That horse must have mad cow
Gimmelwald to Ballenberg, Schweiz (Switzerland) to Chamonix, France
I had some groceries left, so I fixed myself a good old Denver scramble for breakfast and a big glass of milk, now that’s a breakfast. Enough of this bread and butter and jam, boy do Europeans eat a lot of bread. I got packed up and settled my bill with Esther, who is famous by the way. I told her she was a star and she didn’t understand, she only speaks a little English, I had to say like a movie star. She got it but didn’t understand why. If any of you are Rick Steves‘ fans, on the episode that features Gimmelwald, Rick walks up the stairs to Esther’s store and greets her and asks her some questions about where the products she sells comes from. In her very thick unique Gimmelwald dialect accent, she explains that the cheese comes from local cows and the jerky and other beef products come from the local cows as well, but they are shipped off to Interlaken and then the finished product comes back. She likes Rick a lot but confided in me that she really didn’t understand Rick that well and so the question was prepared and she had to rehearse her answer in English. And actually, she sells more grocery store items like frozen foods, drinks and some dry products than the local products. The things that hungry travelers would want to cook for themselves.
Esther was an awesome host and treated us so well. I said goodbye to her and David and Mandy who were the only others that were up and I hit the cable car down to Stechelberg. It runs every 30 minutes and I timed it perfectly, I walked right into the station and on to the car and they shut the door. This morning was very foggy so the ride down was unspectacular, till we had only 300 feet or so to go when we descended below the clouds. There’s those deep thick green pastures again, I just can’t get over that.
I decided to head to Ballenberg, an open air museum about 45 minutes away, the wrong way, but whatever. It’s several villages representing different regions of Switzerland and different eras as well. The buildings are all authentic and have been relocated here from various parts of the country. They have various demonstrations on how they lived, made cheese, cooked, made clothes and tools, etc. There are actual farms with crops and typical farm animals including the biggest chickens I’ve ever seen and lots of cows. There were also turkeys, I knew it. I wonder if that was a turkey that woke me up in Hallstatt. It was a nice stroll trough the park, I didn’t realize how big it was though, I only had a couple hours to spend there but one could easily fill a day with it. It was so peaceful and easy to think how a much simpler life might be more appealing, but I reminded myself of what my grandma used to say, “those weren’t the good old days, these are the good old days, those times were tough”.
The most memorable moment for me was when I was upstairs in one of the old farm houses and I looked out the window and there was a horse rolling around on its back. I’d never seen anything like that before, I figured that horse must have mad cow or something. He rolled around for a while and then eventually got back up on all fours and shook himself off like dogs do when they come out the water. I’d never seen a horse do that either. That horse had a huge main and that shaking looked quite dramatic.
Got back in the car and made my list of cities I should pass through to get to Chamonix, and route numbers just in case, and set off. The day so far had been pretty cloudy, but it started to clear up mid afternoon. It was a thoroughly enjoyable country drive, the most windy roads I’ve ever been on and so many hairpin turns. But it was great, my little car handles well on those kinds of roads. I had the tunes cranked up on my iPod shuffle a friend got for me for the trip and all was good.
As I was nearing France, I totaled up my remaining Swiss Franks at 22.65 and it was all coin so I wouldn’t be able to bring it home and exchange it. So, I could either open up a Swiss bank account, just to be able to say I have one, or I could spend it. I stopped at the next grocery and stocked up on picnic and cooking my own meals staples. It came to 22.60. Oh, what will I to do with that .05 Franks?
As I approached the border, I had my passport all ready for the French customs agent, instead of a credit card like last time, he waved me on through. The strangest thing is happening. No wrong turns, or missed turns, or back tracking, or anything. I don’t know if the roads were just marked better in Western Switzerland or if I was just getting the hang of it. I drove right to Chamonix and as I entered the town, I stopped at the Tourist Info office and asked them where the Chamonix/Mont Blanc Hostel is. They gave me a local map and pointed it out for me and I drove straight there. I was shocked, everything went right the whole day, how often does that happen? It was awesome.
I checked into the hostel, the receptionist didn’t speak any English really, must have been the same person I talked to when I called to make the reservation. So we danced around for a bit, but we got it all settled. She actually complimented me on my French, I wasn’t expecting that. The hostel is at the base of Mont Blanc which is another big ass Alp. The hostel is bigger and nicer than I was expecting. From several windows and the courtyard are great views of the mountains.
Only some hostels serve dinner and it’s usually just OK. I sometimes have it just for the experience and to meet people, so I did the same tonight. The menu was soup, duck leg and potatoes and dessert. At 7:30, I was escorted to my seat next to Maurice, who only speaks French and no English, and Martin from Germany who speaks English goodly, but no French. Maurice seemed like a good guy, but unfortunately was left out of most of the conversation, I felt bad. The meal, which was served to us rather than self service as usual, was surprisingly fantastic. None of us knew what the soup was but it was great, and the duck meat, well it didn’t take much more than looking at it to get it to fall off the bone and it was so delicious, as were the potatoes. We ate and talked while the sun sunk lower on the horizon lighting up the glaciers and snow capped mountain peaks with a bright fiery golden tint. It was perfect.
I adjourned about 9:30 to start writing and ponder the day. Chamonix is only a layover for me on the way to the south of France, but from what I’ve seen today, it merits a return trip some day. There’s the mer de glace (a train ride to the glaciers), the gondola ride which takes you up and over the mountains and deposits you in Italy, there’s hiking, biking, skiing, and oh so much more to do here. But, I’m all Alped out for now, I’ll save this for another day.