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Sandra's Swiss Diary 2007

 If you want to see the diaries of my other trips to Switzerland,
click here for the second trip (winter 2007 - 2008)
here for the third trip (winter 2008 - 2009)

Flowers in a barn window 


I guess not a few of my nearest and dearest friends and family thought this Flatlander-fear-of-flying lady-journalist would never make the journey across the Pond. Well here I am!  Must say, I too had my doubts and fear to conquer as I boarded the Swiss Airlines Airbus in Chicago on April 3rd, 2007. My son Forrest and I had driven from Suttons Bay hours earlier, making a mad dash down to O’Hare to be sure I made the flight in plenty of time. (Ok Joerg and Cathy, see? I did!).

Several years in advance, one of my closest chums, Suzan Moody (who just about had to kick me aboard that tiny plane), and I took a flight in a single engine plane, leaving Woolsey Airport in Northport and flying ever so silently above the Leelanau’s mesmerizing scenery. This flight was to show me there is nothing to fear about flying but fear itself…ok, sure!

From the Midwest to the Alps  -  April 3 / 4, 2007

Well, my flight over the Atlantic was anything but quiet and peaceful and was instead pretty tumultuous, to say the least. I sat buckled in for nine hours straight, paralyzed in my own fear and no, the plane`s tail did not fall off (surely  I thought it would with all the vibrations and sounds of the heavy winds). At dinner, not too long after take-off, the captain told us we were going to have to descend 1,000 feet so the flight attendants could serve dinner without the dishes being thrown all about us.

Some nine plus hours later, the captain informed us over the loudspeaker that the northwest winds would make our landing in Zurich a bit rough -  it was!  And the funniest thing of all was the head stewardess giving me a bottle of champagne she said for me to share with Joerg in the Alps, for she said she knew how frightened I was and congratulated me for making the crossing so well…

Joerg picked me up at Zurich Airport and took me to his family's vacation home, an almost 400 year old farm house in the Engadine Valley at 4500 ft above sea level.

I was quite exhausted from the long, tumultous journey overseas, then coupled with a three hour drive through mountainous areas I was quite unaccustomed to.. By the time we got to the Engadine Valley my brain seemed to register everything as nearly sideways, my head seemingly gravitating to the floor. But even in my exhausted state the beauty surrounding me was unparalleled.

Marietta, the lovely lady next door, kindly took me by the hand. Although she is about 30 years older than I, she had to support me for guiding me into her home to serve me tea and cookies while Joerg was tending to the business of heating up the house. 

Road in the Inn Gorge
This is the kind of roads on which Joerg took this
Flatlander to the Engadine  -  not exactly soothing
after a pretty rough flight across the Atlantic.


 Calling home
Of course, calling home was my first action after arriving
in Tarasp, a sweet little village in the Lower Engadine Valley.



First week: Engadine, Grisons

Two days later my first ever bout of jet lag was more or less over. Walking upright was again feasible according to my mental process.....  

Simply put, Switzerland is utterly beautiful. Thus far I have traveled up into the Alps, where I'm spending my first week in the Rothenberger family vacation home, built circa 1616, in Valatscha, a tiny village of only 10 very old farm houses about an hour from St. Moritz. The peaceful beauty there is indescribable.

Vallatscha & the Pisoc Range
Valatscha and the Pisoc Range, part of the Swiss Alpine
National Park.In this area of Switzerland, farm houses always
group in little villages, with the front side to the main street and
the barn on the back side.

Looking west from Vallatscha
Looking west, i.e. up the valley from Valatscha. Most of the
mountain peaks are more than 14,000 ft above sea level.

Joerg in front of the vacation home
 Joerg in front of the family's vacation home (left).The stone
walls are about 3 ft thick to withstand the assaults of the
elements, especially in winter.

Fireplace in Vallatscha
 The fireplace in the large living room, designed by
Joerg in 1973.

Breakfast, Grisons style
Breakfast, Grisons style.

We had most of our meals in the dining room with its handsome, almost 400 year old paneling walls. In former centuries the room was a meeting place of sorts for the community to gather.  Mornings the women of Valatscha would meet for spinning and exchanging chat, evenings often the men would meet to discuss  the likes of business and other matters along with news of the day.  

 Dining room (stüvetta)
The dining room, still pretty much the same as it was
almost 400 years ago.

The old kitchen
Another dining table in the vaulted kitchen.

 Upper hallway
The hallway on the upper floor, where the bedrooms are.
Some of the furniture is even older than the house! 

Master bedroom 
One of the bedrooms, again one with paneling from the 17th

Our daily Alpine walks shall always be among the most memorable in my life. The sheer beauty and peaceful atmosphere of the Alps beckoned me as if I were a long-lost daughter and now I was home at last. Yes, Valatscha, one of the ten settlements in the Romansh speaking community of Tarasp, where traces of human dwellings date back to the Bronze Age (about 3500 years ago), feels like home to me.

Romansh is one of Switzerland's four national languages, the native language of only about 50,000 people. In the Lower Engadine, people speak Vallader, one of the five dialects, which differ enough to make it difficult for people from different Romansh areas to understand each other.

By the way, the general Vallader greeting is "Allegra," which just means, "Rejoice" or "Be happy," a truly nice way of saying Hello.

 Me shooting a flower photo
Oh no, not what you may think... I'm shooting a
photo of a spring flower next to the foot path.
In early April, there ought to be three or four feet
of snow at this elevation, but there was none.

Joerg and I in Aschera
Joerg and I in Aschera, the smallest of the settlements
in Tarasp, with no year-round residents. The dirt road ends
here, and only hikers can go further up the valley over a
suspension bridge for pedestrians only.

One early afternoon Joerg and I took a three hour trek up the Mottana mountain, with views over the little towns far below. Upon descent we encountered knee high “corn snow” where I found it necessary to grab a long stick to utilize my safely venturing down the sometimes icy parts.

 Icy road
Some snow and ice, a mere shadow of what ought to lie
here at this time of the year. However, I refused to walk
on the easy side of the narrow road, because I feared
falling down what I called the cliffs, which gave Joerg
quite a laughing fit.

  Tarasp Castle from the west
Tarasp Castle on its hill dominating the whole valley, seen
from the west. Views of this kind made me forget the perils
I saw on all the steep slopes seasoned mountain goats like
Joerg do not even notice.

One afternoon we had a particularly special time in Sparsels, which is another settlement of Tarasp about two miles from Valatscha. Surrounded  by towering, snow capped mountains, Schloss  (Castle) Tarasp takes central stage.  

 Tarasp Castle & Sparsels
Tarasp Castle and Sparsels. The keep and other important
parts were built about 900 years ago. After the Middle
Ages, the castle was left to decay. In the early 20th
century it was restored and now is a museum.

Me on Cross Hill
Now this
is what it looks like: me crawling on the top of Mot
da la Crusch (Romansh for "Cross Hill"). Joerg said moms
push their baby buggies up there, but I was so afraid of
the height I couldn't even stand on my feet. The view was
worth the risk, though  -  downright breathtaking.

At the little central square in Sparsel, nearly under the shadow of the castle, Joerg told me that one of the typical old farm houses next to the square actually is what he called "possibly the smallest high class hotel in Europe, if not in the entire world." The Hotel Chastè (which simply means "castle" in Romansh) is known way beyond the neighboring countries.

Sure enough, Rudolf Pazeller, the owner, an old friend of the Rothenbergers, and his wife, Daniela, asked us to come in. Rudolf insisted on taking us on a personal tour throughout the hotel with explanations along the way about the decade-long restoration process.  “This place is like a child to me,” he said. 

The hotel is situated on what was once the Pazeller farm and has been in the family for more than 500 years - now twenty-one generations!  My imagination fuelled by the romanticism all about me was fired by thoughts of people long before my very own footsteps now walking these so impeccably kept rooms.

Rudolf is not only a very committed hotel owner but also a highly praised chef de cuisine and culinary artist. In 1971 he headed the team that tended the huge cold buffet for thousands of guests at the 2500th anniversary celebration of the Persian Empire in Persepolis, Iran. Later he came back to Tarasp to take care of the family restaurant his grandfather Anton Pazeller had founded in 1912.

 Hotel Chasté front side
The front side of Rudolf Pazeller's Hotel Chastè in Sparsels.

Rudolf Pazeller showing us around
Rudolf Pazeller kindly giving us a tour of his hotel.

  Old kitchen in Hotel Chastè
The old kitchen in the Hotel Chastè, not in regular use any more.

 One of the bedrooms
One of the suites, every detail hand-crafted.

Seemingly too soon it was time to leave Tarasp. The drive back below was awesome.  I found, even while driving, some photos could be shot from the car even at fairly high speed and actually turn out without so much as a blur - “photos on the fly” became my newly-coined phrase with laughter in between each word.

We travelled through the tiny villages of  the Engadine instead of taking the car shuttle train back through the 12 mile long Vereina Tunnel, the second longest narrow gauge railroad tunnel in the world; only the Furka Tunnel on the same RR network is slightly longer.

