E: Descent to Zermatt – Switzerland

IMG_3277Struggling to hold my resilient eyelids open, I awoke to silence, disrupted only by the infrequent sounds of bed sheets brushing frantically against the mattress as our fellow hostel room-mate’s re-adjusted their positions. Thankfully Alex’s snoring had been much improved, yet this failed to even marginally contribute to a better quality of sleep for myself. Surrounding our bunk bed were tightly packed mostly empty beds. The room was cold and the itchy mud coloured blanket that I huddled under hardly covered me.  I mumbled “Alex, you awake yet?” peering down to the bunk below whilst clutching dearly to the grey blanket in an attempt not to lose any of the little heat which I had struggled so dearly to collect around me.

We were in Zermatt! The famous skiing resort flocked to by the rich and famous during the winter season. We clearly weren’t here to ski though as there was hardly any evidence of snow around us. Instead we were here to adore the many different angles and viewpoints of Switzerland’s unrivalled king of the mountains the ‘Matterhorn’. Despite being one of the tallest peaks in the Alps the mountain is special for more than just one reason. In the 1920’s the Matterhorn was selected to be placed on the packaging of the globally renowned chocolate the ‘Toblerone,’ this solidified it as a geological iconic, and rightly so.

IMG_3107Our backpacks returned their weight on our shoulders and our legs were ushered into action slowly beginning to accustom themselves. Zermatt’s most distinguishable feature is its plentiful supply of agreeable oversized chalets constructed from darkly varnished wood, most complete with balconies brimming with flowers in vibrant shades of white and pink. Underneath these alluring structures lie shops catering for two very obvious markets, either keen sports enthusiasts or the very luxurious clientèle looking for that perfect Swiss watch.

We boarded the Gornergrat railway which has roots all the way back to 1898 and began our ascent. The characterful red carriages overflowed with rustic charm  and entertainment came in the form of the Japanese tourists beside us echoing each others oohs and aahs whilst gazing at the evolving scenery behind the glass panels as we ascended the mountain. I was very tempted to join them but as I  felt slightly woozy whilst I adjusted to the altering oxygen levels I felt the better decision would be to stare outside quietly. I waited wide-eyed with anticipation to catch a glimpse of the frosted tips of the famous Swiss Alps that I’d admired for so long, usually on the endless boxes of Muesli I had previously consumed.

IMG_3022As we neared the summit, the impressive silhouette of the ‘Gornergrat Telescope’ came into view. The summit was a very peaceful area, the thinned air due to the height of the mountain seemed to drown out the voices of the other visitors that stood around us. The chilled air felt clean. It was uncomplicated allowing yourself to be absorbed  into the scenery thanks to the numerous ridges, all positioned like works of art displayed around a room, each wall offering something different to see.

Alex outlined which ones the glaciers were and described her memories of how they had changed since she was small. We had some people approach me talking in Swiss German asking for help or a photograph, their surprised faces were always a treat when Alex would be the one to address their questions. Having spent a decent amount of time soaking in the surroundings we began our hike in the direction of the Matterhorn, our ‘descent back to Zermatt’.

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Thrill-seeking mountain bikers spring bolted past us, chipping the rock beneath them with each turn of their wheels. Smiles illuminated their faces which were homogenised by to their uniform UV sports glasses. The nearby scenery that introduced us to our trek was rather barren to begin with. The ground here must only see the sun for a very short period of time each year making it difficult for it to harbour life. However an interesting shade of maroon lichens inconsistently blanketed the dark rock. The biologist in me came out here as I tried to recall a thing or two I remembered about succession to Alex.

We discovered some piles of stone, which now lay as relics to the old mountain houses that once stood there, taking advantage of these for a photo opportunity. Every so often we’d be greeted by waving newcomers passing us by on the railway, considering the time of the day these were probably the lazier folk who had the privilege of a warm bed and breakfast, giving them reason to delay their start to the day. (Only joking)
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Stopping for lunch we unpacked our sandwich baguettes that we had purchased earlier that morning and kicked back on some boulders facing a lake reflecting the tip of the Matterhorn. The lake was cleverly placed, almost as if it had been done on purpose. The terrain really did flourish as we got closer to the valley. First  lush grasses appeared hiding the fumbling Alpine Marmots as they played and scurried between their burrows. Later came vivid forests almost growing out of the nearby streams which spilled down towards the valley. The ground was now harbouring interesting mushrooms of varying sizes and colours and among these beetles and butterflies appeared to be making themselves at home.

Reaching our last stop I was sad that our hike was over. What started as a cold winter’s day had ended in me now complaining I was too warm as I sat with red cheeks in my T-shirt waiting for the next train to arrive. I felt very spoiled having got to experience this famous Swiss region and the trail had never failed to intrigue me with its changing landscapes. It’s visible through the foliage how drastically the place must change with the seasons; I guess I’ll have to make a return to find out and perhaps even learn to ski when I come back in the Winter!

