My wife and I have spent the last 10 days driving around in Europe, so I thought I would blog about the fun we had and tell you all the things you really need to know if you ever find yourself in very specific places in Northern Italy, Switzerland and the tiniest southern tip of Austria.
Part III – St Moritz
Driving over the Alps to St Moritz was a beautiful, and occasionally hair-raising experience. Mario struggled to get much above third gear on the slopes, so we plodded along at a respectable 40 mph while drivers fresh from Italy sped past looking confused. This wasn’t Italy anymore though, this was Switzerland, where everyone seemed much more amiable and understanding that sometimes, people would rather stay alive than arrive early. The Alps in summer are gorgeous, and we were going right through the heart of them. Well, actually, up the side of them. Before we knew it, we were up in the clouds looking over views that were so gorgeous I suspect it would be impossible to feel anything other than joyous at the sight of them. Maybe it would have been worth taking those teenagers from outside the Carrefour on a trip. Maybe not. Anyway, after 3 hours of weaving through the mountains, we found ourselves arriving in St Moritz.
Upon arriving at the hotel, the lady on reception (who flawlessly transitioned between French, German, Italian and English without a trace of accent or the suggestion of a stumble) told us we could get down to the lakeside by using the escalator. I presumed, because I’m an idiot, and despite her evident mastery of English, that she had got her words wrong. It just didn’t seem likely that there was an escalator from the town centre down to the lake. Soon enough and sure enough, we rode a huge three-storey escalator down and arrived at the lakeside. I had thought the views at Lake Maggiore and over the Alps were beautiful (and indeed they were) but I was utterly enchanted by Lake St Moritz. As we dangled our feet in the water, I felt like a man reborn. I turned to my wife and said ‘I want to live here’ and I’ve never meant anything with more sincerity. Of course, at this point, I hadn’t realised how much money someone needs to live in St Moritz (enough to destabilise a small country’s GDP), but we’ll come to that. I’m sure it’s lovely in winter, but St Moritz in summer is still a pretty stunning proposition.
After escalating back to the main street, we thought we would do some window shopping. I’m not usually a big one for this kind (or any kind) of shopping, but then I started to notice the shops on offer. On one street we saw Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Tom Ford, Michael Kors, and Harry Winston. Well, their shops, you understand. They weren’t actually there. There was also (naturally) Bulgari, Cartier, Gucci, Hermes, Chanel and plenty of others. I was intrigued by the fact that nothing had a price on it. I was informed by my more shop-savvy better half that this means we couldn’t afford anything. So, if you’re going to St Moritz, try and make sure you’re rich. Also, try and make sure you’re not hungry. We searched for quite a while, in vain, to find a restaurant (all that window shopping can make you peckish) and couldn’t. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find one that suited our tastes or that took our fancy, we just couldn’t find one. I suspect that it’s a careful ploy on the part of the local council. If the population of St Moritz are going to remain skinny enough to fit into all these designer clothes, it probably makes sense not to let them eat anywhere. We did finally find an American Bar hidden (literally) away, which served us a pretty decent cheeseburger. To be honest, it might not even have been that decent, but by the time we found it, I’d have eaten an uncooked human finger, so my ‘quality assurance’ radar might have been a bit off. We wandered back to the hotel, by which time it was getting a bit cold. St Moritz is 1800m above sea level, so that was to be expected, I suppose, but it did get me worried that I might contract a cold, or even sneeze, as that would require me to buy a handkerchief, and I was worried I’d have to remortgage my wife, or sell Mario to afford it. Thankfully, we got back to the hotel unscathed.
The following day, I was reminded of home. It rained. St Moritz gets 300 days of sunshine a year and we managed to turn up on one of the 65 that rains. How very British. Not to be put off, we ventured back into the town and found a café that had been mysteriously conspicuous by its absence the day before. I suppose it must have been there; the Swiss are efficient but I doubt even they could have built a café in the middle of the town square overnight, but perhaps I was so hungry I’d simply lost the ability to see properly. However it got there, we had a most enjoyable few hours there though, engaging in that most ‘Brits-abroad’ activity of people watching…and judging, obviously. St Moritz is perfect for this.
In keeping with tradition of being a British man, every time I saw a man younger than me, better looking than me, and almost certainly richer than me, I instantly decided he was a tosser of the highest order. Maybe some of them were, I don’t know, but to my mind, all of them were. The sort of people who beat up a local homeless person, say ‘banter’ to one another and then get daddy to pay their bail money. That’s not fair, I admit. For a start, nobody is homeless here. It’s the sort of town that can make you feel insecure, I suppose. People are rich here. You can tell; it just drips off them. That said, the prevalence of the gilded classes did leave me scratching my head with a particular question.
Why can’t old, rich people dress themselves? What have any of us done to deserve the sight of someone clearly old enough to know better and clearly rich enough to afford better wearing lime green chinos? There were an inordinate number of multicoloured chinos on offer. I was bemused. Perhaps the tourist board had got wind of my infatuation with the place and, wishing to reduce the number of Primark-bedecked English people coming to live there, had dispatched their secret fleet of horribly dressed OAPs. Probably not, I suppose. For all that the people couldn’t dress themselves, and therefore were pretty horrible (if hilarious) to look at, they all redeemed themselves by having the most gorgeous dogs ever. Dogs are beautiful anyway, and St Moritz is great for a dog. They playfully bounded about being excited, coming to say hello, and generally brightening the day. All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable lunchtime. Then the bill came.
Once I’d sorted the bill by slicing one of my kidneys out, we returned to the hotel room to sit in an ice bath and watch the world go by. St Moritz seems to be the kind of place where your pace of life can be as slow as you want. Certainly a lot of the people who amble about the shops seem to be engaging in a competition to be the slowest mover on earth. So it seemed a bit incongruous later when we looked out of our hotel room and saw a young woman power running up the same flight of steps over and over again. I wondered what she was doing, after all – staying slim here isn’t a problem since there’s nothing to eat, but then I tried the ice cream at Hanselmann’s and realised that I could do with a few flights of stairs myself. If you find yourself in St Moritz, please go there and have an ice-cream, for your own sake.
I loved St Moritz. As if it wasn’t already nearly perfect, I looked it up, and the last census suggests there are only 500 teenagers there, which is a pleasingly small number. If only there was a shop somewhere, they could probably have somewhere to congregate, but since there isn’t, they must need something else to do. Being Swiss, they are presumably volunteering somewhere or something, so kind and friendly were our hosts during our stay. I was awfully sad to say goodbye, but was also painfully aware that if we stayed any longer, we would run out of money or kidneys, or both, at an alarming rate, so we rustled ourselves back into Mario, and headed off to Austria.