August 27 and 28
Began the morning with an awfully sore neck caused by I don't know what. Maybe I do neck aerobics in my sleep? Woke up and realized I was late (8:30AM - late? It can happen). Drove directly to Stanford to do various errands like accepting my housing reassignment to Arroyo. Also wanted to renew my P.O. Box, but couldn't. They've already given it away to somebody else. Minor details. Drove back to Half Moon Bay afterwards to say goodbye to friends. Only managed to get 2 though, both of which I'd woken up. Oops. Need to remember not everybody's a morning person.
We ate lunch at San Benito's deli. Ah the memories. Discussed the summer's highs and lows (consensus was there were more lows than highs). Returned home to relize my hiking boots were still not found. Did a frantic search only to find them in my hiking pack. The the taxi came, and my dad and I were off to SFO for the beginning of our adventure... err trip.
KLM's baggage line took a good while, surprising given how full the plane wasn't. My walking stick couldn't fit in the bag, so we taped it on instead. Used a lot of tape. Security was surprisingly straight forward. Learned that if you ask the screeners to handcheck your film, they have to comply. Take the SJC schmucks!
After they gave the "last call for KLM 8606 to Amsterdam, if you don't board immediately, your baggage will be removed form the plane," we boarded. Our seats were right in front of the lavatory and overlooked the wing. Pain in the neck (literally) since the seats fold back by all of about 2 inches.
The flight was uneventful. Leastaways for a ten hour flight from San Fran to Amsterdam, which was very. As soon as the plane left the coast, the clouds closed in, leaving a view consisting of gray blankets otherwise known as high cloud cover. This left me with ample time for reading. So I started and 4 hours later finished Rashid Khalidi's Palestinian Identity. The book establishes the view that Palestinians are a people and a nation just as much as say the Armenians or Poles. Ironically, as Khalidi points out, Palestine had a far more democratic government under the Ottomans than under Britain's appartheid colonialism, and indeed, than anything since. Began Dickens' David Copperfield but didn't make it too far. Slept extremely briefly to wake up over the vast frozen wastes of Greenland. Sun finally decided to rise shortly thereafter, having taken at least 5 hours to finish setting.
We arrived at Amsterdam Schiphol airport around 11AM local time, which made it about 2AM for us. Discovered that dollars are accepted in the shops. Globalization has its uses, I guess. Since Schiphol had a very large collection of shops, we were able to keep busy until our connection arrived. The Zurich flight left around 2PM local time. In search of entertainment, I commenced reading The Bush Dyslexicon. An hour later, we landed in Zurich.
At Zurich airport, everything (customs included) went smoothly. Rented a car (VW Lupo) and engaged in a protracted argument with the payphone to accept our phone card. Got lost on the Zurich autobahn without a decent map, and so had to triangulate ourselves to our destination. Took about 2 hours of rough guesswork to make it to Uncle Kasra's house, based largely upon recollections from 2 years back. We had quite a pleasant little evening dinner outside, before embarking on an after dinner walk. Met a farmer trying to bring 3 uncooperative cows back within his fence. Cows large, person small, looks like a tough task. Came back to the house to collapse and sleep just past 9PM. Good early time to sleep. Or maybe not, considering we've just had a 29 hour day.
Awoke at the slightly ungodly hour of 7AM. 9 hours of sleep despite jetlag ain't bad though. Continued reading the "dyslexicon" for the next few hours and had a good chat with my uncle. Tried to aoid discussing politics. Conversation was concluded after it was suggested that I drop Computer Science as a major in favor of Political Science. Do I sound like a political animal to you?
After breakfast, my dad and I drove to Zurich. We parked just outside the tow near the lake in what was hoped to be legal parking (a not at all sure thing, given our spotty-to-nonexistent German). Wandered along the lakeside and gradually into the old city. We landed ourselves at the Bahnhof after a bit, stopping during our return at the UBS bank and a good number of used-camera stores. Supposedly officespace on Bahnhofstrasse is more expensive than anyplace else in the world on a square-meter basis. From the shops that were there, I could believe it.
Returning, we almost missed the car. No tickets, fortunately. We ended up in a construction zone before turning back. Something in the human psyche likes building things, I think, but in Switzerland, I notice it even more than elsewhere.
Next we visited two sets of friends. The first were in a beautiful house in Kusnacht overlooking the Zurichersee. Among other things, we received a plethora of hiking advice, some of which I hope we can follow. Next we visited friends from Iran. The conversation there seemed to center on my being monolingual, though that being the case, I didn't understand much of what was said. Afterwards, we returned to my uncle's for dinner, and then bed.
Jet lag has caught up as of this morning, so I gave up on sleep at half past 6. I packed (easily, since I hadn't unpacked much) and concluded my perusal of the "dyslexicon." We had breakfast around 8, and were ready to be off by 9. The rain, more or less present yesterday, returned in full force. We made our first food stop at Migros in Hombrechtikon, and then went to Rapperswil on the lake.
We had a nice walk through the old town, cameras and rainjackets in tow. Beginning at the quays by the lake, where the darkening sky provided quite an interesting sight, we continued up a path into the castle. The castle afforded an excellent view of the old town, as well as a number of deer housed in the castle (I presume they were domesticated, for there's no open land to speak of for quite a distance around). Going down from the castle, we passed a wedding in progress. Bride and groom were being photographed while a car and driver waited to transport the happy couple (vintage Ford Model T). I'm not certain how happy the couple stayed, for the next thing that happened was rain came down in buckets and continued on at least for the next hour.
We then visited a sporting shop in Rapperswil to find a walking stick with a tripod socket on it (for camera). Matters were complicated when we set off the store's alarm upon entering the store. Looks like Long's forgot to remove something when they sold us a camer batter. No matter; things were straightened out and we even found a satisfactory walking stick.
Leaving Rapperswil in the early afternoon and heading south, we tried to avoid major roads. The rain continued continuously. We passed through little town after little town, each with a church, a few shops, and a hotel or two. As the road passed through each, it would often narrow to a single lane because the buildings were so close together. Between the towns, we saw occasional farmhousea and barns, surrounded by green fields dotted with tree or the occasional cow. Corn fields also appeared regularly, tassels looking faintly brown. The road was almost empty of traffic. After one town, we reached a railroad crossing where we waited for a few minutes for 4 trains to go by. Nobody honks, so the only noise is the schlepping of rain on the car's roof and the cadaverous drum beat from some other car's stereo.
Leaving the valley, our route took us away from the autobahn making a steep ascent over the Walensee (the autobahn merely went through a tunnel). The fog and rain turned the whole scene into a veritable fairy land. At the top, we paused for pictures at a parking lot filled with a potpourri of vehicles, from Bernese tour buses to some Genevans tiny Ford.
From our stop, we continued through unabated rain to Sargans. There, we found Switzerland's version of the megamall, and bought both food and umbrellas. The road to Chur was flat and straight, so we arrived quickly. From Chur to Lenzerheide, the road took a series of hairpin turns. I've very fond memories of those hairpins from previous trips, since I got carsick on them on numerous occasions. We passed through a succession of small towns: Passugger, Churwalden, Parpan, Valbella and at last, Lenzerheide. Turning off the main road, we shortly arrived in front of Haus Droseida, our rented residence for the next few weeks.
