2: Swiss Surprise

Yawn. Another mountain.

Swiss cheese, fondue, chocolate, watches: These are some of the things we expected of Switzerland. It turns out, there’s a bit more than that.

Start with the spring produce: Switzerland is perched just atop Italy and is only a few hours away by train to the Mediterranean, so that should have clued us into its fresh fruit and vegetable market. The produce here is crunchy and fresh.

We did not expect to see cyclists up on the  mountainside Kleine Scheidegg trail, but there they were, introducing us to another Swiss national oddity – adventurousness bordering on recklessness. They brought the Red Cross to the world, making us think they are a cautious accident-adverse people. They are not. Their idea of safety does not follow a prevention-protocol, which makes sense – it is how they got so good at responding to disasters. They make so many of their own to start with, offering them plenty of training opportunities.

I had no idea that Switzerland has a keen wine industry. South-facing sloped farmland ribbed in vineyards surrounds our town and with French vineyards a stone-throw over the border, it makes sense that the industrious Swiss would get in on the act. As to why it never occurred to us that Switzerland is a wine-producing country: Some joke that it is because the French export their wine, while the Swiss drink all theirs themselves.

There is skiing, of course, but the Swiss are also passionate mountain-climbers, hikers and bicyclists. They love sports. Confusing us even further, they are also proliferate smokers. We cannot understand this.

They are conservative in their conduct, yet they also voted to build a facility for prostitutes to operate their business in Zürich.

There’s more. I knew chocolates heralded from this mountainous land, but so too does CaranDache watercolour pencils and crayons – the funky metal-tinned colours my sister-in-law used to paint clown faces on ours boys when they were young.

Racial and immigration issues headline frequently in Swiss news as the country, like the rest of Europe, copes with the flood of Albanian Muslims that pushed north in the wake of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Tamils and other far-flung political refugees who fled to Switzerland because of its liberal amnesty program. As Canadians, we are accustomed to hearing about immigration issues, but we had no idea that step-for-step, Switzerland has the same national debate going on that we do.

They love festivals, and they are crazy about music. It’s not just yodeling that tickles their ears: I have never seen such a large concentration of accordion players anywhere. They beat out the Americans when it comes to marching bands – they have them all over the place, some in costume and organized, while others who look like they decided to take their band practice out of the garage and on to the street, just for fun. The quality of music played by buskers here is outstanding. I am sorry to say it, but most of them would put Victoria buskers to shame.

What surprises us the most, however, is that such a geographically small place has such a globally large footprint – from the Red Cross to the United Nations to its international market for banking, pharmaceuticals (Roche, Novartis), watches, Swiss Army knives and more. They are a stunningly successful people who from so little have made so much.

But back to chocolate, more chocolate businesses than Lindt call this place home. So, too, does Toblerone, Frey, Nestle, Cailler, Camille Bloch, Favarger and more – it explains why despite the occasional scandal, Switzerland’s brand continues untarnished. After all, who can stay mad with a place so packed with chocolate?

Advertisements

10: Our Last Double-Digit Day

You don’t expect Switzerland to have a summer-resort aspect to it, but it does. We could bring a box of sand back as a souvenir instead of skis, but then no one would really believe it was from Switzerland, the land of snowy alps.

After today, we fall into the single-digit portion of our Countdown to Canada, leading me to go into a little bit of a souvenir panic. Our conundrum is this: We want to bring something back that is distinctly Swiss, however, this desire competes with our goal to pack as lightly as possible. We have found a pair of old wooden cross-country skis at a nearby second-hand shop. They were made in Nidau – a town just beyond the train tracks. The skis have been a subject of discussion since we saw them (I’ve written about them already – click here to see it), and we visit them often. At one point, they disappeared from the shop and Dave breathed a sigh of relief that the question had been resolved for us, but then we found them stuffed away in a corner.

