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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Books, Travels, and Sleep

Tonight is a hodge podge of randomness.

I am home!!! Woo hoooooo!  Back in my own kitchen and my own living room and my own home office.  Back in my spider-infested bathroom and muggy bedroom.  Back in shorts and no socks! 

Sweetie and I had an uneventful trip.  I was worried about possible slow lines at the airport so I made us leave his mom’s house earlier than usual.  He gave me a bit of crap for being at the airport over an hour and a half early, but I was happy to grab a poppyseed muffin and sit and munch at the terminal.  The Oakland Airport wasn’t too crowded this morning around 6:30 a.m.  I would rather be early and have time to sit and do nothing than to scramble and fret in front of a bunch of TSA agents. 

I managed to get a grand total of – zero minutes of sleep last night.  Which is stupid because I was exhausted.  We drove back to my mom-in-law’s house yesterday and made a quick trip over to Santa Cruz to see some friends who had been sick the week before.  We left when the kids went to bed and I was almost stumbling over my feet I was so tired.  So, we get back to the house, pack our bags, and dive into bed.  And………nothing.  No sleep.  I still can’t fall asleep.  I toss and turn, go out to the couch, turn my computer back on, turn it off, count sheep, recite state and capitols.  And nothing.  It was a relief to me when Sweetie’s alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. this morning just so I could get up and get ready to go.

So – zero sleep for me last night.  But I did manage to sleep on the plane.  In between the seatbelt alert beeping on (Please sit down and fasten your seatbelts) and off (looks like we have calmer air folks) and on (Sorry, we’re at 30,000 feet and still turbulent) and off (feel free to move around the plane) and on……..and….you get the picture.

But now we are home!  And I suspect I will sleep well tonight.  And I’m starting the first book of my 2010 Read Your Own Book Challenge.  Fun!

I finished reading “Her Fearful Symmetry” by Audrey Niffenegger.  She is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife which I loved.  I suppose it’s hard to follow up such an original work with anything as intriguing.  This little ghost story was interesting and I like the realistic way Niffenegger weaves together her characters in an unreal story.  But the characters themselves didn’t grab me like Time Traveler’s and I kept expecting the story to really grab me and pull me in.  It never completely did.  But it’s a good ghost story and, of course, one of the best characters is Highgate Cemetery itself.  Good but not necessarily a must-read.

And with that, I should dig into my books.  I received about five other books for Christmas, including TWO poker books that I am looking forward to reading.  Dan Harrington has some great poker tournament strategy books.  After playing for so long, I find that I already know most of the basic concepts he talks about (and by “basic” I mean – seriously in-depth minutia of every aspect of poker play but essential minutia for any good player), but this particular book adds so much more information.  I’m gobbling it up.  So, as I predicted, there will be plenty of new books to distract me from my old books.  Which just means I’ll have to put in double reading time.  No better time to start then now!

Or maybe – as soon as I get some sleep.

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Farewell again

It has been a wonderful trip to California.  Visited many people.  Spent time with family.  Enjoyed the holidays.  Ate good food.  Relaxed a little.  Worked a little.  Froze a little.  Warmed up again.

A wonderful trip.

But I am very very very ready to go home.  No more running around.  Home.

Soon.

First, I have to wake up at 4:45 to go the airport.  Ack! 

 I can’t wait to fall asleep on the plane.

Happy New Year, all.  Lots more to tell but I need to sleep for now.  Aloha.

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I ventured out today for some Christmas shopping.  Yes, all those people who converged on malls and stores this weekend who I was making fun of Friday night?  That was me today.  Amazon has served me pretty well but there are still some outstanding items on my list.  I checked it twice.  So out I went today because really, if you are going to leave the house to go shopping amid crowds of people, you need to make sure you pick a cold, wet, miserable day to do it.

I”m driving Sweetie’s car.  Though I suppose I should identify it as “our” car since we are married.  But this car has been in Sweetie’s life waaaaaaay longer than I have and he usually leaves it as his mom’s house in California.  Last time we were here he paid for the registration and I took it in for a smog check.  I called my mom-in-law a couple of weeks ago to see if the registration sticker came to her house.  Nope.  She had not seen it.  I bugged Sweetie to check on it.  He bugged me to check on it.  I bugged him some more (yes, we go through this routine quite a lot).  He checked on it and got an e-mail confirmation the registration material is on the way.  Mom-in-law promptly mailed it to me. 