Unpacking proved a somewhat time consuming task, so we interspersed it with a quick walk down to the Heidsee where we met an impromptu rainstorm. Despite this my father took ample opportunities with the camera to capture the surrounding scenery, so I had plenty of chances to become cold and wet. We returned to the house for dinner, which would have been fine had the spaghetti not been curiously bitter. Finally, we called it a night and went to bed.
Woke up several times in the night to the drumming of rain on the roof. Got up in the morning and noticed the noise had stopped. Took a quick peek outside, to confirm that we wouldn't be going anywhere if the weather didn't change somewhat. Following breakfast (a combination of toast, butter, jam and cheese, all made possible by the superb toaster in the house), we had a brief walk through downtown Lenzerheide, visiting the post office and the bank. By the time we'd finished, the drizzle had petered out and there was a small blue hole in the otherwise perfectly white sky. So we decided to do a hike after all.
As usual preparing for the hike proved somewhat complicated. We had to find the odds and ends (film and maps were the hardest) and convince them to enter the same room long enough to be packed together. We did not leave until noon.
When we did leave, the mountain we were hoping to climb had moved into the sun. A good omen perhaps? We'd barely begun the ascent up the Sporz road when the sun started shining on us though, making matters uncomfortable warm. From Sporz, a small collection mainly of chalets, we followed a steeper trail up through a little wood coming out right above the middle ski lift station on the mountain at a place called Tgantieni.
We faced a curious decision there between two paths, both which claimed to go to our stated destination of Piz Scalottas. Obviously, we took the left one. Up again we went through pastures, past cows, across mostly dry streams and after producing a surprising amount of sweat, over a little saddle and onto the ridge. The ridge was a spectable, both because of the little lake on it which reflected all manner of sights, and because the fog bank on the other side was fighting an epic battle to cross over the ridge. Indeed Scalottas from our vantage point was half mountain and half cloud bank.
Making a detour, we went to the little peak at the end of the range, Crap la Pala. It was a shortish scramble, but the wind on top made it seem like a different part of the world. It made changing film in the camera interesting to say the least. Descending was not so bad, but the wind followed, so I added ski gloves and hat to try and fight it off. From the pass, we headed north on the ridge to arrive atop Piz Scalottas around 3PM.
The scene on top was quite dramatic, in no small part due to the racing storm clouds and fog on the ridge. To the east was a heavily obscured Thusis. Every so often, wind would rip away a cloud, and the view would open up for a bit. To the east we saw the towns of Lenzerheide, Valbella, and Parpan, not to mention dozens of little hamlets, isolated farmhouses, forests, streams and the like. Further east, the mountains were taller, a few were snow-capped, and the high clouds neatly sliced the top off.
We sat on top, warming up and admiring the scenery for a bit, before realizing the lift was liable to close soon for the day. So we abruble departed. The lift operator at the middle station must've been unsure if I was a youth or adult. However since we couldn't communicate, we ended up paying a fare lower than either, and not knowing why. No complaints though.
From Tgantieni, we tried the quick trail down, trying stay as close to the lift as possible. However, we took a wrong turn, and wound up getting further and further from the lift, finally land at the lake itslef. We walked around there for a bit, but it was cold, and getting late, so we finished quickly. For dinner we drove (my legs were a bit out of sorts) to a pizzeria in "downtown" Lenzerheide. The waitress was quite helpful, which was nice, since neither of us could make heads or tails of the German menu. The pizza had a thin crust, making it appreciably more authentic. After a good dinner we returned, and I went to bed, having an entire pizza inside me.
The plan started somewhat offtrack and become more so throughout the day. Got up around 8, ate a nice breakfast and prepared the day's backpack. However, we paused in town at the tourist office to get maps and weather information, and so missed the 9:50 bus from Lantsch. Since the next bus wasn't for 2 hours, we did some grocery shopping and paid a visit to Lantsch's 13th centure church. Although we couldn't go in, the exterior was quite nice, surrounded by 400 years of meticulously maintained graves for town notables.
The 11:47 bus picked us up outside the Lantsch post office. Three stops later, we got off at Wiesen, and the bus continued on toward Davos. Intent was to walk back from Wiesen to Lantsch.
Our first obstacle was to get through town. This was more difficult than expected, since the main road was in the process of being dug up to set up new pipes and pavement. There were no parallel streets, so we just walked right through.
From Wiesen, we wanted to go up to Wiesner Alp. Up we did go, but signs soon became exceedingly scarce as we passed almost a dozen intersections. Since most trails went in roughly the same direction, triangulation didn't help either. Somehow we were lucky though, and around 2PM, we emerged from the pine forest to a nice open pasture dotted with ancient, dilapidated vacation homes surrounding a farm. The farm was by far the most active of the establishments in Wiesner Alp, boasting cows, a dog, and innumerable clucking chickens.
Our next stop was Schmittner Alp. It was visible from Wiesner Alp, but still took a good hour to work our way around the winding edge of the valley. At Schmittner Alp, we stopped and at late lunch, disposing of a goodly quantity of bread and cheese in the process.
To go on to Raglauna, our next destination, we had the choice of going up or down. The reason why, we soon discovered, was that the next valley was so steep as to make going straight out of the question. I chose up, so we spent an hour wending our way through forest. The trail crested at a little stream, where we paused to meet some very friendly cows (one licked my jacket). Raglauna itself was a clearing with a couple of houses and a tiny road leading down to the valley floor.
The journey continued in this fashion for quite a while. An hour later, we reached Aclas Davains, another tiny village with a large pasture. Between, the trail crossed a gorge containing three violently active streams. From Aclas Davains to Point Naira took another good hour, along a poorly constructed gravel road which otherwise seemed to have no particular purpose. Another hour later we were at Ruoinas and Propissi, two farming communities, one of which was now uninhabited.
At this point it was well past 7PM and beginning to get quite dark. The sun finally set as we finished the trail's final ascent above Lantsch. We then had a steep, poorly lighted, seemingly interminable descent down toward Lantsch. Trail claimed it was a 45 minute affair, but it took us well beyond an hour to finally arrive in Lantsch, just before 10PM. Lantsch was, at that point we discovered, asleep. So we continued on home and had a quick dinner. Then it was off for a 9 hour mental vacation in bed which included some severely strange dreams.
By universal consensus, namely me and my dad, we decided not to hike today. Decision was actually made by sore legs which absolutely refused to do anything strenuous. Breakfast ending around 11AM also helped. So we decided to visit Chur, population 25,000, for the day. Being among other things the capital of Graubunden canton, and the site of a number of good sized stores, this seemed a good proposition.
Just after breakfast, we drove to Chur and spent a good while exploring the old city, its churches, its streets, its historic buildings and its high school. The last we saw only in passing, but some bored student on the second floor saw fit to stare out the window and wave as we went by. Some things apparently don't change. Also of note, the town's main Catholic Church was undergoing a 19 million franc restoration, which made it an unenterable mass of scaffolding and construction equipment. Oh well.
By 4PM, we were hungry and decided to get some lunch. We ended up in the Coop Cafeteria, eating my first major salad of the trip. Green things are good, both to eat and to look at. After lunch, we dropped by the tourist office, bought a map, and tried to find a photography shop which processed black and white film. Found nicht. Every one of them sent B&W film through the mail to Kodak's processing. Did find a bakery and some "volkorn brot" though.
In the evening, returned home. Made phone calls to a number of relative. I also tried my hand at flute. The metronome's battery finally up and died. Quel dommage. The day's grocery shopping also extended the dinner menu, making bread and cheese a choice as opposed to the choice.
