Kramer 2019 Europe Trip - Week 4 of 5
Week 4 of our trip began with us driving up into the Swiss Alps. For the previous two weeks we had travelled with Candice’s parents and visited with several friends in Bosnia. Now we were heading off on our own in the rental van into a new country with a new language, new currency, new adventures to be experienced, and new lessons to be learned.
Sunday, July 7th– Switzerland is one of those dream destinations for me. I’ve always loved the mountains and of all the places on this trip, this is where I most looked forward to visiting. As you can imagine I woke up Sunday morning early and ready to hit the road as soon as possible. This was going to be a long travel day with a lot of amazing places to see along the way. We said our goodbyes to Candice’s parents who would spend one more day in Venice before departing on Monday. Our first stop was Sirmione, Italy. I discovered this place just weeks before departing on the trip and knew it would be a perfect spot to take a small break from driving. Unfortunately, upon arriving the place was very full. There was no place to park without hiking in for quite a distance. So I dropped off the rest of the family to at least let them see the place and get pictures while I drove a few laps around the parking lot. What a disappointment! In fact, disappointment would be a bit of a theme this week. But that was tempered with also some of the most amazing moments of the trip. In all, it was a very volatile week of highs and lows. After Sirmione we drove around Milan where we grabbed a quick lunch, gas, and our Swiss driving vignette before continuing on to Lake Como. Shortly after Como we officially crossed into Switzerland. We drove through the beautiful city of Lugano and then to the Three Castles of Bellinzona. From there we drove to Valle Versasca for swimming in the pristine waters. Shortly after departing here I got really tired and had Candice drive for a bit. When I woke up we were on a one lane road in the mountains alongside a cliff, weaving through tunnels and aqueducts. It was a very memorable drive but also very windy. Brooklyn and I got a bit car sick and we were a bit relieved when the road widened and straightened out a bit. I felt tired, a bit car sick, and had a headache so Candice pressed on. I recall great disappointment about this. I had dreamed of the moment of driving over the Simplon pass into the Rhone River valley. But I would do that in the passenger seat with my seat reclined. It also was a bit unexpected when we descended into the valley and it began to absolutely pour down rain! Before long we were driving through Sion and then up the switchback mountains into the town of Veysonnaz. We arrived at our chalet at dusk right as the skies parted letting in sunbeams of light. In the distance lightning struck and thunder roared as we settled in for the night. We had made it!
· Song of the day:Ages by The Hunts - “We left for adventure. We came to foreign skies. There we saw the wonder with our eyes.”
· Weather:Sunny then Rainy
· Morale:9 – What a day of ups and downs! The good far outweighed the bad. I will forever remember this day. It taught me about managing expectations and reminded me that sometimes in life there are things you can’t control and you just have to make the best of the situation.
Monday, July 8th– After a long day of travel the previous day, it was very nice to sleep in. When I awoke and looked out our windows the view was stunning. I felt so much better than the evening before and excitement for the week set in. Candice and I started off the day with a quick mini date into the village of Veysonnaz where I stopped by the ATM and then made a stop at the grocery store to get a few items for the day. Our only agenda for the day was to drive to L’Abri and then to stop at Barryland on the way back. We drove to L’Abri, arriving at 1 in the afternoon. To properly describe L’Abri and its significance for Candice and I would take another blog post. But in short, an American missionary couple, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, moved to Switzerland in the 50s and started L’Abri which means “Shelter” in French. Here they hosted thousands of people from all around the world in their home, providing love and Christian answers to life’s important questions. Their work has inspired Candice and I profoundly and so this was a very special place for us to visit to say the least. When we arrived we toured the grounds and were soon welcomed by an Australian family who were staying there on vacation. We were soon invited for tea out at the picnic table in the yard. Our American kids played a card game with the Australian kids while we enjoyed some Lady Grey tea with their mom. After this very pleasant visit we walked down to the library house which is where the library and chapel are located. A moment I will never forget is when Bailey peeled back the piano cover and started playing 10,000 Reasons while we imagined all the lives changed in this room. Sometimes on a trip, things will disappoint you and other times things will happen that will far exceed your expectations. Candice and I look back on this visit in L’Abri and agree it was the best part of the entire trip. Our souls felt refreshed after being here. I’m sure that many others before us felt the same way as they departed.
