Well, really it’s about a weekend in Switzerland, but I can’t seem to help myself from the alliterations.
“I don’t want you to think that there’s something to do every weekend here” our new friend said with a laugh. It was a snowy Monday morning as he drove us back down the hill to the train station. We were leaving his small town of Guttannen in the picturesque Swiss Alps.
Let me explain. We arrived on a rainy Friday afternoon. We got off the train and a lovely tall blonde walked towards us. “Geesh, we are painfully obvious with our backpacks and worldly belongings taggin’ along”, I thought to myself. It was clear that she recognized us quickly, as it was a small station and we appeared to be the only out-of-towners arriving. I soon figured out that our new friend Klara is a Gemini, like me, which would explain her many endearing personality traits. In her Czek-Swiss-German accent she said “I have a great idea of somewhere we can go when it’s raining like this”. We went to the coolest area
called Gletscherschlucht Rosenlaui [you can see why names are a little difficult to recall!] where the rushing meltwater of the Alps has gushed down for eons and created a beautiful gorge of sorts. After enjoying a hot cappuccino in a quaint mountain cafe we began along a single track trail up through a tunnel where the gorge awaited our arrival.
The recent rains created a ton of runoff that descended loudly, creating a mesmerizing roar as we climbed the skinny
trail. There were beautiful and interesting shapes to be seen in the rock layers sculpted by the water through time. I felt rejuvenated being in this
womb of the earth, it was so pure and real. After taking in the sights and sounds of this lovely, shapely, and amazing gorge we arrived back at the level surface, where
we found… a human-formed balanced rock garden! I loved it!! What a delight to see patience and creativity combine to form a fun little frolic in nature.
Later Klara brought us to the waterfall -aptly1 named Reichenbachfall- above Meiringen where the late Sherlock Holmes was murdered. This helped me realize that I don’t know much about this fictitious character; embarrassingly, that he was fictitious for example, and that his author had him murdered because he was tired of writing about him?2 It made me realize that I may need to read some Sherlock Holmes books.
After this we packed back into the car and headed up the
valley towards their home in the small Alp town of Guttannen. If you would like to see the most picturesque and quintessential Swiss town you can go to www.guttannen.ch for this awesome little piece of heaven. It is lovely! And I can also see why -according to Klara- that when Swiss people go to California and check out Yosemite they just don’t think it’s all that amazing. No kidding! It’s a similar type of beauty with 1/100th of the crowds!
That evening Klara cooked a delicious and healthy dinner
and we all chatted about a variety of things, enjoyed some beer and wine, they showed us their nuclear shelter [still trips me out!] which is commonly included in all buildings-both public and private- in Switzerland. We also learned about Kilian’s involvement in the Swiss military and his government issued paraphernalia such as his rifle and gas mask.
On Saturday there was to be a community celebration marking the 100thyear since construction of a small waterway which has guided the water runoff from the peaks above towards the river past the small town without a hitch. This celebration was hosted by the local government office complete with wine, cheese, bread, chocolate, and coffee with or without spirits. I felt awkward at first, being the obvious outsider, but since all the tables were full when we arrived Kilian had another table set up and we sat down with a bottle of wine and some coffee with spirits in the afternoon sun below the mighty peaks above. In reality it turned out to
be a most lovely time sitting in the fresh mountain air while enjoying a most amazing view all the way up to the snow-capped peaks towering above where we sat. One thing -aside from the view-that I already miss from this lovely valley is the sound of large bells ringing all across the area from the countless cows wandering about their pastures. Idyllic. Really. The locals were milling about or
sitting at one of the large tables with friends. I wish I could understand a little of what types of things they were talking about; from the outside it seemed that the mood was mellow but the emotion was pride in something that worked [the waterway, the reason for the celebration]. We ate too much thinly sliced salty hard cheese,
too much sweet soft white bread, and washed it down with a few small glasses of delicious white wine [and a coffee with spirits!] before Klara decided that we should drive up towards
the summit to show us the suspension bridge that spanned the valley. The bridge was very cool and very high at 70 meters!
That night Kilian prepared a typical Swiss meal called Walliser Kaseschnitte “pimped” -think “something yummy and the kitchen sink”. It is a baked dish of huge proportion that has everything and then some in it. On
the bottom of the Kaseschnitte[read: crock-like ovenware] were thick-cut slices of bread soaked in white wine. Then ham, pineapple, tomato and a LOT of hearty flavorful cheese, and topped off
with an egg that looked fried but was baked on top of it all. Oh. My. Goodness! It was delicious. And heavy, I had to finish mine for brunch the next /following morning.
Speaking of the next morning, we all slept in and had a very lazy morning. Later, we heard gunshots outside. Kilian informed us that there was a shooting event at the place across the street, and how would we like to go? Well of course we would! Sounds cool. He retrieved his rifle from the attic and we walked all the way across the street [I wasn’t kidding, it’s a small town] to the Gun Club- named Feldschutzen Guttannen3 where he proceeded to buy a box of bullets and clean his rifle.
