Mary PW Chin
I crisscrossed Switzerland in the summer of 2005, waking up each morning setting off for the next scenic journey. Little did I expect that I would eventually relocate to live there.
For 8 days I was constantly moving from one point to the next. A question kept ringing in my mind again and again: how should I honour every unique moment at every unique point in space?
Recite a mantra? Not really. Kneel down and kiss the ground? But I'm not Karol Józef Wojtyla (though there were times I felt like doing so, I never did). Capture with a camera? But a 2D image can never describe a 3D space. Moreover, the desire to capture is by itself not very Buddhist. I don't need evidence for my visit either. And so I resorted to perceiving with the heart. In Mandarin, we say 用心去体会. It was during this trip that I decided to set up this website.
Background map reproduced from Swiss Travel System. My trails (thick lines in dark blue) are marked on the map. I did most routes by rail. A few by postbuses. Public transport is excellent in Switzerland: trains, buses and mountain railways take you right up the Alps.
I bought a 8-day Swiss Pass online, direct from
Swiss Travel System. Paid CHF 8 for delivery to the UK. Received my order by post in 2 days, though the advised delivery period was 14 days. Found this a cheaper option than buying from agents in the UK. Note: a Swiss Pass is not a Swiss Card.
With the Swiss Pass, I travelled the routes marked on the map below at no additional cost
except for selected scenic routes where reservation is mandatory, and for the . Reservations must be paid for. My trails marked above crossed well into Northern Italy three times -- no extra charges incurred but I did need my passport. Routes where extra charges apply are clearly marked on the map downloadable from trip Jungfraujoch Swiss Travel System.
Lockers were available in every station that I've been. Price varies but never dear. As usual, I kept reminding myself to lock only what I meant to lock. Forget things, open the locker to retrieve them and that's it -- you have to pay to lock it up again!
Luggage can be sent between almost any
Bahnhof ( "station" in German) across Switzerland at only CHF 10. I have seen no better service! When collecting my luggage, as I was just stepping into the service area, the smiling gentleman on duty was already bending over to receive my luggage coupon. He went into the store and returned with my backpack, popping it straight onto my shoulders -- that was certainly a courtesy beyond his duty.
Trains were at least hourly, and always on the dot. On multi-legged journeys, there was always enough, and usually just enough, time to cross platforms and hop onto the next train. There is certainly enough time and you won't miss the train, but you have to be quick. Arrival and departure times along with the corresponding platform numbers are usually posted on every platform at every station. Platform numbers are usually clearly printed on reservation tickets.
Train service between
Zürich Flughafen ( "airport" in German) and Zürich Hauptbahnhof ( "main station" in German) is every 10 minutes. That's the 10 minutes journey to commute direct between the airport and the city centre.
Note: some routes are more scenic one side of the train than the other. Sometimes I was lucky enough to be on partially-filled cabins where I could freely sit either side, e.g. on the
from Glacier Express to Zermatt . On the St. Moritz from Golden Pass Line to Interlaken , the train was packed and half of us had to stand. If that bothers you and if you are willing to pay, you can reserve a seat even for journeys where reservation is not mandatory.
In Switzerland, postbuses = long-distance coaches. Postbus schedules were less frequent but they took me on routes trains wouldn't go. Usually prompt. My
- Monte Bre journey was delayed due to a tight squeeze on the Italian-Swiss border (shown on map). The road was narrow, we were on the bus and caravans were streaming from the opposite direction. I actually found it quite entertaining. The driver had the chance to show off his excellent skills. The passengers clapped to thank him.
Lugano Useful Links
Swiss Travel System is the website for ordering Swiss Passes/Cards and understanding how each works. The synoptic map can be downloaded. The various scenic routes, each with its own special name, are also described there. The online timetable provides platform numbers which can be handy for tight changes. It also includes Postbus journeys although Postbus has its own excellent website.
I couldn't find any religious institutions offering B&Bs, which are common in Italy and Spain. Instead, had to go for hotels. My ideal accommodation would be somewhere clean, simple and safe. Many-star hotels tend to make me feel as if I'm on a business trip, which is not very nice.
Didn't find the 2-stars clean. One was really dirty.
Swiss Q hotels are nice. If I were to do it again I'd probably go for the cheaper end of the Swiss Q range, one which is nearest to the town I'd like to visit. Even if it's a few towns away, the Swiss Pass and the frequent trains should do the job.
