Part 2: The Hills Were Alive

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011:  Rain started as we parted ways with Nugents at Zurich Airport and continued for most of the next 48 hours.  We drove to Zug, Switzerland, to stay with Campus by the Sea friends who have recently relocated to this adorable town just 30 minutes from the airport.  Though much later than expected, the Tobins welcomed us warmly with a home-cooked dinner and lots of love.  It was such a gift to find shelter with them, especially on this rainy, messy night.  The rain abated temporarily late morning on Sunday so we (Bernie, Lisa, Paul, and I) hiked the Burgenstock overlooking Lake Lucerne.  I had hiked this with the girls and loved being able to introduce Paul to yet another experience we had shared.  The rain eventually caught us and reinforced what my second grade teacher, Miss March, had told our class the few times we experienced rain during recess:  "You're not sugar, so you won't melt.  Relax!"  It was a great hike with wonderful friends, who welcomed us to stay the night again rather than drive to Salzburg in the bad weather that night.  That gave us time to tour their town by foot and with umbrellas.  We were soaking wet by the time we finished, but it whetted our appetite to return when the sun is shining.  

Bernie, Lisa, Anna, and Kelly Tobin were wonderful hosts in Zug
(their daughter Emma was on a weekend trip).

On the Burgenstock hike, our banana yellow rain ponchos came in very handy.  

We took off early the next morning and drove in the rain to Salzburg.  I love Salzburg for so many reasons.  My love affair with this beautiful place began the first time I saw "The Sound of Music" in 1966 at the Loma Theater in San Diego, CA, with my beloved teacher Mimi Test.  That was the first of many viewings of this epic musical and each time I've been in Salzburg, I'm filled with the a desire to run through the green hillsides singing "The hills are alive....with the sound of music" and to relive the romance, drama, adventure, suspense, and beauty of this spectacular place.  We found a "zimmer frei" on the Moosestrasse (thank you, Rick Steves!) and headed right to downtown to begin our explore.  We had a fresh fish dinner on the banks of the Salzach River and topped it off with . . . yep, gelato!  As the sun set and the waxing 3/4 moon rose, we made our way back to our "gausthaus" to a cozy night. 

Little did we know that our cozy night would be interrupted.  Paul wakened with severe chest pains around 4 a.m. and only then did we think about how much we didn't know and how limited we were technologically.  No cell phones, no WiFi, no idea where the local hospital was, and no idea of who to contact and how to contact them.  When 30 minutes had elapsed and he was continuing to have severe pain, we hopped in the car and thanked the Lord for the GPS once again.  It directed us to the hospital, which was only 3.5 km away (PTL) and long story short, after six hours in the ER, two EKG's, two sets of blood work, an IV of saline, and an injection of a strong antacid,  he was released.  Thank you, Lord!  For awhile, it was looking like our trip was going to take a very sharp turn in a direction we hadn't seen coming.  None the worse for the wear, Paul insisted on continuing the tour since he by then felt back to normal.  So off we went.  :)

Released from the Krankenhaus (hospital), we resumed our travels.

First stop, the Untersburgbahn.  We did something "unusual" for us in Salzburg and bought the "Salzburg Card" which granted us admission to everything for one low price.  As a result, we did many things we never would've "paid" for individually and we loved it.  The Untersburgbahn is an aerial tram to the top of the Untersburg, which gave us an incredible view of Salzburg and neighboring villages.  From there we toured Hellbrun Castle and the magical water fountains.  Hellbrun Castle hosts the glass gazebo used during the "I am 16 going on 17" scene in SOM.  We had so much fun trying to avoid getting wet by the craftily hidden spouts of water throughout the grounds.  Since the day was gorgeous and warm, the occasional spray which hit us was welcome.
We spent the balance of the day walking the Monchberg and eating.  Somehow, even with the late start of 11:30 a.m., we managed to log 9 miles that day.  Paul's nighttime escapade did catch up with us, however, and we retired early.

