Taking the Swiss - Day Three

I spend most of the train journey down to Stalden reading as I'd already taken in most of the splendour on the way up. Next I transfer onto a bus up to Saas Fee at 1800m. I really, really wish I had some credit in my phone to send some nervous goodbyes; the journey is all winding, icy roads and sheer drops and while the driver would probably claim to be confident yet competent, I flinch a couple of times at what I perceive as recklessness.
Somehow we stay on the road, though, and, just as we had left precisely on time, so we arrive at the exact minute we are supposed to. And what awaits is certainly a pretty place.

I fish my bag from the guts of the coach and head out into town before stopping after a couple of yards and realising I have absolutely no idea where I'm going. Worse, I've also left my itinerary in Zermatt. Think, what was the name....?

“Ferienart, Ferienart, Ferienart,” says a guy next to me like he's trying to rouse Beetlejuice.
By odd coincidence that's the very name that I couldn't remember and he's standing next to his wife, trying to find it on a town map. I explain my situation; theirs is exactly the same. Naturally they speak English – hooray for Empire. My new friend heads inside to ask for directions and soon we're walking and talking as we head to the Ferienart. They're from
Switzerland, he's a cop and she's in real estate. They've come for a weekend away from the kids, though by the look of them, they could well be expecting another by the time they check out.
“So you've not come to ski then?” I ask hoping for a quote to jam in my thus far shapeless piece.
“No,” he says. Ya beezer! Down with skiing!
“No, we have a glacier next to our house, so we are taking a break from that too,” she adds. Boo.
We all check in together and shoot the breeze for half an hour over a glass of wine. Their room isn't ready yet, though, so I pardon myself and let the receptionist give me a guided tour of the place.
It's probably not as luxurious as the Zermatterhof, though it has a much more authentic Swiss feel; it's constructed largely from wood and has a lot of fireplaces and animal heads and enormous chunks of quartz. I'm shown to my room, which is on the top floor, a luxury double that ordinarily costs £300 a night. It's stupidly big considering I'm only going to be staying there one night and I'm alone (bizarrely there's a jacuzzi bath right in the middle of the room too) but I'm not exactly going to ask to be downgraded.
On the way, the concierge complains about the bad weather: “bad” for Swiss people is when it snows, and each time I hear it called that I want to drag them by their hair to
Scotland and let them see the endless dreich shitfest everyone must suffer 300 days a year.

Anyway, I wind up being late for a meeting with someone from the tourist board and she's quite obviously a little annoyed about it. I've to be back in the lobby for 5:50pm – “That's 5:50pm, OK?” – to go on the next adventure.
When I get to the lobby though I'm surprised when introduced to a travel writer from Tel Aviv. He has a very similar programme to mine but he is not a happy man; he took advantage of a new service to have luggage shipped directly to your hotel and it has not arrived. Alas for him.
We are taken to meet the rest of our party and when Moeshe tentatively asks about
Dubai (as an Israeli Jew, he can never visit), one of the party whips round;
“Excuse me, did you say
Dubai? We've just come from there.”
“Commiserations.” I'm just in the mood for this – to tear strips off the place with someone who also lives there. She's so nice, though, it doesn't really happen. Besides, she's made an enormous decision to uproot and head there and the last thing she probably needs is a fat-headed mope like me slagging off her new life. She's on a snowboarding holiday with her boyfriend (he too works in Dubai) and her brother who works in Switzerland Monday to Friday and goes home to London on the weekends. Bizarre.

Our guide stops us to explain what's happening: we've got a hike through a forest to reach an old farmhouse, once we get there we'll be greeted by Bridget, who will serve us traditional fondue, wine and maybe some schnapps, but before we begin, here's a torch to light – we need it to find the way.

After about 20 minutes we reach a small wall that we have to jump over and into a field of pure, virgin snow. Beautiful as it looks, I sink to my nuts wearing jeans and only two pairs of socks. This, though, is considerably better than the unfortunate brother, who is wearing trainers for lord only knows what reason. However, save for a couple of slips, everyone stays upright and before long we've reached Bridget's grotto.
It's real fairytale stuff, a building that's over 250 years old, cauldrons of fondue bubbling away, people warming their hands on the fire. We're all sat round a bit table; two journalists, three Brits and a German couple who have virtually no chance of getting themselves heard all night. I try my best to include them in the conversation, but it is inevitably swept up by talk of
Dubai. All in all though, it's a Proper Adult Conversation and, most uncharacteristically, I don't embarrass myself or at least if I do, I don't notice.
After three glasses of wine and a bellyful of melted cheese, we're given some schnapps and the moment it splashes down on top of the cheese, I worry that I'm going to vomit into the German woman's curly grey hair.

Now all a bit drunk, we're given back the gift of fire.

The brother insists on playing with a Mongolian camel that Bridget keeps at the top of her farm; Thingby and I talk about inequality in Dubai; the German couple walk arm in arm along the forest path. Our torches shimmer in the dark, but with a fat full moon shining on the blanket of snow, we don't really need them. This is all good, I like this.