Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

We just had 5 fabulous days of freakishly warm and sunny weather.  It’s such a riot to see the Swiss come out of winter hibernation.  They’re like pollen:  one day there’s none in sight;  the next day every outdoor surface is covered.  They literally go from down jackets and scarves to bikinis.  Now, normally, this occurs much later in the spring on the day that it finally reaches 70 F, but this year it happened last Wednesday.  It reached 80 F by the weekend, which is just unheard of in April.  (Eighty degrees Fahrenheit is hot even for the middle of July, so the Swiss were just delirious.  They were smiling and everything!  In public!)

I ate my packed lunch on a blanket in the park and listened to French tapes in the sunshine for three days in a row.  I stripped down a few layers to my camisole and even went so crazy as to roll up the legs of my jeans, worried that the Swiss would think I was being a brash American.  By one p.m., I was the most overdressed person in the park.  The chick on a blanket next to me was in a bikini.  Even I would not do a bikini in 70 degree weather.  Can you even get a tan in 70 degree weather?  Of course, today, we’re back to normal.  It’s 48 and cloudy.  But for those 5 days, the weather gods were smiling down on us.

Saturday, Mr. Big rolls out of the bed around 9.  He wants to know if I have a plan for the day, which in our old-married-folk code means “which antique fair am I schlepping off to today, Trailing Spouse?”   Actually, I had made no prior plans, but I knew if I told HIM that, he would sit around all day watching the Masters and we would waste all that glorious sunshine.

“We are going for a drive all around the Brienzerzee and the Thunerzee.  Get dressed.”

“What the hell is a Brienzerzee?”

“It’s a lake.  A lake is a “zee” in German.  Hurry up.  You’re making us late.”

“Late for what?”

Well, late for nothing, really, because I had just made all of this up on the spot but I bluffed my way through and got him up and out the door.  I will put a few of the pictures on here, but I will put a whole bunch more on the Facebook blog page so you can see the whole album.  Just click this!

These two Swiss lakes, the Brienzer and Thuner Zees, are shaped like a figure eight.  I mean, they butt right up against one another.  Directly in the middle, where they hinge together, is the town called Interlaken.  At the top of the figure eight is the town of Brienze and at the bottom of the eight is the town called Thun.  All along the edges are some impossibly cute towns and the Alps ring the lakes, rising up on all sides.  Most visitors to Switzerland only go to Interlaken, which is the train station connector hub which leads to the famous trio of mountains:  the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

Of course, we are not allowed to drive on any freeways to get there, we are only allowed to go on tiny backroads.  My rule, not Mr. Big’s.  Obviously.  This is how it works in a long-time-marriage, people.  You have unwritten laws.  If you do not follow these arbitrary laws, you will have a pouty wife.  Duh.  One of these laws in our marriage is that ALL THE REALLY GOOD STUFF is found on backroads.  Now, before you think I am being unreasonable, the rest of the law says that, after dark, on the way home, when there is nothing left to see, Mr. Big can zoom about on the freeway to his little heart’s content.  Am I not the Queen of Compromise?

So, because we are on backroads and have driven through two, additional, unnecessary cantons, our two hour trip to our starting point, Interlaken, takes us four hours instead of two, but that is beside the point.  The point being that we got to see a bunch of lovely cows and drive over two mountain passes that we had never seen before.  We stopped in Gstaad at the grocery store to buy some sandwich fixins and had a picnic on the side of the road overlooking a creek somewhere near Schonreid.

Reaching Interlaken, we head off north around the Brienzerzee, (the upper part of the figure 8) and pull off in Iseltwald.  Ok, people of Iseltwald, I KNOW you posed those cows right at the entrance to the village where your “welcome” sign is!  Don’t lie!  Y’all, this town was just too cute.  Because we were gawking, we missed the “Pedestrian Streets Only” sign.  Mr. Big was driving on a forbidden road and the Swissies strolling all around us were dropping their jaws like marionette puppets.  Beat it, Mr. Big!  You are in a No Cars Allowed territory!  We screeched out of Iseltwald just ahead of, I’m sure, a hefty, hefty ticket from the local Polizei.

So, I can’t tell you anything more about Iseltwald, i.e. the shops or restaurants, because we were on the lam before we ever got one foot out of the car.  I did make him pull over for a brief moment when, yet again, I saw strategically placed animals, sheep this time, in front of a tiny sheep barn carved “1768”.  Those Iseltwald people really know how to pose their livestock for maximum picture-taking advantage.

