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A Tale of Two Mountains
A four hundred mile journey, a three day span, two mountains, one person far from home. Objective one: the metal mountain. Objective two: the stone mountain. France and Switzerland were my destinations. I would climb and conquer France's metal mountain and Switzerland's stone beast. These hulking landmarks were only part of the agenda, but they were certainly the biggest pieces. It would take energy and excitement to handle what was coming. I was ready.
The first stop was France. For one of our last activities in the beautiful city of Paris, my tour group and I made the trip to the metal mountain, the Eiffel Tower. Hundreds of stairs to the top, this monster loomed over my head, daring me to scale it. I accepted the challenge. It wouldn't be long before I took what the tower had to offer. An amazing view of a spectacular city stretching out before me. I smiled. This would be fun.
The line for the stairs was short. Everybody else wanted to take the only two elevators that worked at the moment. Not my group. We were all set for the steps. We knew there were a lot, but we didn't care. Why waste the experience? Who knew if we would ever go get to visit again? So, we bought our tickets and headed on up.
The trip was quick at first. A couple of stairs couldn't beat us! "I can't wait to see what's at the top!" I exclaimed.
"I know! I bet it will be awesome! If we make it there..." agreed my friend, Sarah. We kept chatting, ignoring the quietly growing fatigue that came over our legs and lungs. The higher we ascended, the slower we went. We kept up a decent speed though, and before we knew it, we had gained a small triumph. The first viewing platform had been reached!
The group flocked to the railings and peered over. There were buildings and people for miles. The tourists and natives milled about, smaller than normal. They carried on, not knowing that they were being watched from above. Everything seemed short and I had a feeling of being on top of the world. The craziest part was that we weren't at the top of the tower and already there were these feelings of rising above.
After enjoying the sights for a few minutes, we came to the agreement that the best was yet to come and we should rise to meet it, literally. The stairs were open and waiting, the metal ready to once again be our drums as we pounded upward. So, up we scaled. Step upon step upon endless step. We passed them by, one by one, moving towards our target.
The second landing came, allowing us a well-deserved break. Though the rails and steel cage limited us, I felt free. The wind whipped my hair and I was higher than the Earth. The clouds were closer to me than ever before, and I felt reenergized. The air was fresher up here than lower in the city and it made me grin. The top couldn't come quickly enough.
Eventually, we moved on again, even more eager to arrive at the tower's tip. As we rose up higher, the only things that could be heard over the strong wind were the thudding beat that our feet made and the chatter that spread through the groups. We had begun to move at a more leisurely pace, not able to move as swiftly. Calves began to ache and breaths came in shorter gasps. Hundreds of stairs will do that to a person.
Mercifully, we reached the last step. Don't be fooled! We weren't at the top, but we had conquered the stairs! That was an accomplishment of its own. The Eiffel Tower had dished out its best, but we had defeated it. Now, all that was left was the elevator that would carry us up to the point. There were no stairs from here on up, which I was not too ungrateful for. I did, however, not take pleasure in the elevator ride. Being stuck in a tiny elevator at the top of the Eiffel Tower? That's not exactly my idea of a good time.
I survived the ride though and was thoroughly rewarded. The entire range of feelings that the lower levels had offered was available here. The freedom, the petite buildings and practically invisible people, and most of all, the sight itself. All of Paris laid out for our delight. The river, the cityscape, the other landmarks, everything. No photograph compares. Paris as far as the eye could see. It was more than I could've ever dreamed. And, it was about to meet its rival.
We finished our time in France with a couple more visits to main tourist attractions, though none could hold a candle to the Eiffel Tower. I loved all of Paris, but the Eiffel Tower will always stick with me. I didn't get a chance to write about it in my journal until two days later, as our train hurtled towards Switzerland. There, my next opponent and I would face off. The Swiss' stone beast, Mount Pilatus, was waiting to greet me.
I let the motion of the train lull me to sleep. I wouldn't need as much energy to conquer this mountain. We would be riding up in a trolley. No, climbing it wouldn't be the challenge. The real trick would be going down. The only option for that was cable cars. You know the ones. Small capsules that roll down the mountain hanging by only the rollers connected to a wire. And I thought the elevator up the Eiffel Tower was bad...
After crossing four hundred miles worth of Europe, we reached Switzerland. We checked into our adorable, cozy hotel and decided to take a stroll around the town. There were a few shops and little houses. Bright colors and neon flowers lit the streets and made the whole place feel safe. It was just like you'd imagine. A cute little town at the base of mountain that casts a protective shadow over it.
Our hotel was amazing. Every room was unique and had a warm feeling. It was easy to get a good night's sleep there. I needed that if I was going to beat this mountain and its tiny cable cars. I was excited more than nervous, yet sleep came easily. Two mountains in three days. I never would have guessed that I could do that.
We hit the mountain the next day. My group joined the line of tourists waiting to ride up to the peak of Mount Pilatus. Finally, a long, shiny red trolley rolled to a stop. We filed into the small cars, shuffling around trying to figure out who could sit backwards without a problem. Once all of the people were settled, the trolley jerked to start and began chugging up the mountainside.
The ride was very relaxing. Cold though it was, the scenery was gorgeous. Rocky trails, interesting plants, and light snow all worked together creating an image that is unmatched. It was as if we were looking through a window into a different world. It seemed that nothing could disturb the peaceful calm that had settled over the landscape.
The ride lasted for a while, showcasing the natural beauty that is a Swiss mountain. There were hikers and wild flowers and an unexplainable serene that settled over me. I could have never been prepared for the wonderful sights. We reached our destination after a short time and were met by a modern building. It permitted tourists, such as ourselves, to look off of the peak safely and see for miles. To get and even better view, you could climb some rickety, old steps and reach 7,000 feet in altitude. Of course, we had to seize the moment and see Switzerland from above.
When we reached the summit, my breath caught. Mountain peaks for miles stretched before me like the knuckles of giant's hand. Flowers sprinkled everywhere created a polka dot effect. And the clouds, so close I thought I could touch them. A breeze whispered around me and I felt like I was experiencing something magical. The town of Luzern looked small and fragile, like pieces of porcelain that could so easily crack. Crisp, clean mountain air rushed into my lungs, filling them once more.
We stood, just staring. You can't capture its majesty in a picture. There's something about standing there, knowing you're higher than everything else in sight, that can't be faked or simulated. It has to be a genuine experience. Once you're up there, there is no forgetting.
Sadly, and all too soon, it was time to board the cable cars and leave. I would miss this mountain, truly. My whole group plus a few more people jammed into the next available car and away we went. It wasn't as bad as I had expected. The mountain unfolded underneath of us and all around, bringing its peace. The gentle movement of the car created an unreal feeling. My family and friends beside me added to the impact. It was glorious.
The car placidly swayed down the wire safely, as usual. We stepped off, but were speedily ushered into smaller cars. Our group broke up and my mom, dad, brother and I rode together. Again, the car slowly wandered down the mountainside. We were silent part of the way down, listening. The tinkling of cow bells could be heard, if we were quiet enough. Many Swiss farmers had cows that lived on the mountain. They shook their bells and made music for us it seemed. The ride was worth every minute.
Mount Pilatus and the Eiffel Tower are two very different mountains. They can't be compared. They are simply too different. Descriptions go far, but can never, ever fully encompass the journey to either. The Eiffel Tower lends you a window into the ingenuity of man and all we've created. Mount Pilatus takes you to a simpler place of natural beauty unaffected by man. Both are priceless. They are two mountains with two radically diverse stories.