No borders, just horizons – only freedom. -Amelia Earhart
One of reasons we selected Cervinia, Italy as our home for the winter was the ability to ski into Zermatt, Switzerland. We loved the idea of traveling on skis and spending time in two countries without planes, trains, or automobiles.
While we made it to Switzerland a number of times this winter to ski the upper part of Zermatt, various attempts to reach the historic village were foiled for different reasons. Epic snowfall in the Alps, combined with avalanche danger and temperatures of -10 F kept us from a full descent until this week. Depending on who you talk to, it is just a hop skip and a jump, or a huge hurdle. For us it was both, and we were reminded of one of the things we love most about Europe.
Europe may be small geographically, but it is special. Because of the (mostly) borderless union, tourists can drive, fly, bike, walk and SKI into a completely different expereince, with a different language, cuisine and set of customs, with ease. During our extensive road trips in Europe, our kids loved waving at the empty border guard towers as we crossed into Slovenia, France, Spain, Sweden, Portugal and beyond.
The day we set out for the village of Zermatt, Switzeralnd from our apartment in the village of Cervinia, Italy we had no idea the surprises that awaited us. It is all the same mountain, how different can it be? The answer is, completely!
After taking two gondolas and a cable car from Cervinia, we crossed into Switzerland at Plateau Rosa. We started our descent from 11,500 feet. While diligently checking our map, we began the 8-mile run down to the village. After many detours and piste closures we stopped to take it all in.
The perfectly coiffed chalets dotted the hillside with immaculate woodpiles and Swiss cuisine wafting through the valley. The language switched from Italian to German, the currency from Euros to Swiss Francs, the pistes became more narrow and everything seemed quiet as we traversed through the green pine trees all the way to the village. As we followed the church steeple to the town square, it was clear that we were no longer in Italy. Somehow, to this day, after driving more than 40,000 miles in Europe through 30 countries, it still astounds us when we cross borders freely and find ourselves in what feels like another world.
In many of the countries we have lived, various people have shared their beliefs about borders and the dangers of opening them. People seem to fear that they will lose something if they allow people to move freely. We have noticed the opposite. There is a preservation of culture and traditions in Europe that is profound. Because people can travel freely between most countries, citizens are dedicated to sharing and celebrating what is unique with those who visit for a day or a lifetime.
We crushed into the Klein Matterhorn cable car and set off over massive glacial crevasses, packed in shoulder to shoulder, climbing even higher to get back to Italy. We disembarked at 13,000 feet, with seemingly endless views and ancient ice beneath our feet. From there, we skied about 7.5 miles back to our apartment.
It was a travel day, with wrong turns, new flavors in our bellies and a few leftover francs jingling in our pockets. We returned to Italy grateful for a continent’s ability to change borders into horizons, offering all who cross them, new perspectives for which to view the world. As Robert Schuman stated, “Borders are the scars of history.”