Sunday, August 10, 2008
Like most of our adventures, our recent trip to Switzerland held a bit of unknown, promise, and adventure. And just like all of our European adventures to date, Switzerland--and it's indescribable beauty--vastly exceeded our expectations as a magical land of mountains, cows, and family fun.
The trip wasn't originally in our travel plans, but when Stacey realized that she would be attending a work function in southern Germany, the seed was planted. Europe's big outdoor retail trade show would be held in Friedrichshafen, which lies at Germany's southernmost border. The plan looked like this: The kids and daddy would travel via overnight train from Amsterdam to Zurich, meeting Stacey the next day. Perfect!
And perfect it was. Zurich is a marvelous city that sits on a lake with water so clear that it's been deemed safe to drink. While we passed on this method for quenching our thirst, we did marvel at the incredible clarity of the water, where even in the middle of the city one can see the river bottom as it flows swiftly by. "Hey, isn't that a bicycle down there?!?" (We can only imagine if Amsterdam's canals were as clear...imagine being able to see the thousands of bikes that line the canal bottoms!
Our time in Zurich was not long, as we set our sights on an even more beautiful location, the storied mountain town of Grindelwald, which sits below the famed Eiger mountain (elev. 13,026 ft.). The mountain looms over the town, and the scenery looks as if it is a painted backdrop hung around the village by a master artist. But truth/fact is more remarkable than fiction, and these vistas were as real as they get. One can be (incredibly and forever) moved by paintings in a gallery, but there's simply no substitute for landscapes that you can see and touch in person.
The train journey from Zurich to Grindelwald is one of the most picturesque railway rides I've ever experienced. As the train snakes past Interlaken and heads toward Grindelwald, every bend in the tracks offered us another great vista or interesting house/building/river/forest to see.
When pressed for comment, I think that each member of the family might have a distinct highlights of our stay in Grindelwald. No doubt that the kids will remember the great community pool that we visited daily. Stacey might remember the mountain runs and hikes most fondly, which is difficult for me to argue! I would add that our trip to the "Top of Europe," Jungfraujoch (elev. 11,782 ft.), the highest railroad/railway station on the continent, was certainly a most remarkable journey. Note that the peak of the actual Jungfrau mountain sits a bit higher at 13,642 ft. above sea level.
We took one major hike with the entire family. From Grindelwald (3393 ft.), we rode a gondola to First (pronounced "Feerst", a collective of buildings that I hesitate to call a town, elev. 7113 ft.). After a casual lunch, we set out on a 1 hour, 45 minute hike that rolled over some beautiful mountain scenery, past grazing cows, and along ridges that took our breath away, ending at Grosse Scheidegg for a bus ride back to Grindelwald.
A note on the omnipresent Swiss cows: We hadn't given it much thought, but all of that milk for the fondues and chocolates has to come from somewhere. One of our fondest memories might just be of the echoing of the cowbells across the valleys, with each herd wearing a different size/shape/sounding bell, perhaps to help the farmers distinguish one herd from another. The next time you stop by Albert Hein or Fred Meyer to pick yourself up some Toblerone, tip your hat in the direction of Switzerland and thank those magnificent cows who have given so much for so little in return. That said, when I'm reincarnated as a cow, please, oh please Buddha, may I live in the Swiss Alps? Talk about the good life!
Get a feel for yourself...play this movie:
By the way, a chocolate factoid: If you laid the daily production of 100g TOBLERONE bars end to end, it would stretch over a distance of 283 km, the distance from Detroit to Cleveland.
One part of Switzerland that we hadn't adequately prepared for (mentally) was the cost of goods and services. Holy Swiss Franc, Batman! Lunch: 55 Francs! (1 Swiss Franc = approx. 1 US Peso...err, dollar). Dinner: 110 Francs! Postcard: 3 Francs! But, as the commercial says, the Swiss mountain experience: Priceless.
So, after four days and with not a small audible sigh, we checked out of our comfortable apartment hotel and boarded the return train for Zurich to retrace our steps back to Amsterdam. With each feet in elevation lost, it felt as if we were leaving part of ourselves behind, too. But the soul-charging experience that was given to us by the Swiss mountains and the affable Swiss people were just what we needed to kick off the "official" summer break, and we returned to our home better for the entire experience.
Journey along with us and click HERE for photos from our time in Switzerland.
Posted by Greg Pressler at 12:27 PM