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Summer 2009 Journal

Published by marco on

August 1, 2009

Kath and Marco pick up Sean, Amber and Chloe from the Kloten airport in the morning and bring them home for their first brunch and the start of a long, jet-lagged day. After brunch, Chloe and Amber take a nap while Marco, Sean and Kath take a walk around the neighborhood, walking up to the waterfall in the Tobel before heading back to wake up the sleeping beauties. In order to keep everyone going and on their feet, we took advantage of the great weather and walked to the lake (the Pfäffikersee) for a refreshing dip before heading home to grill up some food in the backyard and celebrate the Swiss national day with some old fireworks.

August 2, 2009

This day stayed partly sunny only through the early morning, then settled in with drizzle to downpour and keeping the temperature relatively low. Marco went to Steiner to pick up a “zopf” as well as a nice, dark, rough bread. After a leisurely breakfast, we all headed out to the Kyburg—a local castle—for a nice, indoor activity for the afternoon. When we finished our tour, we got kind of caught in a downpour, so Marco jogged back to the car to keep the rest of the party dry. That night, we made a pizza and dined in before packing for a trip to Zermatt the next day.

August 3, 2009

We took the 9:14 bus from Kempten and had a relatively uneventful trip down to Zermatt, with our third train of the day winding its way up the valley from Visp to Zermatt. Our arrival was damp and cloudy, but it was dry enough to walk to the hotel without umbrellas. We took in a late lunch at the Old Zermatt restaurant (just over the bridge from the hotel), where Sean had a Swiss classic: Bratwurst with onion sauce and french fries while Amber and Marco had the Croque Madame (toast bread with ham slathered in cheese and topped with a fried egg). While Amber and Chloe took a nap, Sean, Kath and Marco cruised into town to pick up some food and drink supplies for the four-day stay. We took in the hot tub and sauna, then ate in that night and hit the sack early.

August 4, 2009

For the first hike, we decided to test Chloe’s legs with a stroll to the Ricola garden just outside of Blatten. Marco got up early and went for a long walk before breakfast, testing two approaches to the garden (straight up, then along the fitness trail, which was much nicer). After the rest of the crew was up and breakfasted, we grabbed some “power bread” sandwiches (dark loaf with pumpkin seeds means “power”) and started out. We got to the garden with all members still operating under their own power and, after a quarter-hour stop, we decided to head to Furi so that we could investigate possibilities for riding gondolas more closely (Chloe was highly interested in riding high above the tiring hiking trails). We got to Furi without incident and had our sandwich lunch on large rock in the sun there.

Marco expressed a reluctance to head back down into town so early in the afternoon and indicated, with a vague hand gesture, a couple of hiking possibilities that might be interesting. Amber and Sean indicated a strong desire “not to be left behind” and Kath just stoically shook her head. Chloe had no idea just how long she would be waiting to get her gondola ride. The merry band of five hikers set out for Schwarzsee along the Lärchenwald trail, which is quite steep, but heads through beautiful forests. Chloe kept on for a good piece and Sean carried her only for part of the last bit before restaurant Hermatje. We stopped there for a rest before continuing up and up and up, with Sean alternately carrying Chloe, then putting her down to walk some more. As we wound our way slowly up the slope, the altitude started having its effects, though not too drastically. The weather was magnificent: sunny, but not too hot at all. On the last stretch—with perhaps five or six hundred meters remaining—Chloe was on her last legs and, with Sean having set out far in the lead on his own, was limited in her choices for transport and had to concede to being carried by Marco. This early in the vacation, she was still actively hostile and, after getting the fast escalator ride to the top—with Marco taking all possible shortcuts—she got off as quickly as possible and proceeded to demand her mommy without interruption until Kath and Amber brought up the rear about five or ten minutes later.

Despite having spent nearly six hours on the road (counting from when we left to when we finally arrived at Schwarzsee), the adventure was not over yet. We took our well-earned places at the Schwarzsee restaurant and had a drink while basking in the up-close view of Trockener Steg, Testa Grigia and especially the Matterhorn. We noticed a lot of people leaving, but weren’t too dismayed by that until we realized that they were leaving to catch the last gondolas back down to Furi. We missed those by about nine minutes; there was nothing for it but to march back down to Furi on foot and hope to catch the last gondolas from there to at least save ourselves the walk back down to Zermatt. So, at double-time, we took off with Sean and Chloe far out in the lead (Chloe of course riding on his shoulders) and Amber, Kath and Marco putting in a blistering pace as well (especially with Amber six months pregnant, let’s not forget). At some of the turns, we could see that Chloe was walking too and much faster at going down than up.

