Switzerland by Train: The Peak of the Matterhorn

After spending 8 hours on the Glacier Express, I was thrilled to be moving my feet again. Zermatt, a completely car-free town, was even cuter and quainter than I expected. After aimlessly wandering up the street and attempting to decode roughly 12 German dinner menus, we landed on yet another fondue-focused establishment. I’m not yet sick of melted cheese—shocking I know. Plus, I finally know that word in German (“Käsefondue”). Wooden balconies twist and tower over the narrow streets and strategically placed chimineas warm outdoor diners after the sun dips.

Despite the crushing level of beauty around me, it’s been difficult to settle. What else is new? Sometimes my brain just doesn’t cooperate. It’s like I left it back on the airplane. I had to pause tonight and remind myself what I was grateful for, over and over again. The freedom and privilege of traveling at all. Air that’s clean. My wife. My health….the thing that none of us should ever take for granted. When I’m off-kilter, I can’t just “write eloquently”. Certain moments or experiences feel irritating and fleeting when they should feel idyllic. And I try to be honest when I document things. But then in another moment, it can all suddenly connect, and I have that deep exhale. Like it was waiting in the shadows. At the peak of the Matterhorn as seen from our wooden balcony, iced in snow. Or the vertical walls of rock that feel like they’re protecting this little town. Sometimes it is idyllic.

It’s different to be here now than it would have been two years ago, when we originally planned to go. I’m a different person than I was before the pandemic –most of us probably are. Or maybe I just feel like I got older more quickly than I expected. Like I was knocked into a different orbit. Who knows who I would have been if I’d continued as before? Does it matter though? Tonight, I remember my two-years-younger self as more resilient. It used to feel like I could “fall back” into that easy breezy space more quickly on the road, releasing the pain of world events or personal situations. But for all I know, I could be idealizing my past instead of remembering it as the imperfect life that it always was. Maybe I’m just more tuned into the downs.

But I’m grateful, none-the-less. Grateful that despite how the world has bruised us, we still want to move and see. That I still want to see.

The next morning, we ventured off to see the Matterhorn a bit closer up before we hopped a train to Montreaux later in the day. You can take the scenic Gornergrat Railway from Zermatt to get closer to the top. At the peak of this steep railway is all of the “tourist” stuff (and a panoramic view), but we had heard that the view was almost as great from the second to last train stop, Rotenboden. Who knows if skipping the final stop was a good idea, but we had limited time to kill. Rotenboden sat at almost 9,000 feet elevation, and it felt like being on the moon. From here, you can also take several easy hikes if you’re short on time (even better, spend more than one night in Zermatt – we regretted not doing this).

We stepped off the train and walked towards Riffelsee Lake along a narrow path, about 5-10 minutes away. The water was a blazing color, creating a reflection of the mountains that looked like a mirror. A nearby path just behind the lake had no sign, so we followed it curiously for a few minutes until we were away from every other hiker. Our reward was a view into infinity. This is the scenery that I dream of weekly, ache for. Along a skinny path at the literal foot of the mountains. A piercing blue sky behind blinding white peaks. Palpably alone. It woke up the dormant part of my soul.  

We continued hiking down to the next train stop, Roffelberg, to catch a ride home. It takes around an hour if you’re moving slowly. There are several hiking routes you can take (marked with estimated hiking time) and we opted for the longer route that snaked downhill and closer to the water. I didn’t want to rush back. One of my favorite things about that moment where I am –finally– immersed in a trip is the desire to linger. One more look, one more minute. But I have to be present to even want to linger. That ability never seems to be a given these days. It’s not just about wanting it. It’s a gift to resist the desire to rush onto the next activity. Really looking at what’s in front of you is slow and patient. The time is only yours. 34 years, all of this traveling, and I still have to remind myself of that constantly.

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4 thoughts on “Switzerland by Train: The Peak of the Matterhorn

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  1. I am getting more and more excited about our trip in these parts next February, each time I read your posts. Interested to read your notes on the effects of the pandemic, I think Michaela and I are probably the opposite extreme. Having travelled every moment we were allowed to during the pandemic, we saw a lot of places out of character, so to speak. It’s made us more determined to realise the dreams that the pandemic nearly stole, and more determined to keep putting money into devastated economies where tourism is necessary for survival. Plus I would say that one effect of the pandemic is that we feel encouraged and empowered to enjoy every single moment – it’s made us make the most of the now without worrying too much about the next. It’s great though that the peace and beauty of the mountains started your spiritual recovery – not a bad place to do that, huh.

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    1. That’s really wonderful to hear!! I think that was more of the place I was in at late 2020/early 2021. Strangely the harder part has been in the last year, even as everything is open and we travel almost like normal. My wife is a nurse though so the early parts of the pandemic left many scars, and made it hard to accept the more frustrating aspects of humanity – the anti-vaxxers, the hate, the anger, the infighting that emerged. Worse…the collective exhaustion and indifference that overtook so many of us as a defense. All while the political climate was chaotic. It has been a journey, but I’m hopeful still. The loss of innocence, as funny as that sounds as an adult, feels like the biggest impact now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I see. I do think though that a lot of the reactions you mention, were exaggerated by the fact that we all had a smaller number of things to think about during lockdowns etc – because we were stuck at home and the damned pandemic dominated our thoughts. Things like anti-vaxers, polarisation of opinions etc, all exploded out of any real proportion. That will all settle down, believe me – it’s just that we will all do it at different speeds, some quicker than others.

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