Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Last Full Day of the Trip

September 28, 2007

Friday was the last full day of the trip, since we had to leave for the airport at 7:45 Saturday morning. The distance from Lungern to Lucerne (Luzern in German) isn't great, so we had plenty of time for a stop to see the Lucerne Lion before heading into the center of the old town by 9:30.

The Lion commemorates the deaths of some Swiss soldiers. You can check Wikipedia for details: I believe the soldiers were mercenaries working for French king Louis XVI, but I may be remembering wrong. As Cristian told us, the artist who designed the Lion, carved into a starkly sloped cliffside overlooking a little pond, died before he was able to do the carving but after the design had been approved. The leaders of Lucerne hired another artist, but insisted he use the dead artist's design. Angry at not being able to create his own work, the second artist shaped the nook in which the Lion rests so that it resembles the outline of a pig! Look carefully at the upper left for the pig's ear, and at the lower left for his snout.

After snapping our photos here, we got back on the bus and reached the center of Lucerne by 9:30. There the bus let us off right near where the river flows out of the lake and right in front of Bucherer Jewelry store. Bucherer provided map/tourist packets for all of us, including a voucher for a free commemorative spoon. As Cristian pointed out, we had to go upstairs to the rear of the store to retrieve the spoon, Bucherer's ploy to get us deep inside, among their wares, which include stuffed animals and various souvenirs as well as jewelry and watches. Bucherer also kindly allows bus tourists to use their restrooms!

After a brief stroll in the streets and a morning snack at Migros, we met Cristian back in front of Bucherer for a 45-minute historical tour of old Lucerne. First up was the Kapell-Brücke--the Chapel Bridge. In the past the bridge came right up to the church from which it takes its name, but in later times a street was added along the lake shore, so that now the bridge ends a block or a little less short of the church.

The bridge, which dates back several hundred years, was unfortunately damaged by a fire, apparently caused by a careless smoker, in 1993. So the middle of the bridge is now a reconstruction, but the two ends, closer to the opposite banks of the river, are much older. As you can see from the photo, it's a covered wooden foot bridge. What you can't see is that, at regular intervals, there are triangular paintings under the bridge's roof: war scenes with beheadings are on several of the painted boards. Paintings which are blackened and damaged on one side indicate how far the fire of 1993 reached. We crossed from one bank to the next on the bridge and walked along the shore, stopping in to visit the Jesuit church along the way. We recrossed the river on another bridge and went into the confusing streets of the old town center, tucked between riverside, lakeside and old city walls.

There are lots of smallish plazas in this part of the city, mostly named after their old functions, such as the various types of merchants who sold goods there. The old city also features a number of buildings with frescoes painted on the outside. The building in this photo (partially blocked at the bottom by a parked delivery truck) shows the Last Supper, with women present!

Another building represented the tale of William Tell.

Cristian told us in no uncertain times that the story of William Tell is just a legend, quite similar in fact to an older Norwegian story. But the legend serves the purpose of indicating the feelings of those Swiss who were determined to break free of Hapsburg rule in the 13th century and live free of outside control.

At the end of the walking tour, Cristian and a number of our group left for a boat tour of Lucerne, followed for most of them by a trip up the mountain nearby in hopes of seeing yet more mountains in the distance. (Dashed hope, I heard later.) I stayed in town and explored. Along with my typical lunch, I also spent a good deal of time in the Stocker bookstore; roamed the city center some more, including a stroll on part of the city walls and up a couple of towers; and bought some souvenirs.

The walls include a number of towers, a few of which you can enter (if you don't mind climbing) and get a long view of the city beneath. I ran into two of my fellow-tourers here (a couple from a Denver suburb) and walked and visited with them for a while. Our walk took us, finally, to a staircase going back down, but outside, rather than inside, the city walls. That is, we were still in Lucerne, but we were on the otherside of the walls, and had to walk around a block or so and come under the walls to get back to where we had been. On the way we passed a field where several cows were grazing--yep, right in the middle of Lucerne. Funny thing is these cows were hairy! Were they part yak? You decide.

I also picked up a few gifts at the Manora department store and bought an afternoon cup of tea and a couple of very plain pastries called (spelling?) schenkeli before rejoining the excursionists at 3:30. We left Lucerne for the short drive back to Zürich: short, that is, in terms of mileage; Friday afternoon traffic made it not exactly short in terms of time.

Well, the trip was ending. We were back at Novotel for our last night: packing, resting, visiting a bit--before the long flight back to Dallas/Ft Worth International Airport on Saturday.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Highlight of the Trip

September 27, 2007

It was wet and chilly Thursday morning in Lausanne. As we rode in the bus toward our first stop of the day--a cheese factory--Cristian joked, but with (he claimed) substantial accuracy, about another bit of roadwork we were passing through. In Switzerland, he said, there is always roadwork going on, though the roads are in great shape; in Italy (his homeland, remember) the roads never get repaired, no matter how much they need it.