We quickly reached the forest and made our way along the trails back down to Furi when we took a wrong turn and almost went to Zmutt instead. Sean and Chloe were way ahead at this point and we were pretty sure they’d made the same mistake. With little hope, we called Sean on the cell phone we’d given him and he actually picked it up! And he was actually in sight of Furi (as were we)! We had twelve minutes to go when Marco abandoned Kath and Amber to catch up with Sean and Chloe, then sprint past them to get to the ticket booth as quickly as possible. The ticket booth was closed, but the lift was still running for a few more minutes when Amber and Kath came running up as well and we caught one of the last gondolas down. While we panted our way back to equilibrium (and we helped Amber get her core temperature back down to normal … six months pregnant, remember?), Chloe finally got her gondola ride.

Though we needed it desperately, we skipped the wellness-center that evening so that we could eat before Chloe passed out. We went to the Walliserkanne on the Bahnhofstrasse and were treated very well; they even brought Chloe’s pizza early, but she literally passed out after having eaten only a little bit of it. She slept in Auntie Kathy’s lap until it was time to go home.

August 5, 2009

Another beautiful day in Zermatt sees Marco setting out early (about 7:15 again) to scout opening times for bakeries and grocery stores as well as trailheads for heading up to Sunnegga from the village. The village is deep in shade in the morning and the eight degrees Celsius stands in stark contrast to the 28 degrees Celsius of the prior afternoon. The rest of the crew drags themselves awake after a long rest and, after breakfast at the Matterhornblick, we head out at around 10:30 for Sunnegga. The trail winds up through some wonderful pine forests, but quite steeply, so our littlest member is once again challenged greatly and needs a lot of “climbing pills” (homeopathic sugar pills, basically) to get through it. We make our slow way up through the tree line until we finally come out just below Sunnegga in a great, solitary picnic spot above both Findeln and the Leysee.

Lunch is, once again, sandwiches on power bread (remember, pumpkin seeds connote “power”) as well as various fruits and dark chocolate. After lunch, we head up to the station proper and then take the new elevator-like contraptions down to the Leysee. Its sparkling blue mountain water proves too much for Chloe, who wants to take a dip—no one dissuades her or attempts to explain that the water at the altitude is bound to be a bit, well, brisk. Since we hadn’t anticipated a swim that day, we had no suits with us, so Chloe, who’s only five, was told that, in Europe, it’s perfectly all right to bathe “au naturel”. Since she’s not a super-strong swimmer, someone had to go with her—a duty which fell onto Marco’s shoulders, as no one else was even remotely willing to go swimming in what turned out to be about fourteen- or fifteen-degree water. Chloe was less than thrilled with her choice of partner, but it seemed to be slowly dawning on her that Marco was her best option when it came to accompaniment in such endeavors.

Though Chloe went from hiking gear to starkers in one fell swoop, Marco first tried to accompany her only while wading, then dumped his wallet and cell phone, then finally stripped down to his underwear and just jumped in so that Chloe would have a good example to follow. It was not to be as the severe chill in the water overcame her desire to go swimming and Marco was left to swim alone. All in all, a good time, though there was a sketchy moment when Amber spied Marco’s purple and white feet after he got back from a ten-minute swim.

After that little adventure, Sean considered hiking up further but, with the blazing afternoon sun on his back, large blisters from the downhill sprint the previous day and no willing partner (it was getting too late), he quickly reconsidered and we all headed back down on the Alpenmetro from Sunnegga to Zermatt. Having gotten one “G” on the first day—gondolas—we made good on another “G”: gelato. Well, the line at the gelato stand was much too long, but there was no line at the crêpe house further up the street, which had home-made ice cream and cones on offer. As we made our way up the Bahnhofstrasse, we noticed clear signs that we’d missed a final “G”: the goat parade.[1]

Since we were down earlier, we notified the front desk to fire up the sauna and steam bath in the wellness center and had a nice long, well-deserved session there. Dinner was take-out from the döner-kebab place near the church, which we ate in the garden of our hotel. Later, we had tea, dark chocolate for dessert and Jass’ed with Sean and Marco playing against Amber and Kath.