I was driving the car around last week worrying about my lack of sticker.  I wondered it CHP (California Highway Patrol) officers would pull someone over merely for a lack of current sticker.  Surely they have more important reasons to pull people over and if you happen to have out-of-date registration – well, then you may get an additional ticket for that.

Well, guess what?

Yes, on my oh-so-jolly adventure through the bleak haze, I saw today behind me – flashing blue and red lights amidst the grey. 

“Hells bells and arggghhh!” And “Where is there a shoulder to pull over on?”  And “F! me, I tried to slow down when I saw there was a CHP car behind me and I do *not* need this, and we so much CANNOT afford a ticket right now and WHY ME?”

And………..heyyyyyyyy……*mindflash!*……….I have my reg sticker!  I threw the contents of the envelope from my MIL straight into the glove compartment so that I wouldn’t forget about it.  Then I forgot about it.

I pulled onto the shoulder and dove across the front seats to open the glove compartment (Why do we still call them glove compartments?  Does anyone store gloves there?  Do people call it something different these days?).  I pulled out the paperwork, rolled down my window and put on my most sheepish smile. 

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“uhhhhh….because I was going 10 miles over the speed limit?”  No! Don’t say that out loud.  Look sheepish and keep your mouth shut.

“Your registration is expired.”

“Oh officer!  This is so embarrassing!  I’ve had it right here in the car (for only a few days not the extra couple of months it needed to be here but I’ll keep my mouth shut about that also).  And I just keep forgetting to put it on!”

I was going to say something about the fact that my husband would be so upset with me, but really? – Sweetie doesn’t get upset about that sort of thing.  And hell if I’m going to come across as a browbeaten wife even if it does get me out of a ticket. 

I just smiled and waved my sticker at him.

“OK, can I see your license and insurance?”

Thank goodness I remembered to throw the latest insurance card in Sweetie’s car also.

He grabbed my license and the car insurance paperwork and wrote something down on a pad of paper.  He walked around to the front of the car. 

And then, what does the CHP officer do?  On this dreary cold day with the gray skies and spitting clouds and frigid air?  He walks around to the back of the car and PUTS THE STICKER ON FOR ME.  He walks back to the passenger side window and hands me a clump of sticky foil and tells me he scraped the old ones off because the new sticker probably wouldn’t stick, there were so many old ones still on.  Then, he tells me to wait until it is safe and pull back out into traffic. 

End of story.  Have a nice day.  No mention of my speed.  No lecture about letting my reg sticker sit in my glove compartment.  He does me a favor and sends me off on my way.  I couldn’t stop grinning at him as I flustered my way through a “Thank you!”  Really?  That’s it?!  I was at least expecting a lecture. 

Probably standard procedure when someone actually has a new reg sticker.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this guy had an extra bit of the holiday spirit in him today.   And after that encounter, I did too.   Who’d a thunk it?

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Pictures are my memory

It is reasonable to say that, young as I am, I suffer greatly from C.R.S. (can’t remember, well you know).  The more information I stuff into my brain, the greater the flow of facts, memories, and information back out.  Not an uncommon ailment.  When it comes time to send out the end-of-the-year Christmas letter, I rely completely on my pictures from the year.  There they sit on my computer – in folders for each month of the year.  I click through, take notes, and slap together a summary of sorts.  Based almost solely on my digital record of the year and not on my personal recollection.  Apologies to anyone and anything that had a significant role in my year but didn’t manage to get captured by my camera. I probably left you out.  Journals and blogs serve a similar function but scrolling through pictures is more fun.

Most of the details of my blog yesterday came courtesy of pictures.  I had some images in my mind and specific recollections of moments during that day.  The pictures provided the rest of the details.  So I thought I would provide a few more pictures today since they served me so well. 

Enjoy, a hike on the Rigi Part 2, so to speak.

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Today’s prompt for Holidailies is “Post a personal photo and tell us a story about it.”

