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Swiss Mrs. Girls Trip - March 2014

Master schedules, rosters of volunteers to help with driving, meals in the freezer... It can mean only one thing. Mom is going out of town.

In 2010 on trip in Switzerland with family, I thought how much I would like to come back with friends and share with them this beautiful place that I love so much. So, there have been four years of thinking and plotting and planning and throwing out some invitations. Three lovely gals have accepted, packed their bags and the time has finally arrived.

San Diego to Luzern to Appenzell, Switzerland

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sometimes if something is overthought and over planned it leads to too high and unrealistic expectations...which can lead to disappointment. This trip has been four years in the planning and waiting stage, but no matter how much planning is done, there are many factors which are uncontrollable and if you don't move forward with flexibility and a positive attitude you may miss the adventure that's right in front of you while mourning the loss of what was your "ideal". We are looking forward to the great wonder of what tomorrow holds and celebrating the fact that there are no voices calling "Mama" little mouths waiting to be "I'm cold", "I'm tired", "I'm hungry..." It's just us good sensible shoes, yoga pants, some pate, Swiss wine, stinky cheese and fresh bread... and two exciting weeks ahead!

Having met up in Zurich Flughafen...tired and slightly disheveled, we managed to find our trains and make the connection to arrive at our first stop in Appenzell at the lovely Adler Hotel. The whole town looked to be asleep, but our friend Clemens Leu was waiting for us and gave us the keys to our rooms. We laid out a wonderful "European Picnic" and ate, showered and have headed off to bed.

Appenzell, Switzerland

Thursday, March 27, 2014

We had been doing a little "training" for this trip. But by "training" I mean walking around the neighborhood. Not quite the equivalent to what we walked today. According to Lea's Fit Bit bracelet we walked 5.7 miles or 13,000 steps. For most of you that may not sound impressive, however, it was, WAS all - up - hill...every 13,000+ steps.

Appenzell Castle or Burg zu Appenzell is a ruined castle in the district of Appenzell, Switzerland. The castle is first mentioned in 1219 as arce Clanx. It was built by the Abbot of St. Gall, Ulrich von Sax (1204–20) and his brother, the Abbey-Vogt Heinrich. It was named after the Sax family holding in the Calanca valley. As the center of the Abbey of Saint-Gall's property in Appenzell, the castle was of great importance. The castle was first destroyed in 1289 and then rebuilt. It was destroyed again in 1402 and not rebuilt.

In 1949 the foundations of a strong square tower, a smaller corner tower on the highest point of the hill and parts of the walls were excavated, and it's those walls that remain today.

Upon arriving back at the Adler we enjoyed salads, bouillon, and asparagus sandwich and some tasty, locally brewed Appenzeller Bier.

Feeling every single one of those 13,000 steps...stiffening...we cruised the town and hit up the cheese store, walked through the meticulously maintained cemetery and headed back to the room to set up our "happy hour" in the room.

Today was the first day that we took a deep breath of the vastness, beauty, the simple, clean, clear living found in this incredible place...and we liked it...a lot.

Appenzell, Switzerland

Friday, March 28, 2014

We got to bed late last night with a plan for an early morning jump start on taking on the day. Carmel and I woke early...earlier than planned...maybe a bit time 3:25AM and we're pretty clear that there would not be any further sleeping. Up. Shower. Dress and wait to head out the door at 6:00 to go to the market to get some meat and veggies for a picnic at the top of Ebenalp. It was brisk to say the least, on our 10 minute walk to the Coop market... which doesn't open until 8:00.

Appenzell has no Starbucks. There was no coffee to be found at 6 am ...and coffee would have been really helpful. We headed back to the hotel and saw that Franz was there to make us macchiatos, and fresh croissants, and all was well with the world.

Our plan for the day was to take the train from Appenzell to Wasserauen and take the cable car up to Ebenalp for a picnic high above the beautiful Seealpsee lake, then ride the cable car back down and walk the 6km home. However, as peaceful as it is to be here during off season, it can often mean that some things are closed... in this case, the cable car. What a fun time we had just walking along with no where that we had to be. About half way through the long walk home we stopped for soup, salad, rosti potatoes and enjoyed a meal with a beautiful view of the mountain..that was closed to us. Never mind! we ate and laughed and walked the rest of the way home to the Adler hotel.