August 6, 2009

As arranged the prior evening over a few beers, Marco sets out early on a solo hike up to the Hörnlihütte. He’d planned to set out at 07:45 or so, after having availed himself of a quick breakfast and a sandwich from the bakery (which only opens at 07:30). However, using beer to replace liquids lost from hiking at altitude and intense sauna is a bad idea and has clearly foreseeable consequences. At 06:15, a “dehydration”[2] headache prevented further sleep and by 06:44, he was already on his way up to Furi. It was once again 8 degrees Celsius in the village. By 07:16, he was in Furi and, after refilling water and removing gloves and long sleeves (the sun terminator was only minutes away at that point), he was on his way to Schwarzsee by 07:21 along the same way we’d all taken two days earlier (steep but fast). 53 minutes later, Marco was standing at Schwarzsee at 08:14 along with a few other people who’d come up with the gondola (and one other lady who’d made the journey from at least Furi as well). Breakfast was a couple of Farmer/granola bars and a few precious swigs of water before heading for the Hörnlihütte at 08:21. THis part of the hike is completely above the treeline and runs from 2500M to 3200M. The weather is fantastic and there aren’t many people at all (except near the beginning). Marco is at the Hörnlihütte by 09:26, with total time from the Matterhornblick to the hut—a hike of more than 11km and about 1640M of elevation change—totalling only 02:42.

By this time, the rest of the crew had breakfasted, sought the goat parade to no avail and packed up the rooms. By 10:30 or so, they’d checked out and were heading for the Gornerschlucht—a deep chasm through which one can walk along wooden bridges—before heading to Blatten. Marco left the Hörnlihütte at 10:10 and was back down by 11:25 (actually took some pictures on the way down). The rest of the crew were to meet Marco in the Gornerschlucht but, in his rush to catch the gondola and get back down, he forgot his sticks at Schwarzsee and had to march nearly from Blatten back up to Furi, go back up with the gondola, grab his sticks from the restaurant bathroom there, then take the gondola back down to Furi before meeting the rest of the party just outside of Blatten. Kath had thought ahead and purchased him two sandwiches and we all ate under a nice, shady tree in a field near Furi (well, actually, lizard-boy Sean stayed in the sun on a hot, flat rock warming himself while the rest of us lounged in the shade).

From there, we caught the gondola back down to Zermatt (to Chloe’s immense pleasure), washed up and picked up our bags from the hotel, then caught the 15:39 train back home. The train was quite packed, but we got seats on the Zermatt-Visp train as well as the even-more-packed Visp-Zürich train. Still and all, it beat the hell out of driving. We got back to our place in Kempten at around 07:30 where we grilled some sausages for dinner on a nice, balmy summer evening.

August 7, 2009

Marco got up early to go biking for a couple of hours and Kath did the laundry. Sean, Amber and Chloe slept in a bit later in their “tomb/womb/room” where, with the blinds closed, curtains drawn and door closed, you have no chance of being woken up by the morning sun or ambient noise. After the previous few days in Zermatt, it was time for a slower day.

At any rate, when Marco got back from his ride, everyone was up and ready for breakfast. The day was gorgeous and we headed down to the pool in Wetzikon, called Meierwiesen. Since we’re accustomed to just walking everywhere, we forgot how far a walk it would be for Chloe, who was hot and bored and nearly out of patience by the time we finally spied the pool. Once there, though, things turned around quickly enough. We’d packed a lunch of cut melon and carrot sticks to tide us over for the day and had a great afternoon there. Sean and Marco played some table tennis and everyone cooled off in at least one of the pools.

After a steady diet of sausages of all kinds, bread and cheese, we switched to Mediterranean-style for once, grilling a lot of marinated eggplant with a side of greek salad for dinner. Rakı rounded out the Aegean feel to things for those looking for a strong drink with dinner. With all the swimming, walking and cooking, it turned out not to be such a lazy day after all.

