Friday, August 26, 2011

Majestic Matterhorn

I was suppose to run a trail race in Lucerne, Switzerland on August 20th but when my lower left leg started giving me problems a couple of months ago resulting in a forced running hiatus, I had no choice but to withdraw from the race.  Lisa and I had, however, already purchased plane tickets to Switzerland so we decided to ditch our weekend plans in Lucerne and instead booked a hotel in Zermatt.  The quaintness of the town -- electric cars are the only permissible type of motorized transport -- coupled with the majesty of the Matterhorn towering over the town far exceeded my expectations.  And for good reason, the Matterhorn is 4,478 meters high (14,690 feet) and is iconic of the Swiss Alps.  In addition to buying a refrigerator magnet featuring the Matterhorn, we also took pictures of it.  A lot of them. 
Clockwise from top-left:  The Matterhorn, the Matterhorn, the Matterhorn, and the Matterhorn.
It's a good thing there are miles and miles of trails to hike, otherwise the carbohydrate-heavy dishes -- three-cheese fondue is one -- might not be, ummm, the most nourishing.
Three-cheese fondue, bread, boiled potatoes, and beer.
"We like cheese.  Especially melted cheese."
We spent the day following our gluttonous three-cheese fondue meal hiking the trails above Zermatt.  We set out about 8:30AM and returned to our hotel about 12 hours later, having covered 24+ kilometers (14+ miles). 
Findeln, a small mountain hamlet, and the Matterhorn
Trail signage
A mountain pond, Stellisee, and the view opposite the Matterhorn
"Pardon me, but will you take our picture in front of -- what's it called again -- the Matterhorn?"
The trail to Oberrothorn (Weg zur Freiheit) is the highest hiking trail in Europe (3,414 meters)...onward and upward!
"Yoooouuu caaaaannnn doooooooo iiiiittttt!"
"Thanks there, coach, but why is it you're behind me -- and sitting down?"
According to the hiking guide, the summit of Oberrothorn is one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Zermatt.  Touche!
And this is why I'm sitting.  Not too keen on accidentally plunging off a rocky, vertical drop...
...so I continue to sit -- cling -- to the rock.
Just four hours and 1,794 meters (~5,800 feet) of descent back to Zermatt!
"Awesome single track.  And definitely runnable."
Prior to returning to Vienna the next day, Lisa and I hiked up to Riffelalp -- substantially shorter in length than the previous day's tour -- and returned to Zermatt via train. 

If you were so inclined, you could take this train all the way to Gornergrat (45-60 minute ride from Zermatt), but the round trip would set you back over $100, although if you did... 
you might not get as many shots of the Matterhorn?

Monday, August 22, 2011

"I've got a ten kroner..."

The guidebook we used referred to the residents of Stockholm, Sweden as "gorgeous and enviably fashion-literate."  (So much for wearing a Viking helmet with horns protruding from it all weekend.)  What Lisa and I don't have in enviably fashion literacy, however, we more than make up for in ridiculous references to American pop-culture.  Our three-day weekend to Stockholm had us channeling Seinfeld's David Puddy when he is counting the change from his and Elaine's Scandinavian vacation (the Swedes are on the same currency referenced in the Seinfeld episode):  "Well, I've got a ten kroner, a five kroner, a twenty kroner.  A fifty kroner?  How much is that?"  

Even if Stockholm weren't a beautiful city both environmentally and architecturally, the trip would have been worth it just for the more-times-than-is-funny kroner quote.  Here are a few of the photos taken in between David Puddy impersonations...
Stockholm is sometimes referred to as the "Venice of the North" since it is located on 14 islands straddling the mouth of Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea.
One of the many narrow, picturesque Stockholm alleys
An August day in Stockholm
Apparently the chocolate- and pastry-loving Swedish version of Lisa started her own shop, although...
...it's probably a good thing Lisa isn't a chocolate or pastry chef, otherwise I'd probably eat way too many of these (cinnamon roll with cardamom dough)
This place, Chokladkoppen, has some of the best chocolate-infused drinks in Stockholm
The espresso-chocolate concoction at Chokladkoppen. Can't remember how many kroners it was, but well worth it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"I get to be on top!"

Austrians are serious hikers and trekkers.  I'm not sure if it's because of their proximity to some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains on earth or if it's just something they do -- an implicit expectation to be outdoorsy -- but either way, they hike...a lot.  I've noticed, though, that the Austrians (as well as most other Europeans) don't completely separate the outdoors from modern civilization.  They've managed to make enjoyment of a remote mountain trail with a half-liter of beer in a mountain hut both possible on the same day.  You can, of course, also do this in the U.S., but rarely is it the case that the beer you drink will be in a hut you hiked to -- and will have to hike from (to/from your car parked in the parking lot five minutes away doesn't count).  You can argue as to which approach to the outdoors is better -- a marriage of wilderness with commerce or a complete separation between the two -- although the former certainly makes it easier to wander remote, rugged trails without schlepping around a 40 pound backpack.  And the former is what Lisa and I did on a recent weekend.

Early on a Saturday morning, we drove to the jumping off point for our two day hike -- Filzmoos, a small town about 3.5 hours southwest of Vienna -- found the trail head, parked our car, then hurriedly set off since it was already after 10AM.  According to the guide book, the hike -- the Gosaukamm Circuit -- is only 22km (~13 miles), of medium difficulty, and circumnavigates a limestone massive featuring high forest trails, a 2,000 meter pass, and towering rock pinnacles.  We spent the night in Gablonzer Hutte -- a hut at about the half-way point of the hike.  This is our journey to the hut on a misty-turned-rainy afternoon...

Still hopeful it won't rain...
Stopped for lunch at the Hofpurglhutte.  Dig the window shutters decorated as Austrian flags.
So many trails!  Our destination:  Steiglpass.
On the approach to the summit of Steiglpass
It's raining.  And Lisa is not too pleased.
Screw the rain...let's summit this thing already!
The forested trail on the backside of Steiglpass
When we arrived at Gablonzer Hutte, we weren't quite sure what to expect for sleeping arrangements:  a double bed?  Two adjacent twin beds?  Nope, bunk beds! 
"This is the master suite!"
"I get to be on top!" (Tom Hanks, "Big")
Bunk beds, beer, and beef for dinner under that roof.
The hiking on the second day was a bit more tame -- mostly undulating traverses across a series of meadows -- without a drop of rain.  
One of the many rock pinnacles we passed
The cows and horses have a helluva view
"Who you callin' Bessie?!"
And, of course, a tasty beverage at the end of the hike.