Reaching the Matterhorn

Sitting in a little Art Deco cafe in Zürich, Switzerland called Grand Cafe Odeon. It reminds me so much of a place in Prague that I was lucky enough to spend time in 2009 when my eldest Sarah was studying abroad. I’m drinking a cappuccino, thinking of getting some champagne like the Swiss couple next to me and listening to the ubiquitous jazz that is so well loved in Europe. It’s Sunday, Feb. 10, and I’m reminiscing about the week I just spent here in Switzerland. Europe is such a visual treat with such a classic, unique style from centuries past, and Switzerland is no exception.

Mike stayed back in Pula working on his boat, and my awesome friend Liz met me here in Zürich to do a whirlwind tour of this beautiful country. She had to leave yesterday to get back to work, so I spent it wandering around the city window shopping and absorbing the Swiss character of the buildings and churches including the Grossmünster (I have to admit I love that word.)

The blue and white tram passes through the streets and in front of the cafe. It’s Sunday and pedestrians fill the streets, some tourists, some locals, all immersed in the magical atmosphere that is Zürich. Zürich seems to be the grandest of the cities we have visited here, but Lucerne, Bern, Chur and the picture perfect Zermatt all have captured a part of our hearts.

In third grade I had to pick something to do a social study project on, and I chose the Matterhorn. You could say it was a dream of mine at that early age, but I would have to say I really wasn’t capable of dreaming that big in the third grade. As I plastered paper maché to create the world famous summit, I just liked the idea of it. It was so high and so cold and snowy. So different from Louisiana. So flat and hot and so below sea level.

Even in college or up to my 30s I never really dreamed I would go anywhere near the Matterhorn or Switzerland (or Europe for that matter). I had visited Cancun and Cozumel as a teenager and for my honeymoon, but hadn’t felt it was in my cards to visit Europe. A two-week trip to Europe in the 90s got me close as I visited Geneva, but still the ultimate peak was out of reach.

So when Mike and I planned our adventure in Croatia, the Matterhorn was definitely on my radar. A nagging itch that I wanted to scratch. Reading about the panoramic Glacier Express train that wound its way through the Swiss Alps began to be a slight obsession but unfortunately it wasn’t really something my husband wanted to do. This situation was made worse by the fact that he had just achieved his lifelong dream of purchasing a sailboat in the Adriatic and didn’t want to leave it (for a second!). So I ran the idea by a few of my friends and even considered a solo trip, as I waited to see if one of my best friends would be able to go. My dear friend Liz jumped at the opportunity, but had work obligations and five dogs to worry about.

And then it happened, Liz got dog sitters and a miraculous week off of work. We were going to Switzerland. fullsizeoutput_5962She met me in Lucerne on a blustery snowy day, and we walked around in a dreamlike state marveling at the snow, the centuries old chapel bridge, and the poignant Lion Monument as the snow showered us. Walking in a winter wonderland was an understatement!

 

 

 

After our walk, we stopped in a beautifully little quaint cafe by the riverside and thawed off with cappuccino and reveled in the snowy beauty. We got a typical Lucerne dish, a puff pastry stuffed with pork and covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. Deliciousness!

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IMG_9527Lucerne is so charming.  The intricate metal shop signs, the buildings covered with artwork, even a painted picture on the side of a building claiming the writer Goethe had slept there adds to the romantic element of this beautiful city. Not to mention the incredible wooden bridge built in 1333 called the Kappellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) that spans part of the River Reuss.

Each section of the bridge has a beautiful triangular masterpiece (originally there were 158 of the paintings) which depict the history of Lucerne as you cross the bridge. The walk across the bridge must have been incredibly entertaining for the people of that time, especially since books were a rarity and picture books even rarer.

 

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One of the many painted buildings in the beautiful Swiss city of Lucerne.
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The Kappellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) built originally in 1333 had 158 triangular paintings lining the bridge.

 

 

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Clocks rule the country of Switzerland and we seriously wandered how a country could support so many luxury watch stores. I mean, how many watches do these people need? There was one on every street corner and then some. And it’s not like there wasn’t a clock tower every where you turned, gonging out the hour in full measure. These watch stores were not hawking your cheap Timex watches either: Rolex, Gübelin, Bucherer, crazy expensive watches.

 

The next stop was Bern, a city that was unique and charming in its own right with no lack of clock towers and beautiful scenery! A blue green river swings around the city in a big “u” shape, and we were surprised to find that Bern actually has a population of bears that live in a open zoo on the outskirts of the city. We think it’s possible that Bern could mean bear, but we still aren’t sure.

Bern also had a beautiful astronomical clock that has a few mechanical components that work as the hours strike (yes, more clocks, folks. surprise, surprise!). A little mechanical king waves his wand and a small rooster flaps his wings and that’s about it, but the clock is incredible nonetheless. We went by a few times right on the hour to watch it work its magic.

Liz and I also climbed the tower of the cathedral in Bern and looked out over the city and then met some Americans from Colorado at the top. Were they as impressed with the snowy wonderland of Switzerland as us southerners from Louisiana as we gushed on and on about the snow-capped mountains? They never answered, but they took our picture, and they looked pretty enamored by the surroundings as well.

 

A Golden Prison

One of our many memorable moments was a conversation we had with our hotel receptionist Magdalena who happened to be Serbian (although born in Switzerland) and a Swiss resident for 30 years. She was adorable and was so tall she towered over us like a lot of Serbians and Croatians do. As we told her we were headed to Zermatt she said she had never been there.

Really? We were shocked! But it’s only an hour and a half away by train, we said! A really comfortable train, no less!  She said some people referred to Bern and Switzerland in general, as a golden prison of sorts, that it is so nice that residents never want to leave their cities. I definitely get that. It’s a pretty remarkable place.

Reaching the Summit

Our last city before we returned back to Zurich was of course the incredible city of Zermatt, near the beautiful Matterhorn. We took an amazing train ride called the Gornergrat Bahn, the world’s first electric cog railway, that travels up through the mountains with some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in the world. You get several panoramic views of the Matterhorn as you climb 10,000 or so feet. A nice Austrian even told us which side to sit on and that we could open the windows to get rid of the glare. Between that ride, and the ride on the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the world’s highest 3S cableway the next day, I really felt like I had made it. I had accomplished a dream.

I was in heaven.

And of course, Liz found a dog up there, because we all know that all dogs go to heaven.

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