Kristina and David's Round-The-World
US$1=1.48 Swiss Francs
April 15 and 16, 1999 Champery, Switzerland
Our visit to Pompeii was well worth the time and
energy, but it also put off the inevitable departure for Switzerland.
We finally embarked upon the endless journey northwards, at a little after
two o' clock. We drove for hours and hours, past Rome, past Florence
and Bologna, past Milan and Turin, finally ascending into the Italian Alps
in the late hours of the night.
It took us until midnight to reach Aosta, at the top of the valley. It was dark, and raining ferociously. We were watching the outside temperature gauge on our trusty Peugeot with some concern as it was dropping as regularly as we were climbing in altitude. I was too wound up to be tired, and every ounce of my concentration was focused on the job of driving safely in the worst possible conditions. The Mont Blanc Tunnel was, of course, closed down a few weeks earlier for repairs after the tragic fire. We were headed over a tiny mountain pass very near the Mont Blanc, but into Switzerland, not France. Our fear, however, was that, if the St. Bernard were snowed in and closed, we would have to backtrack all the way to Turin and go around the entire Alpine range via France and the Riviera! Adding hundreds of kilometres to our journey. As the Autostrada came to an abrupt end before the now closed tunnel, there was a sign indicating the Great St. Bernard Pass was open. What a relief!
That sense of relief was short lived, however, as we began to climb even further up the mountain on tiny winding roads. The rain was taking on a coarse texture, that I recognized as early stages of freezing. The thermometer read 1 degree centigrade, and before we knew it, it was snowing. Our next mantra became "as long as it doesn't stick to the road we'll be all right". Another 500 meters up, and it was sticking. Then we saw a sign that stated the pass was closed. We balked. What to do? Move on, and try to squeak through. We continued forward, now driving very cautiously through four inches of fresh snow covering the road. The scariest part was that there were no other tracks ahead of me to follow, which meant nobody else was foolish enough to try to make this crossing under these conditions. Jinkies, Shaggy..
We are in a full blown blizzard now, and can barely see out the front of the car. We are so past the point of no return that I have no choice but to forge my way forward. Finally, another sign. This one says that while the pass is closed, the Gd. St. Bernard Tunnel is open. Hooray! For a fee, of course. We pay the toll and proceed most happily into the shelter of the overhang. This is not a tunnel like Mt. Blanc. It is a Gallery, technically, where the top and bottom and inside walls are enclosed, but the outside wall is cutout in giant rectangles so that you can see the fantastic scenery. This alpine passageway is 27 kilometres long, and in the middle is the border and customs office. We stopped and paid our 30 dollars for the Swiss autoroute tax and sticker, and made our way along, dreading the end of the tunnel.
The weather on the Swiss side was not as nasty and windy as on the Italian side, but there was a lot of snow. The snowflakes were big and bright, dancing randomly to the earth where they blanketed everything te eye could see. The road was again a virgin field of snow, which gave no indication as to the contour of the road, or the shoulder. In fact, except for the railing and the cliff on the outside, there was no telling where the road was at all. I glided down from the pass, on the windy two lane road that leads into Martigny, with mixed feelings of comfort and anxiety. The conditions were treacherous. We were driving at 1:00 in the morning in at least a foot of unplowed snow on a cliff hanging road in a heavy snowfall. The falling snowflakes were so beautiful they distracted you from whatever you were doing, including driving. On the other hand, I felt like I was coming home, and the sensation of recognizing the way after eight years of absence was awesome.
Somehow, we made it down off the mountain, and I directed us to the autoroute. I was on autopilot now, and I needed no maps or directions, only a few faithful landmarks, which were exactly where they were supposed to be. Finding my way from Martigny to Monthey was no problem, nor was climbing up the mountain road to Champery. After a long long drive, we had finally arrived at my Grandparents chalet in the Alps. We unpacked quickly, made the beds and crashed out pretty fast.
April 17, 1999 A weekend of skiing
To say that I was excited by the quantity of snow in Champery would be a gross understatement. I was ecstatic. The only thought I could keep in my head was the vision of me skiing the hallowed slopes of the Portes Du Soleil in the fresh powder that would be left after the snowstorm blew itself out. Only once before in my life had I been allowed such a chance, and I was not going to miss out. During the years 1984 and 1985, I lived in this village during the summers, and during the school year, my Grandfather arranged for me to stay with a colleague of his, who was the Protestant Minister in the town of Monthey. Monthey is at the bottom of the valley on the southern side of the Rhone river, and about 20 kilometres from Lac Leman (lake Geneva). The year that I lived there and went to school (11th grade), I had a season pass for the Portes du Soleil. This ski domain is bigger than any other I have ever seen, with 220 lifts of different kinds, and it has an incredible variety of terrain that covers both Swiss and French Alps. Their Slogan reads 'Skiing without borders', and they aren't kidding.
