Switzerland: The Swiss Alps

Continuing our authentic Swiss experience, we left Geneva and made our way to the canton of Valais (pronounced similar to “valley”). The train sped along a valley floor with snow-covered alpine peaks towering on either side. The valley was carved through the mountains by a glacier that melted to form lake Geneva after the last ice age. Over history, the valley served as a veritable highway through the mountains for the likes of Genghis Khan, Hannibal, and Napoleon.

Check out the ENTIRE AISLE of every type of chocolate I could imagine!

At Sierre we stopped to buy a couple of days of food at the local Migros. Anyone who is looking for quality groceries at reasonable prices (at least compared to California) should check out Migros. The store also sells excellent Swiss chocolate for half the price of what we saw elsewhere.

While Suzanne and AnneMarie filled the shopping cart, I noticed local shoppers poking, prodding, and squeezing half rounds of cheese to select just the right one. I am profoundly ignorant of the ins-and-outs of buying cheese, so I was fascinated to watch the process. That evening AnneMarie mixed up a traditional cheese fondue for dinner, and I began to understand how a family of four can polish off a half-round of cheese in no time.

The bus ride up the mountain consisted of 30 minutes of tight switchbacks and the view improved with every turn. Finally we arrived at our stop, threw on our backpacks, and began the gentle 15 minute walk along a path next to a canal of glacier melt water. Shortly we arrived at AnneMarie’s chalet – named SOLITUDE. It is a wonderful place.

Trail to the chalet

The original building was constructed in 1567 by farmers who moved their cattle to mountain pastures during the summer. Thankfully it has been significantly improved over the past 445 years and is now a cozy 3 bedroom mountain retreat that AnneMarie shares with two branches of her family.

Our kids were in heaven.  After being cooped up on planes, trains, the Big Red Van, hotel rooms, restaurants, and other urban venues; they reveled in the forest. Patrick and Alex found a perfect place to build a fort and started gathering the building materials from the surrounding forest.

As with any family retreat, there is basic maintenance and everyone needs to chip-in. After all the weeks of non-routine since leaving home, Suzanne and I both commented on how nice it is do some “normal” chores like mow the grass, dig a ditch, and wash the dishes. Weird.

The chalet has a wood burning stove for cooking. As the evening progresses interior doors are opened and closed to allow the heat from the kitchen to move through the rest of the house. It was very cozy and comfortable.

The next day we traveled up the valley to a National Park with the longest glacier in Europe named The Great Aletsch Glacier. It is a spectacular view that looks like it was created for dramatic photographs. The trip to the park involved a train and a couple of cable cars, which were mostly all included in our nifty “all you can ride” transport pass. We didn’t hike all the way down to the glacier, but we made it far enough to get a feel for the countryside, and eat a few wild blueberries along the trail!

Alex and Patrick recently finished reading the book Heidi, so Alex was reliving some of her favorite high mountain moments from the story as we finished our hike for the day.

The slide show has quite a few pictures this time…enjoy!

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