Debbie and Robin, Episode 1

June 21, 2001

The Friday after the great balcony saga, Debbie and Robin came for an extended visit. As Debbie had suggested a hiking excursion to the Jungfrau region, we began the first weekend by renting a car. We drove this up to the Saturday Market so that we could show them the pleasures of a European market day, then had some superfluous crepes for lunch (we had already destroyed our appetites with fresh-baked pastries) and discussed our options. As it was too late for the hiking expedition that day, we eventually decided to drive down to Montreux for the late afternoon.

Now we know why the northern shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) is sometimes called the Swiss Riviera. Montreux is entirely unremarkable unless you like perfect weather, breathtaking lake vistas, a profusion of lushly flowering plants, and the occasional bungee-trampoline ride or whimsical robot display. We muddled through the afternoon somehow, then continued on to the thirteenth-century Castle of Chillon. Although we arrived after hours, we had the fantastic (in the original sense of the word, i.e., "unbelievable") luck to come on the evening of an annual museum event where the castle was completely open and free of charge for as long as we cared to stay (up to midnight).

This castle, which has been meticulously restored from a set of ruins on the site, gives one a real glimpse of the life of medieval nobility, both the good (lovely vaulted windows with stone seats designed to accommodate a lady's skirts as she works her needle in the sun) and the bad (latrines whose use amounted to sitting on a bench with a large hole in it, through which one's, er-hum, tumbled several stories into the lake below). I should mention that Dave and I saw these latrines from two very different vantage points; before going inside the castle, we traversed part of the outer wall on the lake side and reached the base of the (mercifully unused for several centuries) "sanitary facilities", which appeared from that angle to be a very tall chimney.

After we had been at Chillon for half an hour or so, Debbie insisted I come with her to the chapel and sing. Such acoustics! I think I understand now why some of the distinctive intervals of early and medieval music were so popular then: the echoes reverberate long enough for even a single unaccompanied voice to harmonize with itself. I owe Debbie for that experience!

* * *

The next day we drove up to Lauterbrunnen, near Interlaken, for our hike in the mountains. A purely narrative description of the day would be rather dull: we took a train up to Wengen (a cute little motor-vehicle-free town), ate an unremarkable lunch, found that the gondola we had intended to continue on was closed for several weeks, took a train to another town called Kleine Scheidegg instead, located the trail we had intended to hike, located the rope blocking it off, located the snowslide over the path not far beyond (and explaining) the rope, decided to just wander around for an hour or so and then take the next train down, returned to Interlaken for an unremarkable dinner of rather greasy pizza, and went home.

But such an account would completely miss the repeated visual impacts of the day. There was the magnificent waterfall that seemed to come all the way from the top of one of the mountains above Lauterbrunnen in a huge, white, free-falling cascade. There was the Jungfrau herself, who defies adequate description; the closest I can come is to speak of a stern harmony of snow and stark grey rock, somehow forbidding and breathtaking at the same time. There were her two companion peaks, the Monk and the Ogre (I've forgotten the German names), less harmonious in their lines, but no less regal and overwhelming. There were the thousands of white crocuses (croci?) in bloom all over the humbler mountain on which we found ourselves, and the unopened buds that resembled those of the crocuses but were soft and furry as kittens. And as we were driving home, the sunset. My God. Easily the most beautiful I've ever seen; the sun was a deep, rich red as it settled into the mountains beyond the lake, casting a reflection like a pillar of fire across the water.

I'm glad I wasn't driving. There's no way in hell I could have kept my eyes on the road.

Till next time,
-- Lyn

Copyright 2001 Lyn Pierce