At the cheese factory (whose name I cannot remember, but which was in or near the town of Gruyeres), we actually saw a huge gleaming vat of yellowy liquid being churned around by a big mechanical stirrer, as well as an actual human being using what was obviously a very sharp blade cutting a large cheese into rectangular pieces. In the snack shop, Cristian passed out samples of the factory's cheese: little plastic packages with three small slices inside, a mild cheese of only a few months in age; a "medium" cheese around six months old; and a sharp "old" cheese of around ten months. I ate the mild slice and passed on the others, but the girls sampled all three.

After the cheese factory, our next stop was up the hill to the old section of Gruyeres. Here in this defensive location was the castle itself and what has survived of the old town from several centuries ago, now full of shops for the tourists. This picture looks along the main street of the old town, toward the castle:

As we walked toward the castle, which most of us chose to visit, Cristian mentioned the museum of an artist here in town. At first I didn't understand who it was, but as it turned out it was H. R. Giger, best-known in the U.S. for creating the monster of Alien and for designing one of Emerson Lake & Palmer's LP jackets. I may have known at some point that Giger was Swiss, but certainly had forgotten if I did, and I certainly didn't expect to see his museum in this little "old" town. Giger's work can be very disturbing, but I was torn as to whether I should skip the castle and go to the museum.

I finally decided for the castle, and--although I would have liked to have browsed the museum--I'm glad I made the choice I did: for me, the castle/chateau at Gruyeres was the highlight of the trip. It was clearly a castle--not a palace. Even though some of the rooms were "polished" and decorated for the usage of the baron (?) and his family, it was obviously intended first for defense: rough stone walls, large rough wooden beams, rampart, windows from which weapons could obviously be fired at attackers below, and so forth. I took several photos looking through the windows to the scenes outside. This one shows a small church outside the walls:

There was also a sculpture exhibit currently being housed at the chateau, and statues of people were scattered around the grounds and inside the rooms. The artist is (was?) Hanneke Beaumont, about whom I know nothing. This photo shows figures inside the courtyard of the castle:

Underneath the protective overhang of the upper story on what I think of as the west side of the chateau (though there's a 75% chance I'm wrong!) there is also a long wall painting, some of which has been damaged by the years but which is generally quite bright and fresh looking:

Inside one of the rooms there was another painting, done onto wood as well as I could tell, and apparently covering an older fresco underneath. One piece of the later painting was cut and lifted up, so that we could see the wall beneath, where it is easy to make out some kind of damage to the wall: chunks of plaster seem to be gone:

I could have stayed longer at the chateau, even though I stayed there as long as I could and didn't have a chance to dip into the Giger museum. In the parking lot as we prepared to leave, I took this photo of a Morgan automobile.

After leaving Gruyeres, we went to Bern, the capital, for lunch and time to browse. Once again, Janis, Debbie and I had our lunch at the Swiss combo restaurant/grocery and wandered the heart of the old town. It continued to be damp, cloudy and cold as we visited the cathedral, the clock tower, and a CD store. We also saw a sign identifying an apartment where Einstein lived from 1903-1905 (which means, I suppose, that his 1905 relativity paper may have been written there), and I had fun taking a photo of a business sign reading: SCHMUCK-CAFE. (My photo program is, unfortunately, refusing to export the photo for me.) (And I suppose I should mention that schmuck means jewelry.)

After Bern, we drove to Interlaken where we had a brief halt during which Jungfrau (the mountain) did not make an appearance through the clouds. Five of our compatriots disembarked here for a week's stay, and fourteen other tourists who had just spent a week in Interlaken joined us for the end of our tour. The girls and I walked the main strip but couldn't even find a little to-go bakery for a hot cup of something and a pastry!

From Interlaken we headed on to Lungern for the night. Along the way we passed the falls at which, Cristian told us, A. Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes die for a while before public demand made him "resurrect" and explain away the detective's death. The moving bus and my camera batteries weren't cooperating, so I never got a decent shot of the falls.

Lungern's a pretty little town, on the banks of the Obsee, where I discovered a sort of RV park in which folks had built additional rooms/cabins directly onto the sides of their RVs. There were also stand-alone cabins in the park. The hotel didn't impress me much: my room was chilly and had a mildly bad smell to it. But I got a nice photo of the town from the church grounds. You can see tombstones in the foreground of the photo: the entrance sidewalk goes up through the cemetery to the church.

There was another optional excursion this evening which I skipped for walking around and spending time in my room reading. Tomorrow: Lucerne.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

To the Matterhorn!