As we drove back along the Rhone River, we stopped at Barryland in Martigny. This place is a Saint Bernard museum. We were able to see several Saint Bernard puppies and full grown dogs. The kids even got to pet one of them. We grabbed a few souvenirs here. I am not much for getting souvenirs but the idea of the Saint Bernard as a symbol for hospitality struck me as a great memento I’d like to keep close to me. So I bought a small, hand-carved, wooden Saint Bernard. Right next to Barryland are the remains of an old Roman arena. We stopped by there for a bit to take a look and then drove to the train station. Here we grabbed a few more groceries as I checked on some details on the next day’s train travel before we headed back to the chalet for a nice dinner.
· Song of the day:10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman
· Weather:Mostly Sunny
· Morale:10 – This was a spiritually uplifting day with good health and good weather. Everyday has a few small challenges. When your greatest challenge is trying to understand how to pay for parking then it’s been a good day! Before departing on a trip I always think of the fact that there will be a point of the trip that is the happiest and there will be another point of the trip that is the most miserable. The best part happened this day. The worst part would happen on the day we travelled back home on the 19th, but you will have to return to our blog later to see what that was all about!
Tuesday, July 9th – Trains, Trains, Trains! My dad, who has been a lifelong rail fan would have loved this day. We awoke very early and drove down to the Sion train station. We parked in a garage next to the station and dumped a bunch of change into the parking meter which only paid through 4 in the afternoon. But since we had no other option we had to go and catch our train. The train quickly whisked us west and then northward past the edge of Chateau De Chillon on Lake Geneva before arriving in Montreux. We then got onto the Golden Pass scenic train. Of the 4 special scenic trains in Switzerland, this was one of them and the views were amazing as we traveled up into the mountains and over to Interlaken. We were now in one of the most scenic and photographed areas of the world, the Berner Oberland. We purchased passes for our trip up to the top of the Jungfraujoch mountain. When we arrived at the top I realized I was one of maybe 2 other guys in the entire place who were wearing shorts. It was like blizzard conditions outside and of course very cold! There was no view at all but the forecast showed this was the best day of the week so there was nothing we could do to get a good view from here in during the week. We bought some good Swiss chocolate and toured the complex before descending back down the mountain to Interlaken and then eventually back to Sion. Amazingly for the whole day we had taken 14 separate trains! On average each train was about 30 minutes long. Of course, we were very tired when we finally rolled into our place around 11 that evening. I was so relieved to see that the van didn’t have a ticket on it even though we were only paid through 4 that afternoon!
· Song of the day:The Earth is Yours by Gungor
· Weather:Sunny then cloudy (and snowy) and then sunny again.
· Morale:8 – Our big train day made a large loop and a smaller loop. It was a lot to fit into one day and we were tired from travelling and switching trains. The lesson learned is that when you are in a place like this you need to resist the urge to over plan. You want to fit in as much as possible but at the same time you want to enjoy each place.
