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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                              Zermatt, Switzerland


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Guten Tag! That’s "hello" in German. We’re not in Germany, but we are in Zermatt, Switzerland, where the primary language is -- you guessed it -- German (written). But the spoken language is Swiss German with an intonation and uniqueness of its own. The other languages are Italian, French, Raeto-Romanisch and English …it seems everyone here speaks at least three languages (except me). I’m trying to brush up on my Deutsche, but it’s a lost cause.

Last week we left off in Geneva. From there my sister, father, his girlfriend and I took a 2-hour, 17-minute train east to Visp, Switzerland, then transferred to Europe’s most scenic train ride "The Glacier Express." The panoramic views were incredible on the hour-long ride to Zermatt. BTW: Travelers can also access Zermatt from Zurich (total time 3:52) and Milan (3:59). Point-to-point second-class tickets cost us $65 USD each. I had a Eurorail pass, so all I paid was a $32 USD each-way supplement for the Visp to Zermatt portion (it is not part of the Eurorail pass).

Make sure to bring lots of film or extra memory for your digital camera, because we traveled through the most spectacular scenery -- and it gets even better upon arrival. Bring extra layers, too: Every time I pulled down the window to get a better shot -- around every two minutes -- I could feel the temperature get colder. When we left Geneva, it was 80 degrees. By the time we reached Zermatt it was a nippy 51, and dropping. Yikes! While we were there, temps ranged from 35 to 68 F.

Zermatt is Switzerland's southernmost summer and winter resort. It is 5,315 feet (1,594m) above sea level, and is surrounded by 38 peaks, all above 13,100 ft (4,000m). Zermatt has only 5,500 inhabitants, and is located at the base of the Matterhorn (elevation 14,691 ft = 4,478 m), Switzerland’s most famous landmark. Talk about breathtaking -- and that’s literally. I have asthma and was worried how it would affect my breathing, but I am happy to report I had no trouble at all. Must be from all that clean Alpine air, and/or the fact that Zermatt is a car-free village. Motorists have to park their cars 3 miles away in Tasch, and take either a train or mini-bus taxi. The only transportation in Zermatt is electric carts and a few horses and buggies. Warning: Watch out for the electric carts. They sneak up fast and are really quiet.

Zermatt was made famous by English mountain-climbing tourists. The first person to climb the Matterhorn (or "Horu," as the locals call it) was Edward Whymper. He conquered it with six other people on his sixth attempt, on July 14, 1865. Tragically, four people from his group died on the descent. The bodies that were recovered now lie in the Matterhorn church cemetery, with loads of other unfortunate climbers. (Make sure to go inside the church and check out the mural on the ceiling – it’s something.) You couldn’t pay me a zillion francs to climb the Matterhorn , but many skilled mountaineers pay local guides to accompany them up the difficult and dangerous mountain. My brother and his friends didn’t do that, but they did do a gorge adventure with Alpine tours. That’s where they climbed, repelled, hiked and had the adventure of a lifetime. For more info contact the alpine center (tel.: 27-966-24-60).

Although Zermatt is a mountain climber’s paradise, there are plenty of things to do if you’re like me and don’t climb. Just the sheer beauty of Zermatt will keep you busy as you stare out over the mountains. If the natural beauty is not enough, there is the charming Zermatt village. It has managed to keep its old brown chalets and twisting alleys. Visitors will be happy just to stroll around town and relax. In the summer time there is glacier skiing, incredible hiking, golf, tennis, paragliding, fine spas, indoor pools, 38 restaurants and over 110 bars. People who are not afraid of heights love going up the Matterhorn glacier paradise. From Tasch, take a gondola and then Europe’s highest cableway (not for me! ). It transports 120 people at a time up to the Klein Matterhorn (12,736 feet = 3883m) to a world of mountains, glaciers and permanent snow. Up there is Europe’s highest sightseeing platform. The tour from Zermatt to Matterhorn glacier takes about 40 minutes.

There are over 130 hotels and 1,500 chalets/vacation apartments in Zermatt. With youth hostels and camping grounds available, it’s not just for the rich and famous either. As long as you make a reservation, you won’t have a problem finding a cozy place to stay.

This trip I stayed in two different hotels. When we arrived at the Zermatt train station I called our 3-star City Hotel from the lodging directory wall. The desk clerk picked us up (for no extra charge) within five minutes, in a blue electric cart (though it wasn’t very plush, because it was open air -- brrr!). Most other hotels had enclosed areas for passengers to sit comfortably, and some of the 5-star hotels even had horses and carriages. But I’m not complaining. The open air cart was more memorable!