September 26, 2007

Wednesday morning, a damp gray mess, we strolled from the Walliserhof to the train station to catch a ride up to Zermatt. There most of us switched over to the Gornergratbahn, the Matterhorn train which takes about 40 minutes going up to Gornergrat station at 10132 feet above sea level, from which we would have--with any luck--a great view of the mountains as well as a chance to get a snack and drink and browse a touristy gift shop. Outside the station, a local company also snaps group and individual photos, and we were scheduled to have that done as well.

As we ascended the mountainside in the train, we watched the rain turning to snow outside. Lots of us were lowering windows and snapping photos of the scenery, even though it made the train a bit nippy. Some of us even saw a fox or two in the forest, though I missed out. Rats!

When we reached Gornergrat Station, we hurried out to have our photos taken as the snow was coming down fairly heavily, and the thick gray clouds were allowing no site of the Matterhorn. We lined up on a three-stepped set of bleachers for the group photo--just like school!--and then had our individual photos taken with the photographer's St Bernard dog. The photos would be available for viewing and purchasing when we returned to Zermatt.

Here's a picture one of the girls snapped of me, standing next to the station sign. Please note the amount of snow on the wall behind me, and even on top of the sign itself.

After getting photos shot here near the station building, we hurried up to the observation building where there's a nice enough cafe and another (enclosed) observation point. I had tea of course, though Janis and Debbie opted for hot chocolate, I believe. I snapped photos of each of them with Cristian, the guide, and we talked to him a bit about music. Switzerland is not a non-smoking country, and the cigarette smoke inside the building gave me a headache, though I didn't notice any particular effects of the higher altitude.

The snow continued to fall, and the clouds continued not to part, and the Matterhorn was not in evidence.

We wandered back down to the station building and looked at souvenir gifts for a few minutes, and then it was time to make a decision: leave with the next train to go back down to Zermatt, or hang around another 25 minutes on the off chance that the clouds might part and allow us a sight of the mountain. We asked the photographer what he thought, and he said it would probably be a couple more days before the Matterhorn was visible again, so we decided to get on the train and head back down, leaving ourselves a little over an hour to have lunch and a little bit of wandering in Zermatt.

Here's the photo I took of the station as we prepared to leave, snow still falling.

We were all disappointed, to be sure. We'd spent $62 a person to take the train up to see the Matterhorn, and hadn't seen the Matterhorn. Of course we had what was surely, for many of us, our earliest snowfall of any year of our lives! On the way down, I took this photo of snow on the trees in the forest.

Back in Zermatt, we ate lunch, and the girls bought the group photo--in which the Matterhorn magically appears! Then we wandered town a bit before time to meet the train back to Täsch and the bus.

We spent most of the afternoon in transit from Zermatt to Lausanne, though we had a nice snack break at a Marché stop along the highway. Along the way we passed the castle of Chillon, famous from Byron's poem, and Montreux, site of the international jazz festival every year. I suppose it was 4:30 or so when we reached Hotel City in the heart of old Lausanne. While the girls settled into their room, I zipped over to the Coop grocery to get some food for my supper. Then we walked uphill to the old cathedral (closed, so we didn't get to go inside) and the Chateau of St Marie. Then we circled back around past the Palais de Rumine--which now contains museums and libraries. The girls were amused that I stepped in dog poop and tried to wash it off my shoe in water splashed from a fountain. As we wandered another street or two on our way back toward the hotel, a young couple asked us to take their photo at yet another fountain. Then the girls went to a pizzeria for supper, and I did some more walking.

I got my camera, which I had forgotten when we left the first time, and headed for the Rue de Bourg, Lausanne's "high street". It was full of expensive shops, most of which were closed or closing by this time. The street sort of angled downhill toward a Protestant church--the Eglise St Francois. It was open, and I went inside and sat for a few minutes and listened to the organist practice. While he (she? I never saw him/her) played, a young man at the rear of the church seemed to be working out some sort of dance routine to the music. Whether he was actually preparing for a performance at the church, or was just a little "touched," I have no way of knowing!

After leaving the church, I picked up a cup of tea at--gasp!--Starbuck's. The only one I saw in Switzerland, though I assume there are others. It was the only place in Switzerland where I had a large cup of tea--24 ounces, I assume. That was nice!

Then I headed off in the waning light of the evening downhill toward Lake Geneva. It was a mile or so, I suppose. I passed shops, an art gallery, an "English church" and buses as I stretched my legs. By the time I got to the shore of the lake, it was clear I didn't have much time if I wanted to get back to the hotel before full dark. I took a photo of a swan, whom I was unable to convince that I didn't have food on me, and this photo, looking out across the lake:

Now since I had a fairly easy downhill walk to the lake, a not-so-easy uphill climb faced me on my return. Bus tours don't allow one lots of time for any sustained exercise, but I certainly got my workout in Lausanne.