Each village we saw had their own charm, and next time perhaps we will have more time to wander each and explore.  But now we were in a hurry to get down to Walensdadt, Joerg had patients waiting soon!  I was very grateful he took extra time to take me the long way back so I could experience these sites even though “on the fly”!

St. Moritz, surely one of the rizziest skiing resorts on this planet, was more or less at the halfway point of our trip down.  On the southern ramp of the Julia Pass, we made a short stop to take in the view over the scenic lakes of Silvaplana, where the Engadine Ski Marathon is held annually, with around 15,000 participants sure one of the biggest cross-country skiing events world-wide.

The curves and heights  through the 7500 ft elevation Julia Pass could have stopped me from breathing but I was too busy looking at the beauty all around and trying to shoot photos with some semblance of structure and composure.

From a way too early hint of alpine spring we drove down into a full-blown lowland spring, a month too early also there, and that, as Joerg told me, after a winter that was the warmest ever since weather records have been systematically documented. The last twenty years have brought more weather records to Europe than the 200 years before.

 Upper Engadine scenery
 Entering the Upper Engadine east of St. Moritz, where the
bottom of the valley is about 6000 feet above sea level.

 Silvaplana Lakes
The lakes on the Silvaplana Plateau just west of St. Moritz.

 Spring flowers on Julia Pass
There ought to be at least 5 feet of snow at this altitude
of 6800 feet in early April. Instead there are crocuses.

 Julia Pass road
On the Julia Pass road, 7500 feet high, heading northwest
to the Central Grisons.

Surmiran mountains
Below the snow line again. Here spring is already in full swing.

Old houses in Tinizong
Completely different architecture, much more wood, not
only on the barns.


Second week: Walenstadt, Heidiland

Now we are in Walenstadt, a part of Heidiland.  Heidi was one of my favorite books as a young girl. I could almost taste the Grandfather’s bread and cheese, hear Peter’s goats, and feel Heidi’s every joy. Now here I am soon to tour Heidiland and even write an article on this wonderful area for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. It feels like a dream come true. Conversely, as a young boy of five, Joerg wrote a tiny booklet along with pictures, of his recollection of Heidi the movie. We stumbled on the booklet while unpacking some of his late parents' boxes now stored here at his practice in Walenstadt.

Walenstadt has about 4,500 inhabitants. It's situated in the Seez Valley, which connects the Zurich area with the Grison mountains. The Autobahn (Expressway) to Zurich (northwest) and the Grisons (Southeast) is less than a mile away, and there are express train stops for both directions at the RR station at least once an hour. A dense network of busses connects the town to the neighboring towns and villages. In Switzerland, you can easily live without a car and still reach every place in a reasonable time and at an acceptable fare.

The town is beautiful, all the streets sided with homes with carefully tended gardens. Spring blooms are everywhere. Most of all I am amazed at the tulips, so large and in so many colorful hues, and that in the first half of April, 1400 ft above sea level and at a latitude equal to mid Lake Superior.

Walenstadt and the lake
Walenstadt and the lake, looking westward.

 Eastern neighborhood in Walenstadt
 Looking up the valley, i.e. southeast.

Apple trees in full bloom
Apple trees were in full bloom already in early April.

 Loewen Square downtown Walenstadt
One of the little squares in the old town center. The left
building is about 350 years old, the one on the right was
built in the eighties.

 Blooming cherry tree
A blooming Chinese cherry tree.

 Walking home after shopping
On the way home after shopping.

Joerg's practice, front yard
The building on Lake Street where Joerg's practice is.

Walenstadt, Catholic church
The Catholic Church, the oldest parts of which are
about 900 years old.

Beach park in the evening
Enjoying the evening sun on a park bench next to the little

Sunset behind the lake
 Sunset behind the lake, which is about the same size as
South and North Lake Leelenau put together.

A trip up to Walenstadtberg above Walenstadt on Sunday confirmed I am a Flatlander. The narrow, winding, hair pin turns, often without guard rails, strike terror in me.  But the beauty seen so high up is surely a reward.  

 Looking southeast from Walenstadtberg
The eastern tip of the lake and the upper Seez Valley,
looking southeast from Walenstadtberg, elevation 4,500 ft.

Pax Mal
The Pax Mal (Peace Monument), a unique place of
contemplation built and adorned with big mosaic murals by
one single man, Karl Bickel Sr. (1886 - 1982). To shoot a
photo of the entire monument, you need either a fish-eye
lens or a helicopter.

 Paragliders over Walenstadtberg
The mountain range north of Walenstadt is a paradise
for paragliders.

 Another paraglider, pretty close
Some of those guys can catch an up-hill wind so they can
keep their elevation for hours.

Road in Walenstadtberg
Road in Walenstadtberg. I hate those hairpin bends but I
love the view and the peaceful atmosphere.

Church in Walenstadtberg
The church in Walenstadtberg.


Third week: St. Gallen City area, Appenzell

On Saturday we toured the tiny country of Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world, on our way to see Joerg’s brother Richard, his wife Brigitte, and sons Toby and Benny for the weekend  Their home is lovely, a former farm house somewhere around 300 years old. On many walls are displayed pieces of Richard’s excellent art work.

Gutenberg Castle in Liechtenstein
Gutenberg Castle in Balzers, Liechtenstein.

 Richard & Brigitte
Richard, Joerg's brother, and Brigitte, his wife.

Richard's home
Their home in Roggwil, a little town near Lake Constance
in the north-eastern corner of Switzerland.

Preparing dinner
Preparations for an outdoor dinner in their back yard.

Wining & dining
Both Richard and Brigitte are great cooks, and being
entertained by them is a treat.

 At Mom's grave
We visited the grave of the mother of Richard and Joerg
in St. Gallen. She died in January.

 Ruggisberg restaurant
On the way back to Roggwil, we wetted our whistles at
a farmers' and hikers' watering hole on a hill, with a pretty
badly organized waitress but a gorgeous view over Lake
Constance including the German shore and hills on the
other side of the lake.

 Fish Market in Arbon
The Fish Market Square in Arbon, a 2000 year old
town on Lake Constance.

 Arbon Castle
Arbon Castle on the little hill where there was
a watchtower already in Roman times.

 Timberframe houses in Arbon
 Timberframe houses in downtown Arbon, pretty typical in
this area.

 Parsonage in Arbon
The old parsonage in Arbon.

Harbor park in Arbon
Spring flowers galore in the waterfront park next to the
harbor. The hills in the left half of the background belong
to Austria.

Arbor Felix, old motor launch
Arbor Felix, a pretty old tourist boat, still going strong.
It is named after the old Latin name of the town.

Monday, on the way back home to Walenstadt, Joerg gave me a tour of his late father’s company in St. Gallen, now run by Richard.  (Please if you wish visit  We then took a short bus ride - busses are run by overhead tracks - to walk around the downtown district and view the Cathedral. The monasterial district of the city, founded 612 AD by Saint Gallus, a missionary monk from Ireland, is on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage.

Here is what the UNESCO list says: "The Convent of St Gallen, a perfect example of a great Carolingian monastery, was, from the 8th century to its secularization in 1805, one of the most important in Europe. Its library is one of the richest and oldest in the world and contains precious manuscripts such as the earliest-known architectural plan drawn on parchment. From 1755 to 1768, the conventual area was rebuilt in Baroque style. The cathedral and the library are the main features of this remarkable architectural complex, reflecting 12 centuries of continuous activity."

 St. Gallen business district
St. Gallen was one of Europe's most important cultural
centers in the early Middle Ages. Culture is still important,
but so is business.

 St. Gallen RR station
 Railroad lines in six directions with several trains per hour
in each direction make traveling easy and comfortable.

St. Gallen central post office
Main Station Square with the central post office.
Busses everywhere. 14 bus lines are present on
this square.

St. Gallen Market Street
 The medieval center of the city east of the business
district is just as busy, with all sorts of stores, restaurants
offices etc..

St. Gallen Gallus Square
 Gallus Square west of the cathedral takes you back
several centuries.

Cathedral Square
 The cathedral, finished 1768, the newest in a row of many
cathedrals built in exactly the same place.

Cathedral eastern front
 The steeples of the cathedral.

Inside the ctahedral
 The very rich interior of the cathedral.

Confectioner's sign
Many businesses have such ornamental forged

Old restaurant in downtown St. Gallen
 Restaurant "Schlössli" ("Little Castle"), built
around 1520.

After a lovely authentically Italian lunch in a restaurant close to Richard's office, we said our byes to Richard and his crew. We journeyed the side roads back to Walenstadt. There are so many little towns, most of them pretty close to each other, and each of them have their own special flavor. A stop in Appenzell was a treat.  The quaint and narrow streets are lined with fascinating shops of all sorts. The wooden houses are all painted in most colorful ways, a very old tradition in that area. The region is well known most for its cheese, its meadows dotted everywhere with cows, contentedly grazing the now richly growing spring grass.

 St. Gallen, view from a hill
St. Gallen is surrounded by hills, where there are many
places with a scenic view over the city. Driving south
into the Appemzell area, Joerg took me to one of them.

