Alps! Hiking! Mountain Vistas! Dashed hopes and dreams.

Way back in Croatia, I met up with a fellow traveler at the hostel. Let’s call her Trauma Queen. Now TQ informed me she was off to Italy, then to the do some hiking in the alps.

Hiking in the alps. Come on, how awesome is that? I want.

Still, I had an interview in Cambridge to do. As fate would have it, I would be done with all that UK stuff around the time she was hitting the alps. Thus a plan was hatched to meet up and do some hiking, which given my potential for self-damage I figure it’s best to do that kind of thing with a partner.

So, from London I fly to Basel. Against my better judgment I rent a car (’cause we all know how well that has worked out in the past) figuring that I’ll need to drive to get to mountain areas worth hiking.  TQ has no working phone, so we decided to meet at the train station in Basel.  What could possibly go wrong?

Apparently, this is the one thing that actually worked just fine.  We met up with no trouble.  Two foreigners in Switzerland, neither of us speaking the language, and we made it to the same spot at the same time.

Then we tried to find the place we had reserved to stay, and things started to go all pear-shaped.  Basel, it turns out, is hard to escape.  My abilities for piloting a car in Switzerland are no better than in Spain or Croatia.  So, what should have taken fifteen minutes took us about three hours and multiple stops to ask directions and find wifi signals.

The following morning we set out for Engleburg.  This was from a short bit of internet research that showed Engleburg to be at the foot of the alps and to have fabulous hiking excursions one could partake. I mean, just look at it:

Note: from the interwebs. My pictures tell a different story.

So, we take it easy, set out somewhat late, and drive a few hours across Switzerland. As we go, the clouds get steadily worse. Rain pelts down. Temperature drops. We cling to optimism like a life raft: this is just gonna blow over, right?

Arriving in Engleburg, it is apparent things have gone from bad to worse. We find one restaurant in the entire place. Nobody speaks any English, and neither of us speaks Swiss or German. We mime out our hope that there is a tourist info spot and the Italian purveyor of the restaurant laughs at us.

No bueno.

Also, the clouds are so low the town just looks like, well, a town. You can’t see mountains anywhere. So, we backtrack to a more major town and discuss options. Their tourist info advises we head up to another town and we’ll be able to hike around there. So we go.

Long story short: Beautiful countryside. No mountains visible.

Look. Alps. Right there. Under that white thingy.

The town is ridiculously quaint. We get out and walk around to find the local tourist info, and find everyone standing on the side of one specific road, huddled under their umbrellas. Without warning, a massive clanging rings out from down the road. Turns out this clanging heralds one of the more unexpected events I’ve had in recent memory.

A parade of goats. ‘Cause why not?
Quothe the cows: “Why me”
Quothe the man: “Dude, at least you cows don’t have to wear lederhosen”
Little Heidi brought a rain slicker. Not her first time to the rodeo.

So, I guess they drive the cows and goats and sheep and such through town a few times a day. Kinda cool, but completely wacky. Walking around town it’s pretty clear we are in the tourist section just by what is on display for purchase.

I, too, could walk through the streets, clanging.

So, by now it’s getting late in the day for a hike, so we decide to cut our losses and at least get up to a view point on the alps. We drive up a fabulously windy road dotted with picturesque houses and fields of cows and eventually end up at the base of a massive cable run that disappears up into the clouds. I dearly hope it can take us up through the cloud level and give us a view out.

Now, it’s not exactly warm, here. In the alps. Who knew?  We seem to be the only tourists around, since everyone else sensibly saw that the weather makes this day not ideal for sightseeing. The parking lot is empty. It’s like visiting a ski resort in the off season. We ride a cable car that could easily hold forty people, and we are the only ones. It climbs and climbs and climbs, walls of rock appearing out of the white mist, then disappearing below us again as we continue to climb.

And we get to the top. And it’s a complete white out. We can look over the sides of this massive base tower erected at the top and see… nothing but white. And it’s snowing on us. And we are still the only people around.

We were literally the only people. Snow was beginning to accumulate. I pitched in to help out.

So, we dash around, freezing and trying to get what sights we can. Eventually the cold does us in and we head back down.

The day is over, and tomorrow’s weather looks like more of the same.  We decide that if the weather is going to be like this, we might as well make other plans. TQ has never been to Paris and dearly wants to. I went once, but with my son when he was 13. I think I should give it another try. So we book a train the following morning.

Next up: Paris.

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