Back at the hotel, I got cleaned up, then went over to the girls' room. We played a couple of games of Yahtzee (believe it or not, I won) and I snapped this photo of the Cathedral out their window:

My window, on the other hand, overlooked the intersection the hotel sits upon. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lugano to Täsch by way of Italy

September 25, 2007

Tuesday morning we had some foot time in Lugano before leaving for our first "field trip" of the day. I walked with Janis and Debbie along the main drag by the lake, back down to the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli (St Mary of the Angels) which they had not yet seen. Quite a few of our group made the walk there before dispersing into the center of town for shopping.

The evening before I had seen a coin shop, just closing, which looked like it might be interesting: there were, for example, some ancient Roman coins on display in the window. While the girls went into another shop, I headed on down the "high street" in search of the numismatist. One coin I would have liked to see more closely was a coin of Julian "the Apostate", the 4th century emperor who wanted to restore the ancient worship of Zeus and the gods. I couldn't find the shop, but I did notice that the bookstore I'd seen on Monday also sold Wenger Swiss Army knives. I needed a pocket-knife for slicing up my apples so I browsed the display windows outside, then went in.

Besides looking at the knives, I also decided to buy a German-language book called Hermann Hesses Indienreise (something like Hermann Hesse's Trip to India) which I thought might be simple enough for me to work my way through, with a dictionary of course. While I was browsing, the girls found me, because Debbie was also interested in looking for knives for gifts. I bought a small and simple knife, with a short blade, a nail-file and a pair of tiny scissors, and Debbie bought two, I believe, a little more elaborate than what I wanted.

In the U.S. one normally sees Victorinox Swiss Army products--not just knives, but also watches and even clothing. (In fact, my "Malta pants" are Victorinox, as is my smaller pocket watch, the one which accompanied me on my journeys.) But these knives were Wenger. Wenger calls itself "the genuine Swiss Army knife" and Victorinox goes with "the original Swiss Army knife". I did a little Wikipedia reading, after returning to the U.S., and learned that the two companies made an agreement, long ago, to use these variant terminologies. According to Wikipedia, Victorinox is indeed the "original" manufacturer of the Swiss Army knife. (Before Victorinox got into the business, Swiss soldiers were carrying knives made in [gasp!] Germany.) Wenger began making similar knives just a few years later. As it turns out, the Victorinox company bought Wenger just a few years ago, but the two names and designs, as well as the two claims, are still used by the unified company. Wenger products feature a rounded square logo with the cross in the middle. Victorinox uses a shield-style logo. The Wenger knives cost a little more, though I don't know what, if anything, this means.

When we left Lugano, we went to the Alprose chocolate factory. Here we had, no joke, a sort of field trip, going through the factory to see the conveyor belts and so forth--and with signs warning that photography was not allowed. (Even so, one of our tour members, who was video-ing incessantly, was video-ing inside the factory.) After one completes the short tour of the factory, one is routed, to be sure, into the factory store, to purchase chocolate to one's heart's content. I didn't buy any, but Janis and Debbie both did, and so did, I imagine, most of our colleagues.

After leaving the factory, our next destination was Stressa, Italy, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Here there was an optional excursion out to one of the islands (Isola Bella) in the lake to tour a palace of the Boromeo family and its gardens. Janis and Debbie toured while I wandered Stressa. I had my tuna, chips and apple at the lakeside, then went to the Irish Bar (yep, that's its name) for an after-lunch glass of wine. Afterward I strolled town some more and bought a croissant at a local bakery. When I offered the woman a 5 euro note to pay for my 1 euro purchase, she was quite upset. But I didn't have a euro in change, so she took the bill. I was more than a little piqued at such distress over giving me 4 euros in change!

I walked along the lake through a small park which also, like the park at Lugano, featured sculpture. One of the sculptures was actually a monument, expressing the sympathy of the people of Stressa with the U.S. after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Another was this exuberant horse, behind which you can see one of the islands in the lake, though I don't know which one it is.

Yet another was a World War II memorial.

After this stroll, I had a cup of tea at a cafe across the street from the lake, then rejoined the bus and those returning for the island excursion.

Off to Täsch for a night downvalley from the Matterhorn. Our good weather had somewhat forsaken us today already, the sun leaving us for clouds, and we reached Täsch in an icky drizzle. Our hotel, the Walliserhof, was somewhat charming, though, in the manner of Hotel Bären in St Moritz. This photo was taken out my balcony, looking toward the mountains.

