freezing at 12,739 feet above sea level

​​There we were, at 3883 metres, the highest point we’ve ever been on earth, looking up at the top of Matterhorn Mountain, towering another 600 metres above us!

Well, that was the plan. When we arrived down the valley in Brig the afternoon before, there were scattered clouds, but we could see most of the massive mountains around us. In the morning we boarded the train that would take us high into the Alps. Clouds were rolling in but we hoped for the best. From the cable car station in Zermatt we could still see the mountain sides and glaciers but peaks were alluding us, and as we climbed, a strong wind brought more clouds in, and they brought snow. Sadly, as we emerged from the viewing station at the very top, the fog and clouds were so thick we could not see more than 10 metres out, and the Matterhorn and all other mountain tops were hidden from view. With the blinding snow it was freezing cold, with us in as many layers of summer clothes as we could muster. Oh well!

From Brig we took the train through the Alps over to Zurich. In all our travels so far, Switzerland has been the most expensive place for transportation, accommodation, and food. Just to give you a sense of what that looks like, imagine paying $17 Canadian for a Big Mac (we didn’t, we just walked by a MacDonalds and saw the price posted in the window). Groceries were easily three times the price we experienced in Italy and Spain. 

Aside from being expensive, Zurich didn’t have much to offer us — we walked across the city, viewed the lake and wandered around the old part of town. And before we knew it, we were deep inside a very seedy, smelly, and noisy downtown area of bars, strip clubs, and sex workers. We retreated and sought refuge at a small residential neighbourhood sidewalk cafe we passed earlier in the day that was laid-back, inclusive, and family friendly. Whew!

Next stop, Vienna, a much more fascinating city, and less expensive too. We found a self-directed walking tour that included many historical buildings and gardens, as well as some intriguing out-of-the-way side streets and stories to go with them. One side street happened to also bring us to the Vienna Peace Museum, a small organization that works to build peace, partly through promoting awareness of Nobel Peace Prize winners (congrats by the way to this year’s just announced recipient, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons).

As we’ve been travelling, as much as possible we’ve been purchasing groceries at local markets and from street venders. In Vienna we approached a fruit and vegetable stall, selected a bunch of grapes and handed them to the vender to weigh — he took one look at us, started loudly berating us (likely in German, which we don’t understand), and threw them back onto his table. Not sure what we did to offend him, other venders in the same outdoor market area responded much more favourably to us!

Otherwise, we quite enjoyed wandering around Vienna, especially finding the “beer, whiskey, and vegetarian” bar around the corner from where we were staying. Craft beer on tap, 1000 different whiskeys and scotches available, and the most delicious vegetarian goulash we’ve ever tasted. Our other favourite restaurant in Vienna: the quirky, off-the-beaten-track Pizzeria Mafiosi. Inside it felt like we were in an old fishing shack. And with his rough look, slicked back hair, and regular cigarette breaks, we were convinced that serving pizza was just our waiter’s day-job cover for something perhaps a little more sinister!

Approaching the top of the peak next to the Matterhorn.

For some reason, there were these large brightly coloured rabbits placed just out of reach throughout Vienna.

We enjoyed delicious empanada-like Zuricos in Zurich.

Lovely sidewalk cafe in Zurich, in the middle of a quiet residential area.

Klimt in Vienna.

Huge market in Vienna with fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, and lots of olives.

Typical street in Vienna.

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