Day: 41 & 42
Cities / Towns Visited: 18
Countries Visited: 8
Steps Taken Today: 22,696
Steps Taken Around the World: 835,017
The next two days will be combined into one blog, as it was a two day saga of travelling to reach our final destination; Zermatt. We awoke late, and feeling a little less sleep deprived, we gathered our things. We had planned to spend time wandering Zurich’s old town, but with the day slipping away, and travelling still to be done, we reasoned we would give Zurich the time and respect it deserved on our next trip to Europe in a couple of years.
After catching a tram to the central station, and quickly purchasing an adaptor (as of course Switzerland has its own powerpoint configuration, when literally every country surrounding it shares just one), we swapped onto a regional train to take us to our home for the evening; Chur. As the train left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and edged out into the countryside it began to become clear why people make such a fuss about Switzerland, it’s beautiful. With sparkling lakes spanning off into the distance and lapping softly at the shore, dense forests growing up from the valley and weaving their way up the sides of undulating hills, and sheer cliffs abutting the banks of azure alpine rivers. As we drew ever further south, off in the distance we began to see the first few snow capped mountains rise up, towering over all below. The scenery reminded me of the South Island of New Zealand; lush and full of life, watched over ever vigilantly by the monolithic peaks nature created there all those millennia ago.
We arrived in Chur in the early evening, and meandered to our hostel. Now to be honest this would probably end up being our least favourite accommodations to date. You know you’re in for a bad time when they’ve emailed you a couple of days before saying that their wouldn’t be anyone at reception, so we’d have to just get our key from the key drop. It might just be me, but 5pm on a Friday seemed like a strange time to have reception be shut. Anyway, we retrieved our key and headed up to our room. The hostel seemed to be located in the club district, and there was something disconcerting about finding a pair of industrial ear muffs hanging lazily from the end of each bed. How loud were they expecting it to be? We wandered around the hostel to see what the facilities were like, and found nothing more than a common room and BBQ sign that pointed out to a first floor fire escape, and a closed breakfast room, in which I assumed there was the microwave and dining area that they advertise, but you seemingly can’t use. We had originally intended to do some washing, but soon discovered that the only laundromat in town closed at 7pm and we wouldn’t have time to get a load washed and dry by then. Tired and hungry we decided to just leg it to the supermarket, and scrounge together a meal from what we could find there. After wandering around, and subsequently realising that even groceries in Switzerland are uncomfortably expensive, we managed to buy a roast chicken and a couple of salads, to make do.
As night fell, the club beneath the hostel began to liven up, the only saving grace being that the double glazed windows and the concrete floor helped to buffer out some of the thumping music, and drunken revelry. It became blatantly obvious that the owners of this hostel (Viva Hostel, for anyone looking to avoid it), really just own a bar and club, and decided to try and make money on the side by making upstairs into accommodation of which they pay no time nor effort, and certainly care little for their guest’s experience. Eventually we just turned our thunderstorm soundtrack up as loud as we could stand, to try and drown out the thudding from downstairs, and attempted sleep.
The morning came, and we were glad to be leaving, as we quickly nipped to the shops and bought some food to fix ourselves a packed lunch for the train. The breakfast room was now seemingly open, although no breakfast was on offer (a rather pointless name, for a rather pointless room it would seem). We happily dropped our key in the key drop and left. Good riddance. We saw absolutely no staff for our entire stay, it was ridiculous. We arrived at the station, only to realise that my partner had left his sunglasses at the hostel, but as there are no staff present there, seemingly ever, even after sprinting back there he was unable to gain entry to the building in order to retrieve them, and we had a train to catch. (Side note: we did email them after arriving at our destination, only to finally receive a reply a day or so later simply saying they’d look, and another some time after then saying they couldn’t find them. As they won’t even turn up to greet actual people, I’m just going to put that down as either they didn’t bother looking, or they found them and kept them for themselves). Anyway, we had to move on, and couldn’t let it spoil our trip.
