From Geneva Airport, take the train bound for Lausanne – Bex. At Bex, take the bright red cograil up the mountain, through the small villages, and stare out the windows in wonder. An elderly woman might direct your attention to Mont Blanc off in the distance, just hidden. Thank her in French. Disembark in Gryon and follow the white signs with the big green arrows up the hill. You’re there.
I came across Chalet Martin after deciding to take a random trip while overseas. I enjoy hiking, and the Matterhorn seemed a likely candidate, but hostels in the area seemed either too expensive or too slovenly. Martin in Gryon seemed a great alternative – glowing reviews, Alpine vistas and trails, lots of activities.
You’ll notice immediately that Martin is built for relaxation. Chairs and tables are scattered across the deck near the entrance, inviting loads to be shed. During the day, an adjacent empty fire pit hints at late-night conversations to come. I had arrived after the summer rush, and the hostel was occupied by about 10 people during my stay. Proprietor Merlin set me up in a 10-bed dorm in which I was the only resident the entire weekend. Others crashed upstairs, in smaller dorms and private rooms.
Cooking is far from my forte, but others went at it whole hog, chopping vegetables and combining them in ways I’d never considered (leek pizza?). I stuck to basic groceries purchased at the local marché – sandwiches and pickles, bacon and eggs, and lots of water. Chefs will take more liberties. Plug in your iPod at the available dock and make the room alive with some tunes from home. Mother Mother and Death Cab for Cutie. Longtime chalet resident Artis will insist on the brilliance of Interpol. Around the fire later, we shared a cigarette and talked about travelling.
That’s what travellers like to do. Two young women were passing through, bound back for Australia eventually. Two others called Canada home, one from Quebec and the other from Vancouver, clad in a Canucks shirt. How funny, these halfway-round-the-world meetups, these serendipitous mountain encounters. Everyone exudes warmth and always seems curious to know what you’re up to next. Check out the board for ideas – hiking, paragliding, spas, wall climbing – and go.
After a full day’s hike, finally start reading the Harry Potter series out on the deck as the sun sinks in the sky and realize that everything everyone’s been telling you about it all these years has been absolutely true. Don’t worry about finishing the chapter you’re on when you’re whisked into playing ping pong, precariously near the deck edge, where a blanket is hoisted to prevent balls from flying into the fire pit. It’s okay if you’re terrible. Try it with two hands, for laughs. Come up with silly team names. Make the one point you score on the expert an impressive one. And then have dinner.
Eventually the moon will crawl out, and you’ve never seen a moon like it. Jet streams will ribbon the sky, zigzagging across each other as though on purpose, as though it were solely to achieve a pretty effect. Take a seat by the fire, or lay down a couple of Francs for a movie and watch it in the black-walled video room, with its mattresses and couches formed into comfortable stadium seating. Make it “P.S. I Love You,” or “Lesbian Vampire Killers,” or something a little less over the top in either direction. There are hundreds to choose from.
(Digression: If you do watch something akin to “P.S. I Love You,” accept the memories and emotions it stirs. Remember the time you stopped in Wicklow National Park in Ireland, the pictures you took because she really wanted to. Live in that moment for a while and remember the reason it is why you travel and where you’ve been and where you’ve yet to go, and recognize that while so much can be balled up into Camera Obscura’s “Lloyd I’m Ready to be Heartbroken,” the songs eventually ends, and you have to make plans for the next destination.)
Take out your laptop and write a song in the lounge while others are off preparing food and sharing anecdotes. Use one of the acoustic guitars that hang on the wall because it’s there and sounds nice and thick and temporary, like the guitar Nick Drake used. Call it “Switzerland” until something more original strikes you. Maybe it won’t. Realize you haven’t really been using the Internet that much, and that it’s okay. You’ll get back to virtual living eventually. If you’re desperate, there’s a room for that, too.
On Monday, dog tired and creaky, I lugged my bags to the local cograil station and waited, continuing to throw small French greetings at the townsfolk. Why Switzerland? This is my third time in Europe. Every time I’ve travelled over here, I’ve had to take the convenience of fellow travellers into consideration, and oftentimes people in my party had already been where we were going. While I wouldn’t trade those trips, I wanted completely new landscapes, a space without stories attached. My own experience. Mission accomplished.