Phantom Matterhorn and Expensive Chocolate!

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Sep 30, 2010

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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Monday, September 27, 2010

Weather this morning was grumpy again, so we moped down to the tourist info office to see what the forecast was for later in the day. Not encouraging, so we split up. I came back to the hotel and got set up to do some computer work on the Lakes District in Italy for tomorrow; Linda took a rare opportunity to window shop among the tantalizing yet pocketbook-paralyzing stores of Zermatt.

We agreed to reassess weather early afternoon and probably ride up to Klein Matterhorn – the highest cable car station in Europe. Live images are available on TV broadcasts from the three primary Matterhorn viewing areas – Gornergrat, Rothern, and Klein Matterhorn. So though we could see from the screens that the Matterhorn was playing shy behind the clouds, by 1:30 pm the sun was shining in Zermatt and it seemed like a good time to zip skyward to the highest cable car station in Europe.

The three primary viewing areas are all above 10,000 feet in elevation, and are served by different forms of mountain conveyances – train, funicular, gondola (large capacity – about 50-75 persons), and "bubble car" (8-person gondola). From our hotel, we walked through Zermatt, which offers a strange but pleasant medley of new Alpine chalets and shops along with rugged, old wooden homes, a juxtaposition of traditional Swiss living with the advent of modern tourism, mountain climbing, and skiing.

At the south end of town, we came to the end of the valley, surrounded by mountains on three sides. We boarded the first of three lifts, this one the bubble car, at the station there and were soon whizzing above the Alpine postcard below us. Zermatt dropped away and we were mesmerized by the miniaturization of the town, the livestock, and the farms blanketing the lower slopes of the Matterhorn.

Again, like yesterday, we experienced confusion at the lift stations, but passed through enough gates to end up in the right corner of the maze. Visibility was good, and though the Matterhorn remained cloaked behind the only significant cloudbank in the sky, the ride up on the next two legs in a large gondola was jaw-dropping.

Finally at the top, we shivered as we walked the tunnel through the lift station to reach the Ice Palace elevators. Walking through the middle of a glacier is not exactly an every-day experience, and what this one offered that I had not seen before is the chance to stand in natural crevices.

After reviving our chilled hands in the toasty gift shop, we ventured outside to climb stairs to the highest viewing platform in Europe. Again we hoped the big “M” would put in an appearance, and again we contented ourselves with other spectacular mountain scenery that would have completely satisfied had we not anticipated the culmination of a quest that began for me as a 12-year-old riding the bobsleds of this mountain's artificial namesake at Disneyland.

Returning down the mountainside, we decided to exit the lift system at the Furi station. From the bird’s eye view of the gondola, we’d noticed some promising trails on the way up and decided to explore further. We’d been using the booklet provided by tourist information that outlines all trails in the area. It’s an extensive system, and the information provided is fairly detailed, albeit not entirely accurate, as we discovered during yesterday’s trail to nowhere.

I hadn’t noticed any trails in the booklet that looked attractive in terms of elevation gain/loss on this side of the valley, yet what we were seeing now had promise. What we discovered was a delightful trail from Furi down to Zermatt, winding through tiny mountain communities clinging to alpine clearings on the sides of the Matterhorn, into areas less frequented by hikers.

We clocked about 4 kilometers back into town, following the still-flowerbox-lined streets past shops that my pocketbook had not yet recovered from. Last stop of the day, in fact, was a chocolate shop Linda had decided merited more than a window shop. Knowing that Linda is a cross between a chocoholic and a chocolate connoisseur - a chocoholosseur, I was not surprised at the speed with which she had descended the trail from Furi. 

She was clearly driven to reach a certain chocolatier before its rather condescending business hours of 2:30 to 6:30 pm ended for another half workday.This was one of those places that doesn’t post prices on its bulk chocolate. As the saying goes, “If you have to ask… you can’t afford it.” 

Looking through the store window, we debated the choices and settled on two possibilities. Linda wisely asked for a chunk of only one – it turned out to be 100 grams. “How much is that?”, she asked the self-confident clerk (we found a lot of people in Switzerland pretty satisfied with their lot). “Seven francs” she purred, without batting an eye.

“That will be enough” Linda replied quickly without even trying to do the math. We laughed as we walked back to the hotel, realizing we’d just purchased a very expensive chunk of chocolate. My math indicated that 100 grams at 7 Swiss francs is nearly $32 per pound!! It wasn’t THAT good!
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