For years I had seen Switzerland through the eyes of Orson Welles in the Cold War spy movie "The Third Man." In a famous scene, the shady character played by Orson Welles observes, "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed--they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." Now as we waited to depart from Philadelphia International Airport I am watching John McCain waxing his Cold War rhetoric over the invasion of peaceful, democratic Georgia by the iron clad drunken monsters from Russia.
It's Wednesday, August 13th at 6:20 PM and we are flying to Zurich, Switzerland where we are to arrive on Thursday at about 8:25 AM local time. Kathie's flight from JFK was delayed so we had time to explore the Zurich terminal, but no Swiss Francs to purchase badly needed coffee. What is notable about the terminal is it's amazing quietness and civility, with the baggage retrieval and customs processes unaccompanied by the loud aggressiveness and hurried shouldering that occurs in third world and most US airports. Our two hour long interval could have been pleasant for even more time as quiet families with a wide variety of dogs waited excitedly to greet arriving guests and returning members. They communicated in sign language at the large windows facing unto the baggage claim areas before the kind and efficient customs/immigration process. With Kathie's arrival we carted our luggage upstairs to the EuropCar desk and acquired our spanking new (29 miles) Volkswagen whose relatively cavernous trunk barely accomodated our associated support paraphrenalia. We then quickly sprinted our way out of the airport garage and onto a wonderfully well marked motorway out of Zurich and around Bern to a stop near Fribourg where we ramped our way to a boulangerie/charcuterie (bakery/delicatessen) where we spent about $28 on some baguettes filled with ham and local Gruyere cheese before continuing on through Bulle toVevey at the northeast corner of Lake Geneva. So far we had been traveling through a green voluptuous valley blazed with the orange of clay chalet rooftops and punctuated with stone Protestant churches often bearing grey or black onion-dome steeples. As we made the sweeping turn on the motorway suspended diagonally in a high graceful curve of delicate arches over the towns at the end of the lake and headed south past Montreux to Aigle the sunlight bounced off the lake from the west as the first glimpses of the Dent Du Midi and the Mont Blanc glacial field began to appear through the windshield. At Aigle we left the motorway to make our way along smaller roads to the Migros supermarket which is one of Switzerland's largest enterprises, its largest supermarket chain and largest employer. The name comes from the French "mi" for half or mid-way and "gros", which means wholesale. Thus the word connotes prices that are halfway between retail and wholesale. The logo of the company is a large orange M, which some Swiss call "the orange giant."
While Linda and Kathie were shopping for the first of our many required victuals, I was directed to an Association Vinicole d'Aigle where I was given generous glasses of wines made from grapes grown on Aigle's surrounding slopes. After six glasses of careful deliberation, I chose a Eleve en Barrique pinot noir, a Tresaille Aigle chasselas, and a Trois Tours Aigle chasselas. The Swiss consume all of their own wines and do not export them so it was very important for me to experience as many as possible during our stay. These three were the first of a total of 27 bottles consumed over the next two weeks. These 27 plus those served to us at restaurants and by friends allowed us to form an expansive appreciation for the local grape production techniques.
After shopping at the Migros we continued our drive up into the mountains past Ollon to the town of Huemoz a small Alpine village in Canton de Vaud, overlooking the Rhone valley and surrounded by a magnificent view of the Alps. After a light dinner of bread, brie, and gruyere Kathie and I walked past the village church and the schoolyard to the L'Abri Chapel. It is not until we reach the closed pub that Kathie is able to see much of a change since she first visited here in 1968. After graduating from Wheaton College where she had first heard Francis A. Schaeffer speak and then two years teaching in Illinois, Kathie had worked at L'Abri from 1969 until the mid seventies. Swiss L’Abri.usually translated in English as "the shelter", is said to provide the possibility for people to come to a place where they can be part of an extended family, receive honest answers to honest questions, and cultivate or pursue the truth of Christianity.
