It's 5:17 AM in the morning and I'm on the first train out to Bern.
From there, I will be connecting to Interlaken, Grindelwald and finally to Kleine Scheidegg. I'm hoping to compensate for a canceled meet-up at Klausenpass, where I was going to take photos of sunrise with a bunch of other photo junkies.
It's really dark outside, but the people in the train could not care less. I have a feeling that the people who are on this train have spent the night in Zurich, waiting for the first ride home. Some are too tired to even care, all are oblivious that by pretending to stare outside I can see perfectly well inside across multiple aisles.
The train moves on, silently in the night.
At Bern, though my train arrives late, I manage to hop onto the IR to Interlaken on a ride completely void of passengers. From Interlaken Ost, it's a ride on the Berner Oberlander Bahn to Grindelwald. There, I come across the first group of tourists who have likely spent the evening at the many hotels around town.
Since they all crowd on board one carriage of the Jungfraujoch cogwheel train, I hop onto another one, which gives me the freedom to wander around and open windows into the cold, frigid morning as we climb up to Kleine Scheidegg.
I'm up and about like a fidgety child, not sure what to photograph or when to sit down. Along the way, I lament the fact that had I been able to catch any earlier train, I may have been able to grab the sunrise over the hills. Perhaps in a few weeks, that sun would rise later in the day, too.
It's a little before 9 AM when I jump off the train, and while I do a quick 360, I make a beeline for a little ridge away from the station. I figure my best bet of a view of the amazing hills, mountain and snow is to make it to a higher point, and so I trek my way through the fresh powdered snow and up a pathway, along the second set of rails that lead tourists up to the top of the Jungfrau.
Since it's still early in the morning, the sun lights up the peaks from behind, and the wisps of snow as the wind blows through makes for a beautiful, breathtaking scene. I remind myself that the Jungrau is the mountain with the little white-capped companion on its right side. To its left, I spot the little building where the train line really ends.
Throughout the day, I stumble across a variety of hidden gems, like a viewing tower near a restaurant on one end of the station, with two conspicuous Swiss flags.
I note how I imagine the Swiss planning authorities were saying among themselves: "With so many tourists here, what could we do to remind them what country they're in? I know! A giant flag! Better yet, two!" The Swiss seem to have a tradition of planting flags in the most difficult to reach places, like on top of scary ledges high up mountains.
As the day wears on, more enterprising tourists make their way up the path I carved out for them in the morning, and I retrace my steps over their paths towards another hidden gem: A lake at the top, facing the hill towards Grindelwald and overlooking Eiger.
There's an odd building with a permanent exhibition of the pathways up the Eiger, though it's a bit eerie because at the entrance, there's a ceiling covered with old cameras pointing down at you, like lost toys staring accusingly at the people who have forgotten them on the mountains.
As the sun shifts I head closer towards the tracks to grab a photo of the trains as they make their way up the mountain. It takes a couple of tries to get a decent shot, so to pass the time I imagine what the conductors must be thinking as they see the odd tourist standing by the side of a crossing.
That, and marveling how it costs 60 francs roundtrip to go up the last bit to Jungfraujoch.
I'm thoroughly tired and the bottoms of my jeans are soaked by the time I decide to take the 2:33 PM train down to Grindelwald. I've decided to go for some souvenirs (I collect postcards), but since I'm already on my second camera battery (the cold doesn't really help battery life) I figured I might see if there's anything interesting in town.
Today, I've realized that oftentimes the mountains look bigger when they're framed against everyday objects - like a way for our eyes to compare how sizes compare - and so I'm keen on exploring a little more.
At some point as I walk through Grindelwald, I realize that might have been a pretty bad idea. The problem with me and mountains is that I can never quite get enough of them. One more step and I feel a little more closer - oh wait, perhaps I could get a better view there! - oh wow. That cycle never stops. I'm nearing the edge of town when I find a church, which gives me a good place to set up my tripod for a last time and frame my shot.
It's nearly 7 PM by the time I get to Zurich Main Station. At Bern, with all the Sunday evening crowd, I miss out on a beautiful city view of the mountains, but I try to capture it in my mind's eye, for later appreciation. It's not as if the mountains are going anywhere, anytime soon.
(Photographs copyright by Rio Akasaka)