We're not mountain climbers by any stretch of the imagination, but over the past two weeks, we've walked plenty of mountain trails, first in Italy's incredible Dolomites (Passo Pordoi below), then Haute Nendaz in the Swiss Alps.
In the Dolomites, the Centenary of World War I was very much present. I'd written about the "mountaintop trenches" during a previous trip in 2008, but I don't think I realized the extent to which the First World War along the Austrian-Italian border was WW I horror carried to the ultimate degree. An entire "ice city" of galeries bored into glaciers, where soldiers could never find a warm place. Heavy artillery hauled up sheer mountains, "via ferrata" staircases bolted onto the cliff faces, with soldiers slipping to their deaths if the shelling didn't get them. Sheer hell in a cold, cold place.
After white knuckle switchback roads over the Alps and into Switzerland, our second week was spent on top of a high plateau in the Valais region. Here, we left our car in its parking slot and just hiked all week. According to the brochures, some 70% of Swiss citizens hike regularly, and we encountered a number on the great variety of well-marked trails out of Haute Nendaz, our base.
Today, while picknicking on a quiet trail overlooking the valley, our peace & quiet was interrupted by a crash and a splash - it was a hunter dragging his beautifully-antlered stag straight downhill, using a stream as his pathway.
He explained that the Swiss hunting licence, which allows him a quota of one stag, a couple of doe, and three chamois, costs 1,500 Swiss Francs, which is about $1,500 dollars. At that price, I don't think the deer have too much to worry about - only a few really serious hunters would shell out that much for what in most US states would cost some $20.00.
But then everything in Switzerland is expensive. We stayed, through a timeshare exchange, at a studio apartment, and saved money by eating in or picknicking. We did splurge on a cheese fondue - had to have that while in the Alps - but you can't think too much about the price of food here.
Chatting with some Swiss people, the high cost of living is also a concern - "we're not all bankers," one said. A longtime resident here, a taxi driver originally from Bosnia, said that it's really hard making ends meet. He also gets a sense from foreign clients that they are not return visitors, once they experience local prices. We read that Swiss voters rejected a referendum to establish a minimum wage last spring.
So, while we can't say that we won't be back, we will definitely plan on the budget approach to dining. But then nothing tastes as good as a nice picnic in the mountain air...