Saturday 5 June 2010
I awoke with, unfortunately, a very unpleasant and uncooperative sore lower back so our initial plans of hiring some bikes and cycling around the area would have to wait for another day. Instead, we decided to take a leisurely drive in a loop. The plan was to drive up the valley to Chamues and then turn off and go up the Albulapass. On the way, we stopped at a marvellously beautiful little church in the village of Celerina before setting off again toward the Albulapass. The pass is theoretically only open from June to November. Fortunately, it was June and it was indeed open although there were still significant swathes of snow towards the top. At the very top we stopped by the side of the road to have our picnic lunch and, as luck would have it, the weather was grand – very warm and very sunny with an amazingly blue sky. It was about this time that Ms Playchute realised she had neglected to bring any hat at all and soon enough she was commenting on how she was acquiring too much sun on her face! I did not suggest to her that it didn’t matter as the sun was not so severe up on the mountain.
Clearly this route is very popular with tourists riding motorbikes who swarm up the mountain and down the other side weaving around the hairpin turns with speed and enthusiasm. We were also mightily impressed with the number of cyclists who were similarly, if not quite so rapidly, ascending and descending the same mountain pass. I’ve got to tell you – these mountains are steep yet we passed dozens and dozens of cyclists all making their way slowly and steadily towards the summit. At the same time, dozens and dozens had come the other way and we passed them as they came screaming down the mountain. Most, not surprisingly, were young and fit men and women but there were also several men of a similar vintage to me – grey-haired grandfathers off for a casual Saturday afternoon cycle. It’s just that their cycle route took them up and over a 2300 metre mountain pass with snow on the ground rather than a leisurely cycle round the undulations of the Northamptonshire countryside. More sobering, there were also several families with children ascending the mountain as well, some perhaps as young as eight or nine, quietly churning the pedals up the mountain.
The picnic at the top of the pass was excellent and peaceful. Apart from the occasional motor car and not withstanding the stream of motorcycles, it was delightful and surprisingly entertaining. Just a bit further along the summit some youngsters had stopped and set up a “camp” to indulge in a bit of late season snow boarding. They clearly had come very well prepared. They had built a jump and set up a rail with which they performed much to our amusement. Their camp also consisted of a kettle barbeque and a dining table and chairs. Quite a sight at the top of an Alpine mountain pass! Again, I may be doing them a disservice but I cannot image English youngsters being so well organised!
Even better, however, was the exhibition put on by some of the local wildlife. As we were eating our sandwiches Ms Playchute noticed a dark object scampering across the snow. On closer observation it turned out to be a young marmot and, it turns out there were several families who were just emerging from their winter slumberings beneath the snow. When they were crossing the snow, they were easy to see but once they got to the patches where the snow had melted they were essentially invisible. That chap Darwin and his theories of evolution must have some merit after all. Two Swiss ladies stopped a bit further along the pass after we had been there for some time, got out of their car with binoculars and began to scan the mountainside. Pen went to enquire whether they were looking for marmots, which they were. They explained that they come every year about this time to look for marmots and ibex. They also said that only a week before the whole mountainside was still covered with snow and that therefore the marmots had only just emerged. We were very lucky to have seen them before all the snow melted or we would never have spotted them.
So, down the other side of the pass we went – more hairpin turns, more motorcyclists, more bike cyclists and, after stopping at a wonderfully picturesque roadside café for a cup of coffee and a most wondrous Swiss pastry (some kind of apple and raisin affair which was out of this world) we proceeded down the pass towards Tiefencastel. Enroute we drove through the small town of Bergün which was stunning – a picture postcard Swiss village with amazing buildings.
At Tiefencastle we turned back towards Silvaplana via the Julierpass at 2280 metres – more motorcycles, cyclists ascending and descending through magnificent views and scenery. Although it’s quite a ways up the pass, once one is at the top it’s a relatively quick descent into Silvaplana.
After reaching Silvaplana, we made our way back into St Moritz to see if we could find Ms Playchute a hat to protect her from the sun. We found one in a very exclusive shop for which they were asking the very modest and reasonable sum of 59 Swiss Francs (about £40). After about two seconds consideration we concluded that this was perhaps just a bit too exclusive for us and set off to find something else. To be fair, this was a very fine hat with the letter “B” (for the name of the shop) inscribed on the front. Clearly they must sell them at that price to some folks who presumably enjoy the prestige of having a hat purchased from an exclusive shop in St Moritz but they must be people with more money than sense, I would suggest. We wandered another fifty metres or so and found another shop selling hats for the considerably more reasonable sum of 8 Swiss Francs. Not quite the quality, to be sure, but considerable variety from which to choose. Unfortunately, the entire selection was based on the countries participating in the World Cup and they were perfectly hideous. In the end, however, Ms Playchute needed a hat and settled on one promoting the virtues of the Swiss national team. Actually, hideous doesn’t quite do it justice.
After the successful hat-purchasing expedition, we made our way back to Surlej to find kite surfers all over the lower lake. We stopped and watched for a while admiring both the skill and the marvellous colour amongst the backdrop of the towering mountains, the bright blue sky and the lake. An absolutely splendid day.