View from the top of the Untersburg.

We walked endlessly through Salzburg and never really got tired (at least of what we were seeing!)

After a good night of sleep at "Haus Ballwein", we continued our exploration of Salzburg with our Salzburg card.  "HohenSalzburg" took up much of the morning, and we enjoyed the castle tour as well as the Marionette Theater.  Eventually we did a little shopping and got our "final" gelato before leaving this inviting place.

In HohenSalzburg, we changed roles temporarily.  :)

A little shopping—and a final gelato—and we were on our way.

Next stop, Hallstatt—but first, a breathtaking drive from Salzburg to Hallstatt via Wolfgangsee.  It was the kind of drive that would take forever if you stopped every time you wanted to take a picture.  There is nothing that can rival natural beauty.  Between the spectrum of greens seen in the meadows and trees, the blues in the lakes and skyscapes (which also played host to white, puffy, squeezable clouds), and the splashes of brilliance accented by flowers—each picturesque scene fed our souls and overwhelmed us with the evidence of God's incredible creativity and personal love for us.  I would've happily freeze-framed almost any moment on that drive.

Wolfgangsee is behind us and this photo doesn't begin to do justice to it.

One stop we did make en route to Hallstatt was at the Alpen Sled run or "sommerbotten."  This was in honor of Paul's love for speeding down hillsides—and he did just that.   It was so much fun to be dragged a long way up the side of a great mountain and ride "sleds" down a metal track.  There were two tracks side by side, so we started the descent together.  But Paul had given up that I would ever come off the mountain after at least five minutes passed after he made it to the bottom.  With some genuine concern, he told the operator that he thought something had happened to me.  The operator smiled and said, "She's fine.  She's just slow."  The brake was my best friend and I had a sightseeing tour on the way to the bottom.  I loved my ride and Paul loved his.  He saw nothing.  :)

Just when we thought a more idyllic place than Salzburg could never be found,  we arrived in Hallstatt.  Oh my goodness.  I'm not sure a more Disneyesque place exists (outside of Disneyland....which is so funny, because Disneyland copied these places!).  We checked into our little guesthouse perched on the terraced side of the mountain overlooking the Hallstattsee and wasted no time beginning our walking tour of this tiny town, trying to squeeze everything we could out of the remaining hours of sunlight, as rain was forecast for the next morning.   

View from the porch of our guesthouse in Hallstatt.

Another view from our porch . . . how cute is this??

The weather report was right, and the rain fell heavily the whole next day, so we exchanged our plans to hike to the waterfalls for a tour of the salt mines, for which this area is most known.  It was quite interesting and certainly worth a one time visit, especially on a very wet day.

In our salt mine tour special clothing, we enjoyed this "now we've been there, done that" experience.

We left Hallstatt earlier than planned for drier climes and ended up in Oberammergau.  This unique town hosts the "Passion Play" every ten years and it's been on my "bucket list" for years now to attend the Passion Play some decade.  Even without the play in session (the next performance will be in 2020), this town is so worth visiting.  It seemed like every building was adorned with fresco paintings depicting different scenes from the life of Christ.  Flower boxes.  Cobblestones.  Chalets.  Quaintness redefined.  

We found a room in Herr Anton Zwink's guesthouse.  Turns out that he's been in every Passion Play since 1950 and he has photos of each one hanging in the hallway.   It was very cool to be in his home. 

Herr Anton Zwink in three of the Passion Plays.  He's now performed in seven productions of the play, spanning the past sixty years.

