Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Between St. Moritz and Lugano (and probably Lucerne as well), we may never want to leave. It’s beyond beautiful. I know I keep saying the scenery is breathtaking, but that’s truly the only way to describe it. Sometimes I find myself gasping at the wonder of God’s creation.
We reluctantly left St. Moritz at 8:00 a.m. and drove through Switzerland into Italy. We passed through the mountains at Maloya Pass, which includes a series of 12 astonishingly tight hairpin turns down the mountain. I’m surprised we had dry pants after that scary ride. Six Flags has nothing on the natural topography of this region. Massimo really earned his pay today, as well as a day off. He’s going to visit his home near Lake Como, and his brother, Mauritzio, will be our driver tomorrow (to Zermatt).
We continued on to Lake Como to the town of Menaggio, where we stopped for gelato. Yum! Not long afterward, Lake Como forked into two lakes, and we followed the Como portion. At the fork is a small mountain, and at its base is the pretty village of Bellaggio, which we saw and photographed from across the lake. We kept driving along Lake Como, passing the town of Laglio, where George Clooney has a villa (whoopee). We eventually turned away from Lake Como and drove a few more miles to Lugano. Our hotel is about a block-and-a-half from Lake Lugano. We checked in and drove to the main part of the city, where we were dropped off for the afternoon. The four of us had pizza for lunch, then we walked through a lovely park along the lake. We rented a pedal boat for a half hour and went out onto the cool, clear lake. I guess I should mention that it’s terribly hot again today, in the 90s. We were fading fast, so we bought bottles of water and walked back to the hotel for showers and rest. At least this hotel has AC, thank goodness. We’ll hate leaving this pretty place in the morning, but at least we’re headed for Zermatt, which is at the base of the Matterhorn, so it should be cooler.
Observation 2: After seeing St. Moritz and Lugano I’d suggest that Globus cut out the stops at St. Veit and Innsbruck and add another day each to St. Moritz and Lugano. Everyone seems to agree. It would probably increase the price of the trip, but it would be worth it.
After lunch we took the boat back to Stresa and boarded the bus to continue on to Zermatt, Switzerland. We crossed the Alps at Simplon Pass, where we stopped for snacks and photos. The innkeepers had two big dogs in a pen on the property, a St. Bernard named Tito and a brown mixed breed. More about dogs later on. We continued on, re-entering Switzerland and leaving Italy for the last time. We crossed over the amazing Ganter Bridge, photographing the ancient one it replaced as we crossed, and we passed through the city of Brig on the Rhone River, with its lovely Baroque Palace. A little further on, we really got into the Swiss Alps, stopping at the town of Tasch to board a mountain train to Zermatt, where no cars or gasoline-powered vehicles are allowed. It’s a small town where walking is a pleasure, and a few of the hotels have horse-drawn taxis or electric cabs, but most everyone just walks from place to place.
Tomorrow we’ll see the Matterhorn for the first time.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
There are no words or pictures that can do justice to the Swiss Alps, although I tried with the camera. We boarded a rack-railway train for the nearly hour-long ride up to Gornergrat, which is at 10,272 feet. On the way, we were able to see the famous peaks and glaciers, as well as lovely forests and waterfalls. I managed to get a few good pictures of the Matterhorn from the train, which is a good thing because by the time we got off at Gornergrat station, the Matterhorn was half socked in by clouds. We spent about an hour-and-a-half enjoying the vistas and photographing the mountains, glaciers, and valleys. We then took the train back down to Zermatt and found a place for lunch. We strolled and shopped a little, then we returned to the hotel to email the kids and relax for a while. Tonight we’re on our own for dinner, and we’re going to try to find some good cheese fondue. Tomorrow we reluctantly leave for Lucerne.
Observation 1: On our bus rides, we’ve been through at least 50 mountain tunnels. Some are several miles long, while others are a mere few hundred yards. I’m not claustrophobic, but it’s always a relief to see the light at the end of a tunnel when you have a bazillion tons of mountain above you.
Observation 2: We’ve seen a lot of vineyards between Lugano and Zermatt, in both Italy and Switzerland. Apparently the climate is excellent for growing grapes, even pretty high up in the mountains. Go figure. I always thought Tuscany was the place for grapes, but I guess different varieties like the cooler temps and higher altitudes.
Observation 3: Zermatt is extremely dog friendly! In fact, most, if not all, hotels here welcome dogs with open arms. There are water bowls at the entrances of all hotels, and so many people stroll the streets with dogs of every size and breed. We’ve petted more dogs than I can count.