We didn't get up early. Nor was breakfast quick, though when you have the facilities for a good meal, I admit it does make sense to use them. Left past 9AM, in the general direction of the Engadine region. We went south, past Lantsch and east through Brienz. At Alvaneu Bad, we met the main road to the Albula Pass, and continue on through Filisur. The road was narrow and had the added charm of being cut into a very narrow ravine. Once past Bergun, the valley opened up. Still, it was only by a clever dint of civil-engineering that the road made it anywhere at all, and as for the railroad that made it all the way to Preda, it went through tunnels over bridges, and even round in circles in order to make the ascent. After Preda, the valley became a typically Alpine scene and the train tracks left us going into a long tunnel. At the top of the Albula Pass, we paused for pictures and duly noted the frigid temperatures and views of distant mountains.
Down from the Albula Pass, the road was shorter, but with many more hairpins, landing us by the En River in La Punt, Engadine. We went south. Through the broad valley and along the river at first, we the abruptly turned east into a smaller valley. We passed Pontresina, whereupon the road climbed, affording an occasional peek at fantastic glacier toward the tops of some not-so-distant mountains.
We stopped beside a little side-valley in the parking for the Diavolezza lift. Our climb began along a wide trail that dodged from one side of the lift poles to the other. We saw no trees and only short grasses, rock and sky. The trail went up at a grueling angle for nearly an hour, traversing the hillside below the lift. Finally, we crested a small hillock and found ourselves looking at a little lake. There the trail spli, and our route became narrower and rockier. It would go up ten meters, on step-like rocks, level out for a bit, descend some, and then repeat the whole process as it tried to remain on the ridge. We took a short break just below the upper life station, during which I managed to drop our 1.5 liter bottle of drinkables. It fell about 30 meters, banging on rocks the whole way down, but survived unpunctured. Tough plastic.
The Diavolezza lift and restaurant required the trail to climb over a small glacier. Then suddenly, we were at the top of a ridge, staring down at three enormous glacier-covered peaks just across the little valley in front of us (which also had a little glacier of its own). Naturally, pictures were in order, and then refreshments (hot chocolate). Then more pictures, and it was off to Munt Pers, leaving the backpacks behind.
Climbing Munt Pers reminded me a lot of the final stretch of trail up Mt. Whitney. It kept just below the spine of the hill, offering occasional spectacular views of both sides through cracks in the rocks. The trail was pretty much all on loose rocks and boulders, so there was no vegetation to speak of. Just about the point where the lungs were demanding a rest, we hit the top.
Although Munt Pers had a massive western face, its east side was pretty small. Or rather, there was a nice thousand meter of vertical cliff before anything substantial below. We saw not only Piz Bernina and Piz Palu in all their snow-capped glory, but also many little towns of the Upper Engadine, as well as the Bernina Pass road, snaking off towards Italy.
Our visit to Munt Pers was short. We had snacks, took pictures, and chatted with a German hiker about the weather and other good spots to visit. Then it was down and back to the Piz Palu Restaurant. We didn't want to miss the last lift down (and have to walk), so when there wasn't anybody at the gate, we just went through and got on. The descent was nice and smooth, gliding above the slopes that we'd so painstakingly ascended earlier. Eight minutes later, we got off at the bottom. Nobody to buy lift tickets there either. Took a lot of explaining at the ticket counter to get the tickets for the ride we'd just taken.
From Diavolezza, we drove back the way we'd come, making a brief stop in Pontresina for a pie (a regional specialty, which was priced like one), and becoming briefly airborne courtesy of an unexpected bump in the road. We reached my cousin's place in La Punt around 6PM.
There we met my cousin, her husband, and their three-month-old son, Navid. Navid proved an amazingly even-tempered little fellow, who's chief pursuit was tilting his head this way and that to get a better view of the world around him. We ate dinner there, and chatted of this and that for quite a while, finally leaving when I was beginning to fall asleep. One perk of returning so late was that the road over the Albula Pass was basically deserted. Not that I'd have wanted to drive it at that hour either. We got home past midnight, and called it a day.
Didn't get up too early. Began the day with breakfast at 11. We decided to take it a bit easy, and do a shorter hike for the day. We didn't actually make it out onto the trail until half past noon, with a clear sky and the temperature a balmy 60 something degrees. Statzerhorn was the destination, so up we went.
The trail began as a road, leading past numerous oversized houses and paralleling a noisy stream. Then we transferred to a narrow (and steep) path through cow pastures to another road. We traversed the hillside above Lenzerheide for almost an hour. Our view changed gradually from Lenzerheide to the lake. We took a break below the Lavoz life station (not in operation) at 2:30. From there it was a steep set of switchbacks for over an hour until we reached the upper lift station. Statzer Sattel was just beyond this, with a clear view of two valleys, at which point we crossed the ridge, and spent half an hour going up through pasture near a small herd of cows. We reached Statzerhorn at 4.
On top, we rested our feet, ate lunch, and eventually stirred around to take pictures. The views were quite good, similar to those from Scalotta save higher. The sky was cloudless making for a view of 40 to 50 miles in all directions. There was only one other hiker on top, and she was intently reading her book while trying to absorb as much sun as possible.
Around 5, we started our descent. Going back to the saddle, surprisingly, took as long as coming up. At the saddle, we continued along the ridge on the trail to the next peak, Piz Danis. The late-afternoon sun meant that Piz Danis cast an enormous shadow over Lenzerheide and its environs. We reached the top sometime after 6, about the time when the shadow reached the bottom of the valley.
Surprisingly, there was no trail down (directly) from the top, so we decided to continue along the ridge. Unfortunately, the ridge was very uneven, and the trail almost equally so. This made for a few rather hair-raising views, and rather hard going on the knees. We didn't make it to the next junction until the sun had set, leaving a reddish after-glow on the mountains across the valley. Having come this far, we decided to go up Scalotta to, so around 8PM, we had a nice final look at the setting sun, having been on the 3 major peaks overlooking Lenzerheide.
Having achieved this dubious distinction, the next business was to get down. The trail was steep, rocky, and somewhat poorly lit, but I found that be half-jogging on the grass next to the trail, I could do pretty well. The moon came up quickly, but still light was short, and following the trail became something of a pain. When we reached a gravel road, we abandoned the trail.
Gravel roads have two disadvantages: they're hard, and they can move. It probably wasn't a very direct route. Nonetheless we plodded on, making it to the Scalotta middle station, and then to Sporz and a paved road. We got home around 10, had a quick dinner, no dessert, and went to bed. So much for our light day.
Joints are still very sore from yesterday. Especially my left knee which is quite unfond of stairs at the moment. We had our usual breakfast and decided to explore rather than hike. So we left sometime around noon wearing shoes, and driving in the general direction of Maloja.
Going to Maloja we stayed on primary roads. We passed through a plethora of little towns. First we went through Lantsch, then to the bottom of the valley to cross the river at Tiefencastel and up towards Julier Pass. The weather was cool, but clear with a slight breeze. The road went up gently through Savognin, Alvaschein and Bivio. Then it picked up grade, ascended through many alpine meadows, and arrived a Julier Pass. We took a picture break as usual, and I finished my film. Oops. Looks like hadn't caught on the take-up spool, so I just took 36 blank pictures. Bummer.
