One train station further than two years ago...
But a completely different experience.
When I was in Milano in February 2017, I drove over to Switzerland, went to Zermatt and stayed a night in the 'Igloo Village'. To do this, I took the mountain train up to Rotenboden (the next-to-last stop on the line) from where we walked down to the 'Igloo Village'.
This time I didn't stay in the 'igloo', but a bit higher up the mountain.
At the last stop of the line, 'Gornergrat', is a hotel.
Its altitude is at 3100 meters (slightly more than 10000 feet). Not extremely high, as the alps go (there are 38 mountains that are higher than 4000 meters visible from the hotel), but it is the second-highest hotel in Europe. (Or the third-highest - that depends on whether you consider Mount Elbrus to be in Europe or in Asia and whether you classify LEAPrus 3912 as a hotel or a mountain hut).
The two observation domes on top of the hotel aren't for show - they contain telescopes that are actually in use and only accessible to the public on special occasions.
The rooms in the hotel are numbered in an interesting way.
Instead of using linear numbering, they use the altitudes of various mountains in the area as room numbers. For example, my room had the 'Alphudel' as the namesake, so the room number was 4206 (as the Alphudel is 4206 meters high).
When I arrived in the late afternoon, there were still some clouds in, but the next two days, skies were clear and postcard-blue. (It was the opposite two years earlier in the 'Igloo Village', where it was cloudy during most of my stay. I only got a nice view of the Matterhorn when I was leaving.)
There are lots of hidden activities in the mountains at night.
The area around Zermatt has lots of ski slopes and they are extremely well maintained. Which requires many "piste-bashers" going around to groom the pistes.
And, as this is Switzerland, they also make sure the train tracks remain unobstructed. So they run trains at night with large snow throwers in front of them to clear the tracks.
And they have smaller snow throwers for maintaining the paths around the hotel.
These do look quite spectacular when they use it later in the day to keep the path to the viewing area behind the hotel open.
The description makes it sound a bit as if the Alps around Zermatt are a noisy place at night. But the snow absorbs a lot of it - it's only if you look out of your window at 5am that you notice how much is going on outside.
I hadn't planned on anything specific during the day, as I hadn't been sure what the weather would be like - no sense in planning a scenic walk if there's no scenery to look at.
As I don't ski and the terrain is too mountainous for any cross-country ski tracks that are sufficiently level for me, it came down to either snow-shoeing or walking.
As they didn't rent out snow-shoes at the hotel, I decided on walking.
(Part of the reason for this was the high 'standard' cost of the mountain train. There are all sorts of rebates and coupons (for example, if you have a ski-pass), but if you go to the ticket office and get a ticket, it's roughly 10 CHF/Euro/Dollars per stop. There is a snow-shoe trail from the hotel to Riffelberg, two stops down the line, and a snow-shoe rental at Riffelberg. But if you want to snow-shoe down that trail (about 4.2 km distance), you need to go down two stations with the train, rent some snow shoes, take the train two stations up again, walk the trail, return the shoes and take the train two stations back up to the hotel, which means about 60 CHF/Euro/Dollars in train tickets to do a two hour hike. The rental of the snow shoes (15 CHF/Euro/Dollars a day) is trivial compared with that.)
So I took the train for one station and started on the winter hiking trail to Riffelberg.
Which was extremely well maintained.
I had expected something like a small path, but it turned out to be a well-groomed highway for pedestrians going down the mountain.
With lots of great views at the Matterhorn and the mountain panorama around it.
Next day I headed back down to Zermatt to go even higher up the Alps from there.
There is a cable gondola going from Zermatt up to Klein Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn).
While not as high as many other peaks in the region (after all, there are 38 peaks higher than 4000 meters in the vicinity), it is the highest place in the Alps that can be reached by the lazy, i.e. me.
The cable station is at 3821 meters, which is the highest place in Europe reachable by any means of regular transport. (Though, I suppose, you could take a helicopter somewhere higher up the mountains, but I wouldn't consider that 'regular' transport.)
From Zermatt, you take a small cable gondola up to a place called "Trockener Steg" and then switch to a brand new gondola taking you up to Klein Matterhorn. (The new line opened three months earlier in November 2018. There had been another line running up there earlier, so it's not as if the skiing area on top hadn't existed before that, they only put in a more modern system with higher carrying capacity in now.)
Under the gondola station there's a small ice cave with some ice sculptures.
Most ice sculptures show some sort of local animals (though, except for the eagles), so the dragon is a bit of an oddity.
There's a small sign next to it explaining that this is a symbolic 'twinning' with a place in China. The stone in front of the dragon is not local, but originates from the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range in China.
It's all a little bit tacky, and even includes an ice throne photographs, including (outside the image frame) a small box with a red cape and other theatrical decoration, which you can use to decorate yourself before taking a picture.
But it's a great place to visit.
Partly, because I like to look at ice sculptures (they always come out dull and flat in photographs, but they look much better than that), but also because at 3800 meters the air does get a bit thin and the sculptures give you a reason to walk slowly and pause from time to time, while you get used to the altitude.
And once you've done enough of that, you give the small ice slide down there a try...
And then it was time to go for the main attraction (at least for non-skiers) - the scenery.
From gondola station level, there's an elevator going up a further 60 meters to a viewing platform (or, technically, to a small staircase going up the viewing platform - that's why it's a good idea to relax a bit in the ice cave first before heading up there).
The scenery up there is amazing. Especially on a day like that, when the weather is fine and the views are great.
I liked being up there - just squinting a bit as the sun was bright.
Then it was time to go to the cable gondola and head back down again, being the only one to do so. (It is, after all, a skiing resort and most other people were taking the slopes down.)
There were some nice looking crevasses and bits of glacier ice visible on the way.
The mountain cabin in the next picture (Gandegghütte) is not quite as remote as it might look. It's only about 800 meters from the busy cable gondola terminus at Trockener Steg, so it's easy to get there.
I, however, didn't.
I took one last look at the hotel on the Gornergrat, where I had spent the previous night.
And then, happily contemplating travel plans for later this year, I switched gondolas again to get down to Zermatt and from there, via a somewhat indirect route (taking the train to Täsch, getting into the rented car there, driving via the Simplon Pass to Italy and taking a plane from Milano) back home.
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