Sunday was my first experience of the Swiss Alps. Xchange planned a trip to a town called Martigny. By planning, I mean that I paid 30 francs, got on the right train, was given my pass to the “Foire de Valais” (Valley Fair) and told to find my way home sometime. Even with the lack of organization, and possibly because of it, the trip was great. I didn’t actually know anyone that was going, but I met some people in the group on the train. I was told that we were going to a cow-wrestling event when we got into Martigny. I assumed this meant that people would be wrestling cows. I was wrong; the “Combats des Reines” was actually fighting between cows (not bulls). I didn’t really like it all that much. Maybe it would have been different if I had known the rules. From what I watched, several cows were led into the ring and let loose. Sometimes, if two cows got close to one another, they would bash heads for a while. Otherwise they just stood around. I think they would take the losing cows out of the ring after a while. Again, I didn’t know the rules, so I was just guessing as to the procedures. All of the cows wore giant bells on their necks. I don’t think they really liked the collars. When they would fight, the bells would make a lot of noise.
I only stayed at the cow thing for about 15 minutes before heading into the fair with a guy I met from Boston. We walked around a building for a little while. It was basically Country Fair meets Home Shopping Network. There were a lot of things to buy. Some were homemade, and others not. There were a lot of product demonstrations that reminded me of infomercials. Sadly there were no free cheese-tasting booths.
I some how lost the person I was with. I think he had heard about free cheese and headed toward a different building (seriously). At that point I met up with three other students on the trip. One was from Mexico, one from Brazil, and the last from Germany. I had ridden the train with the German that morning. We went to find Raclette, which is a cheese used in fondue. We bought some, and it was served melted on a plate, with two very small potatoes and a tiny pickle. It was delicious, but not very filling.
We decided that the fair was kind of uninteresting for anyone not wanting to spend lots of money, so we set off to go visit a chateau that we could see up the mountain. It was very old, but I think kind of small as far as castles go. After about an hour of hanging out with these guys, I found out their names.
We sat in the shade outside the castle for a little while to soak in the view. It was gorgeous. It was surreal but it also seemed so natural just to be sitting on a mountain, on a Sunday afternoon, in the shade of a castle, speaking French with three other people, while French was not the native tongue for any of us. It’s something that I will never forget.
We left the castle and decided to hike through the vineyards. It was not easy, but it was great. My legs were very tired afterwards. I think it may be the first time that I’ve been in a vineyard. I’ve seen them before, but I’ve never actually walked through one. We ate some grapes. Yes, I know this is stealing, but it was hard to resist, and we didn’t take that many. I’ve finally gotten used to grapes with seeds in them, and these grapes were absolutely heavenly. They will make some great wine someday, I’m sure.
When we finally made our way back to the train station, we found out that we had about an hour to wait before the next train. We went into a café to play foosball. I was not terrific, but luckily my partner was. We each bought a game, and that killed the time before we headed back to Lausanne.