Francis August Schaffer who founded L'Abri in 1955, promoted a more traditional Protestant faith and a presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics, which he believed would answer the questions of the age. A number of scholars credit Schaeffer's ideas with helping spark the rise of the Christian Right in the United States. In Crazy for God Schaeffer's son Frank presents a less positive portrait of his father, who he says had frequent bouts with depression and a verbally and physically abusive relationship with his wife, Edith. Those in the inner circle at L'Abri challenge Frank's account. Today, more than twenty years after his death, his teachings continue in the same informal setting at The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation in Gryon, Switzerland. It is led by one of his daughters and sons-in-law as a small scale alternative to the original L'Abri Fellowship International which is still operating in nearby Huemoz-sur-Ollon and other places in the world. On the other hand, Schaeffer's son Frank Schaeffer initially supported his father's ideas and political program, but has since distanced himself from many of those views and has converted to the Greek Orthodox Church.
I have marked La Nichee on the satellite view of Huemoz with a circle around our Huemoz home away from home. The little magenta line from La Nichee to the paved road is a grass centered set of two ruts which serves as our driveway. The walk to the closest town of Chesieres and on to Villars begins on the road leaving the picture from the bottom center and goes up very steeply. The road appearing at the left center of the picture which switches back from the top left is the way up from the nearest downhill village of Ollon.
The views from our balcony at La Nichee are spectacular as we sit at the back of a huge fossilized jaw of mountains with the stump of a huge molar at the right called Grand Muveran, then the more eroded crag of Petite Muveran, the incisorous Dent de Morcles, then a visual descent to the glottal cavity of the Rhone River Valley with the ragged lips of the Mont Blanc Glacier in the far distance followed by a rapid diagonal up to the right incisor and its receding molars called Dents du Midi.
Our house is a very, very, very fine house with one cat occasionally seeking mice among the fruit trees on the steep slope below us. We have a small kitchen and bath on the right front of the first floor with a reasonably roomy bedroom opening to the front.view of the mountains over the flower bed.. Kathie's rooms are upstairs where we meet always for eating in her large dining room which also faces frontward toward the mountains. Her bedroom is on the right extension of the upper floor overhanging our front door.
8/15/08 - We wake late and spend the remainder of a rainy morning over coffee and reflections on our individual summers of 1968. I had just graduated from Penn State and had entertained an offer to work for the CIA but couldn't quite get comfortable to the idea of spending a life learning to lie effectively. Instead I had accepted a scholarship to Villanova Law School because at 25 I still hadn't figured out what I wanted to be and had decided to put off the decision for 3 more years while I added to credentials that still were not considered to be equal to getting me into the State Department's Foreign Service. I seemed to be a well disciplined student but I didn't know what else to be.
Finally, mustering our post flight energies, we drove up the mountainside to Villars and ate lunch in a tea room overlooking the foggy valley and I left Linda and Kathie to the leisure of a longer lunch while venturing out to take some pictures of the rainy village.
Next we took an introductory ride through Villars, La Barboleuse, Gryon and Le Covets before returning to La Nichee for naps to strengthen us for a ride down the mountain to Aigle. In Aigle we walked around for some more rainy day pictures, lightly considered the purchase of some horse meat, and watched the Bejing Olympics in a comfortable pub while waiting for Ros's train to arrive from Geneva. After meeting the excellent Ros we returned to La Nichee where I grilled her for her L'Abri experiences and we shared wine, cheese, and much laughter..
8/16/08 - After a picture perfect morning at La Nichee, we start toward Max's house near Bern with a drive through Villars and travel upward stopping at the pass of Col de la Croix (5840 ft.) before continuing on toward Les Diablerets to a stop
where Kathie, Ros and Linda tarry over tea and light pastries while I walk my way down through the valley toward Gstaad in the German speaking Canton of Bern.
After we parked the car in Gstaad, the fairer gender went to a shopping venue while I wandered through the little town at the border of Canton Vaud and the Bernese Oberland. Gstaad is a friendly car-free village. A rather charming, attractively located place full of restored weathered-wood chalets between four gently sloping valleys..
I watched a Bollywood film crew taking a series of quick shots before rejoining my distaff companions for a great Holstein Schnitzel lunch and the remainder of the drive to the outskirts of Bern for an afternoon visit with another of the L'Abri alumni and a generous raclette dinner.
