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Posts Tagged ‘Europe Trip’

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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After our first night of (much) sleep in Switzerland, Sweetie and I awoke to breakfast with Aunty T. who always had fresh bread and coffee waiting for us, along with preserves and yogurt. 

Our first two days were mostly spent in Lucerne.  Aunty R. picked us up in the morning and took us to our first stop:  The Verkehrshaus. 

The Verkehrshaus is a transportation museum.  From their website (http://www.verkehrshaus.ch/):

Technical achievements enable us to be mobile and shape our lives. It is only the mental agility of tinkerers, inventors and explorers that has made people as mobile as they are today. The fascinating history of transport and its vehicles together with their socio-political effects on our culture are the key themes of the Swiss Museum of Transport.  More than 3000 objects displayed in an area exceeding 20,000 m2 are witnesses to a moving history in the most literal sense and point to future challenges in the field of transport and mobility.

The Museum covers all sorts of transportation, from rail to air to rocket.  It was pretty interesting, but if you only have a day or two in Lucerne and you don’t have a particular interest in the subject, I would say you could skip the museum.  Although – there are some good things to do and see with kids.  So, maybe if it is raining and you have kids – definitely check it out.  Is that vague enough?

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We went to one spot that I would recommend visiting for historical significance and emotional zing.  We went to see the Lion Monument.  The monument commemorates the members of the Swiss Guards who were killed during the French Revolution in 1792 when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.  Notable yes, but the monument itself is what is so moving.  Carved out of the sheer hillside, the lion sits in a little cave of rock.  Here is what Mark Twain had to say about the Lion Monument:

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. How head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

Next to the Lion Monument is the Glacier Garden.  We went in to look around.  From its own website (http://www.gletschergarten.ch/en/karte.html):

It is Nature’s own monument to its history, with a park and museum. It is also a tourist attraction and an oasis of peace from busy Lucerne life. Glacial potholes of impressive proportions bear witness to the last ice age and to the fact that Lucerne was once covered by glaciers. Fossilised mussels and palm leaves show that some 20 million years earlier Lucerne was a subtropical beach. A multimedia show and interactive information system will bring to life the exciting history of the earth in an easy to understand way.

I like the glacier garden.  It’s not the most exciting thing to see in Lucerne but, again, it would be a good place to take kids.  There is lots to see – and a maze of mirrors on the grounds is fun too.  They have exhibits inside and outside and lots and lots of rocks.  I thought the little 5 to 10 minute show was worth watching to hear (in English even) how the glaciers moved across the area.  And by the way, if you can’t make it there, check out that website.  They have a little discovery map of the Glacier Garden.  You can click on things on the map and it will explain all the little geology stuff to you.  Pretty cool.

We ate dinner that night with Aunty R. and my cousin S. and his girlfriend.  Sweetie and I were happy to see that Aunty R. had managed to keep our wedding tree alive!  We gave out little tree saplings for our wedding favors and it has been nice to hear from folks who are taking care of them successfully a year later. 

We also spent a day in Lucerne with Aunty T. and Aunty R.  We walked around the Culture and Congress Center by the train station and the lake.  There was some sort of fair going on next to the Center with game booths, fairway rides, and lots of stuff on sale.  That is where I saw the sign for the Monkey Hot-Dog.

We walked through the streets of Lucerne and admired the old buildings we passed. 

We took the obligatory picture of the Kapellbrucke.  This is the covered wooden bridge that used to be the oldest in Europe until most of the original bridge burned down in 1993.  The original bridge was built in 1333 and was designed to help protect the city of Lucerne against attacks.  The bridge was decorated with a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events in the City’s history.  Some of those paintings survived the fire and some have (I think) been reproduced.  Here is the bridge as it looks today (or about a month ago). 

My aunt took us up the hill to walk through the towers and wall that is still partially around the City.  The rampart walls were built in 1386 and there are three towers along the wall that are open to the public.  We walked up to the top of one tower and got a good shot of the city:

Here is a shot of the backside of the towers and wall:

And…….that mostly sums up our time in Lucerne.  We, of course, also stopped into a couple of churches in town.  Let’s just get this out of the way and say – every place that I talk about where Sweetie and I visited – just assume the trip also included a trip inside at least one church.  I’ll try and drag out the names of the significant ones, but you wouldn’t believe how many churches you can see in Europe. 

And this sums up the end of the two day tour of Lucerne:

OUCH!!!

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