Paul poses with Herr Zwink.
We resisted the temptation to ask for his autograph.  :)

We spent the next morning hiking to the top of Laber, one of the high peaks around Oberammergau.  It was a great hike, until we came upon a herd of grazing cows.  Our long held belief in the passivity of these creatures was turned over by an aggressive bovine who decided he didn't want us to walk across his pasture.  This near-death experience had a happy ending, because Paul turned tail and ran from the oncoming beast and we chose to circumvent the field rather than cross it. Our hearts were wildly pounding for awhile after that, and not from the exertion required by the climb.  The view from the top was well worth the risks taken.  We poked around this makes-you-not-want-to-leave town, but we resisted the pull and continued on to Stuttgart, stopping briefly in Ulm en route to buy some lebkuchen at the Weiss factory.  I bought as though everyone I know loves this German gingerbread, only to be reminded that I'm alone in our family with a desire for this confection.  Oh well, I got great deals.

Approaching the top of Laber, we conquered yet another peak.  :)

Our dear friend Gertrud and her sweet dog, Kuti, warmly welcomed us to Stuttgart with a yummy dinner and great conversation.  We've been friends with Gertrud since she volunteered at Campus by the Sea with her friend Elfriede in 1988.  We're always happy to reconnect with her; she's a wonderful friend.

Gertrud served us a delicious dinner and opened her home to us again.

Gertrud planned a full Saturday, which started with a hike in the Schwaibese Albs in Bartoloma and continued with a tour of the Steiff factory.  Steiff makes very high-end specialized stuffed animals and we had a great time touring the factory and posing with some of their larger products.  Very fun.  On to a beautiful monastery which is home to a spectacular cathedral, and then to a castle which set in view of our outdoor dinner.  We were joined at the Steiff factory by Elfriede and Uwe and the five of us had a grand time together.

Does it look like Paul is enjoying the Steiff factory?  :)

Gertrud, Elifriede, and I also had fun.

Sunday dawned beautifully and we met up with the Maiers again for a hike overlooking Hohenzollern.  Everything was beautiful about this hike and the company could hardly be improved upon.  We enjoyed a hearty meal of sauerbrauten at hike's end and then paid a visit to Uwe's mother's house for some homemade plum cake and coffee.  :)  We said our good-byes and sadly left our German friends for parts further south.

Kuti kept up with us on our hike on this gorgeous Sabbath.  
Gertrud, Elfriede, and Uwe extended such warm hospitality to us!

Final stop of this excellent journey: Titisee.  This sweet Black Forest village surrounds a beautiful lake (there is a theme!  We like bodies of water!).  Julie and I had hiked around the lake in 2006 so Paul and I hiked the highest peak in the Black Forest, the Feldberg, as recommended by Elfriede and Uwe.  Initially we thought twice about doing the hike when we saw the cool temps and cloud cover, but a look at the weather cam in the visitor's center gave us the assurance that within an hour, it would be warmer and clear.  And it was right!  

"Highest peak" might give the wrong impression.  Though true, the reality is that there aren't many high peaks in the Black Forest and this one was less than half the height of the Schilthorn, coming in under 2000 meters.  What it lacked in height, it made up for in distance and nine miles later, we made it back to the car.  We did stop at the Feldbergsee for lunch and we drank in the beauty of this pristine lake hidden in the valley of the mountains surrounding it. 

Lunch by the Feldbergsee was a welcomed refueling stop during our 9-mile hike.

Back to the town of Titisee, we briefly considered walking around the lake, but easily gave in to the seduction of shops and eateries as we sampled our way through the town.   All the while, we willed the millions of ticking cuckoo clocks to stop to make time stand still.  We were both very aware that our excellent adventure was coming to a close.

On the shores of the Titisee, we take it all in, very aware that the sand is
almost through the hour glass of this excellent adventure.

We spent our last night on the border of Germany and Switzerland, in Waldshut, to facilitate our early morning flight from Zurich.  Under a full moon sky, we wandered through a meadow full of grazing cows and then ate cheese and bread on the balcony of our room.  It was a perfect end to an unbelievable trip. 

The full moon rose over Waldshut on our last night in Europe.

Packed and ready, we board our flight in Zurich.

