switzerland

more memories

Yesterday, Bridget asked about one of the photos from our honeymoon that’s hanging up in the dining room. It was that question that led me to pull out our our travel memorabilia. 

The photo was one from our day near Amden. In my opinion, it was easily the most picturesque place we’ve been. And as I’ve written previously, we had a lovely room and enjoyed the company of some guests and the proprietors.  But my blog post didn’t reveal the name of the place we had stayed. Thus, I pulled out the big accordion folder where I keep all our travel ticket stubs, brochures, receipts and postcards. Of course, I had notepads or pamphlets from all the other Swiss places we stayed except for this one. Fortunately, we still had the big book of Minotels from the trip and this one was marked (not that there were many in the area to begin with) – The Bellevue in St. Gallen. Perfect. 

However. 

The hotel isn’t a hotel anymore.  It’s a Buddhist retreat. I guess that means that we won’t be able to go back and visit. Not 100% a bad thing though; now we can’t be disappointed that our stay the second time is not as wonderful as our first. 

Switzerland, Airport Day 7

September 16, 2001

We leave terribly early. We are anticipating and get super long lines. It’s the first day of international flights back to the US. We’re a little nervous, but mostly just anxious to get home.

airport

I haven’t flown a lot, so I don’t really have a lot of reference, but the crowds are just amazing. There’s a guy behind us in line, who we ended up calling Crazy Harry trying to butt in line. He’s running his cart full of his family’s luggage into my ankles. Eventually, we figure he’s not quite right and give him a little break, but it’s still frustrationg.

Once we finally almost get to the ticket counter, the girl in front of us is trying frantically to get a seat and being a general pain in the ass to the workers. Yes, we all understand that you want to get home, but so do all of these other people. Then, she has the gall to ask if she’s getting a window seat! You guessed it, she sits next to me.

Switzerland, Zurich & Luzern Day 6

September 15, 2001

This this time through the Alps, it’s snowing a little and much clearer. It’s very quiet and pretty. We were planning to go into Italy, but doesn’t seem such a safe idea.

We arrive back in Zurich early in the afternoon. The hotel, the Coronado is much easier to find than the first place in Zurich. It is also much much nicer, except for the freaky clown picture facing the bed. Here we have an actual double bed: one solid mattress, but a scary, rickety elevator.

We go back to Luzern since it’s a short drive and we didn’t like Zurich much anyway. We hunt for some boxers for Brendan. Apparently, the Swiss don’t wear regular boxers; they are all briefs and boxer brief kind of people. Fortunately, we find a department store just prior to closing and purchase some seriously expensive cotton boxers.

Then we head to the touristy junk stores. Actually, there was a fair amount of nice stuff. I spent some time marveling at some Lladro. This one is particularly amazing because of all the tiny little porcelain flowers. A saleswoman comes over and asks me if I’m interested. Nope, just looking. Sorry. We do get some little gifts for my brothers. The bag is the tackiest thing I have ever seen. I make Brendan carry it, because it embarrasses him so much.

We realize that we don’t have a picture of us together in this, our favorite city on the trip. We follow our guts and approach an older gentleman with a fluorescent green fanny pack and ask him to take our picture. This, is the result:

greenfannypack
We were in the middle of explaining the camera when he abruptly took the picture and gave us the camera back. It’s my favorite one of the whole trip.

Back in Zurich it is hard to find a place to eat because it’s Sunday. Finally, after walking several blocks, find a pizza place. Everyone thinks we’re weird for eating it with our hands. Also, pepperoni means red and green peppers, not meat (this comes in handy later when we go to Italy for Vince’s wedding).

 

Switzerland, Pontresina Day 5

September 14, 2001

It is a foggy drive in the Focus through the Alps. It rains a little. It’s really hard to see out the window, which is frustrating, because what I do see is spectacular. Pines and crystal lakes, sheer cliffs, waterfalls. We take switchback after switchback through tiny town after tiny town.