We put on ear-protection and entered the shooting area. I’d never seen anything like it! There were six cylinders about six feet long each. In front of each were the shooters laying on a red mat in front of the cylinder. The targets were appx 980 feet up a sloping green pasture. There wasn’t a lot of talking as everyone was wearing ear protection, and I felt a little out of place as the majority were very serious men who, when not shooting, kind of looked at us Americans like “Who are you and why are you here?”
Even so it was fun to watch our friend shoot his rifle [don’t ask him, I think he had a bad day4] and watch everything else which was all new to me. After Kilian was finished with his competition5to record, he decided that we-too-should have a friendly little competition. So he pitted Brad and me against
each other in a little game. It’s called Wyyber-Stich and you get 4 practice shots, 5 shots with your score showing, and then 3 more shots where you don’t get to find out how you did until all 3 are completed.
Now, I have to be honest. I don’t understand the big deal about shooting and taking it so seriously. Like, you aim at the middle of the target, and if you’ve lined up your stuff right, you get pretty close. It seems like it’s not that big a deal. But everyone was so serious! You should have seen all these Swiss men, so serious about aiming their rifles! Honestly!
At any rate, we had this little competition and medium-length story short, I won. Well that news really made the rounds in the area. Kilian was impressed as hell so he told everyone. One of his buddies-who also happens to be the cashier at Feldshutzen Guttannen-even gave me a small shooting medal that he himself had apparently earned at some other shooting contest earlier in the year. It was very nice of him.
After this we went down the hill to visit with Kilian’s father and
girlfriend. He had recently constructed what I would like to refer to as the “adult’s tree fort”. It is the most awesome personally constructed round wooden fort-like building overlooking the valley below and the cliffs across the way with a nice deck to hang out on when the weather is warmer than it was this particular evening. As we arrived at the house Kilian said to “go on up because we have a little business to
do, my father and I”. Klara led the way up a steep little hill through a few trees before we arrived on the handsome deck. About five minutes behind us were Kilian, his father Max, and Heidi. Between them they were carrying two baskets full of goodies; three (!) bottles of wine, a huge long loaf of white bread, a large round of traditional cheese, another smaller triangle of different cheese, two kinds of proscuittos, other sausage, and the cutest little glasses just perfect for a picnic. Business my ass, they had been getting all this stuff together!
Now I have a feeling where Kilian learned his hospitality, like father like son. It was really fun to sit all cuddled together in his fathers’ almost completed tree-fort on make-shift stools and a little tiny table. The six of us adults just barely fit perfectly. We chatted, they spoke German, Klara or Kilian translated for us here and there, everyone smiled and laughed, and the liberal pours kept coming! We couldn’t have an empty glass until all three bottles were finished, it seemed!
Later we were given a tour of Kilian’s fathers’ home which
included a tour of his Swiss military issue bayonet, was it? I don’t know for sure, but it had a huge knife on the end and was very heavy. [They get the GI rifle when it’s their turn, but they don’t upgrade so you get what you get and that’s what you got. You can imagine some of the relics lying around! Really neat looking antique rifles!]6 Then they showed us some of their accordion- I mean, Schwvyzerorgeli- playing skills [truly, it was really cool] and played a few tunes. It was actually a little mesmerizing to consider how many years Heidi [no offense, but she was the best of them] had practiced to play so well in such a flowing manner. Her calm smile while she played -and led the others- really intrigued me as I watched her.
The following morning it was snowing! We expected precipitation for sure, but it wasn’t clear if it was quite cold
enough for snow. But it was! And it did! And we were there in the Swiss Alps for their first snow of the season! It was neat to look out the windows across the valley to where we had hiked the day before and see that the snow was sticking up there right at the top of where we had hiked to before turning around. Another hour would prove enough for snow to stick even down in the village. As I enjoyed my hot coffee I saw both the cows and the sheep being herded in to their barns, apparently quite nearby because they went right past the front of the house on the small village road. We grudgingly packed our stuff away7.
I really didn’t want to leave but we had decided it was time to move on. Kilian drove us down the hill towards the Meiringen train station.
“We had the best weekend with you two!” I told him.
“Oh Good! Us too!” He responded loudly in his Swiss-German accent. Then pause…“But I don’t want you to leave here thinking there is something to do in Guttannen every weekend! We are just a small town, this was a special case that we had an event each day you were here”.
1“Aptly” in the sense that it’s still difficult to pronounce and recall these names!!
2As Kilian helpfully informed me upon editing this for clarity and precision “The reason whny the author let him die at this place is simple: The author called the Reichenbachfalls the most beautiful place with the best scenery, to let the fabulous criminalist die in a fight”. Sounds good to me, it was really lovely.
4To which he says “lol, no. I’m a bad hunter/shooter!”
5Kilian adds “It’s the last shooting of the year. It’s a funny-shooting-competition, the better you shoot the better pig-meat you will get later on”! Cool deal, if you ask me!
6Ahem, here are the proper names of the Swiss military rifles we saw between Max’s and the gun club: The oldest was a Karabiner 31, then a Sturmgewehr 57, and finally a Sturmgewehr 90, which is the current model.