Living it up in Zurich

by Berck

I’m in the niftiest Internet cafe I’ve been in, sitting in the nonsmoking section (What? A European establishment that acknowledges some people really hate cigarette smoke???) and sipping a Coca Cola with lemon. I never drank much coke before I got to Europe, I drink it all the time now. With lemon when possible.

I had a Dr. Pepper in Prague. It was… well… not very good. Either I’m over my addiction or it tastes different here. I could really go for a cold IBC root beer though.

I don’t know how Europeans keep from being perpetually dehydrated. It takes much effort for me here. I find it difficult to get water sometimes, especially at restaurants. If you order water at an eating establishment, you get a minuscule amount of fizzy clear stuff that somehow isn’t what I associate with water. And it’s expensive. Tap water is beyond them. So I’ve been drinking coke whenever I’m not eating grocery store food because it’s just as expensive as water and tastes better than that fizzy stuff.

I spent the last two days in… Innsbruck! After having lived on 1302 Innsbruck Dr., I felt some compulsion to visit Innsbruck. It’s silly, I know. I was wondering where to go from Berlin, wanted mountains, saw Innsbruck on the map.

Innsbruck was the site of the Olympic games at some point. I don’t remember when. Now that I’m not responsible for dates for a few months, I think my brain goes out of its way to not learn them.

In any case, it is absolutely beautiful. The city is an overgrown ski town (180,000 people, I think) and is surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains. The Brenner pass heads toward Italy in the south, and the Inn river surrounds the city to the north. Just across the Inn is the Nordkette.

I looked at the Nordkette after I got off the train with my pack and decided to climb it. Then I realized that if there was snow at the top, climbing it alone was going to take awhile, and it wasn’t going to be easy, and doing it alone was probably not bright. I went and got lunch at a cheap pizza place.

I like European pizza places. It’s like a little bit of home everywhere I go. There’s probably something wrong when I consider little reminders of Italy, “home”, but being there for 4 months… it grew on me. Most of them serve fairly Italian pizza cooked by Italians. Most of them speak Italian, which is great, because they love it when I speak Italian to them. I can speak just enough to get around in a restaurant. I always get a Pizza Margharita, not because I’m not adventurous, but because I like it, its always the cheapest, and comparing Pizza Margharita from different places has become a sort of hobby.

I ate my pizza, and decided to write for awhile because I just didn’t feel like getting on a bus to go find a campsite. Paying for a place to pitch a tent is annoying, when for a dollar or two more I can be sleeping in a bed. So I wrote a bit in my journal and a letter or two, then got up and paid. I chuckled to myself as the guy said “Caio!” with a German accent as I left.

I was walking along the river, and when I came to a bridge, rather than crossing it I headed down to the river bank next to it. It was about 6 feet down, and there were about 2 feet of wet rock and mud along which one could walk between the wall holding the river in and the river which wasn’t high enough to actually go up the wall. I passed a girl playing a guitar. I wanted to sit down and listen, but she gave me an evil look as I walked by, so I decided not to. I kept walking and looking at the mountain. I wanted to climb it. It looked possible. There were snow fences at the top for avalanche control, and a little cable car went up it a good bit. Cable car. How annoying. Full of Americans heading up for a view.

I took my guidebook, train schedule, dirty laundry and a few other non-essentials out of my pack, and put them in the small daypack I have. I climbed the wall of the river, and buried the backpack in the bushes in a spot I’d remember where it was. I probably should have left it at the train station, but didn’t feel like walking all the way back.

I put on my substantially lighter pack and smiled. I was going to climb a mountain. I stood in the river and let it wash off my waterproof boots. They’d gotten filthy and scuffed, and a few minutes soaking in the water helped them a lot. They needed to be scrubbed, but I was about to climb a mountain. I’d clean them when I moved into an apartment, I decided.

There was something purifying about letting the Inn river clean my boats with the knowledge I was about to hike up a mountain. I like standing in water with my boots, watching the leather(ish) material soak up the water, while my feet stay perfectly dry. I reflected on the $160 spent on them, and was decided it was definitely a good choice, and probably my best investment on the trip before I left. They are now my only pair of shoes as I left behind, in Rome, my leather Bass walking type shoes which I could have worn for another month before they developed holes in the soles. (Say it outloud, “Holes in the souls.”)

I started walking toward what looked to be the highest peak on the closest mountain. The Nordkette is the name of the mountain; Hafelkar is the name of the peak as I learned later.

