Our Barge, Odysseus

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Six Countries in Six Days!

(Well, five countries and one Grand Duchy but the other way sounds better)

One of the great features of Europe is that, with so many different countries packed so closely together, it's possible visit several in a short period of time. Maybe it won't be an in-depth culture study but still a chance to experience something a little different.
Because her family was living in Libya at the time, Cathy Jo attended high school at a boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland. She hasn't been back since and our spending time in Europe this year gave her a chance to visit, and us both a chance to see some more of the continent. We had hoped to do a few maintenance days on the boat when we returned to the lake but after a couple of frustrating days battling the weather, we gave up and headed southeast. We traveled through Netherlands (1) and Belgium (2), crossed Luxembourg (3, or the Grand Duchy, if you prefer) and then crossed the Alsace region of France (4) to the town of Saverne. We like it so much we came back for a couple of days on our return trip. I'll write about that in detail a little later.
After the night in Saverne, it was on to Switzerland and the Alps.

Our first stop was the city of Bern, where Cathy Jo decided lunch cart brats were one of her favorite foods.

We spent a couple of hours walking around the city, which is located on the Aar River. This was my first experience with Switzerland and it was a big change from the flatness of Holland!

The weather had improved greatly and we had a couple of beautiful days hiking though the mountains near the town of Lauterbrunen.
The area is the birthplace of downhill skiing, being popularized by the British in the late 1800's. There are several cable cars and small railways giving access to the mountains surrounding the valley and also an extensive set of well-signed footpaths that wind though the area. The valley reminded me of Yosemite Valley although, at this time of year, at least, without the hordes of people.

We stayed in the Stechelberg Hotel, which is right at the end of the road.

This was the view out our window.

No, we're not in Holland!

After giving our legs a good workout on some of the Swiss mountain paths, it was on to the lake district in southern Switzerland. But as we leave the area, one more shot back up the valley, this time early in the morning.

In between the Sustern and Gottard Passes we came upon this parade in a little village. Apparently it was time to move the cows from the upper pasture down lower for the winter and they make an event out of it.
All of the traffic was blocked as the procession headed down the road, huge cowbells clanging so loud it was impossible to talk and be heard (herd?). You just never know what you'll see when you travel on the back roads.

Switzerland has one very important distinction: it really doesn't have it's own language. In the western sections, some French but mostly German is spoken and in the south, Italian predominates. That makes life a little difficult for someone not used to the polyglot culture. A waiter would put down a plate on the table and often I couldn't remember whether to day "danke", "merci" or "grazzi"!

No comments: