As a wide-eyed boy on my first trip to Disneyland,
in awe of the gargantuous "snowy peak" that
I would soon learn was called the
I promised myself then that I would be standing here
now- braced to set out on an alpine adventure that
would climax on the icy granite slopes of this magical
mountain known the world round.
We switch roles so I can photograph Tom's feeling of accomplishment.
There is much to do between our starting point here
heartland of this fascinating country and our
final destination in Zermatt at
Switzerland’s southern border.
It's mid-June and the summer sports
activities of this
high-altitude playground are in full swing. Joined by
friend Tom, I'm
impatient to get going and "conquer"
my first mountain, Mt. Rigi.
We set up our "base camp" in a cozy bed & breakfast in
picturesque lakeside town. Fortunately for city slickers
like us, reaching Rigi's top- and those of many other dramatic
peaks- has been made quite easy.
In 1887 the tracks of a
cogwheel railroad line were amazingly laid up to Rigi's
6,000-foot summit. Today, trekkers like Tom and I have
only to get a ticket and
jump aboard an antique rail car.
As if pushed back into our seats, we begin our
a bewildering grade of 65 degrees. The valley floor quickly
disappears behind us and we soon find ourselves in an
expansive verdant meadow
awash with the delicate colors
and fragrances of Edelweiss, Gentian Ella and
A well-designed feature of rail lines such as Rigi's is
there are several optional stops during the ascent. You can
hike leisurely along countless trails that
meander among velvet green pastures.
We opt for the
crunchy gravel pathway that's a manageable 3-hour walk
through thickets of Norway spruce up to the craggy
summit. Here awaits an
exhilarating panorama of the
breathtaking Santis Alps. This will be the first
days enjoying unhurried hikes on sun-drenched, pristine slopes.
Nighttime finds us back at our room on Kapellgasse Street
the heart of historic Lucerne. Meticulously maintained and
Swiss consider Lucerne as one of the country's
most beautiful towns. The
architecture of its quaint streets
echoes the city's rich Baroque and Renaissance Heritage.
The warmth of the midsummer evening allows us to stroll
the gas lighted streets. Eventually we chose one of many
restaurants embracing the banks of the
Ruess River and nearby waterfront.
Afterwards we ferreted out some great places to mingle with
"the natives," like the Widder Bar & Cafe at
Gregarious English-speaking crowds seem somehow amused
our American accents and jokingly inquire if Britney
Spears lives in our town.
A couple of favorite local hangouts
are the Bläch Bar in the Hotel Flora at Seidenhofstrasse 5
the Halu Disco at Geissensteinring 14.
You need at least two days here just to poke around the
museums in Lucerne- treasure troves of armored suits, trophies,
artifacts from the Middle Ages. Near the Lion
Monument is the Swiss Transport
Museum, the most
comprehensive exhibition of its kind in Europe. Interactive
displays range from antique cars to future space stations.
Ironically, the IMAX
Theater in this complex presents
“Extreme2002,” a large format documentary on the
types of sports activities we will be seeing later in the trip.
also has a myriad of tempting specialty shops
and boutiques featuring precision
timepieces, art, jewelry
and, of course, Swiss chocolates.
Not to be missed here is the 6-hour cruise around Lake
Lucerne. The quay is just footsteps from the end of the
city’s most fabled
landmark, the Kapellbrucke wooden
bridge, a 600-foot long covered structure
in the 13th century. The impressive 200' steamer
Lucerne" glides along a shoreline graced with one
after another. The steep hillsides jutting
above the lake are dotted with
luxurious estates, elegant
summer residences and sumptuous private spas. Every
few minutes you pass a thundering cascade, tumbling
hundreds of feet into
Lucerne's crystal clear waters.
Practicing for the upcoming Rotsee-boat races,
muscle-bound guys swiftly overtake our ship.
Leaving the Lucerne area we follow a ribbon-like two-way
road that skirts the southwest edges of Mounts Pilatus
and Brienzer Rothorn.
Both peaks tower some 3000
feet over the valley floor. Abruptly Lake Brienz
before us; its azure blue surface reflecting the snow covered
Oberland Mountains behind it. Here in the
geographic center of Switzerland is
one of Europe's
favorite summer getaways. Known as the Swiss Riviera,
and Lake Brienz afford nearly every aquatic
recreational activity imaginable…and
Water skiing, wind surfing, swimming, boating, fishing,
skiing, of course, have always been popular here.
So too is treacherous genre of outdoor
“Extreme Sports.” These include bungee jumping into
waterfalls, whitewater rafting the severest of Switzerland’s
vertical rock assault and previously
unconsidered ice climbing. Within the last
this region is also now the international center for Human
Vehicle races. Really bizarre inventions-looking
like contraptions from a
Jules Verne novel-compete for
record speeds over the water, on the ground and in
For Tom and me, the swinging gondola ride up to an
platform over 4000 feet above the Luttschine
Valley was excitement enough!
