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canoeing, kayaking and other adventures

canoeing and kayaking adventures born in the Southeastern U.S. and now centered in Scotland...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zermatt, Switzerland - 31/5/2008-2/6/2008

Our next stop in Switzerland was the town of Zermatt, a car-free town at the southern end of Valais, technically just north of Italy, but not an easy walk to get there. We took the Glacier Express from Brig, a cozy train with lots of big windows for sight seeing and an audio guide that pointed out some of the sights.

Once arriving to Zermatt, our chalet was easy enough to find. We had most of a cozy 2 bedroom flat to ourselves, all save the 2nd bedroom which was kept locked. We deposited our luggage and set out to explore.

In terms of technicalities, Zermatt is a car free town. That you might get run over by electric carts or buses at any turn seems to not count in the grand scheme of things. We nearly got smooshed a few times as we wandered around the town looking for a glimpse of the Matterhorn and, more importantly, a nice place to go for dinner.

Sadly, Switzerland is not smoke free and our restaurant was not as nice as we had hoped. Service was a bit underwhelming though the omelette was nice. After dinner we caught a glimpse of the Matterhorn but not the full squinty wizard hat view. It raised our hopes, though not much. Weather was not meant to clear for any of our stay in Zermatt.

The next morning, we woke up to misty fog in the upper elevations and decided against the Little Matterhorn cable car. Expensive trip for no real view. Instead, we took the Gornergratbahn to the resort of Gornergrat. In clearer weather, we could see lots of mountains. Instead, we saw lots of valleys with glaciers and bases that became mountains in the fog. More importantly, I got to laugh at altitude-challenged Brian. I felt ok, a bit warm for the 5oC of ambient temperature.

As we got off the train, I got to pet two very bored St. Bernards who would be there all day for photo opportunities.

An old chapel remains beside the resort in impressively good condition. We wandered past that, as well as another puppy enjoying the snow. It seems a very European thing to be able to take your dog with you on public transport. Unheard of back home. We reached the highest tourist elevation of 3089m and enjoyed the views. The altitude was really getting to Brian -- he couldn't move all that fast for the dizziness. Footprints led across the glacier toward the Monta Rosa hut, which is a challenging walk in the midst of the summer. It has interesting consequences. Fall off a cliff on one side or slide down a steep glacial slope on the other. Death is a real possibility with either slip.

The restaurant inside was a nice break for more sniggering at dizzy boyfriend.

After bidding farewell to the still bored St Bernards, we took the train back to Riffelalp, another resort village at a less dizzying elevation. From there, we saw the waterfalls that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to off Sherlock Holmes, or so sayeth the monument there, and also saw some nuns much better dressed for hiking than we were. In the distance, it looked like a rescue puppy was being trained among the boulders.

From Riffelalp, we walked down the hill to Zermatt ahead of the hiking nuns. Once near Zermatt, we chose to follow the scenic trail that traced part of the circumference of the town rather than just the easy tromp back into town. The payoff for that included a gem of a waterfall and some other really beautiful sights as well as doubling back from some rather dubious trails. We arrived back to Zermatt properly tired.

Dinner at the place next to the rude place was lovely. The rösti really hit the spot, as did the local Valais wine, which demonstrated yet again that I am a cheap drunk on wine.

Monday morning, we made one final look at the Matterhorn to decide if any of the higher elevation journeys were worthwhile. Sadly, no. Instead, we followed some instructions on one of our map and took a nice walk up to the hostel Edelweiss, which juts out over a cliff overlooking Zermatt. Brian wants to buy it. There is a cable that runs from the cliff that looks like they might run supplies up it. I didn't see an opportunity for any sort of road access. It's one of many potential stops along the Matterhorn rim.

We had just enough time for that walk and an indecisive wander through town for one last meal. The normal train left on time and we arrived to Brig with some time to spare before our train back to Milan.

The train journeys are worth a mention. On the way up, the Italians are supposed to check passports as you leave and the Swiss as you enter. On the return journey, vice versa. On our outward journey, the Italians walked through the train wearing guns and looking bored. They didn't look at passports. The Swiss came through a few minutes later, wearing guns and looking serious, and examined each passport. Sadly, no stamp. On our return journey, the Swiss walked through wearing guns and looking bored and the Italians walked through wearing guns and not really checking passports. They targeted two guys who didn't look European for thorough passport inspection and made some calls before letting the train go on.

We arrived to Milan slightly late and began the adventure of navigating its underground, which was surprisingly cheap and reasonably easy to navigate to the conference hotel.

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