Descent of the Cows & Aletsch Glacier

The Swiss have all sorts of random festivals and fetes that, to an outsider, are kind of strange. I guess all countries have things like this, though, and since we’re here we might as well partake, if it’s harmless. The village of St. Cergue, just outside of Geneva, had one of these seemingly innocent festivals this past weekend called “The Descent of the Cows” (actually that’s how I translated it, and considering my French is still pretty much awful it’s possible the correct translation is something like “the celebration of the awesome animal that is the Swiss cow as it descends from the heavenly pastures of the Alps”…but I digress.)

This festival is kind of funny, really. Basically the idea is that the cows are coming in from the mountains due to the fact the weather is getting colder. Makes sense so far, right? So the shepherds bring them in, and walk them through town to lower pastures. Simple. And, Swiss cows are really freakin’ awesome. So let’s make it a celebration! However, because it’s a celebration, it seems more fun to dress the cows up with giant bells, and put flowers on their heads. The more flowers, the more dominant the cow, or something to that end. No, I’m not making this up.

The thing is, in Switzerland, flowers are really expensive. Like, you can buy something cool, like a Wii, for the price of a bouquet. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is – you should probably blame globalization if you have a problem with it. Put this with the fact that Swiss farmers probably don’t make a lot of money, because in general that’s the plight of farmers across the world, and instead of flowers on the cows, you find cows adorned with plastic Christmas trees and paper flowers tied all over them.

Poor cows. They clearly deserve more than this. But they do get to spend a lot of time in the mountains during the summer, so I don’t feel too bad for them.

That said, the festival was kind of fun, at least in so much as it was a beautiful day and we got to go visit a cute Swiss village. They even served Malakoffs, which are these little Swiss delicacies of deep-fried cheese with spices – yum!

Outside of the cow descent, it turned out that on Sunday the weather was still pretty good, so I broke out a last-minute plan to get one final hike in before Autumn rears its ugly head. While we’ve had a couple of hikes here and there, and even had a somewhat intense one last weekend, I still feel we haven’t done enough hiking this year. As a result, I dragged Sophia, bad ankle and all, out to the Aletsch glacier, to see yet another UNESCO heritage site and one of the largest glaciers in Europe.

Now, you might be asking, “how did you get Sophia to go hiking if she has a bad ankle?” Well, the answer is simple: I bribed her with food. I agreed to let her order Chinese food tonight if she came along. Also, I took her to the Japanese store yesterday to buy yellow radishes so that she could make kim-bap, a sort of Korean sushi, that we took on the trail with us. Pretty good hiking food actually.

The only real problem with this hike is that it’s a fairly long distance from Geneva, just on the borderline of being a viable daytrip. As such, we were forced to wake up on Sunday morning at the ungodly hour of 7:00 am, only to realize that the sun hadn’t yet risen. It’s just a matter of weeks now before I have zero hours of daylight outside of working hours, meaning there’s yet another reason to get out of town on the weekend. Once on the train, we were treated to a sunrise over Lake Geneva and the Alpine peaks we were heading to, so that made it kind of worthwhile right there.

The actual mountain we started with is the Bettenhorn. Passing through a couple of cute Swiss mountain towns to get there, you’re greeted at the top of the gondola with the Aletsch Glacier, a massive block of ice sitting up in the mountains. This glacier stretches a long, long way – something ridiculous like 5 miles – and resembles an eight-lane freeway for gigantic automobiles. It’s a pretty amazing sight, as it’s essentially in the middle of some of the major Alpine peaks, and therefore is just this giant sea of ice between bare, rocky mountains.

The hike itself runs right along the glacier for quite awhile. Eventually you turn away and go up past a little man-made lake, but at that point the best of the hike is over. There is, however, a giant zombie tunnel cut into the mountains, which we took even though it was kind of weird going through this dark, dank tunnel rather than walking around in the open air. We’re getting old, though, so we figured we didn’t need to push ourselves more than necessary, and it cut a good half-hour off of the less scenic portion of the hike. I mean, it still would have been scenic, but the part we had already hiked for a few hours was more scenic, so I didn’t feel guilty about taking the shortcut. Normally I would, but I think shortcuts are part of this thing I’m learning called “maturity” and “wisdom”.

All in all, the Aletsch Glacier is a great daytrip to an area that doesn’t get too many non-Swiss tourists. Glad we got to sneak this hike in before the weather turned, and I can rest much more easily as a result!

Next weekend: Paris!