We discover Interlaken, the summer Mecca
international jet set. This little city cradles dozens of
five star hotels. Ready to meet the demands of this
clientele are a host of world-class restaurants.
Horse drawn carriages clomp up
and down Hohewegstrasse,
carrying elegantly dressed passengers to their desired
destinations. One of these is the world famous Casino
Kursaal. Here you cannot
only try your luck with slots
and cards, they also have a unique game called “Le Boule,”
a Swiss twist on the game of Roulette.
But the attractions here in Interlaken are hardly just for
rich and famous. A young crowd gravitates to this place for
holidays and the intensity of the nightlife in this
small Swiss village rivals
that of Zurich and Bern. The hottest
places are the discotheques, such as
and the Metropole. You may be in the center of Switzerland,
but the dance beat is definitely American.
Aare Café, the Schnadis and the Steren offer exemplary
of the finest in Swiss culinary arts. Typical offerings include
Geschnetzeltes nach Zurcher Art (thin-sliced veal with a
Zurcher Leberspiessli (liver strips with sage
seasoning, spit-roasted and
served with beans), and
Ratsherrentopf (mixed grill on a bed of rice or
The premium wines of Germany, France Spain and Italy are
an unlimited selection. It’s more economical to
order Swiss white wine, which
has a light, effervescent quality.
About an hour drive down the valley is a village that
heart, Thun. This is considered to be the most original town
throughout Switzerland and indeed, I feel dropped back into
medieval times. The
old quarters remain just as they were in
the 13th century. Above all
the gabled houses rises the
formidable and intimidating Kyburg Castle. I feel
a king, knight or lord peering down on us from its keep,
scrutinizing our every move. An uncontrollable curiosity
overwhelms us and we
scurry up the winding, narrow streets
to the city’s crest. We’re delighted to
discover that this fortress
is now a historical museum and we can climb its
stairways to the tops of its four skinny turrets. From this
we are completely encircled by the commanding Bernese Alps.
We still have yet to see thee mountain and the
us to head southward. It is soon that the valley floor comes to
end and we’re confronted with the necessity of taking the car-train
through the Lotchberg Tunnel. This incredible
subterranean cavity, completed in
1913, runs for 9 miles.
With extreme trepidation I drive our car up a rickety
onto a rusty triple-layered flatbed rail car. Other autos follow and
take their directed places below and above us. We lock ourselves
Fiat and the train starts moving. The next thing we realize
it that we’re
moving through total darkness at a hand-wrenching speed
of 45 miles per hour!
The rumbling and grumbling must be a 130
decibels as we’re swept beneath some
6000 feet of solid granite.
We are deposited in yet another gorgeous valley and
set off for the town of Tasch.
I may be mistaken in labeling Tasch a town. It seems to
one enormous parking lot holding a thousand autos, trucks and RV’s.
Vehicles are not permitted in Zermatt, the city that is situated at the
base of the Matterhorn. My adrenaline kicks in as we tumble
aboard a small
train which arduously creeks its way some three
miles up a wooded hillside. I
jump off the train and there at the end
of Zermatt’s main street the Matterhorn
looms authoritatively. I sense
it looking at me as if it had been waiting
impatiently for my overdue
arrival. I freeze in my tracks, mystified and
mesmerized by its
This natural, enigmatic pyramid has a long history of
the spirits of people. For some the attraction has been fatal.
countless stories of tragedy and triumph are retold in the
situated at the foot of the mountain. It’s an eerie
feeling to be in such close
proximity to all the ropes, pick axes,
gizmos and gadgets of previous
In 1865 a British illustrator Edward Whymper was the first
to reach its jagged top. Four of his companions, however, were
during that expedition. “Mt. Cervin”, as it is officially called,
more be known as the “Killer Alp.” The climb
remains exceptionally risky,
because its high slopes are extremely
steep and uniquely concave and covered
with snow year-round.
Hundreds of expert climbers accept the challenge of the
Matterhorn each year. Arrangements with experienced local
guides can be readily
made in advance over the Internet or
at one of the rental stores. For Tom and
me the method of
viewing this 15,000-foot giant is the tried and true rack
railway that runs up the face of its neighboring Griffelberg.
This is the
highest open-air railway in Europe and accesses
a convenient lookout during the
summer. Cable cars on
other routes make skiing, tobogganing and snowboarding
available virtually 365 days a year. Equipment rentals are
available at shops
on Bahnhofstrasse .
Our time here in the shadow of the
natural landmark is inexplicably wondrous and
We complete our summer vacation in Switzerland with joyous
memories and the hope that we will one day soon return.