 Prealpine landscape in the Appenzell area
Appenzell is in the prealpine zone of Switzerland.

 Little square in Appenzell
A little square in Appenzell.

 Old drugstore in Appenzell
Richly decorated houses on the Main Street.
This is a drugstore, Appenzell style.

Appenzell Main Street
Main Street in Appenzell, now fairly quiet but full of
tourists in summer.

Restaurant sign in Appenzell
Also here: many cute signs, most of them hand-forged.
This one diplays the goodies available in this little hotel.

The Rhine Valley from the Stoss Pass
Approaching the Rhine Valley. The mountains in the
background are in Austria.

Cograil tracks on Stoss Pass
Yet another railroad line. Here it's a cograil narrow gauge
track descending very steeply from the Stoss Pass down
to the Rhine Valley.

Werdenberg Castle
Werdenberg Castle near Buchs, where the Rothenbergers
come from, documented back to 1191 A.D. (no kidding!).


Fourth week: Chapfensee, Buchs, Sargans Castle

On April 28. the last of April’s unseasonably warm weather began to fade as we drove up above Mels. Mels is a town (yet still called a village by Europeans) of about 6000 inhabitants. Joerg wanted to show me Chapfensee, a natural wildlife habitat  Though the lake is manmade for hydro-electric power, it is an idyllic and totally scenic spot.  Fishermen of all ages dotted the northern shoreline whiling away a still warm Saturday afternoon. At times you could hear a fish jump, trying to snatch the already prolific mosquitos or whatever insects were unfortunate enough to be in harms way for fish fodder.

Joerg and his brother Richard spent many a summer at this lake with their parents in the 'sixties, and Joerg still knows its little coves and isles like the back of his hand.

Mädris above Mels
 Mädris, a little hamlet between the hills south of Mels.

Chapfensee north shore
Chapfensee in Mels township, 3400 ft above sea level.  

 Duck Island
One of the little islands in the lake.

Goats next to thel ake
Goats next to the lake.

Girl with a fish
A girl proudly showing us a fish she caught.

After a leisurely stroll along the lake Joerg headed us up a steep trail through dense woods, heavily grounded with roots at all angles on the forest floor. When I thought, this is enough, let’s turn back, Joerg’s contemplated place was soon reached: a bench with a great view high high above Mels and Sargans, but of course his teasing at my fear of tumbling down the slopes was unceasing.

Joerg on the scenic lookout
 Joerg says such guard rails are good enough for
Europeans, because only Americans fall down the hills
to keep their lawyers busy.

 Gonzen Mountain and Sargans
View over Sargans (right), Mels-Heiligkreuz and Mt. Gonzen.
Gonzen is the only place in Switzerland where iron ore is
found, not exploited any more, though, because it's not
profitable. Apart from water for hydro-electric power
plants, some salt and that bit of iron, Switzerland has
no other natural resources.

 Me pretty close to the cliffs
Oh yes, I was on that bench too, pretty much to Joerg's

Me on the northern dam
Me on the northern dam. Funny enough, despite my fear
of heights I was not even scared while walking on it.

The next day we traveled to Buchs for a much anticipated visit to see Aunt Dorothy, Joerg’s father, Hansjoerg’s, sister.  At age ninety she still lives alone, is as active as can be, walks every day and quit cross-country skiing just a few years ago. With the sun still hot, we sat outdoors under the protective shade of a large yellow umbrella. The lovely home, built by her grandparents, i.e. Joerg's great-grandparents, about 100 years ago, was  like a step back in time to my own Italian grandpparents' home. .

 In the Toggenburg Valley
Joerg chose the much longer way through the Toggenburg
Valley to show me another lovely area. It's hilly in the lower
part and mountainous higher up.

Mountain farms in Toggenburg
There are year-round mountain farms up to an altitude of
more than 3500 feet. From this area, a pass road goes
down into the Rhine Valley.

 Aunt Dorothy's house
 Aunt Dorothy's home in Buchs, a town of about 10,000
inhabitants in the Rhine valley, half-way between
Walenstadt and St. Gallen.

Next door was a farrier. Even before he came out, this former groomer of show horses at the Bloomfield Hills Open Hunt Club, could not tear away from thoughts of the horses. Soon I was petting a lovely mare, but the grey gelding, other than nodding at my existence again and again, refused to come to the fence until after the mare had her water, and then only briefly.

The farrier soon came out and kindly showed off the mare’s talents.  He had worked in the USA and Canada as well as with the Swiss National Circus, where he looked after horses, zebras, giraffes, goats, buffaloes, you name it. Training horses now is more like a hobby, and an obviously well experienced one at that.

   Me, the horse talker
I could not resist talking to the horses on the meadow

  The farrier and his circus mare
Ruedi Blumer, the farrier next door, with Nikita, a former
circus horse.

 Nikita showing her talent
Special show just for us.

 Nikita sitting
Proud horse and proud owner.

Aunt Dorothy
Aunt Dorothy, hard as nails and ever so chipper.

Aunt Dorothy & Joerg
Aunt Dorothy and Joerg.

The following day we met Mr. Marco Wyss, the director of Heidiland ( ), in Sargans, yet another medieval town only ten miles from Walenstadt. Mr. Wyss, kindly gave us a few minutes of his time to tell us a bit about the business aspect of Heidiland, a huge draw for the Swiss tourism industry, with Japan, it seems, the leader in the pack, especially in summer.  

After our interview with the director, we set off to tour the Sargans Castle, which was first mentioned in an official document in 1282 A.D., nine years before the Swiss Confederation was founded. However, there already was a Roman watchtower in the same place 15 B.C.. The tower looms right over Heidiland offices and the narrow streets of the medieval town center.

  Sargans Castle seen from the town
Sargans Castle seen from the Heidiland Office.

 The castle from north
The opposite side is not a steep but still quite impressive. 

Sargans seen from the castle
Looking back down onto the roofs of Sargans.

The 16th century grape press
The huge tumbler boom of the 16th century grape press.

 History of the castle
A sign displaying the history of the castle,
starting with 15 B.C. and ending with 1899 A.D..

Castle yard
The central yard of the castle with dining tables
of the restaurant below a big linden tree.

Since I never had been inside a true castle before, and had only seen them in pictures and in my imagination, anticipation had no time to linger as we climbed the creaking steps of the museum's six floors. Each affords, via historical artifacts carefully and expertly displayed, an opportunity to see what life was like as you envision its romance, legends and stories. A huge grape press from the 16th century with an almost 25 ft long tumbler boom is on display in a cellar next to the entrance.

The museum was named European Museum of the Year 1983. In 1987, it was included on the list of the 37 museums most worth seeing throughout the world.

  The counts' dining room
The Counts' Dining Room.

 Murals in the keep
Mural paintings from the 14th century inside the keep.

 Old uniforms
Old uniforms.

 Old alpine dairy
 Alpine dairy cabin interior.

 Four-in-hand cart
A traditional four-in-hand cart. Every hardware part
is hand forged, yet the whole exhibit is only a two
foot long model.

Mural in the Knights' Hall
The murals on all walls of the big Knights' Hall
show the names and coats of arms of all the
sheriffs and castellans.

Kids rehearsing in the Knights' Hall
A special treat was being invited in to watch local
schoolchildren rehearsing for an upcoming play in the
Knights' Hall. They were joyous in their demeanor,
blustering out melodies as if on Broadway 

Fifth week: Calfeisental, Heidi Village

One day, Eleni, the mother of Maria, one of Joerg's assistants, brought a cake, a special treat from Glarus, where they live, not much more than 10 miles from Walenstadt. Maria and her family are Greek. Maria grew up in Switzerland. Since her dad's retirement a few years ago, her parents have been spending more time in Greece again, and Eleni came to say goodbye before traveling down south.   

On Saturday, Joerg and I went to Mels for a swim. The pool was warm and inviting and deep enough for diving, which I had not done in quite a few years.

Joerg's crew & Maria's mom
Maria and Joerg (rear row), Eleni and Claudia plus, of course,
the cake.

Goats along a wall
A rainy day. These animals are lined up along the wall
in the modest shelter of the roof.

Petting cows in Mels
Young Swiss Brown cows and an American tourist in front of
the old Capuchin monastery in Mels.

 Indoor pool in Mels
Mels has a nice indoor pool.

 Me in the pool
Swimming with a panoramic view of the mountains  -
very special.

On Sunday, Mai 6, Joerg took me up yet another terror-may-strike-me-dead steep, windy road above Bad Ragaz, the place that was one of Europe's most important spas already many centuries years ago.  

While still down below, we passed the majestic Bad Ragaz Grand Hotel complex. After a few steep hairpin bends we reached the Pfäfers Monastery, a cultural center already in the Middle Ages, now a psychiatric clinic, a panoramic scenery with views over the Rhine Valley and the surrounding mountains. A gorge dominates much of the area. 

High above Vättis, we stopped for some photos on the dam of one of the numerous manmade lakes used for feeding hydroelectric plants. Just below was a restaurant, a cozy mountain café, quite popular with the summer tourists but now, in early spring, only a few were there.

