The main headline of Gulf News, the English-language newspaper in Dubai that I find outside my hotel room door each morning, blared today the following.
UAE ranks 14th, ahead of US on human rights
This is the conclusion of a Norway-based human rights organization (the country that produced one of the Nairobi mall killers). The US landed at 20th, behind Germany and France. Norway won the prize, followed by Sweden and Australia. I not know what happened to Holland, Denmark, Finland, or Switzerland, to name a few nations that I find rather civil.
Anyway, the folks in Dubai are proud of themselves. That does not mean that any prejudices will be removed....
I read about Oprah having a Pretty Woman moment in Zurich. If I were her, I would be happy to be able to walk the streets and not be recognized. That is worth more than the ego-deflating experience of being accused of not being able to afford an item.
Hindus and buddhists or others believe in an afterlife or repeated reincarnation/rebirth. Or so I’ve read or heard...but do not believe. Nevertheless, in case they are correct, I do not want to return as worm or a rat or even a higher caste (there is none: I’m a white American!). No, I want to return just as I am (recognizing that time will have progressed), but with enough money to live in Switzerland. For me, that would be an ideal life style and excellent quality of life. The form of government is as good as possible with humans involved. Food and drink are excellent. The only drawback would be the foreign tourists, but I would find a secluded spot...and put up a fence.
Anyone without knowledge of geology will not know something that even beginning students learn, namely that the Alps were formed because Africa smashed into Europe and forced sedimentary layers to fold upwards. Since then, water and wind have sculpted the shapes we now see on postcards from various Swiss vacations spots.
From my dinner table at a restaurant on a plateau above Lake Lucerne I could see evidence of this tumultuous event millions of years ago. The above photo provides a clear indication of the sedimentary layers of rock and the shoving from north to south. The angular shape of the mountains, strips of sedimentary rock exposed to the elements, and bands of vegetation all reveal the geological past.
Another tidbit, known to anyone with a knowledge of geology, is that Africa is still pushing inexorably northwards. At some point in the very distant future, the Mediterranean Sea will disappear. This will ruin real estate values on the Cote d’Azur, but make sneaking into Europe much easier for refugees from poor African nations, who will then, as now, seek only to exploit generous EU benefits.
A poet needing inspiration to write about nature and life on this planet could find worse places than high above Lake Lucerne.
Below, passenger ships ply their routes along and across the lake, their movement almost imperceptible from the distance. The lone car ferry performs its Sissyphisan task day-in, day-out.
On the distance autobahn, ant-like cars and caterpillar-like trucks inch along the route south or north, seemingly moving at a speed that their Roman fore-bearers actually trudged along the same route.
One can peer into the eyes of soaring birds, as they float past on rising currents of air, unconcerned with and uninterested in humans.
Across the valley, sail planes turn lazy circles, riding or seeking thermals to stay aloft.
The clean air is perfumed by freshly cut grass and herbs, which farmers are collecting for winter feed. The occasional cowbell chimes reminds one that these animals will be in lowlands barns come winter, driven down the same road we climbed in the annual festival.
If life is perfect anywhere, this might be the place, although things could be different on a cold and grew winter's day...
If you have never been high in the Swiss Alps, you have never enjoyed fresh air. I do not know how I survive in the region I do or in other parts of the world I have endured. Clean air is one of the luxuries one can breathe, if one is willing to pay the price of a Swiss vacation,
Another feature is tranquility. The only sounds we hear are birds singing and the occasional cowbell chime. During the day, one might have to endure the sound of a farmer cutting his field, but that adds to the color. We are high enough to avoid irritating noise from church bells (an unfortunate feature of Swiss villages left over from Calvinist past), cars, motor cycles, etc.
If you can’t relax here, you can’t relax anywhere...
Today, we arrived in heaven...or how I would like heaven to be, when I finally am sent (I had a Christian upbringing!). The hotel, which is in a building from early in the last century, but has been renovated to the highest level of interior design, sit high above lake Lucerne. One drives up and up a narrow road, often only wide enough for one car, through pastures filled with grazing cows and woods, to a high plateau. The only other buildings in sight lie on the shore of the lake, far below. The view is the kind one usually enjoys only from an airplane.