Until we get to our destination: the cable car up the Diavolezza. It’s this massive glacier that it just amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

alps

That was just one of many spectacular views we got on the way up and the way back down again. The entire place was ours since it was the off-season. The cable-car operator only speaks Italian. I forgot how close we were to Italy. It was our plan to drive into Italy the next day before heading out again.

After that, we checked in at the Palue. Exhaustion is starting to creep in. But we fight it off — there are still two days left, and dammit if we aren’t going to go out. While we are settling into the room, Bren notices that he doesn’t have enough clean underwear to finish the trip. Now, to truly appreciate the humor of this situation, you must understand that he always, always packs two extra pair — even if we are just staying overnight somewhere. Maybe it’s the altitude, maybe it’s my tiredness, but I think this is the funniest thing ever.

When we finally head out to St. Moritz, it starts to snow.

St. Moritz would normally be crowded, but it’s too early for skiing, so there aren’t that many people around. It’s freezing, and neither of us brought a jacket. We are in cashmere country, so I fenegle myself a scarf (only 2-ply). We also buy this terribly cute music box/teapot for Brendan’s mother. She collects teapots, and a music box seems fitting since we’re in Switzerland. It’s the cutest thing, the little mice family that lives inside the teapot do their chores — they sweep, they peek out the window. When we get it back to the room, we take a look at it and discover it’s made in Nebraska. Oops.

Switzerland, Amden Day 4

September 13, 2001

On the way to our next stop, Amden, we see a brown sign along the highway for some ancient ruins, and decide to stop to take a look. The thing that amazes me the most about this entire complex, which was once a really huge Roman city, is that there are houses right next to it. I can just imagine the directions: take the road past the Roman ruins and we live in the first house on the right with the broken column in the front yard.

The majority of the time, we are just guessing at what we are seeing because the signs are all in German. It must have been a decently large place because there is an amphitheatre (in the middle of restorations), a temple, an aqueduct, baths, and intricate mosaics.

The drive to Amden takes us for the first time into the mountains. We take several narrow roads straight up. The village is on the side of a mountain overlooking a circular valley with a lake in the middle. The weather so far hasn’t been terribly spectacular. It’s been mostly overcast, but today it’s sunny and perfect.

It is so pretty, so picturesque; it’s straight out of a movie.

amden

We get the best room in the hotel. The proprietor paid attention to our reservation form and the tick in the Honeymoon box. Our room has two floors and a balcony that is to die for. The picture above was taken from it. I don’t think it is possible to get tired of that view.

Since we are on a mission to see all the surrounding countries, we take a drive to see Liechtenstein and Austria. Technically, our US drivers licences don’t afford us the right to drive in Austria, but no one seems to care when we cross the border. On the way, we pass some spectacular waterfalls and yet more castles. In Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, we drive by one that says “NO VISIT!” I guess they got tired of tourists like us asking. So I snapped a photo hanging out the window of the car as we passed.

Each time we crossed the border no one seemed to care. We’d just get our passports out and again the guards would see that they were American and would just wave us on through. No stamps, no nothing.

When we get back to the hotel, we ask what’s for dinner. “It’s whatever my wife is cooking,” the owner told us. Turned out to be Swiss steak. At dinner we met a couple about our age from Boston who were biking across the Alps. We talked about home a little and about the craziness. Because the owner was so attentive, he brought us an extra large dessert, vanilla ice cream with fresh blackberries. Oh yes, I forgot, the berries in Switzerland are amazing. They were in season and everywhere we ate. So good. Then he brought us an after dinner drink of this pear liqour. Good stuff.

Since we (the other American couple were exhausted and retired early) were the only guests around, the owner and his cousin (or maybe his sister, I can’t remember) joined us for a long discussion of America and politics and what must be going on at home. He offered us a place to stay if we couldn’t get back. I seriously think we would have come back here, it was that beautiful and peaceful. The picture just doesn’t do it justice.

