Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Austria, Italy, and Switzerland

The following is a summary of a 6-day trip that I took with my Mom, my sister, my wife, and the kids to Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. During the trip, we drove 1500 miles.

Relaxing in Austria

Day 1, Saturday, June 17, 2000 – We left home at 8:11. I had thought about leaving very early, but we had decided against it. The traffic was horrible. Before we got to Cologne, we had a major traffic jam. We were basically stuck in a parking lot on the Autobahn. The stop and go traffic was starting to make the women carsick. We were at least half an hour getting through that jam, but about an hour later we hit another one and went through the same thing. Stop and go traffic for half an hour. I know that road construction is important, but I failed to see the need to reduce a three lane Autobahn down to one lane.

We stopped in southern Germany and had lunch at a Burger King. We let the kids play for a while in the outdoor playground. One family was letting their two-year old son play completely naked. My daughter and my son both ran up to tell me about it. I told them to just try and ignore it. I was really afraid he was going to pee on something, but they finally put his clothes back on him.

We continued south, going around Munich and then climbing into the Alps. We finally pulled into Salzburg, which is in Austria directly across the German border, at 5 p.m. The kids were miserable and ready to get out and run around. They have learned to hate these long drives, and guess I can understand that. For the rest of our time in Europe, I am going to try to minimize the amount of driving that we have to do.

We found our B&B, Haus Kernstock, pretty easily. There was a gate in front of the house, but no fence around the gate. There was a bell at the gate, but I wasn’t sure whether to ring the bell there or just step up to the front door and ring the doorbell. I chose to ring the bell at the gate, and an older woman yelled for me to come to the house. The owner was a very friendly, older Austrian woman. She spoke to me in German, and we discussed a couple of subjects before she showed us to our rooms. The views from our windows were really spectacular. We were surrounded by the Alps, and the entire countryside was very green.

After unloading the van, Mom and my sister called my attention to a puddle of water on the floor in their bathroom. It looked to me like the seal around the back of the toilet was leaking, so I went back down to tell the owner. This time, instead of ringing the bell at the gate, I just stepped around and walked to the front door. Since she had called me up to the door earlier, I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Wrong! The woman’s husband met me before I got to the door. He had an angry look on his face, and he was yelling at me in German. He was also drunk. He was saying, “What do you think you are doing? You don’t just walk up to someone’s door! What’s wrong with you? That’s not normal! That is just not normal!” I was slightly in shock. I couldn’t even come up with a good reply in German. The woman came out and asked what was wrong, and I told her about the toilet. She acted embarrassed over her husband’s actions. I think he thought I had just wandered in off the street. I don’t think he realized that I was staying there. He mumbled that he would come up and take a look at it.

When he came to the room, he started apologizing. He said that it was obvious that I thought I was supposed to ring the bell on the door, and that he had overreacted. He started trying to kid around with me. But, he didn’t want to fix the toilet. He thought the water came from the shower. I told him that nobody had taken a shower. Then, he suggested that it was condensation. He said he would wait until morning to look at it again, and he put a towel around the toilet. I told him what I thought it was, but he didn’t think so. He jokingly asked if I would be around to help him work on it the next morning.

After he left, Mom and I went to withdraw money and find a place to eat. Our B&B was near the airport, and we found a cash machine nearby. We didn’t have as much luck locating a place to eat. We started driving toward downtown Salzburg. There was never a good place to turn around, so we wound up driving all over Salzburg. It was really small for a major city. The crowds were really bad, though. We circled the city, and went back to the B&B. There was a Chinese restaurant not too far off, and we ended up eating there. The food was good, but the entire time we were eating, a little boy stood near our table and stared at us. He didn’t seem to be with anyone, so I assumed he had a parent working at the restaurant. When we finished, we went back to the B&B. My daughter and my son slept in the room with Mom and my sister, because their room was much larger.

