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Swiss Tryst

For an hour we had been dipping in and out of a series of long gestational tunnels on the highway out of Zurich, marveling at the neatness of the landscape. The rolling hills were a kind of sound track—delicate, like chamber music. We entered one more tunnel—so smooth, orderly, and symmetrical, these tunnels—and when we emerged, the sky had darkened and a mountain was looming before us. By which I mean a mountain. The delicate strains of chamber music had been abruptly replaced by timpani banging thunderously, a symphony reaching a crescendo.

"And this isn't even a famous mountain!" I said.

"It's the beginning," said Elizabeth. "The Alps start here."

She had Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain in her lap. Hans Castorp, Mann's protagonist, traveled to Davos, where we were headed, by train. The journey, like everything else in the novel, takes a long time. Mann describes Castorp rising through the mountains into "a world of ineffable, phantasmagoric Alpine peaks, soon lost again to awestruck eyes as the tracks took another curve." This was true of us as well, but we were in a six-gear Passat and the drive from Zurich was only a few hours. Also, Hans Castorp is a recent college graduate when he embarks on his trip; Elizabeth and I were on our honeymoon. The logic of honeymooning on a driving trip through the Alps would be challenged on a number of occasions in the coming days. At that moment, though, as we moved toward that first mountain and then beyond toward ever higher peaks, the fantasy of the trip and the occasion for taking it were in perfect harmony—we were rising up into new territory, "ineffable, phantasmagoric."

We arrived in Davos in the middle of August, and it was freezing cold and raining. In The Magic Mountain, it snows in August. Snow in August would have been magical. Rain in August was not magical.

We checked into the Kongress Hotel, and had our first experience with the twin beds of Swiss mountain lodges—a totally perplexing phenomenon. A couple entering their room in such a lodge finds two single beds pushed together, each with its own down comforter. You are together but with specifically demarcated territory—his half, her half.

"Do you think they're trying to tell us something?" I asked. "It's as though we have visitation rights with each other, but we're not really supposed to sleep together."

"It is a little prim," said Elizabeth. "But maybe they assume everyone wants to have their own duvet."

I worried I would fall into the crack.


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