The weather was less than perfect, the exact opposite of April. Low clouds partly hiding the mountain peaks and patches of fog drifting up and down the valleys gave the whole scenery an eery touch  -  "Count Dracula can't be far," Joerg joked.  

  Valley basin of Sargans
The valley basin of Sargans, seen from the slopes of
the Pizol mountain range. Not exactly inviting weather.

 Steep parking space
 The roads are so steep, I feared the car could just fall
down the hill.

 Gigerwald dam from below
Approaching the Gigerwald dam from below. I said I'd
screech if Joerg took me up there.

Looking up the valley from the dam
Looking up the valley from the dam, about 4500 ft above
sea level.

Waterfall into the lake
 Little waterfalls feeding the lake from all sides.

Looking down the dam
It's not one of the really big dams but still
quite impressive.

 On the dam
On the dam  -  and I even left the car!

Restaurant below the dam
Driving down to the restaurant below the dam.

The dam seen from the restauant
View from our table in the restaurant back up to the dam.

Snack, mountain style
Our snack, which was rounded off by a delicious ice cream.

Monday saw our first excursion to the very core of the Heidi novel by Johanna Spyri (1827 - 1901), some 15 miles from Walenstadt. Heidi was, along with Black Beauty and the Bible, my most revered book as a child. In fact, the book Heidi, behind the Bible, is  the 2nd most widely published book worldwide! That surprised me.

  Heidi Fountain in Maienfeld
The Heidi Fountain on the way from Maienfeld up to
Heidi's homeland.

 Approaching Oberrofels
Approaching Oberrofels, Heidi's village.

As we approached the original “birthplace” of the fictional works of Heidi, a delightful herd of goats and several chickens with a rooster carefully guarding his Pride approached us in animal greeting language.  "Ahhhhbbabbabaahhh Feed us!" they seemingly exclaimed.  So cute I could not resist caressing one of them in my arms, where he actually nuzzled me in return. However, the only thing they could eat from me was a catalog from the Heidi store, but their stealing was stopped as Joerg quickly displaced it from big Papa goat’s mouth.

Welcomed by goats
  The welcoming committee.

 My little favorite
He seemed to like it.

 Goats everywhere
 Goats just about everywhere...

Goats even on the table
 ... even on the pic-nic tables.

The little museum in what is assumed to have been Heidi's house is quite precious, filled with historical accuracies of life a real Heidi would have had in her modest home. Every  detail is like it would have been in a poor mountain farmer's home around 1880, when Heidi was written. Each window gives light outside the dim interior to the views all around of majestic mountains that surround it and green valleys graced with the bloom of spring wildflowers. 

  Heidi's home
This very simple old house is where Johanna Spyri, the
writer of
Heidi, thought the little girl could have lived.

 The kitchen in Heidi's house
The kitchen stove, wood-heated, of course.

 The kitchen table
The kitchen table.

 The living room with Heidi and Peter
The little living room with Heidi and Peter at the table.

Heidi's bedroom
Heidi's very simple box-like bed and a little cradle.

Klara's wheelchair
This could have been Klara's wheelchair, the one Peter
pushed down the cliffs.

Johanna Spyri
A photo of Johanna Spyri, the author of

 A walk up a steep trail from the Heidi house to view the grandfather’s cabin, some three ardourous for a Flatlander miles, was interrupted by rain which had only been a sprinkle but now threatened a downpour with no place for shelter. The drive home through the southern part of the Principality of Liechtenstein, however, gave me a few new impressions of that little country.

  Mountain meadow
One of the mountain meadows on the way up to the cabin
of Heidi's grandfather.

 Gutenberg Castle in Liechtenstein
Another interesting view of Gutenberg Castle in

6th week: Ticino & Italy, Roggwil, Central Switzerland  

Joerg surprised me again with a treat of driving through the Swiss Alps southward ho! Up to the area of the southernmost sources of the Rhine, then through the San Bernanrdino tunnel under the main ridge of the Alps and down on steep motorways into the so called sunroom of Switzerland. Besides the mountain roads, never have I been through so many tunnels in all my life. More than 23 miles under ground, and this in only one day yet!

I so wanted to see Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, not because I'm 50 % Italian but because of the palm trees. Many years ago, when Joerg told me there are palm trees in Switzerland in latitudes that correspond to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I could barely believe such. Now he wanted to show me it was true.

A stop in the very ritzy lakeside town of  Ascona was beautiful. Residences on Main Street sell for upwards of 25 million! Most of the streets are brick lined, as is the case in many towns in Switzerland. The lake, Lago Maggiore (i.e. "the bigger lake") is about 36 miles long, two miles wide and goes from southern Switzerland into northern Italy, taking many bends around the mountains and hills, so you never see more than just a fraction of the whole lake.

   One of the numerous castles in the upper Rhine Valley
An "on the fly" shot through the windshield: entering the
southern part of the upper Rhine Valley, a very important
way across the Alps in the Middle Ages.

On the way from San Bernardino to Ticino
The descent from the San Bernardino Pass into the
Mesolcina Valley again and again opens new and
fascinating views.

Mesocco Castle
Because of the importance of this route across the Alps,
there are medieval castles galore.

 Ascona: palm trees!
Yup, palm trees! The entrance of an old cemetery on Main
Street in Ascona.

Flowers in a front yard in Ascona
Just like in other parts of Switzerland, there are flowers

 Downtown Ascona, Main Street
Downtown Ascona: Switzerland with quite a lot of Italianity
or Italy with a Swiss touch  -  that is the question.

Yet another street in Ascona
Steep and narrow streets in Ascona.

An old church in Ascona
The old churches, too, look very Italian.

 Ascona's lakefront promenade
 Ascona's waterfront promenade, one of Switzerland's
most expensive quarter-miles, as Joerg put it.

Ascona port
The Lago Maggiore is the lowest place in Switzerland,
about the same altitude as Lake Michigan.

Me feeding the sparrows
The sparrows on the waterfront were so bold, they ate
bread crumbs right from my hands, hovering like

Landing stage
Passenger ships on Lago Maggiore have a dense time
table and are a part of the public transportation network
just like trains, post busses, city busses etc..

Ascona waterfront restaurant.
Inside one of the restaurants on Ascona's waterfront.

Courtyard in Ascona
Italian architecture, mediterranean vegetation, Swiss tidiness.

Little square in modern Ascona
Modern architecture looks more Italian than Swiss too.
Again lots of mediterranean plants.

Flowerbed in Ascona
Flowers everywhere, in private yards as well as on public

Palm trees in modern Ascona
And, of course, palm trees everywhere, even on roofs!

Little lakeshore park in Gambarogno
A little lake shore park on the way to Italy.

A short drive later we were at the Italian border and crossed into Italy, the country half my ancestry is from, with nary a nod of impatience by the customs officers. Passport in hand was not needed but there just in case….

"Welcome to Italy" sign
   A welcoming sign on the customs office in Dirinella on the
Lago Maggiore shore road, shot through the windscreen.

Italian part of Lago Maggiore
One section of the Italian part of Lago Maggiore. There
were people swimming, and that in mid May.

Old church near Luino, Italy
An old church on the way to Luino on Lago Maggiore.

 Vacation homes near Luino
Beautiful vacation homes between Luino. Italy, and
Ponte Tresa, Switzerland.

Cooling my feet in Lago di Lugano
   Back in Switzerland, Lago di Lugano was so inviting that
I decided I must, if not swim, at least walk in the
refreshingly cold water.  

 Lugano waterfront
Lugano, a bustling city on a beautiful lake, has hotels and
business buildings all along the waterfront. In the
background: Monte Bré, one of Lugano's vantage points.

San Salvatore on Lago di Lugano
The city is surrounded by steep mountains with great
views, most of them accessible by funiculars. This is
San Salvatore.

Mountains over the Blenio Valley
Mountains over the Blenio Valley on the Lucomagno Pass
route back to Walenstadt.

After almost twelve hours on the road we arrived back in Walenstadt around eleven p.m., I was so tired I immediately crashed, happily to have finally made it to Italy and eager to write back home to tell those nearest and dearest to me of that very fact!

Sunday the wind was picking up as we drove northward to the Lake Constance area. First Joerg took me to Werdenberg, the tiny town near Buchs, were his ancestors came from. The town proper covers less than two acres yet is a classic medieval town. It was carefully restored in the 'sixties and 'seventies..

   Werdenberg town and castle
Werdenberg Town and Castle on the Werdenberg Lake.

 Werdenberg waterfront
The waterfront.

 Entrance to the town
The entrance to the 300 ft long Main Street.

 Lower part of Main Street
Main Street leading up to the town square.

 Building on town square
The tiny town square.

 Snake House
The Snake House, so named after the snake-like ornaments.

After the way too brief photo stop in Werdenberg we again hit the road and drove to Roggwil. It was a special day as finally I would meet the two not so new anymore kids of Richard's daughter Helene and her husband Marcos. Richard, the ever proud Grandpa, and Brigitte, just as so in her role as Grandma, met us at the car with Leia  in tow. The girl immediately jumped down to see her Uncle Joerg, proclaiming his name over and over again. Precious! 