Day 2, Sunday, June 18, 2000 – I woke up at 7:00. I had arranged for us to take two tours today. One was of the salt mines. The Salzburg area was a sea in prehistoric times, and there were lots of salt deposits there. The second tour that we would be taking was “The Sound of Music” tour. “The Sound of Music” movie had been set in Salzburg, and most of it was filmed there.

Breakfast at our B&B was toast with jelly. There was no orange juice either, so we drank tap water. A bus came by to pick us up at the B&B. We went to a place in central Salzburg, and then switched buses. We would tour the salt mines first. The salt mines were actually across the border in Germany, although we drove along a different route than we had taken the day before. The scenery was really beautiful. There were trees and mountains everywhere. All of the meadows were deep green. We passed Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, which was his mountain hideaway during the war. After driving for half an hour or so, we came to the entrance to the salt mines, high in the mountains.

We first had to change into miner’s clothes. This was part of the overall experience, but was also to keep us from getting dirty. We all got on a train, and rode deep into the mountain. We took a couple of long, steep, wooden slides deeper underground. The kids really enjoyed it, and I thought it was pretty fun, too. We saw a number of exhibits related to the salt mining operation. Finally, we took a boat ride on an underground salt lake. On the opposite shore, a stream from the lake ran through a basin. Our tour guide told us we could stick our fingers in there and taste the saltiness of the lake. I was horrified to see person after person step up, stick their fingers in the water, and taste it. They might as well have gone around and stuck their fingers in each other’s mouths. One kid, about 10-years old, spit back into the water. Hardly anyone else saw him, but I did. Needless to say, I passed on the opportunity to taste the water.

After we finished the tour, we rode the train back out of the mountain and left the salt mine. We took the tour bus up high on the mountain, very close to where Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest was located. I say “was”, because it was bombed to oblivion during the war. We stopped in the area for a while to look around and shop at a few tourist shops and then took the bus into the town of Berchtesgaden. We stopped for a while and had a little time to eat lunch. We all grabbed a bratwurst and fries at a snack stand. We ate next to a cemetery, and after we ate, the kids wanted to go into the cemetery. For some reason, they love cemeteries. There is one near our house, and they love to go into it. While we were walking in the cemetery, a man heard the kids speaking English. He asked if I was on a tour, and I told him yes, but that I lived in Germany. He told me that he was from Tulsa, and that he was on a tour with a group from Oklahoma. I told him that I was also from Oklahoma. A woman nearby came over and introduced herself. She said that she was Linda Smith, and she was there with her husband Beauford, who was on the bus. She told me that they owned Ace Hardware in Shawnee, and would love to have us come visit them if we are in the area. By that time, their tour guide was calling to them to board the bus. We watched them get on, and in the front of the bus there was a big sign that said, “Tulsa, Oklahoma”. Several people on the bus waved at us, and we waved back.

My Son at the Biergarten

We drove back into Salzburg and switched buses for “The Sound of Music” tour. Most of the people on the bus were women. The tour guide was a man from Australia. It was a pretty warm day, and someone on the bus asked if the A/C could be turned up. He then went into a tirade about spoiled Americans, and how we were ruining the environment. While some of his remarks were true for many Americans, I think he should have kept his mouth shut. He offended a number of people on the tour.

We took the bus to various locations where the movie was shot. While on the bus, we listened to music from the movie and people sang. There was a group of young girls behind me with really good voices. Their mother apologized to me for how loud they were singing, but I told her that it didn’t bother me at all.

On the Sound of Music Tour

We stopped by the lake where the house was located in the movie. I noticed that the men on the tour would tend to congregate together and not really listen to the tour guide. I saw a girl there with a Texas A&M shirt on, and I asked her if she went to school there. She said that she had just graduated, and was there with a friend who had also just graduated from A&M. While the tour guide was talking about the house, My son spent his time throwing rocks into the water. I kept telling him to stop, but he wouldn’t. When we left the lake, he was really complaining. I think he felt like he was being tortured on this tour. My daughter was enjoying it, but my son really hated it. I asked him once if he was having fun, and he yelled, “NO!”

