Alpine Adventure- part XIII
Wed. July 28, 2016- Zermatt, Switzerland
We got rolling even earlier this morning. We were scheduled to meet Lucy at the Bahnhof, by 7:45 A.M. Breakfast at the hotel, and a quick walk down the main street to the Bahnhof, found all of the pilgrims in their proper places. Everyone had even remembered to keep the return portion of his or her train ticket, for the ride down to Tasch. Lucy did have the troops well trained. It was 46 degrees out (F) and the coolest morning that we had yet experienced in the Alps. The journey down the mountain was uneventful. The Tram had been built in 1927. Before that, horses must have had the duty of ferrying guests and luggage up the mountain to Zermatt. Faithful Tibor waited for us in Tasch, with both the bus and our luggage. Bless the man for his diligence.
Lucy’s early morning narratives, about Switzerland were a palliative, allowing us to become more fully awake and ready to meet the day’s challenges. She advised us that Switzerland has universal conscription for men, starting at age 20. The 220,000- person army has the entire nation on reserve status until they are 35 years of age. And citizenship status here can be achieved only after twelve years of established residence, in country. As progressive as the Swiss are in most areas, they had only granted women the right to vote in the last generation. Some old fashioned values lingered here high in the mountains. The cavernous granite walls of the mountains are cathedral-like in their appearance, well featured for quiet contemplation on an early morning ride. The run off from these mountains found its way down to Lake Geneva and later the Rhone Valley as the river meandered into France. The hydro-power, from the running water, provides much of the electrical power needed in Switzerland. There are many vineyards in this part of Switzerland. We had tasted and enjoyed of one of their wines the other evening.
The Philosopher Jean Jacque Rosseau, and Later George Gordon, Lord Byron had found inspiration in these mountains. Byron’s “The Prisoner of Chillon” had been written with a local castle as a backdrop. Stravinsky had composed much of his opus, the “Rights of Spring” here in the Jura Mountains. It is a place where inspiring thoughts are writ large on the granite summits and amidst the lush green valleys.
In this gentler, western region of Switzerland, there are dairy farms in abundance. The
local Gruyere cheese is world famous. Another type, Brienz (tasting like parmesan) is a local favorite. The brown, Holstein and Simeron cows are the producing agents of the fine cheeses.
We were approaching the Swiss Capital of Bern, located on the Aar River. The Aar River has that opaque, jade coloring characteristic of an Alpine River, laden with silt and rocks.
Like most federal capitals, Bern is well ordered, with many impressive govt. buildings. The pale sheen, of a pastel green on some of them, indicated construction had occurred prior to 1505. Canton flags flew from many of the buildings, colorful and eye-catching like flags at a country fair. The Swiss Parliament meets four times yearly, for three weeks at a time. Initiative and referendum are important here. Just about every important issues is voted on by the Swiss electorate at one time or another. The smallish city of 130,000 souls is neat in appearance, with many sidewalk café’s for people enjoying this lovely summer’s day.
We were stopping for an hour rest, at something called the “Bear Center.” The animal representing the capital had been decided, in centuries past, by the Barons who decided the first animal killed on a certain hunt would be the City’s emblem. The visitor center sits along the South bank of the Aar, some thirty to forty feet above the river. A fence separates visitors from the grassy hillside and the river. That is because two full-sized brown bears roamed beneath us. We watched them waddling along the trail and into the bushes, always in search of food. We enjoyed watching them and basking in the warm sun.
Our journey continued, as we drove north towards both Inter Lochen and our destination of for the day, the picturesque City of Lucerne. A brief stop at a “Migros” center allowed us an opportunity to look up at the Der Jungfrau Eiger, of movie fame. It loomed high above us. Ten hang gliders were circling the valley around us, riding the thermal currents. We had a wonderful cherry cheesecake and cappuccino while chatting with friends. I was beginning to feel a little rocky, so we purchased the Swiss version of Mucilex in a pharmacy, before leaving. We drove up through the Bruning pass, enjoying the spectacular views of the Alps all around us. The late afternoon provided the usual clogging of automobile traffic into Lucerne. Lake Lucerne is called “Brienz” by the locals. Besides tourism, the city is a center for learning the craft of woodcarving and construction of fine wooden musical instruments. The traffic slowed us to a crawl. We drove through the city center, noting the large oaken, Chapel Bridge that crosses the river and leads to the Jesuit church. It was 7 P.M and I was feeling like warmed over doo doo. We drove down the lakeside to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Europe, which sits along the lake’s bank. It was late and I was not feeling adventurous. Mary and I settled in for sparkling water, caesar salads and salmon wraps on the second floor balcony of the hotel. They were very good. We could observe sailboats and pleasure craft drifting by on the picturesque lake. We found our second-floor room, unpacked and wrote up my notes for the day. The combination of medications and a glass of Multipulciano made for a powerful sedative. I hit the hay like a felled ox.
The following day (Friday July 29th) is lost to me. A combination of upper respiratory distress and pertussive coughing, that I would later label “The Lucerne Plague,” knocked me out for the day. Fortunately, I still had the presence of mind to remember that I was carrying with me a “Z-pack,” a five-day treatment of penicillin. I began that aggressive cure hoping for the best
Our colleagues drove up to view nearby Mount Pilatus. They then took a brief walk through the alt stadt, to the Chapel Bridge, and finished the day with an hour-long cruise along the scenic banks of this beautiful resort lake. Mary later joined them for a dinner in the hotel, enjoying the company of couples from Las Vegas and Atlanta. As for me, I was just hoping to answer the bell tomorrow morning and claim a seat on the bus. Thoughts of being left behind in a strange city, and possessed of mediocre language skills, were not appealing.
Joseph Xavier Martin