The Glacier Express was a highlight of our trip. After 8 hours on a train, however, we were more than anxious to arrive at our next destination, Zermatt. Atypical of my normal behavior, I hadn’t done a whole lot of research into this particular leg of our journey. I knew a few basic facts, I knew what we’d be doing during our 2 days, but I didn’t know much about the town itself. Maybe that added to the charm of the place. How could you not love a place when it looks like this? (The actual view from our hotel balcony!)
Charming wooden chalets peppered the valley here, with the imposing Matterhorn looming over it all. Forever seared into my brain is the moment when, after stepping off the train, and studying our map to try and figure out how to get to our hotel, I turned around and got my first glimpse of the famous peak – it was a surreal experience. Seeing that sharp claw jutting up into the sky takes your breath away, like nothing a photograph is able to adequately convey. That certainly didn’t stop me from trying to capture it!
We arrived on August 1st, also known as Swiss National Day. Swiss flags hung everywhere, Swiss bands played in the streets, street vendors sold their food, and huge tables were set up in the middle of the main street in town where people dined and consumed copious amounts of beer. The atmosphere was fantastic.
There were a few striking things about Zermatt – though it was quite crowded, it still had a of quietness to it, as it is a car free village. The air is clean, the architecture very charming, and every building had these beautiful flower boxes on their balconies. When people think of stereotypical Switzerland, it’s probably Zermatt they picture in their head.
We wandered the streets, ate some great food, had some drinks, but by this point, with the train ride having taken most of the day, night was falling. We knew there was a fireworks show planned for after dark, so we set out to find a great vantage point. Turns out, the best viewing point in the entire city was directly on our hotel room’s balcony! The Chalet Hotel Schonegg is perched on a hill high over the rest of Zermatt, giving us a panoramic view of the village, and a great viewpoint for the show. After Skyping with our families back home, the fireworks began, and they were nothing short of amazing. The Swiss know how to put on a fireworks show. At various points, the entire mountain sides surrounding the valley would light up with giant fires, turning night to day.
The following day, we took the train up to the Gornergratbahn, a train station at 10,135 feet. Upon debarking the train, you are immediately presented with a panoramic view of the Gorner Glacier.My first thought was “holy shit!” It never really occurred to me that I hadn’t ever seen a glacier in person, and when I was finally presented with one, I was pretty blown away. I guess I wasn’t really expecting the grandeur of it all. At this point, most passengers got off the train, took copious photos from the viewing platform, then got back on the train and descended the mountain. We decided to take the more scenic route and walk down to a lower station. The hike took about 4 hours, and gave us incredible mountain and glacier views the entire way. It was downhill for the duration, which was pretty killer on the knees, but so worth it.
At the mid-point of the hike, we came upon Riffelsee, a glacial lake with the Matterhorn in full view. On an ideal day, the lake has a perfect reflection of the peak which makes for great photo opportunities, but today, the mountain was being shy and hiding behind clouds. At one point, the peak decided to make a brief appearance, much to the delight of all the people who had gathered around the lake to try and capture that perfect picture. I believe an applause actually began from the crowd.
Eventually we decided that the burning in our knees would probably result in extreme aches the following day if we didn’t end soon, we hiked on to the nearest train stop we could find, and hopped on the next passing train and took it back down into the valley. We had a post hike pizza and beer in the village center, and then found a little rooftop bar that was completely charming and the perfect follow up to a strenuous hike.
We were sad to be leaving Zermatt the following day, but we were really excited about our next destination, the Berner Oberland. This would be the culmination of our trip, where we would visit the origin of the photo that inspired the trip to begin with. Would the weather hold up to give us the view seen in the photo? I couldn’t wait to find out.