We drove out into the country on our way to visit the church from the wedding scene. The scenery was again spectacular. We were near a lake called Fuschlsee when we stopped at a summer toboggan run. My son and I rode one toboggan while my wife and my daughter rode another. We hooked onto a cable, sort of like a ski lift, which carried us backward up the mountain while we were seated on the toboggan. I saw several deer in the distance as we went up the mountain. The view while traveling up the mountain was fantastic. Then, at the top, we got off, placed our toboggan on the track and rode down the mountain. The man operating the track at the top told us to be sure and use our brakes, but my son and I went flying down the mountain. We were going to try to ride down without using the brakes, but we caught up to the person in front of us and had to slow down. We really had a blast, and intend to do this again soon.

When we finished the ride, we boarded the bus and drove down to the lake. There were little shops all around the lake. I ate ice cream with the kids on the boardwalk while the women shopped. There were sailboats all over the lake. The setting for the lake was one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. Mountains surrounded it on every side. After about 20 minutes, we went back to the bus to continue on toward the church. During the drive, we noticed my daughter picking at her eyebrows, and we saw that she had almost plucked out an entire eyebrow. My wife was furious with her, but I couldn’t help but laugh. She looked so funny. When we asked her why she did it, she said that she was plucking them and then blowing them into the air. “It was fun”, she said.

We went and visited the church, which was pretty interesting, and then drove back into town. I guess this tour would have meant a little more to me if I had actually seen the movie. I have started watching it a couple of times, but I have never finished it. On the way into town, we found out that the buses would not take us back to our hotels, so we would have to figure out a way back. We stopped near Mirabel Gardens, which are prominently featured in the movie. We walked around the gardens, and took a picture of the kids at the Pegasus fountain. We walked the length of the garden, and when we came out we found a taxi stand. There was not a taxi big enough to take all of us, so we split into two taxis and rode back to our B&B. We were all exhausted, but Mom and I got back out and drove down to McDonald’s to get food for everyone. After we finished eating, we all went on to bed. We would drive to Venice in the morning.

Day 3, Monday, June 19, 2000 – We woke up and had toast again for breakfast. When we checked out, the bill was 3,300 shillings. This was about $250, which is more than I remembered being quoted. But, I didn’t have her quote with me. Next time, I will always carry this information with me. A B&B for 4 adults and 2 children for 2 nights shouldn’t have been much over $150.

We left at 8:30, and started to cross the Alps. The scenery was just incredible. My sister took so many pictures out the window. We saw a lot of people on some of the steep hills cutting hay by hand. We saw a several tiny villages high up on mountainsides. I remember thinking that Austria was possibly more beautiful than Switzerland. We went through some very long tunnels, and the women started to get carsick due to the exhaust smell. Mom had some lemon scent that alleviated the feeling when placed under the nose. We stopped right at the Italian border to spend the rest of our Austrian money. Mom bought the kids a couple of things, and my sister bought a few souvenirs.

The kids were really tired of being cooped up in the van, and my son started to really act up. He had been staying up too late, and eating a lot of sweets, too. He threw a terrible fit on the Italian Autobahn, and I had to pull over and deal with him. He was totally out of control, and it took a little while to settle him down. We have really got to get the kids a Gameboy or something to entertain them on these trips.

After crossing into Italy, we began our search for an ATM. We stopped at several places that advertised currency exchange, but every one of them wanted a 4 or 5% commission. We reached the mainland near Venice much sooner than I expected, so I pulled off the highway into a small town to search for an ATM. Finally, in a remote location in a tiny town, we found one. I withdrew 300,000 Lira ($150) and Mom pulled out some money as well. We drove across the long bridge into Venice, and then parked at a large parking garage. We had to drive all the way to the roof on the 10th floor before we found a place to park. We had a great view of Venice from that height, though.

