My Life as a Traveler

Railroad days and Whiskey nights

Today we have to leave our sweet Swiss family. Heartfelt hugs and goodbyes all around before we head to the train station. Our railpass is for 3 days out of the month and when we don’t choose to use one of our days, we get 50% off any other rail journey. It’s relatively not that far to our next destination, Gimmelwald, so we choose the 50% off option, but have a bit of a tough time explaining this to the teller-in-training at the ticket office. After 3 different people weighed in on the matter, we got our tickets and hopped on the train.

We traveled to Montreux, then changed to the Golden Pass train heading north. Our “classic” train had hardwood ceiling and beautifully upholstered seats. After switching back and forth ever higher over the city, we enter the tunnel that takes us from the 19th century back to the Middle Ages.  Ancient farms perched on the hillsides, then ski resorts, then the lake. Another change of train, which we barely miss after a quick hop to the store for a bottle of wine (no stores where we’re going), then a bus, and finally a cable car gets us up the valley to Gimmelwald, our mountain destination.

Gimmelwald is perched on the top of a cliff, elevation 4500 ft. Visitors park their car at the bottom of the cliff and take the cable car straight up. This is not a touristy town or ski resort, but a real farmer’s village, saved from development when the locals pulled some strings to put Gimmelwald in a bogus “avalanche zone”.

We climb the hill to our hotel, dragging our rolling luggage up the gravel path. Thank goodness it’s not raining. Walter, the 88-year-old inkeeper is not in, but leaves us a note. room number 2 has a spectacular view. The tops of the mountains across the valley are obscured by the clouds, but it’s still incredible to be eye-level with the snow line of the vertical rock face. The toilet is down the hall, but we have a little fiberglass cubicle that is connected to a black box on the wall. For 1 Swiss Franc we get 5 minutes of shower. I hope the water will be warm. The walls are thin and we can hear every word and voice inflection of our neighbors.

We pull some chairs up to tables overlooking the valley below. Lunch is our wine, an apple, and the cheese samples from Gruyère. We can hear the bells and the bleating of our neighbors the sheep below and enjoy the aroma from the three donkeys in the small barn above. An Alpine cat winds his way between our legs.

It takes us an hour to walk up the hill, but only half of that to come down. Dinner at Walter’s is less than $15 with 3 courses and all the Italian Merlot you can drink. This place has been made well-known by guidebook author Rick Steves, so all of our dinner companions are American. The company is convivial, a family of 3 from California, 2 brothers from different parts of the West Coast meeting up, one single woman who seemed a little drunk, and us. We chat about our travels, homeschool, and marvel that the brothers are riding mountain bikes up here.

We have been busy every single minute up til now, and I’m looking forward to an early lights-out. But no. The brothers next door (in normal voices, talking through the wall) want to know why we’re so quiet and if we can hear them. We reply that we are waiting for a juicier topic to come up. They invite us over for whiskey. In our pajamas, we chat and laugh, trying to solve life’s problems while talking about books and some card game called Magic. The whiskey runs out so we head to bed. I wake up to find Susie with the computer in her lap and fingers on the keys, sleeping. What a night.

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