I found a little foot/bike road leading uphill, and started walking on it, noticing signs for the Alpenzoo. About 20 mintues later I found the Alpenzoo. It smelled like a zoo and had lots of kids outside. I dislike zoos, the animals inside all look so sad. I walked around it, and found a gravel path with a sign that said, “Hungerburg”. About another 20 minutes later of walking uphill I was pretty tired, but had arrived at the little village of Hungerburg. I’d consumed 1.5 liters of water on my way up. I filled up the bottle outside the cable car stop, and kept walking up, snickering at the tourists and their cable car. I walked on the gravel path for awhile, while a few amazing people bicycled up past me. A few really old women with their dogs walked past me. I was feeling beat. I took a trail that said “GeosomethingorotherinGerman”. It went up and around some cool rock formations, and past a neat natural cave. Also went past a door in the side of the mountain. A solid metal door with the sound of water behind it. It was locked and said something in German. The geo trail met up with the other one after awhile. I kept going up, stopping frequently. I tried taking a little trail numbered 216 with red and white markings. I lost it in the woods, and just wandered up without a trail for awhile. I found the gravel road a bit farther up. People went whizzing down on their bicycles at amazing speed. I didn’t see many people still going up. I found 216 again, and finally realized how to find the trail markings. The trail was easy, but there were few people on it. I say easy, but it was just dirt and rock, some of which was slippery, and went mostly up the side of the mountain with just a few switchbacks. Every 10 meters or so, or when the trail got confusing, there was a little red dot with a white circle painted on a tree. Sometimes I had trouble finding the trail. On some of my many stops to catch my breath, a German, typically in his late 40s would march on past me with a small pack and two ski poles. The ski poles were a rather good idea. They’re light, and make good hiking sticks. I figured I’d pick up a stick when I got to where I needed one.

The trail got steeper and steeper, and I had to stop more and more frequently, until I was stopping every 20 meters or less. It was a beautiful day, about 65 degrees outside, a cool breeze, and I was sweating like a pig. And running out of water, even though I’d completely refilled my 1.5 liter bottle. I thought I was going to just have to collapse on the side of the mountain and hope for unconsciousness, I was so exhausted. I made myself keep going though. Up, and up, and up. The trees got smaller and smaller. At about 5pm, the trees got to be about my height. The ground got rockier. Further up, the trees were just evergreen shrubs, and the ground mostly rocky. Footholds got to be more difficult, and my pack which had felt so light early in the afternoon on the riverbank, felt as if I were carrying around lead for the heck of it. I kept running through my mind every little item I’d left in my bag. I thought of nothing I wanted to just leave on the mountain, though there were a few things I figured I probably should have left on the riverbank. My tent and sleeping bag were the main problem, light as they were. My camera was the next heaviest thing.

The trail would disappear, and I’d just head straight up the rocks, and it would reappear awhile later. I saw a building ahead, as it approached 7pm and I thought my legs would do nothing else. The building was built into the mountain and surrounded by a fairly grassy area with not as many rocks. I could see straight up to the top with its snow capped peaks, even though it was a long way off. The little hut had people sitting around drinking beer and eating dinner. I found no menu, no signs, no indication of how anything worked. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a private lodge, or if they were open to the public.