August 8, 2009

After a super-sunny day at 30-plus degrees, the weather today plummeted considerably, so we took it easy (this time we meant it!). After breakfast, the rain let up enough for a walk downtown to Migros and we got back before it started raining again. While Chloe and Amber took an afternoon nap, Sean, Kath and Marco drove to Hinwil for more shopping at Aldis and Denner. Chloe watched the Emperor’s New Groove that afternoon and loved it—despite Izma’s initial scariness on the cover of the DVD.

Kath offered haircuts and Sean and Marco gladly accepted a trim and a cut, respectively. Dinner was another Greek salad, but accompanying tortelloni with homemade sauce. The usual dessert cart was available for after-dinner snacking and, instead of playing cards, we watched Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

August 9, 2009

After a delicious breakfast of home-made Egg McMuffins, Marco went for a nice, long birthday bike ride to the Kyburg and up the Tösstal. By the time he got home, Kath and Chloe had finished baking a birthday carrot cake and it was time to head out and do something. It was still a bit hazy, so we drove over to Jucker Farmart (a local organic farm), but took our swim-gear because there is a free, public swimming area near there as well. We took lunch there with a tasty garlic sausage and mountain cheese that would haunt us all, accompanied by delicious, dark breads. Chloe was a big fan of the goat-petting area, though a bit skeptical of both their unruliness and their unwillingness to eat whatever clump of greenery you handed them.

After lunch, we headed down to the lake and most of us took a swim (Kath stood watch, in case a massive sea-snake were to come along and try to eat us all). Sean and Marco proved they were manly men by jumping off the weenie diving platform there (which, as usual, looked a lot less weenie when you’re standing on top of it). When we’d had enough, we headed home and started preparing dinner: home-made cheese fondue.

We grated the cheese, cut the bread, prepared a salad (God help you if you don’t have at least some roughage) and put together a massive fondue that nearly spilled over the pot when fully heated and bubbling but, in all modesty, was mixed to perfection and tasted fantastic. With Sean’s heavy hand playing bartender, the white wine and Chrüter flowed generously. Sean, Amber and Chloe sang and presented Marco with his present: a fancy, new biking jersey. How did they know?

August 10, 2009

After breakfast, we packed up and headed out for Zurzach, a thermal bath in canton Argau. The weather was decent, but it rained on the way there and stayed cloudy for most of the day; this was great for the baths because you didn’t have to slather yourself in sunscreen (which is probably forbidden anyway, as it is in Baden, in which case, you just fry). We spent some time in the warm pools, but quickly headed over to the raging river pool, which has a strong, strong current ripping along an irregular oval around the outside. Since Marco had secured a swim ring for Chloe, she was free to zoom around in there just as long as the rest of us. For about half an hour, the weather brightened considerably, so we took a few laps in the swimming pool, then tried out all of Herr Kneipp’s therapeutic inventions (forearms in cold water; stork-walking in cold water) until, after a few hours, we were, as Cuzco puts it in The Emperor’s New Groove, “all funned out”.

Just after we got out and started showering, the clouds rolled back in and the skies opened up, dumping a prodigious amount of rain. As we were leaving, we saw a few bolts of lightning and were happy that we beat the rush getting out of there. The drive home was uneventful, other than the massive amounts of rain coming down for the first half of the drive. With it still raining as we pulled into Wetzikon, we decided to drive directly to the Banhow Thai restaurant for an early dinner. Kath and Amber had the excellent Pad Thai, Sean the Masaman and Marco the Gäng Kari (a yellow lemon curry).

We managed to squeeze in a couple of rounds of Jass that evening, with Marco and Amber facing off against the formidable Van Everas.