I skied the first clear day alone. Our friend
Tony, from NZ, couldn't come out until the next day, but at least he was
coming. I promised to be careful and kissed my wife good-bye before
trudging out the door in my ski boots. A very quaint little
red train connects the villages of the Val D'Illiez with Monthey and a
few other towns along the river. The train station at the top of
the valley, in Champery, is also the Telecabine station, which is a few
hundred yards from the front door of our place in the village. It didn't
take long to stumble over to the lift, which was barely half full.
The ride only takes a few minutes and from the top of the mountain you can see glistening white peaks all around you, several layers deep. The slopes weren't even groomed yet, and I could only see a few skier's trails in the new snow. I floated down along the ridge to the next lifts, selected the one climbing the biggest peak in front of me, and continued my ascent. From the top of this lift you can see to Mont Blanc, Zermatt, Leysin, and hundreds of other peaks. One side is France and the other is Switzerland.
I chose the Swiss side, because the entire face of the mountain was a clean sheet of untouched powder, but I knew it would not last for long. I dropped off the cornice like somebody skydiving for the first time, with a war cry and a bellyful of adrenaline, but I did not go flying into the abyss at all. The snow was so light and deep that you could glide easily even where it was steep, or even vertical like the top 8-10 feet. Speed was not a problem, and I started to get a rhythm going in my turns as I worked out the adrenaline from my system. I had to stop halfway down and went flying head over heels when I broke the comfortable pattern of s-turns. Pulling my self out of the snow, I looked up to the hillside and saw my s-trail snaking down the hillside, all alone for a moment of solitary ski heaven.
April 22, 1999 Geneva
In a desperate quest to get out of the house, today we drove to Geneva to go in search of artist's colony we had read about called Artimis. It was supposed to be filled with art galleries, cafes, and just be a cool place to hang out in this otherwise stuffy city. Well, we actually found it, but it was clearly not a place for tourists. We wandered around a bit, through a fenced off area of old warehouses covered in graffiti (some good, some not) and could not find much of interest open to the public. We even asked one woman who was in a workshop what there was to do there, and she said, "basically, nothing." Apparently, there are the occasional exhibits, but one has to be in the know to find out when and where they are held. Walking around, I felt a general sense of unwelcomeness and found myself anxious to leave.
After that, we had possibly the most expensive Mc Donald's meal for two on the planet and saw the famous fountain of Lake Geneva. Then, we just decided to call it a day and go home. If we had gone back, or felt more like sightseeing, we would have gone to the International Red Cross Museum which is supposed to be the most interesting museum in the city. Another time...
April 28, 1999 The cave...
Today we set off in search of one attraction and
discovered to our delight something completely different. David remembered
something about there being a fantastic natural gorge nearby, so off we
went in the PIA to go find it. After about twenty minutes of driving, we
came across the Grottes Au Fees set on the banks of a gushing river.
We looked at each other and said "why not? let's do this instead."
We parked the car and set off on foot up a winding path through the woods. Along the way we passed a military museum, complete with cannon on the battlements. We didn't stop though, and we continued our way up the hill toward the entrance to the cave. Along the path, there was a sweet cat, who after I paused to scratch her head, followed us almost to the top. We think she lived there with the family who ran the restaurant at the entrance to the cave.
Finally, we arrived at the top, sweating and completely out of breath. We paid our entrance fee, and were given a weak flashlight, and a piece of paper, which was encased in plastic to ward off the damp, describing the various attractions of the cave and mapping its 1/2 k. length.
So, off we went into the dripping darkness. The cave has a constant temperature of about 54 degrees and since it had been raining steadily that week, was filled with puddles, and weeping walls. I realized that we were the only people in there, and after about forty feet in the dim lights, I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and wishing we had a better flashlight.
One of the first things we encountered was the "fairy fountain". According to legend, if you dip your right hand into the small pool formed at the bottom of this little waterfall, you will have good luck and prosper. Never ones to turn down an opportunity like that, we followed the instructions to the letter.
The next interesting sight was something called the "crocodile". This was a natural limestone formation caused by thousands of years of dripping water, and when viewed from a certain perspective, does indeed look like a very large reptile.
And on we went further, deeper into the cave. The cave is 1/2 a kilometer deep and seemed to go on forever. I was starting to get a bit uncomfortable, thinking about how far underground we were, but I did want to get to the big payoff at the end which is a 70 meter high waterfall. From quite a distance we could hear the roar of the water, and I was sure that it would magically appear around every bend. Just when I was about to give up, there it was! The tunnel opened up into a huge cavern which contained a pool about 50 feet across and a waterfall dumping hundreds of gallons of water a minute into it. The sound of the pounding water was deafening, but it was an awesome sight to behold. There was a viewing platform built over the pool, closer to the waterfall, and David climbed it to get a better look and wound up drenched in the process. After that it was time to go, as we still had another 1/2 kilometer to walk out. I must say, I felt a sigh of relief as we exited the cave into the fresh air.
