Travel Tuesday: 'Up on the Alps', Unveiling Switzerland
Article and photography by Shiyu Rao
One of the best things about being a tourist is that you can have cheese fondue in the summer, and no one will judge you for it.
My trip all began with a random idea. My friends discovered a novel train route by accident. It starts in central Germany and takes you all the way to a small town in Switzerland called Chur. None of us had ever heard of this place, not to mention how to pronounce its name. A thoroughly organized trip was never our intention. Without further planning, we hopped onto the train on a rainy Friday night. Outside our coach window, the city lights from afar illuminated the world we were leaving behind. A dreamland adventure where the hint of an early August drizzle left the three of us feeling exhilarated.
It felt magical to be in a land full of green! Indeed, by the second morning of our trip, we were in Switzerland. I saw cows, rivers, mountains, and scattered wooden houses. Smoke unfurled from the farmhouse’s chimney. The family inside must have been preparing a hearty Saturday breakfast! It was a foggy day. The early morning mist lingered between the valleys, careless and free. What a dream! Everything was so close, yet so far away.
It was nine in the morning when we arrived in Chur. Refreshed by the cold mountain breeze and a cup of Swiss coffee, the three of us were more than ready to explore the city. Chur is said to be the oldest city in Switzerland. Sadly, most of the traditional wooden structures were burned down in a fire in 1464. The town today is a mixture of old and modern architecture, and possesses a charm from the past and the present. Down a little alley next to the high street, a Saturday morning market was busy with locals. Browsing fresh vegetables, flowers, fruits, and beverages has always been my favourite part of travelling. There’s so much vitality in outdoor markets, and a scent of home. Walking aimlessly around the old town, we were lucky enough to run into an alphorn performance by some enthusiastic locals. This long, wooden horn-like instrument sparked our curiosity. The instrument was assembled from smaller pieces which could all be fitted into a suitcase. It was hard to imagine that the alphorn was able to make music, yet its varying sounds made it happen. The music echoed in the valley, secret and smooth, while sending joy to places above the clouds.
Our first proper meal in Switzerland was fondue. To be honest, I don’t like cheese. I don’t mind it on pizza or in a cake, but eating it plain still remains a challenge for me. Sadly, a Swiss experience can never be complete without a cheese fondue. In a cozy local restaurant, we ordered two pots of fondue served with bread and potatoes, which is the most traditional version of the dish. The food was beautifully arranged. Even I had to admit that it was a satisfying feeling to watch the potatoes become coated with melted cheese before the remaining cheese dripped back onto the fondue’s bubbly surface. With some scepticism, I tried a potato. It was beyond my imagination! I liked it so much. It brought warmth to my whole body on this cold, rainy day. I experienced the same homely, fulfilling taste of fondue again on a snowy winter night, as me and two other friends gathered together in our small cottage on the mountainside. The fire was lit, and the blaze brightened our faces. On the table, a bottle of wine was open, and two pots of fondue were ready for dipping. It was our Friday fondue gathering. The steam drifted out from the pots, sending the tender, cheesy smell further up towards the ceiling. The smell soon filled the entire space. Outside, snowflakes landed on the window and melted. We drank, ate, chatted, laughed, and had a wonderful time. That was what fondue tasted like for me: love and happiness.
Besides the famous fondue, the other two big meals we had in Chur were just as impressive. We had a great time in a little restaurant in the old town, which was apparently a hotspot for local families. The food was made from a home recipe, and it genuinely tasted great. They even gave every guest a sweet Swiss shot after the meal. How hospitable is that?
The next day we had a late lunch in a farmhouse restaurant after climbing the Alps. It was a very satisfying meal. I had a typical Swiss soup, which was exactly what I wanted after my physical workout. The wine there was also amazing. My friend ended up having three glasses, and regretted not ordering the whole bottle in the first place. We also managed to find a pub in this old town. It was spacious and modern with a starry night projector, which was a funky place to hang out. The cocktail menu was very original. I had a hard time making up my mind about what drink to choose as everything sounded so good. My drink tasted amazing. The only thing that stopped me from having another one was money because, as you probably know, everything in Switzerland is ridiculously expensive.
Our hotel was a bit further out of town. To get there, we had to undergo a 20-minute bus drive. We were able to see a panoramic view of the city as the bus wriggled up the mountain: it was lovely. Google Maps instructed us to get off at the mountainside where only a few houses were visible. There was no sight of the hotel. Luckily, though, we found a sign that led us to it. We walked up a gravel path, then on a wooden bridge, past a river and a forest before finally reaching the hotel. It was an energizing pre-check-in walk. We all loved how close to nature this place was - even the donkey next door was visible from our window. Accompanied by the whispers of the mountains and the woods, we had a good night, dreaming sweetly.
When I was packing for the trip, I was told there would be a minimum amount of physical activity. So I only had a pair of jeans and my everyday flats for this short trip. My other two friends were just as prepared as I was. Our second day in Chur was blessed with sunshine and generally good weather for sightseeing. We headed towards the cable car station right after breakfast. The plan was to get to the top of the mountain by cable car and have a little walk around, take photos, chill and then come back down. In the big cable car, everyone was dressed up in mountaineering gear. Extreme sports fans were bringing their bikes up to do some mountain biking. Standing among them, we started to get concerned about our outfit for the day. The worry was left behind once we got off the cable car, and set our eyes on the amazing view of the mountains. Excited by our plan, we started to follow the hiking path, which took us further up the mountain. We were fascinated by the idea of hiking up the Alps, and were immersed in the lovely weather and fresh air. It was too late when we realized we had walked too far, and the only way to get out the woods was to continue along the path. The track started to get narrower; the comfort of my jeans and flats were tested for these unexpected conditions. I struggled with the gravel that got into my shoes, but the challenge was a lot tougher for my friend. He suffered from asthma, and had recently found out he had acrophobia (a fear of heights). He didn’t like sport, and the only workout he did everyday was cycle slowly to work. You can imagine how exhausted he became after a few steps up the mountain. Restricted by the equipment we had, he had to use his hands a lot when the conditions of the path became worse. But, somehow, we managed to stand on top of the mountain after two hours of questioning and reassuring ourselves. Fatigued but relieved, we felt like freed eagles flying high with no more fear, aiming higher and higher.