From Julier Pass, the road went down fast into the Engadine. The wind also picked up. We stopped at the bottom in Silvaplana by a lake. Windsurfers and kitesurfers were having a wild time of it, courtesy in part of the heavy winds coming off the lake. Supposedly the winds coming from Italy off the Maloja pass converge at Silvaplana. The surfers were zooming across the lake at pretty insane speeds as a result. I'd never seen kitesurfers before, but they were just like regular surfers, except for the kite attached to their board which moves them. Of course, you have to pretty good to direct yourself in the right direction, not to mention avoid crossing lines with somebody else. I managed to get a headache from the wind, so eventually we left.
We wanted a less blustery locale, and that's what we found at Maloja, at the head of the Engadine valley (and the headwaters of the river En). The pass was somewhat disappointing however: a slight bump in the center of the town. This became a little less strange when we climbed to the top of the Belvedere Tower, a 19th century construction in a castle built by the Sagantini artist family. From the top, we could see the while the Engadine side was pretty flat, the south side was steeper, and the road a mass of hairpin turns going to Italy.
Next we went north again to visit St. Moritz. Alas that famous resort was just as overdne and tasteless as I remembered. A Swiss town with dozens of shops sporting designer labels seems wrong, especially since it had not a single real bakery. The closest thing we found was a hotel with a restaurant and confectionary, but they did not have bread. The weather continued to cool off as we walked through town. Having failed to find bread, we did visit two of the churches, and the leaning tower, which was as nonvertical as ever.
After St. Moritz, we drove back to Lenzerheide via the Albula pass. Just shy of the pass, there was a traffic blockage. A car had caught fire in back (which doesn't make much sense when you think about it) and firefighters were trying to extinguish it. Back at Lenzerheide, we had dinner and went to bed.
We intended to start hiking early, but that, as usual didn't quite happen. I woke up late, we had to buy bread and milk for the next day, and then I discovered we'd forgotten walking sticks. So our hike to Arosa didn't begin until past 11.
It took a couple of false starts, but we eventually located an access road that led up to Alp Sanaspans. This was a good hour's ascent taking us gradually through the forested spurs of Lenzerhorn. The final stretch of road was pretty steep. Glad I don't have to drive up it. We reached the alp at 1.
Alp Sanapsans was, save for a good many cows, empty. So we drank some water from the faucet that served the cow's trough and headed on. The trail narrowed a lot continuing through the grassy pastures toward an unnamed pass between Piz Naira and Aroser Rothorn. En route, we saw a number of hikers, including one who'd been head cook at the San Francisco Palace Sheraton. Small world indeed. We reached the pass at 2:30PM. The pictures of use were done with my camera, perched precariously on its side on top of a trail sign. Camera fortunately survived.
We then crossed the head of a small valley to reach another unnamed pass before descending to a junction. The sign said it was 3.5 hours to Arosa, but only 2.5 to Alvaneu. Decided to stick with the original plan and continue to Arosa. Ascended our third pass of the day, Furcletta. There, under some very ominous looking clouds and amidst some extremely rocky and desolate scenery, we had lunch.
Coming down from Furcletta to Arosa we nearly strictly monotonic. We began at 4:30PM, and it was down the whole rest of the way. The trail stayed at the bottom of the valley, and was quite straight, but getting to Arosa took almost 3 hours. We first passed through loose shale, then through green alpine pastures. The SAC's Ramozhutte and some cows were the only features that stuck out. Coming down, we passed numerous avalanche zones where white gravel was gradually being colonized by small plants and pine trees (none more than 2 feet high). Eventually, we reached some rather regular pine forests which contained a reasonable amount of vegetation.
At 7:15, the trail left us unceremoniously in front of Arosa's sewage treatment plant without a clear indication of which way the town was. We made a number of guesses, landing in a forest of unoccupied condos and hotels. By a dint of good luck, and a passing bicyclist, we eventually arrived at the center of town and train station.
We left Arosa (which with St. Moritz is one of the towns in Switzerland I dislike most) on the 8:04 train. Because the sun had set, what would otherwise have been a very scenic ride turned out to be instead quite dull. Unfortunately, we arrived in Chur at 9:04PM, missing the 9PM bus to Lenzerheide. So we spent the next hour wandering through Chur, which looked to be enjoying its Saturday night. Like Half Moon Bay after 9PM on Saturday, Chur lacked any open shops, but both the restaurants, and the people, were operating in good numbers. We almost missed the 10PM bus too, but didn't, and so arrived back at Lenzerheide around 10:30. Dinner was soup, and then we went to bed.
I woke up courtesy of a phone call. Who in there right mind calls at 9AM on a Sunday morning? Apparently some people. Guests are due in 2 hours I guess.
So what to do in the mean time then? Well, we had a little breakfast, and walked to town in search of bread. Came back with bread and pastry. That's how these things always go. A lot of people were in town too, either at church, or at the town's sports field. There, lots of kids in multicolored jerseys were busily engaged in half a dozen soccer matches. Soccer may be a second class sport in America, but judging from the cheers and groans of the crowd, it sure isn't here!
Almost promptly at 11, Uncle Kasra arrived. We chatted for a bit. Not wishing to disappoint, we proposed going on a walk to get a little exercise. Of course, instead of the flat gentle trail to Lain, we ended up on very unflat path to above Tgantieni. I wonder whose fault that was? We stopped at a little farmhouse for rest, and somehow also got several glasses of fresh milk. Fresh it was. Probably the best (and freshest) glass of milk I've ever had. At any rate, we started down around 2PM, but took a rather circuitous route, arriving a mere 5 minutes before the next arrivals. Our 1:50,000 topo map had a lot of details, but conveying actual distance was not their strongest point.
My cousin, her husband and their son were coming from La Punt (where we'd met a few days earlier) on their way back to Zofingen. Navid both demanded and received a lot of attention. Unfortunately, something was rather irritating him, so he was quite vocal for a bit, until he dozed off to sleep. We had tea outside, for the sun finally decided to come out after being hidden all morning. Afterwards, we went indoors, and made a communal effort at dinner. Which meant my part was setting the table and making unnecessary comments about lighting the fire. Still it was all to the good, and around 6PM we started an excellent dinner around the table. Simple food, but when you're hungry that's, if anything, a blessing. We talked of this and that as the fire crackled on, and had a pleasant evening.
Family left us around 8PM leaving us a free evening. Hadn't had one of those in a while, so I spent a good chunk of it practicing flute, and an equally good chunk writing up the previous day's events.
As predicted, the weather this morning was quite uninviting. Downright gloom in fact, with dark storm clouds, and a light drizzle. So we had breakfast, and after much deliberation and preparation left the house.
We were in no particular hurry, so we took the side-roads in a roundabout route to Chur. We began on a narrow little road the took us through Lain, Muldain and Zolten. The photographic opportunities were good, so progress was slow. At the bottom of the valle, we took the main route to Thusis. We had a pleasant tour of the "altestadt" including its church and back alleys, and dodged a good many raindrops.
Next, we drove on to Chur. Finding parking in Chur is always exciting, but we managed, and had a late, large lunch at the Migros Restaurant. The place was effectively a cafeteria, much like the Wilbur Marketplace, though I thought the choices were generally better. In the course of the afternoon, we dropped off film, stopped at a number of shoe stores in the hope that my dad's boots could be replaced (unfounded hope, it turned out), and a week's worth of food shopping.
These chores accomplished, we returned home. Dinner, journal by the fire, and flute practice followed.
