Tgau da Zermatt!
That’s “Hello from Zermatt!” for all of you out there that don’t speak Romansh*. Where’s Zermatt I hear you ask? Well, it’s a tiny village right near the Swiss/Italian border, in the South-West of the country. Famous as a ski town and for its view of the Matterhorn. You know the Matterhorn, it looks like this:
*A special note on Switzerland’s other national language…
Romansh is a Latin-based language spoken by a small percentage of Swiss people, including those in the region we’re currently in. Along with German, French and Italian, it is one of Switzerland’s 4 official national languages, though it is by far the least common. Neither of us had even heard of Romansh before coming into Switzerland, but fortunately it’s very similar to Italian so we’ve been able to make ourselves understood well enough. Mind you,everyone we’ve met so far in Zermatt seems to be multi-lingual to the point that it makes us feel grossly inadequate; we’ve had waiters and shop staff talk to us in French, German, Italian, Romansh and English, all without batting an eyelid. With Zermatt being in a Romansh and German speaking canton, plus with it a major international ski destination so close to Italy and France, it makes sense that people would have to be at least passingly comfortable with all 5 languages, but it’s still impressive. When we passed comment on this incredible multi-linguality, one of the locals shared a great joke with us:
Q: What do you call someone that speaks 3 languages?
Q: What do you call someone that speaks 2 languages?
Q: What do you call someone that speaks 1 language?
A: A native English speaker.
We found it particularly amusing, mostly because it’s so true. Native English speakers do seem to, perhaps quite arrogantly, just assume others speak English too. We’ve tried (sometimes in vain – e.g. Finland) to learn a little of each language as we’ve travelled around. If nothing else to ensure we can feed ourselves and find our way back to hotel, but also to help us understand a little more about the countries we’re visiting and so we can engage with people a bit more readily as we travel around. Plus it’s a good way to keep the brain juices flowing!
We left Montreux and the splendid Swiss Riviera this morning by train. Our journey took us along Lake Geneva and into the Swiss Rhone Valley. This wide valley that runs either side of the Rhone River is one of the lowest and flattest parts of Switzerland, and therefore one of its most developed. The number of industrial and commercial enterprises we passed made the first part of the trip rather dull and uninteresting – one giant shed is much like another really and factories are never that exciting. Once we got to Visp and changed trains however, things started to look up…
The Mattertal (translation = Matter Valley) is located in the Pennine Alps, in South-Western Switzerland just across the border from Italy. This narrow vale is flanked by massive mountains and glaciers, and the tiny train that we caught up into the valley ran right up alongside a sheer rock face the whole way. On the other side of the train flowed the Matter-Visp River, a small glacial river that drains into the mighty Rhone. The Matter Valley runs for about 40kms and at the end of the valley you come to Zermatt and the Matterhorn.
Zermatt is a village of just 6,000 people, 1,642m up in the Alps, that swells to 4 times its size in winter when thousands descend on the town to ski the slopes around it. In summer it’s the hikers, the mountain bikers and the mountain climbers that flock to this little hamlet; all of them, like us, here to marvel at the mighty Matterhorn and tackle this mountainous terrain. Zermatt is almost completely surrounded by the high mountains of the Pennine Alps; from here we can see Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze in German), Switzerland’s highest peak at 4,634m height. We can also see the Dom (4,545m), Lyskamm (4,527m), Weisshorn (4,505m), and of course, the Matterhorn (4,478m). Not a bad little collection of mountains hey?
We arrived in Zermatt this afternoon and, after checking into our studio apartment (a kitchen – yay!), we went out exploring the village. It’s a particularly cute village, not only because of the many wooden houses everywhere, but also because the entire village is a car-free zone. To prevent air pollution the town banned combustion engine vehicles years ago, making it perfect for an afternoon walking tour. There are some electric cars around town – these are only used for “essential services” though (e.g. rubbish collection) and as taxis for ferrying exhausted tourists around town. The electric taxis are tiny and just add to the village’s charm.
The village is adorable and our studio apartment is great – warm and cosy and perfect for our 2 night stay. It’s going to be great fun having a couple of days to spend up here in the mountains, exploring the area and trying out some of the hikes. Not sure if I’m quite up for climbing a 4,000+m mountain monster, but maybe one of the smaller peaks (e.g. the 3,104m Mt Rothorn) could be tackled. We’ll let you know tomorrow…