Noise level is something the
stars can't tell you! I had a brilliant room in a Swiss Q hotel, with the funicular station right by my window. It was really, really loud. Wherever I go, I always look for accommodation close to the station so that transport is accessible for late evening arrivals and early morning departures, but this one was really a bit too close, and louder than normal! But then if you don't mind, ear-plugs should solve the problem.
When booking for accommodation, I always ask for
Einzelzimmer mit Dusche und WC ( "single room with shower and toilet" in German). On checking-in one of the hotels, I finally realised what an Einzelzimmer mit Dusche und WC meant -- it was exactly a single room with shower and toilet -- which may as well be described as a toilet and shower with a single bed! Open plan. Interesting! But it was one of the cleanest room I had in Switzerland -- no complains. Looks funny, but nothing wrong. Toilets and showers are meant to be as clean as bedrooms anyway.
Proper dinning restaurants were everywhere. Snack bars or take-aways were not common. Cheap options were limited except in . If hot food isn't a must, there are Co-op supermarkets around.
I highly recommend
( Drei Könige "Three Kings" in German) in ( Chur pronounced "kooerr"). A family-run traditional restaurant for family dining. Carefully prepared delicious food. Warm hospitality. Tastefully decorated. Good people. They also run a hotel upstairs.
Jungfrau: the young lady
Journey to Jungfraujoch
In addition to the Swiss Pass, I paid
CHF 30 extra for - Lauterbrunnen and Kleine Scheidegg - Kleine Scheidegg , and Grindelwald CHF 70 for - Kleine Scheidegg - Jungfraujoch . Expensive but well worth it. The Kleine Scheidegg cog railway climbed safely right up to the highest railway station in Europe. Note:
(3454 metres) and Jungfraujoch (4158 metres) are geographically different points in the Jungfrau .
Jungfrau Region Kleine means small; ' Kleine Scheidegg s big sister, , is to the west.
Gross Scheidegg is the highest railway station in Europe, but not the highest peak. The highest peak is Jungfraujoch , not in the Dufourspitze .
Jungfrau Region Snow
This is the place where snow is guaranteed. Arriving
, the radiance of reflected sunlight from the snow was so intense that I could hardly keep my eyes open. No, I didn't need sun-glasses -- for there was no need to shunt off the grace. No call for resistance. I like snow for radiance like this -- when it is felt not only in the eyes but also on the cheeks and all over the face.
Within hours, it became cloudy. And then it snowed! In that one trip I experienced
's changing moods. The visit must have been transformative. Jungfrau is the most meaningful word I know. Jungfrau (pronounced as "yoong", as in "Carl Jung", a Swiss) means Jung young; means Frau lady; Our Lady or Mother Mary is commonly and lovingly referred to as ( Jungfrau Maria Virgin Mary).
Note: Of course, doesn't apply to cultures where only babies are Jungfrau s. Jungfrau
Region. Background map reproduced from Jungfrau Jungfrau Website. My trails (thick lines in dark blue) are marked on the map.
Zermatt surprised me, just as Perugia (Italy) did. I found Zermatt a town like no other -- timber houses; walks of varying difficulty levels; close-by mountains, mountains and mountains at every direction. A perfect escape, high-rise-free and car-free. Touristy yet forgiveable.
To be surprised this way is what makes a holiday a holiday. Sometimes it's better not to read up too much about one place before visiting, and be surprised. Of course, some might argue that without doing the homework of reading-up or asking-around, one is bound to miss certain sites, and many tourists are not prepared to visit the same place twice. I prefer to be surprised.
In Zermatt, as I was walking up the pedestrian street, I felt hungry but couldn't find a place where I felt like sitting down to eat. And then, walking along, something made be turn to my right. I found a little girl with an outstretched arm, looking at me in great expectation. She was offering me a plum! With great gratitude and delight I received the plum and exclaimed, "Dankeschön!" I then turned to her beaming mother and repeated, "Dankeschön!" The mother responded with equal delight, "Bitteschön!" They walked ahead. I popped the plum into my mouth right-away. Usually I would wash a plum before eating. But this plum was unusual.