Looking back at some of my photos, I am reminded of a couple of things.  1) I like food.  2) I never finished all the travelogues I was going to write about my Europe trip.  I managed to blog about the wonderful day Sweetie and I spent with my family hiking in Biel.  It was a near-perfect day.  But there was another day.  Another day on a mountain.  And it was grand……..

Morning came and Sweetie and I knew what our destination for this day was.  Our Switzerland portion of our Europe trip had been left completely in the hands of my family.  I told Sweetie that everyone wanted as least a day with us – Mom’s oldest sister, her middle sister, her cousin and his wife who live in Zurich.  I rarely knew what was planned for the day.  Sweetie, the improvisational wiz, loved it. 

But today was the Rigi.  One can hardly stay in the vicinity of Luzern and not go up the Rigi.  She is sometimes known as “The Queen of the Mountains.”  What better way to pay our respects to the queen than to put on our hiking boots and tromp on top of her?

After our customary breakfast of fresh bread and preserves, we gathered our backpacks and piled into my uncle’s car.  My uncle drove.  A good thing since my aunt never learned to drive.  I have two aunts who never drive.  Don’t need to in Switzerland.  Between the buses and the trains which run constantly (and famously on schedule), many families have no need for more than one vehicle.  I’m not even sure if three of my four cousins own cars. I think they do not. 

So off we drove halfway around the lake to the cable car station to wait for two more friends to join us.  While waiting, my uncle presented Sweetie and me with our very own “Rigi” caps which we fit snugly onto our heads.  Pia and Seppi arrived and up we went, through the tree canopy with its splashes of fall colors and away from the tiny houses beside the lake.  We disembarked and my family swept us past the trail markers:  Chanzeli, 15 min.; Greppen, 2 Std. (hour) 25 min.; Weggis 2 Std. 10 min.  We were on the trail with no idea where we going, how far we were hiking, or where this particular trail would take us.  It was glorious. 

We started the hike on a  wide paved trail in a forested area, with park benches and trash cans, and a log fence beside us.  Sweetie and my uncle talked, as my uncle has the best English skills.  My aunt, Pia and Seppi don’t speak much english.  When I can, I translate their Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch) for Sweetie, cobbling together what I remember from childhood talking to my grandparents and the little I remember from high school and college German classes.  The family always seems surprised and amused when I laugh at something they say or try and translate for Sweetie. 

We walked and talked and took many pictures.  Sweetie snapped a shot of a gargantuan log carved in the shape of an alphorn.  We transitioned to a more narrow dirt trail with barbed wire and wood fencing.  There was a universal sign – the silhouette of a biker with a large red “X” through it.  This portion was for the hikers alone.  We walked beside the greenest of grass while crispy fall leaves disintegrated under our feet.  We had views of the lake.  The landscape took a dramatic turn and suddenly we had sheer rock walls to the left and a steep drop-off to our right on the other side of fence that was now metal posts and cable.  From this spot, we stopped at another park bench and looked down at the beauty and wild jabbing points of Lake Lucerne. 

Lake Lucerne was all I had ever called this lake.  In college, my German teacher turned to me when got around to talking about Switzerland and asked me the name of this lake.  I said: “Lake Lucerne.”  No.  She wanted its proper name.  I had no idea.  It is Vierwaldstättersee.  Four.  Forest.  Lake.  That’s about as far as my German gets me.  Vierwaldstattersee is “Lake of the Four Forested Cantons.”  The cantons are somewhat equivalent to states in the US.  Wikipedia describes it as “The lake is a complicated shape, with bends and arms reaching from the city of Lucerne into the mountains.”  That sounds about right.  Looking at it from above, it reaches in all directions, dividing little bits and pieces of land around its meandering shores. 

We came out from behind the rocks and walked through grassy fields.  And then, up ahead was a little train station.  We sat down on more benches for a short wait for the stout little electric cable to chug us up to the top of the Rigi.  We trekked up to the summit: Rigi-Kulm, 1,800 m./6,000 ft. 

And then, of course, it was time for a snack.  I’ve blogged before about how much the Swiss like to eat and drink.  And drink.  I don’t think I’ve ever been out sightseeing, or hiking, or shopping, or anything with my family without stopping at least every two hours for something to drink (with the possible exception of mom’s middle sister who rivals my mom for lack of patience).  Just wait until I get to the blog about our day in Zurich with mom’s cousin.  It was  taxing day for the bladder.