We gathered up our things, and then I bought a 24-hour pass for the water taxi. We rode the water taxi to the stop near our hotel. Although we had a map, I had a terrible time finding our hotel (The Hotel Bartolomeo). I told the others to stay put, and I went off in search of it by myself. I finally found it down a twisting, turning, dead end street, so I went back to get the others. We checked in, and went to our rooms. There was a limit of 3 people to a room. Mom, my sister, and my daughter were on the 3rd floor, and my wife, my son, and I were on the 5th floor. There was no elevator.

I think it is an understatement to say this place was a dump. There was mildew on the shower curtain and paint was coming off the walls. One of the wall sockets in our room was missing, and someone had stuffed toilet paper in there. Underneath the beds, the floor was filthy. The view out our window was of a decaying rooftop. The place had advertised that it had A/C, but the air that it blew out was lukewarm. On top of that, our room was full of mosquitoes. This was definitely the worst place that I have ever stayed at.

If I had encountered this situation in the U.S., then I would have complained and we would have left. But, Venice is a different story. Venice stays booked up almost year-round. When I began searching for a hotel room about 2 months prior to our visit, I couldn’t find one. I did find one 4 star hotel available for $500 a night for each room. I decided to pass on that, and went to a travel agent. The travel agent found this hotel for us. She told us that it would be fine. It was only a 2-star, which is normally O.K. in Europe. It cost a little over $500 for the two rooms for two nights, but I couldn’t find a better deal. So, I took it. I had to pay the money up front, two months in advance, with no chance of refund. This is how they do business in Venice. They do it because they can get away with it. Actually I could have gotten a partial refund up to about a week before our trip, but after that there was no refund. So, I knew that we were stuck with this place.

We left the hotel as soon as we could to go explore Venice. We started walking down the narrow, winding streets to work our way to St. Mark’s Square. On the way, we stopped at a pizzeria to eat. The prices on the menu outside were reasonable. We sat down to eat, and had a few pizzas. We also had four cans of coke. When the bill came, I couldn’t believe it. He had charged us $5 each for four cans of coke. They were almost as much as the pizza and pretty much doubled our bill. But, the owner had conveniently disappeared. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The prices for the cokes were not on the menu, so it was our problem for not asking.

After eating, we continued toward the square. My sister and Mom were surprised at how dirty Venice was. Venice is dirty, and the canals are a little smelly and dirty looking, but Venice has charm. It is certainly one of the most interesting cities in Europe, and has something to offer that few others do. There are a couple of other European cities, Amsterdam and Brugges, Belgium, which have canals. But, there are not nearly as many as in Venice. Venice was basically built up out of the water, and there are no cars at all except for those parking right at the edge of the island. The streets are narrow, winding, and very confusing. It is very easy to get lost. And, there are hordes of tourists everywhere.

We stopped and ate ice cream before we got to the square. I don’t know why, but Italians make the best ice cream in Europe. It tastes just like homemade, and comes in a wide variety of flavors. They had lemon, kiwi, banana, white chocolate, peach, cherry, pineapple, coconut, and mixed berry, in addition to the more traditional flavors.

As we were walking into the square, I told Mom to prepare to be stunned. St. Mark’s basilica is a beautiful church, which supposedly holds the bones of Mark, from the Bible. There is also a very tall bell tower in the square, and of course thousands of pigeons. The square is the heart of Venice, and is of course therefore packed with tourists. But, it is one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe. There are fantastic examples of architecture everywhere. My sister and Mom took some pictures, and we bought some food so the kids could feed the pigeons. I looked down once to see that my daughter had caught a pigeon and was holding it by the wings. After they were finished, we walked over to the water, watched the artists paint, and looked at their paintings.

By this time, it was getting a little late so we caught the water taxi back to the hotel. We decided we should buy bottled water, because we were not going to drink the water in our rooms. We got some water, and when I handed the man my money he started studying it. He told me that it was counterfeit. He tried to say that the colors were not right, and asked to see my other bills. I started to get suspicious that he was trying to get my money, so I kept a close eye on him. He found a bill that he would accept, and told me that I needed to go exchange the counterfeit bill at the bank. I could tell absolutely no difference in the bill, so I stepped into another shop and bought more water with it. I had no problems there. When we got back to our rooms, they were really hot and stuffy. We opened up the windows and fell asleep with them open.