On the outside of the City Hotel, the word "garni" is written. That’s not part of the hotel name; rather, it alerts people that the hotel serves breakfast and beverages but no other meals. The City Hotel is small and basic, but comfortable. The best part is the owners, Christoph and Anja Petrig. They are genuinely nice, local experts, and miraculously remember all of their guests’ names the moment they walks through the door. The hotel is a short three-block walk from the center of town, and a European breakfast is included in the low rates (prices range from 75 CHF to 236 CHF ($58 to $182). City Hotel, CH-3920 Zermatt; tel.: 27-966-39-40 or email: hotel@cityzermatt.ch.

We were in Zermatt for my brother Frank’s wedding. They chose Zermatt because they fell in love with it while skiing last February. The majority of the 42 guests were staying at the City Hotel or the Hotel Monte Rosa, a very chic upscale historic property. Hotel Monte Rosa opened in 1839. Many famous mountaineers have stayed there, including Edward Whymper. The hotel has parquet floors, thick rugs, antique furniture and crackling fireplaces. It’s really cozy! Room rates start at 150 CHF ($115). Hotel Monte Rosa, Bahnhofstrasse 80, Zermatt; tel.: 27-966-03-33 or email: monterosa@zermatt.ch.

Hotel Monte Rosa is where Frank and Cricket’s rehearsal dinner kicked off the long weekend. When I walked into the bar and saw the room filled with many of friends and family members from around the U.S. and Europe, I felt like crying. I was amazed and overjoyed that Frank and Cricket were able to get 42 people to come to a remote, expensive region to see their special day. It was the first time for most of my family to meet Cricket’s. Her father, mother, brother, grandmother, aunts, uncles and friends were so nice, and everyone got along perfectly.

After a few drinks and appetizers we walked to the dining room, for a traditional Swiss meal. We started off with air-dried meat, and finished with raclette. The word is derived from the French "racler," which means "to scrape off." We had traditional raclette, made by slicing a wheel of cheese in half, then putting it close to the fire so it can melt. When the cheese starts to bubble and drip, it is scraped off and put on potatoes and pickles. It was tasty! (But I don’t do pickles.)

Soon it was time for indulging in the sinful desserts and after-dinner drinks; then friends and family got up to give toasts or read poems. I was pardoned, since I had the honors the following day. The party crowd finished off the night at the Brown Cow Bar beneath Hotel de la Poste. We were there through the wee hours of the night.

I was Frank’s best man. Before he left the bar he asked me to do only one thing: Be at his hotel (the Monte Rosa) by 9 a.m. There were no alarm clocks in the room, and the City Hotel desk closes at 10 p.m., so I had to rely on my internal clock. I know I’m a fool for not bringing an alarm but I was on vacation and my internal clock is usually pretty accurate, but I forgot to tell it to wake me up a few minutes early – so I woke up exactly at 9. Dang! I jumped up like there was an earthquake, brushed my teeth, threw a hat on and ran to the hotel. I was huffing and puffing when I arrived, and I was worried Frank and Cricket would be steamed because I was late. Instead they were just relaxing in their phat hotel room, enjoying room service. A few minutes later the three of us, plus Cricket’s best friend and maid of honor Adrienne, went to a law office to take care of official business. In Switzerland, a couple must have a civil ceremony before the actual marriage. This ceremony was actually better than the actual wedding service, because the magistrate (a gentleman in his 50s or 60s) was so darn funny. With a straight face he looked at Cricket and said, "sometimes your husband will not come home directly after work. He will go with his friends for some drinks." Then he paused, met her gaze and said, "and this is okay."

After the civil wedding Frank and I toured the village, and shopped. We ran into our brother-in-law Cam, who we can always rely on to find bargains. Cammy showed us Zermatt’s cheapest place to buy food and drinks: the Migros grocery store, located on a side street in the heart of the village. Can you believe a large bottle of water and an oversize chocolate bar cost less than $1.75? Talk about a bargain! Zermatt is expensive, but not if you shop at Migros.

After checking out the town (which doesn’t take long), we hiked up the Matterhorn trail. It sounded like much more work than it really was. It turned out to be easy, and was one of the highlights of our trip. My brother, sisters and a few friends had so much fun hanging together and taking in the natural wonders surrounding us. We didn’t get very far, either. We hiked maybe a mile or two until we stopped at a cluster of log cabins, and found a bar/restaurant in a place called Z'Mutt where we could have a couple of cold ones (we were hot because we were overdressed). Then my brother pulled a typical "Frank." He looked at his watch and said, "Holy cow -- we gotta go. I’m getting married in a couple of hours!" So much for a relaxing hike. Frank and I ran down that trail like bears were chasing us. You should’ve seen the faces of the hikers going up the hill as we passed them. They didn’t know if they should keep going or start running away! Restaurant Z'Mutt, Perren Gustav & Konstanz, Haus Ares 23, 3920 Zermatt; tel.: 27-967-27-10.

