CHRISTMAS 2010, SOMEWHERE IN THE SWISS-GERMAN HEARTLAND I’ve never enjoyed Christmas much as a (relative) grown-up, but I loved my introduction to the European version. In Australia, backyard beers and sizzling sausages on a 30C afternoon, followed incongruously by hot, heavy — and admittedly delicious — pudding drowned in custard and littered with antique threepenny coins, had just never worked for me. But this felt like the real thing. It actually seemed possible to believe that something deeper or more meaningful than an orgy of shopping, eating and bad television was taking place in this ancient little town between Zurich and Lucerne.
..a queasy, disorienting feeling came over me. Something was missing. I stood there on the roadside, checked for wallet, sunglasses, lens cap, glasses: all present. I clicked on the camera, reviewed the last shots from my Sineo-San walk, trying to spark a memory, saw this one of the cherry-bordered mountain road I’d just descended…
Still not fully recovered from my mysterious malady, but after a second hospital visit, another date with Dr Ringer, a new prescription of different but equally mysterious drugs, and eight days off work, I fear the dream is over and it’s back into The Abyss I trudge in the morning.
I’ve been sick for five days now, but I’ve enjoyed my time away from school, even so, and did a great though slow and medicinally enhanced walk yesterday. After I hit “PUBLISH” on this post I’m going to endeavour to get my sorry carcass out there to hit the magic number 50. It’s sunny and enticing, too good a Sunday to waste. I set a vague goal of 100 outings for my year here but at this rate I should exceed that.
LATE DECEMBER, 2010 ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND Bahnhofstrasse, the main drag in the mountain mecca of Zermatt, has its glittery Christmas-season charms…
LATE-DECEMBER, 2010 Zermatt proudly celebrates its role in the Golden Age of alpinism:
My time in Switzerland was running out. One evening Sarah said, “It would really be a shame if you didn’t see Zermatt while you were here. The Matterhorn is amazing, there’s lots of hiking. Hmmm…wait a minute…”.
MID-DECEMBER, 2010 I exit the train reaching instinctively for my liner gloves and my goat-skin mittens. Fribourg (French for “free fort”; Freiburg in German) is on the Swiss Plateau a few hours west of Sarah’s place in Cham; it’s also several degrees colder.
LATE NOVEMBER, 2010 Contemplating the purchase of an idiot-proof GPS, I stride ever further away from Altdorf station. My error costs me an hour, but I’m walking at a caffeinated clip and if I must get lost, at least I’m doing it at an awe-inspiring pace.
The legendary pact sowing the seeds of the Swiss Federation was signed, so the story goes, in 1291 at Rütli Meadow on the shores of Lake Uri — the Urnersee — a bay of Lake Lucerne. The significance of Rütli in the Swiss psyche was further enhanced in the dark days of WWII, when, surrounded by German (two million troops in occupied France alone!) and Italian forces, General Guisan mobilised the Swiss Army, summoning his officers to the site to outline his Reduit (“redoubt”) plan. Rütli is also the start of the 35km Weg der Schweiz (Swiss Path), opened in 1991, commemorating the 700th anniversary of the Rütli pact.
I’ve had some exhilarating experiences on snow, but it’s been a volatile relationship. I’ve been unnerved by the stuff in Japan and the U.S., and I’m also not very tolerant of prolonged or extreme cold. Where most other hikers on the PCT last year claimed to love the High Sierra, I couldn’t wait to get back down on solid, clearly discernible ground. Switzerland in early winter was the setting for an occasionally testing but always magical reacquaintance.
December 2010. I’m a morning person, and it can be a lonesome predilection. I open the balcony blinds and with my coffee step out into the jolting cold of a winter dawn. Everything Is shockingly, dazzlingly white: the street, the parked cars, the lawn where I was once death-stared by the old man upstairs for the crime of lawn-walking.