Day 4, Tuesday, June 20, 2000 – Our plan for today was to take a water taxi out to the island of Murano, where almost all of the glass blowing for Venice takes place. They moved the operation out there to avoid a fire that might burn Venice to the ground. So, we had breakfast in the hotel. All we had to eat was bread and a little orange juice. We got to the water taxi about 9:00, and it was packed. We took the taxi for a little while, and then got off and switched to a smaller taxi for the trip out to the island. One of the stops before we got to Murano was at the cemetery. The Venice cemetery is an island in the middle of the water that contains the cemetery and a church. If we had a little more time, I would have wanted to get off there and look around, but we continued on.

When we got to Murano, it was almost completely deserted. It was like Venice, but with no tourists. All of the shops and canals were there, but the streets were empty. I entertained the kids for a while and the women shopped a little. The number of different things made of glass was just incredible. We actually got to watch a couple of people working the glass in some of the shops.

While we were walking around, my son had to go to the bathroom. One complaint that I have about Venice is that there are no bathrooms anywhere. The same held true for Murano. There was not a bathroom in sight. I finally took my son down a dead-end street and let him pee in a corner. When he was finished, I looked up to see a couple of guys working high up on a bell tower. They had been watching us, and they were laughing.

We continued to wander the streets. The women stepped into several stores, but I kept my daughter and my son outside. I was afraid they would break something. Once, we just stood on one of the bridges and watched the boats go by. Another time, we hid when my wife came out of a shop. That kept the kids entertained, so we continued to do that. Eventually, we found a restaurant and had a nice lunch outdoors.

After lunch, we caught the water taxi back into town. We got off at a small park in Venice that we had been to once before. There was a slide and some swings for the kids to play on. The park was packed with Gypsy kids. There were no adults with them, and they had sacks of something with them. I figured they were probably things stolen from tourists. There were a couple of shady characters sitting on a bench in the park. There was a man and woman who were really studying everyone that came in. They were looking closely at people’s bags. They both had cell phones, and would look around and make a phone call occasionally. They looked very suspicious.

Most of the Gypsies were girls, but there was one boy with them who was just dominating the slide. He wouldn’t let anyone else slide. Every time someone would try, he ran up the slide. Finally my wife went over and said something to him, and he left the slide. A few minutes later, a police whistle sounded and the Gypsies all grabbed their sacks and scattered.

After the kids played for a while, we left and caught the water taxi back to St. Mark’s. We took the long way around, and my son fell asleep in my lap. It took about 30 minutes to arrive, and my son was still asleep. I put him on by back to carry him off the boat. He was still asleep, but when the sun hit his face he woke up. He looked at me and said, “I’m back”. I asked where he had been, but he didn’t answer.

The first thing we did was get more ice cream. After we had finished eating it, I took the kids back to the square to feed the pigeons while my wife, Mom, and my sister shopped. While the kids were feeding the pigeons, several people came up and took pictures of them or videotaped them. I realized that I was pretty sunburned from the day before, so I tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible. The women finally came back, and my wife wanted to buy a painting. They all walked over to the paintings while I remained in the square with the kids. When they walked off, I saw a girl come up and start talking to them. They later told me that she was lost, and couldn’t find her hotel. I told them they should have sent her to me, because I had a map and could have probably helped her.

My wife bought a painting, and then we started walking back over to our hotel. The women had to stop in several shops along the way and shop. The kids (and me) were getting very bored, so I had to play games with them. While the women shopped, we explored streets that came to dead ends at canals. We also walked down into some residential areas. We would pretend that we were hiding from the women. While we were playing, I heard a British woman who was walking past say, “I just don’t know where all my money went today.” I told my wife that was what she, Mom, and my sister were probably saying to each other.

