Vacation with Mom, Part 3: Switzerland
(August 21 - September 7, 1999)

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We got up real early on Friday morning to catch a 7:18 AM train out of Gare de Lyon.  The trip to Zurich involved a connection in Lausanne.  From Paris to Lausanne, we would travel on a TGV, France's high speed train.  What a great smooth ride it is.  Feels like you're gliding, and it's relatively quiet.  We got to the station in plenty of time, had some breakfast and bought stuff to take with us on the train for the four hour ride.  In Lausanne, which is home for Olympic headquarters, we had a one hour wait for the connection to Zurich.  As we pulled out of Lausanne, we noticed a huge lake way down below us.  I knew Lake Geneva was a big lake, but I didn't think we were anywhere near Geneva.  I asked the conductor which lake that was and he said it had the same name as the city of diplomats.  I was surprised.  I asked him where Geneva was and he pointed the way.  I never did care for geography much when I was in school.  That hasn't been true since 1993 when I started traveling a lot.  Now I want to know where everything is.

The views from the train were almost breathtaking as we made our way further into Switzerland.  I'm sure all three of us were agape at what we were looking at.  The lake, the hills, the mountains off in the distance.  Everything was so green, and the houses along the way all had flower boxes outside the windows with bright, usually red, flowers.  Mom commented many times in Bavaria, and again in Switzerland, about the colorful flowers and how much she liked how they looked.  I could tell she was really enjoying this train ride.

We arrived in Zurich and headed off to the car rental place to pick up our car.  The guy I spoke to about renting a car said it was just outside the train station.  It wasn't.  It was a few blocks away, so we had to deal with the luggage.  Not knowing the area and how the streets ran, I didn't want to try to figure out a route back to the station.  We managed to get everything, most of which was on wheels, to the rental place, picked up our VW Passatt (nice car) and off we were to Peter and Yoko's place.  Peter's schedule had changed and he was in Sao Paolo, Brazil for the week.  He was due to arrive home on Saturday morning.  We had dinner with Yoko and Naoko and settled in for the evening.

Peter and Yoko live in Wollerau (pronounced 'Vollerau'), which is about 30 minutes drive from Zurich, up along Zurichsee (Lake Zurich).  They live in what we would call a townhouse.  There are four attached units in their building, which is up on a hill.  The house has four floors, one of which is a basement.  It's the top floor that offers the magnificent view of Lake Zurich.  There is a small deck on that floor and you can see over the housetops and trees down below to see the lake and surrounding hills.  On a very clear day, you can see the mountains off in the distance.  It was warm and quiet and peaceful as we sat out on the deck just taking it all in.

Mom was totally enjoying Naoko.  She is now 16 months old and learning both Japanese and Swiss German, and is she ever a cutie.  She wasn't too sure about all these strange faces who were all speaking a strange language.  But she was a great mimicker and would repeat some English words we said to her, like when I told her she was amazing, and the next thing she says is 'amazing'.

Yoko told us that Peter was due into Zurich very early and would stop to pick up fresh bread and pastries for breakfast.  He was actually home before we got up, except for mom, who gets up with the chickens.  Diane can sleep until noon, and I'm somewhere in between.  When I heard his voice, I decided it was time to get up.  It was great to see him again.  We had lots to talk about.  Mom had met Peter before.  He and I attended a conference in Orlando back in the Fall of 1995.  We were working an assignment in the states, so I suggested to Peter that he come home with me on the Friday before the week of the conference and we'd drive Diane's 'toy' (a Nissan 240SX convertible) down to Orlando.  Mom lives in Ocala, so I suggested that we come stay the weekend after the conference in Ocala and then drive back to Atlanta on Sunday and back to the work location on Monday.  As I mentioned before, mom has an open house.

The plan for Saturday was to take mom to see the Alps from up high.  We finished breakfast and headed out for Mt. Rigi.  Diane and I had been there several times, but it offers a great view of the mountains, lakes, and the city of Lucerne.  There are a couple of places where one can board the Rigi-bahn, Vitznau and Goldnau.  For this trip, we opted for Goldnau.  So up we went into the clouds.  Yes, unfortunately, it was an overcast day with low hanging clouds.  There were still a lot of people going up.  The Rigi-bahn takes you most of the way up, but there is still some walking to be done to reach the hotel/restaurant, and even more to reach the summit. 

It was time for some lunch, so we did that first.  It was one of the few times we were able to have bratwurst.  After lunch, we decided to go up to the top, although it would not be possible to see anything.  There were two paths to the summit and they are marked by characters on a pole.  One character is of a young climber and the other of an old Swiss gentleman with a beard and cane.  I'm sure you can guess which path we took to the top.  We then headed back towards the hotel and could hear some oompah music.  There was a band set up outside the restaurant playing some local music, so we watched for a while.