Anyway, a snack on the Rigi.  Not just any snack, mind you.  No, there was no pulling granola bars and plastic-bottled water out of the backpack.  We sat at a bench and my uncle and Seppi proceed to pull out small metal cups (their group hiking cups, we were told), a couple tupperware-type containers of breadsticks and nuts, and (of course) a bottle of wine.  They laid six little cups out on the bench and six little cups were filled with wine.  We toasted together and leisurely sipped wine while enjoying the views.  The skies were a little overcast but we could see for miles in all directions.  To our good health indeed!

We made our way back down to the tram station and there we split up.  My aunt, uncle, Sweetie and I were to take a slow ambling hike to our next stop.  Pia and Seppi were taking a “short cut” to get their quicker.  Why?  Well, to start setting  up lunch for us all, of course!  We parted ways, with my jolly happy rarely-drinking husband waving wildly as the wine worked its way through his veins. 

We walked downhill and the gray skies were replaced with bright blue, warm sun, and white clouds.  We kept walking until we saw, on a slight hill above us, a covered picnic area.  Supposedly, they are called Gruebinen.  According to one site:   For the construction of these shelters, the builders have used trunks, that have fallen at a recent major thunderstorm. The locals call such covered dwelling places which protect you from sun, heat and rain “Gruebinen”. Of course, they are all well equipped with campfire-site, wood for burning, comfortable benches and tables. It’s all ready for you – enjoy your picnic or barbeque!

By the time we arrived, our friends were hard at work preparing a feast for all.  Indeed, the Gruebinen was well equipped.  But not nearly as well equipped as Pia and Seppi!  They had packed in fresh bratwurst, bags of carrot slices and small tomatoes, a loaf of bread, seasonings, and beauty of all beauty! – raclette cheese!!  Oh joy!  Oh happiness!  Of course, raclette cheese must be served warm and melty over potatoes.  These dishes came pre-packaged in tin foil containers with potatoes included.  Seppi had six little packs of cheese warming over the open fire along with the bratwurst. Six little bundles of cheesy goodness to pry open and devour with a fresh bottle of wine and all the other food already spread around the picnic table.  Can you possibly imagine being more spoiled than that?  I cannot.  It was heaven. 

We sat and vegged by the picnic table as our systems started to digest the food.  My uncle pulled out one of his ubiquitous skinny cigars, put his feet up on a stump and puffed away.  My relaxed hubby sat in the shade with his back against the fat pale logs and just stared out at the green hills.  Or maybe he slept behind his sunglasses, I’m not sure. 

More hikers came along and added more wood to the fire for their own lunch.  We abdicated the picnic table and made our way down to a final lookout spot before catching the cable car back down the mountain.  We slowly made our way back down the Rigi.  Sweetie and I marveled at the beautiful fall colors and at (once again) our amazing luck in vacationing in October in perfect weather.  The possibility of rain exists year-round in Switzerland, but they had just come through some cold and stormy weather.  Yet we had sun every day.  Most of our time with the family was spent outdoors and there would have been no way we could have hiked all day along the Rigi in rain.  As Sweetie and I just celebrated a third October hiking outside in surprisingly gorgeous weather (the first was in Yellowstone, this third was in Yosemite), I told him I think both our fathers are looking out for us around our anniversary.  Someday, maybe someday soon, our streak may end and we’ll spend a stormy cold October together.  But for us, that day on the Rigi with family and friends is probably one of our top five days together ever.  It was certainly the best day of a fantastic trip. 

And that, is the story behind that one little photo.  I smile just looking at it.

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We had a day scheduled with Aunt C. (mom’s oldest sister) and Uncle P.  Aunty R. picked us up and she spent the day with us on our travels.  Truth be told, I had no idea where we were going.  None whatsoever.  But our day was in Aunt C.’s hands and that was good enough for me. 

We drove through a thick fog to Aunt C. and Uncle P.’s apartment building where we transferred to their car.  They live next to a lake – Sempachersee.  Though we couldn’t see it through the fog.  We headed back through Luzern and kept driving south.  And driving.  And driving.  Since I had no idea where we were going, I didn’t know how long it was going to take.  We were in the car for a couple of hours before we stopped for some pictures.  And what a stop!  It was the end of the morning and look at how calm the water was.