Wednesday, July 10th– We were up late the night before but I had let everyone know the day before to be prepared to press on into today and that there would be a lot of fun things to experience. We started by driving through the Lotschberg Tunnel. Well, actually we drove onto a train that took us through the tunnel, a very fun experience. After a short delay departing the train (a car ahead of us had died and was blocking others from disembarking) we then arrived to the cable car to take us up to Oeschinnen Lake. The cable car ride was beautiful. When we arrived to the top I was a bit disappointed in a few things. The toboggan ride at the top was not nearly as impressive as the one we tried in Austria. Also I had envisioned the lake being right there when instead it required a 20 minute walk each way to see. We simply didn’t have the time to see it. But please Google it and see what a beautiful place we missed! We went back down to our van and drove to the Berner Oberland where we had been the day before. We parked in Grindelwald and headed straight for Grindelwald First where we were planning on, as a family, doing several adventure activities like ziplines, scooters down the mountain, etc. To our GREAT disappointment we soon learned that all the activities closed at 4:30 (it was already 1PM) and also there were height and weight restrictions on many of the activities. It also said that the wait time for each activity was up to 90 minutes! I had to break the sad news to the kids who were very disappointed because I had really talked this place up for the past few months. What actually happened was that several of us waited at a park, albeit a very fun park in a beautiful setting, while Candice and the two oldest girls did a “flyer” activity together. Due to a strange situation I, and only I, was faced with an opportunity to take a scooter ride down the hill. I met the others in Grindelwald and we headed back to the parking garage. As we got into the van I noticed something under our wheel. As I looked closer it was a cell phone that had apparently fallen out of a vehicle next to me. It had no password and so we were able to ascertain that it belonged to a German speaking woman. Candice found a place to turn the phone into and they were well on their way to identifying the owner as we picked her up and departed for the nearby Lauterbrunnen valley. Our intention was to arrive here much earlier and to take cable cars all the way to the Schilthorn and do other fun activities on the mountain. Instead we were only able to make it to one place that we absolutely had to visit, Gimmelwald. Travel Blogger Rick Steves describes this place as one of his favorite places in Europe. My intention was to be here at sunset and though we missed many objectives this day, we didn’t miss this one. We arrived to see a beautiful sunset and watched the shadows creep up the mountain until it was time for us to depart. We took the cable car down the mountain back to the van and then drove back home, again through the Lotschberg Tunnel on the car-train. By the time we got back to our place it was just after midnight. That was 2 BIG days in a row. The next day was intended to be much easier on us weary travelers.
· Song of the day:Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble by Delirious – A great experience was listening to this song as we drove through the beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley at dusk.
· Weather:Mostly Sunny
· Morale:9 – In a day of deep disappointments, how could I say our morale was any lower than this? Those sad moments were quickly taken away as we simply looked around us and realized what a blessing it was to be in such a place on such a beautiful day!
Thursday July 11th– When planning this trip I knew we’d need a day of relaxation. We slept in until about noon and then drove to Tasch, took the train to Zermatt, and walked through town to the cable cars to take us up to the Matterhorn. To our surprise we arrived at the cable car and learned that, again, the cable cars closed at 4:30 and that we didn’t have any time to go to the Matterhorn station. I protested that we were OK going to the top even if it meant we would have 10 minutes to look around. The lady thought I was crazy but let me buy the tickets. What I learned about the Swiss people, at least those who deal with tourists often, is that they are very quick to give advice about your day and often assume they understand your circumstances. I couldn’t simply wait until the next day to go to the top and wasn’t about to get all the way here to be turned away. Our ride to the top took nearly 35 minutes and was actually very enjoyable. We got out into snowy conditions and weren’t even able to see much of the Matterhorn due to the weather but we at least got a quick selfie. We then quickly got back onto the cable car and then descended back down the mountain. We stopped for ice cream in Zermatt and then quickly drove down to Brig where we intended to spend the next 2 hours at a Thermalbath that was open until 9. This place was very fun and relaxing but there were a few cultural things that made the experience a bit frustrating. In America when a pool closes at 9, that usually means that the lifeguard blows a whistle loudly and tells everyone to get out of the pool at 9. Then everybody gets changed and the last people are usually out of the premises around 10. This was not the case here. Sometime around 8:40 the locals knew to get out. Around 8:55 a very nice lifeguard let us know we really needed to get out. We went inside to gather our things and realized that the place was literally closing down at 9. We rushed to get out and had one crying child and a strange situation with returning rented towels that left me a bit frustrated. I’m not sure we left an excellent impression of Americans here even though we tried very hard on this trip to do so anywhere we went. Then it was back to the house. Unfortunately, we arrived and didn’t feel as refreshed on a “rest day” that I had planned.
