Apr. 4th, 2010

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Yesterday, the weather forecast for Zurich was for heavy rain.  Today, the weather forecast for St Moritz was for heavy snow.  Yesterday, the forecasters got it wrong and we had a really nice day.  Today, I think it's fair to say they got it right.  I have never in my life seen snow like I saw today.  It was just amazing.  When we arrived at St Moritz, there were already several feet of snow piled up, and we watched as another couple of inches (at least) came down in the space of just half an hour.  Mental stuff! 

But more about St Moritz later.  First of all, I need to tell you how we got here!

We had an early breakfast this morning, which Flo had told us would be the best one we'd get all week.  It was really good, actually.  Not just the continental stuff, but actual sausages and other stuff as well.  Very impressive indeed!  After breakfast, we finished getting ready to leave and then settled our bar bill before getting onto the coach.  A lot of the seats towards the front were taken so we decided to be the naughty kids and went and sat at the back.  We won't be there all week, though.  Flo runs a strict "rotation system", which means that everyone moves either three rows forwards or three rows back each day.  That way, everyone gets a chance to sit in different places and on different sides of the coach, so there are different views to be had.  It's quite a good idea, actually.  I'm more used to having set seats, and being frowned at if we dare to deviate from them, so this will make a refreshing change!

The weather was rather inclement from the start today.  It was raining as we left Zurich, and so the visibility (and hence the views) wasn't as good as it might have been, which was a shame.  But Flo told us that the weather was meant to be better for the rest of the week, so we didn't mind too much really.

Our first stop today was the town of Appenzell, which is apparently where Appenzeller cheese comes from.  We had about 45 minutes to explore this little town, which was really beautiful, even in the rain.  It was also very deserted - with it being Easter Sunday the majority of the shops were shut, and judging from the number of umbrellas that were stacked in the rack outside, most of the population had headed to church.  We walked up from the Landsgemeindeplatz along the main street to the church and did some window shopping along the way, as well as admiring the pretty buildings.  We then had a very brief look around the graveyard (even that was attractive) before making our way back towards the coach.

We nipped into the public washroom before setting off again - the coach does have a toilet but apparently Swiss law decrees that you can't use a toilet in a coach when it's moving, and so it's for use in emergencies only unfortunately.  According to Flo, the Swiss have lots of rules by which they have to abide (too many, she said), including one which states that you must have curtains up in your house at all times.  Bless!

After we all got back onto the coach Michele drove us towards the principality of Liechtenstein, and we crossed the border and had a stop in Vaduz, which is the capital city.  As with Appenzell it was very attractive even in the rain (although it did actually stop while we were there), but also as with Appenzell, it was mostly closed.  I got my passport stamped (geeky, but I couldn't resist it) and we had a brief look around one of the gift shops, but there wasn't really much more to do there, unfortunately.

After getting back onto the coach in Vaduz it was time to go to a place called Heidiland for lunch.  Heidiland is named after the charater in the Johanna Spiri novel 'Heidi', and for some reason I'd envisaged lunch in a traditional Swiss place with goats milling about and yodelling and stuff.  Actually, it was a kind of service station (although Heidiland itself is obviously more than just this one stopping place), but it wasn't like any service station I've ever seen before.  It was a bit higgledy piggledy, but you could get pretty much anything you wanted there (apart from a beer, which was a shame - I'm guessing though that the Swiss have a rule about no boozes being sold in service stations).  There was freshly squeezed fruit juice to drink, or pop, or coffee, tea, alcohol free beer, smoothies, etc etc.  And the food choice was amazing!  In the end I just had a ham and cheese baguette but I could have had a grilled steak, grilled fish, omelette, quiche, cooked meats, potato rosti, vegetables...  Just so much choice, honestly!  And the hot food was all cooked fresh as it was ordered, plus our baguettes were made in front of our eyes.  I wish we had places like that in England - I loved it!

The rain had stopped completely by the time we left Heidiland, and I'd pretty much convinced myself that we wouldn't see any proper snow, and was a bit disappointed, really.  I'd been looking forward to it in a strange way!  But as the coach started to head up into the mountains the weather closed in again, and first of all it was raining, then it was sleeting, and as we climbed a bit higher, the sleet turned into actual proper snow!  There was no snow on the road and Flo had checked and found that the pass we were due to drive through was open, so even though there was white stuff all over the ground, conditions on the road were fine and it wasn't a bit scary.  We had a brief stop partway up at a frozen reservoir, where we could get off to take photos if we wanted to brave the driving snow, and then we continued up to the top of the Julier Pass, which is a height of some 2,284 metres (7,493 feet), where we stopped again, this time for a hot drink and for another quick photo or two. 

After leaving the Julier Pass we wound our way back down towards St Moritz, and finally arrived at the hotel at around 4.30pm.  We quickly settled in and mum unpacked, and then I decided that I'd like to go for a short walk, as I'd noticed when the coach pulled up outside that the Cresta Run was just opposite and I wanted to get a photo or two of the building with the name on it, just to show I'd been.  Mum decided against the exercise, and so I set off on my own.  I got my photos of the building (which I think is at the end of the run), and then I decided to follow a little path downhill, just to see where it went.  It was snowing heavily at this point and for some reason I quite fancied the idea of walking in a snow storm.  I followed the path down for quite a while, until it came out at a bridge over the road, and I decided I ought to start heading back because the snow was getting worse.  So I set off at a rate of knots, completely forgetting the fact that I was 1,822m (5,978 feet) up above sea level.  30 seconds or so later, I was KNACKERED and had to stop to catch my breath!  I know I'm unfit, but seriously, doing any kind of exercise at altitude is bloody hard work - heaven only knows how people manage to ski up mountains!  They must be mega fit, is all I can say!  I took my time climbing back up the rest of the path and then went back into the hotel to chill out for a short time before we decided to go downstairs for a beer before dinner.  As we walked into the lobby we were trying to work out where the bar was, because the layout of the hotel is a tad higgledy-piggledy.  And then suddenly this American guy appeared as it from nowhere, and without us even having to tell him what we were looking for, he told us that if we wanted a beer, it was in on the left and it was good stuff and was also very cheap.  I can't remember the exact cost, but he was right about the quality - it was very good stuff!

This bloke turned out to be called Dominic de Santis and he joined us for first a beer and then for dinner.  He is originally from Philadelphia but now lives near to Atlanta, something I managed to remember because I had to learn it a few nights later when another guy called George decided to test my level of sobriety by giving me a fact and then asking me to repeat it the following morning.  Dominic is a bit of a music dude - he teaches guitar and plays in a band as well, so we spent the night chatting away about music and trying to educate him about some good British bands that he might not know. 

Dinner was pretty good - the hotel had laid on a set menu for those of us on the trip, but went a la carte and I had chicken and mushrooms in a sauce with rice, and then some ice cream, all washed down by a few beers.  Very nice indeed.  We did think about another beer in the hotel bar after dinner, but then decided to be sensible and instead got ourselves a bit of an early night because it's another early start tomorrow.

Here be photos... )

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