There are multiple problems with shipping the skis, beginning with the requirement that if they go on the flight with us, they must be packed in a molded-shell ski case. Of course, molded ski cases are modern devices made for modern skis. These skis are ancient and very long. They are also very heavy, so mailing them could cost upwards of 500 Swiss Francs (CHF)*. Our frugal natures flinch at such an extravagance. And this potential 500 CHF tab is before Switzerland’s export office opens the package and sees we are trying to make off with some of Switzerland’s precious lumber, albeit very old lumber.

So we seesaw endlessly over the question. In the meantime, I’m going to visit the skis again and see if the shopkeeper speaks enough English to field a question about overseas shipping.

Note: I know 500 CHF sounds like an over-estimate, but when I looked into shipping back a double-shoebox-sized package of books, the estimate came in around 450 CHF. I cannot even breathe when I contemplate the cost for a pair of skis. 

72: Pack-Attack + Coming to Grips with Reality

These wood skiis in a Biel/Bienne secondhand store were made in Nidau - a town within walking distance of our hotel.

Souvenir bells, spoons, caps, key chains: They remind us more of factories than they do of any place we’ve visited and so we’ve always kept an eye out for the slightly offbeat homegrown item when we’ve been on these 1-2-year work excursions, beginning in 1985.

Then we returned from an 18-month posting in Thunder Bay with a baby boy. This makes him an anchor of sorts to our memory of when we were there. Any time we forget the year, we have only to ask him his age. Not everyone will agree this makes him a souvenir, especially not his wife, but there it is.

We tend to favor geological souvenirs – stones of all sorts and sizes. We packed back a didgeridoo or diggery doo from Australia, a stone-flint-pocked threshing sledge from Spain that we converted into a coffee table, and from Atlanta, we brought back an enduring addiction to Honey Baked Hams, Krispy Kreme donuts and homemade ice cream. The addiction is as palpable as the threshing sledge and the diggery doo.

Some months ago, we discovered a pair of ancient wood cross-country skis that were made in Nidau – the town that adjoins Biel/Bienne.

Skis seem the perfect thing to bring back from the land known for its Alps and rugged mountaineering traits, but the hiccup is that without a car, we would have to carry the things on the train, not to mention through Zürich’s vast airport.

The weight of these skis is shocking to us – and they also explain how it is the Swiss are so robust that they think nothing of clambering up cliffs and traversing endless miles by foot or bike. Ten minutes a day on these skis over a period of six weeks would give anyone Herculean strength.

But the question is whether we the withering have the power to carry them several city blocks along with the rest of our luggage. In the meantime, we visit them on weekends to seesaw our way through the debate to buy them or not.

Spanish threshing sled turned coffee table at our Victoria house.

It’s Saturday, Saturday …

Rain fell overnight, much to the delight of the Swiss who are enduring a drought that has not only parched its creeks and waterways but also left its famous skiing regions bereft of snow.

Meanwhile, in our little town the streets are filling up with wooden cabins of varying styles, going from slapped-together plywood shacks to fanciful cottages of beadboard walls and gingerbread trim, and then to the grand stuff: A heavily-timbered log cabin. Yes, a real log cabin. All this is in preparation for Biel/Bienne’s Christmas Market, which promises to be a fabulous one, but it does not open until next weekend and so later today we’ll head to Zürich where there are not one but two Christmas Markets, plus what has been promised to be a fabulous light display. I’ll post those pictures later.

In the meantime, here are some photos of last weekend’s wanderings:

This was our second time strolling through the village of Murren. It was almost December and we expected snow, but saw none but that which topped the mountains. The ski hills are reported to be dry, choking the Swiss economy which is already battling the woes of having a strong currency in a weak market.

You can access Murren on either side by gondola and a cute little train ride, but you can also walk between either access points. This is the trail between Murren and the Lauterbrunnen gondola station. It is an easy walk with only mild grades and goes through some forest that looks a lot like Vancouver Island's Galloping Goose. A motorized wheelchair could make this trip with just a little help over some rough patches.

The mountain-clinging village of Murren is full of sturdy-timbered chalets that look exactly as you would expect them to, but this one. This one is a little sloppy compared to the rest.

 

Murren: We think this is a charming way to decorate a ski cabin.