Frank gave me three minutes to grab my suit and overnight bag before we jumped on the Gornergrat Railway (timetable) to Riffelalp. The train departs from the station next to the main Zermatt train station. Riffelalp is halfway between Zermatt and Gornergrat. It takes only 20 minutes to get to Riffelalp, but the higher we went, the more impressive the views became. In the winter this train is filled with skiers. The round-trip fare to Riffelalp is $35.20 CHF ($27).

Talk about a special hotel. The 5-star Riffelalp hotel 65 double rooms, 5 suites and 2 apartments, and is a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World. When we got off the Gornergrat train a porter was waiting to grab hotel guests’ bags, and put them on the Riffelalp train. This train is mostly for show, because it travels only a couple of hundred yards, but it works. When we pulled up to the hotel -- which is 7,290 feet (2,222 meters) above sea level -- I was so excited I felt like yodeling. Wow!

The Riffelalp was recently completely renovated, and it is plush! My chalet-style room with a balcony had all the modern comforts one could want: a king size bed, hot tub, separate shower, heated towel rack, cable TV, telephone, radio, safe, minibar, hairdryer, and a desk with wireless internet (for a charge – however, there were three computers in the lobby for guests’ free use). Service at the Riffelalp is top notch, and I put them to the test when I called three times. The first was to get my suit pressed and shoes shined within 45 minutes. Mission acclomplished (though it cost me $47!) The second time was to get my brother a new toothbrush, while the last was late at night for an extra pillow. It was at my door within two minutes. On top of that, the night maids just don’t just put one chocolate on your pillow – there is an entire Riffelalp box of six, shaped like mountains. That’s my kind of hotel!

I wish I’d had more time at the Riffelalp, because I could’ve spent days at the spa. It included an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, sauna, steam room, fitness room, Turkish bath, dream room (a place to chill), and a blue grotto with heated rocks. I learned after we checked out that the hotel also has tennis courts, a ski shop, two bowling alleys, a small cinema and a billiard room. I can’t believe I missed all that! Rates range from $381 to $494, and include breakfast and round-trip train tickets from Zermatt.

Frank and Cricket were going to get married outside. But it was a little too chilly, so Plan B went into effect. The ceremony took place inside the Riffelalp chapel, but it was just as memorable. The day began with one of those Ricola guys blowing a Swiss Alp horn (I had to try it too, of course, including yelling "Ricola!"). After the other hotel guests gave me crazy looks I ran to the chapel, where everyone was gathered. The ceremony was quick -- about 10 minutes long. Afterwards we all walked to the hotel’s outdoor patio, soaked in the warm sun, had drinks, appetizers and took pictures. When it got chilly we went inside by the warm fire.

Then we went to the main hall for dinner and dancing. I kicked it all off with my 7-minute speech. I started out funny, then got real emotional when I talked about my mom and our other loved ones who we missed so much. Then we had dinner, danced like we were at a hip- hop concert (thanks, Donny P, for mixing it up on the microphone!) and ate dessert. I am fortunate to have been to many functions with amazing dessert tables, but this one takes the cake (pun intended). There was everything a palate could want, and more. To top it all off, at the end of the night Frank and Cricket arranged the train to make a late run for guests who were not spending the night at the Riffelalp Resort.

The next morning after breakfast (the food was good), we recovered in the spa. Then the hotel sent our luggage down the mountain (at no extra charge) to our Zermatt hotels. Instead of taking the train ourselves we hiked down. First, however, we walked an hour (in the rain) to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Before we left I thought Frank was crazy for suggesting it, but once I saw the path and then the restaurant I knew I shouldn’t have doubted him.

The moment I stepped into the Chez Vrony Chalet that this was a special place. It is a multi-level yet quaint country restaurant that serves killer food and drinks, complemented with a view usually seen only in ski magazines. We sat upstairs, and enjoyed each other’s company over fondue and other Swiss food. Then the moment came when I knew the trip wouldn’t get any better than this. The owner said she had a special treat for Frank and Cricket -- and she started to yodel. Yeah baby! All I needed to do was find Heidi from the Swiss Miss commercials, and I would have been all set.

As if on cue, when we finished our lunch the rain stopped. We sat out on the top deck and waited for the clouds to part, so we could get a remarkable view of the Matterhorn. When it happened the whole countryside knew, because we cheered like our favorite football team had scored a winning touchdown. The 45-minute hike down to Zermatt was beautiful. It may even have been too beautiful, because if you don’t pay attention (like me -- I was busy snapping pictures), you can twist your ankle pretty good. But Chez Vrony was worth it. Chez Vrony; tel.: 41-27-967-25-52.

To finish off our unforgettably amazing weekend, we gathered one last time as a whole at Hotel Alex’s lounge and cocktail bar. This was a perfect place for us to hang, because of its great cozy mountain décor and lively atmosphere. Our friend Tor Newcomer, who used to play for the legendary Connecticut cover band the Vibe Bros, busted out his guitar. We all sang American songs. Before the night was over even the bartender was singing with us "Bye, bye Miss American Pie." It was surreal -- just like the whole weekend.