In 2010 when my family was last here, the Leu family was digging down to the cobblestone floor of their basement in order to build a fondue cellar. It has become a beautiful addition to the hotel. Tonight we enjoyed fondue with the Leu's. It was really an amazing time of talk, laughter, some music and the process of making the big world smaller by connecting people. Truly a blessing and a delight.

Appenzell, Switzerland

Saturday, March 29, 2014

After fondue last night I couldn't imagine that we would want anything more than coffee...and maybe a fresh croissant for breakfast...but, well..we went ahead and had the fresh bread and cheese. Then we headed over to the Appenzeller cheese factory...and had some samples.

Eight years ago when my family first came here we met Sam Baldwin, a ex-Texan who was living at the hotel and had become friends with the Leu family who own and run the Adler. We visited again with Sam when we returned in 2010. Sam joined us for fondue last night and offered to drive us to the cheese factory this morning. Sam is knowledgable about the area and culture and we've enjoyed his insights.

Appenzell is a small town in what many Swiss feel is in the far reaches of the country...Hardly a place that one would expect to reach across the globe to Coscto. However, Appenzeller cheese is, despite it's heavy stink factor, a major player in the cheese world and can often be found at your neighborhood Costco. The Appenzeller cheese factory is small, efficient, yet it turns out a good deal of product...mild, medium and strong...all pretty much hand-crafted in the tiny village of Stein.

We returned to the hotel to regroup and change into our walking shoes...which is ironic because we were taking to train to Jacobsbad in order to walk back to Appenzell on the Barfussweg, the bare foot walk. In the summer you can walk through the grassy fields and dip your feet to cool in the little streams along the way. However, in March you really still need some good walking shoes. As we hoofed our way back the 8+ miles to the hotel, seeing only uber-fit senior citizens out pacing us, it was easy to see how our American lifestyle really puts us in pretty wretched condition and poor health. Not pretty. We stopped in Gontenbad for bouillon and sausage and finally returned to the hotel where each of us feel immediately asleep.

Boza Leu asked us to please come for dinner of pasta bolognese, made especially for us. We are the only hotel guests and have felt quite pampered by their gifts and unbelievable gestures of kindness. The dinner was superb and was followed up with homemade ice-cream coupled with homemade fruit sorbet... Yes, it will be difficult to leave here tomorrow.

Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Leaving somewhere good is always difficult... Leaving the Adler and the Leu family was very difficult. What awesome people. We tried to decide if it was best to come to Appenzell first or if it would have been better to finish the trip there. Either way, it was awesome.

We tightly rolled our meager clothing, packed up, said our goodbyes and headed up to the train station. Surprisingly...but not, within moments, Boza appeared outside the train waving the Swiss flag to bid us farewell. Sweet lady.

The train ride to Lauterbrunnen from Appenzell is about 5 1/2 hours, but we decided to stop in Luzern for a couple of hours. Spring is in full swing and the people seem to be very excited to be out enjoying the warmer temperatures and blooming flowers. The streets of Luzern were full and we were lucky to get a table at a cafe that was under some shade and felt the gears had changed from the pace of Appenzell. The food was tasty but was more beautiful and we enjoyed the visual as well as the gastronomic experience.

The rest of the train ride from Luzern to Lauterbrunnen was stunningly beautiful and the ride went just long enough, but not too long. We made all our connections with ease...4 brains and 8 eyes worked well together to make sure we were heading in the right directions.

The Hotel Silberhorn was just where it was when we left it in 2010 and was a quick find and mildly strenuous stair climb and we were in. The reception was warm and the restaurant service was great in spite of the fact it is the slow season and the cook staff was limited. The wonderful ladies of the Silberhorn stepped it up and took great care of us for dinner.

