Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Surreal Drive to Zermatt

Travelling to Zermatt from France was never going to be easy on Dec 31st - especially as it was Saturday, a holiday everywhere and there was a major snow storm with heavy snow fall down to 700m. The traffic heading down the Tarantiaise valley had dissipated by about 1:00pm  but there was a complete standstill in the other direction - a major traffic jam still 15 km from Bourg St Maurice and extending to Moutiers and even beyond with the barriers closed on the motorway at Aigueblanch. 

I decided to risk driving over the mountains through Mégève and St Gervais then down to Chamonix - guessing (correctly) that all their traffic would be coming from the other direction. All of those towns were jammed near their centres but still passable without too much delay - the snow and ice however being very bad at Chamonix. 

After Chamonix everything stopped at  Argentiere. In the confusion I asked someone directing the traffic and he told me that I could still get through to Switzerland - but would have to wait as cars could only move in single file in one direction at a time. Eventually I was funnelled up a single track lane thick with snow and with banks of snow over the roof of the car - no way back! Passing a junction where there was some activity I ended up scrambling up a steep hill until the road ended at "Tours" at the top - this was a dead end in the middle of nowhere. It looked like the night was going to be spent sleeping in the car - for which I was equipped. Going back down the road a short distance I found myself on the end of another queue. We had been diverted up this lane with the intention of forming a queue - out of the way of the traffic coming the other way from Switzerland - but nobody had explained this. There were firebrigade all kitted up in silver helmets and Genrarmes everywhere. The main road had been closed for avalanche risk and the Col des Montets was blocked. There was a small railway tunnel they were planning on shunting us through - and they did a body count in each car first. The tunnel was surreal - with barely enough room for a car on a narrow side lane. My wing mirror scraped the wall at one point. Out we popped on the Swiss side of the tunnel with only a short stretch to go to the border. I still felt confused and a bit lost despite the GPS working. It wasn't until 15km from the parking at Tasch (before Zermatt) that there was a service station open to buy a coffee - after 6hrs 30mins driving. 

You have to park at the "Terminal" at the bottom of the mountain and take a train up to Zermatt with all of your luggage. To use a trolly at the terminal you need 5 Swiss francs and if you only have Euros like me then expect to carry everything. No traffic is allowed in Zermatt - only special electric vehicles - buses, taxis and delivery vans. The paths and roads are simply covered in snow and ice with some grit added. Sign posts are also conspicuously absent. Expect to be lost and confused - especially if your hotel turns out NOT to be a hotel and there is no one there to greet you. The aggressive little electric taxis rip you off big time. It's an ugly scene resembling something out of BladeRunner. I was immediately hate-struck by the place but decided to put that down to tiredness and hope that it would improve.

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