Here’s a 1-minute video I made of our short trip. With high-speed the video takes about a minute to load; with dial-up, about three weeks.

The fun doesn’t stop here. Next week we are off to a another European country, and one of my new favorite cities. Hint: It’s a 6-hour train ride from Zermatt, and is very popular with Americans. Ciao!


HOW TO GET THERE: Train: 3:34 from Geneva, 3:52 from Zurich, 3:59 from Milan.
WHAT TO WEAR: cashmere sweaters, and dress in layers
WHEN TO GO: Anytime; however, November is the off-season
WHAT TO BRING: Hiking shoes
WHAT TO EAT: Raclette and fondue
WHERE TO DRINK: Brown Cow Bar in Poste Hotel/ Hotel Alex’s Lounge
WHAT TO DRINK: Tap water, Beer, Williams du Valais
WHERE TO STAY: Riffelalp or Hotel Monte Rosa; if on a budget, City Hotel
WHERE TO GO: Up to the Klein Matterhorn to see Europe’s highest sightseeing platform via Matterhorn glacier paradise (3883m / 12736ft)
WHAT TO DO: Gorge adventure with Alpine tours
WHAT TO SEE: Watch the goats being herded up the street between 4 and 5 p.m. daily
WHERE TO EAT: Chez Vrony
WHAT TO BRING HOME: Polar fleece Zermatt jackets. For children: St. Bernard stuffed animals
CURRENCY: Swiss Francs (1 CHF = 0.76 USD)
LANGAUGE: German, as well as Italian, French and English
WHERE TO SHOP: Migros grocery store: bottled water 34 cents; huge chocolate, only $1.38

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From Zermatt


Train To Zermatt


JJ and Dad



The Matterhorn





Train Station

Electric Cart

City Hotel

Hotel Monte Rosa

Dad and Aunt Anna

Cricket and Her Mom


Civil Ceremony


Frank and JJ


My Brother and Sisters


Gornergrat Railway


Riffelalp Resort


Free Computers


Hotel Pool


Chapel of Love


Group Photo


Wedding Cake


Hike To Chez Vrony


Lunch at Chez Vrony


Frank and Cricket

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  • I loved this week's newsletter! Anytime I can read about and look at photos of someone's trip to Paris is good :-) It helps me re-live our trips to Paris. Loved the little video of your trip...Vive la Beau Paris! Best, Sandy Howell
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  • Oh how wonderful to see More Paris Stories I spent three weeks in Paris this year to celebrate my birthday. I love Paris and I too discovered Laduree - oh those macaroons. I bought a box to bring home - when I served them to my family I told them to just take one and savor it - now how do you tell an Italian family to take only one of something! Who would think that macaroons would have such an "out of this world" experience? My favorite words when I discovered something fabulous in Paris (WHICH IS ABOUT EVERY MINUTE.) were OH MY GOD. It is a spectacular place - I can't wait to go home tonight and sit down and re-read your story. Thanks so much. What a life you have - have fun and see the world - who could ask for anything better. Thanks for sending me the e mails - they make my day. I love it when Johnny appears on Chicago TV with Bob Sirott - great interviews. --- Gloria V - Chicago, Illinois
  • I enjoyed reading about your trip to Geneva - what about the food reviews? You usually include them. I always enjoy your food reviews (food is such a big part of our trips), so I was a little disappointed as I'm curious about the food in Switzerland. Jen C - Palo Alto, CA
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  • G'day from Australia, Johnny - What a great life you have, going to all these beautiful places, with scarcely a break between trips! I am from the Latrobe Valley in eastern Victoria, which has power production from brown coal as its main industry, with dairy and beef cattle and sheep farming as well. We are about an hour's drive from the sea in one direction and mountains (snow in winter) in the other, and have fern gullies and other beautiful attractions close by. I look forward to reading and seeing photos of your visit to Zermatt. We had a horrible bus accident on the way there - a driver committed suicide by driving straight at our bus. After several of our party were treated for minor injuries in a nearby hospital, we were provided with alternative transport and arrived in Zermatt in the early hours of the morning. Some were still quite shaken, and asked fro a cup of tea -"It's 2.30 am!", was the horrified response. Fortunately the rest of our stay was more congenial. Zermatt is a beautiful little town, towered over by the Matterhorn (we were fortunate to have clear blue skies while there). My highlight was a cable car trip to top of the Kleine Matterhorn - very scary if your not comfortable with heights. That last span was a 'doozy'! I'm sure you will take the trip (if you haven't been there before), and see the amazing carvings in the ice caves. Good health and safe traveling, Johnny. Marilyn Reid – Australia.

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