Today, we leave for Switzerland. Its the first plane trip for Andrew, and the first European trip for everyone but Claudia. We decided to take a shuttle to the airport as that would be the easiest on everyone - and the expense wasn't too great. You'll notice in the picture in our driveway all of the stuff going with us. However, what you see in the picture is only a portion of what went with us. The van was already partially loaded!
At the airport we met up with Grandma and Grandpa, and had what we thought was going to be our last McDonald's meal until our return. We flew to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Zurich. The flight to Chicago was relatively uneventful, but the trip to Zurich was definitely interesting. We were unable to get seats together, so Claudia and Andrew sat near the front on the left side of the plane, Grandma and Grandpa on the right side of the plane, and Catherine, Joshua, and Jeff in the back near the bathroom. Normally you would think that sitting near the bathroom would be good, but we discovered the downside to such arrangements. There was a large tour group of seniors on the plane who were in no mood to sleep, and apparently not concerned with anyone else getting sleep. They were prone to gathering for very loud conversations right next to, of all places, the bathroom. This did not help the kids, who were already wound up, and sleeping in an unusual place, get much sleep.
We arrived in Zurich, none the worse for wear! Tante Lislott, and Uncle Bernhard met us at the airport. We discovered that the van Jeff had reserved was really not going to be big enough for everybody and everything, so we upgraded. Mercedes Benz, here we come! (and I bet you didn't think that Mercedes made a van). The van seated at least nine, and potentially more, with plenty of cargo room. It had a stick shift like a joystick from a video game. Jeff could tell that this was going to be fun.
Uncle Bernhard had taken the train to Zurich, and so he was able to ride with us and Grandma to Aarau where we would spend our first night. For those unfamiliar with Swiss geography, Aarau is the capitol of Canton Aargau (AG on the map, just west of Zurich).
Thanks to Uncle Bernhard's expert navigation, we safely arrived in Aarau. Bernhard and Haimin's house was absolutely gorgeous. Coming from the land of single story ranch houses, this three story house with the beautiful staircase etc. was quite grand. Everything outside was green and lush, and it was amazing how well everything grows. On the other hand, we average about 10 inches of rain per year in Southern California, and Switzerland averages between 30 inches in the "dry" areas to 104 inches in the wettest parts.
After lunch, we went on a short walk about Aarau to just enjoy the "atmosphere."
One thing that takes getting used to is that one does not drive everywhere in Switzerland. The autobahn is nice, and the speed limits generous (although the signage leaves a lot to be desired!), but you walk or take the train wherever you're going in many places that we visited. Stores are also closed in the evenings for the most part. It doesn't appear they even have conceived of a 24 hour store. The impact of all of this is that you tend to slow down a bit and take in the sights, and enjoy life. For all of the mad rush we find ourselves in here in the United States, it is difficult to identify what is accomplished, except to create a booming market for stress remedies.
We headed east to Ermantingen, on the south of Lake Konstanz (the big lake to the east surrounded by Switzerland, Germany, and Austria). We stopped in to have dinner at Tante Lislotte's and Uncle Ernst's, and then Tante Lislott escorted us to the Youth Hostel in the nearby town of Kreuzlingen. Tante Lislott very generously took us all about the various locations we visited from "basecamp" in Kreuzlingen.
Jeff and the kids quickly learned about a custom in Swizterland called the "School Trip", where groups of kids from various schools go on trips about Switzerland. A large group had decided to visit Kreuzlingen that week. They made more noise than the tour group on the airplane! Although at the time, Jeff was less than amused, in hindsight it added to the overall adventure. We certainly wouldn't have been able to experience the culture quite so well in a standard hotel.
Grandma and Grandpa came by and we drove over close to the border with Germany. We then walked over to the city of Konstanz (Constance for us Anglo folks), city of the famous Council which was responsible for resolving the "two pope" issue and for condemning Jus in the early days of the reformation.
From Konstanz, we took a boat over to Meersburg, site of the oldest (ca. 630 AD) standing castle in Germany. One interesting thing, which the pictures didn't capture, is the impact of nearly 14 centuries of wear on the steps. All of the stone steps have a noticeable depression worn in the center.