We are tucked in to two beautiful suites with balconies looking over the valley and have loosely planned our day tomorrow. We are looking forward to a good night's sleep and a new adventure tomorrow.

Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Monday, March 31, 2014

The blog format ask you to give a title that summarizes our day and that can sometimes be wrap it up in a neat little three words or so. Maybe today's title should be "Pretty Darn Tired!"

Truthfully, today it was hard to get up. The beds are wonderfully comfortable. The bedding is crispy, cotton covered down...dreamy...dont want to get up kind of bedding.... However, breakfast is from 7:30 to 10:00 and we have to get up and take on the day. I slept until 7:00...shocking...and showered, dressed and coifed my wig and woke Jane up at 7:30....the time we expected to all be ready for breakfast. We all met up in the breakfast room and enjoyed a fabulous spread with a beautiful view, and yet, personally I want less food. I'm choking and yet it's so bloody good...the cheese...the bread....stuff I would never eat at home...!

We pushed ourselves away with our backpacks holding some meaty tidbits for lunch and headed up the cable car to Murren. From Murren we caught the next car up to the Schilthorn.

The Schilthorn was completed in 1967...a rather miraculous feat at that time...the longest ariel cable car in the world.

Under the leadership of Ernst Feuz from Mürren, a determined group of pioneers finally overcame the considerable financial and technical difficulties, and in 1967 the Schilthorn summit was finally made accessible to the general public. Most people would have been more than satisfied with the achievement of constructing the world's longest aerial cableway, with all the problems posed in building at that high altitude. But Ernst Feuz was not like most people, he wanted more! He dreamed of creating a unique experience for all visitors, enjoying the breathtaking scenery. So, He built up the first revolving restaurant at the top of it all...and we enjoyed a drink while circling around over and over,...and over...and around again....and it was good.

After descending from the Schilthorn, we arrived back in Murren, walked through the lovely little town and cruised down the walk from Murren to Gimmelwald. Along the walk are huts and waterfalls and snow and views that are so breath taking that one can't really take it all in. We try to take pictures, but we know that most of the shots will fall quite flat and will have to be deleted.

On the long walk from Murren to Gimmelwald we watched an ancient man come down a side path to join the road we were walking on. He had the classic edelweiss shirt on. He spoke perfect English and asked where we were from, etc. He had a cart with a suitcase on it and I asked where he was headed. He pointed up to the hills high above us to his home and told us he was headed down to Lauterbrunnen. His mother had just turned 100 years old last Wednesday and died two days later. He was headed down to town to take care of the "business" of her end. Those little encounters are indescribable. Human connection in obscure places...unexpected. Total blessings. These are the things that make travel rich. Rick Steves talks about the places and the food. I think the best things about travel is the amazing people we meet. It's those encounters that we'll not soon forget.

I will add that we found a new friend traveler today in a woman named Liz, from Fresno, whose husband stayed at the hotel as she ventured out. She joined us as we walked down from the Schilthorn to Gimmelwald. We picnicked together outside the pension Gimmelwald, in unbelievably warm weather, and the warm fellowship of women.

Upon leaving Gimmelward we were catching the cable car back up to Murren...then a train to the cable car going back down to Lauterbrunnen. Three of us made it on to the car, and realized that we were three...but we were supposed to be four. The other cable car was headed down to the bottom of the valley..and our fourth was on it, while we were on the car headed up. Thankfully, our fourth managed to find our new friend Liz and together they arrived via the low road back home.

Warm bath, more cheese...good sleep and we'll be ready for tomorrow.

Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today was just simply amazing. We decided last night that today we would divide and conquer. Lea and Jane wanted to go to Jungfrau, the top of Europe, while Carmel and I wanted to go sledding... well I wanted to go anyway. I think Carmel was gracious when telling me she "wanted" to go. Regardless, we all got on the train that would take us from the valley in Lauterbrunnen up by way of Wengen, to Kleine Scheidegg, which is at 6700+ feet.

