Day 3 - Switzerland
Sunday, June 27, 2010: With a long day ahead of us, we wanted to start out with a delicious McDonald's breakfast. Our GPS offered several suggestions, including one in the suburbs, but we chose the one located downtown.
|We arrived at 6:10 AM -- 10 minutes after they closed for the morning. Lesson learned: never expect the McDonald's in the karaoke bar district to be open during normal hours. So, off we went in search of other alternatives.
|We got to enjoy the unusual sight of traffic lights displaying the yellow light along with the red light just before it turns green (just like in Sweden and Argentina). Shortly after this, we turned onto the autobahn and drove straight into a police road block, where they were checking people for drunk driving. That is when we learned from the nice police officer that we needed to have an autobahn permit. She was nice enough to let us go and to tell us where to get a permit.
|Thank goodness for gas stations that are open 24 hours!
|Forty Swiss francs took care of the permit, which Tom affixed to the windshield, ...
|... and a few francs more bought us delicious gas station sandwiches for breakfast.
|We weren't the only ones up early on a Sunday morning. These Europeans do love their hot air balloons.
|Near Luzern/Lucerne, it started to look "Alpy," our official term for landscape with mountains.
|Here's a lake just south of Luzern, ...
|... and more scenery further south.
|This incredible lake is Lungerer See.
|The perfectly flat water created a perfect mirror.
|The little town of Lungern overlooks the lake, ...
|... and the road going up the side of the mountain overlooks them both.
|The scenery is amazing and waterfalls are a common sight. Poor Tom was busy navigating the switchbacks while Debbie took photos for him to enjoy later.
|A short drive later and we stopped at a rest area on Lake Brienze. There was someone camping in a tent at the overlook so we got a photo of the local map instead. The map is oriented looking south; the red dot is where we were.
|When we got to a lakeside park in Interlaken, we got a nice look at Lake Brienz.
|So did the ducks.
|Here's a small view of Interlaken from our vantage point.
|Poppies were in full bloom in this Interlaken garden.
|On the other side of Interlaken is Lake Thun.
|We drove along Lake Thun gaining altitude as we went.
|Debbie spotted a train entering a tunnel near the top of this mountain, Neisen, ...
|... so we decided to get a closer look. This is the Niesenbahn funicular.
|We stopped by to check it out but realized that we didn't have the time to spend on the trip since we had a date with the Matterhorn later on.
|Around the other side of the mountain, we could see where the train came out of a tunnel and continued on raised tracks toward the summit. Next time we're in town, we're definitely going to check it out.
|With snow-capped peaks in the distance, it was getting very Alpy indeed.
|This was an impressive entrance to a very short tunnel.
|This was just the opposite: unimpressive entrance to what turned out to be an amazing tunnel.
|Our GPS told us this would be a ferry, but we didn't understand what that meant until we pulled up and followed the car in front of us ...
|... onto a train.
|Yes, indeed, our tunnel experience would involve being toted on an open train car.
|Here we go!
|Ten minutes later, we were back in the bright sunlight on the other side of a bunch of very tall mountains.
|We unloaded our train while the train next to us was filled with cars heading the other direction.
|A few more switchbacks, and we were overlooking the little town of Gampel, home of ...
|... this gigantic croissant.
|On our final approach to Zermatt, we passed hillsides full of vegetable gardens, each with their own little shed.
|Oh, this is exciting. We're approaching extreme Alpiness as we drove through the valley that ends at Zermatt.
|The town of Täsch is as far as cars are allowed to go, so we parked our rental car in the Matterhorn Terminal and boarded the Matterhorn Gotthard railway shuttle.
|The train is very bright and modern, with a variety of seating and lots of open space for travelers with rented luggage carts.
|Of course, the scenery is pretty terrific (except for the parts of the route that go through snow tunnels).
|Here is what the seats look like. The trip is 20 minutes long and trains run every 20 minutes.
|When we got to Zermatt, we took our first picture of the Matterhorn as every visitor to Zermatt must do the moment they step out of the train terminal. There it is, peeking out from behind the hill.
|We have visibility! Score!
|Zermatt's lupines are almost as beautiful as the Matterhorn.
|Well, maybe more beautiful. Wow, these are pretty.
|First stop: the funicular to Sunnegga Paradise. It was a short walk to the station.
|Once inside, you travel straight back into the mountain via a cave-like tunnel, ...