Dinner was included this evening in the package (apparently because dining options are fairly limited in Täsch), and the waitress was very solicitous of my food limitations. The cook prepared me a plate of boiled potatoes, sliced and buttered, which were quite tasty. I also had hot tea (how could I not?), though, oddly, only water was included with the meal and any other drink had to be paid for.

Our plans for the next day were aimed at one of the trip's highlights: a train ride 4000 feet higher up the mountain in order to see the Matterhorn!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Into the Alps and Italy

September 24, 2007

Monday morning our schedule called for leaving the hotel at 8:20 to head for the train station. I zipped out early for a buchhandlung that opened at 8:00. I was hoping to find a dictionary of or grammar on the Rumantsch language before we left that part of the country. Luckily for me, the folks at Wega St Moritz were friendly enough, and spoke enough English, to send me on my way with Schweizer Sprachen, a conversation guide to all four Swiss languages, and Romansh: Facts & Figures, an English-language book about the language and its speakers. I also hurried by Hanselmann's to see if I'd left my clip-on sunglasses there the day before (I had), but still made it back to the hotel before the bus left, though Cristian had told me I could just walk to the train station and meet them there.

Our train ride, leaving St Moritz and ending up in Tirano, Italy, aimed to introduce us more closely to the Alps and to let us catch sight of three glaciers: Monteratsch, Cambrina and Palü. But don't ask me which one this is: in a pinch, I'd say Palü, but I might be wrong.

In this photo, you can see part of a glacier in the background, and the train curving around a bend in the tracks in the foreground:

For part of the ride, we traveled through the Poschiavo Valley, which had been a battleground (I'm not sure how literally) in the past between Swiss Catholics and Protestants. The highest point on the trip was 7403 feet above sea level, at one of the depots. The sign outside the depot gives the elevation in Italian, German and English. Given that all of these shots were taken from the train, generally while it was moving, I don't think this one turned out too bad:

Our last town to pass through before crossing the Swiss-Italian border was Campocologno, which we reached about 11 a.m. We stopped afterward in Tirano, Italy, not too far over the border, for a lunch break and, for those who wanted, a visit to the Basilica di Madonna, whose tower you can see in this photo. Note also the hillsides, terraced for the vinyards.

If I recall correctly, Cristian told us that the organ inside the church has 2000 pipes. Here's a photo of some of them:

After visiting the church, Janis, Debbie and I made our way back to Ai Portici, the restaurant Cristian recommended for lunch. The "girls" were able to eat real Italian food of course, while I had an order of plain French fries to supplement my packet of tuna. Sigh. By the time we finished it was time to scurry back to the bus for our drive through some more of Italy before returning to Switzerland to spend the night in Lugano.

We skirted the shirts of Lake Como, including a town called (I believe) Dongo where Mussolini was apprehended while trying to escape to Switzerland with his mistress. He was shot here. When he was later hanged in disgrace in public in Milan, he was already dead. As we passed, Cristian pointed out the square where the former dictator was shot. Cristian also told us that left-wing dissidents had been hiding in the hills in this area throughout the war. We stopped in a smallish town, whose name escapes me, on the shores of Lake Como and had our afternoon break, most of us using the time to have gelato, as Cristian suggested.

We reached Lugano about 5. Our hotel here was the one, I think, which most of us gave the strongest (or perhaps only) thumbs-down to. Right in the center of town, the hotel has one wing built directly over the tracks of the funicular which goes from the town center up to a higher point on the mountainside. Some of our fellow tourers had rooms in this wing. My room did not, but it did look out onto the "square" where the funicular ran and which had cafes at the bottom with outdoor tables. Too noisy!

Most of the group took an "optional excursion" here--an evening lake cruise and dinner. Avoiding meal events as I do, I instead strolled the town center and took care of my supper myself. I walked along the shore of the lake, around toward the Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli, which Cristian said we should see for its frescoes. (Unfortunately I don't remember the artist's name.) Here are two shots from the inside, the first being, I assume, St Sebastian:

The structure of the church is quite simple and the walls are mostly undecorated. I'm not sure if this makes it Romanesque or not, but it's definitely not an elaborate and "soaring" Gothic structure. Unfortunately the facade of the church is currently covered in plastic sheeting to protect it from work going on at a high-rise next door.

Across the street from the church, on the lakeside, is a park featuring a number of sculptures scattered about--a sort of sculpture garden--but it was too dark by the time I reached the park to take photos without flash.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Tour Begins

Departure for Switzerland was set for 2:55 p.m. on Friday, September 21. My kindly niece April got me to the airport in plenty of time; I got checked in, certified secure, deloused; I looked for some snacks to take on the plane. About 1:30 my traveling partners Janis and Debbie showed up.

