was not.

But it pretty much didn't matter to us. What we could see was so cool that it was worth the jaw-dropping $100 per person (after the discounts, and the kids were free thank goodness) for the train ride up. The views on the train were spectacular - these tiny cottages nestled in the hills, absolutely picturesque - and as we climbed higher and higher, it just got better. The ride was about two hours to the top.

The first thing on our list was to visit the ice palace which is so cool there isn't a word to describe how cool it was. Uber-cool, maybe. We were in an ice cave with statues and tunnels and it was the best part of the whole thing, I think. Poor Darcey was sitting in her stroller, freezing her little tush off, so I took her out of there, but it was the neatest thing we've done here so far. And I think it won't be topped.

The less-neat thing that we did was get altitude sickness. I can't vouch for Darcey, but every single one of us ended up with a headache, along with shortness of breath and a sick stomach. It hit my dad the fastest; he was out of breath almost immediately, but we all caught up to him pretty quick. Fortunately, we survived with just the headaches lingering, unlike the lady puking into the garbage can right behind us, or the boy on the return train tossing his cookies in the area between the cars.

While we were up there we went outside, but the clouds were so thick around us that we couldn't see anything but white. It's too bad, because on a clear day the view from 11,000 feet is into Germany, Italy, and France, and that would have been a sight. As it was, Noah got to eat a lot of snow (in the winter we call him Snoah), we threw snowballs at icicles and watched the icicles slide down the mountainside, and paid prices so high for sandwiches that it made Disneyland food look affordable.

We were all tired (and sick) by the time we left, so we didn't get a chance to go sledding, or skiing or ride the zipline or anything else that was available. I, personally, wanted to do the dog sled ride, but it is only in the morning.

The ride down was much faster, it seemed, than the ride up, but that could have been because the kids were all well-behaved and Darcey slept for part of it. The altitude sickness wore everyone out, I think, so I'm glad we hadn't planned on a big dinner out or anything like that. My mom made us spaghetti in our mobile home and then they left to go hunt down some apfelstrudel for Tim and some pommes frites for my dad. I'm sitting in our warm bedroom with Darcey in her summery pj's sleeping contentedly, and I'm confortable and happy. It was a good day.

PS - It costs 10 Francs (which equals $10 US) for 2 hours of internet access, so I'll have to get pictures up later. Sorry about that. It'll be worth the wait, though.

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