Over dinner I am intrigued by Ros's description of a former L'Abri colleague who had met Che Guevara and mingled with the Sartre circle in Paris as "the embodiment of existential angst." I am always jealous of people who have been in the company of such amazing characters but happy with at least a second hand acquaintance. I also hear many other anecdotes from the shared L'Abri years and become convinced that I am nearing some sort of axis mundi. Wikipedia decribes the axis mundi (also cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar and center of the world)as a ubiquitous symbol that crosses human cultures. The image expresses a point of connection between sky and earth where the four compass directions meet. At this point travel and correspondence is made between higher and lower realms. Communication from lower realms may ascend to higher ones and blessings from higher realms may descend to lower ones and be disseminated to all. The spot functions as the omphalos (navel), the world's point of beginning.
8/17/08 - I woke fairly early to another beautiful morning and left my sleepy companions to venture forth for some serious walking to acquaint my legs with the local inclines after their long vacation in the Maryland flatlands. Starting uphill from Huemoz, I first reached Chesieres and then walked through Villars, La Barboleuse, and Gryon before starting the long steep descent to Bex.
As I walked along the road to Bex, I was one valley closer to the Dents de Morcles and this angle on Grand and Petit Muveran made the mountains seem closer together than from our window in Huemoz. After reaching Bex I had lunch in a Thai restaurant near the station and then took a quick walk through the village while waiting for the cog railway train that would take me back up the mountain to Villars. I met four young girls who wanted to practice their English with me and continued to fall in love with this beautiful town nesting in the valley looking up to the Diablerets massif. In the middle of the night I talked to Linda about bringing my ashes to Bex for burial because if my soul is strong enough to continue exploring after my earthly demise, this would be the most wonderful resting place that I could imagine. Trees, mountains, vineyards, clean air and water, and a railway station that would give me prompt access to walks in the mountains or to all of the great places in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa that I didn't get to on the first go round.
After riding the cog railway back to Villars I was directed to a new path for reaching Huemoz on foot and I arrived to hear the ravings of my travel mates over the afternoon that they had spent in nearby Lavey at the Bains de Lavey thermal spa. They portray the spa as a sort of oasis of well-being, with its Jacuzzis, massage pools, swan-neck jets, mushroom fountains, waterfalls, a spiraling rapids course and bubbling water beds. I struggle to maintain my indifference to such pleasures of the flesh but over a wonderful plate of salmon at La Terrace I am weakened enough by the force of their arguments to agree to accompany them on a future return visit.
8/18/08 - We drive through Aigle to Montreux from where the train is to take Ros back to the Geneva Airport for her flight to London at the end of the day. Our first stop is at the Chateau de Chillon built on a steep rock outcropping on the southern end of the lake. The castle consists of 25 independent buildings that were gradually connected and now form a single whole. The oldest parts of the castle have not been definitively dated, but the first written record of the castle is in 1160.From the mid 12th century, the castle was home to the Counts of Savoy, and it was greatly expanded in the 13th century by Pietro II. The castle was never taken in a siege, but did change hands through treaties.
At the conclusion of our Chateau de Chillon walkabout, we reconnected with Ros and drove counter clockwise around the lake to Terriitet where I boarded the Chemin de fer funiculaire Territet - Glion, a funicular which runs from Territet to Glion, connecting at its upper terminus with what was the lower terminus of the Chemin de fer Glion-Rochers-de-Naye mountain railway, which opened in 1892. The funicular was opened in 1883 and built with two separate and adjacent tracks which opened out to allow passing at the halfway point. The views from Glion of Montreux and the Aigle area were spectacular as I walked back down the mountain to Territet. There I met Kathie and Linda after they had finished a going away lunch with Ros at an Indian restaurant on the lakeside. We then made a stop at the Migros before returning to La Nichee for a sunset dinner of spinach ravioli.with an Aigle pinot noir.
