Zermatt, Home of the Matterhorn

(Written 28/3/09, 17:00)

I’m a little sunburnt, remarkably sore, and flat-out exhausted, and we still have 13 hours left in Zermatt.

It started on Thursday with Beth canceling on Stacy and I 5 hours before our departure, which is a pretty long story on it’s own. After that, Stacy and I set off with Parma sandwiches (only the best!) and bags in tow for our Swiss adventure. We first took a train to Florence (Train Count: 1) where Stacy treated me to my first 21-year old birthday drink. The bartender at Slowly was creating works of art so we didn’t order, he just concocted for us. I ended up with a delicious fruity drink with everything from sliced blueberries to apples, cranberry and starfruit in it. Stacy’s drink was even more exotic, containing a range of mysterious things, two of which were bitters and soy sauce. After that, we hustled back to the train station to catch a train to a different Florence station (Train Count: 2) from which our night train (Train Count: 3) would depart.

The night train wasn’t entirely unpleasant. We were in a 6-bed car with 3 other girls. There wasn’t much space, especially in height (no sitting up), but I didn’t mind the motion or the lights flashing outside of the windows periodically. It just reminded me of falling asleep in the backseat of the car when I was a kid, something my parents could probably verify, happened a lot. I did, however, wake up every time the train stopped (just like when I was a kid) but this just meant I was awake at 4:00 when the attendant brought Stacy and me coffee and told us ours was the next stop.

From there we caught another train (Train Count: 4) which wound through the mountains in a very blue sunrise and dropped us off in Zermatt. By then it was a reasonable 6:00 so we dropped our bags off at our hostel and walked around town. We stayed along the main street, Banhofstrasse, which was filled with tourist shops, ski rentals, and restaurants that, if entered, smelled overwhelmingly of pungent cheese. We looked at a lot of menus which were extremely diverse- they had German essentials like Bratwurst, Rösti (potatoes), and of course Swiss fondue, but there was also a definite French twist and I even saw exotic items on one menu like tamarind. I wondered aloud how they got all that food all the way into these mountains. We eyed the tasty looking Swiss chocolates, gawked at the glorious snow-capped peaks, and at the end of the road, saw the partially fog-covered Matterhorn.

Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of Swiss Franc on the immensely priced food in the restaurants, we decided to stock up on snacks and breakfast foods in the grocery store. We ate on a bench outside the train station, watching people go by as a gently flurry of snow came down. We checked into our hostel which was a cute little lodge with a nice kitchen and living room downstairs. Our accommodations, being the cheapest they offered, were on the top floor in the cozy attic and slept 17 people. Luckily, being the first ones in for the weekend, we got a nice little nook with only two beds and didn’t have to sleep beside strangers. After a bit more walking, I jokingly suggested that Stacy and I join everyone else in the town up on the mountain for some skiing. “Okay!” she responded enthusiastically. “Really?” I replied. And then we did.

We went to a rental shop for gear and proper pants and got a half-day train/lift pass and at 12:15 we boarded the train (Train Count: 5) that would take us up a 9km track into the Alps to the observatory at Gornergrat. I opted for a snowboard because though I had only snowboarded twice and not recently, I can’t remember ever having skied, though I know I did it when I was young. Stacy chose skis, having never snowboarded, but she also had 6+ years since her last attempt so we were both pretty nervous on the gorgeous hour long train ride up the mountain.

At the top, I thought it was a big mistake. I couldn’t figure out how to stand with my board on or put it on while standing and was almost convinced we would have to take the train right back down to the bottom again. It was a pretty ridiculous hurdle to overcome, but eventually with lot of attempts and Stacy’s patient encouragement, I did and we were off.
It wasn’t particularly glamorous; I spent much more time in the snow than I did on my board. But there were some beautiful moments in those mountains- finally figuring out how to stand up consistently from my knees and getting in my first solid run, then gliding to a stop at Igloo Bar, a tiny restaurant made of ice on the side of the mountain with an entire hotel carved in the ice beneath it; after falling while trying to get onto the gondola with one foot strapped to my board (hideously embarrassing), getting back up and riding to the top of that mountain again; finally learning how to do things like turn and go straight properly with the help of an amazingly patient American kid named Justin on a graduation trip with his family; snowboarding next to the glorious Matterhorn when all the clouds cleared and the sun hung low over it’s peak; riding the Gornergratbahn (Train Count: 6) back down the mountain in the sunset, completely drained but proud of myself. The most important thing that took with me was an amazingly good attitude (I even impressed myself), which helped 6 hours of ass-to-snow contact see exhilarating instead of pathetic. After we got down, the long day hit us both so we got a cheese fondue dinner from “Swiss Chalet” and went to bed.

Today I woke up sore and possibly bruised. The day was bright with clouds, so overcast that the white sky blended in with the snowy mountains. We praised our decision to ski on the gorgeous, sunny previous day. After realizing that there isn’t much to do in tiny Zermatt but ski and hike and noting that hiking wouldn’t give us any good views because of the clouds, we just walked around town. I bought a Swiss Army knife and Stacy bought Swiss chocolate. we walked through the old part of town and accidentally managed to walk up a little bit of a ski run. Eventually I was just too sore and exhausted to move anymore so we came back to the hostel to read relax, and journal. Tomorrow I will be on trains the whole day, but yesterday I skied in the Swiss Alps, so life is good.

(Written 29/3/09, 11:00)

Zermatt is truly a skier’s paradise so last night we just walked around town some more in the rain. We stopped in the Climber’s Cemetery which was neat, though partially snow-covered and drank Swiss hot chocolates which sadly came in packets. We made stir-fry in the hotel kitchen, played some cards, and went to bed with a haze of wintry mix falling outside.

This morning we caught the mountain train (Train Count: 7) at 6:13. The snow was still falling and it was so beautiful, like our own personal Swiss snow globe town int he dark valley between those majestic Alpine peaks. (Allow me a moment of cheese- it was really pretty!) From Brig, we quickly boarded a train to Milan (Train Count: 8) where we walked around for about an hour in a cute little flea market and grabbed coffee/tea and now we’re on a train to Arezzo (Train Count: 9) where we’ll catch our train to Perugia (Train Count: 10) and after 10+ hours of travel today, we will be home.

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