From that point the Jung-fraus (not that jung) set out on the train that would take them to 11,333 feet. The train makes a few stops at viewing platforms then drops off so viewers can walk through the tunnels that run through the mountain. Once inside the mountain it got much colder. There was a series of tunnels that lead to several panoramic viewing areas, an incredible restaurant, ice tunnels that went on for hundreds of yards, filled with ice sculptures, an "Alpine Sensation" which was a Disney-esque Swiss "It's a Small World" creation carved of wood and encapsulated in a large snow globe. As much as Lea and Jane tried to describe their experience of the day, it seemed that words could not begin to paint the picture for someone who hadn't seen it themself.

After seeing everything that they wanted to take in the gals decided on lunch at the Crystal restaurant which they said was exceptional.

As those girls took on Jungfrau, Carmel and I found the sports equipment shop and rented sleds, or sledges as we say here in the alps. Carmel had a little nervousness and the guys at the shop had a few laughs over all of our questions. What we didn't know as we were concerned about running into other people out there was that there would be No other people out there, at all! We found our way to the start of the sledge run and after a few hundred yards of getting the feel of it, we were on our way. The run goes for an hour and a half or so depending on your speed. We went down twice and couldn't believe that we could have that much for for only $18.00. Out there in the middle of nowhere with no one else around was so incredibly peaceful and we marveled at how small we were.

We managed to get off the train coming back up the hill just in time to see Lea and Jane coming down from the summit and we, all exhausted caught the long train ride back down to Lauterbrunnen. Exhausted. It was an awesome day.

Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When I originally looked up the town of Thun as a location to visit, one of the first things I'd read about it was that is was pronounced Toon. Since Toon Town has been a major attraction at Disneyland, I thought that visiting a much older Thun town might be interesting. This city is old...I mean, really old. The area of what is now Thun was inhabited since the Neolithic age (mid 3rd millennium BC). The name of the city comes from the Celtic term Dunum, which means "fortified city", and that fortified wall can be clearly seen from the castle towers. Of course more of the city now lies outside of the walls than inside. The castle has hosted many prestigious visitors including Napoleon Bonaparte, Brahams and several others that only Jane...our group's most well read and informed member, knew anything about. It was interesting to close ourselves in the tiny prison cell in one of towers and imagine how a prisoner might try to soak up every possible ray of sun that shone through the small window and keep mentally occupied while locked up in there.

All those thoughts of confinement and imprisonment just made us hungry, so we walked along the river to find a cafe that had available seating for us. The shops had all closed up for lunch time and the cafe scene was hopping. It feels to us like the cloak of winter has lifted from this area and people are longing to feel the sun on their faces. We are old and have had enough sun, so we found plenty of open seating on the other side of the river, in the shade. It was yet another lovely meal and we've addressed that fact that sitting, enjoying a break in the day, having a meal really is the way to go. Every meal will be better that way. Not the way we usually eat. Standing at the counter...eating on the run...eating in the car.

We're getting quite casual with our train travel and are managing time tables and switching platforms, etc. with grace and efficiency and feel pretty good about ourselves. So, with ease we lollied back on the train like we'd been doing it for years (well, I may have exaggerated, but we're getting better)

Upon arriving "home" back in Lauterbrunnen, we hit up the Coop market for a few snack essentials and headed up to the room for our regular daily debrief and happy hour.

At this time I'll take a moment to mention some of our standout personal encounters, focusing mostly on the lovely women we've met along the way and will note that each of them has not only been a blessing to us, but also seem to have enjoyed our female traveler spirit!

First there was Boza (Bos-zha) of Appenzell. She and her husband Franz, his brother Hans and her son Clemens run the Adler hotel. Boza has three sons and is this zesty, fit, amazingly energetic blossom in the midst of these men. She is in her early 60s ...all size 2 of her. She bonded with each of us and we enjoyed her a great deal.

Next was Liz of Fresno. She had ditched her husband who doesn't like heights so that she could go up to the Schilthorn. We met her on the way back down to Murren on the cable car and she joined us on our hike down to Gimmelwald and our picnic. We ran into her again on the train to Interlaken this morning. She said she has a group of friends that we remind her of. We laughed about how her posse and we could meet up in the future for another adventure.