 

 

Here is a Swiss mountain. As Bernese Mountain Dogs are my witness, I do not know its name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Timid traveller at the halfway point, sort of

Steve: We're on a mountainside. What could go wrong?

Oh not much, except maybe falling off a cliff.

____________________________________________________________________

We are reaching the halfway point of our stay here in Switzerland. I started this blog to give some insight on the realities of overseas life, which from the outside has a glam shine to it, but on the inside, is more like listening the grinding sound of our lives coming to a halt. It is akin to being stuck in traffic, except the scenery is always changing.

I admit the scenery is pretty spectacular.

Being away means that we lose pockets of widely known information, such as who was premier in British Columbia. I was totally unaware of David Miller’s term in that office, owing to a protracted stay in Spain during his short tenure. At this moment, I cannot name most of Canada’s provincial premiers, even those that I have lived in.

On a more personal level, we lose touch with the dramas and comedies running in the lives of our friends and families, although this is not as parched an informational season as it was on past work terms, thanks to Facebook, email and Skype.

The truth is that living overseas is not the same as touring overseas. It is laced with unsympathetic administrators, and the occasional xenophobe who holds a grudge against all foreign workers and their families.

More mountains. Ugh.

The bureaucratic presence, however, has subsided for the time-being, and despite Switzerland having recently voted in what is regarded as its most insular xenophobic party, the number of actual xenophobes on the street are few. And so without an undercurrent of worry about being kicked out of the country, this blog has turned into something of a travel-blog, replacing the old travelogues – remember those? If you’re do, you are very old.

The problem is that travel blogs are supposed to include adventure and, of course, lots of travel. I am afraid of travel, so any element of adventure in these notes is totally unanticipated by me.

When I worked at a city paper, the editors realized my cowardice and my sheltered risk-adverse lifestyle, and so took it upon themselves to send me wherever the opportunity for crushing injury was most likely to occur. They knew it would generate a lively article typed out by my terrified fingertips, should I still have them on my return to the office.

This week, we did have the potential for a small brush with adventure (aside from the blast and smoke at the train station) with the arrival of Steve, one of our son’s old friends who is working in Switzerland over the winter. Steve is famous for having adventures of all sorts. He’s the type that attracts them, so if ever we were going to plunge off a cliff edge, this would be the day.

The steep cliffs in Lauterbrunnen.

Note of personal interest: Steve actually almost led to our son plunging off a cliff edge on Vancouver Island, when he convinced our boy the climb was not really a pure vertical. Also, Dave will not go golfing with Steve ever again, although Steve says, “You have to get over that.” I will describe what “that” is another time, but it happened almost a decade ago.

As we exited the train at Lauterbrunnen, I commented on how everything was going so well, despite Steve’s presence. He said, “Who would think that in ten minutes, we’ll be clinging to a cliff edge.”

He was wrong about that, but it was not entirely outside of the realm of possibility.

Later that day, when we heard that bang in the Bern train station and saw a column of black smoke rising up to the roof, I was not really surprised. I always expect the worst, so it made sense that we would arrive at the precise moment some terrorist organization should decide to detonate a crowded rail station.

Imagine my surprise that it turned out to be nothing, which leads us to the upside of being a pessimist: Happiness and wonder. Joy is what comes of expecting everything to go wrong, and finding that not everything does.

Optimists miss out on so much.

In the meantime, we have seven or eight more months here. Let’s see if we can get into any trouble in that time. And for those looking for more adrenalin in their lives, check out Jeb Corliss sailing off a Swiss cliff by clicking here. 

A few more photos from Thun, Switzerland’s overlooked city & a note on crime

Sailing at Lac Thun on a beautiful November day.

Thun was so pretty that it is worth one more look. Here are some photos from that charming place.

A note on crime: We strolled the old-city without any sense that pickpockets were nearby, and even Thun’s train station lacked the menace that other European train stations have with their notoriety for thieves (see Paris blog about the Gare d’Lyon in that fair city by clicking here).

