Year Abroad: Rigi

Rigi is a place I missed during my year abroad but I made it up there when I returned in October for my resits. Yes, I failed my exams and had to resit (and to be honest, I failed the resits too, which is why I was able to run off to mountains when the others were busy with exams. I got a lot out of my year abroad and what I got was sufficient to go towards my final university mark).

I’d been living in Neuchâtel during my year abroad but Neuchâtel, bless it, does not have an overabundance of short-term affordable accommodation – for students who have to come back for five days or a week. So we were staying right out at the French border in a little town called Les Verrieres. By the time you’ve travelled by “haystack train” (that’s the sort of small local train that stops at every haystack along the way) it’s an hour just to where I would normally begin my journey. It’s another three and a half hours from there – change at Olten, jump on the Luzern train, jump off at Arth-Goldau, walk down the platform and up some stairs to the small line that goes up the mountain.

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There are many ways up Rigi but the only two I was aware of at the time were the blue trains up from Arth-Goldau and the red ones up from Vitznau. There are also assorted cable cars coming from various points to various points although I don’t think any of them go the Kulm. So up I went on the blue railway from Arth-Goldau. I noted in my blog from the time that:

I bought my ticket in English, because I have no idea how to do it in German

This is the thing, I went there to learn one of the Swiss languages and I try to use it – except that the specific Swiss language I learnt was French and it turns out most Swiss Germans don’t speak any/much French, or at least the ones who work in station ticket offices don’t seem to. So, as I don’t speak any German, we have to resort to our mutual English.

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At the top of the mountain, it was pretty cold, it was misty and although the pictures are hazy, they look spectacular in my scrapbook with a background of torn pink stripes of paper. Evidently I also borrowed Angela’s camera for the day – which would explain why some of the photos were a slightly different size when I collected up the Red photos yesterday because my elderly camera takes slightly proportionately wider photos than her more modern one (more modern eleven years ago!). The guidebook said that there’s snow on the summit of Rigi even in summer and I was disappointed not to see any in October.

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I was more impressed with what I discovered in a meadow next to the summit – an actual precipice, with a vertical drop most of the way down to the valley floor. I’ve seen quite a few of them in the Alps and they’re always terrifying and awesome, in the original sense of the word. Looking at the photo makes my stomach turn over, even a decade later. I am not as good with heights as I like to think I am. I knew it was there because I’d seen it in photos. At the time I described it as looking “like someone sliced the end off with a sharp knife”. Now I look at it and see many rock strata lying at an angle they were not originally created at – see the picture in the header of this veloland.ch site:

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That’s about all I wrote in my blog of the time except one significant thing. I was apparently unable to find a seat on the train back down so I stood up looking over the driver’s shoulder, which I quite often do if I can find a seat right at the front anyway. I noted in my blog in little tiny letters:

And also thought that if he was to die right there and then, I could probably drive the train down to the bottom…

Yes, that sounds like me. There are a lot of buttons but there only appears to be one dial used to make a mountain train move and stop and I’d watched enough drivers in recent months at that point to be obnoxiously confident that I could step in and save the day. It would be like being that passenger who lands the plane safely when the pilots collapse from food poisoning but a bit less dramatic – and for the record, I’m under no illusions about my ability to land a plane.

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That was my last big adventure in Switzerland. It was the last day of my resits and I was not to return until May 2010 – when, actually, I think I went up Rigi a second time. That was clever of me. However, the Switzerland posts are not over, because I’ve been doing them hopelessly out of order, so next month’s Year Abroad post will be about Lausanne, one of stopping points and favourite gaming haunts.