We visited a bit, then boarded the 767 around 2:30. At 2:55, we didn't take off. Finally they told us that the fuel tank wasn't communicating with the fuel gauge, so that their full tank wasn't registering on the instruments. We sat. And sat. And sat until they got that problem solved. We finally took off about 4:35 for the long flight to Zürich. I snoozed some, but not a great deal. I read from R.F. Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days, a novel I had first read in the '70s when it was new. I watched TV. I listened to music.

Did I mention the flight was long?

We finally arrived in Zürich about 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 22, which was of course about 2:30 a.m. to our North American Central Daylight Time bodies. While I was still waiting for my suitcase to come onto the carousel, we got a PA announcement asking us to show up at the information desk for our connection to the hotel. It was nice that we didn't have to wait for that ride, since we were already over an hour and a half late getting into Zürich, and very tired. A young couple from Ohio was waiting the bus as well, so they were the first folks of our tour we met, along with our tour guide, Cristian. Cristian is a young Italian, who lives not far from the Swiss-Italian border when he is not directing Cosmos tours. With curly blond hair and blue eyes, he was quite the charmer for our ladies, including Janis and Debbie. He likes to sing Dean Martin songs, which he told us he learned from listening to the CDs, since Dino was long since retired by the time Cristian was born. Our driver, Massimo, also an Italian, was probably in his 30s, and didn't speak English, so we mostly just nodded and smiled at him. Massimo has thinning red hair, so neither he nor Cristian have the stereotypical Mediterranean "look."

After getting checked in at the hotel (Novotel, near Zürich's Technopark, about a mile or so from the city center), we walked over to a Migros grocery store which Cristian pointed out to us. Migros has a hot foods section as well as groceries for the home, so Janis and Debbie and I got ourselves some lunch and sat outside to eat. After lunch Janis decided to return to the hotel to rest. Debbie and I went for a walk down toward the city center. We didn't quite make it all the way there, but we walked for a good while (for jet-lagged people), passing factories and high-rise apartments and stores. When we reached the last street before the bridge over the Sihl River, we came upon the demonstration I already mentioned--building trades people marching for higher wages.

After they passed, we crossed the street and looked down at the river, then began our walk back to the hotel. Debbie went in to rest, and I went back out. I walked around the somewhat industrialized area, took a few photos

and stopped in at a coffee shop and bookstore to get a cup of tea to go. Now you may be asking yourself, "Since Renner is carrying bags of instant oatmeal and tea bags, why does he need to buy a cup of tea?" The answer is simple: Swiss hotels, unlike English and Irish hotels, don't have "tea fixin's" in the rooms. No electric kettle; no tea and coffee bags; no sugar; no coffee cups. And since the cups in the room were plastic, rather than paper or styrofoam, I was a little leery of using them with hot water from the faucet.

Yes, I used hot water from the faucet to make tea and oatmeal. The water was quite hot, and so it was the best a non-electric-kettle-having room could offer. I re-used the cup from the coffee shop. Now at some point I noticed that the room also featured some small wine glasses, and I used one of them for both oatmeal and tea when we returned to Zürich at tour's end, but on this occasion, the first night in Zürich, the coffee shop's disposable tea cup had to do.

And in case you're wondering, a small cup of to-go tea is not cheap in Switzerland. This first cup on the go cost me, I believe, four francs--but at least it had the advantage of being good quality loose leaf tea prepared for me at the shop. All the other to-go tea I had on the trip was tea-bag tea, generally (if not always) Lipton's "yellow label" tea, and the price never dropped below 2 francs 90, and usually was 3 francs to 3 francs 50. Three francs is roughly $2.50, so that's a pretty expensive 8 to 10 ounce cup of Lipton's. Other than that first coffee shop, the best tea offering I found in Switzerland was at the Novotel breakfast, where we were able to drink as much as we wanted, selecting from at least a dozen varieties.

Didn't you non-tea-drinkers just love that paragraph?

Here is some general information about Switzerland, garnered mostly from Cristian's intro as we rode from the airport to the hotel, from our tour meeting the first evening at the hotel, or from our bus ride Sunday morning to Appenzell:

1. Zürich is the biggest city, with about 350,000 inhabitants, and is a Protestant city.

2. Bern(e), the capital, has about 120,000 inhabitants.

3. There are German-speaking (about 65%), French-speaking (about 25%) and Italian-speaking (about 9%) sectors (plus a small area where Rumantsch is spoken by about 1% of the population. More on that later.)

4. The country is evenly split between Catholics and Protestants.

5. A low salary in Switzerland--the salary of a housekeeper or beginning factory worker--is about $3000 a month (not including the amount the employer pays in taxes to the government).

6. A high salary (Cristian used, as an example, a bank director) is about $9000 a month.

7. About 80% of Swiss imports come from Germany; about 60% of their exports go to Germany. They export watches, chocolate, cheese and (of course) Swiss army knives.

