(This post continues from ‘Shining in Chamonix’ posted on 12 Dec 2016.)
After spending a wonderful time in Chamonix, we started for our next destination which was 136 km far and our first stop in Switzerland – St. Niklaus. We started around 10 in the morning. Our only agenda for the day was to reach our accommodation there; a studio apartment situated in between the Swiss mountains.
We crossed into Switzerland. There was a small check-post. A little ahead, there was a nice inviting restaurant. It seemed to be a popular stop for motorists as many had parked their cars and stepped in for refreshments and relaxing. We sat outdoors to enjoy the view and the weather. I had hot chocolate and Vinod had coffee. After some time, we resumed our journey. Throughout, the drive was breathtakingly scenic.
We reached St. Niklaus by late noon. The area was nestled on the slope of a mountain. Our studio (booked through AirBnB) was on a narrow street which was lined with many chalets, bungalows and sheds. It was attached to the bungalow in which its owners lived. There was a small pasture behind the bungalow on which lived the owners’ horses. Beyond the pasture was a river which could be Gornera or Zmuttbach.
We checked-into the studio; it was large with a spacious seating area, a big bed, a kitchenette, a small dining area and a large bathroom. After satisfying ourselves about the good deal we had got, we stepped out to have lunch.
We stopped at the first restaurant we saw; it was close to the main roundabout, not far from the studio. Sadly, it was closed. Apparently, all restaurants there at that time would be closed at that time. We were advised to go to Grachen.
Grachen is a few kilometres from St. Niklaus. The road was lined with pretty German houses built on vast pastures. Balconies were adorned with petunias and bougainvillea of many colours. Oh, what a view!
The road to Grachen is uphill. So, we had to drive slowly and that took us a little longer to reach Grachen. The centre of Grachen is situated on a plateau. The first sight of Grachen impressed us. Grachen looked like a typical German village. The centre had hotels, restaurants, a post office, a tourism office, a church and retail shops. It’s amazing how villages in Europe have tourism offices! They really save the lives of tourists, explorers and wanderers!
We caught sight of a nice restaurant where there was live music. However, first, we needed to park our car. Now, the system here was different from that in Chamonix. In Chamonix, we would be issued a parking ticket. Before exiting, we would insert it in the machine. The machine would calculate the fees and then we would pay. On the other hand, in Grachen, we needed to key in the duration of parking and pre-pay at the kiosk. It was a little difficult in the beginning, but we managed.
We went to the restaurant and settled ourselves outdoors (again). The waitress was dressed in the Bavarian dirndl. It had been a while (2010) since we saw someone in traditional Bavarian attire. She could not speak English. The menu was not printed in English either. Yet, we got what we wanted. We don’t know how we managed that!
It was a pleasant experience sitting outdoors, enjoying live music and admiring the views. Grachen looked busy unlike St. Niklaus. There were mostly locals and other Europeans there – in the restaurants, in the shops and on the streets. They had stepped out to walk their pretty pooches or to catch up with friends. We didn’t seem to fit in there. Yet, we were enjoying. Somehow, Grachen looked festive and happy for no reason. If this is how Grachen is every day, then maybe we should settle there!
After finishing our pasta, we took a cable car to Hannigalp. It was a long ride. Along the route, we saw small houses and sheds with furry cattle in them. Hannigalp is a big pasture on a long slope. It was not lush green. There was hardly anyone or anything there. We could have skipped it. We discovered that Grachen is a popular skiing destination. It’s very crowded and busy during their winter. We wandered on the sloping pastures until it was time for the last cable car down to Grachen.
Then, we explored Grachen. We saw an old church and a beautiful cemetery beside it. Then, we admired the German houses some more and strolled in the market. We bought some instant food (we wanted to try working out something in the kitchenette). We came across a garment store with discounts. Discounts attracted us.
The shopkeeper was a friendly person and he welcomed us to try his collection. The shop had an interesting range of colours and materials for their hooded blouses. I bought a pink one. The shopkeeper appreciated my choice (I see obvious flattery there :P) and expressed his surprise to see us. He said that he didn’t usually see Indians in Grachen. Well, I felt happy and proud to be identified correctly. We admitted that we came there by chance. I guess that’s the fun of a self-designed tour!
Back in St. Nikalus, we stopped at the same restaurant which was closed in the afternoon. Now, St. Niklaus looked lively. There were many guests who seemed to be enjoying an early dinner. Vinod had beer while I was waiting for him to finish. I was very tired. We drove back to the studio and slept like logs.