Back in the real world it went something like this...
Pack frantically, purchase shiny new boots for walking, plus mismatched pair of cheap new para boots. Get in car, sit on M6 for HOURS.
Of the holidays I've been on to Switzerland I must admit the ones which are most convenient are those which involve flying from Birmingham. I've been to Gatwick before (nasty) and this time Manchester. Wonderful hospitality was provided by sixtine and bellagrim (who were coming with us) along with yapman and Mrs-yapman-sans-LJ who were flying from London.
So, arrive in Hoylake just after midnight, prepare to be picked up by taxi at 6:30. Yeurch!
Arrive at airport, almost die of shock when plane leaves basically on time. The Swiss offer a luggage service to visitors via the postal service (which seems to work). This involves you affixing a small tag to your bag at Manchester, then your bag will navigate the post and rail system and be delivered to your hotel.
Oddly it actually works... and while we were without bags for a couple of hours they arrived during dinner.
Entertainment wise we pottered around a bit, met the bubbly rep and I enjoyed being able to walk along the roads without slipping over due to a combination of new boots (with grip) and lack of ice.
View from the hotel below...
A nice gentle walk to help acclimatise ourselves to the height (~1800m above sea level), The gentle 40 minute trot down the valley to one of the other villages was unfortunately (for some) abandoned for a scrabble up the mountainside to a restaurant at 2570m. We started with six, and ended with two. And one of those two was rather chilly by the time we got to the top. Some fantastic views mind.
After returning to the village there was time to have a go on the little local rollercoaster, stare at the lycra clad bums exercising (there were some nice ones - many international skiers were training in the village) and then relocate for dinner.
The hotel dinners deserve a mention. As usual the word vegetarian doesn't always translate into food that is edible or appropriate. Saturday and Sunday were vegetable splat (this developed into a theme...).
On Monday we took a hair-raising trip to Zermatt - where quondam and I are skiing next year. Taxi drivers the world over clearly go to the same driving school and learn to drive "fast and dangerously". Still, we got there, and in an effort to escape the multitude of jewellery shops I suggested we go up the mountain to get an uncluttered view of the Matterhorn. This is one very impressive mountain - even in the clouds. The Gornergrat is a fantastic mountain railway - rising almost 1500m over a 10km track length - starting at 1604m in Zermatt and ending at 3089m. The views of the surrounding peaks were tremendous.
After staring for a while we did a combination of train and walking down. Brilliant stuff. A little shopping, then back in the minibus for a death-defying ride back.
Dinner wasn't vegetable splat thankfully, and even better we were told the restaurant we were staying in was closed the following night so we could take a little voucher next door to a great restaurant we'd been to before.
There are three problems with summer-skiing:
- Getting up early and fighting past the professionals to get on the lifts - as if you don't start early it gets slushy
- Poor quality kit at the top of the mountain to hire (but still probably easier than lugging stuff about and extra carrying hassle)
- Not very long - the runs start icy and within a couple of hours have a good covering of slush in places due to the influence of the sun.
Still, excellent to do. Not something you really expect to be doing in September.
Dinner was fab - a fondue made mainly of alcohol. Mmmmm.
Over a couple of bottles of wine it seemed really amusing to twist the idea of Marmite Xtreme sandwiching and go and visit the local Marmot population. (Sound-alike gettit?). We didn't let the lack of marmite get in the way - Photoshop can sort that out later.
So, off we trotted up the mountain, and after a gain of about 600m we started seeing the little furry critters. We'd been told that union rules prevented them appearing between 12 and 2, and this was proved to be correct. They were such professionals though - posing for photos, demanding attention. At one point when my mobile phone went off (curse the evil things) the Marmot I was talking to was patting himself down to check if it was his agent on his phone.
Hundreds of photos of "furry things eating carrot" - a few choice ones below. If you want more ask for a "private showing" ;-)
Dinner was an awful table grill - giant hot plate, cook your own. This seems like a great idea, except the vegetarian food just frankly didn't work (bean curd and vegetable splat), and we had to partition the grill from the meat-eaters to limit contamination. Yeurch. Many not-happy people.
Another little walk that turned into an epic climb - 550m up a mountain, then insane scootering down these mountain tracks. Quite amusing though, especially when yapman amusingly rolled his scooter, but he bounced back up like a trooper.
On the way down we passed some lovely little lakes - so nice in fact I took some photos the next day.
quondam then decided it would do me some good to go out on a run. The downhill was fine - the uphill was frankly hellish.
Waved goodbye to our bags, which were going off early in order to meet us at Manchester airport. In the morning continued to steam through my re-read of Pillars of the Earth and mentally prepare for the Alpine Gorge Walk we'd signed up for in the afternoon.
The principle of this walk is simple - you go down a gorge from Saas-Fee to Saas-Grund. About a 300m descent, and it takes you 4 hours. It takes this long because you're scrambling and sliding down the side of this gorge, balanced on little logs and such, secured to the wall by a safety cable and caribiners.
The finale was a walk across some aluminuim ladders - just the kind you'd buy from B&Q. Only these were suspended 20m above the gorge floor, and ended in mid-air. The idea was you walked out, then were lowered the 20m to the floor by the wizened old Swiss guide. Fantastic. Again! Again!
Absolute madness but great fun. Photos from quondam below.
Up at 5:30 to get the bus and train back to the airport, back to Manchester, then Hoylake then a much more pleasant M6 home. Exhausting stuff - I need a holiday to recover.
And if you made it through that - congratulations!