Seven aupairs set off one almost-spring day from Bern to Zermatt in hopes of viewing the beautiful, famous, wondrous mountain that is the Matterhorn.
We arrived at the station in Bern to meet and take the 7:39 train, getting us to Zermatt at 10:24. One by one, we arrived, bought our day passes (56Fr. a pop), and stood huddled around, waiting in sleepy excitement. As the last of us went to buy her day pass, I remembered that I had not asked for a Fahrplan (to show us train changes and tracks), so I asked her to get one. Glitch one in our adventure: the 7:39 train to Brig (which goes on to Milan) is booked! We'll have to take the 8:09, getting us to Zermatt at 11:24. Oh well, just gotta wait a little longer. Not a huge deal.
The view on the way was beautiful. The mountains and lakes of Thun and Spiez, the clear blue sky... it was the PERFECT day to see the Matterhorn! All was hunky-dory.
When we arrived in Zermatt, we first went to Coop to buy some victuals for a picnic lunch on the mountain. We certainly took our time. It was about 1:30pm by the time we were aboard the first cable car. It was a quarter past two by the time we dug into our lunchtime feast outside the restaurant on Trockener Steg. Okay, at 3pm, we were taking our last photos at Trockener Steg and FINALLY heading up to the Kleine Matterhorn. We waited in line for what seemed like ages to get into a cable car that feels a bit more like a sardine can than anything else. What fun. When we arrived, we had to walk through this long tunnel, and along the way there's a fork in the tunnel. Another lift? A sign tells us it will close at 4pm. It's almost 4pm now. Why did we not take the lift? Keine Ahnung (who knows).
Okay, we finally emerge from the tunnel. Hey, where's the Matterhorn? You can't even see it from out here. Still, the mountains are beautiful, and we take a few more pictures. It's 4pm now, and we say our goodbyes to Emilia, who will ski down, and Vera, who will snowboard down. Sarah says, "Okay, should we plan to meet at, say, 5:30 or..." I say, "No, I don't want to be commited to a time (we have no idea how long it will take them to get to the bottom of the ski run). Let's just SMS when we're done." I could kick myself in the face for that. This is a key moment in the Aupair Misadventure...
So, at 4:05pm, we came to that other tunnel to find we could now no longer go up. Damn it! Oh well. We take the lift back down to Trockener Steg, and this is GREAT because we (five of us now) are the only people in the car! The conductor opens a window for us so we can take good pictures on the ride down. It was fantastic. Everyone's happy.
Back at Trockener Steg, and Sheena wants to take more pictures of the Matterhorn up close. But wait, isn't the last cable car at 4:30? I ask. Yeah, but I didn't come all this way not to get a great photo of the Matterhorn. So, we walk swiftly up to the top of the restaurant and take our pictures at 4:21pm. We make the cable car. No worries. That was a close one, but all is well now.
Back in Zermatt, we do bit of shopping, and when the shops close at six, we go for a drink in a hotel bar. Someone gets a message from Vera saying she has lost Emilia. Hm. Sheena phones Emilia. Where are you? Are you okay? Emilia: It's really hard. Sheena: Do you know where you are? Emilia: I'm by a farm. Phone cuts off.
At about 6:30pm, Vera comes to meet us at the bar. She tells us that Emilia was going much slower than she was. At one point, she waited for twenty minutes, but Emilia still didn't come. At this, we estimate Emilia won't be down until perhaps 8pm! And it's starting to get dark outside. What to do? Note: last train that will get us to Bern leaves at 7:30.
We decide to split up. Sarah and Vera go to the Bahnhof to wait for Emilia, in case she goes there. The rest of us go to the cable car station in case she comes down in a car. This is also near the end of the ski trails. The station is closed. We wait a while, hoping to see her, but she doesn't come and her phone is still not working.
It's 7:15 now, and Sarah is going to call the police. We all meet at the church in town. By then, Sarah had phoned the police, who told her "Your friend is probably in a bar somewhere. Call back at 10 or 11 if you don't find her." Sarah and Sheena and Vera decide now to go to the police station in person. It's closed. We all head back to the Bahnhof, where there is a button you can press to talk to the police. It is just after 7:30 when we get there. I guess we’re staying in Zermatt tonight. We all agree we're not going to leave without Emilia, and we can't make it to Bern anymore anyway.
Sarah tells the police we're missing someone, who may be lost in the ski trails. This starts a good two hours of the police phoning Sarah's cell, then Sarah phoning them from the phone booth to give them more information. The slopes and roads are being searched. We're a bit worried. It's dark now, and our friend is not a very experienced skier.
Finally, four of us head off in search of lodging. This won't be easy. We start with the first hotel we come to, right across from the station. Do you have a room? Only one double. Could we all stay in it? I'm afraid that's not possible. We exlain our situation, and Sheena bursts into tears. The woman looks sympathetic, but there's simply nothing she can do. Could you suggest a place we might find lodging? She pulls out a map and points us to Hotel Bahnhof, which has larger rooms, and the Jugendherberge (youth hostel). Thanks a lot.
Hotel Bahnhof is right by the staion, of course, so we head there. We're not sure if we should ask for a room first or explain our situation. None of us had come prepared for spending the night. We did't have so much extra money, and we didn't think we'd be sleeping much anyway. The woman at Hotel Bahnhof was EXTREMELY kind to us. The hotel was booked, and she said she had had calls from the youth hostels seeing if she had rooms, so they must be booked as well. She even had two young men paying to stay downstairs in the lounge. She would let us stay there. We wouldn't have to pay.
Sarah stays at the Bahnhof, waiting for the police to call again. The rest of us collapse onto chairs in the lounge. We keep looking over the map of ski trails, trying to figure out what might have happened. Perhaps she ended up in Italy and her phone doesn't work there?
At some point between 9 and 10pm, Sarah finally hears from the police again. All of the slopes and roads have been searched, and Emilia was not found. Sarah and Sheena have to go to the station and make a statement. Some time around 10:30, Tahnee's cell phone beeps. She had programmed it to tell her when Emilia's phone received her SMS. Right away, Vera phones Emilia. "Where ARE you?" "I'm at home in Bern. Where are you guys?" "We're in Zermatt." "What are you doing still there??" Oh, my.
It turned out that, while skiing, Emilia had gotten onto the Black trail, the most difficult one. Once you are on it, there's no way to get off. It was mostly ice, and she was having a tough time with it. When she spoke to Sheena on the phone, she said "I am fine. I'll be down in 15 minutes," but of course, Sheena hadn't heard that because the phone had died. So when Emilia got to the station, exhausted and frustrated and totally worn out, and no one else was there, she assumed we had already gone back to Bern, so she took the 6:30 train home. Meanwhile, we were in the bar organizing a search for her.
Moral of the story? ALWAYS have a meeting place or back-up plan. Cell phones should not be relied upon, but seen as emergency methods of communication only.