One of the owners of the Hotel Silberhorn in Lauterbrunnen is a delightful woman who is also surrounded with a husband, sons and grandsons. She is a warm, hardworking woman who made a point to visit with us at our dinner every night, even sending us a dessert drink as a treat one night. We tried to get her to pack a bag and come along...but someone has to stay and keep that family business going. After all, the hotel has been in their family for 106 years...don't drop the ball now!

It's people like this who make the trip really rich. You gotta wonder about people who travel and only want to eat the food that's "like home" or never try to speak to the locals who don't speak English...or complain about the tv not having enough English channels. Get out and eat the funky, smelly cheeses and weird meat products!

Dies ist der lebende!

Montreux and St. Saphorin, Vaud, Switzerland

Thursday, April 3, 2014

8:33 am we left Lauterbrunnen... quite frankly that seems like a country and a thousand years ago. We enjoyed the wonderful first class cars of the Golden Pass train that took us from Interlaken down past Gstaad to Montreux . We put our seemingly ever expanding bags into pay lockers at the station and walked the foot path along Lake Geneva to the Chillon Castle. We arrived Just before a hoard of Japanese tourists on their huge busses. They walked through the entire castle on their cell phones, talking loudly. That was a bit of a bummer, but somewhat redeemed the idea of "Ugly" American tourists. We are at least in Second Place for the title.

The flowers along the lake are unlike anything we've every seen. Bed after bed of tulips, pansies, daffodils, every bulb imaginable for the whole hour and a half walk from the train station to the castle and back. Spectacular...We finally had to stop taking pictures.

We had our first difficulty with the train today. We were over zealous and confident and got on the wrong one. So, We jumped off in Vevey and refigured our route and thankfully we were only on three minutes from our stop in St. Saphorin. St. Saphorin however, is not pronounced "St. Saphorin" in French... NO, not a single person understood our pronunciation of this word. There is a tremendous back of the throat gargle thing that is require to understand this word. We figured it out and made it off the train in this overwhelmingly, ancient, beautiful, vertical and cardiologially challenging town. Mind you we have way, way too much crap to haul up a "11 minute walk" up to our lodging.

Lea hired a small child to haul her bag up the hill. She needed to save the energy to cuss me under her breath. Jane hung her head to propel herself forward and Carmel just kept plugging along.

At the bottom of the hill we had to pass a restaurant and a bar. There was a handful of men and a woman there and we asked them for directions. They laughed and offered to drive us up the hill. When Jane pursued the idea they said, "No taxi!" and laughed some more. While reaching to put on my backpack a bottle of wine fell out of the bag and broke on the cobblestone pathway. As the red wine ran down the hill the men continued to laugh as I began to sweat and all of us women were confronted with one or another horrible moment in our lives when we felt weak, tired and vulnerable and at the mercy of someone who was nothing more than an A-hole. So were sucked it up, hoisted our bags and began to hoof uphill. Thankfully we ran across a fit old gal walking her dog whole us know we were headed the right way to find the Domaine du Burignon up on the hill above. She also said "OOeeuucch", representing her feeling about the walk we had ahead of us..above us.

We, sweating and gasping finally arrived at the BnB and found the lovely Anne Bussey who runs the hotel. She said something to the effect of "I told you" about the hill and continued to smile. She then showed us to a wonderful two bedroom apartment with dining room and kitchen and incredible out door garden for us to make use of. The flowers are blooming everywhere. The garden cat who visited us while we ate our nuts, cheese, apples, bread and the wine from the vineyard of Domaine du Burignon disappeared up an old stairway and returned about 20 minutes later with his dinner hanging from his mouth...wiskers on one side and tail on the other. I don't think anyone is buying pet food in this neighborhood.

We did some sink laundry and tucked in for the night. We'll have breakfast here in the morning and try to find a market tomorrow as we also find a way to discover this area...built on terraces hillsides without dying in the process.

I still wouldn't trade it for anything. And for the record...I thought Lea was going to kill me when she got to the top of the hill...but, fueled with endorphins, she instead gave me a hug...and I live to die another day.