Our hearts were as packed with gratitude and joy as were our suitcases.  So many great moments.  So many beautiful views.  So many God-sightings.

And about that fresh new leather-bound journal I gave Paul on the first day of the trip?  On the plane as we returned to America, Paul pulled it out of his backpack and began writing fast and furiously.  I smiled.  We are so different in so many ways—but there's no one in the world I would rather have made this trip with than him.

Part 1: The hills were alive . . .

From the Lauterbrunen Valley in Switzerland—views like this were the rule, not the exception.

We've been home from Europe for just over a week now and I've had a curious avoidance to writing about this beyond-our-expectations trip.  Not that we’ve been sitting around eating bonbons—nor wondering what to do with all our free time since returning—but I finally realized last night that writing a blog post about the trip officially makes it “over,” “finished,” “done”—part of our history—and there’s a part of me that doesn't want to acknowledge that this long-awaited trip is now in our rear view mirror! 

The vast majority of me, however, simply delights in the reality of it and relishes the memories, which I’ll now transfer from iPhoto and my mind (with what I know will be inadequate words) to offer you a description of Paul's 60th (plus 1) rite-of-passage journey.

The idea of doing this trip was launched by our dear German friend Gertrud, who had hosted the girls and me on each of their rite-of-passage journeys at age 21.  After my third and final daughter trip with Julie, Gertrud asked, “And what about Paul?  When will his rite of passage journey be?”  That set the wheels in motion five years ago and his 60th birthday was deemed the appropriate milestone. 

But God had other plans, and Paul’s 60th birthday was marked by the birth of our first grandchild, Brandon, so plans for Europe were happily postponed for a year. And so it came that his 61th birthday was celebrated in Gimmelwald, Switzerland, with a hike to the top of the Schilthorn (an almost 4000-meter peak rising from the Lauterbrunen Valley.)

The trip came on the heels of an intense summer, as previous posts record.  Ten weeks were dedicated to family camp (including orientation and other preparations), followed immediately by Julie and Derek’s wedding on August 21.  Only 2 days after returning to Bedford from the wedding, we flew to Zurich.  We briefly considered postponing our departure when the doctor said I had a touch of pneumonia along with a lot of bronchitis, but with Hurricane Irene making her way up the coast, we knew we had to get out before she arrived.  And we were so glad we did!  Thankfully, the Z-pack antibiotics combined with lots of prayer cured what ailed me, so our trip was unhampered.

The first week of our 17-day trip was shared with our chosen family friends, John and Marilyn.  Starting with renting a car, we replicated the trip I made with the girls, with one major adjustment: maps were replaced by a GPS system. I must say, that change alleviated most of the “breakdown” moments I had had navigating in unknown lands, guided with little more than poor maps in hand.  What a gift to be GPS-directed!!

The 21st-birthday rite-of-passage journey focuses on clarifying life purpose, so the girls were each given a new leather journal in which to record God-sightings and life lessons learned on the journey, as well as Gail MacDonald’s book A Step Farther and Higher which has an excellent chapter on how to write a life-purpose statement. (More details are found in my book Raising a Trailblazer: Rite-of-Passage Trail Markers for your Set-Apart Teen.)  I did give Paul a new journal—possibly his first ever, since journaling is not his cup of tea  :)—and suggested he record reflections of his journey to date and thoughts about his “second half.”  He smiled and put the journal in his backpack.  

Our first stop was Interlaken, and on a indescribably gorgeous spring-like day, we took the Jungfraubahn” to the “Top of Europe.”  The trilogy of snow-topped Alps—the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau—are well known ice-climbing peaks, as well as hosts to a cogwheel rack railway to the Jungfraujoch, billed as the highest railway station in Europe.  From the top, on a clear day. you can see forever—360 degrees of forever—and we took it all in.  We were overwhelmed, to be honest, by the majesty of God as shown in creation.  Being able to hike in light clothing to the backpackers "hut" was a real treat.  Great time!  Our stop in Grindlewald on the way back to Interlaken was also quite magical.  That sweet town is everything you imagine when thinking of a little Swiss hamlet at the base of gianormous Alps, with flower-bedecked chalets dotting the velvety green meadows and the sound of cow bells in surround-sound.  LOVE it.  Also taking advantage of the day were hundreds of para-gliders, whose colorful chutes made a garden in the sky.  We were mesmerized by it all.

