Zermatt, Switzerland

  • April 2, 2017

Train Stranger Brooke returns. One of many things Brooke and I discussed while hiking through the cliffs of Cinque Terre was my adrenaline avoidance complex. Skydiving, skiing, and thrill seeking in general: no thank you. So it came as a surprise that the morning after arriving in Switzerland to meet her, I found myself convinced to float through the sky at 10,000 feet harnessed to a kite that appeared flimsy at best.

Zermatt is a town nestled in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Its local claim to fame is the Matterhorn, the 14,690 foot snow capped peak that towers over the village below. With just a few thousand local residents, its economy is based almost entirely on tourism. And business is booming. With absurdly overpriced hotels; laser clay pigeon shooting; and the main attraction, a ski area providing dozens of runs into both Italy and Switzerland; there is no shortage of opportunities to help the industry remain fat with cash and the tourists skinny with it. 

My destination list included a checkbox next to Zermatt only because a client from my former law firm connected me with an old college friend living there. Mike and his husband Brad hosted me for a few nights without the slightest confirmation I would be normal. Not sure they ever received that confirmation. When Brooke mentioned that she too would be visiting the town, we fudged our schedules a day or two to align them.

On the crisp morning walk to the paragliding office, Brooke and I guessed at how long the instructional video would be. Answer: zero minutes. “Don’t worry, not much you can do to mess up,” was the only guidance provided. I guess that was accurate? If there was something to mess up, I’m sure I would have found out the hard way, and the flight went smoothly. Photos below.

Two nights later, with my heart rate finally returning to normal levels, Brad and Mike took me out for a delectable dinner with an eclectic group of other local expats. There’s something special about experiencing a place from the locals’ perspective. Some tidbits and happenings from dinner and drinks:

  • For locals, Zermatt’s outrageous prices (cheapest meal I could find in town was a $19 bowl of plain spaghetti) are counter-balanced by the Swiss’s lofty salaries. Grocery store clerks rake in $60k annually, bar musicians much more.
  • These high salaries lead business owners to avoid hiring staff. One gentlemen at the bar owned a ski rental shop, the aforementioned laser shooting range, and a fly fishing business without employing a single individual.
  • Ronnie and Chris, my paragliding guides, were also at the bar. Small town, I guess. Upon seeing me with other locals, they quickly retrieved the paragliding photos Brooke and I had neglected to buy and, with a sloshing beer in one hand and a memory card in the other, handed them over free of charge.

I must say, this whole expat thing doesn’t sound too bad. Add it to the list of life’s options. This trip was supposed to narrow those down, not increase them…

My wallet is thankful my jaunt through Switzerland was a brief one. After just three days, it ended with a 3 hour train trip to the city commonly dubbed the happiest place on earth: Zurich. Minimal time to gather my own happiness data, but smiles were abound on my one hour pre-airport city stroll.

Zurich

Thanks to a credit card perk, I receive free access to airport lounges worldwide. Most lounges have an open-bar but the Swiss go a step further: a self-serve open bar. Entire bottle of top shelf whiskey? Yes. Fourteen beers? Help yourself. Someone hand the Swiss the gold medal of airport lounging. While I myself did not indulge, I did watch one traveler consume an impressive number of gin and tonics. At least eight in under an hour and still going upon my departure. For #6 through #8, he brought the gin bottle to his chair. Admirably aggressive. Still wondering how his flight went…

Although not in the mood for a drink, I ate at least 1500 calories worth of cheese and cucumber sandwiches therefore allowing me to skip dinner. If that’s not a victory for a budget conscious fellow like me, I don’t know what is.

Next is Athens.

DC

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