As a testimony to the changes in Europe brought about by the end of communism, crossing back and forth between Germany and Switzerland was effortless. In fact, if it weren't for the empty guard house, you wouldn't have realized you had actually travelled between countries. It would be nice if the day came where the border between the United States and Mexico could be so open. Unfortunately, as the events of September 11th showed us, such is not likely to be the case.
Tante Lislott came to show us about. First stop was Connyland (see the pictures in the Ermantingen section). This is a fun little amusement park with rides, and animal shows, etc.
Then, it was off to Zurich. There we attempted to visit a model train museum, but discovered that progress had interceded. The museum had been torn down for an apartment building. Undaunted, off we went to the zoo. We had quite a good time there, if only Jeff would leave the birds alone.
Okay, that bears a little explanation. They allow the peacocks to run free around the zoo. Unfortunately, it appears that perhaps it was the nesting season. One of the peacocks attacked Tante Lislott. Jeff then attempted to scare off the peacock. It's unclear whether you would consider him successful. The peacock left, but only after giving Jeff a good kick on the chin (yes, that's chin, they do have wings after all). We then stopped in for coffee at cousin Ana Katie's house (Tante Lislotte's daughter), and so the kids got to play with some more of their cousins, the parents got to have enjoy some quiet conversation.
Our last day at the Kreuzlingen basecamp. The program for the day was to do a little bit of mountain climbing - the easy way. We would be heading to Schwagalp, from which we would take a cable car to the top of the Santis Mountain, at some 2500 meters (about 7500 feet)
Along the way, everyone kindly agreed to stop in San Gallen and let Jeff visit just about the best spot to go in Europe (if you're into ancient manuscripts, which Jeff is). The banner at the top of the pages for San Gallen are from the StiftsBibliothek , which is home to just an unbelievable number of ancient manuscripts. The artwork in the library is not done the slightest bit of justice from the photograph. You need to wear cloth slippers on your shoes so as not to damage the carved wood floor. The ceiling is filled with the most splendid paintings.
The manuscripts include such things as the oldest extant copy of the Venerable Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People," and a copy of the Gospel according to St. John in Irish Script, with a carved ivory cover from Constantinople from the sixth century.
An interesting note is the impact of Ireland on the establishment and development of Christianity in Switzerland (and really, throughout much of Western Europe). St. Gallus was a monk from the great Irish monasteries who ultimately settled in Switzerland during the great evanglistic missions the Irish monks after Columbanus went on. Later we get to see the grave of St. Beatus who came to Switzerland very early - within the first couple of centuries, and converted many there to Christianity.
We bid a fond farewell to Kreuzlingen and head on out to Basel to meet Tante Brigitte and Uncle Hans. Along the way, we stopped at an enormous yellow truckstop perched over the AutoBahn. It contained several restaurants and stores for travellers. We stayed at the Youth Hostel in Basel, which is located right next to St. Alban's which is where Grandma and Grandpa Burgin were married. Now, the Church is largely unoccupied - which appears to be the case for a great number churches around Europe. A local Orthodox group currently uses the Church on Sunday mornings for their Divine Liturgy.
We found a good spot to park the van for a couple of days, and headed off to visit Tante Brigitte and Uncle Hans for dinner. I got to experience my first ride on the tram system of Basel. It's quite easy to navigate around on, and there isn't too long of a wait between trams.
Grandma took us on a tour of Basel, since this is where she grew up. We got to see the high schools that both her and Grandpa went too, and the place where she took her Catechumenate instruction. We also received our first introduction to Epa and Migros, the Target and Vons of Switzerland.
As part of the tour, we visited the Muenster, which at one point would have been the Cathedral for Basel. It was destroyed shortly before the Reformation, and when rebuilt was built with a distinctive reformed architecture (for instance, a minimal altar with seating behind it for choir or other people, etc.)
When Claudia lived here, she had an accident where she got her bicycle wheel caught in a tram track and damaged herself and her bicycle. Unfortunately, she mentioned that to the children, and so everytime they saw a tram track (which, of course, is often), they would ask her about the accident. They even do the same thing here in San Diego if a train track presents itself.
We had dinner at the Gygli's again, and got to meet cousin Barbara and Xaver. Catherine became sick with what we assumed to be stomach flu.
