Monday, July 27, 2009

Zermatt and the Gorngergrat

As many of you know, this weekend was our big finale -- a two day trip to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. I've been looking forward to this trip the most, especially since we went to Mt. Pilatus and saw the gorgeous view. Also, we decided to book a hotel and stay overnight, so I was looking forward to that as well.

The weather on Saturday was sunny, cool and just all around gorgeous. We started out the trip as usual by taking the train to Visp, passing through Bern, Thun and Spieze, just as we did when we traveled to Interlaken and Grindewald. This time, we went through a long tunnel in the Alps and came out on the other side in Visp, and then headed from Visp up to Zermatt on the local train. Here are a couple of pictures of our first glimpses of the high alps.

We arrived in Zermatt at about 2pm, in time to have pizza for lunch ($52.00) and look around a bit. We stayed at the Hotel Schwiezerhof, which I can highly recommend to anyone traveling to Zermat. We were able to get a junior suite at about 1/3 of the cost through one of those discount travel sites (sorry, can't remember which one). It featured a double bed with down pillows and comforters and an adjoining sitting area with a couch, two chairs and a coffee table -- the couch turned into a double bed for the kid. The hotel has 5 (no, I'm not kidding) different restaurants, ranging from a casual cafe to fine dining. It also has an indoor pool, a tanning room, hot tubs and private saunas, as well as lots of spa treatments for guests who enjoy that kind of pampering. Our favorite part was the blacony, which gave us a gorgeous view of the garden and the mountains in the distance.

Our small sitting area:
Our bedroom:
Jim sitting out on the balcony:

A picture of the view rom my chair:

The town of Zermatt is very Swiss Mountain, with twisty side streets and lots of traditional buildings. There are no gas cars in Zermatt -- transportation in the downtown is available in horse drawn carriages or these funny, square electric taxis. The next series of pictures give you an idea of what the town is like:

The church:
One of the horses:
A view down the main drag:

We had a lot of fun checking out the area, and then we all went for a swim in the pool. Everyone enjoyed that a lot! We picked up some food from the grocery for dinner, and that's when the gastro-intestinal gurgling I'd been having all day turned bad. I ended up spending the evening, all night and part of the morning dealing with that. Fortunately, the apotheke opened around 9:30 am on Sunday, so Jim was able to pick me up a familiar medication (Immodium) and a strange Swiss medication prescribed by the pharmacist to straighten out the level of "flora" in my intestines. The combo worked -- by noon, I felt well enough to head out for our trip to the Gornergrat, a viewing summit across from the Matterhorn.

Lily wanted to wear ponytails that day, and Jack begged for one in his hair with a green rubber band. Jim told him his hair was too short and he was really upset, so I managed a small ponytail for him:
He totally thought he was the bomb! The Gornergrat Bahn was right next door to our hotel, and we were able to hop right on to the noon train. It was a twisty ride right up the side of the mountain with tons of switchbacks. At times, it was a sheer drop right from the side of the train tracks to the valley below. The views were incredible, though.

Here are the kids with their Gornergrat maps at the beginning of the ride. Because we had our Swiss Pass, we got to travel for half price -- the round trip was $76, and the kids rode free. It was well worth the extra cost.

This is a view from the side of the train down into one of the valleys:

The kids were impressed:

Eventually, we made it up to Gornergrat.
The elevation at the train station is 10,132 ft. I think I mentioned before that I've been having problems with altitude on this trip. Ever since my heart failure, I've noticed that really high plane flights cause my feet to swell and my chest to feel tight. I also noticed it here at Grindelwald and Pfingstegg, but attributed the chest issue to asthma. It was even worse at Mt. Pilatus. By that point, I had done a little internet research and learned that it was probably Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). I know, never diagnose from the internet, but I was kind of worried that I was slipping back into heart failure, so I did a little researchbefore panicking.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I was a little worried about going to Gornergrat because of how bad I felt at Mt. Pilatus. I felt a little less concerned when we decided to make it an overnight trip because I knew I would have that time to acclimatize before going up to 10,000 feet, the highest altitude by a HUGE amount that we've done here. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here is a brief chart:

Melrose: 133 ft
Basel: 843 ft
Grindelwald: 3392 ft
Pfingstegg: 4567 ft
Zermatt: 5,276 ft
Mt. Pilatus Kulm: 6995 ft
Gornergrat: 10,269 ft (at its highest point)