We woke up reasonably early (going to bed early really does help), and ate a quick breakfast. The weather looked cloudy but not (yet) wet. Decided to do a hike from Bivio to Maloja (or vice-versa). So we drove to Bivio. Driving to Bivio was a slightly involved process. We dropped my dad's hiking boots off for repair in Lenzerheide. Then we bought some bread from the bakery. Finally we drove to Bivio, just below the Julier Pass. Unlike last time though, there was no police checkpoint on the road.
At Bivio we discovered our changes of getting a bus from Maloja to Bivio were slim to none after 5PM. Decided to ignore that detail for the time being, and finally left Bivio around noon. Not early, but we've done worse.
The trail immediately climbed out of view of Bivio into a tributary valley. As tributaries go, this was a wide one, so it was not too surprising that we passed half a dozen farms along our route in the first few minutes alone, not to mention a postal delivery van. The delivery van driver certainly has a scenic job.
In the middle of the valley was a little river which the trail exerted considerable effort to avoid crossing. Understandable, since the the gorge was at least 10 meters deep in some places. It took us an hour to reach the final farm, which was heavily under construction. Then we were on a broad flat, plain, equipped with meadow, creek and cows. At the other end of the meadow was a brief uphill stretch, a pond, and a sign marking the Septimer Pass. The Septimer Pass's claim to fame seems to have been that the Romans were using it 2000 years earlier to run an imperial road through. Nice choice for a road.
From Septimer Pass, we decided to continue toward Maloja. The trail made a sharp turn to the left, climbed very steeply through a couple of rocks, and then levels out to begin a moderate descent up the side of the valley. The good news was there wasn't a descent section, and the trail was well-marked and not steep. The bad news was that the drizzle had begun.
We continued in spite of the wetness, and made it to the Lunghin Pass an hour later. The footing had gotten slippery from tbe unfortunate combination of rock and water. On top of the Lunghin Pass, the fog had closed in, the wind had picked up, and the drizzle had become rain. We sat on the drier side of a rock, put on rainjackets, and ate a snack. Maloja was not looking very appealing, so we headed back the way we'd come.
The trip back was soggy. It rained the entire way back to Bivio. Moving can counter the cold caused by rain, but if you add wind, nature begins to win. We were thoroughly soaked and reasonably cold by the time we reached Bivio.
From Bivio we drove back directly, making ample use of the car's heater. Unfortunately the heater was not strong enough to dry my socks or the half-dozen other wet items. So once we got home, we built a fire and hung the wet stuff nearby. We had a quick dinner, and sat directly in front of the fire to stay warm. Rain continued well into the night.
Woke up and looked outside. No rain or drizzle, but the fog is low and visibility isn't. Don't know if it will rain, but I am not enthusiastic about learning the hard way. After breakfast, we decided to go someplace (hopefully) warmer and sunnier. Like Poschiavo.
Getting to Poschiavo requires a good-length drive. First we went up and over the Julier Pass, passing Bivio on the way. After descending into the Engadine, the weather didn't seem much better than in Lenzerheide. We took the Bernina Pass road past Diavolezza to the top of the pass. Though wrapped in clouds at the top, the Bernina Group was still quite distinguishable and imposing, towering over everything else. The road briefly touched the Lago Bianco before turning to the east and going through four hairpin turns to the pass. As soon as I opened the car door though, I was hit with a blast of cold air. During our picture break, I quickly came to the conclusion that the various blue patches in the sky were courtesy of the ferocious gale the was blowing over the pass.
From Bernina Pass, the road descended in a mass of hairpins. It didn't level out for almost 1,000 vertical meters. At the road to Livigno, I suggested making a detour to the Livigno Pass. The customs checkpoint at the road's entrance deterred us however. Next, we passed a series of little villages. These were somewhat different from those in the Engadine though. They had stone fences, not wood ones, and the buildings were beige, peach and pink, not gray or white. The roofs too were made out of stone. Welcome to Italian Switzerland.
We parked at the south end of Poschiavo around noon. For the next three hours we meandered through the town. Despite having probably less than 1,000 inhabitants, Poschiavo had a monastery, a gorgeous Catholic church, a somewhat plainer reformed church, a newish school (whose lackluster architecture indicated as much), a town swimming pool, a lot of narrow streets, many cars in various states of disrepair, and an impressive number of houses and buildings more than two centuries old.
Last and certainly not least, the sky was blue, the sun warm, the grass green and the breeze not hurricanelike. Enough to make any stroll pleasant. After a thorough exploration, we stopped at an Italian cafe for lunch. From under the awning, we watched the town go by as we ate. Nearby a workman (or so he looked) chattered busily in Italian. It was a nice place.
After lunch, we made an obligatory stop and the bakery and drove south. We stopped at the tiny town of Miralago. There, by a lake, we ate dessert, watched a couple of trains pass on the opposite shore, and saw the sun slowly descend. Around 6PM we left, heading back toward Lenzerheide. Two hours later, with a basically empty gas tank, we were home for dinner. I've concluded that northern Italy might be a nice place. If only the cars weren't so polluting and old.
The weather this morning was comparable to yesterday's. After breakfast, on Uncle Kasra's suggestion, we decided to go south to Ticino. I didn't actually realize the significance of the date until we stopped for gas in Lantsch.
Ticino was south of us, so south we went. The freeway followed the course of the Rhine river, but to advantage of fine swiss civil engineering to go under a good number of obstacles, including the St. Berardino Pass (a 20km underpass). One of the car's major flaws became apparent in these tunnels: the vents could only be closed by hold the recirculate button (which on its own would never stay on).
We remained at, but not in, the San Bernardino tunnel for a good while. Construction in the tunnel was apparently underway. On the other side, the weather was much improved. The clouds were fewer and whiter, and the temperature rose a good 10 degrees. Road construction continued though, rerouting the freeway traffic through a secondary road with too many curves to suit my stomach. We crossed into Ticino without incident.
To get to a presumed trailhead, we abandoned the main road for Locarno. In Ascona, we found the shore of Lago Maggiore, clear blue skies and temperatures in the 70s. No trailhead though. So we continued south. We were supposed to stop in the town of Ronco, but Ronco, alas, did not appear. So having entered the next town, we turned around, and parked in the first spot we found.
We found a trailhead there that indicated Ronco was up. Since we were at lake level, this seemed pretty obvious though. Still, having found a trail, we didn't want to just abandon it, so up we went. The trail, in any case, was quite unlike any of the others we'd been on. Owing to the steepness of the hill, it ascended via stone steps. The trees were very abundant, and difficult to see through. The lake, so far as we could see, waqs simply a collection of constantly disappearing and reappearing blue spots.
We were getting worried that the trail wasn't going to end anywhere, when we reached a series of gardens. Not far beyond, we found the old portion of the village of Ronco. Ronco was a very unique village. The buildings had basically no space between them. There weren't any roads between the houses, only foot paths. Most houses were small, old, and extremely well kept. We made several abortive attempts to find a hiking trail, but only found the trail along the utility lines, which dead-ended, and a road in the general direction of Italy.
So we ate lunch on a bench with a magnificent view of Lago Maggiore (most of the town had just such a view). We made a circuit of the town in the afternoon, landing in the Nova Art Gallery, where the proprietor gave us a very interesting tour of a series of works by the Swiss artist Roger Pfund. Though known mainly for the artwork adorning currency (art as an anti-forgery device?) he had been busy creating quite an array of works, mainly based upon old photographs.
