Friday, September 25, 2009


Our train ride to and through Switzerland was really beautiful. There were a lot of apple trees and orchards along the way which I seemed to perpetually find exciting. As we climbed higher and higher into the Alps it got cooler and cooler until the fact the it was summer seemed ludicrous. By the time we reached Zermatt it was evening and the sky was overcast and cloudy. The main attraction of the area - the Matterhorn peak - was completely obscured. I worried that it might stay in hiding during our entire two-day stay! One of the deciding factors in coming to Zermatt was to see the Matterhorn, the 4,500 meter high mountain that is sort of an iconic image of the Alps. To miss actually seeing it would be disappointing to say the least! We explored the town from our hotel to the grocery store, noticing that prices here were ridiculously high. For example: the McDonald's Big Mac meal was $12 USD. Holy crap! And I thought the $9 USD Big Mac meal though the rest of Europe was pricey... Needless to say, we did not eat at McDonald's, but instead scoured the local grocery store for the cheapest bargains and best deals we could find. I'd say we did a decent enough job. Back at the hostel after dinner we unpacked and tried charging our laptops - I feel like such a yuppie saying that: "Our laptops." I mean, a lot of people who we meet traveling don't even have one laptop. Somehow they manage not to hyperventilate at the idea of showing up in a foreign town with nowhere to stay. As I was saying about the laptops though - there was only one plug for charging in our 6-bed dorm room so I took my computer to the bathroom area and plugged it into the hairdryer outlet. This did have a positive outcome though, because I ended up meeting a nice Holland-er who told me about his mountain climbing experiences. Unlike us, he and his friends actually climb mountains. I was slightly embarrassed to admit to him that we were just planning on doing a 5km hiking trail. Despite that, it was nice to meet someone.

The morning of the 26th broke with lots of sunshine and no clouds - perfect for getting a great view of the majestic Matterhorn. It really is spectacular too. It's as if the earth has been ripped upwards into an impossibly steep peak of snow and rock, like a giant F-you to the sky above. So we got ready (which was pretty easy because we had mostly slept in our hiking clothes to keep warm) and headed out by 10:00. After a quick trip to the mini-mart for our pack lunch we were on our way: first stop Furi. Furi is just one of the many small... towns I suppose you would technically call them, that are scattered throughout the mountains. Furi was really a cable-car stop with a few restaurants sprinkled around it. The hike to Furi was a killer though. I was dying from the steep climb. I constantly lagged behind Robyn and Chuck, my heart was racing like a jackhammer and breathing was out of control. Little did I know that this was only the beginning. We refilled our one little water bottle in Furi and made our best educated guess as to the correct path out of the town and continued up the mountain. As we climbed the views just got more and more awesome and soon we were able to see what were supposedly glaciers nestled into the cradles of the higher mountains. The Matterhorn got cloudier as the day grew longer, perhaps from the snow being blown around by the intense winds up there or maybe because of the evaporation of the snow into vapor, or maybe just because clouds really like the Matterhorn. At one point we were climbing up what Robyn supposed was a ski-slope during the winter months - it was just loose fist sized rocks on a very steep incline for a hikers trail. Admittedly, I think at that point we had lost the trail we were supposed to be on and were just climbing higher wherever we could. We stopped numerous times at small, trickling streams of water to refill the water bottle and I was even caught by two other hikers laying down across a bridge for a rest at one of the larger streams. At some point Robyn started using a 15-step rule: go 15 steps and stop for a 30 second rest. Chuck somehow managed to blaze on ahead of us throughout the whole hike, continually yelling back at us that "We're almost there! It's just over here! Just another 30 minutes!" Of course, those last 30 minutes turned into about two hours. I managed to fall behind Robyn and was completely drained after every set of my 15 steps. It was absolutely exhausting! And I was so disappointed when I woke up the next morning with no muscle aches. I at least deserved that much! As we got higher it also got colder, until my fingers were freezing cold and we were passing clumps of old, dirty snow along the trail. Our final destination was Trockener Steg which lies at 2,939 meters above sea level. By the time we got up here we were so spent that it was hard to appreciate the views, although they were really incredible. The Matterhorn had grown so much closer in our climb of 1,331 meters and looked close enough to touch. Well, not really, but it was noticeably much closer. Seeing as I had been near to tears for the last hour of our six hour climb, there was no way in hell I was going back down the mountain on foot. Thank God for us there are cable cars set up through out this part of the Alps and we had hiked to just such a cable car. We forked out big bucks for our trip back down, but I'm not sure we would have made it if we had tried to hike back down. It was a long, exhausting, and at times a bit terrifying day, but also really rewarding. The whole area around Zermatt is really breathtaking. Being a Florida girl might make me more susceptible to the charms of huge, snowy mountains, but I was awed by the scenery every time I stepped outside. I was also tickled pink by the cold weather in the middle of summer. I mean really, the whole area is like the opposite of Florida now that I think of it. Three-dimensional and cold in the summer. All in all a good day.

We woke up on the 28th to discover that we were covered in nasty little bites. I would estimate that Chuck had close to 150 bites - they really loved him. Robyn managed to walk away with only about five bites... I had about 50. With some help from google we decided that they were probably bed bugs which is pretty gross. Over the next few days Robyn's and mine faded away pretty quickly while Chuck's were a bit more persistent. His arms have faded well enough, but his leg bites turned a nice bright reddish-purple before healing up. To top it all off the suckers itched like crazy! We were constantly slathering ourselves in the cortisone cream that Robyn was thoughtful enough to bring along. But, our Zermatt trip was pretty incredible despite that!

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