Originally we had planned on taking the Glacier Express train, direct from Chur to Zermatt, but when we went online to book in advance, we had discovered that it was entirely booked out. Disappointed, we’d decided we would still keep our accommodation in Chur and just see what we could do at the train station. A very helpful man at the information centre (the only helpful person we met in the entire village), happily told us that we could take the exact same train line using regional trains, we would just have to take a series of four trains, instead of just the one. It would, however take an extra hours worth of our time. As we had set aside the entire day to travel this wasn’t an issue, and besides, the entire trip would now be covered by our Eurail pass, so it wouldn’t cost us any extra (as the Glacier Express would have). Little victories.
We hopped on the train and settled into our first class seats. It was then that I realised that this would actually kind of end up being better than our original plan. Over the four separate train rides, there was only one leg that even had anyone else in the same carriage as us, meaning we could cross from side to side, and take as many photos as we wanted, as the view changed; something the booked out Glacier Express certainly wouldn’t have offered. As the journey progressed, the mountains seemingly became taller and taller, and it went from feeling like New Zealand to feeling like New Zealand’s older, taller, and somewhat more attractive sibling. The train chugged along, higher and higher, as we transitioned from lush valley to a good three feet of snow beside the tracks. Our ears popping as the altitude increased. It was surreal and overwhelmingly impressive. Eventually we pulled into Zermatt, and with our spirits slightly lifted we alighted the train and headed towards our accommodation, hopefully this one would be better, especially seeing as it was costing us a pretty penny.
After dragging our bags up the steep hill, and fifty (yes I counted them) stairs up to the entrance, we stumbled through the door heaving. As we checked in we were told that we wouldn’t be able to have the cheap dinner they offer, because you have to request it in the morning, so they can prepare enough (something they fail to mention, even on their website). This meant our dinner would once again consist of a cold meal from the supermarket, as they do not offer cooking facilities, and the restaurants in town were all either shut because its the off season and it was Sunday, or they were prohibitively expensive, we’re talking AU$40–50 for a pizza. We walked into our room only to find that the double bed we had booked, consisted of two single beds pushed together, and they didn’t even meet flush, they were set into wooden bases that kept them separated. To top it all off, the bathroom smelt like the pipes were backed up, so we had to air out the room. We weren’t in the mood and were too exhausted to argue with the reception, so we just dealt with it, this place was still the cheapest in the town by far, even though it was more than double our budgeted amount, and didn’t even offer what we’d paid for. You really weren’t selling it to us yet Switzerland. Man cannot live and prosper off beautiful views alone. The only silver lining to the whole situation was that when we went to do a load of laundry, the machines still had credit on them so we managed to save a good AU$20 there.
As we lay down to sleep, separated by the gap in the beds, I couldn’t help but think about how much I hate tourist towns and the businesses that function within them, with little to no regard for their customers, as they know that they have very few other options, and they probably won’t ever come back. To everyone who opens a hotel, hostel, restaurant, or bar in one of these locations, to everyone happy to offer poor quality accommodation, food, drinks, or service, because you know there are a hundred people who would happily take our bed or seat, if we choose not to come, you are the ones that make up the our lists of ‘worsts’; you are the ones that dampen our spirits, and sully the name of your towns and countries; you are the ones we speak poorly of to our friends and families; you are the ones who fill our hearts with regret, and who’s memory marks our minds and hearts. As you count your pennies, happy in your state of smug mediocrity, I hope you take a moment to realise, that the fact of the matter is, for some of us, this was a once in a lifetime trip, this is something we saved up for months or even years for, and our money is worth the same, if not more, than the rich snobs on their thousandth visit to the Swiss alps, or whichever overpriced location you reside in. To restaurants who provide poorer service to us less wealthy folk, because we just ask for tap water, as your drinks are too expensive and we really want to see more rather than drink more, just know that for many of us this is a special occasion, and one that we worked our arses off to pay for. A smile doesn’t cost you a dime to give to us, but if you give one, you might make an extra few. We come with joy and excitement in our souls, we want to love you, and you just don’t make the grade. It is you who has fallen short, not us. We pay your wages, we keep the roof over your heads and the clothes on your back, we are the little people holding up the world, and you laugh as you crush us. You say we get what we pay for, but we paid for more than you’re giving. Respect your customers, wherever they come from and whoever they are, for without them you would cease to be.