Many Swiss cities have urban injection sites for drug addicts, which reportedly are having some success in helping people out of that lifestyle, but their presence also leads to a whole lot of unpleasantness around many train stations (for some reason the sites are situated near the train stations, probably because the stations are in the city’s core, naturally).

Our little town of Biel/Bienne has an injection site near the train station, making it the most unsavory part of town. It’s too bad because it’s also the first place tourists see when visiting here. Thun didn’t seem to have that drug/drinking population, although we were there on a Saturday. Maybe they took the day off. We have seen our town’s preeminent drunk on the train – perhaps he was on holiday, or merely scouting for new franchise locations.

Covered walkway over a river dam at Thun, at the River Aar.

The Swiss even make car parks look pretty. They are a wonderful people.

The Swiss idea for a garage along a river. This was off a little creek just a few metres from the River Aar - it was full of wood boats. Lovely.

Switzerland is like Victoria, B.C., Canada for its large trees. Holy dynamite, Batman! That's a big one.

The top of Europe? Not quite.

The forecast was for sun, but heavy cloud-cover cancelled our final leg of the journey up to the "top of Europe."

We arrived at the end of the Kleine-Scheidegg trail and discovered the “top of Europe” was obscured in fog. Hand it to the Swiss, they won’t try to sell you a ticket to nowhere. When we queried the ticket agent on whether it was worth taking a chance on the $100 one-hour train trek up to the top, she looked at us as though we had lost our minds. Don’t go, is all she had to say.

At another time, we planned to go to Zermatt to see the legendary Matterhorn, at which Daniela, our hotel concierge said, “Do not go there! Do not! It is covered in snow and fog! Do not go!! Achtung!”

Actually, she didn’t say “achtung,” but we find her hilarious for the way she speaks politely in English to us and then sternly in German to someone else,  such as the time the hotel was a little slow on securing our room’s safe to the wall.

When we alerted her that our request had been unheeded for a few days, she gently said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I will take care of it.” Then she picked up the phone and spit a few sharp German words into the receiver. When she was finished, I asked if I should meet the maintenance man up in the room, to which she replied. “He is already there.” And then she sent a translator along to make sure there were no language gaps between me and the maintenance man.

Daniela is only 22-years old, but if I were embarking on any business venture, I would hire her in an instant. She is a “get-it-done” kind of gal.

And so, we put off our trip to the “top of Europe,” but we still came back with these lovely photos.

Looking south from Mannlichenbaln toward the Lauterbrunnen valley, which you may notice has nearly perfect vertical walls. It is the site of 10 beautiful waterfalls, as well as the Trummelbach falls, which we hope to visit.

Heading down Kleine-Scheidegg.

The rare Alpenkuchenschelle flower. I did not make that name up. Another hiker with a flower guide book let me photograph the page identifying this rare blossom. At least, she told me it was rare. The book was in German, so I couldn't verify anything, but she looked honest.

More heavy equipment along the Kleine-Scheidegg trail - this one looks a little worse for wear. What the heck - are the Swiss using the Alps as a backhoe-graveyard?

This house needs a new coat of paint, but there's no denying the occupants enjoy a lovely view.

We did not expect to find a Canadian icon at the end of the Kleine-Scheidegg trail. What the heck - teepees!

The roof on this mountainside cabin appeared to be made of irregular shale sheets.

Good-bye to the Swiss Alps. We hope to visit this region again - there is no end of amazing sights here.

Watch your step

The Swiss version of Inukshuks - a more stream-lined design, lacking in pretension.

We turned away from the Mannlichenbaln look-out with the satisfaction that came from knowing that the rest of the hike would be a gentle downhill stroll,dropping from 2,342 metres to 2,061 metres over a 4-km (2.5 mile) trail.

The problem is that a good piece of that drop appears near the beginning of the journey.

I could be wrong about that – the pitch might be only a 30-foot drop over about 50-feet, but as a borderline acrophobe, it looked pretty bad to me. Remember, I’m only five-feet tall – the slightest undulation in the earth’s surface looms larger at my height, or lack thereof.

