Quite accidentally and somewhat foolishly, I managed to start the trip to the Jungfrau region by travelling there on Swiss National Day. Therefore, it was actually just good luck that any of the festivities were encountered at all.
As the name perhaps suggests, it is a celebration of the history and culture of Switzerland, and is one of the most important annual public holidays in the country's calendar. Although not as romantic as the myth of William Tell fighting Hapsburg injustices, the commemorated pledge of mutual assistance taken by men from the three original cantons at the Rütli meadow over 700 years ago actually proved to be in effect the defining moment in the creation of the modern nation.
Having sat on a train for a couple of hours before reaching Interlaken, where a change was required, spending some time outside before taking the onward connection felt like a decent option. It also proved to be a good choice, because the local parade was just about to get underway. Nearly all of the participants were dressed the kind of traditional rural costumes that are more usually seen exhibited in a folk museum or worn by Shirley Temple and company in the famous film version of Heidi. Represented were many of the things that come to mind when thinking of the nation, including the amazing large thoroughbred St Bernard rescue dogs, as well as the equally oversized and very loud alphorns. Whilst it was nice to see and hear the unique instruments at first hand, understanding how such cumbersome objects could have ever been practical in an undulating land is still difficult!
Afterwards, a brief exploration of the town led to a pretty old square across the river in the Untersee district, where a less formal event was taking place. Joining the numerous merrymakers sitting at long benches, and drinking a cool beer under the warm sun was a real pleasure, which was heightened by the wonderfully clean air and stunning views of the surrounding medieval architecture and picturesque mountainous backdrop. The experience was also refreshing because the relaxed and jovial atmosphere was such a great contrast to the stereotypical formality often associated with the Swiss, which seemed especially pertinent having just seen so many almost clichéd images.
Meanwhile, the evening spent in Lauterbrunnen was no less enjoyable, mainly because of the fireworks, which are integral part of the celebrations. Another piece of excellent luck meant that the balcony of my room in the Hotel Staubbach was the perfect place from which to watch the proceedings. Although the display may not have been of international size or standard, it was not particularly small either, and was well organised and executed. However, what made the show special was the way that every single burst of colour illuminated the steep rock faces of the valley in a very eye-catching manner. It was truly a spectacular way both to round off an unexpectedly memorable day and to begin a fantastic stay in the vicinity.