Note: We’ve really enjoyed our tour group so much, including Erich and Massimo. We’ve bonded with just about all the members of our group, and we hope to stay in touch with them after the trip. Maybe we’ll even get together again in the future. One particular favorite family is from the Cleveland area, consisting of a father (Michael), a mother (Robin), and three daughters (Lindsey, Meredith, and Julia, whom I’ll dub “the trio”). We’ve had so much fun getting to know each other, and we’ve recently started playing practical jokes on one another. These young ladies are not only fun, they are also very polite, well-behaved, and just a pleasure to be around. Anyway, at breakfast there are often individual sealed tubes of liverwurst about 3 inches long. We’ve taken to hiding them in each others’ tote bags and backpacks. I started the game by hiding one in Lisa’s bag shortly after we started the tour, and when the trio caught us in our pranks, they joined in the fun. Now Michael and Robin are just as complicit, and I have a feeling we have not seen the end of the liverwurst shenanigans. More later, I’ll bet!
Last night “the group” had an impromptu party in the hotel garden after dinner. We first went in a large group to an outdoor café for dinner. Most of us had cheese fondue, which was delicious. There’s just something almost reverent about eating authentic cheese fondue in the shadow of the Alps. We had invited Erich to join us, and he had us in stitches with his tales of previous tours. As he is a scholar working on a book, some of us have wondered if we might be part of a grand sociology experiment, innocently providing Erich with fodder for a future book. We’ve been pretty dull compared to some of his other tour groups, though, according to his stories.
Anyway, after dinner we met in the garden and had about an hour-and-a-half of conversation, wine, beer, and snacks. Erich joined us for a while, and others from the group dropped in and out. It was a lovely, relaxed evening in this valley of the Alps.
This morning we loaded up again and took the train from Zermatt to Tasch, where we were reunited with our bus, and, happily, Massimo. Mauritzio was good, but we’ve bonded with Massimo, and he really is a superior driver. We drove from Tasch through the French Swiss countryside covered in many vineyards. Erich tells us that some of the grape varieties can grow up to altitudes of 5,000-6,000 feet. I had no idea this was possible, but I have the pictures to prove it. Usually when one thinks of vineyards, Tuscany comes to mind, but I guess different varieties of grapes grow happily at different altitudes. We passed by the edge of Lake Geneva, viewing the village of Montreaux with its Castle of Chillon, and we drove through the Gruyere region, famous for its cheese. Lake Gruyere was small and pretty.
We stopped in Berne for lunch, back in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and we discovered that people in Berne are very laid back and slow. We were only given an hour for lunch, so we found an outdoor café and waited……and waited…….and waited. We finally ordered and waited some more. Ten minutes before we were to leave to board our bus, our lunch finally arrived. We choked it down, tracked down the waiter to pay, then ran to meet the bus, barely making it. Whew! Massimo drove us to the Bear Pit for a photo stop. The bear is the symbol of Berne, and there are two city mascots beloved by the Berne citizens. We then drove to Interlaken, a beautiful town nestled between Lake Thum and Lake Brienz, in the shadow of Jungfrau Mountain. It was very pretty, but many of the cars were dinged and dimpled from a huge hailstorm the day before. Since I drive a very dimpled Suburban for the same reason, I sympathized with the victimized owners of these vehicles.
At last we arrived in Lucerne. We were supposed to have an afternoon excursion up Mount Pilatus, but it started raining, so Erich cancelled that excursion, as well as tomorrow’s, a noon boat ride on Lake Lucerne. The rain isn’t so bad because it has brought much cooler weather, and again, we have no A/C. This heat has wreaked havoc with my crazy body temperature fluctuations. Some women call them hot flashes, but my son-in-law Josh calls mine “power surges”, a much more fun way to describe a very annoying condition.
So, Lisa, Bob, Tony, and I took the city bus (electric) to downtown and strolled a bit in the rain. We took a leisurely walk back to the hotel on the promenade that runs along the edge of the lake. We had a nice dinner at the hotel, then we spent about an hour outside on the hotel’s covered terrace. We met a very nice Russian couple from Toronto, who joined our conversation, although the husband was not very fluent in English (but he thought he was). He really tried, and he cracked himself up. His wife, a dentist and mother of two sons, was a hoot.