Every time Dave sees an Inukshuk, he threatens to kick it down. It is his schoolboy playfulness that makes him say that, but as soon as he got within range of a stone-statue field at Kleine-Scheidegg, he started fixing broken statues. What the heck!?

Dave quickly covered the worst of it owing to his long legs and impeccable sense of balance. I, meanwhile, scurried down crab-like, sideways with my fingers clenched to the rope bordering the steepest part of the slope. I would have got down on all fours and crawled, but there were Swiss everywhere and I was mindful that they not see me fall to such depths symbolically, even as I feared falling to worse depths literally.

The path gradually tilted back into a reasonably level grade as we headed south.  Looking back from the glory of relatively level ground, the pitch did not seem so bad, and I decided to adopt a non-chalant attitude towards this mountain-hiking business.

The trail winds along the ridge, without benefit of a single guard rail, which as I pointed out before, is how the Swiss “thin the herd,” and also thumb their noses at safety-conscious Canadians.

I am not wrong about Canadians and their national obsession with safety. As a three-term parks commissioner, I had the unfortunate experience of sitting through meetings listening to shrill arguments against accepting a particular piece of oceanfront parkland from a developer because it featured a narrow rock gorge, the very thing that I asserted made it a steal-of-a-deal while other commissioners fretted over how to protect the public from it by installing concrete blocks, high fencing and an abundance of bright yellow signs depicting human figures falling from great heights with a crown of exclamation marks about their heads as they contemplated their surprising and very imminent deaths.

To listen to the phobic commissioners, one would such think such a fatality occurred weekly, but there have never been any recorded deaths at that site.

I lost that vote, but I am not bitter.

I do wish, however, the Swiss considered guard rails with a more generous eye.

The beetle was clearly coming after me!

As we made our way along, we spied a sparkly hued beetle picking across the path. As I photographed the beetle, it crept gradually in my direction and so I took a step backwards, then another and still one more.  At that point Dave started to twitch and say “Jo!” with an air of urgency.

We have raised two boys, one of whom put us on a first-name basis with the emergency room staff at a hospital in a town where we had then lived only eight months, so Dave and I have both developed immunity to airs of urgency, not because we don’t care, but because they are so common and the ensuing trips to the hospital so much a regular and predictable part of our lives.

I was unknowingly within a spit of going over the edge, and as is always the case in these matters, things got complicated. An elderly undoubtedly Swiss couple – and I say “undoubtedly” because people of that age from any other nation would wisely stick to golf or some other sport that keeps one within a reasonable proximity of sea level – where was I? Oh, the couple – they were just readying to pass between us, and Dave wasn’t sure if any sudden movements on his part, such as grabbing his wife before she started a new life as a quadriplegic, would cause everyone to flinch and thereby more assuredly send me, and maybe a few others over the edge.

He repeated “Jo!” to which I said “What!?” in irritated tones.  I did not see anything to worry about, but then I never do, primarily because I never look where I am going. I leave that to Dave, so you would think I would listen to him. But I don’t.

It suddenly occurred to me that we were in the Swiss Alps and that if Dave thought I should stand still, it might be a fine idea, so I stopped and disaster was averted. The Swiss couple passed by, commenting that the beetle was of the Schoenborgh valliagnachtunggesselschaft variety, which I asked them to spell, but they only repeated the name as though its spelling was as self-evident as the spelling for the word wow. I suppose they did not want to embarrass me by treating me like a second-grader incapable of mastering a simple 17-syllable word.

We did not expect to see cyclists up on the Kleine Scheidegg trail, but there they were.

We made it to the end of the trail, once having to duck out-of-the-way of speeding cyclists, their presence and velocity suggesting their own ends were nigh. One bump of the wheel and that would be it, although they appeared to be Swiss, and so having attained adulthood, were likely not of the accident-prone variety.

By way of interest, while the Kleine Scheidegg trail is long-famous for its dramatic mountain topography, this has been added to in more recent times as it is the model for the Gran Turismo video race-driving game series.