Not long after, we found the center of town, a map, and the trail we'd been searching for. But it was late, so instead we visited the cemetery, where the art gallery's proprietor had mentioned Erich Maria Remarque was buried. There indeed we found him, with an ivy covered gravestone. A fitting place to be on the second anniversary of September 11th, 2001.
We left Ronco by a path that stayed right by the road. We drove back to Locarno to enjoy a lengthy sunset, and visit some of the little streets we'd been to two years before. Finally, we drove back to Lenzerheide were a quick dinner was followed, mercifully, by bed.
Today was our wrapping-up-in-Lenzerheide day. For the morning there was a lengthy breakfast to start things off with. Next, we did laundry (about time). Since there was no dryer, we strung everything up on a line outside. Hopefully it doesn't rain again.
In the afternoon, we took a look at the numerous small villages across the valley, above Savognin and Tiefencastel. This meant driving to Mon, Stierva, Rioms, and others whose names elude me. We stopped for pictures of interesting places, walked through cemeteries, and went into churches. For a pair of not particularly religious folks, we have a good many pictures of churches. The weather was cold and cloudy,so when the sun finally appeared in a widening patch of blue over us, we stopped at a sunny spot and ate lunch. I had the privilege of driving back, which aside from a near miss in a parking lot in Rioms went well.
Back in Lenzerheide, we visited all three bakeries and the confectionary in search of bread and apple-tart. Then we made our final fire in the fireplace, and began to pack things up. We'd just begun dinner when Uncle Kasra arrived, unnanounced. So dinner turned out to be more interesting than we'd expected. We received a good quantity of hiking advice! Afterwards, we tried to finish off packing, a process not helped by the large amounts of uneaten food left in the house. I gave up around 11PM.
Today was traveling day. Since we were due in Geneva at 7PM, we had to first set the house in Lenzerheide straight. It took almost 2 hours to get everything set in order. Then we bid a fond farewell to Haus Droseida, stopped at the post office to mail the house key, and drove off, in the general direction of Chur.
At Chur, we stopped to pick up my developed film. The roll I finished on Julier Pass had indeed been blank. From Chur, we chose the route less traveled. Instead of taking the freeways on a roundabout route to Geneva, we took the shorter (distance-wise) route going directly through the mountains. Accordingly we went almost due west from Chur, passing through a large chunk of western Graubunden. We were stuck behind slow cars for a while, but the views were nice, the road wide (relatively) and things in general pleasant. At the top of the Oberalp Pass, we stopped long enough to determine that the wind on top made it uncomfortable cold. We continued along, down into Uri, and Andermatt.
The winding road up Furka Pass was not new, but this was our first time going over it when it was clear. The views from top were quite exciting, including a small diesel train far below in the valley, which sat still and belched black smoke. From Furka Pass, we descended a little into the Rhone Valley, only to reascend and pass over the Grimsel pass into Bern. The gas gauge had sunk to worrying levels, so we refilled. We'd done 500km on about 8 gallons of gas. Not bad.
We reached Brienz and the Brienzersee in time for a late lunch. The haze in the valley had the most enchanting effect, making the lake and its surroundings softer, and muting the colors. We had a good lunchm and continued on to Thun. Under the mistaken impression that it was a shortcut, we exited for the Zweisimann region of Fribourg.
This was bad idea for while the surroundings were beautiful and fertile, they were also hilly making for slow going and giving me a queasy stomach. We called my uncle in Geneva at length to report that we would not be making it to Geneva that day. Next the road led us over the Jaun Pass to the village of Charmey. There we found ourselves surrounded by wedding festivities, as we tried to find the tourist office and a place for the night. I thought the car for the happy couple looked remarkably ugly, turns out it was a Bentley.
We did manage to find the hotel where my father had stayed twenty years prior, but it was 'a vendre.' We next tried one called Mareshal Ferrand (the farrier). Before the receptionist came back to tell us they were full, I saw a small black critter scurry across the kitchen floor. With fellow guests like that, I suppose it was just as well. Our final try was successful, and we got a room in a pleasant little hotel. Dinner was at a neighboring restaurant, and despite the warnings of my dad, I got the fish dish. It was excellent. We went to sleep to the gentle sounds of renewed rain.
When I woke up in the morning the rain was gone and it looked to be quite a beautiful day outside. We availed ourselves of the hotel's continental breakfast, grabbed our stuff, paid and were off around 9AM. Thanks to the Sunday morning, the roads were deserted. The low clouds hadn't burned off yet, so the grass was the rich green that you only get after heavy dew or rain.
We made a brief side-trip to the famous town of Gruyere on our way. Though the town is quite small, the cheese of the area bears the name. It's only a bit less famous than Emmentaler (known most places as 'Swiss cheese'). Despite being Sunday, all the little shops were open. We had a pleasant walk around the ramparts of the town, before continuing toward Geneva.
We stayed off the freeway for about as long as we could. Thus we took primary roads through first Fribourg, and the the Vaud countryside. After an hour of farms, and little village, we entered a patch of growing haze, and the city of Lausanne.
Lausanne is a good-sized city; large enough to make it easy for us to miss the freeway entrance and have to double back the way we'd come. Once on the freeway, we made it to Geneva in short-order, and despite taking back-roads to avoid the Geneva's legendary lakeside traffic jam, we arrived at Uncle Parviz's house at a little before noon.
After saying hello, we had to say good-bye to my cousin, who was off on his way to Italy for vacation over the next week. We enjoyed a large lunch, and caught up on the state of the world. I tried desperately, but mainly unsuccessfully to revive my knowledge of French. I took advantage of an afternoon break in activities to examine the photographs we'd picked up from processing in Chur.
Next, we took an afternoon walk through Geneva's old city with Uncle Parviz. Despite graffiti and the neglect of some areas, Geneva still has a beautiful old city. We passed through narrow streets, past churchs and old appartments, through parks, and eventually arrived at the end of the lake, where the Rhone river leaves. We were content to follow the waterfront for a while, until Uncle Parviz suggested we stop at a cafe which we duly did. Returning, we passed through the city's commercial district but eventually landed by the city's walls overlooking the main park. How John Calvin's city has changed.
Once back at the house, we had a small dinner before making a thorough perusal of Uncle Parviz's collection of old photographs. Fifty years and much changes. Somehow, a few things have not changed. To add to the reminiscences, Uncle Bahram phoned us resulting in a lengthy conversation, much of which I oveheard but could not understand, due to my nonexistant Farsi skills. At length, bed seemed appropriate, so to bed we went.
Got up later than planned, but earlier than usual. Had a nice breakfast before leaving for a walk about the city around 10. This time we kept near the river (Arve) and walked away from the lake. For a city so large Geneva has a truly amazing amount of green park space. We passed not only green, undeveloped areas of forest, but also tennis courts, soccer fields, and even a track where a number of school kids were busily running a 1200 meter race.
From time to time, we also saw people out for strolls, and invariably dogs out for the same purpose. Uncle Parviz wryly observed that dogs were well on their way to outnumbering humans in Geneva. After a good two hours, we left the parks and the city fo the farm towns on the outskirts. There we saw vineyards, orchards, cornfields, and massive, although ancient, houses. All these a scarce 10 km from Geneva's downtown.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in an empty field. However, the field wasn't as empty as we thought, for the walnut tree whose shade we sat under had produced an astonishing number of walnuts. After a somewhat elaborate picnic, we collected what must've been several kilos of nuts to take back.
