A tale from Rick and Susan Evans- just for fun
Our recent journey to Switzerland with Insight Tours – ‘Country Roads of Switzerland’ – was a delight, very worthwhile, and a lot of fun. We went in September to avoid the masses of tourists and the heat of the summer and it did rain a bit, but we rather enjoyed that cool respite of inclemency.
Switzerland has a powerful economy with a very high standard of living for it’s nearly 8 million residents. They have low tax rates and – get this? – burn no oil to produce electricity; just nuclear and hydroelectric generation. Most of their fabulous trains run on electricity. Nearly 2/3 of the people speak Swiss German – a softer dialect of the German German and the rest speak French or Italian or Romansh.
In St. Moritz, that old, venerable resort with the world’s richest cliental, we felt ready to join the jet-set and perhaps hob-nob with Gates, Buffett, and Winfrey. The world’s most expensive hotel, ‘The Palace” is right on the beautiful Lake St. Moritz and has rooms that go for $6,000 to $7000 per night. Per night! And a suite for about $20,000. Whew.
St. Moritz has a mountain cable-railway not 2 blocks from our hotel which we used one afternoon, but there was also another railway – the ‘Bernina Express’- which we traveled on. It was a 2 1/2 hours ride that captivatingly show-cased the impressive grandeur of Switzerland. Up and up it went, around tight curves, through tunnels, over bridges, high above the tree line and then descended gradually to our final stop. It was an awe inspiring ride.
The next day we again traveled by train, this time ‘The Glacier Express’ and it was a modern train taking us to Interlaken, 6 hours from St. Moritz. Here, in this small town of about 5,000 people located near the center of Switzerland, we took a cog train to the most majestic mountain: the Jungfrau. The Jungfrau, meaning ‘Young Woman’, is a mountain with a railway station close to it’s summit, and is known as ‘The Top of Europe’. What a day we had.
This train coursed 50 minutes through a mountain, the Eiger (Ogre), and made 2 stops along the way where we enjoyed a view out of the 4 mile tunnel to the valley far below. At last we arrived at our final station, the Jungfraujoch, elevation 11,333 feet. Awaiting us was a large viewing platform, restaurants, souvenir shops, a hotel, a ski school, an ice palace with elaborate ice sculptures, a dog-sled area, and a small, flat ridge from which we looked over to view the glacier far, far away. In the distance, we saw at least 3 climbing parties of 5 to 8 people traversing the crevasse filled glacier slopes ….. slowly because our altitude was so high. Rick visited this mountain in 1960 and since then the Swiss have made quite a few major changes to this fabulous tourist attraction which is probably the most amazing feat of tourist tunneling in the entire world.
Everywhere in Switzerland there is either a mountain massif or a valley. In the valleys lie little picturesque villages of merchants, school children, dentists, cheese makers, immigrant goat herders, and farmers. Lots of farmers. They are always driving on the valley roads, sitting on their green and yellow tractors, a bit of hayseed yet in their hair. So amusing.
And the houses the villagers live in, the Swiss chalets, are always charming with their flower boxes of bright, red geraniums. And their gardens are as finely coiffered as a movie set.
Everywhere there are the Swiss brown cows, and every cow has a bell looped around her neck. These melodious musical instruments are pleasurable to hear, as are the Swiss Alpenhorns used in times past to communicate from village to village, much like the American Indian and his drums. The Swiss yodel, which we did hear sung, is another way of village communication and now is performed at festivals, competitions and of course, tourist entertainment. It’s fun to listen to, with the various pitches and ranges the singer can display.
The Swiss engineers are so innovative and their structural designs really so clever, that we continually marvel at their skills and efficiency. Their bridges, their tunnels, their high speed trains, their funiculars and aerial trams and gondolas and mountain-side trains are always punctual and appreciated. They have created a very unique country.
In Zermatt, that classic mountain town near the Italian border, we stayed 2 nights and Rick had a goal to see the Matterhorn peak again after so many years. As no gasoline powered cars are allowed in the gradually sloping streets we arrived at our ‘Best Western’ hotel via electric taxi. A bizarre transport mode to a bizarre abode! When Rick had first visited Zermatt in 1960, to see the pyramid-shaped peak of the Matterhorn, the only way into the very small village was by train – but now, as it is a pretty big and busy place, they had other means of transportation besides the train.
A novel situation in our ‘Best Western’ hotel was that our top floor room was on the side of the building and the slope of the roof squeezed the room at that side; the whole room including the bathroom. We found that in order to take a shower in the tub that was under the roof, we had to kneel in the tub and then turn on the shower. Oh my! It’s funny now, but a little annoying at the time. Susan’s theory was that the hotel had to say each room had a shower. If you were 3 feet tall, it would have been perfect. Well, like Susan’s father said, “When you travel, just float like a cork and you’ll have no troubles.”
Early the next day we took a gondola to the first mountain station; there we switched to the typical Swiss aerial cable tram, holding about 75 passengers. We zipped along for 20 minutes and arrived at our final destination, the lofty station directly opposite the Matterhorn. It was cold up there at over 10,000 feet but the biggest disappointment of the entire holiday was staring right at us. Clouds! That famous mountain, the Matterhorn, (‘peak above the meadow’ in German) was surrounded by the biggest, thickest, heaviest, gummy set of rebellious clouds ever seen in Zermatt. Ouch!
We stayed at the cozy station for a couple of hours, hoping to see the splendorous peak at least for a few seconds but it was not to be. So we descended back to the first station and then hiked down 1 1/2 hours to the village where a cool beer was waiting for us that afternoon.
On our way back to our hotel Rick wanted to see the Zermatt train station, so he went in, but as he was downstairs on the lower level walking around, he tripped and fell and banged his forehead very hard against a wall. Three Swiss middle-aged men immediately rushed to his side and speaking in German helped him up. Since he could not fully understand them, he spoke in his limited German “Ist das Blut schwer?’ (Is the blood heavy?) “Nein” said one. Then Rick spoke in his full German accent, “Mein Frau oben”, (My wife upstairs.) They helped him up the stairs where Susan was calmly waiting but immediately went into shock at seeing the ostrich-egg sized bump on his forehead. Rick thanked the three men, “Dankeshoen”, and we both retreated to the hotel for an icepack. Luckily, no black and blue smear or stain appeared, all helped by the frozen pack. The rigors of travel!
We also visited Lugano, Lake Geneva, Bern, Villars, Gstaad, Lucerne and of course, the gateway, Zurich. All pleasant towns with great Swiss atmosphere.
Yes, the morning mists, the afternoon rains, the good times at evening supper; these are all fond memories – along with the magnificent mountains and the inexhaustible vigor of their vast and titanic features. Those who reach the summits of these grand monuments are surely champions and chevaliers with a pure and flaming spirit. They are to be admired. As the 19th century American naturalist John Burroughs, said, “ It is worthwhile to sit or kneel at the face of grandeur, to look up into the placid faces of the earth gods and feel their power”.
We shall not forget this extraordinary holiday and our companions who helped make it so memorable.
Rick and Susan E