“I belong in the mountains.” Sean has said many times before when I’ve suggested trips to island beaches or rainforest jungles. He has never wavered on this point but he did “endure” almost 20 days of camping along southern french coastline and even managed to get a tan (sort of). While I basked in the sun and contracted new types of melanoma Sean’s alpine blood boiled and he squirmed under the rays like they were burning him (which they probably were, he’s very white.) During our last days on the beach I had trouble getting him to smile for photos anymore. Although his blond hair and tanned face looked like they belonged in the beach scenery, his numbed expression told a different story. Our stay in Collioure where we had been able to find hills and gain some elevation had helped us both but we needed a more serious fix now.
We had planned to visit the town of Chamonix since before we left home, and it had become like a beacon of hope. But we had to wait for the weather to warm up before going there because we weren’t equipped for straight winter. The train ride was long. It should have been quick, but we misread our tickets and missed the TGV we’d booked so we ended up with a mish-mash of transfers between regional trains ending with a bus ride. The final bus driver was not in the hurry we were in to get to Chamonix, instead sitting outside the bus talking on his cell phone. I speculated that he was waiting for a sandwich delivery that never came and he was forced to leave without it, huffing and puffing his way to the driver’s seat. He didn’t tell us when we’d reached our destination like I’d asked but left us sitting and wondering if we were lost as he gave another man directions then looked at us like we were idiots for not getting off the bus. But once that was behind us, we were in Chamonix.
There was crisp mountain air, a lively bar scene and a sense that the hills around us kept climbing up into the darkness. It was late, so we ate a gourmet meal at Subway and fell asleep in our alpine-themed room with the roaring Arve river outside. The next morning we both walked around loving the mountains and getting excited to do things again. Wherever we looked people were geared up for activity. There were para gliders overhead, skiers walking around town, mountain bikes parked outside restaurants, trail runners on the trails and hikers everywhere.
I got to work looking for a post season jacket sales to replace the one I lost in Collioure, soon discovery the absurdity in my mission. I found my the same jacket that I’d lost for literally three times what I’d paid for it. I gave up on hunting and we went hiking instead. It was nice, we found some snow, marveled at the steeps some people get to ride in the winter and then we went to the sauna in our hotel where I watched Sean suffer in a different kind of heat.
We had heard that this was the place to get fondue, so we did. But the tricky French mountain folk fooled us with their misleading menu writing and we ended up paying double what we’d intended for one pot of fondue. Not cool Chamonix. After that very overpriced pot of cheese and Sean informing me that he could make better (as usual) we decided to move on from Chamonix, but we hadn’t had our mountain fix yet. So we booked a train to Zermatt for the next day.
The rude sandwich-craving bus driver was luckily off duty when we boarded our first bus to Zermatt, instead we had a pleasant young man who told us when we were approaching our stop and then checked with our next driver for us to make sure we were headed in the right direction. We were off to a good start. Two bus transfers then we ran to a train that turned out to be the most scenic train of the trip so far. It climbed steep hills and hugged cliff sides looking down into idyllic Swiss mountain villages. When we finally got to Zermatt thoroughly awed by the scenery we were plopped in another ski oasis. I had found us a studio to stay in with a kitchen that had huge windows. So between hikes and river runs we could sprawl out in a spacious room and watch Swiss television (that got old fast.) When we hiked up the Matterhorn trail the sun was out and the clouds and lifted away from it’s peak so we had a clear view all morning. The trail passed through cabins and summer lodges and fields with curious marmots until finally we were stopped by a large snow field and turned back.
The studio was only available for two nights so we took it as a sign that the Eiger was calling us and we booked a studio in Grindelwald. The trains in Switzerland are expensive, but they were all on time, clean, scenic and easy to navigate. They make the French and Italian regional trains look like circus side shows.
The hotel I had booked in Grindelwald was another studio with deep discounts because of the slow season. We walked lugging our packs, not sure if we were in the right place, because our reservation was under a different hotel name. The friendly lady at the desk greeted us and offered us wine or tea as she checked us in. Sean and I looked at each other, definitely not sure we were in the right place anymore. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, I accepted and sipped away (backpack still on) while she told us about the hotels perks. Nearly four minutes later, she had finished telling us about the hotels features which included their “Selfness” spa and fitness area complete with a sauna and steam room, three restaurants and a free coffee and cake hour. That’s when she asked if we needed help with our luggage and I was sure we’d booked the wrong place. I went immediately to our large room and re-checked our reservation to see how much money we were bleeding.
After finishing my complimentary wine (quickly, just in case they discovered I’d been given it by mistake) we headed out for an Eiger hike. Which turned out to be 8 miles of the Swiss demonstrating how to make the steepest trails without switchbacks.
I had decided that I wanted to make it back in time for “coffee and cake, made by Grindelwald farmer’s wives” so I was hiking with a double mission. We were running too late for that so we decided to run straight to the grocery store to grab something to cook and I accepted that I would miss out on this local delicacy (farm cake). But it turned out to be a bank holiday so all the stores were closed (except expensive ski clothing stores). So we were forced to eat out.
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