Day Six: Lake Como (continued), Zermatt, and Chillon
The next morning I woke up to the sound of birds on our balcony. I opened the door to look at Lake Como. It was quiet on the lake, no speedboats. I couldn’t spot the ferry. The sun was hiding behind the clouds.
A floor below, hotel guests were served breakfast on a patio. Alistair and I dressed to join them. When we finished--full, caffeinated, and eager to walk through Bellagio--we passed the American couple from the night before on the stairs. We didn't even have to say hello, we all just smirked, laughed, and kept going.
We started by seeing the town church, then did a little shopping. Functional blue and red bags hung from the homemade leather shops, wooden trinkets in another --cutting boards, ornaments, chess sets. We stepped into a candy store still dressed as it was in the 1950s. In a grocery we decided we'd have a picnic in Zermatt so we bought two bottles of pre-mixed Aperol spritz, a loaf of bread, pecorino cheese with a ribbon of truffle in the middle, and a pound of prosciutto de parma. I peered over a glass case into a vats of gelato. A shopkeeper spun them ‘round on a lazy-susan to give me two scoops of my flavor.
At the bottom of one of the hilly streets, I ate my gelato and watched the sun come out, and wished we could stay a little longer, maybe even swim, but we were expected in Zermatt. We got the car and waited in line for the ferry. A guard came and told us to turn off the engine so we rolled down the windows. Everyone passing us was on their way to a very beautiful, flower-lined avenue and could hear us speaking in English. At least four or five American people stopped by the car to ask for directions, or when the Ferry left. A very amicable man, tall, tan, in his late 60s, in a polo shirt and a baseball cap stopped by the car for directions. We told him, and then later on the ferry to Menaggio, he introduced himself as Jim.
"I'm traveling alone, and it's been a long time since I've gotten to talk to anyone nice," he said. We learned he was from San Diego, a professor on summer vacation. He goes everywhere, a month in Spain, a month in France.
"Well, there's only one thing to do..." he said after we exchanged pleasantries. "I have to get a photo of the nice couple I met." He took our photo and laughed.
"A tip..." he said. "I've had my phone stolen three times in Europe, once a bunch of guys approached me as if they were going to ask a question. Now I just tell everyone, 'Stay back, I have a cold.' It's a good trick," he said.
We said goodbye and the ferry arrived at the port of Menaggio. We went south. Alistair wanted to take a very specific road to Zermatt, not the highways and certainly not the death-trap Italian roads, but the Nufenen Pass. We climbed The Alps by way of the small towns dotted with chalet-style homes. You could hear the cowbells from the cows eating grass among the trees. It was such a pleasant sound.
The higher we got the mountain peaks were more abundant. So many that their tops looked like the crests of gray waves. Once we even passed an ice-blue glacier. There was a restaurant at the highest point of the pass, and three flags marked the spot. We got out and stretched in the cold.
After an hour or so of driving, we arrived in Zermatt, but one doesn’t simply drive into Zermatt. Only a few vehicles are allowed near the city and almost all transportation is through tiny three wheel electric cars. Alistair has been a few times so he knew this, but there was just the matter of parking. We decided to call our hotel and a concierge said very sternly, “Do NOT drive to Zermatt!” He suggested a parking lot with a taxi service so we went back, parked, and greeted a woman at the front desk.
She got our information, then put two shot glasses on the table.
“Now would you both be interested in a Swiss treat?” She asked.
"I know Alistair would," I laughed. I'm always projecting my need for a drink onto Alistair by asking him if he wants a drink when I really want one.
She poured us both a shot of Kirsch, a special Swiss liquor. We toasted, turned up our glasses and laughed. It was warm and strong, like all drinks made by people in cold temperatures. It could have knocked me off my feet. The woman smiled back at us. "You don't get one on the way back, only on the way there."
We boarded a bus to the city and then another small electric car to the hotel. The back seats were covered in fur.
Zermatt is a collection of luxury stores, restaurants, and Chalet-style hotels and apartments. An river runs through it. It's extremely quaint, the absence of cars makes it even more attractive. I kept sneaking glances at the Matterhorn.
"Planes, trains, automobiles," sighed Alistair. We'd travelled a lot for one day.
We arrived at the Hotel Matthiol, which was beautifully appointed with modern furniture but wooden walls, like being in a cabin. The concierge told us we could have a complimentary welcome drink. Again, Alistair and I gave each other a look as if to say, "Oh really!?" and eased into two seats at the bar. The sit-back, do-nothing part of our vacation had arrived.
When we finished our drinks the concierge walked us to the sauna and then up to our room. It was especially luxurious. Out the window I could see the mountains and a tiny gondola ascending. We had our cheese and meats from Italy and put on bathing suits and robes for the sauna's and hot tubs.
We made a late dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant and after dinner fell into bed early.
The next day we had breakfast at the hotel, then walked to the train that would take us to Gornergrat, one of the many peaks surrounding the Matterhorn. We got to walk through the town which required passing the famous graveyard, with tombstones for every climber who has died attempting to climb the Matterhorn. To date it is estimated that 500 people have died attempting to climb it.
We were late for the train, very late. We bought a ticket and and got on as the doors were closing. The train was $117 Swiss Francs for me, a non-citizen. We couldn't believe it.
The train would make several stops along the way, and allow for many views of the Matterhorn. I had read online the night before about how many groups of people attempted to conquer the Matterhorn, mostly resulting in deaths. Just seeing it covered in snow, so angular, so majestic, made me want to attempt it. The more I looked at it, the more it seemed like it looked back at me. Not necessarily a face, but a feeling. I wanted to personify it in every way I could.
At Gornergrat there was a visitors center, viewing point and a little lodge where you could eat fondue and listen to yodeling. it was freezing up there, and the mountains were covered in snow. It was spectacular to see the snow, the ranges, a little pond in the middle with blue water, and beyond all of that the big watchman, the Matterhorn, in the distance.
We took the train back down, met our luggage at the station, then took another train back to the outskirts of Zermatt to retrieve the car.
We had a three hour drive ahead of us through the highways of Valais. Bad drivers—too fast, switching lanes without looking—sped around us. I let off a string of terrible expletives.
We arrived back on the other side of Lake Geneva, and finally, Montreaux. Alistair wanted the last and final stop on the trip to be Chillon Castle. As the story goes, he once went to Chillon as a small child, and seeing that the top of the castle hadn’t been maintained in its true form (a roof had been added) he threw a tantrum. We climbed all the way to the top of the castle (there were many narrow staircases). We saw the dungeon referenced in Byron's "The Prisoner of Chillon."
Before sunset we hit the road again, due back to Geneva. There were only a few more days left in our trip.