If you go: The trail is mostly level with a well-maintained gravel-and-soil-packed surface that would likely hold well even in wetter seasons. Hiking boots are recommended, but sports shoes are okay. Going at a relaxed pace owing to my burned-out achilles tendons, we covered the 2.5-mile trail in 73 minutes.

Food & Water: Eateries are plentiful at the base of the gondola leading up to the Kleine-Scheidegg trail, however, stopping in at the local grocer “Coop” to purchase a submarine sandwich and a bottled beverage is recommended, particularly if you choose to hike the trail in the hotter season. Cafeteria-style food is available at the end of the Kleine-Scheidegg end of the trail, but not at the Mannlichenbaln gondola station.

Curious about the cost? 

  • 95 CHF Return train travel from Biel/Bienne to Wengen
  • 25 CHF Gondola between Wengen to Mannlichen
  • 16 CHF Two sandwiches purchased from the grocery store
  • 20 CHF Two more sandwiches purchased at another grocery store
  • 22 CHF Lunch at the Crystal Bar Cafe Wengen
  • Total: 178 Swiss Francs (CHF) – or $204 Cdn or $211 US

Tomorrow: More photos from the Kleine-Scheidegg trail and the cogwheel train trip down the mountain.

Dave does not trust me near steep drops. Yes, he is right to not trust me.

Kleine-Scheidegg trail, Swiss Alps, Jungfrau region

Higher still in the Jungfrau mountains

The view from Mannlichenbaln looking south toward the Jungfrau mountain range.

Stepping off the gondola that runs from Wengen to Mannlichen, one turns right and is immediately confronted with doors to washrooms. This is a pleasant surprise and likely a necessity for anyone suffering an intestinal reaction to the gondola’s final bump and sway before docking.

A chunky wooden bench outside the station allows visitors a moment to pause and reflect on the heights they have attained. How high were we? We were looking down on Murren, where we had lunched weeks ago, and at 1,660 metres, we then thought that was pretty darn high. Mannlichen’s upper station is at 2,230 metres, and from this vantage point, Murren looks like a pretty play village of the sort that can be purchased to accompany miniature train sets.

Appearances are deceiving. A wide mostly even surface makes it look easy, but this trail is at a rather steep pitch.

The air thins out here, which is unfortunate, because a steep uphill climb to Mannlichenbaln still waits for those intrigued by a nearby look-out and if ever there was a need for oxygen, this is it.

Here is an important note for travelers making decisions under the guidance of Rick Steves, our favorite travel guru. Steves’ guidebook says the walk is 10 minutes, which sounds like a breezy lark, but it’s closer to 20. Now 20 minutes still comes across as a brief stroll that is worth the price of seeing the Unesco-marked site at the top, but it is a steep climb, made all the more tricky by the fact that it appears to be a friendly gravel road.

Do not be fooled. This is no mountain back lane. As we made our way slowly up the mountain, I thought of important things I had left behind at the hotel, things like steroid inhalers, Aspirin and nitroglycerin, all handy in the event of a heart stoppage – mine or some fellow hikers.

Of course, while I cautiously paid heed to internal signs of protest from my heart, I watched with great annoyance as chunky elderly Swiss with those cursed walking poles strode about. They are everywhere, vigorous, mountain-climbing, cross-country-bike-riding, cheerful Swiss. How they sicken us all with envy.

We could discern no actual use for this piece of equipment except to signal that the Swiss have no problem plunking heavy equipment anywhere, even on mountainsides.

While en route, we came upon a loud piece of heavy equipment strung with hoses – we peered over the edge to see what the contraption could possibly be siphoning or pumping out from such heights where there were no signs of any buildings, but the hoses disappeared down the slope. The only hint of its function was a lingering septic aroma wafting in with the mountain air. With no machine-operator in sight to explain this, we shrugged and continued the near-death march up the mountain.

If you stumble, these will stop your fall. Note: The challenges of capturing perspective on camera means that this slope is much steeper than it appears. Yes, as much as the fall will hurt, the landing will be worse, but still better than going the whole 2,300 metres down to the valley floor.

