Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zermatt – A Glimpse of a tiny town in the Swiss Alps

Matterhorn as seen from Zermatt

Unless you’re a skier or live near or around the Alps, or a Swiss for that matter – you may not have heard or have interest in a little town called Zermatt.
I only came across this town name when I was planning my travel itinerary, not that I was planning to go Swiss-side, but the pull of a beautiful mountain called Matterhorn is hard to be simply crossed out from my travel checklist.  And Zermatt appeared in my Google search as the jump-off town.
Not expecting anything but a ‘nice little mountain town’,  (and I should add ‘nice little expensive mountain town’), I was in for a pleasant surprise.  
A quaint town full of shops, restos, hotels and surrounded by mountains

Zermatt prides itself to be a pollution-free, car-less town.  True by some definition.  I did in fact see battery powered ‘cars’ so I guess that’s a valid exemption.   The combined foreign and local culture of an ‘active lifestyle’ can’t be ignored.  Even in a still-cold late winter, people hike, bike, ski and generally just enjoy the mountain playground.  Being generally car-less, pedestrianism is a lifestyle.  Everybody walks – old and young. Well, fortunately the town is small that a 20min walk will bring one from one end of the town to the other.  My estimate at least. 

the town of Zermatt as seen from a Gondola (lift)

It seems to be highly self-sufficient.  There’s endless supply of fresh water from the mountains, which gives a supply of electricity (hydro-elective plant).  With Matterhorn as number 1 pull for visitors during summer, and surrounding ski slopes during winter, visitors are but many sustaining good local economy.  There were endless hostels and hotels, restaurants and shops all around making the town much more alive and vibrant.
In the end, my short-stay made me somewhat envious of some of the town’s current ‘design’, which I think other towns should emulate. 
room with a view - my hostel window offered a good view of the town and the surrounding mountains

1.      Carless. Not only in this little town, but in some lovely European towns and city parts (I saw a few in Italy like Florence and Venice and other inner city parts like in Aosta). I think this is a simple matter of political will, cultural change will follow.  I see BGC in Taguig (Philippines), or the likes of Ayala Center in Makati to be possible no-car zone candidates.  The idea is to have a parking or ‘landing’ area outside the zone and for people to simply bike or walk inside the zone.  It will offer a pollution-free, healthier environment,  health-promoting walking lifestyle, attractive to people and visitors - and hence will boost local economy – and generally will improve the quality of life living in and around it.  Dogs and cats included.
electric-powered Taxis operate in the town, but nope - I've chosen to carry my +20kg pack and walked ~1.5km to my hostel
2.      Self-sustaining.  While Zermatt may not be 100% energy self-sufficient today, its dependence to the grid is a lot less than most cities or towns in the world.  In the Philippines, we have many flowing rivers, unlimited sun rays, or significant supply of energy source (example ‘ipa’ or rice husks which were burned vs. recycled for energy use).  Solar energy has not yet been fully tapped and it will take better government business incentive and/or tax exempt to maximize this technology. (Even hybrid cars have yet to see better tax model to make it more affordable).  Electric cars have been operating around Makati and Taguig and maybe some other cities – but more government and business support and development are needed to make it a significant contributor.  In Zermatt, trucks (even those with cranes), buses, van-taxis, road-cleaners and other ‘moving objects’ are but electric,  their batteries recharged from the hydro-sourced electricity. 

waterfalls right outside the town. melting snow offered many views such as this.
3.      ‘Good feel’.  Maybe it’s the old Swiss architecture, maybe it’s the mountain setting with nice flowing river, but towns and cities should be ‘appealing’ and highly live-able.  It offered a feeling of ‘living nicely’. Seeing trash, lots of smoke-emitting cars, buses, tricycles; plus worn out buildings, road holes or unfinished construction, dirty and polluted rivers, slum areas and the like - diminish the ‘good feel’ and hence how we look at or live our lives.  While it seems unachievable to ‘repair’ our ugly towns and cities, especially if it is conceived to be a ‘government work’, we should always remember where to start right.  At our homes.   Less trash, less energy use and less environmental impact overall – if done collectively, will eventually make our surroundings and towns a better place to live.
the town's Chapel located in the center and can be seen from all around

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