My first morning in the Swiss mountain hamlet of Zermatt, home to the Matterhorn, I was awoken by an army platoon outside my door, fully armed with fixed bayonets.
No, I was not being arrested for past indiscretions in the idyllic Alpine paradise. My often-inflammatory opinions had not even triggered an international incident worthy of military action. It was in fact, the traditional religious holiday of Corpus Christie, and the entire town was conducting a parade past my hotel, brass band and all, at 6:00 am.
Was It Something I Said?
Back in town I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up my 40-year visitor’s loyalty pin. The pin entitles me to free concerts at the 18th century church and other such frills.
When I first arrived here, the town was overrun with American college students, backpacking around Europe on shoestring budgets, using their Eurail passes to sleep on overnight trains to save the cost of a Youth Hostel. Alas, the age has passed, and today they are gone. Even the Youth Hostel here now costs $50 a night.
The weak dollar means that the only young Americans you see are the children of “the 1%” flaunting new Rolex watches and daddy’s American Express platinum card, acting as obnoxious as they can. The locals love the business.
The Strong Swiss Franc Forced Some Economies
Since the Matterhorn has some mystical hold over the Japanese as the world’s most perfect mountain, tour groups are here en masse. At one traditional Swiss restaurant I saw one very loud, drunken fellow stagger from table to table, annoying every guest.
I knew from hard earned experience that this red-faced guy was going to throw up any minute. I asked the owner why he didn’t throw him out. He said that the miscreant was the tour guide, if he left, his 20 big spending customers would depart with him, and he couldn’t afford to lose the business.
Can I Make a Collect Call to the 16th Century?
Zermatt has been a transit point for those traveling between Northern and Southern Europe for thousands of years. During WWII refugees fleeing fascist Italy were guided to the edge of the glacier never seen again. Hundreds are still thought to be entombed in the many deep crevasses.
On a previous trip, search and rescue was sent out to retrieve a newly discovered body. After sifting through his pockets and dating the coins, authorities realized that the unfortunate victim had been there for at least 400 years.
I always avoid the cheesy souvenir shops, as most of their offerings are now made in China, and I already have enough Swiss Army knives to last a lifetime. Instead, I do my shopping at the local hardware store and supermarket, loading up on my favorite mustard, chocolate bars, and a few cowbells.
There is a huge construction boom underway in Zermatt, with more than 20 hotels and condo buildings under construction. I asked a local business leader why this was so, with the economy of Europe falling apart. He replied that whatever they were losing with Germans, French, Spanish, and Italians they were more than making up with Asians and Arabs. Many shops now offer their chocolate, cuckoo clocks, and T-shirts with Japanese signboards.
More on Zermatt later.
Place to Think Great Thoughts