My feet were a little swollen when we got to Zermatt, but I got adjusted fairly quickly and the swelling was gone by the time I went to bed. They blew up like balloons on the train to Gornergrat, but weirdly, I didn't have that tightness in my chest this time. It was harder to breathe if you were walking up the steep paths, but I felt no need to use my inhaler like the last two times. I did feel kind of light headed and spacey, but that might have been the aftereffects of being so sick the night before. Who know? I really do think that staying overnight before doing the high altitude (which was recommended for people who had signs of AMS) really made it better for me, though. The kids noticed nothing, but Jim admitted he was breathing pretty hard walking up even a small incline.

There is a huge stone viewing point, restaurant, hotel and observatory at Gornergrat:

As an aside, consistent with his usual difficulties pronouncing foreign (especially German) words, Jim continually referred to Gornergrat as either "Gorgomott" or "Gorgonaut" during most of our trip! I told him Gorgonaut sounded like the name of a Transformer toy or something. The name is actually pronounced exactly as it is spelled "Gor-ner-grat."

At the viewing point, they had these gorgeous St. Bernards with casks of whiskey on their necks available for photographs -- at 15 francs a shot. I tried to get a good picture of the dogs and thought I succeeded, but realized after I downloaded them that this is the best one I took. I'm telling you, the thin air made my thinking really wonky up least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Because it was almost 1, we headed up to the self-serve buffet restaurant and ate at a table overlooking the Matterhorn. This is the view from our table:

It was windy and a little cool, but you warmed up quickly in the sun. We bought a plate of pommes frites and two hot dogs, some apple struedel and hot cocoa for the kids. Jack said "I love hot chocolate!"

Lily gave it a thumbs up review:

Here are a few shots of the Matterhorn with my zoom feature:

These are some snow covered peaks to the left of the Matterhorn. The view at the top was amazing because we were surrounded by snow capped Alps. I took almost 100 pictures that day!

The obligatory shot of the kids and me in front of the Matterhorn:

They have a small church next to the observatory:

It has a beautifully painted wooden ceiling, wooden pews and a lovely carved grouping behind the candles, which you can buy and light for a franc each. The kids were really impressed -- Jack especially. He pointed at all of the candles and said "Oh, look Mama, fire!"

Here is a view of another peak visible from Gornergrat:

And a view of Jm in front of the Matterhorn on a walkway over the train station.

A fourth view from the observatory:

We spent about 2 hours at the peak and then took the Gornergrat Bahn back to Zermatt. Here is a picture of the train pulling into the station with the Alps in the background:

I snapped some shots on the way down because we were on the "good" side of the train (we sat on the "bad" side on the way up). Here are some hikers. There are about 100 different hikes you can take from the Gornergrat, of all different experience levels. It seems like everyone in Switzerland hikes and carries special poles for hiking.

Another view from the train:

A closer view of the Matterhorn:

A parasail. Cute story: on the ride back down, Jack kept telling Jim he saw a "flying lamp." Jim finally figured out he was talking about the parasailers! They have several different places in the Alps where you can parasail.

Another view of the Matterhorn from a different angle.

A couple of views of the mountain towns we passed through on the way to Zermatt. Again, the Matterhorn in the background.

We left for Basel about an hour after we returned to Zermatt. We made sure to get a seat on the good side of the train so I could get some more pictures on the way home. Here's an unusual church we saw:

And a gorgeous bridge spanning a huge gorge:

The lake at Thun -- the water is an amazingly bright blue, even on gray days.

And, as a final shot, the kids playing Uno on the train. Jim bought them Uno Jr., and even Jack has been enjoying the game! He gets a little confused, but is generally able to pick the right cards to play and actually won a few times. Lily has a bandage on her hand because Jim let her try out the orange peeler on his Swiss Army Knife and she immediately cut herself on it.

We got home around 8:00 pm. I really loved this trip, and only wish I'd been able to walk around the town and explore with Jim and the kids instead of staying close to the bathroom in the hotel!

We will be returning to Massachusetts soon. I think both the kids and I are ready to be in our own house with our own beds and all of our dear friends around us. Switzerland is so beautiful, and I've loved seeing everything, but home is best!

1 comment:

Beth said...

Glad to hear your "Grand Finale" was a success. I can't wait to see you after you get home! You've been missed.