We stopped in a pizza place to grab a bite. This time, we didn’t pay $5 each for drinks. The bill was reasonable, and the food was good. After eating, we let the kids have a little more ice cream one last time, before walking back to the hotel and packing up.

Day 5, Wednesday, June 21, 2000 – We skipped breakfast and got an early start. We had a lot of luggage, and didn’t want to ride on a packed water taxi. Our 24-hour pass had expired, and there was nobody at the ticket counter. Since our tickets had never been checked before, I figured we were probably safe to ride without tickets. I was wrong. There were few people on the boat, and a guy came around checking tickets. I tried to talk to him, but he didn’t speak English. He called for another man, and I explained our situation. He tried to say that there had been someone at the ticket counter, but I told him that this was not true. I showed him our pass from the day before just so he would know that we had been paying for our rides. I asked him if we could buy tickets from him. There was a sign up that said there was a 26,000 Lira ($13) fine for riding without a ticket, and I was afraid he was going to nail us for $13 each. But, he sold me the tickets, and I was out only $12 total.

When we got out on the road, we made very good time. The countryside between Venice and Milan was not very interesting. There were some mountains in the distance, but it was mostly just farmland. There was also a thick haze in the air, which finally disappeared about an hour outside of Venice. Traffic was heavy around Milan, but we slowly worked our way through and turned north toward Switzerland. Once again, we stopped at a gas station at the border and spent our remaining Italian Lira.

We crossed into Switzerland and climbed back up into the Alps. We stopped high in the mountains near the Gotthard tunnel, exchanged money, ate lunch, and gassed up the van. There were a couple of different options for getting to Interlaken. One was on the Autobahn all the way, and the other was a high mountain pass, called Sustenpass. We decided to go with the mountain pass because it was much shorter than the Autobahn route and it looked to be more scenic.

We first passed through the very long Gotthard tunnel, which I think is about 10 or 12 miles long. After emerging from the tunnel, we turned off the main road and headed up high into the mountains. In retrospect, it was one of the best things we did on the trip. The scenery was just stunning. Every mile was like the pictures on a postcard. We stopped along the road and took lots of pictures. And this was just a drop in the bucket compared to the scenery we were about to encounter. We climbed higher and higher into the mountains. At one point, we pulled over and hiked about a mile to some snow. There was a raging creek flowing from under the melting snow. The mountains were towering all around us. In all of Europe, the only thing I had ever seen to compare to this was Norway. I told Mom to look at this scene and memorize it, because she might never see a view like that again. All around us were huge mountains, waterfalls, roaring streams, wildflowers, and snow at the higher elevations.

After we reached the snow, we played for a few minutes and headed back to the van. I noticed that we were all getting sunburns on top of our sunburns. My son was tired, so I had to carry him on my back. Fortunately, it was downhill almost all the way back. He had told me he was tired climbing up the hill, but I told him he couldn’t play in the snow if I had to carry him. So, he walked. We got back to the van, and continued higher into the mountains. The road was pretty narrow and winding, and there was almost a sheer drop off the edge of the road, so I had to pay close attention. I couldn’t focus on the scenery very well, but what I could see was incredible. We finally drove through the pass at a very high elevation. There was a huge amount of snow and a parking lot there, so we decided to get out and play. We all had a snowball fight.

I noticed that it was getting pretty late, so we loaded back up in the van and descended the mountain. We stopped at a little grocery store at the base of the mountain and ate ice cream outside. The mountains surrounding us were almost sheer rock, and they were towering over us. We finished the ice cream and continued toward Interlaken. We drove past Brienzersee, which is a very large, turquoise colored lake. All of the lakes and streams in the area were this color, due to the minerals in the water. The name Interlaken, means “between the lakes”, and Brienzersee is one of the lakes bordering Interlaken.