From the Top of Europe” on the Jungfrau, we enjoy incredible views from every angle.

Hiking to the JungMonchHuitte, we enjoy very balmy weather as we walk on the glacier.

Loving every minute of it . . .

Next stop:  Gimmelwald, the home of Walter’s Hotel.  It was a hike to get there, after leaving the car parked in Lauterbrunen and taking with us only what would fit in our daypacks, but well worth it.  The incredible beauty surrounding us minimized the physical challenge of hiking the six miles—but my hiking companions did tire of me saying, “It’s just around the next bend.”  There were many more bends than I recalled.  :)

I was most excited about staying at “Walter’s” even though it was the least comfortable place we stayed on the trip.  The girls and I fell in love with Walter, a now 87-year-old Swiss gentleman who runs his hotel to benefit an Indian tribe in South America.  He’s remarkable.  He does most of the cooking and for years managed the hotel on his own.  He now has a “business partner” in Tim from England, who spends from May to November helping Walter run the place.  The hotel is largely unremarkable, but its quaint, family-oriented simplicity embraces you and the intangibles fill in the gaps.  Fortunately, my three traveling companions loved it too.  :)
Arriving at Walter’s Hote-L in Gimmelwald . . .

. . . we’re amazed that 87-year-old Walter is still running the place.

We conquered the Schilthorn on Monday.  This was the big one.  The impending hike unsettled each of us with questions of “can we do this?”  I had hiked it with Lisa and with Julie (it was closed when Kari and I made our trip in early May 2001), and in both cases, I was thoroughly challenged.  Long story short, we did make it, and I must say it was very fun for me to be in the “You can make it!” cheerleading role that I had been the recipient of on the two previous hikes.  :)  The first 2/3 of the hike we enjoyed gorgeous, springlike weather, but clouds moved in and during the last third, we were enveloped.  Most disappointing was getting to the top and being able to see nothing.  :(  That was overshadowed by the incredible joy of making it to the top alive which truly required “leaving it all on the mountain.”
Our hike to the top of the Schilthorn starts out under clear blue skies.  We loved walking behind this waterfall.

Still clear, the views of the opposing Alps are spectacular.

We were glad to get these cloudless photos early in the hike.

Though it looks like we've made it to the top, we still had a long way to go.

The top at last! The clouds and we arrived at about the same time.

Making it to almost 4000 meters, we were thankful, spent, and only mildly disappointed that we couldn't see a thing.  

I think Paul breathed a huge sigh of relief once we had conquered the Schilthorn.  Sort of like taking a final exam.  Once done, the rest is easy.  

So with sore feet and exhausted bodies, we took the gondola down to Murren and made our way back to Walter's for his delicious meal of lamb, rice, and mushrooms before hitting the hay.  The beds could’ve been made of nails and we wouldn't have noticed.  :)

On to the Cinque Terre on the northern coast of Italy we went, after hiking down from Gimmelwald, through Steckelborg, and across the unbelievably alive-with-natural-beauty Lauterbrunen Valley.  From waterfalls to wildflowers and everything in between, we were constantly “oohing” and “ahhing” and snapping photos like crazy.  Absolutely lovely!