Switzerland, Basel Day 3

September 12, 2001

On the way to Basel we try and find castles. They are marked on our map with a little tower. Ruins and churches are also marked. It doesn’t take us long to figure out two important things:

1.Kastell doesn’t mean castle, but fort. Schloss means castle.
2.Brown signs along the highway will take you to historically significant places, just like at home.

We can see all kinds of castles off in the distance, but can never actually find one. We drive in their general direction, me looking at the map and reading signs, Brendan turning in what he figures is the right direction. He’s got a great sense of direction. But it still doesn’t work. So we give up for the time being.

Basel is a weird city; it is old and brand new at the same time.

basel

We stumble across this church (one of many) that is open to the public and take a walk up to the top of the spire. The above picture was taken there. You can stand where the bell would be and look straight up to the tip.

There’s this canal that runs through town, and one can take a boat across. The current is so strong that they have tether lines up so the boats down drift too far. It was sort of cloudy and windy so we didn’t do any crossing.

We did stop in at a museum, the Kunstmuseum to see more Picasso (he lived in Basel for a while), Paul Klee and others.

Basel is right on the border of Germany and France. It was part of our master plan to visit as many countries as we could, just so we could say that we had; I was hoping for passport stamps (we didn’t get any). We drove across the border to France first. The guard didn’t even really stop us, he saw the “CH” (for Switzerland, Schweiz in German) sticker on the back bumper of the car as we slowed down, we started to get out our passports, but as soon as he saw we were American he just waved us through. No big deal. Getting into Canada is harder!

Again, we tried to find castles. All we found were churches, graveyards and ruins. We did see many cute villages with cream colored buildings, tiled rooves, colorful shutters and window boxes. Straight out of a movie.

village2

Then we drove to Germany. (Of course, I could totally have it backwards. We could have done Germany first and then France.) At any rate, we crossed the German/French border with no problem. There was a nice little sign that told us that the back road we were on was not for persons who were carrying goods from one country to another. Those people had to turn around and go back to the national road to cross the border so they could be inspected. Thank you very much Mr. Sign!

hayman

We saw this guy in either France or Germany. Who knows. The Herbsmarkt sounds German, but the Ranspach-Le-Haut seems more French.

This sort of thing is typical. The Swiss have four recognized languages, German (the national language), French, Italian and Romanian. We’d walk into a store and the shop keeper would say “Bonjour” then proceed to talk in German. When we would leave they’d say goodbye in French again.

Switzerland, Luzern Day 2

September 11, 2001

The next day we did a little driving around the city and generally fared better with the signs. Did a little window shopping on the Bahnhofstrasse.

Then it was off to Luzern. About half an hour away.

lucern2
I can’t recall if we checked in at our second place before or after we hit town. Regardless, it was a much nicer place than the night before.

The strange thing about Europe is that they push two twin beds together to make a Queen/King. We had separate comforters, too. This was not such a bad thing, because as Brendan will tell you, I’m a big sheet hog.

This place was in the country-side. Rolling green hills with mountains off in the distance. I can’t get over how huge they are. I’ve only seen small, east coast mountains. These are amazing.

It is today that we decide to save money by going to the grocery store and buying cheese and bread. We discover some really good cheese, and some really strange curry butter, this way.

Luzern is a great place. I absolutely fall in love with it. The day we were there was a Tuesday, which is market day. They were just shutting down when we got there (so it must have been afternoon). I love the brightly painted buildings. I love the fountains. I love the Picasso museum. I love the old town center. I love the lake in the middle of town. I love the Kapellbrücke.

The Kapellbrücke is this wonderful covered bridge and tower built in 1333. The bridge has these triangular paintings in the eaves above that tell a story. You’ve got to walk across it and back to see them all (although some were damaged in a fire). The tower was once a prison/torture chamber but now it’s a gift shop.

