January 18, 2013

A Very Swiss Adventure

So, when I left off Tiffany and I were asleep in a hostel somewhere in Zermatt, a good meal in our bellies and the intention of waking up early to catch the first train up Gornergrat.
The first train was at 7:20. We had to pack up and check out before we left so we got up pretty early and quietly shoved everything in our bags. We stuck them in lockers downstairs and went to check out. There was no-one at the desk, no box to put keys in, and no readily apparent information regarding how to check out...We left a note and started briskly walking to the train station at the other end of town.

The snowy streets were nearly empty until we got near the station, but even then it was much more quiet than it had been the previous afternoon. I keep talking about a train and I think it might be time to explain what I mean. The Swiss have a certain fondness for looking at mountains and saying "hmmm, that mountain looks nice...I think restaurant would go very nicely right on the top of it...with a train to get there". They build mountain railways, very steep railways with cogs in the center that the train holds onto. The train then winds its way up to the top of whatever mountain, and that is that.

Back to my story. We got the first train at 7:30. When we got on, it became apparent that there were very, very few other tourists on that run, and that all the people on board worked somewhere up the mountain. There were piles of supplies instead of skis, and toilet paper instead of snowboards.

The train left about 20 seconds late, but by the first stop it had made that up. It takes about 35 minutes to get up to the top of Gornergrat, and when you do get up there, it is like stepping into an entirely different world. The train takes you to very near the top of the mountain, just across the valley from the Matterhorn, the best place to see it from.

There is a hotel and a restaurant on top of the mountain, all contained in a building with two telescope domes on top. The bottom floor of the building is located at 3100 meters above sea level.

When we departed from Zermatt, it was totally dark out the train windows. As we climbed above the tree line, we could start to see the amazing scene outside getting brighter in the pre-dawn light. We knew that the first train really was the best way to go.

Although the views had been spectacular out the train windows. It was nothing compared to the first views after having stepped outside. It was that time of the morning where you look at something, then look away and look back an the light has totally changed and it is even more beautiful that it was before.

We walked up to the very tippy top of the mountain a few hundred meters away, and we could have been the only human beings on the planet. Standing on top of an Alp is an amazing experience. I totally get why people climb mountains. It was so quiet, there was no wind. Just one or two clouds off in the distance to break up the clear sky. And the Matterhorn, standing there proud as always.

To make it even better, the sun was about to rise on the mountains. The sky was getting brighter and brighter then all of a sudden, that unbelievable pink light struck the tops of all the highest peaks. We were very happy we had not gone up the previous afternoon. I am going to let the pictures speak their thousand words.

 Travel tip: If you are ever in Zermatt, take the first train up Gornergrat, and watch the sun rise on the Matterhorn. You will not be dissapointed.

After having a coffee and a gipfeli in the restauran we headed back outside to find it almost warm with the sun. We met some people and had a major its a small world moment. We ended up staying up there a long time. I dont think we went down until after noon. The trip down was filled with stunning views also.

Tiffany standing straight up and down in the very tilted train.

We retrieved our bags from the hostel, and went back to the main train station. Tickets purchased, and onto the train, we left right on time, and after a short journey were back in Tasch, and were reunited with Tiffanys car. We hopped in, and started driving back down the valley. It is an amazing drive. We got the makings for sandwiches in Visp, and headed on our way towards Montreaux, chasing the fading sunlight. The sandwiches were very tasty. They were buns with mayonnaise and fleischkase, or meat cheese literally translated. In Switzerland, mayo comes in a tube! It is brilliant!

The drive was once again, a beautiful one, this time following a wide valley with a flat floor stretching from mountains to mountains. German slowly gave way to french, and soon we were just across the lake from France. We stopped at a beautiful castle/chateaux thing in the lake.

Stopping for pictures down at the waterfront of Montreaux, the sun set in a spectacular fashion beyond the high mountains across the lake. We kept heading towards Laussane, and eventually saw our second sunrise of the day when the high mountains gave way to the low mountains, and the sun was once again in the sky. It promptly set again, and we raced it up the hill, gaining a glimpse it once again from amidst terraced vineyards.

Some assorted wandering about the little villages dotting the steep lakeside slopes rounded out our exploring, and we decided it was time to head back to Luzern. We took the motorway to Bern, then wound our way through country roads back to Tiffanys.

To round out what felt like a very Swiss day, we had fondue, complete with serviettes which looked like little Swiss flags. It was very tasty.

That was one long day, and as a matter of fact, this is getting to be a long post, so I will leave it there, and continue the adventure in another post.

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