Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Yodeling and Yelling in the Alps

Our last big, hurrah trip was planned to celebrate the end of finals as well as the future trip back to the United States - something we were all looking forward to. Jim and I decided on Switzerland and the Alps as the logical places to celebrate. We spent 3 days in Domodosola, a charming city in Northern Italy that is a tourist spot for those living in Italy and Switzerland - not visited by folks from outside of Europe. Perfect. The only hardship about choosing a location like that is there is no one there who speaks English as there is no need to speak English. Italian and maybe a little French is all you need to get by. So, we spent lots of time acting out what we wanted and being flexible in what we got after our outstanding miming efforts. Marcel Marceau would have been proud. We took a panorama train ride into the Alps of Italy, all forests, flowers and enormous stone train trestles. We kept expecting to see Heidi and Grandfather at any moment. We also took a 3 hour ferry trip around an enormous lake that was home to several cities that were summer resorts for the famous and very rich. Our family walked and shopped in Stresa, amid the beautiful women wearing designer dresses and lots of bling jewelry, holding on to their husbands arms as they left a 5 star hotel. Ah yes, we fit right in.

Our next 3 days were spent in Zurich, Switzerland, home of the incredibly expensive hotels and even more expensive meal. I am not sure how the locals can afford to eat in this city. After we got off of the train, we decided to get a snack to tide us over until dinner and found a Burger King conveniently located in the station. We ordered a whopper for Grace and two medium fries and two Cokes for the rest of us. Our total bill was twenty-five Swiss francs or almost 30 dollars. I had visions of fasting for 3 days.

On our first day, we took a bus tour of  Zurich, Rapperswil and Liechtenstein, the smallest country in the world. (Everyone needs a claim to fame, right?) Our last day in Zurich, we went to Jungfraujoch in the Alps, nicknamed "The Top of Europe" since it is the highest point in Europe. (12,000 feet) We traveled by bus to a cogwheel train that carried us to the top of Europe. The train felt a little rickety and old as it climbed the mountain and suffered frequent hiccups and jerks as the cogs slipped on the tracks. It didn't help my confidence level as we passed banners proclaiming 2012 as the year celebrating the train's 100th birthday.

The trip was memorable with the fantastic, snowy views, outside decks for picture taking, and an ice palace, complete with ice sculptures, ice walls and ice floors. (Thank goodness for those handrails!) But something else that left a memorable impression on us was the tour guide, who everyone affectionately nicknamed Mr. Crazy Man. He was a petite man, with Asian features and black hair that was gelled into a combination mohawk, bed-head hair-do. No one could figure out his nationality due to an accent that included rolling of R's that went on for minutes at a stretch. I kept thinking that we would need to perform the Heimlich maneuver to get his tongue back on track. He was highly excitable and got agitated easily, resulting in a delivery of high-pitched yelling and rolling of R's. When the tour bus arrived at the cogwheel train station, he gave everyone detailed instructions on what order to complete activities at the top of the mountain and where the group would meet again for the train ride back down. He then became quiet and all of the bus occupants leaned forward, waiting for the next directive. Obviously finished, he clapped his hands and yelled "Get off the bus!!" Everyone complied. Since we had a large group, we had to walk all smashed together as one unit, as we were all afraid to lose sight of our mighty (and loud) leader. Luckily, he put a glove on a long metal pointer to hold up in the air as he walked so we wouldn't lose sight of him. Unluckily, he placed the glove's middle finger on the pointer so we caused quite a sight for other travelers, who laughed as we passed them. We boarded the cog train with Mr. Crazy Man giving a push to each tour member, just to be sure. With each push he would reassuringly yell at us "Get on the train! Get on the train!" I told the girls I thought this must be his first really large group and he was just afraid of leaving someone to live the rest of their days on top of the Alps.

After we rode the train and reached the top of the mountain, everyone split up into family groups to tour a museum, walk through the ice palace and take pictures outside in the snow. It was beautiful, clear, and so quiet at the top. We were glad Crazy Man was by himself, drinking a cappuccino in the Alps coffee shop. At four o'clock, the tour group met again at the entrance to the train platform for our return trip. I am not sure how the guide determined all 62 of us were present and accounted for, but somehow he did. We walked to our train and began boarding, being helped along with his familiar pushes and loud encouragement to "Get on the train! Get on the train!" On our way back to Zurich, we stopped in Interlaken so we could drop off a group of four tourists we had picked up earlier on our way to Jungfraujoch. As we pulled up to the hotel curb, there was no talking or movement on the bus. Our guide stood up, clapped his hands and yelled, "Interlaken group! Get off the bus! Get off the bus!" I think the group of four had stayed in their seats on purpose, just to hear Mr. Crazy Man yell one more time. Somehow, his wild ways had endeared him to all of us and the yelling had become our voice of reason.

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