8/19/08 - We watch the morning commuters at the Aigle train station and then board the train to travel southeast up the vineyard sloped Rhone Valley to pass through Bex, and then into the neighboring French speaking Canton of Valais where we continue to a stop in Martigny, the oldest town in Valais dating from 15 BC during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius. There are remains of a Roman Amphitheatre that seats 6000 and serves as the site of the annual Combat de Reine which are cow fights organized to determine which beast is to be most suited to lead the herds up to the summer pastures.
Leaving Martigny, we pass through Sion and its two towering hills topped by the medieval fortresses of Tourbillon Castle and the Basilique de Valere and then continue through Sierre and Visp to a train connection in Brig that will take us on a steep and scenic journey to Zermatt bathing in the reflected glory of the Matterhorn.
After a lunch of bratwurst and rosti we purchased tickets on the cog railway to Gornergrat. Along the way we had magical views of the Matterhorn and of Zermatt far below. When we arrived at Gornergrat (10, 270 ft.) we could look down on the huge river of the Gorner Glacier flowing below us and up at an astronomical observatory..
It is so raw and beautiful in Gornergrat that I opt to walk back down to Riffleberg so that I can stand alone on the bare rock across from the Matterhorn and be swept away by the strength and clarity. It is so awesome that up until about 140 years ago fewer men had stood at this spot than have now walked on the moon and now over three million tourists come here every year on this most popular railway in the country. The Matterhorn itself is concealed by veils of cloud but the winding path downward is like the skeleton of the earth. The rock is so sun blasted and corroded that it seems like the photons themselves are boring into it to weaken it to be blown by away by the winds and into the glacial streams for washing into the valleys far away. My Domestic Affairs Advisor, George Wilson, has charged me with reporting the five high moments of my visit to Switzerland and I have no doubt that I have found one here.
When I get back to Zermatt I have only 30 minutes before the train leaves for Brig so I get directions to the churchyard where the ill fated climbers of the Matterhorn from 1865 to this day are buried. One stone marks the final burial place of a pair from Cambridge University who were lost on the mountain in 1959 and found 30 years later. From Brig we catch the last train of our day and return our tired bodies to La Nichee at shortly after 9:00 PM.
8/20/08 - We make a morning decision to circumnavigate Lake Geneva in a clockwise direction and take along our passports in case they are required for entering and leaving France.
We pass unimpeded into France near Port Valais and continue along the southern shore of the lake to Evian where we made a pit stop and take a few pictures. The town is home of Evian Mineral water, which makes up the foundation of the economy together with the Casino d'Evian, largest themed casino in Europe, and the Evian Royal Resort, favorite haunt of former French President François Mitterand.
Our next photo-op is the town of Vevey. The town of 16,000 has long been popular with British and European celebrities--among them, the London-born Charlie Chaplin, who lived for 25 years in the neighboring village of Corsier-sur-Vevey (where he was buried after his death in 1977). Chocolate, baby formula, and other foods also play a role in Vevey's prosperity: Nestlé was founded here, and the company's international headquarters in Vevey has 1,600 employees from more than 70 countries.
From Vevey we make a quick stop at the Migros in Aigle before hurredly driving toward home in the hope of a good sunset and are greatly rewarded for our efforts.
8/21/08 - We wake early and leave La Nichee in total pre-dawn darkness to catch the 7:00 AM train from Aigle to Montreux, have a quick breakfast at the Montreux station and then depart for Interlaken on the 7:45 AM train. The train ride is major as we ascend the mountain and get a look at Lake Geneva and the Dents du Midi in the perfect morning light. We carve our way through many switchbacks and tunnels including a 45 degree switchback within a tunnel. We have stops in Château-d'Oex and Saaren before going between the Lakes of Thun and Brienz to arrive at the Interlaken Ost station.
At the Interlaken Ost train station we catch a train to Lauderbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is situated in one of the most impressive trough valleys in the Alps, between gigantic rock faces and mountain peaks. With its 72 thundering waterfalls, secluded valleys, colourful alpine meadows and lonely mountain inns, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in Switzerland.