Look at that gorgeous reflection!

We found out we were heading southwest to the town of Gstaad.  I had never been to Gstaad!  This was a new adventure for both Sweetie and me.  Gstaad is in the canton of Berne (the city of Berne is the capital of Switzerland).  Quite a lovely little town.  Of course, I think I am understating it a bit since I have read that “Gstaad is known for its extremely luxurious hotels and shopping, high-society nightlife, fine dining, excellent service, and international stars. It is also one of the largest ski areas in the Alps.”   Pretty nice, huh?

We ate lunch at a restaurant at a hotel in Gstaad that had been recommended to my aunt and uncle.  I can’t remember the name but that is probably ok since I wouldn’t recommend it.  The food was ok, and the service was less than stellar.  Of course, my family was completely appalled by the service.  My uncle didn’t get his salad.  The waiter and waitresses never paid attention to us.  A couple of other things happened.  And then, when they left the bill, they put it down in the middle of the table instead of handing it to my uncle.  Both aunts were ready to take up arms.  Keep in mind, my mom and aunts had been raised while working with my grandparents in their hotel and restaurant.  That was the family business.  Customer service was the work they had been apprenticed to rather than going to a university in Switzerland.  They had all spent time waiting lots of tables (except maybe Aunt C. who was excused from waitressing due to extreme klutziness).  Being “in the biz,” they have pretty high standards for service.  But even I could tell our service was sub-par.  So much for high-class expensive ritzy towns.    We shook if off and walked up and down the boulevard:

 

And that was about it.  We got back in the car and headed west, then north. 

Uncle P. told us we were going to Gruyere.  Yes, Gruyere like the cheese.  Did you know there is an actual place/town called Gruyere??  I don’t think I could have told you that.  But there it was!  Tiny little village.  There is a huge parking lot at the bottom of the hill.  Most people can’t drive around the tiny little village.  We parked our car beside the fields of cows and walked up the path to the village.

Here is some information on the village.  For more, check out:

 http://www.la-gruyere.ch/en/welcome.cfm

 

We walked into town and promptly stopped at a hotel to have some drinks (remember what I said about the Swiss and food).  There were many restaurants serving raclette with Gruyere cheese.  We could smell the cheese as we walked by the shops.  Heavenly!  Cheese everywhere.

 

OK, here is something else I did not know.  Did you know there is an H.R. Giger museum in Gruyere?  He’s the guy who won an Oscar for his design/art/visual effects for Alien.  You can see more about it here:  http://www.la-gruyere.ch/en/navpage-ExcursionsFR-MuseumsFR-120106.html.  We didn’t have time to go through the museum or sit in the bar.  But Sweetie and I did run into the bar to take a couple of pictures.  I’m sure they must be used to people doing that.

Finally, we ran up to the castle to snap a couple of pictures and then hightailed it back down the village and down the hill to the car. 

Aunt C. had planned to prepare dinner for us and we needed to get back to the apartment.  All told, we were probably in the car for about six hours and out of the car about an hour and a half.  The scenery, of course, was gorgeous all along the way.

We shared dinner together and the happiest moments of my day were spending a couple of hours with my cousin who I had not seen since 1989.  It’s been a long time and he was living in Mongolia last time I visited the family.  He was back in Switzerland to work and save up money so he could go back and live a few more years in Mongolia.  He now speaks fluent English since he teaches it in Mongolia.   Some members of the family consider him an odd duck – what with living a simple life and preferring Mongolia to Switzerland.  He was always a nature-lover as a kid, which made us quite compatible running around my grandmother’s house: 

What’s that!  Ants devouring a bee on the sidewalk?  Neato!  Let’s watch it together!  I’ll take pictures!  (I still have that picture somewhere)

All the things the rest of the family may not approve of are just things that somewhat endear him to me – his lack of drive to make a lot of money, his love of the simple life in Mongolia, his disinterest in visiting America, his reluctance to join the military (which doesn’t matter – it’s compulsory in Switzerland and hard to get out of).  He’s a bit of an old soul in a young body, I think.  We talked about Mongolia and Maui and Sweetie’s work and my work and the Dalai Lama.  We only had a short amount of time to catch up with each other, but I was very happy for the time we had.  Who knows when I may see him again.