Sweet Jane, who never complains...but who was ready cut those losers who scoffed at us if we had let her, is worn out and in bed early tonight. She has been a total delight on this trip. At best guess it is about every 8.5 hours that Jane throws down some kind of personal information bomb that increases her street cred. I want her on my team. There were a couple of good quotes we ran across today, one is about friends. One was from the tour at the castle Chillon. It goes a little something like this..."What is the most joyful thing in all the world? 'tis a fart! For it sings from it's birth until it fades away"....Magnifique!

Lavaux, Vaud, Switzerland

Friday, April 4, 2014

We began the morning by staggering our bathroom and hygiene times. Our two bedroom apartment in the 450 year old building is spacious and wonderful, but the bathroom is for one person and one person only. I needed a shower so I started earlier that the others and finished in time to wander the property before breakfast. A light fog blanketed the lake and snowy peaks across the water and it gave the scene a really peaceful, mystical feeling. We met up in the breakfast room which is inside the newer 150 year old building and is totally modern inside. The BnB is owned by Lausanne and is run by Anne Bussey and her husband. Anne was a journalist but tired of that profession and decided to give the hotel business a go. We think that she is fantastic at it and will do very well.

Breakfast was not abundant, but was so perfect. Just enough cheese for us...just enough meat. There was a basket of fruit, small bowls of jams, a jar of local honey, and juice from the grapes they've grown. Anne had taken some eggs from their five chickens and hard boiled and dyed them. We thought she had used beet juice to dye them, but she said it was the juice of an insect...she didn't know the name in English. There, of course was fresh bread and it was all wonderful and delicious and had us fueled up for the day.

After great deliberation, and having taken into consideration the difficult decline to the town below, we instead decided to head toward the east to the town of Chardonne. We walked along the terraces which cut dramatically down toward Lake Geneva admiring the old walls and how all the vines had been pruned so meticulously and uniformly. As we stopped to check the map a man who was sitting near a fire amongst some of the vines came up to where we were standing. He tired to speak to us in French and motioned us to follow him down through the just awakening vines, talking to us and pointing out things along the way. We're not exactly sure, but think that we were discussing pest control, the age of the vines and the beautiful view. At some point we realized that the mutual language we shared was Spanish and our conversation moved forward with much greater ease and clarity from that point on. It was about 10:30 and he suggested we have some wine with him (not in a creepy way) but we knew that it would be a long day with many hills ahead and thanked him for sharing his vineyard and information with us, but we moved on. Gerard was another little nugget of blessing along the road for us. Great moments.

We arrived in Chardonne and walked through the quiet streets (where is everyone?) and caught the funicular train up to the top stop at Mont Pelerin. There was a beautiful restaurant right at the top of the train and the view was breath taking across the lake...but was just too dang early to eat we forged on.

Heading back toward our chateau (didn't that sound swanky?) we had a different view than we had while heading in the opposite direction and the sun was higher in the sky so the lake looked different...amazing blues and shades of aqua. We stopped back at our hotel for a moment then continued to the west toward the town of Rivaz and the Vinorama which is a bit of a wine central for the Lavaux region and all the wines grown in the region are represented there. We were "stuck" on these foot paths that ran among the terraces and although we could see the general area we wanted to get to, we couldn't just go "as the crow flies" in about 9 miles we arrived at the Vinorama.

The Vinorama had a 20 minute film about "a year in the life of a winemaker" which really detailed how one winemaker watches the weather, checks acids and sugars, prunes, harvests, presses, bottles, etc. It was really fascinating and had it been anything but fascinating I think there would have been four American gals splayed out on the benches snoring from exhaustion. But it held our attention and we went upstairs to the tasting room where a sassy young Portuguese man named Luis gave us a run down on local information and answered countless questions. It took not much time at all until we were seeing the photos of his one year old son and he beamed telling us little details of his joy in being a father. Sweet

We also had the opportunity to ask him about finding a market and getting a cab so that we wouldn't have to hoof it back up what we've now come to call "hell hill". He suggested the quick train to Vevey where we could buy some groceries, change some money and catch a cab back to the "chateau".

