Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How We Ended Up Driving Onto a Train

-We woke up one morning in Murren, a lovely little hamlet perched on a cliff above Lauterbrunnun, and it was cloudy as all get-out, but not actually raining. We'd planned to take a cable car from Murren to the Alpine summit of Schilthorn, but, fortunately (because the cable car ride was expensive) we could check a tv channel in our hotel room and confirm that the summit was entirely encased in clouds. The view was zero. So we gathered our things and headed for Zermatt.

Zermatt is where the Matterhorn is. We really wanted to see some of these famous Alpine peaks, but unfortunately the weather was not on our side. It had been scorching hot and ferociously sunny in Zurich and Lucerne, then rainy and cloudy and cold in the Alps. The forecast for our day in Zermatt included snow (and it did snow--but that's another story). Anyhow, we left Murren, took a train to a cable car to our rental car, parked in a lot in Lauterbrunnun, then set our GPS for Zermatt and found, to our surprise, that the trip was expected to take 3 hours. We'd been told it took two. Also our GPS seemed to have us going in the opposite direction we expected.

We checked a map in one of our guidebooks, and then, confused, consulted the GPS on our phones. (Our phones couldn't make calls in Switzerland, but our rental car had Wi-Fi so we could connect to the internet.) My phone showed the trip taking 2 hours in the direction we expected. Well, good. We set out that way, ignoring the regular GPS's repeated attempts to get us to turn around.

The road went up, and up, and up. It twisted and turned. I imagine many Americans would have gotten a little freaked out by it, but we live a few miles from a section of Highway 421 called The Snake, and it's worse, so we were okay. Also the Swiss seem to like enormously thick, secure guardrails, which I appreciate.

The road went up. We kept going. We could see no reason at all for our car GPS to keep telling us to turn around. I messed with Google maps on my phone, and the route seemed impressively straightforward, even if there were a lot of hairpin turns. There was plenty of traffic, and no treacherous road signs.

Then, suddenly, we saw signs for a toll station. Oh. Perhaps our GPS was set to avoid tolls. We checked. Nope, it wasn't. Whatever. We stopped at the toll booth where we were told a complete torrent of things in German, the only part of which we understood was that we had to pay 27 Swiss francs, which is essentially 27 dollars. We paid, and were handed a leaflet wholly in German that seemed to carry a bunch of warnings about something we did not in any way understand.

Ahead of us the traffic had stopped. Cars were lined up head-to-tail sideways-on to what seemed to be another tunnel entrance. Everyone looked relaxed. We were grateful to be pretty far back in the line, because we had no idea at all what we were getting ourselves into.

The cars began to move forward. We moved with them. The cars went up a ramp, and turned, and so did we, and before we knew it we were driving onto a train. Onto the bed of freight cars, to be exact. A young man in an orange vest motioned us forward. Helpful signs in multiple languages told us to put the car in park and set the parking brake. We did.

The train started moving into the tunnel. It accelerated until we were flying along, in absolute darkness, faster than we'd ever safely drive. It went for miles. Fifteen? Twenty? My husband and I looked at each other and laughed.

Our GPS had been set to "no ferries." Apparently riding your car on a train through the world's longest mountain tunnel counts as being ferried. The things we never knew.

The train emerged on the other side of whatever mountain that was. The clouds had blown clear. We could see the sun--and Zermatt was only 20 minutes away.