Next we took a cable car from Lauterbrunnen (2,612 ft.) to Grutschalp (4,879 ft.) on the mountain's shoulder. As of 12/15/06 this new aerial cable car replaced the old historical funicular which was built in 1891. We then boarded the narrow guage railroad which follows a ledge of the mountain through Winteregg to Murren (5,381 ft.). Now we had closer views of the the ridge crest composed of the Eiger (13,025 ft.), the Mönch (13,474 ft), and the Jungfrau (13,642 ft.). The three mountains of the ridge are sometimes referred to as the Virgin (German: Jungfrau, lit. "Young Woman" - translates to "Virgin" or "Maiden"), the Monk (Mönch) and the Ogre (Eiger).
After we gawk at the views for a while, Kathie and Linda opt to take the funicular up to Allmendhubel for lunch and pictures while I opt for a cable car to Birg and then another to the Schilthorn (9,726 ft.) where I watch a clip of the making of the James Bond film "Her Majesty's Secret Service" and then venture outside for a chilly walkaround before taking the cable cars back to Murren.
While I am trying to find my lost companions, I lower my view to closer things and note that the same bright sunshine that gives such a magnificent glow to the mountains is also doing a nice job of lighting smaller objects in great detail.
As we make our way back home on the train to Grutschalp, then the cable car to Lauterbrunnen, the train to Interlaken, the train to Spiez, the train to Visp, and the train to Aigle I feel I must risk the embarrassment of paying homage to a Swiss cultural cliche but the closest analogy that I can find is the way that Tarzan always could place his hand on a new swinging vine just as the previous one ran out of arc. The trains in this country seem to click into existence as you need them. This has been our second day of extensive travel by public transportation and connections have the uncanny quiet click of truly well oiled machinery. The doors open quietly, the wheels turn without that mind jarring screetch on the turns, the cabins are spotless, the train staff are friendly and conversant in every possible language, the public address systems have clearly decipherable messages in four or five languages. the windows look like they are cleaned continuously. I knew that these things could be achieved in a Nazi police state but how are these charming people achieving such goals.
8/22/08 - After days in Zermatt,.driving around Lake Geneva, and gazing at the wonderful Jungfrau in the Bernese Oberland, I was ready again for some serious hiking in Vaud so I got a Villars-Gryon DayPass at the tourist information office and caught the 9:30 AM bus over the Col de la Croix to Les Diablerets where I hurried to the cable car for a ride up to Isenau at 5782 ft.and climbed further to the peak of La Palette at 7123 ft. From there I was able to take some unspectacular pictures of the Oldenthorn at 10,246 ft. and the Scex Rouge at 10,528 ft. before beginning a two hour walk down to Vers-l'Eglise
I check to see what time the next train is leaving Vers-l'Eglise to return to Les Diablerets and then spend a half hour drinking a beer and trying to figure out how to capture some iconic images of the town. The name means near the church so I assume that is the Chapel of St Théodule near the bar where I am drinking beer but I remain unsure. I also take a quick photo of Le Chamossaire from this side of the valley because I am hoping to climb it from Roc d'Orsay when I have the opportunity.
When my train arrives I return to Les Diablerets in time to catch the 3:03 PM bus back to Villars where I use up all that is left of my legs walking on a new trail down the ravine to Huemoz. I am reminded of my pledge to join the ladies for a trip to the Bains de Lavey thermal spa and while I will now be embarrassed to face the derision of my manly men friends, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience particularly the races from the steam room to the polar room for trudging around on the ice covered floor and a quick dip in the freezing water to make me suffer for the pleasure that I had been having.
