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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Impressions of Switzerland, Part 2: Over the Saint Gotthard mountain

Last week, I took a trip to one of my favorite parts of the country, the Ticino, the southern and Italian part of the country. You can get there by train or car. The train takes you through a 9-mile (15 km) tunnel underneath the Swiss Alps from Göschenen on the Swiss German side to Airolo on the Swiss Italian side. A new railway tunnel is being constructed at the moment and expected to be finished in 2016. It will be the longest railway tunnel in the world with a total length (including tunnels, shafts, and passages) of 94.3 miles (151.84 km). By car you can either drive through the road tunnel (with its 10.5 miles or 16.9 km, it is the third longest car tunnel in the world) or you can cross the St. Gotthard Pass (6909 ft., 2106 m high), the mountain that divides and connects the German and the Italian part of the country.

My favorite way to get from north to south or vice versa is either by train, or, if the weather permits, by car over the St. Gotthard Pass (the mountain is closed during winter due to heavy snow). Named after Saint Gotthard, the Bishop of Hildesheim, this mountain has fascinated me since childhood, when my father drove my mother and me over the pass for the first time in his small VW bug. The history of Saint Gotthard and its importance as a route that connects the north and south of the continent dates back to Roman times. For those who are interested, here is a link to a short overview of its history.

St. Gotthard is a rough and, to me, mysterious, mountain. Even during the hottest days in summer, a cold breeze blows on top and if you get caught in a rain or snow storm, beware! The landscape is rocky, full of granite and gneiss. There is a museum, a chapel, a couple of modest but good restaurants and, in summer, a stand with barbecued sausages next to a beautiful lake.

I drove across the pass to the south of the country during a gorgeous, sunny day and the mountain showed its friendly face. Here are a few pictures.  
A cup of coffee and a snack to prepare for the drive through
the lengthy tunnel or over the mountain

View from the northern side

 The drive up the narrow and curvy mountain road.




Wild mountain stream



Wild flowers
 



The highpoint of my drive over the mountain: this was the first time I saw the old Gotthard stagecoach that used to bring the mail and passengers across the mountain. Nowadays, it's a tourist attraction and can be rented for a fun ride and a time travel experience.
 
Clean, clear but oh, so cold, water!
A monument at the top commemorating an airman who
crashed while on military service in 1928.


 


The simple but lovely mountain inn. It also houses a museum and a souvenir store

 
And, of course, after the drive to the top of the mountain, you need a hearty meal and an espresso.
 


And now, it's time for the drive down the southern face of the mountain toward the lovely canton Ticino.
 
 


 
 
 
Here, the grapes are already ripening, getting ready to be transformed into the delicious local wine: Merlot del Ticino or Nostrano!
 
 

 
I arrive in Biasca, a town in the northern part of the Ticino, where I spend a week with my dear friends and hosts Silvia and Curzio. And dinner at the grotto, the traditional Ticinese inn, is, of course, a must!
 
 
 
Here the wine is served in the typical small cup, tazzino.


Yummy prosciutto, salami, and other delicacies, tasty bread, and a cup of Nostrano. What else could one wish for? A good meal and great company to end a marvelous day.
 
More next time!
 
 



Saturday, August 17, 2013

First impressions of Switzerland--a paradise--or is it?

I have been in my original home country for about two weeks now. I'm more or less over jetlag and getting used to Swiss life again. This is a series of blog posts about my three-months stay here. I have lived in the United States for more than half of my life but have come back to my original home about once a year, usually for several months, and that way have kept in touch with my friends and family and with life in general in the "old country." Last year I skipped my stay and so two years have gone by since I lived here. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I now look at my home country with somewhat different eyes, the eyes of a visitor rather than a permanent resident, a view perhaps from the outside. Things that I have taken for granted and not paid too much attention to before are somehow more noticeable. Not sure yet how to explain it. Perhaps it becomes clearer as time goes on.

However, philosophy aside for the time being, I wanted to show you a few pictures of my usual morning walk/jog through the woods. After all, I need to counter the extra pounds I will be gaining from all the chocolate and Bratwurschts!

Starting from the house in Wettswil where I live right now, I usually walk and jog for about an hour. Wettswil by the way for those who have read my novel AN UNCOMMON FAMILY is the place where Anna and Karla lived, although I never named the town in the novel and took some liberties with the surroundings.





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Walking up the hill for a while, I soon come to a forest. Many years ago, the community had built a workout course through the woods so people could take care of their health and enjoy nature at the same time.  





Oh, yes, the Swiss are known for their orderliness. So even at the beginning of the forest, there is a doggy toilet with free plastic bags for the proud owners, so they can pick up after their charges and deposit the poop conveniently and cleanly.
Well-behaved Swiss dogs!
And into the woods we go. Yes, it's safe to walk by yourself in a forest here. I have been doing it for decades.
 
Protect new-born fawn!
Please keep dogs on the leash.
But, please, keep your furry friends on the leash when walking them in the woods, because the other furry friends need to be protected.  
 
Some images from my walk. Further down, the workout course begins.
 
 
Those people who live in apartment buildings and don't have a garden, can rent a garden patch and grow their own vegetables and fruit, have picnics, or just relax.
 

 
Hikers always know where they are. After all, the nearest town is only 15 minutes away. How can you get lost?
 
Here the "serious" part of the workout begins. Signs with exercises tell you exactly what you have to do. Yep, Swiss efficiency.
 
 
It's been quite hot here lately, in the nineties, but here in the forest, it's pleasant and cool.
 
 
Running or walking up the stairs gets your heart pumping
 
 
I made it, looking down from above. Heavy breathing!
                                          


I skipped that one
 
My friends: Emmi, Rosi, Lina - healthy happy cows and they all have a name!
 
 
 
 
 
Yes, and Marcel is in charge!
 
Let's see how good my balance is.
 
 
Standing at the beginning.
 
 
Made it to the end. Not bad!
 
 
Relaxing and enjoying the view after the workout.
 
 
And now a dip in the pool to cool off!
 
Cheers, until next time.