We found our hotel, Hotel Alphorn, pretty easily. It was right at the edge of town. By the time we arrived, my son was really acting up. I had gone to check in while the others prepared to unload the van, and when I came back to the van he was really throwing a fit. I just grabbed him out of the van and took him up to our room to settle him down, but it took a while.

Our rooms were very nice and clean. They were a welcome change from Venice. Mom and my sister had one room, and my wife and I shared a room with the kids. We actually had adjoining rooms, and the kids got to sleep in a room by themselves. The rooms had very nice hardwood floors, and we had a great view of the Swiss Alps out the window.

We left the hotel and wandered downtown to eat. We stopped in a number of shops and looked at Swiss watches, knives, and beer steins. Interlaken was a pretty neat little town, and it was full of Americans. I think more than half the people we saw on the streets were Americans. We stopped in McDonald’s to eat. After we ate, I let the kids play while the women shopped. Mom and my sister bought Swiss watches, and my wife bought a really nice-looking beer stein.

I took the kids back to the hotel while the women continued to shop. As always, my son got tired and had to be carried on my back. When we got to the hotel, there was an older Canadian couple sitting at a table outside the hotel. The woman looked at my son and asked, “Are you a lazy boy?” I told her no, that he had just walked a lot that day. I talked to them for a little while. They were from Edmonton, and were traveling by train around Switzerland. They made some recommendations to me regarding sights to see in Interlaken.

I took the kids back up to the room and let them play until the women got back. I spent this time trying to plot out our plans for the next day. I had planned to take an early morning train up to the Jungfrau, which is a spectacular mountain peak. There is a glacier up there, and you can actually tour an ice palace. But, the train was sold-out all day long except for 6:35 a.m. and nobody wanted to go that early. I almost decided to go alone, but I knew that it would take up at least half a day. Finally, I decided on a different plan, and then we all went to bed. We all slept very soundly on this night.

Day 6, Thursday, June 22, 2000 – My son woke up at 7 in a foul mood. The kids had stayed up until about 10 p.m., so they didn’t get enough sleep. The kids watched Teletubbies in French. The language in Switzerland is predominately German, but there are also areas that speak almost entirely French or Italian. The TV programs reflect this, as you will find all of these languages well represented.

We had bread and orange juice for breakfast, and then Mom and my sister went shopping. We were going to meet again at 1 p.m. to possibly go tour some caves. I was planning to go with my wife and the kids up to the top of a mountain that had a restaurant and playground. The mountain is called The Harder Kulm, and had been recommended several times.

We walked down to the train station, and then took the train from the Interlaken West train station over to the Interlaken East station. From there, we walked across a river to a cog railway station. We bought round trip tickets that included lunch at the mountaintop restaurant. We rode the train up a very steep track. The view was really spectacular. We could see Interlaken below, flanked by the two turquoise lakes. Directly across from us were several 12,000-foot mountains. At the top, we got off the train and continued another couple hundred yards to the top on foot.

We reached the restaurant and sat at a table outside. We had a pretty good view in every direction. We had Interlaken, the lakes, and the mountains in front of us, and behind us we had some very tall green hills which were intermittently dotted with houses. On a slope above the restaurant was a playground with a long, winding slide. The kids had lots of fun on this. We stayed up there a couple of hours, ate lunch, and let the kids play before we descended the mountain.

We arrived back at the train station at 1:00, but the next train back to the west train station was not until 1:32. Everyone was tired, so we paid $10 for a 10-minute cab ride back to the hotel. By this time it was 1:15, and we were supposed to meet Mom and my sister at 1. They were not at the hotel. I let my wife and the kids go to sleep in the hotel room while I went out and walked around. I met Mom and my sister coming back from town, and told them that everyone else was sleeping. We walked down to a nearby grocery store to look around and kill some time. After that, they went back to the hotel, but I continued to just walk around and kill time. My wife and the kids finally got up around 4. When they were getting ready, my son tripped on an electrical cord in the room and busted his lip. A fan came crashing down on top of him, too. I think it scared him worse than it hurt him.