Our drive over the Susten Pass was likewise spectacular on that springlike day, and such a different experience than when Lisa and I had decided to take that route in 2004 since it was clearly the shortest distance between two points on the map. That day was not springlike, but rainy and foggy, and making the drive on the two-lane road (without guardrails in many places) was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done.  With trucks as our only real companions on the road, we had a white knuckle drive I hope to never repeat—and we couldn’t see a thing.
Driving the Susten Pass on our journey from Interlaken to the Cinque Terre, we had backdrops like this.  :)   

How different it was to drive the Susten Pass on a clear, beautiful day!  The vistas were incredible, and though the roads were the same narrow two-lane unguarded windy ones Lisa and I drove, we enjoyed every minute of the 45-minute journey because we could see everything.  A great spiritual lesson recorded in my journal.

We arrived in the Cinque Terre just after sunset on Tuesday, August 30, and settled in to a great hotel overlooking the water.  After a good night’s sleep, we hit the trail, hiking between the towns of Monterroso, Vernazza, and Corniglia.  It wasn't lost on us that we were overwhelmed by the beauty of God's creation in the Cinque Terre—though it stood in sharp contrast to the kind of beauty we had loved in Switzerland.  From the ice peaks and glaciers of the Alps, to the warm “liquid ice” of the Ligurian Sea . . . From the verdant green meadows and blossoming flowers growing wildly or meticulously placed in window boxes, to the dusty, cobbley footpaths which wended through vineyards and terraced gardens producing fresh basil or rosemary—or orchards of olives, fig, or apple trees, we were reminded over and again of the amazing diversity of creation, and of the vast spectrum of what we consider “beautiful.”  We drank it in as we hiked a good 10-12 miles that day, interrupting the sweat-producing exercise with dips in the refreshing sea at least twice, and indulging in gelato the same number of times.  We capped the day with fresh caprese and delicious seafood eaten on the porch of our hotel room as the sunset melted into the western horizon.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.

In Cinque Terre, we begin our first hike from Monterroso to Vernazza on a gorgeous day.
What a difference 24 hours makes!

We rewarded ourselves with dips in the Ligurian Sea to be refreshed after our
arduous and quite warm hiking in the Cinque Terre.

We continued the reward with gelato . . . the best!!

We delighted in the sunset from our balcony in Manarola as we ate our dinner.

More hiking in the Cinque Terre, with unbelievable sights along the way.

We did more hiking the next day before packing up and heading to Florence, but not before indulging in more gelato.  “Carpe Diem!”

We had a full day in Florence, and we packed it in.  We toured the Uffizi Museum as well as L’Accademie, which houses Michelangelo's statue of David.  We also walked almost 20 miles as we explored this historic, artistic city.  We continued our love affair with gelato in Florence.  :)  We had a great time, but preferring hiking mountains and swimming in oceans to museums in general, we weren’t sorry to drive out of Florence on Saturday morning, Sept. 3, only 36 hours after arriving. 

From the Piazzale de Michelangelo, the overview of Florence was amazing.

A great dinner outdoors was a fitting end to a great day of touring Florence.

The drive from Florence back to Zurich was the only part of the trip we'd rather not remember.  Apparently everyone in Europe decided to end their holiday on the same day and through the same route, which also happened to be on a day that several key roads were closed for repairs. So the 6-hour trip ended up taking 11 hours, and our small window to explore Zurich closed as we made a painfully slow trip to the airport.  Fortunately, the Nugents weren't flying out until Sunday morning, so their return flight was unaffected.  We took advantage of our setting by talking endlessly about our family histories, our hopes and dreams, and eventually even defaulted to singing. It seemed fitting to break up the challenge of being held captive by traffic by singing “The Grumbler’s Song” and that definitely added levity to our situation.
This was our view most of the 11 hours it took us to get from Florence to Zurich. Yikes!

We sadly parted ways with the Nugents at this point, and they returned to the States to rest their weary muscles and sore feet and to revel in the accomplishments experienced and the beauty seen.  Our days together were packed with wonderfully unforgettable moments and we'll cherish them always.  
We headed to the small town of Zug to hang with some dear friends . . . and part 2 will pick up there!