We had planned to walk down to a lower station to reboard the Rigi-bahn to Goldnau.  I thought that would not be a problem for mom since she seemed to have a lot of energy.  However, it was here that she met her match.  The path down, although paved, was pretty steep and was difficult for her.  I told her to keep her weight back walk slowly.  At one point, while I was stopped to take some video, I turned around to see her almost RUNNING down the hill to a flat area.  She was on the grass and I could see that it would soon turn to dirt and stones.  My heart stopped for a second as I could see her going down face forward and coming up with broken bones and cuts and bruises.  By the time I saw her, she was almost at the bottom of the section and I just held my breath.  Much to my surprise, this 76 year old woman was rather nimble and, when she reached the bottom, she kind of flittered over to the paved section and was sort of bouncing on her toes.  She actually looked light footed.  It was then that I remembered that mom liked to dance when she was younger.  She grew up in the swing era and liked to do the peabody and swing dances.  Also, given that my grandmother was from what became Czechoslovakia, and that mom is one of the older of eight children, there were lots of 'Polish' weddings to go to and she was a good polka dancer in her time.  I imagine that nimbleness helped her in this situation.  But it was a tense few seconds for me.  She told me she was having trouble keeping gravity from taking control, so I ended up holding her hand for the remainder of the descent to the station below us.

As we waited for the Rigi-bahn to arrive, I heard the familiar sound of cow bells.  I wanted mom to see this because I thought she'd get a kick of seeing it for real, as opposed to what she has seen in movies.  There were several cows behind the station, so we went out there to take a look, and Peter and Yoko took Naoko down the stairs closer to the pasture fence.  Then we headed down to Goldnau.  There were some folks on the train that were all dressed in similar traditional garb and were having a good old time singing with interlocked arms and swaying back and forth as we made our descent.  This is the kind of stuff mom likes to see.  As we approached the station, Peter, Yoko, and I noticed a small field with some horses in it.  It was sort of on the way back to the parking lot, so we went to see what it was all about.  A few minutes later, an entire wedding party came up the hill from the train station, bride in nice gown (pretty, too), groom in a tux.  She went over to say hello to all the people who were mounted on the horses (about 10 of them), all of which had a white ribbon on their harness (or whatever that thing is called around the horse's head).  We figured that she must belong to a riding club and this was their tribute to her wedding day.  It was nice.

Peter and Yoko took us to a restaurant high up on a hill behind where they live which afforded a view of hills, Lake Zurich, mountains.  What a great spot for a restaurant.  It was like in the middle of nowhere.  Certainly not one that you would find unless you happened to stumble onto it.  We had a great meal and mom was able to get her Manhattan in Switzerland, albeit a scotch Manhattan.  Ugh.

On Sunday, we went to Einsiedeln to go to the high mass in the kloster in town.  This is where Peter went to school as a boy and young man.  It's sort of like an academy he said.  Einsiedeln has been a center for pilgrimages since 946 AD.  It was founded as a Benedictine monastery during the time of Charlemagne by a monk who chose the site to allow him to pray in solitude.  A statue referred to as the Black Madonna resides in the monastery, and has been there for more than a thousand years.  Pope John Paul II has visited the monastery.  As described in Fodor's:

"The abbess of Zurich gave him an image of the Virgin, for which he built a little chapel, and Meinrad (the monk) lived in peace, fed - the story goes - by two ravens who brought him supplies.  When he was murdered by brigands seeking treasure, the ravens followed the thieves to Zurich and shrieked over their heads until they were arrested.  A monastery was built over Meinrad's grave.  When it was completed the Bishop of Konstanz was invited to consecrate it, but as he began the ceremony, a voice was heard crying out in the chapel three times, 'Brother, desist: God himself has consecrated this building.' A papal bull acknowledged the miracle and promise special indulgence to pilgrims.

Through the ages the monastery of Einsiedeln has been destroyed many times by fire, but always the Black Madonna has been saved.  When Napoleon's armies plundered the church, hoping to carry off the sacred image, it had already been taken to the Tirol in Austria for safekeeping.  Today the Madonna is housed in a black marble chapel just inside the west entrance to the church.  When seen from a distance its color appears to be a rich bronze, not black, and there is something quaint and gentle about the figure despite its jeweled splendor."

The church itself is late Baroque and is beautiful.  Lots of gold and pastels inside.  Unfortunately, it's one of the places in which no photography of any kind is allowed.  One must by the books if one wants pictures of the church. 