We took care of the necessities and found the cab and the driver said he knew the way to where we needed to goto go. The traffic was bad getting out of Vevey on a Friday evening but soon we were on the road to St. Saphorin. He turned up into the tiny, narrow streets of the medieval village and he stopped right in the middle of the village and pointed up the cobble stoned street in the direction we needed to walk. OH NOOOO. We did NOT pay a cab to bring us home just to have him dump us out at the bottom of the hill! Lea was in the front seat and quickly let him know that was Not part of the plan. He backed up slightly then turned the car up the hill through the tunnels of the town moving us closer to our destination. At another turn he pointed to a sign which clearly said no automobiles / no exceptions and, the silly man thought that he would persuade us to get out at that point...still a good half mile and UP to go.

No. Unacceptable. About this time, I'm shaking the last few coins I had in my hand and remembering why I like to take the train. At any rate, we sat for just another moment contemplating the No Autos/No exceptions sign and the driver eventually waved his hand and drove past the sign and along the frighteningly narrow road until it was clear he could go no further. There was only 50 yards to go...albeit the steepest part of the road. So we finished up the 9.16 miles with something to be proud of. Our dinner was in our customary style with an impressive array of veggies, cheeses, meats, bread, some local wine and tonight, a little chocolate and creme bruilee. Not bad for a hotel made dinner. Tomorrow we head to Gruyere, the land of yet more cheese, the Nestle-Callier chocolate factory, meringues, and triple creme. It's a good thing we've been walking so much...

Gruyères, Fribourg, Switzerland

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tonight we settled into our two story loft at a farm house, La Ferme du Borgouz in Gruyeres...cheese country. The ladies seem to check in with me on the train before we arrive at the next stop and ask, "How long is the walk to the hotel from the train?" Not, unlike childbirth, when you forget the pain and end up pregnant again....I've forgotten how painful some of the walks were the last time I came here. So my usual response is "not far...little hill...not like the last place..."

And, so...we arrive rather exhausted at the top of yet another hill and checked into our room. It is wonderful and comfortable which is good because I woke up with a cough and every single joint in my body hurts. We walked back down to the cheese factory at the bottom of the hill next to the train station and it was closed but we walked through the GRUYERES CHEESE FACTORY GIFT SHOP which was pretty good too. So we headed up to the walled city and castle of Gruyeres. I don't know about the other gals, but I felt every bloody step up that hill...the back of an old woman aching from carrying my backpack all day...lack of sleep from staying up so late to post the pics and do this bloody blog...plum worn out! I'm not complaining, but there is a cumulative fatigue.

So, here's quick daily recap because I've got to lay flat soon.

We enjoyed our beautiful breakfast in St. Saphorin this morning and Lea and Jane called a cab to avoid walking down the steep incline into the town. That same walk up that was so hellish the day we arrived was no misty, mysterious, beautiful, like a Disney movie city and we walked slowly and talked softly. There was no one out and about and we felt like we were the only ones around. It was awesome and rich and colorful.

We met up with Jane and Lea at the "train station" ... covered bench at the bottom of the hill with Lake Geneva 30 feet away and waited for our train to Montreux. Once on the train, we moved past small French gardens and through tunnels and into snow and steep hillsides and rolling green that stretched as far as the eye could see...and tiny towns with their own little train stops and we pondered where they shopped and decided that there were meat shops and cheese shops and bakeries in town and every now and then someone ventured out to buy toilet paper. Before we knew it we had pulled into Gruyeres and we headed up the long hill to the farm house.

After deciding to skip the cheese factory and head up the hill to the town we realized that lunch had escaped us and 3:00 seemed like a great time for dinner so we chose a quaint restaurant with fondue and sat down. This, by the way is supposed to the "warmer" weather than the other locations we've been in. The alps were so toasty that most days we complained about being too warm. But, today in Gruyeres over lunch of pate and salad and fondue, we watched the rain clouds take over the mountain peaks...and smelled the coming rain. Then headed home to our cozy farmhouse and to an early bedtime.