We had two options at this point. We could either go tour some caves, or go up another mountain near our hotel. There was a small children’s park up there, and it had been recommended by the woman at the front desk of our hotel. So, we decided to go up the mountain, which was called the Heimwehfluh. We walked through a residential neighborhood to reach the mountain. The neighborhood was pristine. Almost every single yard had vegetable and flower gardens. From the outside, all of the houses were all very clean and well taken care of.

We got to the mountain, and had to take another train up. We paid $30 and took a train up at 4:30. When we reached the top, I saw a sign that said that the last train of the day would go back down the mountain at 5:30. I was really upset about that, because I had planned to stay at least 2 hours up there.

There were a lot of things to do at the top. There was another long winding slide, and a toboggan run. There was also a pretty nice playground with a merry-go-round and a giant version of what I would call a hamster’s exercise wheel. I had never seen one of these for adults, but my daughter and I got on it together and ran. She loved it. There were also bumper cars, and the kids rode these several times. My son was too young to ride the toboggan, so I decided to ride it and see if it would be O.K. for my daughter. It was very rough and jerky. I can’t believe they let six-year old kids ride that thing. I thought I was going to dislocate something by the time the ride finished.

By this time, we only had about 20 minutes left. I noticed a cable hidden in the trees with a seat attached to it via a pulley. The cable was about 50 yards long, and one end was quite a bit higher than the other end. I recognized this as a something the kids could get on and ride, because there is one at a playground near our house. Apparently, nobody else had noticed it, because it had not been played with the entire time we were up there. I walked over to it, and started letting the kids take turns riding. I guess it looked like a lot of fun (it was!) because within a few minutes there was a long line of kids waiting to play on it.

At this point, it was time for the 5:30 train to leave. We rode the train back down, and walked back to McDonald’s for dinner. After dinner, we walked along the river for a while before going back to our hotel and preparing for the trip home.

Day 7, Friday, June 23, 2000 – We left Interlaken at 7:57. Our plan was to drive to the Black Forest in Germany, buy cuckoo clocks and other souvenirs, and then head on home. We drove along the Thunnersee, which is the other beautiful lake next to Interlaken. The scenery after we left Interlaken was not as spectacular, because we started to descend from the Alps. We drove through Bern, and then stopped near the border at Basel and spent our remaining Swiss Francs.

I missed our turnoff into the Black Forest, which came up right after we crossed the border into Germany. So, we drove to Freiburg and drove in from there. It took us forever to clear Freiburg, and then when we were actually driving through the Black Forest on a small, winding road we encountered a traffic jam. The traffic was completely stopped. We sat there for over half an hour before we finally started moving and saw what had been blocking traffic. A semi had rounded a sharp corner and turned over. There was a sign at the corner warning of the danger, but he must not have slowed down enough. After that, we made pretty good time into Triberg, which is in the heart of the Black Forest.

We stopped and had Chinese food for lunch, and then started looking for clocks. We stopped first at the House of 1000 Clocks. They had everything you could imagine – cuckoo clocks, grandfather clocks, beer steins, and lots of carved wood items. We found one we liked, but decided to go to some other places to compare prices. We stopped off at one place that was in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s largest cuckoo clock. We watched it cuckoo, but it was a little disappointing.

We shopped some in downtown, and we all had ice cream. Triberg was a neat town. It was a little hilly, and the hills and trees of the Black Forest surrounded the town. The Black Forest itself was pretty, but as my sister said it just looked like the area around Broken Bow, Oklahoma. There was some sort of biker convention going on in Triberg, and the town was full of huge, 3-wheeled choppers. Once, when we were trying to park in a parking lot, they were blocking the entrance. They just sat there for about five minutes and made us wait while they took their time getting out of the way. Mom bought a clock in town, but we went back to the House of 1000 Clocks to get ours, as did my sister.

After that, we continued home. We left about 4:30, and it took us about 5 hours to get home. We were all worn out, but we had survived another memorable trip.

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