Brendan has this theory that only old Southern Americans travel to Europe. He wasn’t proven wrong this day. There was this old man buying something in the gift-shop while we were there. The girls who worked there, as well as most of the thirty-somethings and younger, spoke English with no problem, but they started off in German. As the designated speaker, I would just ask if they spoke English and go from there. Anyway, this old man wants to buy something. He talks LOUDLY and S L O W L Y to the girl, pointing to the one he wants. Then, she tells him (in English) how much said item costs. He holds out his handful of Swiss Francs and makes her take the right amount. How hard is it to count? The numerical system doesn’t change. 20 means 20. Seriously. I was embarrassed to be from the same country as this guy. I hope the girl took herself a good tip!

I could go on an on about this city. But we come back on our last day, so I can say more then.

We drive back to our room to relax. I turn on the TV and watch Felicity dubbed in German. (We get no stations in English here, just German and Portuguese.) There’s this message that scrolls across the screen about New York. I figure they are speaking on the show about some landmark or New York specific thing, and they are just explaining it to the Swiss viewers. But the message keeps repeating itself. I remember the word for airplane, but that’s about it.

As it happens, it’s my little brother’s birthday. Turns out this place has an internet terminal (of all the places, this place in the tiny village has one!) so we head down to send him an email and to send a note to our parents. That doesn’t take too long, so since we’ve got money to burn, we head to the Drudge Report. Well, you can guess what happens now — we find out what exactly that little message was scrolling across the screen.

Back upstairs we put on German CNN and watch the whole thing happen. I’ve got the volume turned up so that I can hear the English underneath the translators. Doesn’t help much.

[It’s only after we get back home that Brendan remembers a man passing us on the street in the city saying “You are very lucky.” Creepy.]

At dinner in the restaurant downstairs, the chef comes out and introduces himself. He looks at me and asks if I like fish. I do, I answer. Great, he says, we have some caught today from the lake. He looks at Bren and knows immediately that he is a beef man. We both have incredibly delicious dinners. (Sense a theme?)

Switzerland, Zurich Day 1

We booked the trip through go-today.com. It was all inclusive: round-trip airfare, car rental and Minotel hotel vouchers. We’d set up our trip ahead of time to be a little loop in the eastern portion of the country: Zurich -> Lucerne -> Basel -> Amden -> Pontressina -> Zurich

This is our honeymoon. We wanted to go someplace where neither of us had been. Not such a difficult task, really. I can count the states that I have been to on one hand and Bren has only been to Canada and Ireland. Deciding on a place proved to be a little more difficult. We knew we wanted Europe, but not sure how adventurous we wanted to be in terms of language. We knew we wanted fairly comfortable and somewhat affordable. This was before the dollar weakened mind you…

September 10, 2001

Our first night was to be at the Atlantis in Zurich. It took us ages to find. Being fresh off the plane, faced with signs in German and with different symbols than we’re used to was a bit of a shock. We didn’t even come prepared with a map, just mapquest map and directions from place to place. Fortunately, the girl at the rental car counter spoke English and we got ourselves a nice map of the country.

Our directions told us to take the highway out of the airport. Unfortunately for us, all the highways in Switzerland end once they hit a major city and then once you navigate the city center you can pick it back up again. Being a rather large and major city, Zurich had several highways to choose from.

We didn’t take the right one.

Somehow though, we managed to just drive around for ages and happen upon the road that we needed to be on. We picked this particular place for our first night because it was a guest house of a four star hotel, and consequently the most expensive (voucher + local adjustment) of the entire trip.

Checking in, we were excited, the hotel lobby was nice. Then we had to walk up a hill and to another building that was not so nice to our room. It was the smallest room I’ve ever been in. The bed took up most of the space, and if one of us wasn’t sitting on it, there was no place for the other to go except maybe the bathroom. A disappointment to say the least.

For dinner we wandered down the hill into the edge of the city and found a nice-looking Italian restaurant. We had a German/Italian/French phrase book, but neither of us were quite ready, or awake enough really, to speak much in German. We picked Italian because we figured we couldn’t go too wrong. The waitress spoke no English, but the chef did a little. We pointed to things that looked vaguely familiar on the menu and ordered a bottle of red wine. The best and cheapest wine I’ve ever had. The waitress tried to help us with our German. And dinner was really good.

Disclaimer.

Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

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