August 11, 2009

Marco went for a bike ride early in the morning, but was back by the time the rest of the crew was stirring. We didn’t have much of an agenda today, so we took it easy after breakfast. With the weather looking good, we agreed on a hike, but a local one, up the Bachtel mountain. We packed up a small lunch (on account of having had an epic breakfast) and drove up to the Ghöch, another local hill that lies along the same range as the Bachtel. From there, we would walk along a couple of hilltops until we got to the Bachtel. We headed out in good cheer, except for Chloe, who was totally not comprehending why we had to constantly walk across vast swaths of nature simply in order to walk back again. Bor-ing.[3]

We managed our way through the still-wet woods—it had rained two nights ago and not yet fully dried—to Egg, a little dip just before the Bachtel begins, where we stopped to rest and have a much-needed energy bar. Chloe was all for stopping there for a full lunch, but it was in the shade of a large tree and quite cool … and we hadn’t actually reached the Bachtel yet, so we pressed on. The final climb is a good deal steeper than the rest of the hike, but we all made it in fine form and we were rewarded with a nice, albeit slightly hazy, panorama of the Swiss mountains.

The top of the Bachtel has a cooking area with a large campfire in the middle. Two young girls were embarrassing themselves trying to get a fire lit. They put a lighter-cube on top of some large logs and expected that it would soon be brilliantly glowing coals. They were, naturally, disappointed. After several attempts with napkins and other paper and, in the complete absence of any semblance of kindling, they failed to light any of the largish logs they’d added. The two girls tried once more and, satisfied that the fire was definitely going to blaze this time, headed up the tower, leaving the fire to its own devices. Sean and Marco, mostly because they like to play with fire, helped them out with some kindling and a proper construction and had it going a few minutes later. The girls, after charring their sausages and wolfing them down, abandoned the still-burning fire, putting paid to any notion that they had any idea what they were doing.

We all headed up the tower ourselves and took a bunch of pictures—like you do—before heading back down and visiting the playground. The teeter-totter there is enormous and barely suited for normal-sized adults, to say nothing of a five-year-old who hadn’t hit anything approaching a growth spurt yet. So, Chloe went on the playset/slide construction, where she fanned a nascent unease about going down the slide into a full-blown phobia about it. Even after watching Marco go down the slide and walk away alive[4], she opted for going back down the ladder, despite the spacing between its rungs being rather large and insecure for small legs. Even the rotating swings were too scary, with Chloe nearly begging us all not to “put any money into it”, so that it would not suddenly lurch into operation or otherwise evince itself as a device that could operate in a not-completely-controllable manner.[5]

With the exertion of climbing the Bachtel behind us and with deference to Chloe’s little legs, we split up into two parties: Sean and Marco would double-time march back to the car and Kathy, Chloe and Amber would take a much shorter route down to Girenbad, where they would await a pickup by car. This all worked out as planned and we were home for by just after six. Dinner was home-made pizza.

August 12, 2009

The previous evening, we’d decided on a visit to Gruyere, which is way on the other side of Switzerland. That meant hitting the road much earlier than the time to which we’d become accustomed. We took off on time and stopped at a rest-stop for breakfast, which was actually breakfast food instead of fast food, for which we were all grateful. We continued to Gruyere and parked below, walking up to the town itself, which consists of a single large plaza and a few side alleys. Gruyere is idyllic, composed of centuries-old, painstakingly-maintained buildings and castle walls, all draped in flowers and climbing vegetation. Cobblestones are the rule and they’ve stood the test of time—and millions of tourists—just fine.

Since we’d spent the morning driving, it was soon lunchtime. We reserved for 13:30 in a restaurant with an outdoor terrace and were rewarded with a truly excellent lunch, with Sean taking up the challenge of “racelette à volonté” (as much raclette—melted cheese on potatoes–as you can eat) but wisely stopping after the first enormous portion. We visited the castle together, then split up as Sean and Marco visited the H.R. Giger museum while Kath, Amber and Chloe went shopping. We wrapped up our visit to this adorable little town with an ice-cream and then drove home.

August 13, 2009

We decided on a tour of the Maestrani chocolate factory in Flawil, but the tour only started at 14:30, so we had plenty of time for a big breakfast. Marco was up early to get in a bike ride and the “Huevos Rancheros” were almost ready by the time he got back … and they good. We decided that we would head down to Rapperswil after the tour to see if we could go swimming in lake Zürich, so we packed accordingly and headed out. We wound our way up and back down the Hulftegg pass, which proved to be too much for Chloe, who was drawing on her notepad in the back, affecting her inner-ear, which affected her stomach, which threatened to affect the interior of our car. We pulled over near the bottom of the Hulftegg to let her get some air and were soon on our way again. In Mosnang, we stopped again when another wave of nausea threatened, but we had plenty of time to get to the factory and the Swiss roads can be quite punishing where car-sickness is concerned.