Thanks again to Alex for showing me around!IMG_3271


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E: Emerald Glass Waters – Switzerland

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Managing to find time for one final excursion before the start of term, I held tight to my print-at-home boarding passes as I waited in the Luton airport departure zone. My chin rested on a soon to be confiscated bottle of water as I glanced intermittently up to the departures board. The last time I’d seen Alex was only a few weeks ago when she was visiting London. Almost days after I’d waved goodbye to her at Piccadilly tube station I had fixed my sights on an affordable £70 return flight to Zürich. Being the shameless nature freak I am, I sat bright-eyed and feverish at the prospect of experiencing the Swiss countryside which had been plastered and boasted about on chocolate wrappers I’d witnessed countless times growing up.

My beloved friend Alex is a Swiss humanoid of Chinese descent currently studying at the University of Zürich. We met last year in Singapore and after a few iced coffees and some waffles we decided each other was alright. We’ve experienced a lot of good times together including reaching Singapore’s laughable summit and voyaging to the idyllic Pacific Island of Pulau Tioman, this trip would be a great excuse to add to the list of memories. The only problems about our reunification would be a) that I would be reminded of the fact Alex, a non native speaker talks better English than me and b) I would need to readjust to keep up with the amount of irony in our conversations.IMG_2238

My easyjet flight was 20 minutes delayed so I hurried my way through baggage collection and border control (where I encountered a man who did not seem to like my surname) to be greeted by the familiar face I was here to see!  Within roughly 2 hours from being on UK soil I was sat in Alex’s sophisticated student kitchen devouring her pasta and juice whilst she lectured me on all the locations she wanted to go this week. (I’m sorry I wasn’t paying much attention, the pasta was really good). As the sun hid behind the horizon we met up with one of Alex’s friends who’d accompanied her to London and had a wander around central Zurich at night. From the bar at the Urania Observatory we witnessed some superior views of the slumbering city.

Following an early awakening, we dashed onto numerous trains and buses until eventually we found ourselves smittenly gazing upon the sparkling green waters that rest in the Verzasca Valley. The scenery was breathtaking as the gentle river casually meandered between the colossal mountains smothered in greenery that surrounded it. Character filled settlements made cameos outside of the bus windows frequently during our journey, By far the most prominent of these man-made creations was the staggeringly elegant Catholic church with a stone front, which along with the scenic ‘Bridge of Leaps’ marks the starting point of the trail.

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The water here is truly impressive, your eyes are left free to explore the bottom of the riverbed with only the glimmering reflections of the sunlight acting as distractions. The stone that surrounded the river bed was also of interest, the distinct layers of rock are clearly visible and the indentations of the rock alongside of the river made for peculiar places to squeeze your body into.

Our hike led us to discover more hidden gems along the river bank, the majority of our time was spent wandering in the woods that rested at the foot of the valley, occasionally stumbling into a waterfall or two along the way. We made numerous attempts to submerge ourselves the water but shamefully none were of any success. The deepest I managed to get into the water was to my knees, which within 5 seconds the glacial water proceeded to cut off my circulation as I lost the feeling in both of my feet.

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Pitying ourselves at how disappointing our cold tolerance remained, we chose a small  flat river island made of polished marble like stone as our lunch spot. The glorious surroundings made for the most breathtaking backdrop I have ever had during lunch. A definite benefit of bringing a packed lunch instead of allowing a restaurant owner to pick your lunch spot. We consumed various pieces of Swiss bread, dried meats and grapes as we sat admiring the views on our conquered piece of land. After a few hours of repeating the formula of stopping every ten minutes to admire the beauty of the same majestic mountains from a slightly different angle, we reached a bridge leading us back to the other side of the bank where a bus awaited to take us to Bellinzona.

As usual I was heartbroken to be leaving this bewitching valley with its bright emerald waters and unusual stones. There was nothing too complex about the area to discuss, it was simply a place of consistent natural beauty showcasing merely a sample great outdoor space that remain in Switzerland. Stepping out of the bus onto the attractive streets of Italian speaking Swiss town of ‘Bellinzona’ helped to comfort me slightly. The town proved to be a sophisticated little metropolis laying discreetly in the shadows of grand stone castles which peered down at the town from their position high above in the surrounding hills.

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The three castles of Bellinzona are impressive sights, all three are considered UNESCO world heritage sites and are easily reached by elevator. They offer an array of impressive views over the city, as well as the connecting castle walls are a treat to walk within. Grass has been laid between the walls making it appear as if it’s a green carpet, making the space ridiculously photogenic. The town offers plenty of cobbled streets, a healthy selection of stores to browse into and numerous eateries. As our legs ached, we were easily seduced by the prospect of a pizza cooked in a log burning oven. The pizza as predicted was delicious and I didn’t have a single shred of shame about the money I spent on it.

The Italian part of Switzerland had been good to us, welcomed by its beautiful scenery and bribed by the delicious food I could easily see this becoming a weekend favourite if I ever find myself living in Switzerland. It was a sleepy trip back to Zürich and unsurprisingly we were flat-out as soon as we hit the mattress. Well… at least Alex was. I had the beautiful melodies of her snoring to lull me to my dreams.
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Things that impressed me the most about Switzerland so far:

  • No ticket barriers
  • Double-decker trains
  • Tasty carrot juice
  • Ancient castles of Bellinzona
  • Crystal clear emerald waters of the Valle Verzasca

#ADVENTURE PLANNING

This past week I journeyed to the land of the Swiss, the photo below exhibits some tasty food and juice which were consumed in the planning of various adventures around the country of cows and clocks.IMG_1823-001

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