More or less ever since I found out it exists, honestly.
There are places, you know, familiar to you somehow from books and magazines, people telling stories, pictures popping here and there, those places settled neatly within the common knowledge, which have been on your „to-see” list for forever. And there are those, like Engadine for me, which you just know next to nothing about and yet – they are calling you.
And you know you have to go.
And you know you’ll fall in love.
We decided with I. to make a proper use of the Valentine’s Day and go for a trip. Not that we’re particularly fond of this occasion or romantically involved with anybody (quite the opposite), but see, it’s just a nice day to celebrate anything (like self-love?) in my favourite way – by going somewhere nice. And on that day I decided to answer the call.
We also found two free Tageskarte Gemeinde available for this particular day so... Call it fate.
We set off early, as early as we could manage without being mad at each other for making us wake up way before dawn. But see, part of Engadine’s charm is that it’s so far away and it really takes time to set your foot there. So we had to. Coffee was warm and made my glasses foggy as the train set off noiselessly into the dark, and our journey began.
What is this Engadine, Marta, you probably want to ask at this point. Well, it’s an alpine valley, located in the southeastern part of Switzerland, Graubuenden. Which also happens to be one of my favourite parts of this country. It’s one of the biggest cantons, which encompasses a trilingual community of German, Italian and Rumantsch speakers. The last of these three is the famous, nearly extinct language, one of the four official Swiss tongues, spoken by close to 60 000 people. Sadly, only half of them know the language fluently as they keep facing social and political hurdles.
Valley of Engadine is divided into two, Upper and Lower, the upper one stretching from Maloja Pass to S-chanf, and lower from Brail to the Austrian border. As we wanted to trace the path from Davos to Sils Maria, we chose to follow the Upper Engadine route. What is exceptional for this region (at least for me) is its altitude and shapes of the mountain tops, quite different from the ones you may know from Jungfrau of Matterhorn region. Peaks are egg-shaped and seem lower, although in fact they aren’t – it’s just you, who’re stepping on 2000 meter above sea level ground.
First – Davos. Someone told me once, that there’s nothing to see in Davos, really. But I still wanted to visit it. I like to follow the literary threads so how could I omit The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann and this old spa, deep in the mountains. It’s funny once you’re there and still keep in mind this steep, steep route the train had to manage to get you up above. It doesn't feel like it, at all. It's just that mountains are smaller and closer, it's a little colder and sun shines somehow brighter. Davos is rather small but long, located in the valley between rocky slopes. Both in winter and summer, it's a great starting point for various outdoor activities, but city itself doesn't have much to offer. I was a tiny bit disappointed at the park and much awaited spa hotel – I don't really know what I expected, perhaps just this feeling which sometimes dawns on you when your thoughts take concrete forms. Well, it didn't happen. Davos is rather cosy though. There's a modern congress centre, housing the famous World Economic Forum every year, ice hockey arena, small Kurpark and a lake, which was nearly entirely empty while we were there.
As we didn't have much time and there was nothing that we were dying to see, really, we basically took the path from the railway station throughout the Kurpark, to the lake, then round the lake and then back through the city's main street, Promenade. A couple of pretty hotels, tenement houses unlike any we've ever seen in German speaking part of Switzerland, painted in pale shades of pink, blue and yellow, multitudes of ski shops and people toddling in their ski boots (I dare say it's one of the funniest spectacles in the world). Red Rhaetian carriage and off we went – to St. Moritz.
To me, train rides are one of the best attractions Switzerland has to offer. Especially in alpine regions, where tiny tin toy-like carriages crawl up the highest mountains, traverse the slopes and burst througout the tunnels, taking the stunned lot on a truly magic journey. I'm always sitting with my nose squeezed into the window, trying not to succumb as one might forget to breathe in awe. So was the trail to St. Moritz. The train swirls and curls up the hill, higher and higher, passes tiny villages perched humbly at the bottom of the valleys, stone tunnels and viaducts, sweeping snow from the spruces and pines. And far, at the horizont Alps stand, bold and silent.
St. Moritz was bustling with noise and crowd, people walking in all the directions, singing, flutter of flags and occassional cry of "Hoop Schwiiz!". Alpine Ski Championships, that's what it was. We left the station and almost immediately bumped into the finishing line of the race, with all its fuss and bother. There was even an igloo, no lies. We looked up, St. Moritz was, above us, overseeing the vast, plain valley and we took the stairs and then lift to emerge finally on the ground.
It's peculiar, this place, I think. On one hand, it's rather quaint, dainty even, has this charm of time past, with old hotel buildings, narrow streets and sporadic wooden houses. And yet, St. Moritz has topped it all with the ultimate bling. The Swiss joke that St. Moritz has been built especially for Russians: to shop, spoil and rave. The most expensive boutiques, artisans, jewellers, watchmakers, car salons, restaurants, hotels, clubs – everything and nothing the rich visitor (I do not dare to call them tourists) needs. I've seen it already in Interlaken and other most overrun by tourists places in Switzerland. St. Moritz has its charm, but it's a charm of a non-place, of place you've seen before anywhere in the world, absolutely globalised charm of multilingual business and fast travelling. If it smells, it smells of parfume, raclette and fur. If it sounds, it sounds of unintelligible chatter, car honks, and paper bags. Yet if you look close enough, maybe squinting your eye or looking slightly through the eyleashes, delving somewhere off the main track, you can still see this place as it was before, long ago. Or maybe never.
Sils Maria! Doesn’t that sound like music? Sils Maria – Silvaplana – Pontresina, you could lull me to sleep chanting those words over and over again. White and cold beauty, deep silence, grandeur of rock and blue above your head, silent steps on fresh snow. That’s what it is to me.
We went there by bus from St. Moritz, through Silvaplana. And there it was, the Engadine which was calling me all along. First the lakes, spreading vast and bold, all frozen to the bone, broad paths cleared from snow, glistening under the setting sun. Then the tiny toytown, Segl. Edelweiss hotel, white church tower with golden clockface, few houses as if painted with watercolor, more similar to the ones seen across the southern border than fellow ones, few dozen miles to the north. And then silence – overpowering deafness of air locked between the mountains, still and fresh, suprisingly gentle, smooth and sweet. Breathe in – lungs filling anew, breath out – vapor floating up in the sky. And you realize, it's impossible to open your eyes wide enough to absorb all the beauty – because beauty is endless.
I wish you many calls from afar.
(Now I can hear one from Ticino).
|Freud's house. Really.|
P.S. What I'm actually sorry for, are all the mistakes I'm still making. I feel fairly comfortable writing in English but still – it's not my mothertongue. Feel free to correct me! (as long as you're nice and supportive. Mean people are not welcomed here).