Monday, October 29, 2007
This morning after breakfast we decided not to participate in the city tour, so we started our shopping early. We walked along Lake Lucerne to downtown, about a 15-minute walk. We had our shopping done by lunch time, so we found a cute English pub and had fish and chips, washed down by a pint of Guiness. We then walked a few blocks to see Thornwaldsen’s Lion Monument before we headed back to the hotel for a little rest. We had the window wide open when it started to storm. The rain actually woke us because it was coming into the room pretty heavily. t was still raining when we left for our traditional Swiss folk dinner and entertainment, which turned out to be three hours of lusty food and fun. Tonight we’ll repack for our last day’s trip back to Frankfurt and our return flight on Monday.
Okay, about the topic of the subtitle…..On one of our many walks along beautiful Lake Lucerne during the day-and-a-half we spent there, we saw a man with a cute black Lab. The dog was fixated on the lake and looked poised to jump into the water. When we got closer, we could see the object of his attention—a tennis ball floating on the water. The man was trying to figure out how to get the ball without wading into the lake or allowing the dog to jump in, as the bottom was pretty rocky. Enter tenderhearted Lisa, who somehow communicated to the nonEnglish-speaking man to grab hold of one of her feet while Bob held the other so she could hang head first over the concrete wall to get the ball. It took some maneuvering, but she eventually got the ball, only sustaining a few scrapes, dirty smudges, and blows to her dignity. The dog was ecstatic, and the gentleman grateful, if not incredulous at the utter zaniness of his new American comrades. As you can see, the pictures don’t even begin to do the scene justice. Not too shabby for a 53-year-old, though! (In case you’re wondering, Lisa was wearing a skort – a short skirt with attached shorts.)
Then it was on to the university city of Heidelberg on the Rhine River. We strolled a bit and took pictures of the bridge and the red-walled castle. The bridge had some cool markings, denoting floods in the past. We had a beer in a café along the river while waiting for Massimo to return with the bus. We also saw a gorgeous sports car that had all the guys drooling, a Wiesmann roadster. No one had ever heard of this make before, and apparently it’s extremely powerful and very expensive. It was the only one of its kind we saw the entire trip.
After Heidelberg, we drove the rest of the way to Frankfurt, where we checked in to the hotel and got cleaned up for our farewell dinner in the downstairs restaurant. It was a rather somber dinner, as most of us hated to say goodbye to each other. We really did forge some wonderful friendships. I thought people might linger to party together one more time, but everyone left right after dinner to prepare for our departure from Germany in the morning. It was hard saying goodbye, but many of us have promised to stay in touch. We’ve exchanged addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
During dinner, a waiter delivered a plate with a tiny cream pitcher to our table and handed it to me. Inside the pitcher was a mini liverwurst! Across the room, Lindsey, Meredith, Julia, Robin, and Michael, as well as most of our group which had joined in the fun by association, were howling with laughter. Well, the laugh turned out to be on them, because that particular liverwurst brought my stash to exactly five. Hmmmmmmm……….
A little while after everyone had gone their separate ways, Lisa and I obtained paper, tape, and pen from the front desk. We drew a stick figure on each of five sheets of paper, using a liverwurst as the body of the figure, and we decorated them to slightly resemble Michael, Robin, Lindsey, Meredith, and Julia, if you use a great deal of imagination. We then sneaked to the door of their room and taped up the liverwurst family. The pictures didn’t come out very well because the hallway was dark, and we didn’t want to arouse anyone’s suspicions by using the flash. You get the general idea, though. In the morning as we were getting ready to board the bus to go to the airport, out of the front revolving door ran the freshly showered and still damp Lindsey, Meredith, and Julia, bursting with laughter and hugs. Lisa and I almost cried at having to leave them. It was great fun that bridged the generation gap between these lovely young ladies and us older folk.
Note: The four of us have been particularly impressed with the young people on our tour. I didn’t really know what to expect when I saw there would be children/teens on a 15-day tour, much of which would be on the motor coach. It seemed like it might be a rather boring two weeks for young, energetic ladies, but these gals were super, every one of them! Talvi (16) was very mature and gracious. Grace (15) was a total hoot—funny, polite, and intelligent. Lindsey (14), Meredith (12), and Julia (9) were respectful and deferential, yet smart and lots of fun. And Danielle, who at 20 straddled the chasm between teenager and adult, was a lovely, intelligent (premed student!) young woman who impressed us with her loving relationship with her grandmother. There was never a moment when we didn’t thoroughly enjoy having all these girls as part of the group, and they all seemed to have a good time. Even more wonderful…….they all enjoyed being with their family members. As I’ve said before, this was a very special group of people.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
We waited for our flight in the Admiral’s Club, which we were allowed to use because we were flying business class. Among the other passengers waiting for their flights were an elderly, rather flamboyantly dressed black gentleman who was accompanied by a woman about our age. Lisa thought he was Chuck Berry. Of course, the rest of us totally blew her off, but she was adamant, having seen him in concert at Harpur College (now Binghamton University) when she was in high school. She finally mustered the courage to go over and ask him, and she was right. He had just wrapped up a concert tour in Sweden and Norway, at age 80!!! He does not look or act 80, believe me. What a very nice man.