Between lots of talking, a little resting in comfortable lawn chairs in the back yard, some badminton and a barbecue the day flew by.  

   Brunch at Richard's
 Outdoor brunch at Richard's: Brigitte, Marcos, Helene and me.

 Playing badminton with Helene
Playing badminton with Helene.

 Preparing dinner in the back yard
Preparing dinner in the back yard.

 Family around the table
Counterclockwise: Benny, Toby, Richard, Brigitte, Leia,
Yana, Helene, Joerg, Marcos.

Monday morning Joerg had yet another surprise. I had expected a quite stay at home day, but we were back in the car and headed to Central Switzerland. The area is just beautiful. Gentle deep green hills give way to steep mountains, and with rain headed in were bedecked in a descending fog.  

Our first stop was in Zug, a nice old town but also an important financial hub with headquarters of many globally active companies.   

  Square in downtown Zug
A beautiful square with old buildings in downtown Zug.

Gate at the other end of that square
Looking in the opposite direction.

 Rocking bike in showcase
A wooden rocking bike in a store window. I don't like
motorbikes, but this one I liked.

 School kids on a field day
These school kids from another town were on an
orienteering course and asked us for directions.

Old building on the waterfront
Old buildings on the waterfront.

 Harbor square in Zug
Harbor square and fish market on Lake Zug.

Old restaurant sign  in downtown Zug
Also here you can find many beautiful old signs,
especially on restaurants.

Another restaurant sign
Another old restaurant sign in downtown Zug.

I fell in love with the lakeside city of Lucerne. We parked next to tennis courts on the eastern end of the downtown area. The walk into the downtown district was canopied with well kept trees and flanked by very lovely and old hotels on one side, boats and a few floating restaurant / cafés on the other. Some pre-WW-I paddle wheel steamers still are doing their regular service on the lake, though  -  the biggest inland lake steamer fleet in the world.  

  Waterfront promenade in Lucerne
Lucerne's waterfront promenade.

 Resting on a park bench
Resting on a park bench with a view of the world-famous
concert hall.

  Waterfront hotel in Lucerne
Palace, one of the time-honored hotels on
the lakefront.

 Another waterfront hotel
National, another Fin-de-Siècle hotel next
to the lake.

  Entrance to a hotel garden
The entrance to one of the hotel gardens.

 Old steamer now used as a restaurant
An old paddle wheel steamer, maybe 100 years old, now
being used as a restaurant.

The walkway over the Reuss River, called Kapellbrücke, was built in 1333. A fire from a boat destroyed major parts of it in 1993, but it was carefully reconstructed. There were many tourists but the atmosphere was peacefully serene and friendly.  It is a town I want to go back to and discover its every corner, and for me, a true country girl in most respects, it is the only big town I can truthfully say that!

   Kapellbrücke in Lucerne
 The Kapellbrücke with the Water Tower and the Jesuits'
Church. The 670 ft long bridge is the oldest wooden bridge
in Europe. The 140 ft tall Water Tower was used as a prison,
watchtower and treasury.

 Old painting on Kapellbrücke
Two of the 17th century paintings inside the bridge that
survived the fire of 1993.

 Fence with flowers
Flowers everywhere.

 Bicycle parking lot
A bicycle parking lot next to the RR station.
It often makes sense to use a bike instead
of the car. You can get everywhere, you can
easily bypass traffic jams, and gas is way too
expensive to be wasted on buying croissants.
By the way, gas prices in Europe have increased
only by 10 % since 2000. Go figure.

 Lucerne central station
 As in any Swiss town and city, the very dense railroad
network goes right into the center. Lucerne Central
Station has departures to various directions every few
minutes. Most cities and major towns can be reached at
30 or 60 minute intervals.

On our walk back to the car: Seebrücke (Lake Bridge) and
some of the big hotels.

Another favorite of mine was the village of  Gersau on Lake Lucerne.  A restaurant we drove past marked its claim as the Big City Restaurant. That made Joerg crack up. In Switzerland any settlement with less than 10,000 inhabitants is called a village, unless it has a history as a fortified town in the Middle Ages, with ramparts, town gates and the like. Settlements between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants are called towns. Anything bigger may be called a city but rarely is.

So, Gersau is a village, not a city. Period. However, a lot of new building going on acclaims that it indeed is growing and my heart said to it, please, be careful, don't lose what you already have mastered. A number of very old, very beautiful hotels line along parts of the shoreline. Well kept homes, many manors in my book of reason, made life look very well lived for the fortunate well-heeled.

   Gersau on Lake Lucerne
Gersau on Lake Lucerne. Not even the crummy weather
could affect its charm.  

 Lakeshore park near Gersau
A lovely little park between the winding road and the steep
shore near Gersau.

Although the weather was not inviting at all, Joerg took me to Brunnen, a little town (well, actually a village) on a sharp bend of Lake Lucerne. The other side of the lake can be accessed only by boat or ship. One of the clearings on the very steep wooded slopes of that other shore is where the Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291. And, believe it or not, it's still just a meadow, and you still need either a ticket for one of the steamers or very good hiking shoes to reach it. No parking lots, no tour busses, no monuments, just simple rural peace and quiet.

Unfortunately, the Federal Archives  in Schwyz were closed. That's were the original charter of the Swiss Confederation, signed on August 1, 1291, and other important deeds of similar vintage, are displayed. Joerg related parts of Switzerland's history to me. The simple mountain farmers of the area decided to chase the Austrian sheriffs out of the confines of their little communities of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden on Lake Lucerne, all of them simple democracies already then. In the course of several centuries, Austria, then a rapidly growing empire, again and again tried to subdue the disobedient freedom fighters, to no avail. Asymmetric warfare enabled those only lightly armed hordes of patriots to defeat armies of knights in full armor. Taking advantage of the very rough terrain, the Swiss light infantry, dressed in mere farmers' work clothes, often drove big armies of heavy cavalry into lakes or over cliffs. After more than a dozen of lost battles, the Austrians eventually gave up, and the eternal and total independence of the Swiss Confederation was granted.

 Brunnen and the Rütli
Not exactly picture postcard weather. This is the landing
stage in Brunnen on Lake Lucerne. One of the little
clearings on the other side of the lake is where the Swiss
Confederation was founded more than 700 years ago.

 Federal Archives in Schwyz
 The Federal Archives in Schwyz. The founding documents
displayed here are almost 500 years older than the
Constitution of the USA, yet there's no pompous
palace, just a simple building with a mural painting
from the 'thirties.

After another day full of interesting sights we came back to Walenstadt in the evening.     

7th week: Engadine again - my favorite anyway

Wednesday we were packed and all to ready to hit the road for the two plus hour trip back to Tarasp. As I wrote above of my first thoughts that ran through my mind of Tarasp, Valatscha in particular of course, is a return home. The Rothenberger home was purchased from Joerg’s primary school teacher, Fritz, who still maintains a spot behind the home.   

The way back “home” as I prefer to call Valatscha, Joerg decided to take the longer way  -  for my benefit of course  - and avoided the tunnel and instead  drove us over the Flüela Pass.  By now I should be used to mountain roads, but must say, that trip through that pass was harder on me than any road or flight in my life….hair pin turn after hair pin turn and when will it end I thought trying so hard not to express my terror, fear of heights mode in full gear.  Did not work too well, and when we finally stopped and I got out I felt as if I had been in a saddle a long long time, and that not on a Tennessee Walker’s smooth gait but that of a bucking bronco!

Fears aside, the pass was truly beautiful and should have made up for my fears of heights, so very real for me. Halfway up the pass, the rain turned into snow, but the roads stayed pretty good, but the mini spring blizzard prevented all but a few photos.

As we approached Tarasp, my anticipation was near climax and even more expressed than the first jet lagged arrival. I eagerly snapped photos at just about anything, so glad was I to be back.

Tarasp seen from the road
Tarasp Castle (above the center of the picture, just a
dot) seen from the steep and winding road between the
Flüela Pass and Scuol.

 Joerg and Marietta
First thing after arrival was visiting Marietta next door.
We talked about the Great Lakes (she lived in the USA
in the 'fifties), hence the atlas...

 The house in Valatscha
The house of the Rothenberger family in Valatscha.

Fountain in front of the house
The fountain just across the street has the best water
I've ever tasted! Although it's the same water as in the
house, it's more fun here.

Fountain down the street
The bigger fountain down the street.

 Marietta's side porch
Marietta's side porch.

Valatscha seen from west
The castle seen from the little road from Valatscha
to Aschera.

Valatscha in the evening sun
Valatscha in the early evening sun. The Rothenbergers'
house is right in the middle.

Thursday, just like Wednesday evening, was cool, rainy and a bit dreary.  We stayed in to enjoy the coziness of the fire.  Friday the sun was back, and we drove to Scuol, both to sight-see and to shop for company, as Richard and Brigitte would be spending the night. Scuol may be a small town, but has many streets to walk, and even get slightly disoriented on which way to go back to the main street.  

