For our last hurrah in Switzerland, Erika`s parents took us up to the Appenzell, a region in the northeast part of the country (they offered us the use of their rental car if we'd agree to let my mom drive the Transalp with my dad on the back, but backed down after we promised them a nice dinner at the hotel). Luck was with us and it was the first day of sunshine we'd seen in the country. As we rode through Interlaken, we could actually see the surrounding high mountain peaks covered in snow which Dave to that point did not believe actually existed in Switzerland. The lake was deep blue and the towns bordering the waters postcard-picturesque.
Everywhere daffodils were blooming, including at a peaceful cemetary below the high mountain peaks. Exiting the lake region, windy roads ascended into the rolling green hills and big farmhouses of the Appenzell.
Appenzell town was rather tricky to navigate, leading us to a few close calls as we tried to turn left, for example, onto narrow roads where in the cross-street cars seemed oblivious to the existence of any other traffic. Finally we spotted Erika's mom sitting conveniently in front of the tourist office where we'd planned to meet. We had (another) delicious meal that night after strolling around town.
The Santis beckoned the next day. A short scenic drive (yes, we were actually in the car this time) took us to the foot of this mountaintop, and we hopped onto the aerial tram to the top. We didn't anticipate such another world up there, with dramatic snowy vistas reaching as far as the eye could see. We took what looked like an established path to the summit but rapidly turned into a slippery ice-encrusted scramble. It was also fun to roam up and down the modern structure enclosing at least two restaurants with panoramic views through their picture windows. For once we did not stop and eat anything.
One last sentimental good-bye to Erika's parents, and we were off again, this time to see what Liechtenstein was all about.
Posted by Erika Tunick at 07:08 PM
Leaving Le Val D`Ajol, we ascended smooth twisty roads through the French countryside into the rolling hills of the Swiss Jura region. This area is not known on the typical tourist route but is filled with beautiful scenery; old farmhouses; and cheese, watch, and chocolate factories. The closer we got to Cormoret, the very small town where Erika spent many summers with her mom's family in her younger days, the chillier it became. Those were supposed to be green fields where horses grazed in the sunshine! But they were covered with snow! Erika was reminded by the icy rain that she did actually own a heated vest and it was about time to try it out.
Erika's parents' warm greeting, however, warmed us up. And for the next week the we were warmed (and fattened) up with hot meals of regional Swiss specialties by different groups of Erika's relatives. First day was a big Raclette lunch (note: lunches usually start around breakfast and go through dinner). This dish consists of a huge half-wheel of cheese placed under a special grilling machine that you only own if you are a Swiss cheesemaker, which Erika's Uncle Hans-Ueli conveniently happens to have been. When the cheese begins to bubble, a big blob of it is scooped off onto your plate which has been filled with potatoes and pickles and onions. Erika was not able to top her childhood record of 8 helpings but Dave came pretty close.
We were also treated to a big sausage lunch by cousin Noelle and her husband Yann. Sausage lunch consists of at least 4 delicious types of regional sausages placed over a special grilling machine that you only know how to make if you are a Swiss butcher, which Yann conveniently happens to be.
On other occasions we enjoyed immense individual pizzas at a local restaurant (did we mention that lunch traditionally begins before breakfast and continues until after dinner), oven-roasted chicken and risotto (at Tante Erika and Uncle Marco's beautiful chalet), and Thai chicken coconut soup (at cousin Kiki and Marco`s wild and crazy tri-level apartment with winding staircase through the center and airplane chairs and food cabinets straight off some SwissAir plane, where Kiki has worked for many years. Shhh, don't tell SwissAir!) Naturally at all the meals there was lots of wine and beer to wash everything down. We were happy.
We did roll away from the dining table long enough to check out the watch museum with Erika`s parents in La Chaux de Fonds, a nearby city which is in the region's "Watch Valley". Many prestigious Swiss watch manufacturers are based in this region and the museum is comprehensive and modern. At those prices Dave will have to wait to add to his Rolex collection.
Overall there didn`t seem to be a whole lot of motivation to take off for campgrounds, grocery store bread and cheese, and long hours on the road since we were being wined and dined--and we were waking up to new snowfall every morning. Luckily it was lots of fun just to hang out with Erika`s folks in the chalet her grandfather built, relaxing and chatting and generally being spoiled. Thanks to all the great people in Switzerland: M & D, Hans-Ueli and Erika, Dany and Janine, Erika and Marco, Kiki and Marcos, Noelle and Yann, Dominique and Gilles, Martin and Valerie and Zoe and Samia, and the two little ones on the way (congratulations K & M and N & Y!!!)
And the snow finally melted... (see Cormoret below:)
Posted by David McMillan at 04:24 PM