Thursday, July 21, 2016

In Search of the Matterhorn

So we were in Switzerland, and my husband especially very much wanted to see the Matterhorn. That's the big odd-shaped peak that looms over Zermatt. Unfortunately the weather forecast for our two days in the Alps was atrocious: high of 50, low of 30, rain, rain, rain, and then they actually said Zermatt would get a couple of inches of snow.

My husband moaned. He apologized for the weather. He was sorry he'd planned the trip so that our two days in the Alps would be the two days of the trip when no one could see any mountains. He talked about the weather until my daughter and I shut him up. We can't change the weather so we might as well have a nice vacation anyhow.

Lauterbrunnun was raining, and there weren't any BASE jumpers (Lauterbrunnun is famous for being a place where people jump off cliffs and see how long they can free-fall before triggering their parachute, and still survive) but there were waterfalls. Up at Murren we walked all around the town, but skipped the high peaks. The next day, as I've already recounted, we left early for Zermatt. We took that crazy tunnel-train and ended up in unexpected sunshine. It was cold, but clear.

You can't drive all the way into Zermatt, which is at the end of a box canyon. You can take a train, or you can drive to Tausch and take a taxi from there. We taxied into town on a one-lane road (one lane for both directions, with occasional passing spots; the taxi drivers are pros but I wouldn't try it) then met, at a lot on the outskirts of Zermatt, a little electric car that shuttled us to our hotel.

Now you can't see any of the mountain peaks, not even the Matterhorn, from the streets of Zermatt: it's too steeply in the valley, and the buildings block the view. Our hotel actually sat atop a cliff above the town--it was excellent, the little electric car drove at this rock wall which opened into a little cave, very James Bond, and then there was an escalator that went up to the hotel. But even then, no view: our room faced the back wall. It was a "rock view." For ten times as much money we could have booked the "Tower Suite" which promised a view of the Matterhorn, but trust me, the rock view was pricey enough.

The hoteliers in Switzerland all seem to be competing for Hotel of the Year. This one immediately offered us a complementary welcome beverage in the bar. We declined, because we'd checked the radar, and knew the sunshine wouldn't last. If we were going to see that pesky Matterhorn we had to get up the mountainside now.

It was about one o'clock. We took the escalator to the town, walked to the Rotshorn station, took this weird cogwheel train inside a mountain upwards, then a cable car, then a gondola, until we were at the top of the place said to give us the best view of the Matterhorn. And there it was.

Sort of. It was cloudy-ish. Clouds were scudding across the sky, and they seemed to get caught on the Matterhorn's steep sides and sort of linger there. We sat outside at the restaurant on the peak and ordered lunch and some wine, and sat with blankets across our laps (the restaurant provided the blankets) and eventually we'd seen most of the Matterhorn, in pieces, one bit revealed by the changing cloud cover at a time.

It was maybe 50 degrees up there, mostly sunny, not unpleasant. I was wearing a long-sleeved jacket with a sweatshirt over it. (True story: on the gondola ride down, a man looked at my sweatshirt and said, "Does that say Poly Prep?" "Yes." "The school in New York?" "Yes." "In Brooklyn?" "Yes. I spoke there and they gave me this sweatshirt." The man; "I live next door to it." Small world.) Anyway, I went inside to use the toilet and when I came out it had dropped 15 degrees and started to snow. Actual snow. (It never accumulated in town. I don't know if it did on the mountaintop.)

We reversed our journey--gondola to cable car to train to walking to escalator to hotel. It was a bit before dinner still, and my daughter and I lobbied for the hot tub. A few of the hotels we stayed in had very nice spa facilities and we never used them, because who has time? I've seen spas; I've never been to Switzerland before. But in this one case, a hot tub--an outdoor hot tub--sounded really good. So we put on our suits and padded outside, and there it was.

The Matterhorn. A picture-perfect view. For a moment there were no clouds at all. Then clouds came and went, as they had before, only smaller ones, and we were much closer. My daughter ran inside for her camera. My husband and I sat in the hot tub, sat for an hour, and looked at the Matterhorn, and laughed.