Entrance to Valatscha
This photo shows how steep the terrain in Valatscha is: The
road at the entrance is supported by pillars.

 Tarasp Castle from west
On the way to Scuol: Tarasp Castle seen from the west.

Church in Fontana, Tarasp
The Catholic church in Fontana, the largest of the ten
"fracziuns" of Tarasp.

 The Piz Lischana range
The Lischana range south of Scuol. From left to right:
Piz Ajüz, Piz Lischana, Piz Madlain.

 Church in Scuol
The old center of Scuol, with the church on a steep
hill high above the Inn river.

Fountain in Scuol
Scuol: little squares, old fountains and beautiful old
houses with al-fresco sgraffitto ornaments everywhere.

 Square in Scuol
 One of the picturesque squares in Scuol.

Another square in old Scuol
 Another beautiful square in Scuol. Those fountains run
real mineral water, stuff that would be bottled and sold

 Bridge across the Inn river
The Inn river seen from the church hill.

Don't ask me why no one shot any photos while Brigitte and Richard were visiting us. They arrived Friday afternoon. We had a great time together, me cooking an American dinner and a pretty international brunch. Saturday afternoon, after their departure, Joerg and I hiked from Fonatana, the biggest of Tarasp's ten settlements ("fracziuns") up the hills to the natural preserve area of Lai Nair (Black Lake).

The uphill walk called for many stops to admire the many wildflowers, some in large gatherings, others just singular or in a small bunch. We followed hoof prints, pretty fresh too, as often we had to side-step the animals' droppings. The vistas along the way were, of course, breathtaking, and no camera can do them justice. At the lake, we decided to take a steeper way down to Fontana. Soon Tarasp Castle came in sight again, from yet another angle, a view I shall never tire of. Before we went back to Valatscha, we paid a visit to the little church of Fontana on a steep hill on the edge of the Zuort Gorge.

Fontana and the castle
Fontana and the castle from south.

 Resting on a bench with view of the castle
Resting on a bench with a nice view over the castle and
several "
fracziuns" of Tarasp.

Castle from above
Gaining more and more height.

Lai Nair
The Lai Nair plateau.

 Fontana & Castle from east
On the way back to Fontana.

Wild flower meadow
At an elevation of 4400 ft, spring with 'zillions of wild
flowers was in full swing.

 Lai da Tarasp & Castle
The omnipresent castle and the very clear little lake, where,
despite its shallowness, pikes of up to 5 ft have been caught.

Old houses in Lower Fontana
 The center square in Lower Fontana.

Upper Fontana seen from the church
 View from the graveyard at the church in Fontana down
into the Zuort Gorge and further southward into the
Plavna Valley.

Fontana from south
 The necessity of saving precious agricultural land often
made Swiss mountain farmers build their settlements
in the steepest places.

To call the almost 400 year Rothenberger home charming, well words may fit to some extent, but it goes far beyond that. It commands an elegance, an understated nobility, unassuming in its role as a farm house only in part, most of her dealt with the keeping of animals and their feed.  

The air in the Engadine is so clean, there was practically no dust inside the house as we arrived in early April, amazing after five months without any cleaning, dusting, vacuuming etc.. In the whole big house I found only two little cobwebs. What a joy to sleep in this clean home and be awakened by cow bells day by day.

The Rothenbergers' house in Valatscha
All Engadine farm houses are gathered in villages or
hamlets, and they all have a barn at the side that is
away from the street. On the front side, they have a
gate-like door that allows the hay wagon to be pulled
through the dwelling to the hay lofts in the barn.

 The front gate
Of course this front door isn't used to let pass a
whole hay wagon any more, yet it still boasts the
interesting multi-winged design that was a necessity
for many centuries.

 Living room from north
What now is the living room, formerly served as a place to
store carts, plows, heavy tools etc. and to do all sorts of
maintenance work.

Living room from south
 Looking in the opposite direction. The kitchen door is on
the left, the dining room door on the right hand side.
The ornamental closet between the two doors is the
fuse box (no kidding!).

The vaulted kitchen has traditional furniture where
appropriate and modern one where necessary.

Preparing dandelion blossoms
Preparing dandelion blossoms for making old-fashioned
honey-like dandelion spread.

 Dining room
 The dining room furniture was made in 1973 to match the
old paneling and coffered ceiling.

  Looking through dining room window
Looking out of one of the dining room windows.

 Little dining room window
Another window in the dining room.

 Ancient closet
Old furniture matches the old structures of
the building.

Second dining room
 A very special place is the second dining room, which
was built into the barn by Joerg's parents. A part of the
wooden wall can be folded up to the ceiling to provide a
generous view of the valley and the mountains.

Hayloft in the barn
The third floor of the haylofts in the barn, directly
accessible from the house through several doors.

A special treat in Valatscha is getting to know Marrietta.  She is truly one of the most kind and remarkable persons I have ever met. At eighty-four she lives alone and in full competence, gardens with a flourish, walks every day. Her gate is truly like that of one fifty years less her age. I asked her, how does she manage?  She never even realized I meant all alone in the Alps, how does she do it, because, face it, nothing there is close by.  She replied with total no miss a beat, “I have the telephone, the radio and the tv. If I need anything, it is all right here!” And her eyes shine with pure health in the reply, a true joie de vivre.  An inspiration, an up front role model for  all who meet her.

Then there are Helen and Arthur Netzer with their adult sons, Marcus and Andri. Besides Marietta, they are the only other year-round inhabitants of Valatscha and the only ones that still run a real farm.

The other houses are, like the one of Richard and Joerg, just vacation homes, filled with life only a few weeks a year. But there is a community of the owners and regular visitors that organizes meetings, parties and the like, as for instance a potluck dinner party on every August 1st, Switzerland's national holiday. When the weather is bad, that party takes place in the Rothenbergers' barn.

Marietta & Joerg in the front yard
Marietta and Joerg talking about traditional cooking in the
front yard. She lent us a book with regional recipes she
acquired in the forties.

 The young farmer and his cows
Marcus Netzer and his well-trained cows: They cross the
street in Indian file on rubber mats in order to prevent
damage to the cobblestone pavement.

 Marcus' cows walking home
Soldiers couldn't do it much better...

 Some more houses in Valatscha
A few more of the houses in Valatscha, all of them
former farm houses now used as vacation homes.

Alpenglow on the Pisoc range, i.e. the evening sun making
the mountains look reddish.

After a few great days in Tarasp we drove back to Walenstadt on Monday, May 21. Joerg chose the somewhat longer way over the Arlberg Pass in Austria, which allowed me to add another country to my "been to" list.

 Driving down the lower Engadine
 Driving down the lower Engadine towards the Austrian

 Hayshack on a steep hill
A little hay shack on one of those steep hills. I can't
imagine how they even mow those slopes.

 Bad weather on the Arlberg Pass
After a few miles on Austrian territory, the weather turned
bad again, as if it was trying to frighten me again while
crossing the Alps.

 Signposts near Feldkirch, Austria
Due to the bad weather I shot no interesting photos on the
rest of our way home. These signposts were in Feldkirch,
Austria, very close to the Swiss border.

Eighth week: Railroad Club and Zurich City

On Thursday, Joerg took me to the weekly meeting of the regional Railroad Amateurs' Club. He is one of those buffs who are building a big model layout in one of the big bomb shelters of the secondary school building in Walenstadt. For many years the club members had kept sending me greetings through Joerg's e-mail, especially Hansruedi Gloor, the club's jokester, as Joerg put it. Of course I had often sent greetings back the same way. Now it was time for me to meet them in person.

The guys took me in stride, no big deal though I had worried about being a lady and invading the sacred territory of a men's club.  Do they accept women members?  From my experience, I bet so as long as she is a true blue RR aficionado like they all are. As for me, other than model trains, my only RR experience is riding the Clinch Park train at the former Traverse City Zoo, and occasionally being allowed to switch the tracks and control the engine of cousin Garry’s (still elaborate some 50 years later) train set.

 Easter mountain on RR layout
The scenery is based on the characteristics of the area,
with high mountains, deep gorges, bold bridges and lots
of tunnels.

 Eastern end of main station
The landscaping shows all stages from wooden framework
to mesh wire and styrofoam used for rough shaping to
plaster sculpting to painting to planting grass, trees etc..

View from the northern ridge
Looking down from the mountains. The guy on the right
is Hansruedi Gloor, my "special friend."

Train on a circular ramp
There are many helical tunnels in Switzerland, and there
are two on this layout too.

Joerg at an underground switchboard
Joerg showing me the switchboard of one of the large
underground fiddle yards.

 Underground fiddle yard
The fiddle yard system down below is so large, it needs
video surveillance to check the most important tracks.

Main station area
Wide areas still are to be finished, which will take years,
but that's part of the fun as long as the traffic addicts
can run their trains through the construction grounds.

The Semaphore Bar
The table where the guys have their drinks and cookies,
discuss plans and exchange jokes. The patchwork wall
behind my back consists of thousands of old train tickets.

