Christmas rail trip 4: AROSA

Trip Start Feb 12, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Sunday, January 4, 2009

On 27 December our group of five packed up and left Zurich Hauptbanhoff with a stop-over in Chur before taking the painfully slow yet achingly beautiful climb into the Alps. As we move above the snow line, the frozen waterfalls, untouched forests and deep canyons flow past one after the other. We make several stops at tiny outposts before heading through a tunnel, surfacing along the small lake in the quaint village of Arosa.

Arosa is nearly everything you would script of a Swiss skiing village: two lakes , two ice rinks, a dozen horse & sleigh drivers and one terrific ski resort. After spending the first day getting acclimated with the new altitude, renting our skis and settling into our hotel/hostel we head out for the official meal of Switzerland: fondue. This was obviously a dream come true for Tamara. We were joined that day by our friend Megan from New York and the six of us put away four hearty pots of cheese, accompanied by bread, potatoes and pineapple. (I know, pineapple? Not something that exactly screams 'Swiss.'...but then again neither does curry flavoured fondue... but oh so good)

The next day we hit the mountain for an early - and relatively wasteful 2 hour ski lesson and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the great skiing Switzerland is famous for. That night the entire group ended up in bed earlier than at any point I can possibly recall in my life. It is barely 8:30pm and we are lights out. In our bunk beds.

Yes let me take a side step to mention a bit of disappointment with the accommodations. We were told there would be internet. There was not. We were led to believe we were receiving a double room - it was, in the form of bunk beds. Worst of all we were expecting bathrooms and received sinks + shared toilets and showers. Combine this with the rowdy and often drunk younger crew and it was like being back in college without the stamina.

But back to the positives - On the third day (29 December) my good friend Ron joined us to complete our group of seven. We had a meal of Pizza out and then one of the highlights of the trip - a night of Curling.

While it was certainly bitter cold starting at 8pm, it was a bargain to enjoy two hours of lesson and Curling competition for 10 Francs. I unfortunately was stuck on a team of several Germans who couldn't Curl their way out of a... I don't know - something that would be easy to Curl their way out of? Meanwhile the other team was loaded with skill players and stacked with a ringer - a Canadian no less. Tamara's team easily walked away with a victory but not before my feet went numb from standing on thick ice for two hours straight.

The next night was the Secret Santa/Yankee Swap Christmas event and while the rules of Yankee Swap call for allowing a person to steal any gift from someone else, the only occurrence of swiping came from Tamara taking my new ski cap.

Tamara and I finally took a day off from skiing on New Year's Eve and spent a bit of time reading and relaxing and some time exploring the village - we enjoyed a couple of heiße schokolade and beers before meeting everyone for happy hour and a dinner at the hostel. The plan was to then head out to a bar to celebrate the end of 2008 but by 10pm the four American/Canadians had lost their spark. The three Aussies went out to party and we made friends with a group of Germans from Ulm.

Diversion #2: We were all thoroughly disappointed with the manners, personality and overall attitude of the Swiss. Tamara and I enjoyed the service and Friendliness in Basel - perhaps because it sat on the border with France and Germany - but Zurich was quite unfriendly (with the exception of Hans of course) and Arosa felt close to hostile at times. I expressed this concern with one of our new German friends and he smiled knowingly explaining there is a common saying about the Swiss: There are twice as many people in Zurich as there are in Vienna's cemetery, yet half as much fun.

It was well worth staying in for New Year's and celebrating quietly, especially for me as one of our new friends handed me their last Augustiner Bräu beer (my favourite) and we celebrated the new year from our balcony (no bathroom but a balcony with a stunning view of the mountains and valley, so naturally the fireworks display as well).

Another good reason for staying in - we were finally hit with our first new snow since arriving in Switzerland. Which meant the next morning at 9am while the rest of the village and hotel slept, the four of us snuck onto the lift and out onto slopes of fresh powder and no lines. We stopped for a break at the top of the mountain, had some spare ribs and beers and continued skiing with no crowds. It was the best day of skiing in our combined memories.

The best, that is, until Ron went and tore his calf muscle after spilling in the middle of the fresh powder.

So the best day of skiing ended early as the non-English-speaking ski patrol managed to describe the injury as "kaput" and Ron and I headed to the only open doctor in the village (this being New Year's Day and all). Upon confirmation of the torn muscle, Ron started doping up on pain killers and we ended what was otherwise the best day so far with a nice meal of Rösti. Something all seven of us partook in and all seven of us enjoyed completely.

Tamara and I finished our skiing the next morning after only about an hour and a half - our legs exhausted and barely able to hold us, my knee extremely sore and T's ankles swollen. The entire crew was like a walking MASH unit - every single person suffered from aches, pains and injuries - calf muscles, ankles, knees, back, shoulder, elbow, triceps, head... the list was long and distinguished. All of this coupled with the lift-line etiquette provided a few challenges. I call them "lift-lines" but really they were free-for-alls where grown adults and even elderly skied over each others' skis, hit out with ski poles and gave looks of distaste as the pushed, shoved and gouged their way towards the chairs.

Tamara and I decided to make our last day an easy one and returned our skis, but on our snow boots and went back up the mountain on the gondola, settling in with our books on the lounge chairs for some sun and relaxation. We ended the day with a couple tiny bottles of Prosecco and a horse drawn sleigh ride. The perfect ending to a great holiday trip (minus the gas one of the horses was suffering from.)

Arosa is a beautiful little village with everything going for it - great snow, lots of sun, ideal location snug in the middle of the Swiss Alps. It is expensive, the people standoff-ish and sometimes quite rude and

Today we started with the train to Chur, then to Zurich. The vaunted French TGV was not running properly so we caught the train to Basel before boarding the TGV to Paris. We are now in the last few minutes of our journey aboard the Eurostar - having enjoyed a pasta meal and bottle of red and prepared to face the real world again on Monday.

All and all, quite the great Christmas/New Year Alpine journey.
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