The Matterhorn dead
Late afternoon, 5th of July: I was exploring the little town of Zermatt. Behind the church, I found some rows of graves. I started reading the stones and soon realised that the dead buried there were climbers killed on the Matterhorn (4478 metres) or surrounding mountains. One by one, I started copying …
1940 - 1975
*NEW YORK CITY
19 MAY 1955 +23 JULY 1975 ON BREITHORN I CHOSE TO CLIMB EVEN SO SAITH THE SPIRIT: FOR THEY REST FROM THEIR LABOURS!
... OF WAKEFIELD AND BANGOR NORTH WALES
WHOSE UNTIMELY DEATH AT THE AGE OF 24 YEARS OCCURRED WHILE DESCENDING THE HÖRNLI RIDGE HAVING CLIMBED THE NORTH FACE OF THE MATTERHORN ON DECEMBER 28 1976.
GEB. 3 SEPT. 1905
VERUNGLÜCK AM BREIHORN 3 FEBR 1931
1912 - 1949
1877 - 1967 5TH 8 1882 16TH 8 1958 IN LOVING MEMORY
AGED 22 YEARS
AGED 19 YEARS FRIENDS FROM CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY KILLED TOGETHER ON THE Z.MATT RIDGE OF THE MATTERHORN 18TH JULY 1959
1932 - 1958
SAARBRÜCKEN GEFALLEN AM MATTERHORN 1.2.1939
MITGLIED DES KAISERLICHEN
PATENTAMTES IN BERLIN * 8.MARZ 1872 +6.AUG 1907 DURCH STEINSCHLAG AM MATTERHORN SEMPER SURSUM
IN PROUD AND LOVING MEMORY OF ... KILLED ON THE DENT BLANCHE AUGUST 6TH 1936
AGED 22 IN THE SIGHT OF THE UNWISE THEY SEEM TO DIE
1909 - 1953
AM MONTE ROSA ABGESTÜRZT
... OF DENVER COLORADO USA BORN OCTOBER 3.1930
KILLED AUGUST 19.1955 ON MATTERHORN I WILL LIFT UP MINE EYES UNTO THE HILLS PSALM 121
KILLED WHILE DESCENDING THE HOHLICHT INTO THE ZMATT. VALLEY
AUGUST 30TH 1933
1918 - 1952
VERUNGLÜCKT AN DER MONTE ROSA OSTWAND
+25.7.1963 AM MATTERHORN ZMUTTGRAT
... OF HAMPSTEAD LONDON
DIED 12 SEP 1868 AGED 45
IN LOVING MEMORY OF ...
WHO PASSED INTO FULLER LIFE FROM THE MATTERHORN AT DAWN AUGUST 6TH 1936 AGED 24
GEB 25 1 1890
REUTLINGEN STUTTGART GEB 30 XII 1897 STUTTGART CANNSTATT + 3 VIII 1929 AM MONTE ROSA
GEB 15 JUNI 1904
GEB 2 FEBR 1912 STUTTGART ABGEFRÜRZT VOM MATTERHORN 29.8.1933 PSALM 121
WHO LOST HIS LIFE ON THE MATTERHORN
AUS FRANKFURT AM MAIN
*4 AUG.1880 ZU DUISBURG +18 AUG.1925 AM WEISSHORN RIP
DIED IN AN ACCIDENT ON THE SOUTH FACE OF THE OBERGABELHORN
15TH AUGUST 1974 AGED 37 RIP
VATER U. SOHN
DIE BERUFSTREUEN FUHRER ERSTBESTEIGER DES MATTERHORN 1965 ("Vater und Sohn" means "father and son")
1951 1952 MATTERHORN 12 VIII 1972
... until it became obvious that I couldn't finish copying. I crossed the road to continue exploring the little town, only to find stretches of graves -- all for the Matterhorn dead. So many, in close company of each other -- all those who didn't make it. Or perhaps they did.
I came home and looked up Psalm 121. And here it is.
Psalm 121: a song of ascents [New International Version]
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills --
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip --
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you --
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm --
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Here is the funicular in the context of different modes of mountain transport:
A pair of counter-balancing trams on rails, one ascending and the other descending. Trams are permanently attached to cable. They are not suspended. Also known as inclined railway.
Cable cars are suspended from a cable.
Smaller than a cable car, the gondola is hitched onto a running cable. Attachment to cable is not permanent. To stop, it is released from the cable.
Like Gondola, but open-air.
T-bar hanging from a cable which skiers hold on to while their feet slide on the snow.
Like conventional railway, but with gears and toothed rails for extra traction. The extra rail between the two side rails should be noticeable.