I needed a breather.
Zurich had failed to impress that first night, though whether it was by contrast to the great week we'd had previously, I'm not sure. Perhaps because we'd already visited twice en route to Montreux and Basel, it felt subconsciously like we'd already seen it and that it was a transitionary city. Sam and I split up, going our separate ways for a day.
I started at Sprungli, where muesli was first invented, and arguably perfected. The blend of fresh fruit, yoghurt and whole cream was delicious but very rich and filling. The hot chocolate with shaved Swiss dark chocolate on the top didn't help the general feeling of happy queasiness.
We'd visited the the Chinese Garden on the south side of town the day before, so instead I wandered east through the historic district. I took the polybahn, an old 18th century funicular, up to the university at the top of the hill and enjoyed feeling like an exchange student while having a cheap (for Switzerland) sandwich in the cafeteria. I tried accessing the eduroam Wi-Fi network but my Uni Adelaide login no longer works. Thanks for nothing, tertiary education. It was a rather pleasant atmosphere in that section of town - less traffic, more people and nicer buildings.
The day was capped off, though, in the hills. I took a train to Uetliberg, the end of the line way out of the city. There, in the foothills (though that doesn't do them justice), was the Planetenweg, a hike along which models of the planets of the solar system were accurately placed in a 1:1,000,000,000 scale. One metre on the track represented a million kilometres. In effect that meant you blitzed through the Sun to Mars in about fifteen minutes, but that each successive planet took longer and longer to reach. An amazing way to get some sense of perspective. As a great man said: Space is big.
I had taken off, seeing on the map that it was about eight miles in total, which sounded like a fairly easy thirteen kilometres. It was nearing four o'clock, but given the hours of daylight that wasn't really an issue. I hadn't brought away any real sports shoes, but my new rubber-soled sneakers were surprisingly comfortable and had held up well in breathability and blister minimisation in Florence. I had a couple of bottles of water, my phone (less than half charged) and some M&Ms.
There was a moment, about half an hour in, when I started to realise the scale of the walk (eight miles as the crow flies is not eight miles on the ground), that I had a flash of realisation that I might not have thought this thing entirely through. I was by myself, hiking the Swiss alps(ish), with half a packet of M&Ms, some chinos and a light cardy. There were several rather impressive drops off the side of the path, a nicely inconsistent signage system and the threat of rain.
Now, there were also plenty of water fountains, campsites, other walkers, houses, restaurants, and mountain bikers, so it wasn't entirely risky, but as the day wore on and I made it to Uranus, I realised that the last few stops (there are a few Plutos to show its various positions due to its elliptical orbit) were separated by as much ground and I'd already walked. I was halfway. I had seen on the maps that there was some sort of public transport station by a place called Felsenegg near the end, so I ditched my plans to go back the way I came and decided to push on.
What a walk, though. Something about the mix of open air, solitude and exercise does wonders. It gradually polishes away the rough edges of your psyche, spring cleans the mind and releases the electromagnetic energy buildup in the hatch of the soul. Tension eases, worries sublime. As I climbed in altitude I left behind all troubles. Wrens darted through the undergrowth. A squirrel crossed my path a metre before me and clung to a tree impatiently as if to let me take it in. I eased into the undergrowth towards a great view, and from a tree a hawk or eagle swooped before me and then glided over the abyss and up.
Almost at the end, with just the last Pluto to go, I reached Felsenegg. There was a small restaurant and guesthouse there with a staggering view of Zurich, almost like you're looking from the top down. You could see it all, stretched along the lake on both sides. Knowing I had walked for two hours to get there made it even better. As I pushed on, I was starting to fade a little - my first wrong turn had cost me a few minutes of Google map searching due to contradictory signage, and my feet were just beginning to get sore. I had come so far, though, and there was no way such a shitty non-planet (it shouldn't even be on the walk these days) was going prevent me from saying I walked the whole track.
As I made it around a bend, a skittish dog eyed me warily. His owner, old but energetic, came around the corner a moment later, and started speaking German. I offered the dog-walker's nod, universal, and then an awkward "nein deutsche". The man smiled and looked at his dog. "Ihn weder," he responded. Him neither. I cracked up laughing and we continued on our separate ways. A minute later, I found Pluto. My satisfaction wasn't muted by it starting to spit, though when I reached the end at Buchenegg, a small settlement, I knew I'd be walking back to Felsenegg damp.
Sam agreed to meet me at the restaurant there for dinner, and I took in the view and a beer for an hour as the storm rolled in. Soon it was raining steadily, and even a shift of seats and a friendly conversation with a British expat couldn't stop me from shifting inside eventually. A nice dinner was capped by a near-dark, automated, private cable car ride down the mountain in the misty clouds and 10pm gloom, floating peacefully towards the speckled yellow lights of townships in the distance. Magical.
Today's shuffle onward to Prague barely rates mentioning. Another 5am start, train line and transfer, delayed flight with layover and delayed connection, bus ride from airport, subway from bus... it was a write-off. The hotel is lovely and our private apartment upgrade will be nice even if it is just for the night - separate rooms and a double bed! Paranoia about pickpockets (our receptionist had her phone stolen two days ago, and she's a local) and a rather busy street has yet to reveal the much-hyped charms of the Czech Republic. Despite the long day and repetition, though, yesterday lives on - partly from the inner peace, but mostly because my big toe is really sore.