8. Only about 4% of the population is involved in agriculture.

9. Unemployment is very low.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We left the hotel before nine on our way to Appenzell, on our way to Liechtenstein and St Moritz. Appenzell

is in an agricultural region where the alpenhorn and yodeling originated, as a means of communicating from hill to hill. We spent some time on foot here, wandering around, visiting the cemetery where I took the photo of the stained-glass-and-metal "tombstone" posted yesterday. I noticed here, and later in Lungern, how many residents had lived into their 80s and 90s.

In Liechtenstein, we also had time to wander about. Janis and Debbie bought some souvenir gifts for family members, and I had another cup of tea! I also snapped photos of sculpture on display in the middle of the city. I posted a photo of the Henry Moore sculpture yesterday; here's a photo of a rather lovely abstract:

There is a small booth, right near where the bus let us off, where one can pay 2 francs to have one's passport stamped for Liechtenstein: and that's what I did.

From Liechtenstein we went back into Switzerland and made a stop at a much better version of a U.S. truck stop for lunch and WC (water closet--toilet) break. "Heidiland" is in the Heidi part of Switzerland and features a tower out of which Heidi, the goat and Peter appear once every thirty minutes, to the strains of the "Heidi" song (which Cristian was also glad to sing for us, upon request). Instead of a greasy spoon restaurant and a convenience store mostly full of snack food, Heidiland features a "self-service" restaurant and a small grocery store. The restaurant contains several buffet-style displays of various kinds of food--breads and pastries, soups, salad bar, fresh fruit, hot drinks--and the grocery carries actual groceries as well as prepared sandwiches and junk food. After eating another picnic-style lunch, the girls and I also walked out onto a bridge Cristian had pointed out to us which spans the Rhine River here where it is fairly narrow. The water is a very powdery blue, containing lots of minerals from the glacial run-off.

When we left Heidiland, we began a long driving climb into the mountains on our way to St Moritz, going through the Julier Pass to reach it. The Rhine was often far below us in the bottom of the valley, and the hillsides were covered with trees except in places where the cliffside had sheared off, leaving almost vertical drops. There were lots of tunnels on the road, and we began to see square-wire fencing and wooden triangles and fences, all of which are there to prevent avalanches and earth slides. At one point traffic was backed up as an old woman herded cows down the road!

We stopped on the shores of Lake Marmorera, where I took a photo of this restaurant, closed on Sunday.

The word ustareia is the Rumantsch word for restaurant. AGL LAI' means on the lake, I think. Rumantsch is yet another language derived from Latin, with only 60,000 or so speakers. It is an official language of Switzerland, and the speakers live in a canton (state) called the Graubünden. St Moritz is in the Rumantsch area. Apparently, there are 5 variants of the language we might call "natural" (spoken in different valleys) and a sixth which is kind of an artificially created generic version.

We arrived in St Moritz later in the afternoon and got checked into the Hotel Bären, an older hotel with a lot of character. This is the view from my balcony.

As you can see, I looked out over the hotel, but could also see into the mountains. The town is named for St Mauritius (spelling?) who lived around 300 CE. Cristian took us on a walking tour of the town's center. We passed by the old school (a photo of which I posted yesterday) and the "leaning tower" of St Moritz. There used to be a church attached to this tower, and the tower only began to lean when the church was torn down. It was supported in order to keep the lean from getting worse.

We also went down past a rather marvelous bakery and conditorei (spelled with a K in "normal" German) called Hanselmann's and to an elevated walkway that comes out over the shore of the lake. As we passed some of the expensive shops, Cristian, perhaps joking, told us that visitors buy things in St Moritz, paying twice as much as they would in their hometown, just so they can say they bought it in St Moritz.

Later that evening I had a meal of croissant and oatmeal in my room, then got on the Internet long enough to make the short posting I made on September 23. I also asked the woman at the hotel desk about the Rumantsch saying painted onto the wall above the desk: Minch ün voul dvanter ed üngün no voul esser. She said it means: Everyone wants to become it, but no one wants to be it. It's a kind of riddle. Can you figure it out?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A little logy, maybe

I just returned from Switzerland yesterday afternoon, and I slept a long time last night. It was a 31-hour day for me! I hope to start arranging and writing up accounts, from my notes, maybe tonight. I'd like to start posting a more organized version of the trip tomorrow. We'll see. In the meantime, a few photos.

This is from a little park (?) right next to our hotel in Zürich.

On the first day of the bus touring itself, we went to a little place called Appenzell, on to Liechtenstein, and then on to St. Moritz. This is an old Citroen, parked in the Appenzell town center.

And this is one of many tombstones there which featured stained glass. I obscured part of the name, just for privacy reasons.

