Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Schweiz in Spring

A plan to jump off the Verdasco dam with two Germans, a Swiss and a fellow Brit fell apart. The other Brit and I consequently found ourselves with a ticket to Zurich and no plans. A refreshing feeling. When squeezed by the pressures of work and responsibility that creep with the years it is easy to plan away every spare minute. It is done with the best of intentions. When time is precious there is a badly felt need to assure every iota of it is used to its max. A balance though has to be struck and landing in the stereotype of a regimented city I felt I had grabbed back something momentarily lost. Spontaneity.
Over a day and a night wandering around the sights of this tick-tock town it grew on me. From the gray, quiet place we first encountered, the sun broke through, the people broke out and scattered themselves on the banks of the [Zurich Sea]. Sunbeams make people radiant and change a city. You see it in London. The clothes get shed, the muscles relax and the smiles break out. Against its rigid reputation I ask anyone to walk along the Zurich lakeside for an hour or two in the early evening on a bright spring day and not be taken in by the place. Green park-side banks littered with people kicking back, watching the small white sail-boats skirt amongst the swans.
The town is blessed with a mixture of impressive churches, grand town houses, the odd ginger-bread street juxtaposed with bits of modern monstrosity. I suppose nothing out of the ordinary for a central European city, but, sipping a coffee by the side of its crystal clear river, I noted a distinct lack of stress. Just what I needed.
Or maybe that was the 'til dawner we pulled. Highlights include not even scoring a goal against the best table football players I have ever met (an obsessive people the Swiss), being nodded into a far too up its own arse night club by some random stylish ladies we met on the street and ending up in a thoroughly disgruntled, but welcoming Spanish bar. From the slurred banter it was clear Latin and Germanic culture do not always mix well. These flickering memories pale in comparison to a surreal moment of Alice in Wonderland proportions. Had someone slipped us some potent hallucinogens? No? The beerhaller was full of an ageing but energetic “oom-pa-pa” troop dressed as exaggerated Royal Box frequenters of Ascot. (think My Fair Lady on 'shrooms). Feathers, top-hats, boas, monocles the lot. Inane grins intimidated and Dave and I looked at each other confused. Apparently this was a traditional post-Carnival activity.
The Swiss are an odd but, in this instance if not others, entertaining people. Tradition has told them to be momentarily off their respective rockers, so, as good, conservative people that is just what they do. And in some style.

INTO THE ALPS

Somewhat under par, we jumped on a train to the hills. Where exactly? A place called Braunwald. Neither of us had heard of it before a Zurich'er had pointed us in its snow-capped direction the day before. Our passage took us along the long, narrow. glimmering lake, before skirting off into the rising, narrowing valleys. Before we knew it we were in postcard Alpine territory. Steep fertile valleys cut by carbolt blue glacial streams and sprinkled with wooden houses that combine a twee matchbox quality with necessary hardiness.
The particular selling point of Braunwald, apart from the stunning mountain scenery bit, is that is car free. Apart from the little John Deer Gator, a miniature fire truck and a diminutive taxi, the nearest thing to an automobile has four legs and goes moo.

On arrival, we made it all of 50m's to a cafe, dropped the pack, took some much needed refreshment and soaked it all in.
Simply, unashamedly spectacular. Peering down over steep green slopes, far below, to a valley floor scattered with mountain villages and rising up to the crowning glory. Approaching from our right, the valley climbed across the panoramic to a sheer end. Jagged, snow-capped peaks extended across the far side of the valley and cupped around its demise, increasing in their precipitous nature as they neared our very own piece of connected rock. Confused with the dullness of sod all sleep, a headache and non-diminishing elation, we sat for what felt like hours. To top off the scene, a herd of cow-bell clanging mountain bovines munched their way past.
The following day was spent trekking a circuit up and around the mountain-side. The views only got better. As we transversed up the hill-side we crossed fields carpeted with wild flowers. We had lucked out. The same breaking of the weather on our first day in Zurich had broken the winter hold. The snow had within a couple of days been banished to the peaks and spring bloomed in yellow, blue and red.
The inclined fields sloped up to a crown of sheer cliff, cutting up to the last of the forests. The water newly freed from the clutch of winter crashed over these cliffs in a multiple of waterfalls.
Passing (or being passed) by troops of healthy Swiss, we eventually broke off the main path to touch the snowline. A couple of km's high, the predominant flowers were now white crocuses. To my delight, an illusive marmot showed himself. Again, we sat and savoured.
Via a dodgy ice-strewn tunnel we broke out onto the other side of the mountain. A fresh, different panoram, leading down to an alpine lake. Perspective rammed home when, on commenting to a local how special this place is, he replies with a moustachioed smile “this is normal in Switzerland”. Lucky, lucky people. We trekked down and back to normality. Refreshed.
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