I finally got the courage to ask for a Coca Cola. The lady inside handed me one, and I went back outside to sit and drink it. The sweat started evaporating and I cooled off. I even got a bit chilly. I wondered how to get something to eat. Swallowing the last bit of pride, and wandering inside like an idiot, I just sort of announced, “Can I have something to eat?” A lot of German was hurled at me. I felt really stupid as about 20 people just stared at me, pointed, and laughed in German. “Does anyone speak English?” I asked. Germans tend to. Rural Austrians apparently do so less. One man with a thick accent said, “Yes, what do you want?” He looked to be in his 50s, had a completely grey mustache, and sat in the back corner surrounded by a crowded table. “Something to eat.? “What?” “Something good.” He laughed, pointed a plate with something unidentifiable to me, and asked if I wanted one of those. “Yes,” I said. “Sit down?” He asked. They all squeezed around a bit, and made room for me. “Where are you from?” “Texas,” I told them. I don’t really consider myself from Texas, but its a good enough answer. They laughed for a good bit at that. We talked for awhile, and they warmed up a bit after discovering I wasn’t just an annoying tourist, and was actually interested in them and their culture. They brought me a plate with a salad kind of stuff on it as well as fried cheese with stuff fried in with it into a little pattie. It was very good. “Just like McDonald’s?” they asked, and laughed at me. “No, McDonald’s bad, this,” I pointed, “very good!” They seemed happy I liked it. I finished and he asked if I’d like the same thing in soup. I said yes, and he spoke to the woman, Etna or something was her name, and before long a fried thing in some really good soup showed up. They asked if I wanted to put some… sauce stuff in it. It looked sort of like soy sauce. I indicated that if he ate it like that, I would as well. He told me to pour a little bit in. I did, and he laughed, said, no more more. I handed it to him, and he poured a good bit in while everyone else at the table started protesting, and laughing at me. The stuff was some sort of pepper sauce. I didn’t find it too hot, the soup was wonderful. After awhile Etna brought us all some clear liquid in little shot glasses. They gave me one, I hadn’t ordered it so, I didn’t take one, but they conveyed it was a gift from Etna. I smiled, and took one. They all held up there glasses and looked at me and grinned and said, “Cheers!” I laughed, said cheers, and knocked my glass against theirs. Then we did it again in German, only I don’t remember what it was. I wasn’t sure how to drink it, if it was supposed to be sipped or downed. They downed theirs, so I followed suit. It tasted almost like grappa, only more like Metaxa, but not quite. (Grappa: The Italians take the gunk from the bottom of wine barrels and distill it. You get clear stuff they call Grappa. Tastes sort of like Ouzo or Sambuca (clear sambuca, not sambuca black) only not as licoricy. I don’t like it. Metaxa is Greek homemade brandy stuff, usually looks like brandy, though sometimes clear. I like it better than Grappa, but I’m not a huge fan…) I smiled and enjoyed the warming sensation. When it came time to pay, they charged me all of 60 schillings, a little less than $4. And it was a REALLY good meal.

Most of them headed down the mountain as the sun began to set, though some stayed at the little hut. They asked where I was going to sleep saying that the hut was full. I thanked them, but told them I had a warm sleeping bag and wanted to camp. I pitched my tent on a “flat” space about 20 meters up the mountain. It wasn’t really flat, but had few rocks, and didn’t slope TOO much. I pitched my tent, climbed in my sleeping bag and tried to get warmed. Before I knew it the sun was up, and I was hot. I rolled over and went back to sleep, I hurt everywhere. I finally got up at about 11am after some noisy hikers on the trail woke me up. I packed everything back up and around noon, sat down for lunch at the same place. They brought me food and a coke. A guy who looked sort of out of place sat down by me. After awhile they asked him if he wanted something and he spoke in English, pointing at my plate. Astonished, I started talking to him. He was from Chicago. He’d taken the lift up to the top and was walking down. We ate a leisurely lunch, and for some reason the guy from Chicago decided to come up the mountain with me. I told him I would be very slow, he probably didn’t want to do that. He said he wasn’t in a hurry. He tried not to look impatient as I would sit down on the trail for quite some time, looking up at the sky. There were four or five hang gliders up the sky, soaring the thermal rifts. They reached amazing heights, would come swooping down and ridiculous speeds, then zoom away from the mountain at the last minute, and spend the next 15 minutes riding the thermals back up. There were a few parasailers as well who seemed to get even higher up than the hangliders. In fact, watching some of them land, it looked like they had to work to get the things to actually come down. The hangliders would have to dive, and the parasailers would pull in parts of their sails. At one point I heard a whizzing zinging sound and looked up to see a beautiful glider zooming barely 100 feet above me. I saw a few gliders, they were amazingly fast compared to everything else up there. It looked like they could all defy gravity as long as they wished. I suppose they probably could until the sun started setting. One day I will hanglide. It just looks like so much fun. I found out I can do it in Interlaken, Switzerland riding tandem. $80 for 10-30 minutes. Sounds a bit steep to me, but oh so tempting.

I was having trouble breathing, and my head hurt. Thin air. Chicago was doing a lot better than me, he eventually took off without me after much prodding. He wanted to take my pack from me, I wouldn’t let him. He was worried he would miss the last cable car down, which was at 5pm. He left a little before 4. The trail headed into a huge snowfield. I couldn’t follow it, the snow was too slippery. The mountain slope was headed up well over 60 degrees, it seemed. It was slow going without a trail, carefully trying each foothold. I no longer could really just walk up the mountain, I had to grab onto rocks for support. It got harder and harder the further up I got. I could see the whole city below, it was beautiful. The peaks of the Brenner pass across the city, and the valley running through the city with a bit of air traffic. I could see the runway as well, and watched little dots land and take off on it. The trains were little snakes. I couldn’t see any people or cars.