I visited this location a decade ago, when the building had been neglected for years and a hotel was not in operation. I had spotted the building from the autobahn and thought that it might be a hotel. We drove up the narrow road and found it to be abandoned, so stayed at a different hotel on another part of the same mountain. I recall that as being rather mediocre, but any port in a storm...
I recognized the building, when I saw the internet site after searching for Swiss wellness hotels. The offer looked inviting, if pricey. Upon arrival and inspecting the renovation of an old building first seen as a ruin, I discovered the nicest hotel I have ever seen. The rooms might be small, restricted by a building from the last century, but the decor is close to perfection. The design, choice of materials (nothing but the best stone, wood, leather, and fabric), and workmanship are superb.
As one might expect, the service and food are excellent. The cuisine exceeds the quality of most hotels in the world. Swiss agriculture produces excellent quality and the season is just right for local produce. The kitchen staff are very talented.
Because we got the last room, ours has view of the Alps and not the lake. There are worse views in the world. The large balcony faces west, so expect a sunset or two over the next days.
Yesterday was a travel day. We had a grueling 3-hour drive to Basel. Fortunately, traffic was light, even in the construction sites. This was the first long trip in the Audi, which proved its worth.
I chose a hotel near the autobahn, one that belongs to a good Swiss chain. Despite being beside the Messe (fairgrounds, which is different than a US fairgrounds, rather a convention center). I would not have used this hotel, if there had been a convention/fair in progress. There were few quests, which was good for us but bad for the hotel bottom line. As expected, the restaurant was excellent. After all, this is a Swiss chain and we are in Switzerland.
Sad day. Our Lake Como vacation ended.
We left the small town on the east coast, drove north to the end of the lake, and turned south to make our way along the west coast, which we stared at for the past to weeks. This route was an alternative to the way we came, which included a ferry trip across mid-lake. I wanted to inspect the villages hugging the lake shore all the way down to Como, which we had seen only from the boat. We continue to marvel at the old villas and marvelous vegetation planted by the original owners. If one had the time, this would be a good route for on foot, because a driver must concentrate on the narrow road, crazy drivers, and wide trucks.
We stopped a mall just over the Swiss border, which features all major designer brands. Big mistake. Prices were ridiculously low for desirable products. This is not a good place to take a woman...
Italians might be good at hanging houses on step hills, but Swiss can build tunnels. Although I enjoy driving over the Gotthard Pass, we decided to use the tunnel. One spends about twenty minutes under a large mass of granite, with the chance of some idiot veering from the oncoming lance. This requires less time than using the pass, but is far less scenic. A switch to circulate air within the car is advantageous.
To reach Interlaken, where we plan to spend a few days, requires a trip over a pass that is 2200 meters in elevation (you can look up the conversion). The road winds up many switchbacks, with breath-taking views up and down. Guard rails are not a feature of this route, which is closed by snow in the winter. More photos are not possible, because I chose to concentrate on driving.
Interlaken is full of Japanese tourists, who seem to be required to ride the train to the top of the Jungfrau, much like Muslims must travel to Mecca. We can see the peak of that famous mountain from our hotel room--the white bit in the center of the below photo, which resembles Toblerone on a bed of whipped cream.
We plan to travel to a small town opposite the Jungfrau: Murren.
Often, I shun major highways and seek the path less taken. The following photo of the car's navigation system reveals this rather well. Someone might think that we were lost in the middle of nowhere.
We were driving from Disentis, indicated by the checkered flag, to Lugano in Switzerland, off the map to the right. Our location is shown by the red circle and triangle, in an area unknown to the makers of the navigation system. The blue lines are major highways. This lower one is the most heavily traveled north-south, transalpine route, which runs through the Gotthard Tunnel miles under solid rock.
I prefer a less well-known--for most even unknown--pass or to drive over the Gotthard Pass. One sees interesting landscape, rural life, and interesting sights. What do you see in a tunnel or even speeding along a highway?
Traffic is not a problem, but one might become stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle (even better to view the sights), a cycling team, or a crossing herd of cattle.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.