The castle of the prince of Liechtenstein, overlooking the town of Vaduz. You can see, by the crane, that work must be going on:

A sculpture by Henry Moore on display in Vaduz:

And this is the "old" school building in St. Moritz. If you can zoom in on this (if the file is large enough), you can see the writing which goes across the front of the building. It's in Romansch, which is spoken by about 1% of the Swiss:

More to follow!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Greetings from St. Moritz, Switzerland

Hello, everyone.This will be a short post because I am on the world's slowest Internet connection! No photos this time around because I am working on a public computer. I will add photos after returning to the States.

We left DFW airport a little after 4:30 on Friday, more than 90 minutes behind schedule. The jet's fuel gauge was not working, so we could not leave until that was taken care of--we had fuel, but no way of reading it. We arrived in Zurich just before 9:30 a.m., local time: or 2:30 Dallas time. We were exhausted, of course. We reached the hotel before 11 and got checked into our rooms. We visited a nearby grocery and got items for lunch: for me, an apple, some chips, some 'ham-cheese' I ended up being a bit afraid to eat. The girls (Janis and Debbie) got 'nice' things like quiche!

Later Debbie and I took a walk toward the downtown area while Janis rested. We encountered some kind of march or demonstration, apparently people in the buildings trades wanting better wages. Otherwise we mostly saw shops--many closed on a Saturday afternoon--along with cafes and restaurants and residential highrises. Zurich is on the Limmat River which comes right through town. It's Switzerland's largest city, with about 350,000 people. The country has about 7.5 million people overall. Our guide told us that 'low-wage' earners here, including house-keepers, entry-level factory workers and so forth, make about 3000 dollars a month. A bank director, he said, would make about 9000 dollars a month. So the Swiss are clearly way ahead of us in salary equity! Of course it's a much more expensive place to live.

Well, I must shut down now and file this post or I will get cut off before it has time to register. Perhaps I will have a chance to make another post before next week or maybe not. Check back!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rain in Texas

My aunt and I made the drive from Amarillo to Dallas, via Lubbock and Abilene, yesterday through lots of rain and wet pavement. Fortunately the drive was mostly uneventful, except for a traffic pileup on the east side of Ft Worth where a car seems to have flipped over in a one-car accident. I haven't heard if the driver was all right or not. Scary to see.

On September 21 I leave for Switzerland and will be gone a bit over a week. I don't plan to take the laptop, so any detailed postings and photographs from that trip will have to wait till I return. Check back in early October. Until then, enjoy yourselves.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A busy morning in Denver

This morning my aunt and I loaded up the Element to begin to long drive back to Dallas. Meanwhile my niece and nephew-in-law got the kids ready for their first games of the season. Here's my great-niece, 5, in her soccer uniform:

And here's my great-nephew, 9, in his football uniform:

Though her team lost the game, my great-niece made a goal. My great-nephew's team won their game.

My aunt and I spent the day on the road, south from Lone Tree to Raton, NM, then sort of southwest to Amarillo, via Clayton, NM, and Dumas, TX. Ah, the bliss of the southwestern edges of the Great Plains.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Georgetown, Colorado

Today my aunt, my niece and I had "grown-ups' day," as both kids were in school. We went west of Denver up into the mountains to a small place called Georgetown, about 8900 feet above sea level. There is one main street, part of the old town center, I suppose, which has boutique-style shops and restaurants. Lots of jewelry, Colorado-related clothes and memorabilia, and even a sort of gourmet grocery with imported foods as well as locally produced honeys, jellies and so forth. One of the stores specialized in sweets-making: toffee, fudge, shortbread (made, they claimed, by a real Scot!), and even taffy. The city museum is housed in what used to be the "Hotel de Paris".

My aunt splurged on ear rings. I think she bought 4 pairs. She also found a nice pocket-knife for her grandson. My niece bought a cowboy-ish hat. I considered a copper bracelet, wondering if it might help my arthritis, but I ended up buying nothing that wasn't edible or drinkable.

That photo above is, I believe, the town hall and police station. I wasn't really paying all that much attention when I snapped the photo.

We had lunch at a place called The Happy Cooker. It's in an old house and has an extensive menu. My niece had quiche and a salad; my aunt had grilled cheese-and-bacon sandwich with home fries; and I had a typical sack lunch of tuna, applesauce, V8 and chips.

This shot catches my niece and aunt in an unguarded moment. You can get an idea of what the main street looks like and how steep the mountains are in which Georgetown situated. You might, if you look really closely, be able to spot where I-70 cuts across the mountainside.

This is the side of the "trading post", featuring a lot of well-weathered wood. There's no particular reason to have taken its photo, except that the wood is kind of interesting.