Friday, October 19, 2012

Zermatt - September 5, 2012

 A four-hour train ride will take me from Milan to Zermatt, with a transfer in Brig, Switzerland.  Just as no one asked to see my passport when I arrived in Rome from New York, after changing planes in Berlin, no one asks to see my passport as the train moves from Italy to Switzerland.

On the way down the mountain
At the border, a cute little dog boards the train happily wagging its tail. I do not notice at first, and then I realize a Swiss guard accompanies it, their only concern is drugs. The dog obviously enjoys its work, I watch as it gives my luggage a careful sniff and then wanders off to investigate the next suitcase.

The transfer to another train in Brig is easy, yet a little complicated, here the language is German and I cannot find my train. A helpful man accompanies me to where I catch the train, which is outside and in front of the train station, more like a bus stop. The train to Zermatt runs about every half hour. 

It is during this portion of the trip that I receive my first taste of Switzerland's landscape.  Swiss chalets rest on steep mountain slopes, and I wonder how the owners keep their grass cut. I will eventually "get it", chalets are built on Alpine pastures, and there is no need to cut grass. Waterfalls cascade, rivers flow pure and the jagged edges of mountaintops patched with snow point into an azure sky.

A short and pleasant train ride brings us to Zermatt, the end of the line. It is at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn. My first stop, as is always the case, is the tourist office where I expect to receive a map and directions to my hotel. I'm staying at Hotel Darioli, a short walk up the street from the train station.

After I survey my room and get rid of my suitcase, I get my bearings by walking around town.

Zermatt to Gornergrat - September 6, 2012

A beer really hit the spot and the view
The first thing I do this morning is purchase a backpack; after that I venture into the grocery store and buy a sandwich, granola bars, fruit and bottle water. Bottled water is hard to find because there is no need for it. Fountains with drinkable water flow in many parts of Zermatt, and the tap water is delicious. It is the bottle I need I pack my bag, I return to my room, put on my hiking boots, pack my backpack, and I'm ready to hike the Alps. I'm off to a place called Gornergrat.

Advertised as "the highest altitude cogwheel train in Europe, to run completely in the open air," I'm not certain what this means, but it sounds impressive. It is expensive, 40 Swiss Francs one way, with assurance from the ticket agent that I can purchase a ticket to come back if I change my mind, my ticket will take me to the top and it will take four hours to walk down.

Other train passengers assure me that the walk down is easy, besides there are many people on the paths, they say, and encourage me to give it a go.  It is a steep down hill trek and in the beginning the path is full, but as time lapses the number of people walking diminished. Experienced Alpine trekkers and a determined me continue to the bottom.

After two hours on the path, my knees occasionally buckle. Sometimes I walk so slow I'm almost at a standstill, but I simply cannot move any faster. After spending four hours walking down what is mostly a steep slope with my toes pushing against the end of my hiking boots, my toes are bruised purple.

Along the trail I encounter a posh resort with what is likely the most beautiful view of the Matterhorn available. I stop to drink a beer, rest my legs for a while and hope that I will make it down to the bottom of the mountain.

At last, I meet up with the mountain biking trail, which proves to be an easier walk. A German couple meet me along the way. They decide to continue on the hiking trail.

"We are crazy,” the woman announces.

"You are crazy?" I ask.

 "Yes, we are crazy."

"I am tired," is my parting remark, as they continue on the hiking trail, and I choose the less challenging mountain bike road.

At first I'm certain I will lose the nail on my big toe, and may, eventually. My toes will be bruised purple for a long while to come.

Gornerschlucht - September 7, 2012

Knowing little about Zermatt, I mistakenly think I can catch a bus to Gorner Gorge. No, I'm told, the way to get there is to walk. "I'm not sure I can," I say. Although I'm told that it's not far and it’s an easy walk, I remember that was what I was told about Goernergrat.

I'm no sissy. I wear my sneakers instead of hiking boots, easier on the toes, I hope. Off f I go to find the gorge. The gorge is not for those who fear heights, the Gornervispe River took thousands of years to twist 220 million year old rock into weird shapes, and continues its work today, as water energetically swirls at the bottom. For the more adventurous, it is possible to cross the gorge with special equipment. For the more sedate, between 1886 and 1887 a bridge was built, fastened to the cliff and overlooking the gorge.

The Only Way to Hike - September 8, 2012

Alpine scenery
Today I devise a hiking style. The trails are clearly marked and each sign indicates the time it will take to walk to the next hamlet, twenty minutes, forty-five minutes, and hour, never very far. Most hamlets have a restaurant. Walk a little, eat a little, take a few photos, and admire the scenery, a fantastic way to spend a day.

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