|... then enter the funicular via a slanted staircase.
|It needs to be slanted because the funicular car is angled as well. This photo was taken on the way back when we had the car nearly all to ourselves; going up, it was quite packed.
|And we're off! This is looking toward the slanted staircase from the front of the train (or the back if you're going up like we were).
|Oh, my, it's dark in here.
|Let's try a photo without flash. The tunnel was dark but had enough lights flying by to be able to see how fast we were going.
|In just a few minutes, we were far above Zermatt at Sunnegga Paradise where we had a table on the terrace.
|The view was unbelievable.
|We marveled at our freakishly good luck when it comes to weather and visibility.
|Orchy was happy to be here too.
|It had been many hours since our gas station sandwich breakfast in Zurich, so we enjoyed a large pasta lunch with two delicious Coca Cola Lights each to wash it down.
|The temperature was in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, or whatever that is in Celsius.
|It turns out that there are beautiful mountains in all directions, not just the Matterhorn.
Let's look at some of it, shall we?
|Off in the distance was the hotel where we'd be staying, but more on that later.
|After lunch, we were back on the funicular ...
|... and heading back through town. We followed the river south through the center of town, glancing back in the direction of Sunnegga Paradise.
|Up ahead was the mighty Matterhorn again, this time competing with a gorgeous golden chain tree ...
|... and these pretty little columbines.
|About 15 minutes later, we were at the far south end of town where the cable car to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is located.
|The nice lady at the ticket office told us the price would drop if we waited three minutes until 1:30, so we did, then we grabbed the next cable car without any waiting.
|We were thrilled to find that we had the entire car to ourselves for the first part of our ride. That's Zermatt already shrinking in the distance behind us.
|The second leg of the cable car route (from Furi to Schwarzsee Paradise) passes over small homes, sheds, restaurants, and trails.
|We were passing through the Schwarzsee station 15 minutes into our trip.
|And there's the lovely Matterhorn.
|There's a restaurant for those who stop at this station, or hike up to it, or ski down to it.
|The next leg dipped down to the Furgg station, ...
|... then back up past snow-making nozzles, ...
|... streams formed from melting snow, ...
|... and ponds peeking out from under glaciers.
|We arrived at Trockener Steg station after 25 minutes, ...
|... and changed to a very large car with room for 100 people.
|At this height, the ski fields still had snow on them.
|There was snow down there, ...
|... and snow up there, ...
|... and snow right here, ...
|... and snow over there.
|After 10 minutes, we were at the peak of Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn).
|Let's go in and see what's here.
|At the station, the way to get to the attractions is through several long, chilly tunnels. We got out our fleeces at this point. The elevator to the top is up ahead on the left.
|From the elevator, there is a series of stairs to climb. At an altitude of nearly 13,000 feet, it was easy to get winded. That's our excuse anyway.
|Whoa. We were at the top of the world. Tom used Debbie's phone to take a panorama shot of the scenery.
This is the view from the Matterhorn on the left to the Breithorn on the right, with Zermatt in the valley in the center.
Here is the view south toward Italy, with the Breithorn on the left. Some of the staircase and visitor's center is visible.
|For those who prefer non-panorama shots, here are the Matterhorn, ...
|... Zermatt, ...
|... and the Breithorn.
|This corner of the observation platform was highly popular for the requisite photo with the Matterhorn.
|We were both there.
|Looking toward the south, Tom's GPS confirmed that we were looking at Italy, but we couldn't tell exactly where the border was -- either at the very edge of this snowfield or somewhat closer.
|After all of that, it was time to see the Glacier Palace. It took a little time to find it, but it's there. Walk this way...
|The Glacier Palace features ice sculptures, including one with a red rose frozen in the middle.
|Orchy was there.
|It was built in an actual ice cave with cool crevices like this, ...
|... and this.
|Here's a little ice figurine.
|This stone is from the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, China, which is the sister mountain of the Matterhorn.
|We had to get our photo taken here but since no one else was around, we took two and glued them together because we have mad Photoshop skillz.
|Here's one more odd little ice sculpture before we left. It's no Ice Hotel, but it was nice.
|Back above ground, the Asian tourists were getting their pictures taken in the snow and sunshine on the maybe-it's-Switzerland/maybe-it's-Italy snowfield.
|Here's the view looking back toward the peak to put the stairs in perspective.
