by Steve Maller
July 10, 2003
Saas Fee, Switzerland
copyright © 2003; all rights reserved
|Part of the
Mallers' trip to Europe
The most extraordinary thing just happened, and I am still stunned.
Max, Sam and I went off to explore the Alpine wonders just above Saas Fee today. I had heard about a curious spot called the Eispavillion, or Ice Pavillion. As the desciption on the web says, it is:
"...the world's biggest ice pavilion on the Mittelallalin at an altitude of 3500 metres. The glaciers which are thousands of years old, reveal their secrets in a huge ice grotto covering an area of over 5000 square meters. A surprising, adventurous glacier world for children and adults!"
Seemed like a reasonable way to spend an afternoon. After breakfast (lunch, really), we charged off. Two gondolas and a very long funicular ride through a tunnel at about a 30 degree incline later, Max and I realized we had made a terrible mistake. Sam thought to bring a jacket, but Max and I were in t-shirts and shorts.
To go inside a glacier.
At 3,500 meters altitude (over 10,000 feet).
Sigh...like father, like son.
The Eispavillion was actually very interesting, with long frigid tunnels, igloos, some silly things like climbers encased in ice. All in all it was a nice visit. We climbed back out of the glacier and went up to the top of the mountain where we sat and had capuccino and hot chocolate in a revolving restaurant with a spectacular view of the nearby Alps. When I went to pay, I was immediately horror-stricken. Down in the glacier over an hour before, I had taken a photo of the three of us by resting my camera on a handrail. I couldn't get my camera to stay steady, so with nothing else convenient to use to stabilize it, I grabbed (OK, queue the loud groaning sound effects) my wallet from my pocket, which worked quite well. So at 10,000 feet inside of a dark glacier on the top of a mountain in Switzerland, my wallet and I parted company. And it all flashed before my eyes standing at the cash register in that peculiar rotating restuarant.
After explaining the situation breathlessly to the kids, I ran all the way down to the glacier, leaving Max and Sam as uneasy collateral for our restaurant bill. Alas, my search was to no avail. I emptied my pockets of change to pay the bill (came up a few francs short) and the kids and I slowly tried to plan our next steps. I spread the word widely around the restaurant and the Eispavillion, but nobody had seen my wallet.
At this point I should say that I had only a few hundred dollars US and Swiss and a few credit cards, and I had taken pains to document all of this before we left the USA in the case of an emergency. But still...you get the picture.
We found we could make it at least partway down the hill (our lift tickets were in the wallet, too), so we sadly began down the hill. I even started opening trashcans to see if somebody had tossed away the wallet after taking the cash (a typical turn of events back home in the good ol' USA). So we boarded the funicular, with me in a definite funk, and the kids doing what they could to commiserate and cheer me up. We got off the funicular and before heading for the gondolas, I went over to a ticket booth to see what we could do to replace the lift tickets. As I approached the booth, the agent inside began waving excitedly at me. I got worried, thinking that maybe I was in some sort of danger (there's much enormous machinery around in one of those lift towers) so I quickly looked around, took stock of the kids' locations and didn't see any gondolas or steel cables flapping wildly about. As I leaned toward the glass, I could hear the man inside screaming into the telephone in Swiss German, which is still 99% meaningless to me. Then, with great dramatic flourish, he lifted my long-lost wallet from under the counter. And as if that wasn't enough, he showed me how it was still full of money and credit cards.
I could not determine from him how exactly my wallet had made it down there, no less who this heroic and generous saint of a person was who rescued it from its icy doom.
But suffice it to say that my sons and I were touched by an angel today, and someday I wish that each of us is able to somehow reciprocate.