The mass was in German and Latin and I counted at least 14 priests concelebrating the mass.  It was quite a spectacle.  There were at least 20 who formed the choir.  They didn't chant, but sang hymns with organ background.  The church was packed, so this high mass is a big deal for the town.  It was a quite beautiful mass and took me back to my youth when I sang in Latin in a boys choir.  Mom also commented that it reminded her of her time growing up in NYC, including the first nine years of my life before we moved out to Long Island.

After mass, we met Peter, Yoko, and Naoko for breakfast across the street from the church.  There were lots of places to choose from as this is a tourist town.  We ate at a restaurant that had a nice buffet of fresh breads, jams, rolls, etc and then we ordered eggs cooked to order.  It was a beautiful day, so we walked into the grounds behind the church.  The property owned by the kloster is magnificent and is a big part of the town.  The views from the hill behind the monastery were breathtaking.  There were several groups of magnificent horses in various pastures, both on the lower levels and up on the hill.  They were very friendly and came over to the fence when people were around.

It was time to head back to Peter's house, so we just kind of slowly made our way towards the parking lot.  On the way, there were shops to be visited by mom and Diane.  There was also a large golden statue of the Virgin in the plaza in front of the church.  Around the base, water trickles from 14 spouts.  Peter told me, and it is also described in travel books, that it is supposed to bring one good luck if one drinks from all of the spouts in succession.  So who am I to doubt that?  Of course I drank from all 14 spouts.  Stay tuned to see if any good luck comes my way.

Peter told me that when he was young and attending school there, the students would drink from the spouts prior to exams.  He said that a student would put a rubber band on a spout so he would know from which spout he drank first.  You see what's coming, right?  The other students would follow the student doing the drinking and put rubber bands on all the spouts so he would have no idea from which spout he first drank.  Sounds sort of like short sheeting a roommate's bed when I was in school.

So back we went to Peter and Yoko's place for some relaxing time and dinner.  We had a great dinner cooked by Yoko along with some great wine from Peter's wine cellar.  It was getting to be dusk and time for one more view of the lake from the top floor of their house.  The lights were coming on in the town across the lake and there was a ferry out on the lake that was all lit up.  Directly below the house, a local train was going by, all lit up inside, but with very few passengers that evening.  It was warm and sitting there looking out onto the lake was incredibly relaxing. 

On Monday morning, we got up and had breakfast, and then it was time to say our good byes and head to Zurich for the train ride back to Stuttgart.  Although our visit was a short one, it was a little sad to say good bye this time.  Mom really enjoyed herself over the weekend.  She loves little kids and was quite taken with Naoko.  I think she wanted to stay longer, plus she knew that her vacation in Europe was drawing to a close.

We got into Zurich with no problems, I dropped Diane and mom off at the train station with the luggage, and I went to return the car. The train arrived and it was back to Stuttgart to repack our luggage for the trip back to the USA on Tuesday morning.  The train ride was only about 2 1/2 hours.  We picked up a car at the station and headed back to the Marriott in Sindelfingen.  Christa was there to greet us upon our return.  She asked mom how her trip was and mom proceeded to tell her all about it.  None of us really felt like walking out to a restaurant, so we decided to eat our last meal of the vacation in the hotel.  Besides, mom knew she could get a Manhattan there.  After dinner, we stopped by the front desk to say good bye to Christa and other staff.  Then it was up to the rooms to pack for the trip.

Our flight on Tuesday was at 11:30 AM.  We ate breakfast in the hotel, loaded the car, said good bye to the morning staff, and then we were off to the flughafen (airport).  Check-in was smooth and allowed time for more shopping at the airport.  Diane wanted to get some candy to bring back for her work colleagues.  Then we went to the business class lounge and waited until it was time to board.

The flight home was great.  We sat window, aisle, aisle.  Mom loved it.  She not only made her first trip out of the USA, she made her first flight in business class.  Needless to say, when they offered champagne, mom said 'sure'.  It was funny to see the flight attendants doting on her.  There was the usual "is this your sister?" comments.  Mom likes to nosh, so it seemed like she was always eating something on the way home.  During the final snack before landing, one of the flight attendants joked that my 'little sister has a big
appetite'.  One flight attendant thought mom reminded her of her grandmother.  This was kind of spooky because she asked mom if she was from Pennsylvania, which she was.  She was born near Bethlehem, PA.  Turns out this flight attendant's family came from there.  She later told mom that she shed a couple of tears back in the galley because mom so closely resembled her grandmother whom she was very close to.  Mom ate it up.

We arrived back in Atlanta on time, got our luggage, went through customs, and headed to our house.  Vacation was over.

Until next time.

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