Saturday afternoon we went to Zurich to spend the weekend with Joerg’s cousin Doro. She is the eldest of the four daughters of Aunt Dorothy and just about the most gracious hostess I have ever met.  She thrives on entertaining - does it with a passion - the fortunate guests who are invited over.  Doro makes one as comfortable (and full) as can be.  An avid reader, her wide interests and life long work caring for others as a professor at a school for social siences makes her a pure treat to be around.

 Walenstadt seen across the lake
Looking back over the lake on the way to Zurich:
Walenstadt is right in the middle of the opposite shore.

Wind surfers off Quinten
It was a windy day, and there were many wind surfers on
the lake. The little village on the other side, Quinten, can
be reached only by boat or on foot. No roads, no cars.

Rapperswil Castle
We crossed Lake Zurich on a bridge on a shoal where
there was an almost one mile long bridge already in the
Middle Ages. The northern end was guarded by the castle
of Rapperswil.

Entrance to cousin Doro's
Doro lives in a neighborhood fairly close to downtown
Zurich City yet amazingly quiet. All front and back yards
are beautiful and well looked after.

 Doro's front balcony
Doro's apartment is on a raised ground floor, with a
balcony on the front side (photo above) and another
one on the equally nice back yard.

University campus pond 1
The recreational area of the new campus of the University
of Zurich is barely five walking minutes away.

University campus pond 2
Groups of students and other folks were enjoying the
beautiful evening on the park pond.

The new university campus
 The new campus was built in the early eighties as the
old one, very close to the city center and the Federal
Polytechnical School, was bursting at the seams.

Doro's antipasti
Doro treated us to a great Italian dinner with
various antipasti (photo), saltimbocca and
a yummy fruit dessert.

Doro and I
Doro, 61 years old this week, has been
physically handicapped all her life but is
as active as can be.

Sunday morning, Doro surprised us with a brunch with the typical Swiss Bircher Müesli, various kinds of bread and six sorts of cheese. Then she drove us to the Zürichberg, one of Zurich's local mountains. The three of us strolled the walkway, with Lake Zurich as the backdrop. It was most enjoyable. We decided to take a peek at Hotel Zürichberg. There, drinks are available together with another dose of panoramic view of the city and the lake.

A man seated in front of us casually perusing the Sunday paper, coffee at hand, reminded me of the fact that it has been two months since I shared in that delightful pastime of enjoying a quiet Sunday reading the Record-Eagle as is often my habit.  And that brought me to realizing it has been as long for viewing the tv news too, that I do not miss!

 Enjoying the view at the Zürichberg Hotel
Doro and I admiring the view from the terrace of the
Zürichberg Hotel.

 Lake Zurich from above
Lake Zurich goes right into the heart of Zurich City.

After a nice hot chocolate on the terrace, Doro dropped us off in downtown Zurich, right between the medieval center and the Kunsthaus museum. In Switzerland, as in most parts of Europe, city planners try to keep things together as closely as possible, which is great for pedestrians. Most towns and cities were there already for many centuries before the advent of motorcars. In pre-combustion-engine times it was not possible to cover miles for going to the barber's or for buying a loaf of bread.  

The same principle is still applied these days. In Zurich the Kunsthaus, the University including University Hospital and Dental Institute, the Polytechnical School, several other schools, the Federal Library, the National Museum, all municipal and cantonal authorities, the financial district (of global importance), dozens of museums, hundreds of restaurants and hotel, thousands of stores and offices as well as the headquarters of hundreds of globally active companies can be found in an area of less than three square miles.

So it was a walk of only a few steps from the ramparts of the medieval center to the Kunsthaus ("House of Arts"), one of the most important art museums in the world with probably the biggest collection of classic modern art. What I wanted to see most was the collection of paintings by Claude Monet, particularly his water lily paintings, but I was amazed at the number of world-famous paintings by other artists I found there too.  

 In front of the Kunsthaus
Restaurants and cafeterias everywhere, indoors and
outdoors. The
Kunsthaus runs two of them.

Main entrance to the Kunsthaus
 The main entrance to the museum, built 1910. The big
black thing is Auguste Rodin's
Gates of Hell.

 Rodin's Gates of Hell
  Rodin worked about 37 years on this bronze

Bronze version of The Thinker
 The Thinker, a motif Rodin used in various
forms and materials.

 Upper part of the Gates of Hell
 Calling the sculpture utterly complex is still an

Picasso: Femme assise au chapeau, 1923
There is an amazing number of paintings by Picasso I
would not have expected to see here.

Monet: Chaumière normande, 1888
Here I was: After some paintings by Van Gogh I finally
saw my first real Monet:
Chaumière normande.

Photographing Chagall
However, it took me quite a few Matisses, Chagalls,
more Picassos and a Marini to get to Monet's water lilies.

Me and the water lilies
A dream come true: me next to the latest of Monet's big
water lily paintings, finished 1926.

Water lilies 2
Le bassin aux nymphéas avec iris, finished 1922.

Water lilies 3
Behind me is the third of the water lily paintings. I'm sort
of overwhelmed.

Cy Twombly section from above
 The section with works of Cy Twombly.

Resting outside the Kunsthaus
Walking around in a museum can be tiring.

Sculpture outside the museum
 There is a seamless transition from the 20th century
museum complex to the surrounding buildings, which
are many centuries older.

Joerg then took me for a walk into the old center of the city, which was a town already 2000 years ago.

Little park in the old center
Although the medieval buildings are close to each
other and the streets are very, very narrow, there
always is a bit of space for a little park or the like.

 Restored 1591
If you look at the year on the stone lintel, 1591, you
may think, "Wow, that's old!" Forget it. This house was
built in the 11th century and restored in 1591.

Polytechnical scholl and university
Just e few steps from the medieval core area: the
Federal Polytechnical School (dome on the left) and
the University of Zurich (green dome in the middle).

Traditional restaurant sign
Traditional hand-forged signs on restaurants and stores
also here, as in so many Swiss towns.

 Old store in upper downtown
There are very fancy little stores everywhere.

Funny dolls in a store window
These two funny dolls are part of a wine store window.

Cute decoration on an old house
Some house are decorated in very interesting ways, some
related to the buisiness inside, so just for the fun of it.

Narrow street downtown
As I wrote above, the streets are very narrow. No one
thought of four lanes 1000 and more years ago.

The narrowest street I walked
When Joerg asked me to walk down this more than
just narrow street, I first refused to do such. He
told me that no one would kill or rob me, and he
 was right.

Stone ornament on an old house
Most of the very old houses have all sorts
of ornaments in stone, wood or paint.

Grossmünster steeples
The steeples of the
Grossmünster are a bit of
a surprise in the middle of the maze of narrow
and winding streets.

Side door to Grossmünster
The south portal of the
church in pure Romanesque style.

Joerg told me that the oldest still existing parts of the Grossmünster (= Great Minster) were built in the 9th century and the major parts of the nave between 1100 and 1220. After 300 years as a Catholic church, it became the cradle of the Swiss reformation.

Stone statues and ornamental window over
the inner lintel of the south portal.

 Inside Grossmünster 1
The church is not particularly big but imposing
with her unpresuming dignity of some
800 years.

Inside Grossmünster 2
View from the choir stalls to the organ gallery.

Crypt of Grossmünster
The crypt below the chancel, built about 1200 years ago.

Grossmünster Square
The square in front of the
Grossmünster is very simple.
Stairs lead down to the Limmat River.

Quay Bridge
The Quay Bridge is where the Limmat River leaves Lake

Uto Quay esplanade
The generous Uto Quay esplanade seen from the Quay
Bridge. When the weather is better, there is a great view
of the northeastern Alps from here.

North of Quay Bridge
 Most of the lake shore is accessible to the public, with
parks, esplanades, museums, outdoor exhibitions etc..

Limmat River
The Limmat River with the
Fraumünster church (left, part
of a convent founded 853 A.D.) and St. Peter's church
(right, dating back to the 7th century).

Grossmünster seen across the river
Grossmünster and the historical waterfront seen from
the west bank of the Limmat River. By the way, all the
water from our lake in Walenstadt goes down this river.

Outdoor cafe on Limmat River
Outdoor cafes everywhere, also right on the riverside.
The hill in the background was the site of the Roman
citadel of
Turicum about 2000 years ago.

Hotel landing stage
Believe it or not, some hotels on the Limmat River have
their own landing stages for boats.

 Candy store
 I found a cute little candy store under the arcades of the
Grossmünster  -  my idea of paradise?

I was worried about the way back to Doro's without a car, but Joerg kept telling me that would be no problem at all. Public transportation is available everywhere. There is no place in the whole city where you have to walk more than 300 yards to a streetcar or bus stop, and at most of the stops the average time to wait for a ride is around two minutes. If you have to find a parking space for your car at your destination, you usually save time by using public transportation.   

So we walked two minutes to the nearest stop, waited two and a half minutes, boarded a streetcar, got off at a streetcar hub after three minutes, waited three minutes, boarded another streetcar, got off after two minutes and walked four minutes to Doro's apartment. If you could follow me, that equaled 16.5 minutes. If we had gone by car and using public parking lots, we could have spent twice as much time.  