Going back, we wandered around the edge of the fields, landing on a path by the river. It wasn't a wide path but near the outskirts of town, there was a sign indicating only authorized personnel (the border patrol) were allowed on the stretch of path we'd come through. The other side of the sign welcomed us to Geneva canton. Apparently, we'd accidentally wandered into France.
Uncle Parviz had heard of an old Jewish cemetary in the area, which, after several false starts, we found. Unfortunately, it was closed and locked. We did visit the main cemetary though (presumably a Christian one). I even noticed one gravestone with the same uncommon lost name as a fellow I know at Stanford. Born in Tehran, deceased 1975, I wonder if they'e related.
It being hot and the only cafe in town being closed by its proprietors who were on vacation (returning Wednesday), we returned by way of public bus. At the house, we had about an hour's rest before a cousin and her two daughters (aged 1 and 3) came over. Dinner, as may have been expected, was slightly complicated, but also quite lively, and the younger members of the crew seemed to have a good time. After dinner, Lion King (French edition) and bed followed suit.
Today we left Geneva in the morning. We had a large breakfast, collected out luggage, said goodbye to family and Geneva, and were off and away around half past 11. From Geneva, we took the Rue de Lac along the lakeside all the way to the end. We stopped briefly in Morges for tourist information and a snack. In Lausanne and finally in Vevey, we stopped for phone calls. Finally, in Montreux we bought a loaf of bread and ate lunch sitting on the quays overlooking the lake. It was quite hazy, like Brienzersee, but because the lake was wider we could barely see the opposite side. The scene, particularly the towns on the lake, was relaxing, as was the breeze that came of the lake.
I drove from Montreux, which gave me a backache, and a new appreciation for freeways. This was because shortly after leaving Montreux, we ended up stuck behind a slow truck on the highway. No sooner did I get the courage to pass the truck than I found myself behind an even slower tractor. We followed the tractor, at 25 km/h, for 10 km, at which point we got onto the freewar. Only then did I stop having to constantly stick my head out the window to peer around the tractor for passing opportunities.
The freeway took us up the Rhone Valley in Valais. I stopped driving at Sierre, where we picked up maps and information on hikes in the region. From Sierre, we took a winding little road, which frequently narrowed to a single land for both directions, up into the Val D'Anniviers and St. Luc.
We'd visited St. Luc four years ago (with excellent results) so we chose the same hotel, and after dropping our luggage, went for a walk about the town as the sun began to set. We discovered where the next day's route was before returning to the hotel for dinner. I tried to be creative, and somehow ordered fondue with tomato and potato. Instead of flavoring the fondue with both however, it turned out to mean that the tomato flavored things a lot, and the potato served in lieu of bread. Not what I expected, but at least it left me full.
After dinner, we prepared the packs for the next day and made a pilgrimage to the public phone booth. When we returned, we realized we'd forgotten to call somebody else, and tried unsuccessfully on the hotel room's phone. Then we called it a night.
Ideally, we would have gotten up, checked out of the hotel, and been on the trail by 8. Instead we got up at 8 and took showers. I managed to almost faint (not sure quite how), before we had breakfast. At half past 10, I finished putting a new roll of film in my camera, and we began to hike, up and away from St. Luc.
The first half hour the trail was painfully steep. It leveled out once we reached some trees, even as the day was becoming unpleasantly warm. Above St. Luc, we could really see the impact of the drought. Though one plant had turned a stunning red in response, most were yellowish or even brown, perhaps a first for Switzerland. We continued in the supposed direction of Meidpass.
Our supposition wasn't right though, for after a break above a little farm around noon, we lost all sign of the trail. There were plenty of little cowpaths, and a couple of dirt access roads, but no trail. Since we couldn't find it, we just walked in the direction of where we thought it would be, between two dried lakes. Though it wasn't there, we climbed to the top of a small hill to finally locate it, after a good bit anxious head-scratching. Half an hour and a dozen cows of steep climbing later, we crested the pass.
Meidpass was the local minimum on a steep ridge connecting two massive rocky ummis. The westward view (direction St. Luc) showed much of the Val D'Anniviers and its opposite rim. To the east though, we saw a range of similar mountains, and some more distant snow-capped ones as well. Partial views of the Rhone Valley and the Swiss-Italian border were also visible (the latter as a series of jagged snow-capped peaks).
Lunch atop the scenic and nearly windless pass was quite pleasant. Around 4, we set off down the other side in the direction of Gruben and Zermatt. One apple from our lunch had already preceded us, slipping out of the pack and rolling an unknown distance toward Gruben. The trail was rocky but reasonably flat, and we passed the clear waters of the Meidsee in our descent. Then the trail became quite steep. When we surprised two sheep, they bounded off downhill without a problem, while we follow in cautious and slow switchbacks. It took more than two hours to descend to Gruben.
Gruben was not quite a town. It had a single hotel, a dozen or so chalets, no general store, and no post-bus stop. So we went to the Hotel Schwarzhorn to get a room for the night. It was good that they weren't full, since the nearest other accomodations were a 20km walk away. Although not luxurious, it was a decent place, well-equipped as a rest-spot between hikes. Dinner was simple but filling (indeed there was no choice of dishes to complicate matters). The only phone in the place turned out to be only semi-functional, giving us the excuse to go to bed around 9PM. 1,200 meters up and down makes for good sleep.
We got up early, at 7:15. Went downstairs for breakfast and were amazed to discover the same women who had served food the night before, and cleaned the dining room was up and serving breakfast, which had been going since 6. Wow. Because there wasn't a store in town, we were low on drinkables. The hotel didn't sell 1.5 liter bottles of anything, so we got 5 .3 liter bottles of apple juice instead, and emptied them into a big bottle. Cost about 20 francs, but no complaints.
Left the hotel at half past 8 and headed east, like the day before. The valley was narrow, so much of the east side was quite shaded. I was anxious to move fast to enjoy the shade while it lasted, and this we did. We switch-backed through forests for a while, before the trail leveled out near an alp where the sun hit us full force at a quarter past 9.
Still, there were a few other patches of shade, so we kept going until 10 when we stopped for our first break. Discovered we'd done 800 meters (up) in 90 minutes. From there on, the trail was steep again, and shortly thereafter it became rocky. We lost the trail by a little lake, and ended up doing some boulder-scrambling before recovering it and climbing the last bit to the Augstbordpass.
The only person on top at the time was a Canadian hiker who was originally from Germany. He was part of a group that was going from Chamonix to Zermatt, and in addition to obligingly taking some pictures of us, he also provided a number of good tips.
But we were anxious to continue, so we soon began to descend the other side in the direction of St. Nicklaus and Zermatt. The views became steadily more stunning as masses of 4000 meter peaks became visible in almost every direction. Yet below many of these peaks we could also see small towns and villages all over the valley. After an hour of descent, we stopped for lunch on a monolithic rock whose edge proved perhaps too good a view. The day was also getting quite hot, and though the haze remained, visibly obscuring the more distant areas, the sky was a nearly perfect blue, and stood entirely empty of clouds.
After lunch we continued going down. We had to skirt a number of rock slide areas, and continued to bake in the sun the whole way. When we reached the Jungu cable car station, we were happy to let the cable car take us the last 700 meters to St. Nicklaus. While hot, the cable car had a good view, and was nice for the sore feet.
At St. Nicklaus, we abandoned our original plan of spending the night in Grachen, and hiking to Saas Fee the next day. We wanted to meet Uncle Kouroche the next day, which meant an 8 hour hike just wasn't in the cards. So we took the train to Zermatt instead.