At the tip of the lake, (the pinnacle of the 8), is the town of Brienze.  Two kilometers before you get to Brienze is the turn-off for the “Williamsburg of Switzerland”, i.e. a living history outdoor village “museum” called Ballenburg.  Alas, it was closed up as tight as a drum.  Even though it was 80 degrees outside, Ballenburg did not get the memo and had yet to open for the season.  We will return, though, as I am anxious to go.  Supposedly, they have collected 80 authentic houses from 18 different cantons and it explains Swiss history visually through architecture and homemade, regional crafts and food.  That’s my kind of museum!

Between Ballenburg and Brienze I see a sign for “Brockistube”.  STOP, MR. BIG!  I don’t know a lot, but I do know the words for flea markets, second-hand shops and antique stores in approximately 36 different languages.  Twenty minutes and one lamp and one planter richer, we continue on to Brienze.

The people of Brienze are known for their wood carvings.  Personally, I think they stole the idea from the Black Forest part of Germany, but what do I know.  If you see a “Swiss-made” cuckoo clock, it was made in Brienze.  Or one of those coat racks that looks like bears climbing up a tree?  Brienze.  As a matter of fact, when we were walking up and down the quaint streets, we saw a random local woman taking advantage of the early and rare sunshine sitting in her driveway carving a large mountain goat sculpture.  It was as big as she was.  I didn’t take her picture, sorry.  It felt sort of rude.  I mean, it was obviously her house and her driveway and she was not trying to put on a “show” or anything.  It sort of felt intrusive, like taking a picture of an Amish guy out plowing his own field, you know?

Ok, down the other side of the top of the 8.  Not too many villages, just lovely views.  As we reach the “hinge”, (again!) of the 8, Interlaken, we are on roads through this town that we have never been on, even though we have been to Interlaken train station any number of times.  It’s really cute!  Who knew?  We have only ever considered Interlaken as a hub and never actually walked around or eaten there.  My bad!  The “old village” of Interlaken is precious.

Just down the north side of the Thunerzee, out of Interlaken, direction Thun, we spy a beautiful waterfall.  There are a few parking spaces at its’ base, so we pull over.  There is a small sign, in German, saying that these are the caves of St. Beatus and that they are not available for people in wheelchairs or people with strollers.  Can you imagine, in America, a sign that says, “Wonderful tourist spot.  Sorry, no handicapped people or babies.”  Boggles the mind.  The entrance to caves is up, up, up a winding path that crisscrosses a waterfall any number of times to a dizzying height of about 800 meters or 2,500 feet above the lake.  We didn’t go all the way up the to cave entrance because the dinner bell was starting to ring in Mr. Big’s tummy and he had no intention of missing dinner just to see some stalagmites, but we did climb a fair bit.  Did I mention that I’m wearing ballerina slippers?  No?  Remember, when I left in the morning I thought we would just be taking a yummy drive around a couple of FLAT lakes.  Not hiking.

Y’all.  My ballerina shoes were not up to the descent.  My foot slipped right out from under me on the way down and I skinned my knee like a 3-year-old AND RIPPED MY NEW WHITE JEANS.  Note to self:  when going ANYWHERE in Switzerland and you are unfamiliar with the territory, don’t wear flats or heels.  Wear something “grippy”.  It’s the ALPS, Trailing Spouse!  Act like you know!

Now we have two things we have to go back and see:  The Ballenburg museum and the St. Beatus caves.  And we weren’t done yet!  The next town down the road is Hilterfingen.  We are cruising through the cute little village and, I spy, out of the corner of my right eye, a castle on the hill.  Ooooh, Mr. Big, is it a castle that we can go in?  (Lots of castles/chateaux here are still privately owned by the rich people who don’t appreciate us peons walking around peering in their windows.  Selfish bastards.)

“How the hell do I know, Trailing Spouse?”

“Well, maybe, it’s just a really big house, not a castle, AND, maybe it’s for sale, Mr. Big!  Turn around!  Turn around!”  (Do any of the rest of you do this to your husbands?  No?  Yes?  Make them do U-turns to indulge your spur-of-the-moment-whims?  This drives Mr. Big bug-out-eyeball-crazy, but he does it for the sake of peace in the family.  See above reference to pouty wife.)

Unfortunately, it was a castle, it was not for sale, nor was it open for the season as of yet.  This made THING THREE that we would have to come back to tour.  Schloss Honegg.  So breathtaking.  Sadly, owned by the canton of Bernese Oberlander and not for sale to mere mortals.  Ahh, me.

On into the city of Thun, at the bottom of the 8, and a lovely dinner on the water.  It’s asparagus season, so I’m including a picture of my plate with both green and white asparagus.   Thun (pronounced Toon,) is another Kodak-worthy village with a castle and cathedral on the hill, views of the Alps and two, old covered bridges spanning the rivers that run out of the Thunerzee.  All in all, a lovely day out in Switzerland, minus the ripped pants.  Enjoy the pix!

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