· Song of the day:Best Day of My Life by American Authors – A bit ironic considering our troubles!
· Weather:Partly Cloudy
· Morale:7 – There were perhaps 5 times during the day where I became frustrated about some sort of interaction with certain people who were just downright rude! I get the feeling that in one of the most touristy places on earth that the locals get very frustrated and cranky with foreigners. On top of this we were all getting tired and a bit weary from so much going on.
Friday July 12th– When I fell asleep on Thursday night I knew that Friday’s events were very much in question. The intention was to drive to Geneva, visit for several hours, drive to Annecy for a quick visit, and then to return to our place via Chamonix. That would require a 6 hour drive and we were burnt out. Plus we had a long drive ahead of us on Saturday. I knew it wasn’t in the cards so I announced to the family that today would be a real day of rest. Except for a quick walk down to the store to buy a few items, we stayed at the house all day and really relaxed, took naps, ate well, and cleaned up a bit in preparation for the next day’s departure.
· Song of the day:Annecy by Kazy Lambist – I picked this song before the trip started. Now it is a reminder of an opportunity missed but for good reason.
· Weather:I really can’t remember. I was inside most of the day resting!
Saturday, July 13th– After what seemed like a very quick 6 nights in Veysonnaz in Western Switzerland, we pointed the van Eastward heading toward Teufen in Northeastern Switzerland. Candice had a great idea to stop at a few thrift shops in Brig where we could get some cheap, authentic souvenirs. I bought myself a nice mug with a fish on it. I’ve become kind of a collector of mugs that have special meanings to them. We then drove up by the Furka Pass on our way to the Gelmer Funicular. The Furka Pass, also known as the James Bond highway, is an area with a ton of switchbacks on the road. It is a Mecca for car enthusiasts. On our way up the mountain we saw several caravans of performance cars coming down the other way. Soon we arrived at the Gelmer Funicular and I went up to buy tickets only to learn that the wait was 1.5 hours to go up, and then the earliest return was 6 PM, much later in the day. This was another punch to the gut. I was really looking forward to experiencing this and we couldn’t do it. I had failed to make reservations online which was a major oversight on my part because I had booked everything else online far in advance. There was a fun suspension bridge there that we walked out on for free. Then we drove up onward through Lucerne, Saint Gallen, and then to Teufen. This rental place was like an old farmhouse next to a field. It was a very charming little place. Candice and I left for a bit that evening to buy a Swiss outlet adapter at the train station and then we returned back to our place, settled in, and got some rest.
· Song of the day:3X5 by John Mayer
· Weather:Mostly cloudy
· Morale:7 – The best parts of the day were seeing some beautiful scenery along the way that we hadn’t yet seen. The disappointment at the Gelmer Funicular still haunts me even now. In Saint Gallen I was caught speeding by a traffic camera doing 40 kmh in a 30. That’s like doing 25 mph in an 18 (eyeroll). I had noticed a lot of travel cameras in Switzerland and have heard horror stories of very expensive tickets handed out. I became very paranoid this day and for the rest of the time in Switzerland drove very carefully to avoid any possibility of another traffic ticket. As I type this post I have not seen a charge come through on my card but I’m certain it will happen in due time.
As you can see from how this week progressed, I had set high expectations for our time in Switzerland. The scenery didn’t disappoint and our greatest time on the entire trip at L’Abri occurred in week 4. But there were far too many unpleasant interactions with Swiss culture and people. Some of those things I have not even posted here but will remember them and am happy to share with others who want to know more. I want to go back someday for another visit and I am sure that since I know more what to expect that I would appreciate my time more the next time around. Perhaps also we were becoming road weary. After being gone from home for a month (we left on June 14th) we were about ready to return home. But we still had one week and many more adventures to go, and things did go better! More on that next time in part 5.