Sunday, September 25, 2011

Watching the Cows Come Home

Sunday 25th September 2011

Usually, saying that you're watching the cows come home implies a certain amount of boredom but in Switzerland, the pastime is anything but boring!

A group of us - Cathy & Girish Nadkarni; Laurie and Dottie with friends Susanne & Jim; Kathy & Bob Curran & their dog Rudy; Greg & I - met at the IBIS hotel in Bulle and walked into town for dinner. Next morning, we met in the lobby at the unholy hour of 07:50 to caravan into the town of Charmey. Once parked, we had a delicious breakfast of pastries and great coffee at a patisserie. Thus fortified, we were ready for some serious cow watching!

Cathy N, Girish, Susanne, Greg, Laurie, Dottie

Susanne, Cathy N, Girish, Jim, Laurie, Dottie, Greg
Okay, so Cathy,Dottie and I are taking pictures. And Laurie is ... directing the parade?

First, there was a marching band or two. They marched down the street one way and then a while later marched back up the other way. The crowds all seemed to be bunched in the middle of town so we headed towards the edge of town, which was the direction in which the herds would come.  The French term for the event is desalpes. It's the traditional return of the cows to the valleys after four months in alpine pastures. The event is celebrated throughout Switzerland but perhaps the best known occurs in Charmey, in the Gruyere region.

Alp horn players.

Miss Moo?

The parade of animals goes right through the center of town and, the town being in the mountains, there really is no other road to use as a detour. So they have the farmers bring their herds through every half hour, giving time to allow the backlog of cars to get through town. Farming families take great pride in dressing themselves and their animals in traditional garb. The program listed which alpine meadow each herd was coming from and where they were headed. The poor animals had a really long commute: good thing it only happens twice a year (up and down). The long walk, the huge bells clanging away right under their ears, the floral chapeaus and the milling crowds made for some very stressed cows, as evidenced by the chocolate trail through town.  


We discovered that cows weren't the only animals being brought down.

The big cauldron was used to make cheese. Traditionally, herdsmen would make and eat cheese out of the milk all summer in the alpine pastures and sell the extra when they brought the cows back down.
"You take over. I'm pooped!"

As always, people watching provided half the fun.

There was a regional market selling food and handicrafts. This artist made amazing wood cutouts.

Greg and I left at noon, following this herd out of town for several miles.

Finally, several agonizingly slow miles later, the cows headed off the road and up this hill.

On the way back to Zurich, we drove through some beautiful mountain scenery in the Bernese Oberland region.  We stopped for lunch at Gstaad, a town in a gorgeous setting that tried too hard to be quaint and where the BP (Beautiful People) and BP wannabes strolled around trying to look blase.

It's hard to act blase, even for a BP, when you're dealing with a child throwing a very calculated tantrum. Finally, he just stuck his stogie back in his mouth and strolled away. The child finally gave up and followed.

Just another weekend in Paradise.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

High in the Sunlit Silence

Tuesday 20th September 2011

High Flight
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space...
...put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Poem by John Gillespie McGee Jr., a Royal Canadian air force pilot who died during WWII. Although I wasn't in an airplane, I definitely felt as if I had managed to slip the surly bonds of earth.

 Last Thursday, I went on an American Women's Club excursion. Like all of their excursions, this one was wonderful, thanks to the hard work and dedication demonstrated by our noble excursion planners Kathy Curran, Cathy Nadkarni, Laurie and Betsy.

After dragging myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of seven, I walked down to the train station and our usual meeting place under the big clock. Once assembled, we formed a ragtail group as we stumbled - some clutching coffee - the few blocks to where our bus and our hunk of a bus driver waited.

Hunk, Kathy C, me. How come KATHY got to stand beside The Hunk?

That's Laurie in the green shirt and Kathy right in front. Dottie and I are in the back seat.

I knew we were going to walk the Toggenburg Trail and had tried to locate Toggenburg on a google map without success. Turns out that Toggenburg is the name of the valley and the peak we would eventually ascend was the Chaserrugg.

The Swiss are totally gaga over making mountain trails. As a result, there are more than 48300 kilometers (30000 miles) of marked trails in Switzerland. In a country that boasts the most Nobel Prize Winners per capita in the whole world (47 of them), it's not surprising that they like to add a little education along the way.  Thus there are trails that offer insights into the planets, wine, trains, industry, cheese, heritage, nature, and sculpture: to name just a few.  The Toggenburg trail is a music trail with imaginative music making stops along the way. The scenery was so gorgeous, my camera should have been red hot before I was done snapping photo after photo.

Who knew what music waited for a stick dragged across a bridge?

Kathy relaying information about the instruments. Unfortunately, most of us were having too much fun playing to listen!

Walking through clouds.

Brand new walking sticks. Don't I look professional!

Mount Santis

Fog is beginning to lift.

Cow bells on a telephone pole. You pulled various wires to ring them.

It was a good thing that film has gone the way of the Mammoth and that I had the foresight to buy a camera chip with more memory than I ever possessed ... because the scenery at the top was definitely of the OH WOW! kind. I took almost 300 pictures and the hardest part of writing this blog was deciding not which ones to include but, rather, deciding which ones to exclude.

We hiked from the parking lot to a chairlift that took us to the first stop up the mountain. We paused there for lunch and then took a cable car to the peak.

Betsy, Cathy N & Kathy C

Second stage: gondola

The Swiss are very child oriented and everywhere you go in Switzerland, you'll find playgrounds.

That's kids of all ages! Cathy N and Dottie

At the summit, the fog lay in a cotton batting blanket just below us, softening the sound the way a fresh snowfall does in winter.  Majestic peaks poked through all around us as we gained the high untrespassed sanctity of space. (Okay, that's a stretch. There were other people there.)

I'll let the photos tell their own tale. Remember, you can click on each one to enlarge them.

Those ants are people walking towards that far promentory. We didn't have time to make the trek all the way out there but I promised myself that Greg and I will do that before we leave Switzerland. Or maybe not. There are so many mountains, so little time.

The Three Musketeers: Kathy, me, Dee.

A bunch of school kids.

Sigh. Heading back.
Time to  climb back on board the cable car to the middle stage and then take a cog railroad train back to the parking lot. In the cable car, a group of us were hanging around the hunk bus driver like flies on carrion. We were joking about the scene in the James Bond movie where 007 jumps from one cable car to another. Just then, the car slowed and then stopped. The driver opened the door and two men working on one of the cable car pylons slid a board across the gap and came aboard.  It gave whole new meaning to the British subway command "Mind the Gap".

Sign showing all the trails on the mountain, their length and degree of difficulty.

from the parking lot

On the road again.

I took a few shots from the bus on the way back to Zurich:

So here I am back in our apartment, earth bound once more. It's 22:30 and I'm struggling to stay awake until midnight when I can call my mother and wish her a happy birthday as she celebrates her 82nd at a dinner hosted by my cousins, Marybel and Raym.  I'd love to crawl into bed but it's important I do this. Mom's dementia is rapidly worsening and this may be the last birthday when she'll recognize the voice of the person telling her "Happy birthday, Mom."

Mom celebrating her 81st birthday last year at Raym & Marybel's.
Earth bound indeed.