And that was the end of a very long day.

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We spent some time in the city.  It was time to spend some time in the country.  My aunt and uncle had planned a day of hiking for the four of us.  I didn’t know where we were going, but it did not matter.  We would be hiking in the mountains!

We drove around Lake Lucerne (aka Vierwaldstattersee).  Lucerne is located at the northwest tip of the lake.  We drove around the west end to the south.  We drove aaaaalll the way around the lake to the southeast tip – near Seedorf.  We drove past Altdorf to (I think) Burglen.  We parked the car next to a cable car station.  But instead of going up the hill at this point, we ran across the street to catch a bus to Brugg (I think – I’m looking at the brochure map here).  We got off the bus and took a cable car up to Biel. 

The cable car station was run by one man.  He would collect money at the tiny window inside the building.  Then, as the cable car was coming down, he would run outside to open the doors and let the next group of people in.  We waited to buy a ticket, then we waited our turn to board.  The cable car came down and I realized it was TINY.  This was a small little thing.  It fit about 7 or 8 people and we had to put our backpacks in little baskets on the outside of the cable car. 

We boarded the cable car and away we go!

I think most of this blog can be explained best in pictures.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

Here are some shots on the way up the mountain:

 

And up…..

Until we got to the top and started walking:

We passed some homes, a hotel, and lots of cows.  We hiked for about an hour or so and then headed towards a place to eat.

Now, I have to take a break in the pictures to explain something that cannot possibly be emphasized enough by me:  The Swiss love to eat and drink.  And drink.  And drink.  I’m not just talking alcoholic drinks (though there is a majority of that) – any kind of drink.  Maybe it is just my family.  Though maybe not because most places we stopped to eat and drink were pretty well full of other people.  But this is how it has always been when I travel around with family and friends – we cannot do anything for more than a couple of hours without stopping for a drink.  I explained this to Sweetie before our trip.  I explained that it gets a little tiring.  I explained that I can’t possibly drink every single time they want to drink.  As a teen, I would try to refuse.  I would try to explain to my dumbfounded family and the friendly waitress that I just didn’t *want* anything – not bubbly water, not juice, not a soda, nothing.  Last time I tried to do that, my family ordered an ice cream for me behind my back.  

I’ve learned to try and at least drink some water

Now, I appreciate taking leisure time when you can.  I love it.  I love that the Swiss can work as hard as anyone else but still slow down and enjoy good company and good food.  I don’t mind sitting and relaxing.  But I just can’t drink that much! Nor would I want to pay for beverages that often.  

I’ve explained it, but I don’t think you can understand it until you experience it.  Sweetie brushed off my warnings.  But by the end of trip, as he tried to explain to my mom’s cousin that no…..no…..he wasn’t thirsty, and no……he didn’t need anything to drink after drinking all day, she just looked at him and asked “Are you sick??!”  He laughed and laughed when he told me because he finally understood I was not exaggerating. 

Anyway, back to our hike and yummy food.

After we ate, we hiked some more and we passed through fields of cows. 

 

We hiked up to the top of the hill.

We hiked through a foresty area.  Then we hiked down the hill to anther cable car stop that would take us back down the hill to where we had parked the car. 

We hiked past homes and farms and these guys as they were ?? — not sure – harvesting the grass.  By hand.  With pitchforks!! Nary a leaf-blower in sight in our whole time in Switzerland.  Gotta love a country that appreciates a good rake and pitchfork.

We caught the cable car down the hill and Sweetie snapped this picture – this is the very southern end of the Lake.  By the way – this cable car was much larger.  Much.  We may have had 30 or 40 people in there.  Enough to make some British tourists very nervous as we were going down.  (“We’re almost there” one guy intoned calmly to his companion. “We’re almost there.”)

Finally, one thing to note during this entire hike – whenever we were near any of the cows, you could hear  the infamous Swiss cow bells.  All the cows wear them.  Even in and around the City of Lucerne.  If there is a cow nearby, you will hear it.  It is the melody of the land that accompanies its people wherever they go.

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