April 29, 1999 15 minutes of Fame...
Today we woke up filled with anticipation. When we
were in Poppi, we received an e mail from a writer for the New York Times.
She said she had seen a posting about us in the UC Santa Cruz Alumni magazine
and would we be interested in being interviewed for an article she was
writing about people who travel around the world with computers? Would
we??? Of course! So, after a couple of e mails back and forth (including
some digital photos of us in various locales), we had been waiting with
baited breath for about a month for the article to come out. We had absolutely
no idea what it would be like, or how much of our interview would be used.
So, at the earliest possible moment, we went to the NY Times web site to see the article. The first thing we saw was a huge, full color photo of a couple with a Libretto in Thailand. But it wasn't us! We then clicked on the link to the actual article and were absolute overjoyed at what we saw. There in print were our names as the lead off to the article! The first three paragraphs were about us, and there were more later on in the article.
Lest anyone accuse us of vanity here, let me say this...well ok, sure, there is a little ego involved here, but mostly it was just really great to get a little attention and vindication for something that we had worked so darn hard on for so long. To all those people who said, before we left, "why are you bothering to do this?" I just wanted to say, "nah nah na nah naah"! Yeah, people are interested! And we weren't the only ones doing it either! In fact, of the eight other web sites listed in the article, I had been in touch with six of them either before we left, or during the trip. Small world, us techno-travelers.
Almost immediately, the site received thousands of hits, we got 20 new list members overnight, dozens of nice comments via e mail, a couple job offers, a request for interview on the Travel Channel, and a few other magazine interview requests.
Later, we discover that the article was picked up and re-printed in other newspapers in the US. When we finally see the print copy, we see that inside there is a picture of us in Nepal and a picture of the front page of the site.
If you want to check out the article on the web, go to this site at GeoCities, New York Times acticle
May 7, 1999 The torch is passed...
Dave and Kelly Burns are a couple our age who have
been following our web site since before we left. They are from Chicago,
and like us, were working professionals who decided to give it all up,
sell the condo and embark on 14 month trip around the world. We have been
corresponding via e mail during our journey, and at the end of March, they
left on their own trip. They too, are carrying a laptop, a digital camera,
and topping us, a digital video camera. They have also have their own web
site called, www.pathlesstraveled.com
Since it seemed that our paths were to cross here in Europe, on a long
shot, we invited them here to Switzerland. They jumped at the chance, and
rerouted their trip, changing a flight, to include a day and a half here
They arrived, late in the afternoon, after an overnight train ride from Barcelona, and a day in Geneva. They also went to Artemis and had a similar experience to the one we had. We spent in evening in a rush of travel related conversation, advice and practical tips. Dave B. said he felt as if the "torch was being passed", with them just starting out, us practically on our way home. I'm not sure if we felt like old hands at this, or just old. I have to admit that I was a bit jealous of their plans, which include many of the places we missed; India, Safari in Africa, Egypt. But I can't wait to follow them now, and see where they go.
May 8, 1999 Chateau Chillon and the cows
This morning we woke up to rain and fog. Though not unusual for a location so high in the Alps, it was disappointing, as we had wanted to go on a hike to a waterfall across the valley that can be seen from the apartment's balcony. So, instead, it was on to Plan B, which was to go visit the Castle at Chillon, in the small town of Montreux (of the jazz festival fame).
But first, as we stood on the balcony, bemoaning
the foul weather, we noticed that about a block away, in the parking lot
for the teleferique, were a bunch of cows! Not exactly a herd, for
roaming aimlessly, but about forty cows, tied up with big bells on, standing
in four neat rows. Intrigued by this unique vision, we went down there,
cameras in tow, to find out what was going on. When we got closer, we noticed
a big tent that had been set up, filled with people eating wonderful smelling
barbecued food. We sent David over, as he was the only one who spoke French,
to find out what was going on. It turns out, that we had come across the
annual Champery cattle judging competition. They cows were in four categories,
young female cows under 21 months, female cows over 21 months, female cows
that had given birth once (first lactation) and older cattle. They all
were prime animals, well fed and cared for, and much better looking than
their third world cousins, we noted. We considered attending the BBQ, but
it didn't seem fair, after admiring these lovely creatures (not to mention,
that like everything else in Switzerland, it was just too expensive).
At the bottom of the valley, as we drove toward Montreux, the weather, thankfully began to clear. We arrived at Chillon in the mid afternoon and took ourselves on a self guided tour of the castle. This was aided by a great brochure, freely offered in many languages, when you purchase a ticket. It takes you room by room through the excellently preserved medieval castle.
