Aug
9
2009

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Being Tourists

by Tara

Despite the forecast for snow today, the morning dawned brilliant and sunny. Thankful for the good weather, we decided to take advantage our last day in Zermatt rather than hiding out in the tent. Tyler was exhausted from yesterday's hike, so we decided against doing another, opting instead to be whisked away on one of Switzerland's many high-tech forms of transportation. We took the "Matterhorn Express" cable car to 4,000 meters! Though the splurge plunged us ridiculously deep into budgetary "debt" we decided it was worth it. How can you visit Switzerland and not take a cable car?

Arriving at the ticket office, we found that the damage was going to be even worse than we were expecting—90 francs each. Upon hearing this, we almost walked straight home with sticker shock. Then we remembered the conversation we'd had on the way across town: "We'll likely never pass this way again. We have to ride at least one cable car while we're here and it's the highest one in Europe!" Cringing, we took a deep breath and handed over 5 days of our budget in one go. Oh Switzerland, this had better be good.

Tickets in hand, we headed to the the first of three stages in our ascent. A continuous stream of small cable cars slowly approached the boarding area, and people filed into them one after the other. Though there was an unlimited number of empty gondolas to choose from, and no wait whatsoever, for some reason a very loud, touristy couple hopped into ours just as we were "taking off." It wasn't really a big deal but we were both annoyed. This was a one-of-a-kind experience for us and we wanted to enjoy it without obnoxious guests. On the way up Tyler mused about the undoubtedly staggering amount of variables involved in the engineering a system like the one we were on.

Matterhorn Express Matterhorn Express

Tyler carefully managed to keep our unwanted guests out of this photo:

Tara In A Cable Car

As we arrived at our first stop, everyone herded out and dutifully followed the signs leading to the next cable car while Tyler nosed around snapping photos of the various tunnels in construction off the main walkway. Though we were on our way to "Matterhorn Glacier Paradise" there were cable cars to other ski destinations too. Most notably, there was one that ended in Italy—the only trans-national cable car in the world! After inspecting all of the nooks and crannies at our first station we continued on to the next ascent.

Matterhorn Express Plumbing Matterhorn Express Hallway Matterhorn Express Construction Tyler

Joining the rest of our fellow tourists, this time stuffed into a large cable car like sardines, we somehow managed to wind up smashed into to the loathsome couple from our first ride! Though we weren't fond of being "regular tourists," the views were stunning, and it was an incredible experience traveling so far (and so high) without having to pedal to get there. Inside the cable car was a clock-like altimeter whose hands were ticking away hundreds of meters by the second. Up, up and up we went until it was time, yet again, to change cars.

Our final ride rose to a staggering elevation of 3,883 meters. I can scarcely imagine the sense of accomplishment that must come from climbing to an altitude like this under your own power. It felt like we were on the top of the world and we'd done nothing but stand around to get there! Unfortunately the day had turned cloudy so our views of the Matterhorn were obscured, but still, we were in awe. Pristine white peaks, rocky moon-like outcroppings and distant lines of skiers trudging up the side of a mountain like penguins marching home made for a very impressive view.

Swiss Alps Matterhorn Express

After getting our touristy pictures taken at the summit, we walked down the icy metal stairway, back into the station, and followed signs leading to what is probably the world's highest tourist trap: Glacier Paradise. Maybe we were unimpressed because we encounter stunning views of nature almost daily but the tiny ice tunnels left a lot to be desired. Other than a few out of place and seemingly random ice sculptures, there wasn't a whole lot to see. I guess it was the idea that counted more than anything, we were inside a glacier!

Us Swiss Alps Swiss Alps Glacier Hallway Glacier Handprints Glacier Construction Glacier Electricity

As is often the case when you pay to see something, it was over all too quickly. We made our way back to the cable car dock and packed in with droves of summer skiers and snowboarders, headed down towards camp. Arriving in Zermatt at the lowly elevation of 1650m, the warm sun was very inviting (it was freezing up there!).

One of the reasons we stayed so long in Zermatt was that I wanted to stick around for the annual folk festival, which just happened to be today! Happily we arrived just in time for the festivities! As we walked back to our campsite, we watched folk dancers, accordion players, and cute little Alpine children pass in the parade. There were Saint Bernard dogs, men carrying the largest cowbells I've ever seen, and marching band after marching band playing traditional Swiss music. Elderly women in traditional dress passed out raisin bread and little samples of local cheeses, and they used tongs to dole out sugar cubes that had been soaked in the cherry liqueur, kirsch. We even got to see alphorn players—people blowing into those huge horns you see on Ricola commercials. The best part about the parade was, it was free!

Here are some of the many photos I took at the parade:

Beautiful Women Swiss Family Mountain Man Oom Pah Fancy Couple Huge Bells! Flag Twirlers Alphorns Alphorns

When we finally arrived back at our campsite, we said hello to all of our neighbors, settled into our tent, and took up journaling and dinner-making for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Zermatt and head back down the mountain in the direction of Interlaken!


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