It turned out that Chuck and his entourage were also on our flight in business class, scattered throughout the cabin. Chuck sat toward the back, but his companion, who turned out to be his daughter Ingrid, ended up sitting next to Tony. Tony and Ingrid really hit it off since they were both from St. Louis. She is a lovely, gentle, Christian woman who performs with and looks after her father. We very much enjoyed our conversations with her. One of our flight attendants was also from St. Louis, so the three of them had a regular gabfest about growing up there. It was a great way to pass a 10-hour flight.
Back at D/FW Airport, it was wonderful to see Erika’s and Josh’s happy faces, but it was sad to say goodbye to Lisa and Bob, who had to catch their connecting flight to Jacksonville. Now comes the daunting task of organizing pictures and travel journal to construct my new blog. I hope this labor of love will bring to mind the wonderful memories of far-off places and new friends as our two-week dream vacation comes to a close.
I have a few more observations, which may or may not be the final ones as I continue to recall (or am reminded of by others as they read this) more memories of the trip……….
SMOKING: There are very few nonsmoking areas in Europe. By the time we returned home, our lungs were raw from the secondhand smoke. We’re awfully glad to be back in the land of limited smoking, soft toilet paper, and AIR CONDITIONING!!
THE SMART CAR: This popular, tiny car was seen everywhere. Invented by the same man who invented the Swiss Watch, or SWATCH, it is very easy on gas. This is crucial, as gas in Europe can cost up to $8.00 a gallon. The Smart Car is adorable, but it seems rather unsafe, although we never saw any with damage from an accident. We never saw a single pickup truck anywhere. The largest passenger vehicle seen was the minivan.
METRIC SYSTEM: It certainly would be easier and more convenient if the U.S. would convert to metric, since the rest of the world is based on this system. Once we had the formulas memorized for distance and air temperature, it was relatively simple to make the conversions, but it was still a pain.
OUR FAVORITE ERICH-ISMS: We all loved Erich, our tour director. He traveled with us, gave us many interesting facts about the areas we were visiting, and went overboard to be sure we were well taken care of. His English was extremely good, but he did have a few really cute phrases that we all came to love. By the way, Erich is a very intelligent and scholarly man. He had an early career as a concert pianist, but arthritis in his hands forced him to take a different path. He now teaches piano—particularly his specialty of jazz—when he’s not doing Globus tours. He has several PhD degrees, and he is writing a sociology book. The following Erich-isms are remembered with great fondness.
“Ah you ready foh ah new adventchah?” (This is how Erich greeted us every day as we started a new leg of the tour.)
“C like in Sue”
“I have the schnitzel in my nose.” (Erich’s home is outside Vienna in Modling, and whenever a tour takes him close to home, he expresses his yearning for home with this phrase.)
“You may want to change your pants and panties.” (This was after a series of treacherous hairpin turns going through the Maloya Pass, where most of us suffered from white knuckles at the very least.)
“Slowly by slowly” (a combination of slowly and little by little)
“I think by myself” or “I said by myself” (I think to myself or I said to myself)
“small plates” (menu items which turned out to be a lot bigger than expected)
"smile rooms" (WCs/potty rooms/restrooms)
Erich, when you read these, know that we all love you and enjoyed our time together. These phrases only endeared you to us, making us smile as we remember them.
Note: Please excuse the absence of umlauts where they are needed. There may be a way to add them in Microsoft Word, but I do not have a clue as to how to do it.
In conclusion, I want to give a special "hug" from Dallas, Texas to our wonderful new friends from this trip: Asta and her daughter Talvi from Ontario; Inna from Brooklyn; Dorothy, Sherry, Dan, and Sinai from Oregon; Tina and Gunther from Ontario; Helmut, Marianne, Helga, and Horst from Germany; Luis and Iliana from Puerto Rico; Bill and Marlys from Wisconsin; Ardis from Florida and her granddaughter Danielle from South Carolina; Larry from Toronto, along with his daughter (Amazing) Grace and his mother Anne; Ed and Sara from Vancouver; Robin, Michael, Lindsey, Meredith, and Julia from Ohio; Erich from Austria; Massimo from Italy; and of course, my sweet sister Lisa and brother-in-law Bob from Florida. I will never forget you and the wonderful time we all had together.