Gruyères, Fribourg, Switzerland

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Personally, it was a rough night for me. I've had the chills and a cough and feel generally crappy, but I'm giving it my best to finish strong. I was able to drag myself downstairs for breakfast because I knew what was waiting for us. The most amazing homemade butter, jellies and jams, fresh cream for the coffee and homemade Gruyeres cheese, which is made by Eliane and her husband Jacques Murith who run this BnB out of their authentic farm house. A little more about that later...

We opted to take the train to the chocolate factory rather than walk (thankfully there were no complaints about that! These ladies have put in some serious miles). It was kind of funny that after wrestling with the train ticket machine, in two languages, none of which is ours for quite a long time, there was no one who came and checked our tickets. The last time I was at the chocolate factory the tour was only in French. They've pumped things up a bit and run tours now in German, French, Spanish and English. It is a really well done presentation and the best is saved for last as you circle around the sampling area eating as much of the product as you'd like. I didn't think I would hear the ladies say that they were "chocolated out", but they did. We caught the train back to Gruyeres and I trudged up the hill to the farmhouse while the gals shopped for the picnic supplies at the cheese factory gift shop which had the essentials of cheese, meat, bread and apples. They continued on up to the walled city so they could see the H. R. Giger museum.

Hans Rudolf "Ruedi" Giger is a Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor, and set designer. He was part of the special effects team that won an Academy Award for Best Achievement for Visual Effects for their design work on the film Alien. It seems so odd that this quaint village has a museum of this dark, gruesome nature. Apparently, Giger acquired the castle in Gruyere in 1998 and he and his wife decided to put the museum displaying his art work there. There was also a cafe that was decorated with the same kind of designs. Lea and Carmel went in for a drink while Jane walked the town a bit more.

Elaine, our hostess told us that at 5:00 her husband would be going down to milk the cows and we could go down to the barn to watch. The walk to the barn and the experience we had going down there has to be, for me, one of the most memorable things about the trip. As the sun was getting a little lower in the sky, the shadows grew long, the colors were sharp...such a rich green. It was so peaceful. We came upon the barn, which is so old. There was a herd of deer in the field adjoining the property. About 8 baby cows were in pens outside the barn. Monsiuer Murith motioned us in to see the cows being milked in the barn. The most profound thing about what we were watching is that this farmer, cheese maker is the only man in the Gruyeres region who still makes the cheese by hand, in the traditional way and we were witnessing a part of that process. It really was amazing.

It has been those special encounters with people along the way which has made this trip so memorable.

Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Monday, April 7, 2014

After two weeks of peaceful, quiet, wide open spaces, it was a shock to the system to pull into Zurich. Immediately I felt old and dressed a bit like a middle aged house wife...sensible shoes and all. We walked the several blocks to the Hotel Adler, amongst the skinny jeaned and short booted young people...way more young people than we've seen in one place for some time! We reached the hotel and had a few hours to spend before meeting up with Lorenz, the youngest son of Franz and Boza from Appenzell.

Lorenz took us to an Irish Pub for hamburgers...I'm pretty sure he just figured that's what Americans like. There were numerous people speaking English and even more were smoking and it feels completely different that the other towns we visited. I know there is a lot of culture and history and exciting things to see in the cities around the world...but I prefer the countryside...small towns...slower pace.

After we said goodbye to Lorenz we stopped at a corner outdoor cafe for coffees, and have turned in for the evening. Tomorrow we will eat our final Swiss breakfast and head off to the flughafen for a long and miserable flight to LAX and drive home.

This has been more than just a vacation. For me, it's been about dreaming and planning and looking forward. The other ladies will have to share what it has meant to them personally. It certainly isn't commonplace for the mama birds to leave the nest, but I think it was good for us and good for our families too.

Not the least of our accomplishments comes from Lea's FitBit bracelet which has measured each step and mile that Lea has taken, thus, the pack of us.

The totals through today are:

85.89 miles

195,579 steps

Thank you for following us on our journey.

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