Friday, September 17, 2004

Olten, Switzerland—Zermatt, Switzerland—Olten, Switzerland—Day 230

I woke up early and was on a train by 7:30am. If it took me all day, I was going to go to the Matterhorn. I was determined. I set off for a two and a half hour train ride to Brig, where I then transferred to an hour long ride from Brig to Zermatt.

The first train ride was fine—I was too distracted by things to finish my book and listened to music instead. I seemed to be the only person on the train who wasn’t carrying walking sticks or wearing big boots for hiking.

The scenery is absolutely phenomenal. I spent most of the trip just looking out of the window at the gorgeous blue sky, huge mountains and delightful little villages that lay in them. All of my friends know that I am New Zealand obsessed (I spent several months living and studying there) and I have to say that Switzerland ranks up there.

I transferred trains in Brig—which meant walking the “seven minutes” to the other platform (which really took only a few) and hopped on a slower train to Zermatt. The view kept coming but unfortunately my seat on the train wasn’t that great. I had to strain around to see the passing landscapes, but I didn’t really mind.

We pulled into Zermatt which turns out to be a much larger town than I thought—but what was I thinking? Its at the Matterhorn, of course it would be touristy. Trains are banned in Zermatt (to “preserve the Alpine air”) and the whole town was just cute. Little electric carts passed off as taxis and there were loads of people there. I walked around for a bit looking at little shops (albeit tourist shops) before finding the Gornergrat train, which is a separate smaller train that takes you up the mountains—not up the Matterhorn, but up passed the tree lines to several great hikes and viewing points.

The train ascended the mountains and cheesy commentary piped through the loudspeakers but the view was stunning. The day was absolutely gorgeous—and was turning out to get better and better. I got off at the top stop where there is the highest hotel in Europe (highest in altitude and I am sure high in price!) and I stopped to take photos. It was hard to believe that so much snow accumulates here in the winter (since everywhere around me was dirt) but then easy when you looked at the year-round snow capped peaks.

Five hours after I started off this morning, I was sitting on a rock looking down into the great valley that lead to the Matterhorn. I was happy.

After taking photos, buying postcards and getting something to drink, I started walking down the mountain, along with several other people. I didn’t really have any hiking stuff with me but walking down was fine. I passed several people walking up the mountain who looked a little exhausted. I made it down to the sort of mid way point down the mountain before stopping to catch the train the rest of the way down, since time was running tight and I had to get back to Olten as some point that evening!

At the mid-way point there is this small church which is quite remarkable. I boarded the train down and we made it back to the bottom. I walked around a bit more in Zermatt—finding the local cemetery with several extraordinary graves of people from all over the world who have died on the Matterhorn. It was quite something to see. I then got on a train back to Brig and was accosted by the train conductor about my Eurorail pass—he claimed it wasn’t valid despite the fact that I had gotten to the Matterhorn on it. He told me that the Zermatt company was a private company and that I would have to pay.

I couldn’t argue with him of course so I got out my wallet, only to find that I had about 20 Swiss francs and 10 Euros. He was demanding 30 francs. So he took my Euros and my Swiss Francs, did some calculations and gave me back 50 cents in change, feeling most please with himself.

I just shook my head, got my new ticket and sat back for the rest of the ride out of the valley. In Brig I transferred to the train to Olten and finished my book on the way back—still annoyed with it at the end as I was throughout. I made it back to Olten, walked back to my hotel and called it a night.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.