8/23/08 - We drive to Montreux where we spot a statue of a bulldog in a store window and are immediately stricken with guilt over poor Diesel who is missing all these great days in Switzerland during his incarceration under the evil dominion of the Kevertin Pet Resort. To assuage our guilt we purchase an expensive dog collar made of soft German elk skin in the hope that we can buy back his favor upon our return. In a liesurely pursuit of a lunching opportunity we walk down toward the shore of the lake and I try to find some opportunities for pictures on quite a rainy day. I look inside a bandshell with Picasso-like murals, and then find an enclosed market where food is being served and there are some opportunities of observing native behaviors including an unused mechanical bull with surrounding pillows in a USA patriotic color scheme. During this look-around I have lost Linda and Kathie who have purchased umbrellas and escaped from the store without me seeing them. I believe them to be heading along the shore to the Indian restaurant where they had lunched with Ros before her departure. I race more or less madly along the lakeside until I reach the Chateau de Chillon and know that I have passed the restaurant somewhere in between. In again not finding the restaurant upon my return I decide to take a simple repast in a lakeside restaurant and take a surreptitious picture of a bling laden pre-pubescent at the table next to me. After lunch I walked to the edge of the lake to photograph the Freddy Mercury statue. Freddie Mercury and the band Queen came to Montreux because of the famous recording facilities available at Mountain Studios. David Richards was the sound engineer at the studio and Queen were so impressed with the result of the recordings that they simply bought the studio and hired David Richards as their producer and sound engineer. Queen went on to record some of their biggest hits at the studio. Mercury died at his home in London shortly after his last visit to Montreux.
I walk to the location where I am scheduled to meet the lost people, but I am early so I wander toward the huge Montreux Palace with its statues honoring alumni of the Montreux Jazz Festival. At the appropriate hour I return to the meeting place and find my lost companions.
8/24/08 - It's another perfect morning so I take a picture of the now blooming roses in front of the house before Kathie drives me to Villars to get another Villars-Gryon DayPass. Next I catch a cable car to the top of Roc d'Orsay at 6,483 ft. where I am alone but for the sheep and cows.
From Roc d'Orsay I have a long and somewhat difficult climb to Le Chamossaire at 6,929 ft. but it is well worth the effort for the views of Villar and the Mont Blanc Glacier on one side and the towns clustered in the Les Diablerets valley on the other side.
I'm reluctant to give up this hard won altitude but I am hoping to get down to Bretaye in the valley below and meet up with Linda and Kathie for the walk back to Villars. I am able to make out the figures of people as I get closer and closer to Lac de Bretaye but upon reaching the train station I have not yet found my companions. I walk to the next village of Col de Soud but my encounter luck fails me again as they are inside the station having lunch as I pass by.
8/25/08 - After making our next day reservations for the Glacier Express in the Aigle train station, we parallel the train tracks that we took to Interlaken on 8/21 until we arrive in the town of Château-d'Oex where we make a turn toward the Canton of Fribourg and Gruyeres, a perfectly preserved old castle-village. Feeling that it was important to gain a greater understanding of the cheese making process we stopped at a little cheese factory to watch the process. This is a very efficient little factory capable of producing 36 large rondelles of cheese in two hours. Of course, the magic isn't in the making of the cheese, it is in the aging of it. This cheese gets aged up to 18 months. With explanitory devices in hand, we made our way through the exhibit and to the cheese-making room, learning everything there is to know about the process beginning with the cow. We were surprised to learn that a cow eats 100 kilos of grass and drinks 35 litres of water every single day but that does explain why you never see one reading a book or updating a website.
As I walked around the turrent of the castle I saw a church and cemetery below so I walked closer to get a better view of the modernistic gravestones.
Next I wandered around the HR Giger Museum, waiting for the morning light to shine on the outside sculptures. The building complex is the permanent home to many of the artist’s most prominent works. It houses the largest collection of the artist's paintings, sculptures, furnitures and film designs, dating from the early 1960's until the present day..
By the time that I rediscovered Linda and Kathie we were beginning to long for lunch so we found an outdoor restaurant overlooking the valley. After raspberries and Gruyeres cream at the Hostellerie St. Georges, we traveled on to Bulle where we didn't visit the Nestle Chocolate Factory and then raced back past Vuadens and Chatel Saint Denis to the lovely vineyards of Aigle and home.
8/26/08 - We spent our last full day in Switzerland with a thrilling ride on the famous Glacier Express, a 7½ hour railway journey across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass on the highest point at 2,033 m (6,670 ft) in altitude. The entire line is a narrow gauge railway, and large portions of it use a rack-and-pinion system both for ascending steep grades and to control the descent of the train on the back side of those grades.