The trail would occasionally dart out of the snow and I could follow it, but it would dart back in before long. I finally made it to the top about 15 till 5. Which was good, because I could grudgingly catch the cable car down as it would be far too dangerous to try to climb DOWN the same way I’d come up. The cable car was the only way down. A few tourists looked down amazed at me as I made my way up the last 20 meters. I sat for 15 minutes until the cable car was leaving, looking out at the Alps. I was proud of myself.

I only had to pay $6 to get down to Hungerburg, after which it was easy going on foot. I only had to buy a ticket for that one short bit because they’re not used to people buying tickets down but not up, so it was pretty cheap. Roundtrip up and down the mountain is something close to $50 I think.

I spent the night in an annoying HI hostel. HI hostels have to conform to certain standards, and seem to be run by nazis. They always kick you out of the hostel early in the morning for one thing. They dorms are segregated which is okay except that it seems that frequently there are a lot of guys and few girls, which means that they’ll pack 10 guys into a 10 bed room, and 1 girl into a 10 bed room, which doesn’t make for good sleeping in a mostly empty hostel. Private hostels tend to be cheaper, co-ed, flexible with their rules, and generally more enjoyable. I suppose if I were a girl and traveling alone, HI hostels would probably be good.

This hostel had a guy with a shaved head who had wet laundry hanging from his bed. This isn’t atypical, hand washing laundry is something most of us do, and your bed is the only place to hang it. Only he had girly stuff hanging from his bed. Panties, little striped girly socks, a tank top shirt with spaghetti straps… It was all a bit weird. He was up and left before anyone else.

I had a rough sleep, which annoyed me because I’d payed for a bed and slept much better on a mountain the night before. No one snoring on the mountain. And it was nice and cold up there. Oh well.

I’ve typed for something like 2 hours now, so I suppose it’s time for me to pay and leave.

I called and reserved a place to stay in Paris for Saturday night. I’m not sure what I was thinking, I meant to try for tomorrow night, leaving in the morning for Paris as I plan to come back to Switzerland with Anne. Only, I said Saturday. Finding a place was tough as well. There were no night trains from Zurich to Paris though, so when I found the place I’m staying at tonight, I went ahead and told them I’d stay for two nights, and they made me pay for both in advance otherwise they were going to give the bed away. And now I rechecked the train schedule and found there IS A night train from Zurich to Paris, only not on Saturday. So, I could have left tomorrow night, but I payed for a place to stay already. I could have tried to change my reservation for Sunday, and night traveled Saturday, only the train doesn’t run Saturday. ARGH. I hate traveling during the day, it’s such a waste of time. Night trains are so nice.

I want to go to Scandinavia. But in a few days, I think I’ll be meeting Anne in Switzerland, provided she emails me again, if she’s still alive down there in Israel. So its not enough time for me to get up there and spend any amount of time. I want to go to Spain as well, but I think Spain isn’t going to happen. I spent one night in Paris and saw very little of it. I want to go spend at least a day in the Louvre, then a couple other days seeing other sites….

I bought a copy of the Herald tribune. I like the Trib, it’s a European paper, in English. It’s slightly liberal, and is basically an amalgamation of anything newsworthy from lots of other newspapers such as the Times, the Post, then they have lots of Reuters and AP stuff. Unfortunately, I’m being spoiled. I like it because it’s the only English newspaper that actually has news in it, not crap about the traffic in the United States, and which presidential candidate smoked what where. There is usually a few newsworthy bits from the US, but US stuff ALWAYS get the front page. It makes me happy. It’s also depressing, I get to read about all the wars happening everywhere. Sri Lanka, Eritrea, the Balkans, Israel, disputes between Pakistan and India, North and South Korea, Russia and everyone. The US giving billions of dollars here and there to help one side of the battle or the other. It just seems so pointless. I guess I’d have made a good hippie.

So then I turn back to my Tolstoy. I’ve been reading a few of his short stories, but I’m almost done with the book I’ve got. Annoying, because then I’ll have to find an English bookstore.

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