Zermatt is always something of a zoo. This we discovered for ourselves yet again, trying to navigate from the train station to the hotel Weisshorn through the bustling streets. Then, after a good rest, we left the hotel to take a look at the town, and marveled at the opulence of some of the surroundings. We did manage to find a grocery story to get hiking materials for the next day, as well as call to confirm the next day's plan.
Dinner we had in the same pizza restaurant we'd gone to two years before. It was still good, though this time I ordered the Sicilian pizza, notable for its spicy sauce, and salty anchovies. Would have done better to listen to my dad's advice on seafood...
On the way back to the hotel, we saw the unmistakable silhouette of the Matterhorn. I haven't seen too many night shots of Matterhorn, so I took it, and promptly finished my film. We did a time exposure, based mainly on guesswork and without a timer, so I hope it turns out. After that, we slept.
Up at 6:15AM. That's late (should've been 6). Didn't manage to leave until 6:45AM. This is by far our earliest hike. It will also likely be our last for this trip.
We went rapidly through Zermatt's deserted streets in the dark predrawn. Matterhorn is as impressive as last night, so I make a few photos. Then it's a matter of hiking as fast as we can, since we need to be back by half past nine.
Since we took the same trail last trip, it should be familiar. But it isn't. We go up a wide but steep gravel road for nearly an hour. The sun isn't visible yet, but the sky is much lighter, as is Matterhorn. At half past 7, we pass through the village of Zmutt and reach a junction.
Oops, we took the wrong trail. Still 2.5 hours to our destination. We will be late. Oh well, continue. Fast. Now the sun finally appears over the eastern edge of the valley. We see the Zmutt valley and its glacier in their full glory. At Unter Staffel, the trail splits and we take the upper route, towards what we hope will be Schwarzsee.
We reach Ober Staffel soon after. Directly above us is the western spur of Matterhorn. It looks only a stone's throw away to the glacier that blankets it. From now our, our ascent is punctuated by picture breaks. The trail turns east. I change my camera lens for a wider one. Around 9AM we hit sunlight for good. A truck with a heavy load passes us.
Suddenly, we come over a little rise, and we're there. The little lake and chapel. The lift station. The hotel. The mountain above. We have missed the 10AM train, so there is no hurry now. I take half a roll worth of pictures right there. The views are truly something else. Not only do we have Matterhorn, were it can almost be touched, but host of other peaks and glaciers are near as well. Perhaps just to emphasize our tininess, we see ant-sized people ascending the trail in the distance toward Hornlihutte, the last outpost on Matterhorn before the snow.
The rest of the morning was somewhat of a blur. We took the lift down to Zermatt, taking about 10 minutes to get us fully down. We then rushed back to the hotel, packed, checked out, and rushed to the train station. We made the 11AM train, which amusingly, given our hurry, was not all that fast. In any case, our chances of arriving in St. Luc before 4PM are nil. The Zermatt train dropped us off in Visp around 12:20, having averaged 28 km/h during its trip. From Visp, we took a fast train to Sierre. We arrive there with a good 2.5 hours to spare before our bus to St. Luc leaves.
So in Sierre, we bought food at a little store, and had our lunch in a park under the trees. Afterwards, we wandered down the main street to look at shops. In no time, the bus arrived, we boarded, and after a slightly sickening drive, we arrived back in St. Luc. The car was still there.
From an earlier payphone call, we'd learned that Uncle Kouroche was going to Neuchatel. It took us about 3 hours of freeway driving to get to Neuchatel. We stopped near the quay, and around 7PM, Uncle Kouroche, a cousin, and a family friend met us. We went to the friend's house for what became a three hour discussion and dinner. Somehow computers and international affairs were the major focal points of the evening.
In fact we didn't arrange for a hotel until nearly 10PM, but fortunately it was a Friday night, so everywhere was still open and busy. We went back to the old town, and parked ourselves, in a manner of speaking, in a room on the third floor of the Hotel Beau-Marche. It had been a rather long day.
When we got up the next morning, there was a Saturday morning market going on in the street outside. We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, and then went in search of a phone to call my uncle. They were still getting up, so we took a walk around the old town of Neuchatel, landing ourselves at the ancient headquarters of the Cardinal of Neuchatel. The cardinal's quarters were quite nice, and some folks were busy being married in the church.
We met with Uncle Kouroche and my cousin down at the quay again, and had ourselves lunch, courtesy of a Kebab vendor. Apparently Turkish food is all the rage in Europe these days. After that we walked a bit about, before going to a nearby mall to do gift-shopping. I was very unexcited about the whole prospect, but the had some new laptops, so I wasn't too bored.
Since we were due to meet another cousin Zofingen the next day, we decided to drive on a little further, and find a hotel for the night. So we ended up in a little French village. Our hotel just happened to be overlooking the courtyard where somebody's wedding celebration was going on full force. Hmm...
We walked through the town in the evening, past the old walls and around a number of grand old buildings. Nobody was feeling too active, so we had a dinner of left-over food from hikes and whatnot. Surprisingly, nobody complained either. Then we chatted for a bit, before trying to go to bed. This didn't work out too well, because the party in the courtyard was quite lively, as was the music. Nonetheless, I fell asleep eventually, though I'm not certain either when, or for how long.
Off to Zofingen in the morning. This being Sunday morning, it was a big challenge to find an open bakery, but we did, and got some bread. Getting to Zofingen took about 2 hours all told. There we met my cousin and her husband, and took a walk before lunch. We passed quite an interesting collection of animals at one point, inside a sort of open-air zoo (though the animals were not so much exotic as wild).
We had lunch not long after. The we had to say goodbye, and took a look at Zofingen's downtown, before saying goodbye to Uncle Kouroche and my cousin. After that, there was nothing for it but to drive back to Zurich, to our hotel near the airport. Our flight is due to leave at 6 the next morning, so we spent the afternoon packing up luggage, clearing out the rental car and so forth.
Returning to the U.S. is quite a lengthy process. We got up at half past 4. Unfortunately, we couldn't figure out where to drop off our room key for a while. Still we got to the Zurich airport before 5:30. There new complications arose. While checking in luggage, the we were told we needed transit visas to go through Holland. This was clearly not the case (we'd gone through a mere 3.5 weeks earlier). After some argument, it turns out the we were right, and this fellow was just new to the job. An unpleasant scare nonetheless.
Flying from Zurich to Amsterdam was reasonably quick and efficient. I alternately read my book and dozed the whole time. We had a little time in the airport at Amsterdam, so I decided to buy a tulip bulb. I was perplexed, however, that they wanted a ticket stub before I could buy the bulb. Turns out it was agricultural regulations. So I had to buy a pricier tulip, because the one I wanted was not FDA approved. Seemed kinda dumb.
From Amsterdam to San Francisco is a long way. I did manage to sleep briefly towards the end. But otherwise, I read, attempted to watch the movie they were showing, and stared out the window. Being exhausted has the great disadvantage that you're too tired even to think, and that makes things seem very boring.
At San Francisco when we landed, we were met with the indignity of having customs rifle through all of our film. I'm certain that if my father had a different passport they would not pull this sort of baloney. Getting a cab to go home was also a pain. Payphones in the U.S. are just not reliable, and it took many quarters, and over an hour to get a cab that'd go to Half Moon Bay without charging double fare. We arrived home, a bit the worse for the wear, at 4PM.