We got to the factory without further event and, being still early enough, sat in a nearby field and had some melons we’d brought with us (the generous portions of huevos rancheros for breakfast and the impending tour of a chocolate factory with lots of free samples didn’t necessitate a large lunch). We took the tour with a surprisingly large group and were rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the factory, though the reduced-price factory store at the end held the most fascination. We all loaded up on chocolate, with Sean and Amber completing their chocolate purchases for friends and family in one fell swoop.

We headed back down through Wattwil, then Ricken and finally ended up in Rapperswil, where the weather was hot and sunny and perfect for a swim. We left the car—along with our chocolate—in the relative coolness of a subterranean parking garage and headed over to the swimming area. The water was warm enough for everyone and we lazed around on the deck there until we got hungry again, then moved on. We had some vague idea of what we wanted—namely, not to have to go home and cook anything—and the “Altstadt Egge” döner restaurant caught our eye. They were smack in the middle of the old town, had tables outside and it was quiet, so we took a seat.

Our waiter was unassuming and quiet and took our lengthy, varied order without writing down a thing. Sean and Marco had the Iskender Kebab (kebab covered with yogurt, tomato sauce and melted butter; heartily recommended) while Kathy and Amber had pides (a canoe-shaped pizza dough filled with cheese and other ingredients) and salads with Chloe happily munching on a plain pizza and imbibing fizzy apple juice.[6] With full bellies, we headed home with another great day under our burgeoning belts.

August 14, 2009

Not wanting to mess with a winning formula, we prepared huevos rancheros again, then headed down to Migros to do some final shopping—namely, to pick up the tubes of horseradish and tomato sauce so popular among the relatives. Since it was again splendid weather, we decided to go swimming again, but this time to the Töss river, where we planned to grill some sausages. We found the Töss swimming area, but it turned out to be a pool, with no access to the river. It was a lovely swimming pool complex, though, and had a grilling and picnic area in one corner, so we didn’t go hungry. We broke out a bottle of wine and grilled the mini bratwursts we’d brought with us.

After a suitable post-prandial pause, we visited the various pools…and the big slide. The big slide was a pleasant surprise and source of entertainment for all but the smallest of us, who, again, put safety first and refused to partake in the fun. She made it up the stairs once to give the whole contraption a proper look from above but decided against it. For once, her decision was vetoed and we strapped her quickly into “Aunt Kathy’s” arms and sent them both on their way. Though she made the one descent, it did much more to cement rather than to dispel her concerns and she did not go again. Sean, Amber, Kathy and Marco more than made up for it by spending most of the afternoon employing various techniques to improve speed and both splash distance and volume. The lap pool, where Amber and Marco did some distance swimming, was quite nice as well.

At the end of the day, we drove the remaining few kilometers to Winterthur and visited the “Altstadt”, stopping at Encodo headquarters for a look around, as well. We grilled at home for dinner with barbecue chicken and a big, Greek-style salad. We transferred pictures and otherwise prepared for departure and went to bed.

[1] The goat parade is a Zermatt tradition: they go down through the village in the morning at around nine, then return in the afternoon between four and five. We jokingly refer to it as a “parade” even though it’s really just an unruly herd of goats urinating and defecating their way through the posh little village of Zermatt. When Chloe heard us refer to it as such, though, she asked us whether “the goats wore costumes”.
[2] Read: “hangover”.
[3] Quote: “Mom? I don’t really like hiking.”
[4] Such a demonstration by Marco, at that point anyway, was less to be trusted and more to be taken as an affirmation of the opposite of what was being demonstrated
[5] It can be argued that such lack of control contributes, for many children and even adults, to the feeling called “fun” by some researchers, but these arguments would fall on deaf ears.[7]
[6] Though said ears, in this instance, were only figuratively deaf, they were also, on occasion, made to be deaf through the insertion of little fingers into them.
[7] This would mark Chloe’s first departure from the strict “no fizzy drinks” policy she’d had for the first ¾ of the visit. In fact, its light fizziness resulted—after an initial trepidatious sip or two —in it being deemed “the best juice ever”.