|It was time to head back down now. This time, the cable car was more full, and Tom gave up his seat to a Filipino woman who then insisted on having her photo taken with Debbie.
|There's the shadow of our car on the glacier below.
|And here's another one passing us on the way down.
|The long glacier in the distance is just to the south of our hotel, which is on the top of the gray mountain to the left.
|Here we are approaching the Trockener Steg station again, where we wisely decided to spend a little time to shake the crowd of people.
|First, we leisurely looked back at the peak of Klein Matterhorn (the rocky outcropping at the top of this photo), ...
|... then Debbie took a little trip to the restroom and added yet another consideration to the Bundings Restroom Scale: the scenic view.
|Stalling for time a little longer, we took this shot of the holding area for extra gondolas. They probably come out during the busy winter season.
|In our private cable car, we took another photo of the Matterhorn while another car passed by. This one turned out pretty nice, we don't mind saying.
|Zermatt was still pretty tiny in the distance.
|We cruised through the Furgg station, ...
|... and Schwarzsee Paradise, ...
|... and Furi.
|By now, Zermatt was getting closer, ...
|... and the slate-roofed buildings were just underneath us, ...
|... or next to us.
|Back at the station, we knew we had only 15 minutes to catch the next train to Gornergrat, and a 20 minute walk ahead of us, ...
|... so we paid 10 Swiss francs (~$10) for a 5-minute electric taxi ride to the train station.
|It was worth it to not have to wait another 48 minutes for the last train to Gornergrat.
|The train took off at 16:24 right on time.
|Of course, the first photo we took along the ride was of the Matterhorn.
|Man, this train does not mess around. Fourteen minutes into the ride, we were already much farther up than Sunnegga Paradise, visible in the distance in the center of this photo.
|Here's the track ahead of us, partially covered by snow roofs.
|And here is the train going along that very section. Hey, isn't that the Matterhorn?
|Yes. Yes, it is.
|Before long, we were nearing the top, ...
|... and exactly 43 minutes after starting our journey, we were at Gornergrat station with an elevation of 10,132 feet or 3,089 meters.
|We were there. Thanks to the nice person who offered to take our photo.
|Turning our backs on the Matterhorn briefly, we faced the train and our majestic hotel, the 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat.
|We stopped to admire the incredible view to the south.
Our panoramic shot looks remarkably like the one on the sign. How's that for a glacier, huh?
|One more shot of us and the Matterhorn.
|Here's the hotel again. Our room was on the third floor all the way on the left before the tower.
|There's a gorgeous mountain reflected in the gift shop's windows.
|We checked into our room: 4219, the Hohberghorn room. Each room is named after one of the peaks in the region and the room number is the height, in meters, of the peak.
|Although the hotel was built in 1905, the interior was refurbished in 2007.
|The rooms are decorated with warm wood walls and wood furniture, with a topographic map on one wall.
|Of course, it's the map of the Hohberghorn, ...
|... and a nearby plaque shows the location of the Hohberghorn along the mountain range. Even the guest chocolates featured a picture of the Hohberghorn on it.
|Here's the beautiful modern-yet-rustic bathroom.
|Here is the real jewel of this room -- a large window that opens to the crisp air and an unbeatable view of the Matterhorn.
|We headed up to a large observation area behind the hotel. The only other people there were a Russian couple who asked to be photographed in front of at least six different peaks, ...
|... so they returned the favor for us with at least two. That's Klein Matterhorn in the distance to Debbie's left.
|Tom checked out the view with a telescope, ...
|... and Debbie studied her map to identify the peaks surrounding us.
|Next, we headed to the deserted self-serve cafeteria to pick up two bottles of Calanda, another Swiss beer.
|We sat in the sun on the hotel terrace and laughed and took pictures of ourselves ...
|... and the Matterhorn, of course.
|Speaking of the Matterhorn, we got a nice shot of it reflected in the cafeteria's window.
|Soon, it was dinner time. We went to the hotel restaurant, ...
|... and started with fantastic bread, an excellent salad bar, and cream of broccoli soup.
|There were two selections for the main course. Tom selected the beef and Debbie had the salmon, both complemented by the vintage 2010 apple juice we chose.
|Dessert was a beautifully-presented crème caramel.
|And of course, there was a fantastic view.
|By bedtime, the sun had set over the Matterhorn and its fellow peaks.
Good night, beautiful mountain.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy