Swiss Heartland Untour - May 6 to June 4, 2014
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
We were both up at 4:25am before the alarm went off. At 5:30am, when I opened our door, the cat was gone. The temperature was 59 degrees Fahrenheit with overcast skies.
We planned to eat breakfast on the train. So just a snack of a few pineapple chunks, and a glass of orange juice is all we had before leaving the chalet. Eleanor drank some coffee.
The train journey to Zermatt would take 3 hours 48 minutes, and included 3 train changes (Luzern, Bern and Visp). By taking the 6:29am train out of Sachseln, we would arrive in Zermatt at 10:13am.
We left for the train station at 5:55am, and took our usual shortcut behind Hotel Engel to get to Bahnhofstrasse. The dog on the Hotel Engel balcony no longer barked at us. To him we were now considered familiar locals.
As we turned on to Bahnhofstrasse, just past the photography store, I spotted that cat again. Apparently his territory encompasses the whole town of Sachseln.
Our plan was to take the 6:29am train. But when the 6:13am train to Luzern pulled in, we decided to hop on. That train would put us in Luzern at 6:47am on track 14, allowing us 13 minutes to walk to track 8, where the connecting train to Bern would leave at 7:00am.
It was on the 7:00am train to Bern that we decided to eat our simple breakfast: banana, cheese, apfelstrudel and luke warm coffee in a child's metal water jug. The water jug would later hold water for Eleanor to sip. We sat opposite a young Swiss soldier. Across the aisle was a storage rack for luggage. I put our backpacks there and leaned Eleanor's crutches against a duffel bag and walking stick. Eleanor offered him some of our breakfast, but he declined. It wasn't until I decided to get up and take a photo of Eleanor that I realized the walking stick Eleanor's crutch was leaning against wasn't a walking stick.
It was the barrel of a 5.6mm SIG SG550 assault rifle. Just the barrel was sticking out of the duffel bag. The Swiss soldiers carry their rifles with them.
Apparently the vast majority of passengers on this train were Swiss. There was no talking. Newspapers, and iPhones were in use. It was refreshingly quiet, especially after enduring the loud tourist crowds on the trains in Interlaken Ost and Lauterbrunnen. There is a special feeling that comes over you when you realize you can blend in and feel like just another Swiss local on the train.
At 7:30am as we passed through Zofingen, the skies cleared with just a few high cirrus clouds.
Arriving in Bern at 8:00am on Track 3, we had to get to Track 5 for the 8:07am train to Visp. We made with 1 or 2 minutes to spare.
In Visp, we arrived at 9:02am on Track 6. The final connection to Zermatt left at 9:08am on Track 3. Eleanor decided to use the WC while the train was not moving yet. In the process of rushing to the WC before the train started to move, she used her left hand. Her arthritic thumb locked. It is extremely painful to unlock it. Once back in her seat, she put on her wrist/thumb brace, which prevents the thumb from sudden unexpected movement. There was no more coffee left for taking an Aleve pill. It would have to wait until Zermatt. She hoped the wrist/thumb brace would help until then. The majority of passengers on that train were French speaking. Meanwhile the skies turned cloudy/overcast again.
At 9:26am we approached Kalpetran.
Eleanor changed her hearing aid batteries at 9:40am.
Arrival in Zermatt was right on time, 10:13am. As we stepped out of the Train Station, bright sunshine broke through the clouds. Unfortunately the Matterhorn remained obscured by some clouds.
Directly across the street from the Train Station is Hotel Bahnhof. We stayed overnight there April 19, 2004. It is a perfect location. We had a room on the top floor with a balcony facing the direction of the Matterhorn. The day we arrived in 2004, clouds obscured the Matterhorn. The next morning was supposed to be clear. We were told that if you were up just as the sunrise illuminates the Matterhorn, the sight would be special. The mountain then is bathed in bright yellow sunshine for a short time before the color changes. This is my account of what happened the next morning:
"April 20, 2004. I woke up at 5:30 am, and looked outside...nothing. From then on I got up every 5 or 10 minutes to look. This lasted until about 6:20 am. This time I waited a little longer, until 6:35am, before taking a glance. Jack Pot! The Matterhorn was completely bathed in yellow sunshine. I told Eleanor to look at the Matterhorn, then grabbed my camera, and swung open the balcony doors. Coming to my senses, I realized I was standing at the balcony door wearing nothing but jockey shorts, and shivering in the cold morning air. I grabbed my jacket, hoping I had enough time to get a decent photo. By about 7:00am, the show was over. The yellow Matterhorn was now white. I took about 10 yellow Matterhorn photos."
I had planned to reserve the same room at Hotel Bahnhof for our 2014 trip. However, the month of May is off season. The hotel was closed the whole month of May and wouldn't open until June 5. I was having no luck finding a reasonable Zermatt hotel that was open during our trip. Only very expensive hotels were open, and there weren't many of them open either. I finally found Hotel Alphubel, located in the center of town at Brantschenhaus 7. It didn't open until May 28. So I made a reservation for a double room with shower/toilet for May 28. A buffet breakfast was included. Total cost for one night was 155CHF ($173.60 U.S. dollars) including tax. It didn't have a view of the Matterhorn. However, we were just happy to get a room.
We walked across the street to Gornergrat and purchased 2 round trip tickets for the 9:36am departure the next morning. Our Swiss Rail Pass entitled us to a 50% discount. So instead of paying 164CHF for two round trip tickets, we paid 82CHF ($91.84 U.S. dollars).
On the way to our hotel, we stopped at Wega and Swiss Shop. Several cute key chain watches were purchased as gifts.
We checked into Hotel Alphubel at around 11:15am, and inspected our room.
As 12:00 noon approached, our thoughts turned to food. So we headed down Bahnhofstrasse to Cafe du Pont.
We had lunch at Cafe du Pont in 2004, and enjoyed the fondue as well as the cozy atmosphere. It is the oldest restaurant in Zermatt and one of the cheapest. We were able to get a nice booth, and promptly ordered Fondue du Pont, which serves two persons. For drinks, 2 large mugs of beer were also ordered.
Just after placing our order, an elderly bearded gentleman walked up and dropped a post card on our table. It was a very old photo of Cafe du Pont, apparently taken in the late 1800's. He then walked away without saying anything. We weren't sure if he was an employee or someone off the street selling postcards. He reappeared when our meal arrived. A big bubbling pot of cheese, along with chunks of bread and boiled potatoes on the side was placed on our table. The bearded stranger then proceeded to show us how to eat the fondue with regard to the boiled potatoes. We knew that the bread is dipped in the cheese. But the potatoes are treated differently. You cut up the potatoes, and mash them with a fork. Several bubbling spoonfuls of melted cheese are then poured on the potatoes. He took a photograph of us with my camera. We thanked him and asked permission to take a photograph of him. By now we assumed that he must be the chef at Cafe du Pont. He spoke French. The cheese fondue was delicious.
The total bill came to 59CHF ($66.08 U.S. dollars), to which we added an extra tip of 3CHF. Before leaving, Eleanor asked our waitress, Adelaide, for her photograph.
As we exited Cafe du Pont, several children passed by with the V-shaped reflective gear. Eleanor suggested that we go into the nearby ice cream shop, and ask the salesperson there where we could purchase the reflective gear. The saleslady in the shop told us that the reflective gear is only available at the school. The children are issued the gear at the beginning of school. However, at the end of the school year in August, the gear must be returned.
We continued along Bahnhofstrasse and turned right at Kirchplatz onto Kirchstrasse.
There is a very nice park with a small pond which is perfect for a relaxing picnic on a bench.
We walked as far as the cemetery, and then strolled through it, admiring the artistically decorated grave sites.
A monument to climbers who died climbing the nearby mountains, like Matterhorn, Rothorn, Monte Rosa, etc.
Bergführer: Opfer ihres berufes
(Mountain Guide: victims of their profession)
The skies were becoming overcast. There was still no sign of the Matterhorn. At 1:45pm we decided to slowly walk back to the hotel for a break. By 2:01pm we were walking down Brantschenhaus to Hotel Alphubel.
After refreshing ourselves, some grocery shopping was in order for dinner later on our balcony. At the nearby COOP, our list of purchases included fruit (bing cherries, green grapes), Caesar salad fixings, a two sandwiches, two chocolate bars, coronet mit rahm (for Bill) and paper plates. Coronet mit rahm is a pastry sugar coated cone filled with whipped cream.
By now we were pretty tired, especially Eleanor. Her legs were starting to bother her. So she rested while I brought the groceries back to the hotel room. I returned at 3:07pm. I wanted to photograph some of the ancient buildings in the old section of town called Hinterdorf. We agreed to meet at a specified spot, a concrete wall by the Information Center.
As I walked down Hoffmattstrasse, I came across a cute dog patiently waiting outside a store for its master to return. That dog was so good, the retractable leash was just laid down on the sidewalk. It is not uncommon to see dogs waiting outside stores for their masters. Usually the leash is tied to a metal ring on the exterior wall of the stores.
Video: A tour of Hinterdorf with a few flashbacks of our last vist in 2004.
While I was gone, Eleanor walked through the Wega store looking for a gift for our Great-Grand Nephew Danny. She didn't see anything. There was more merchandise downstairs. But she was too tired to tackle the stairs. So she went outside to where we were to meet and sat on a wall at 3:45pm. At that very moment I was exiting Hinterdorfstrasse and turning right onto Bahnhofstrasse.
I returned at 3:52pm. Deciding to stop in just one more souvenir shop, we finally found a gift. By 5:00pm we were back at Hotel Alphubel and eating our dinner on the balcony outside our room. The sandwiches were both okay, but nothing special. Eleanor also had some Caesar salad. We brought along acrylic wine glasses for our red wine. When it was time for dessert, I found out that the coronet mit rahm was filled with custard rather than whipped cream. For me, it had to be whipped cream or nothing. I discarded the two coronets, and ate a chocolate candy bar with Eleanor.
By 6:35pm I was in bed. A few minutes later we heard a couple enter the room next door. Eleanor read some of her book, John Standford's Field of Dreams, and prepared for bed. She decided to hit the sack at 7:15pm.
Total distance walked that day: Bill - 5.21 miles, Eleanor - 2.54 miles