Anyway, although we had planned on driving back home for dinner, Doro asked us to stay a bit longer. The improvised meal was well worth the stay. After two days full of interesting impressions we arrived in Walenstadt on Sunday evening.

3-story oriel
Many of the old buildings have very interesting
oriels, not as richly decorated as those in
St. Gallen but beautiful.

 Zurich's lion
The lion is the heraldic animal of Zurich City,
while the blue-white coat of arms stands for
the Canton Zurich. Seen on the City Hall next
to the streetcar stop.

Inside one of the streetcars
Inside one of the streetcars.

Street car hub station
One of the numerous streetcar hub stations.

Funny sign post:
Joerg spotted this one: In Zurich, Internet addresses can
be found on signposts.

Mürtschenstock mountain in the clouds
On the A3 expressway back to Walenstadt: the peaks
of the Mürtschen range peeking out of the clouds.

View from the parking lot at Joerg's practice
Back home: looking north and, of course, upwards from
the parking lot at Joerg's practice.

Ninth week: Bad Ragaz, Maienfeld and Lindau

On Friday, June 1st, Brigitte and Richard came to Walenstadt for dinner. I surprised them with a Mexican menu plus a dessert based on a recipe I got from Doro, with some Michiganian modifications. Then it was time for us to say goodbye for a while. Thank you very much for your hospitality. I'll be back as soon as possible.

Dinner with Brigitte and Richard in Walenstadt
 At the dining table with Brigitte and Richard.

Götterspeise = fruit shortcake
Fruit dessert according to Cousin Doro's recipe.

Saying goodbye to Richard and Brigitte
Saying goodbye to Richard and Brigitte.

On Saturday, the weather wasn't very inviting for sightseeing, but we went to Bad Ragaz all the same. That little town has been one of Europe's most important spas since the Middle Ages. Monks of the Pfäfers Abbey, founded 740 A.D., discovered the healing properties of the 99° F water from a spring deep in the Tamina Gorge around 1240. The first spa was built in 1350. The first chief of medical staff in 1535 was Parcelsus, the famous physician, philosopher and natural scientist.

For photos of the gorge and the spa of 1718 see . The word "Bad" in the place name has nothing to do with the Englisch word "bad." It is what "bath" is in English and, as part of a place name, simply means a spa.

By the way, the water of that spring was also meant to heal Klara's disease in Johanna Spyri's Heidi novel, but it was joy of life, pure air and an effort of will that eventually healed her.  

Fountain in front of the casino in Bad Ragaz
Fountain in front of the casino in Bad Ragaz.

Another fountain next to the Grand Hotels
The Grand Hotel complex is the only 5-star hotel in
Switzerland that is not located in a big city.

The Tamina river in Bad Ragaz
The Tamina River runs right through back yards of
many hotels in downtown Bad Ragaz.

Modern art in downtown Bad Ragaz
A funny piece of modern art in downtown Bad Ragaz.
The dog is made of metal too.

The old spa in downtown Bad Ragaz
The old spa in Bad Ragaz, built 1867 and still in use
after a thorough restoration finished just a week before
we visited the town.

Funny bench in Bad Ragaz
Another interesting work of modern art.

Kids fishing in the park
Kids fishing in the Giessenpark, a recreational area as
large as the entire town.

Again modern art: five women on a float
Yet another whimsical work of art: five curvy nude
ladies on a float.

Swan on Giessenpark pond
 Serenity at its best.

Playground in the woods
Old trees were not just cut up for lumber or firewood
but converted into little playgrounds instead.

Maienfeld, the little town around which the
Heidi novel is centered, is just a few miles from Bad Ragaz on the other side of the Rhine.

The weather still wasn't quite postcard-like as we arrived, so the photos may look a bit somber.   

Brandis Castle in Maienfeld
Brandis Castle dominates downtown Maienfeld.

Town hall in Maienfeld
The old Town Hall.

Mural on the town hall
Historical fresco on the Town Hall.  

Old fountain in Maienfeld
There are little squares with old fountains everywhere.

Patrician house in Maienfeld
Centuries of low-key patrician wealth lend
the little town much of its character.

Cute entrance to a bakery
This is not a castle but a bakery.

Doorway in Maienfeld
Picturesque details can be found all over the place.

Old houses on Main Street
Houses on Main Street, still in regular use after many

Joerg also took me to Fläsch, a little village only two miles from Maienfeld. Fläsch has only 600 inhabitants but 23 vineries. Practically every square foot that is not too steep for walking is used for growing grapes.

Church in Fläsch
Even the little church is surrounded by vineyards.

Old fountain in Fläsch
Also here, every little square has its fountain.

Entrance to an old restaurant
This is the entrance to an old restaurant.

Arched doorway
Even the doorway of a simple back yard has its very
own charm.

Flower garden 1
The little gardens show the love of their owners.

Flower garden 2
This old farmhouse may need a lick of paint, but the
garden looks very well looked after.

Old restaurant sign
Very beautiful old signs also here.

Sunday brought the sunshine back, time to show some more photos of Walenstadt.

View from the living room
 View from the living room at Joerg's practice, looking

View from the office
Looking southeast from the little office.

Lake Street in front of the practice
Seestrasse (Lake Street). The practice is right behind
the flag pole in the middle of the picture.

Front yard of the practice building
The front yard of the practice building.

Downtown Walenstadt
This is the Main Street. The town hall and the post office
are hidden behind the trees.

Walenstadt from east
The very old Catholic church and the lake seen from
one of the streets at the foot of the mountains.

Lakeshore park
One of the parks on the lake shore next to the harbor.

The harbor
The tour ship landing docks of the little harbor.

The park on the other side of the harbor
 The park on the southern side of the harbor.

Lake shore west of the harbor
Lake shore west of the harbor. The lake is ten miles long
 and only one mile wide but up to 120 fathoms deep.

In view of the fine weather, Joerg had yet another surprise up his sleeve. In the afternoon we drove all the way down the Rhine Valley to Lake Constance and through a few miles of Austrian territory into Germany. Like on our dash into Italy, we barely scratched the surface, but it was worth it. We visited Lindau, a quaint town that was settled already in Roman times, about 2000 years ago. The medieval town center is on a little island just a few hundred feet from the mainland, accessible across two bridges.

On the bridge to Lindau
One of the bridges that lead into the medieval town

Palm trees also here!
Believe it or not, there are palm trees also here, in a
latitude that corresponds to northern Lake Superior!

Bronze model of the town
A bronze model of the medieval town, with only one
bridge. The second bridge was built much later.

American tourist
American tourist shooting palm trees.

Square in downtown Lindau
One of the beautiful squares in downtown Lindau.

Street in downtown Lindau
The streets are as narrow as in Swiss towns.

Restaurant sign
 Ornate restaurant and store signs also here.

Another restaurant sign
Yet another traditional restaurant sign.

Pedestrian mall in Lindau
 Most of downtown Lindau is one big pedestrian mall.

Lindau Town Hall
 The Town Hall close to the harbor.

Watchtower at the harbor
Approaching the harbor with a watchtower built in the
11th century.

Old customs building
The old customs buidling at the harbor.

Lighthouse at the harbor entrance
Germany's southernmost lighthouse, built 1856 - 1857.

Hotels on the waterfront
There are several nice hotels and restaurants on the
waterfront. We chose this one for a break.

Resting on the waterfront
Enjoying the rest at the waterfront cafe.

View from the cafe
Nice view from the cafe over the harbor.

Roses on a wall
 There's room for life everywhere.

Funny graveyard figurine
Looks ancient, but the car, the motorbike and
the text on the blurb give its real age away:
"Don't speed on your way to the cemetery."

On the way back to Walenstadt, Joerg drove through the extremely hilly Appenzell region once more, with beautiful views of Lake Constance and cute villages very close to each other.    


Swiss customs post in Gaissau  
Back into Switzerland: the customs post in Gaissau-
Rheineck. Crossing the borders is very easy, which
is important in an area where you can hit four countries
within less than an hour (no kidding).

Eastern Lake Constance seen from the Appenzell hills
Eastern Lake Constance with the St. Gallen Airport
area seen from the hills of Appenzell.

On the last evening before my dreaded flight back  across the Atlantic, Joerg took me out for dinner at the Churfirsten Hotel in Walenstadt.

Dinner at the Churfirsten Hotel
We had a nice dinner in the very beautiful
dining room  -  all knotty pine paneling and
ditto coffered ceiling. It reminded me of the

Front yard of the barber shop
There are palm trees also in Walenstadt! This is one in
the front yard of Joerg's barber.

The mountains north of Walenstadt
A last glimpse of the gorgeous mountains north of
Walenstadt before leaving for Zurich Airport.

The flight back to Chicago was very smooth and quiet, and the landing was as gentle as can be. I think I'm beginning to love flying...       

 If you want to see the diaries of my other trips to Switzerland,
click here for the second trip (winter 2007 - 2008)
here for the third trip (winter 2008 - 2009)




© 2007 Northern Networks    Sandra Serra Bradshaw, 1360 S. Bay View Trail, Suttons Bay, Michigan 49682