Chatau Chillion sits on a rock on the edge of Lake Geneva, protected on all sides by the water. It was built on the ancient road to Italy over the St. Bernard Pass and used to guard the area between the lake and the mountains, and to collect taxes on all merchandise that passed through. It is possibly best known for its dungeon and prison, built right into the base of the rock, and it's most famous inhabitant, Byron, who carved his name right into one of the stone pillars. The restoration of the castle began in the late 1800's and although not all the furniture is original, the condition of the castle is remarkable. It is possible to get a feeling for how its former owners lived, down to a two hole latrine that dropped straight down, thirty feet, to the lake below. There are two great halls, both containing huge stone fireplaces and all the necessary iron cooking utensils. the walls are covered in black and white paint with a brick pattern. It is also possible to walk the battlements and the castle keep where soldiers once defended the castle through "key holes" cut into the outer fortifications.
Wanting to give Dave and Kelly an authentic Swiss meal to compliment their crash course Swiss experience, we made a traditional cheese fondue for dinner. Yes, this is not a relic of 1960's Americana, the Swiss do actually make fondues of all sorts for family meals. I think the meal was a success, as there was not a drop of cheese left at the end. The meal was complimented by a good Swiss white wine called Fendant, which is the traditional accompaniment to a cheese fondue.
Later in the evening we gave Dave and Kelly a short
instruction on all the technical, phone, and computer stuff they might
need as they travel. As in, learn from our mistakes! They had yet
to experience the "joys" of trying to rewire a hard wired phone for a computer
modem, and the pitfalls of polarity reversion, and "line one/ line two"
problems. Also, since they will also be using iPass to dial up, we gave
them some info on where problems can occur in dial up networking. This
stuff is not usually fun, but important to learn if you want to stay on
We had so much fun having them here, that we tried to convince them to stay another day, hoping for better weather. They considered it too, but in the end, thought it would be too difficult to change their flight from Venice to Athens scheduled for the next day. So, after staying up 'til 4 AM talking, on virtually no sleep, they left at 6 AM for their train back to Geneva and then to Venice. We were sorry to see them go and hope they will stop for a visit as they pass through LA at the end of their trip.
May 17, 1999 Fear and Loathing part 3
When I started this journal, many months before we
even left, it was because I wanted people to know what happened during
the planning process, not only the practical details, but the wide range
of personal thoughts and anxiety that was going on in my head. In May
and August of 1998, I had two journal entries
entitled "Fear and Loathing" and I find, as we prepare to go home, that
I am facing much of the same.
I realized after a few successive nights of insomnia, that what I was experiencing was the same as before we left, only now with a slightly different focus. Gone were the worries of illness in a foreign place, of being robbed or pickpocketed, of plane crashes and missed trains, having been replaced with anxiety about going home. What about getting jobs, finding a place to live, money worries, and
how will we ever be able to travel long term again with mortgage, jobs, and kids? Will our friends still be there, will they have missed us? Will everything have changed or will nothing have changed at all? Will I find a job I like that pays me what I'm worth? Gone were the packing worries, replaced with concerns of how we will furnish a home. What about car insurance, medical insurance, and oh yeah, don't forget, we need two telephone lines for that all important internet access! A million details to worry me, just like nine months ago. Only this time, it is not tempered by the excitement of unknown destinations, but exacerbated by the stress of return to "real life".
May 18, 1999 Walking the Gallerie
Across the valley from the village is the Gallerie Defago, a hiking
trail that was carved out of solid rock at the top of a 1000 foot sheer
cliff. The trail is well maintained but not advised for anyone with
bad vertigo. That little fence in the picture is all that stands
between Kristina and an express voyage to the valley floor. I have
walked the trail more times than I can count, but it always impresses me
when I go. At the top of the trail, there is a little cantina and
restaurant, next to a beautiful waterfall, and cows with their big bells
ringing. The whole scene is so idyllic that it almost makes
you burst into song... "The hills are alive, with.....
but I exert self control and refrain from singing.
Only one other place is as relaxing to me, Baja California at my friend Randy's, but Switzerland is also significant to my personal history. If I had not gone to Switzerland, I would not have learned French, and maybe not even made it to college. I would not have learned Spanish, or become a teacher either. My life would have been entirely different. So here we are, at the last stop on our journey, and with each day I become more relaxed. We will have to begin to think about finding a place to live, and start looking for new jobs. I am not sure how I feel about going home yet. I am at once excited and resistant because a big part of me is ready to hit the road again, and head off into the unknown. I know that Kristina feels pretty much the same way.
Now, where can we find somebody to pay us to keep traveling???.
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last updated on August 8, 1999