This morning, Joshua, Andrew, Grandma & I went on a walk about Basel this morning while Claudia tended to Catherine. We took a charming little ferry across the Rhein. The boat has a rubber fish on a bit of fishing line so that the kids can be entertained by "fishing".
On the way back to the youth hostel, we passed by St. Alban's as an Eastern Orthodox Service was ongoing. The glorious smell of incense and the sound of the chanting could be experienced quite some distance away. Claudia, Grandma, Joshua, and Andrew took the train to Aarau while Jeff stayed with Catherine.
Later in the day, Catherine was feeling better, so we went for a walk around Basel. We went on the ferry (it only seemed fair), and took a quick trip to see Tante Brigitte and Uncle Hans. We enjoyed going for the visit. By evening Catherine was worse again, unfortunately.
Off to Goldswil, a little town above Interlaken in the canton of Bern. A former teacher of Grandma's let us use his vacation home. A very charming house with a view that would make any self respecting real estate agent beat down the door. Fortunately, there didn't seem to be many realtors around.
A bjt of a day to relax. Catherine still is not feeling well, so we just took it easy. Jeff and Claudia went on a walk down by the river Aare. We also got to take the trash out. Now, to most Americans this would not be an event worthy of recording in a travelogue. However, its of some interest in that Switzerland, unlike the U.S. is a bit limited in terms of available landfill. In the community of Goldswil, you pay for every bag of trash. This means that you really maximize the amount of trash you fit in the bag. You also don't find as much excess packaging as you do in the U.S.
Catherine is still ill, so Claudia stayed with her while Grandma, Joshua and Jeff went on an adventure.
We walked down to the river, across to the train station, took a bus to Interlaken-East, and took a boat across Lake Thun to Beatushoehlen. This is a cave up on the mountain which was the home of a monk in the 1st century who brought Christianity to this area. He was apparently from Ireland and was ordained by St. Peter at Rome. His remains are believed to be buried in a tomb in front of the cave which was carved out of the rock. We went a little way into the cave (they have a tour that goes about a kilometer into the mountain, but Joshua got a bit scared), which was magnificent.
After the Reformation, the caves were apparently sealed to prevent pilgrimages. After our return, we walked up to the Alpenwild, which is an animal park, and saw some Ibex and Marmots.
We took Catherine to the doctor and discovered the problem was bacterial. A couple of doses of antibiotics and she began to feel much better.
Claudia and I took a nice walk over to Ringenbergg, while Grandma watched the children. Grandpa arrived in the afternoon, and we enjoyed a traditional raclette (potatoes and cheese melted in a special device).
Its difficult to define a "favorite" place in Schweiz. Every place we visited is unique, and so the comparison is difficult to make. However, for both the tranquility and beauty, Goldswil would probably be the place I would call my favorite. So, it was a little hard to leave, but there was still much to do and see in Basel.
Just for fun, we had dinner at McDonalds. Of course, there is a bit of a difference between McDonald's in Switzerland and McDonald's in the U.S. Jeff was able to have a beer with his burger.
Claudia took Andrew on a shopping trip this morning. Meanwhile, Grandma and Jeff took Catherine and Joshua to the pool. We met up with Barbara, Gabriel, and Xaver. A good time was had by all.
Later on, Jeff went to do a little shopping by himself, and was quite proud that he was able to find his way around, including the proper trams to take. This evening, Claudia and Jeff went to dinner at Spillman's. This is a very nice restaurant on the Rhein. We had dinner on the patio overlooking the River. It will be hard to compete with this birthday dinner in the future.
Pentecost. We celebrated by attending Eucharist at the Anglican Church that meets in the St. Nicholas Chapel at the Cathedral. The main service is held at a different location later jn the day, so this was a small service. We made up over half of the congregation.
Later in the day, we went to visit a farm owned by Claudia's cousin's in-laws. Gabriel, Joshua, and Andrew enjoyed playing on the tractors, while Catherine enjoyed the horses. That evening, we had dinner at Tante Brigitta. Jeff was presented with two pocket watches that belonged to Claudia's grandfather.
We return to Aarau and prepare for our return trip on the 13th.