Switzerland in a Mini Cooper 3:4
Part 3 of 4: Zermatt and Bern
“How did we lose an entire mountain?”
I was kicking myself for wearing impractical shoes, but I had been warned. The footpath we had taken in search of the famous peak evolved into a ski run of slush and snow – I had donned a pair of lace flats. Brilliant.
Cars are not permitted in Zermatt; we had left the Mini Coop miles behind and taken the train into the city. The main track ran through the valley, dumped us right in the heart of town, but from there, we were on foot. Another transport option back at the parking lot was advertised as the “Kiss and Ride” but that didn’t sound too promising.
Pedestrians, skiers, snowboarders with their equipment slung over their shoulders wandered through Zermatt’s wide streets lined with high-end sports equipment stores and cafes. Well wrapped skiers donning state-of-the-art gear and the kind of coats and gloves NASA engineers like to design glided by with big smiles. I don’t know which mountain they were coming from; we were surrounded by mountains. The one we had lost was one of Switzerland’s landmarks, the country’s natural spire: the Matterhorn. Today, however, the mountain was wrapped in a cumulonimbus scarf around its crooked peak exposing only its snowy base. One of the smiling skiers told us we could ride a gondola to the summit for 80 Francs a person.
“Do you want to take the ride up and see it” Liv asked.
I squinted into the blinding white mess of shrouded rocks hidden in the clouds. 80 Francs my foot.
“I think…I think I’ve seen it. I don’t know which one it is, but I’ve looked at them all, so we did it. Go team. I’m hungry, so let’s count it a victory and get food.”
We ended up crashing at a pub in town, grabbing a drink and picking out the different accents in the room. British, French, Swiss; I was the token American. While the distinct Alpine architecture, community of fellow sportsman, and some of the greatest terrain in the world make this a Mecca for winter sports enthusiasts, for me, it was more about the views along the drive.
We left Zermatt, looped back up to Zurich to stay the evening with friends, and then set out for Bern the next morning. Altogether 14 hours of driving for the entire trip, a lot of radio, and one shared can of Red Bull.
Zurich is often confused as the capital of Switzerland, but that laud goes to Bern. Unlike the modern, elegant, young vibe of Zurich, Bern felt like we’d fallen backwards into a Ken Follett novel. The steeple of the town’s cathedral pierced the horizon like a blade; the architecture was ornate, but consistently earth-colored; some streets were paved, others cobble-stone. It was a spectacular glance at a nation’s history, and we started that tour with the government houses.
I felt like a dodgy trespasser as we marched up to the entrance of the Federal Palace of Switzerland, or as my my friends called it, “The Swiss White House.” We just strolled into a building that houses Switzerland’s 7 presidents. No security checks, no beeping wands hovered around my torso, no appointments, no pat-downs. Just the silent understanding that I would be on my best behavior because anything else was out of the question.
“Guys. If this was the US, I’d be dead by now. I’d be shot.”
We were back on the road that evening, 4 hours back to Locarno in the Mini Coop, with a quick stop on the way home for a hockey game (Forza Locarno!). I slept as we passed the castle of Bellinzona, and woke up at 2am in beautiful Locarno.
I would fly home that Saturday, but there was one final adventure for us. A drive that would take us into the mountains to the find the Best Valley in Switzerland.