The final 40-60 feet of the climb is over uneven rock so the Swiss have fashioned a few metal poles strung together with rough rope for visitors to grasp for safety. Those fearful of plummeting need not fret – they will soon be caught in the teeth of steel snow-stoppers that flank the mountainside like the brims of stacked hats, and so the fall will be brief, but likely still fatal and certainly extremely painful.

At 2,342.6 metres, we rounded the top and were treated to a lovely 360-degree view stretching all the way to  the waters of Brienzersee and the Lauterbrunnen Valley. This is not the top, of course. The enormous mountain peaks of Jungfrau, Jungfrauloch, Monck, Eiger and Schreckhorn still towered beyond.

Tomorrow: The Mannlichen-Kleine Scheidegg trail. 

Alpine flowers at Jungfrau.

Looking north toward Lake Brien or also known as Brienzersee.

At the look-out - benches, another trail to another look-out, not a single safety fence in sight. This is not Canada. If you fall off, it is no one's fault but your own. The Swiss say: You knew they were mountains, right?

Not so scared any more

What the heck? This isn't Kansas.

As prairie gal, I have a natural distrust of heights, depths, ditches, anything other than the level plain. It is therefore something of an accomplishment that Dave got me to board the gondola at Wengen without me leaving clawmarks on the door frame signifying that I had to be dragged in.

It’s a sign that Dave’s campaign to overcome my fear of heights by overwhelming me with a carousel of gondola rides up unthinkable mountain pitches is working.

I should point out that a wariness of inclines is a naturally protective inclination, and one that was amplified when in Victoria last year giant rocks fell from a cliff into a suburban home, rendering it unsuitable for habitation. Earlier, giant boulders were dynamited from the mountain side near our home, landing on a road where they could have easily crushed any passing Hummers.

You know you're in Switzerland when .....

This never happens in Manitoba or the parts of North Dakota with which I am familiar.  You might get flooded out or snowed under in these regions, but those are disasters you can see coming from a distance, and so make necessary arrangements. Falling boulders lack any sense of courtesy and give no warning of their impending arrival.

But that has nothing to do with this. It is but a mere side-note that perhaps explains my near-phobia of vertical stretches.

We boarded the spacious gondola at Wengen with about 15 others, and were able to roam from side-to-side taking in the beautiful views all around us, feeling quite relaxed until the gondola lurched and skipped suddenly upwards, then swayed in such a way that I readied to sprint in ever-accelerating circles around the gondola while screaming “We’re all going to die! We’re all going to die!, but then the gondola docked into the station at Mannheim and  my planned panic attack suddenly seemed quite silly.

North Dakota: No falling boulders or steep cliffs here. Phew. Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

That does not mean that my war with heights was over. Far from it.

But that was on the weekend. I will write more about that tomorrow. In the meantime, our town is undergoing another heat wave, so I’m sitting in the dark, with curtains drawn, fans swiveling, trying to understand how it is that today in Atlanta, Georgia, it will be 32 C, while here the forecast is for 33 C and if our past heat waves are any indication, it will get hotter than that.

Our hotel is without air conditioning, so there’s nothing to do but tough it out. I also erroneously reported last month that local stores are also without air-conditioning, but happily I was wrong about that. It appears that some were merely exercising a policy to not cool their air until past some arbitrary timeline. I have found three stores with lovely cool artificial climates and I intend to patronize all three today.

Here are some photos from the train ride up and down the mountain.

Cogwheel trains at Scheinzernfreaualdjgblergessellschaft. That is not its real name. It's real name is Scheidegg, but all German sounds like an endless waterfall of syllables to me.

Yawn. Another mountain view from the train.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes are welcome on Switzerland's trains.

Trains need help to climb up and crawl down Jungfrauloch's steep mountains. Here's a close-up of the cogwheel track that serpentines along the ridges. On the ride down, the braking action is palpable. A derailment here would be a flung-from-cliff disaster.

Jungfrau's cogwheel trains are charming with large windows and surprisingly comfortable wood-back seats.

The Swiss are always ready for action, as you can tell by this train passenger car that has fold-up seats and plenty of floor space for bicycles, skis and other sporting gear.