Before going to sleep in Milan, Jane and I watched some of “Dirty Dancing” on TV. This is one of Jane’s favorite movies, and it was fun watching it dubbed in Italian. The star of the film, Patrick Swayze, lives a few blocks away from us behind a big gate. We catch a glimpse of him on occasion. It seemed funny watching a local boy this far from home, speaking Italian.
In the morning, we couldn’t wait to put Milan behind us. We had reservations for a specific train that we had made on the Rail Europe website months before. We had no problem getting to the station.
It wasn’t one of the high speed trains, but it was very nice. We had a private compartment with six large, comfortable seats in first class. A glass door made it easy to see out windows on both sides of the train.
As we pulled out, Jane and Casey started chanting, “Good bye Milan! Good bye Milan”. They really hated it there. Too bad. I’m sure that it was just a combination of things that made it our least favorite place on the trip.
As we continued on, it became apparent to me that I was catching the cold that was being passed around. This was the one Christian caught in Hungary. So far everybody except Jane and me had come down with it. Each person had one or two days of being really sick and cranky, followed by a really bad cough. A few days before, when Erin had been feeling sick I went into a pharmacy and asked for “Sudafed”. The girl working there stared blankly at me, and went to find the pharmacist. He said, “Sudafred! Si! Sudafred is ActiGrip in Italia!”. So I joined the growing list of travelers in our troupe taking doses of ActiGrip.
Soon a snack cart came down the aisle. We all got something to eat and drink. It was over 30 Euro. I lamented about how much cash we had been spending. Jane pointed out that it was only €6.00 each. I guess I wasn’t really ready for the economy of scale on this trip. It was rare for us to have more than four of us together at any one time. Christian is 16 years older than Casey, and joined the US Army National Guard before he turned 18. We almost never had five, and I don’t remember ever taking this many on the road at one time. Still, I was very happy to have all of us together, and I realized that this was probably our last major family vacation together, given that our older kids were now both in their twenties.
I pulled out the map that Rail Europe has sent with our Eurail passes. Looking at the route, I could see that we were passing the last town in Italy, and about to cross into Switzerland. The terrain was becoming mountainous, the incline steeper.
Soon, Swiss officials came by to check our passports. We were in Switzerland, a country that none of us, including Jane had ever visited before.
The train trip was long, but beautiful. I was glad that we didn’t rent a car so I could watch the scenery. Later I spoke with an industry colleague about our trip. She had gone the rental car route, and apparently the drive into Switzerland over the alps scared her half to death.
I’ve vacationed in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains every year since I was about ten years old. People had always told me that the area we stay in is a dead ringer for the Alps. It did remind me a lot of the Sierras near Bridgeport, California. There were small towns in valleys with towering mountains holding huge glaciers. Pristine lakes.
Our destination today was Interlaken. We picked this town because Jane’s sister Donna had visited there many years before and said it was her favorite town. As we drew nearer to Interlaken I tried to figure out which would be the best train station. There were two. Interlaken Ost and Interlaken West. Ost (east) came first, and for some reason we decided to get off at West.
The train was moving on to another town, so we had to make a fast exit. Before pulling into the station I grabbed all the heavy suitcases out of the overhead bins and put them on seats. There was a fair amount of confusion as we put on our sweaters and jackets and prepared our rolling luggage, and made our way to the door. The train stopped and we struggled down the narrow metal stairs.
Christian and I were in front, and figured out that we needed to go upstairs to street level. When we got up there, we realized we had lost the girls. I went back down to see if they needed help, but I didn’t see then anyplace. Then they came walking down the staircase from the tracks looking upset. Erin, seemed on the verge of tears. She had left her masks that we bought her for her birthday in Verona on the train. When she realized it, she ran back, but the train had already left.
We went back up to street level. Erin sat down on a bench, turned away from the rest of us. I tried to figure out how to get a cab or find the hotel. I looked over, and Erin had tears going down her cheeks. I felt really terrible about it, and told her that we would try to replace the masks, even if we had to order them from Italy and pay to have them shipped to the US.
In Switzerland they are not on the Euro, they still have their own currency. And, it is the only country we visited where the dollar was strong. A Swiss Franc was worth about .86 cents US, as opposed to a Euro being worth about 1.27 US. I found a Bancomat, and got 100 Swiss francs. Then went to a small market and bought some bottled water to get change for the cab.
We found a cab, but it was too small for all of us, so the driver said he would take me and Christian to the hotel, then come back for the girls. He gave us a nice tour of the town, pointing out various landmarks. There was a casino. He pointed out a hotel that had a restaurant high on the top floor with an exceptional view. He told us that our hotel, the MinOtel Toscana was a good choice because it was centrally located. Not too expensive, but still a high quality establishment.
I paid him for our ride, and told him that I would pay him for the girls when he brought them back. He said that he hoped they would still be there. I said, “Trust me, they have no idea where they are. They will be exactly where we left them”.
I went inside to check in. I had talked to the staff of this hotel when we were in Florence and learned that our rooms were cancelled when a dishonest travel agent failed to pay the company. They had been so helpful and concerned, we decided to keep the hotel, rather than find a replacement.
The desk clerk was an older woman. The first language in Interlaken appears to be a Swiss dialect of German, but she spoke English fairly well. She gave me the keys to both rooms, and explained that if we wanted to go out at night, we had to insert our key into this board full of keyholes. Each keyhole had a room number on it. Then, you could take out a front door key. Apparently, they close up at night and go home, rather than having a 24 hour desk clerk. I’ve never seen this before, but that seemed fine.
I asked her if they had heard anything else about what happened to us with MinOtel, or if they had any other cancellations for the same reason. She said that they had not.
The taxi arrived with the girls. I went outside and paid him for the fare, and gave him a good tip for both rides. He seemed confused about it. I said, “this is for you, thanks for helping us by making two trips”. He seemed very pleased. I’m not a huge tipper, so it always surprised me how people reacted to getting any tip at all.
The lifts in all the hotels we stayed in were small. As usual, we took two trips to get all of us up with our luggage. When we got to our floor we found our rooms. In most of the hotels, we were on the same floor, but not usually next to each other. Sometimes we across the hall, sometimes not even on the same floor. This hotel was setup really well for a family group like ours. I’ve only ever seen this kind of arrangement before at the Hilton in Las Vegas. Instead of a door between both rooms, each room was private. But, there as a common hallway outside each of the rooms with it’s own locking door. So, if you closed that door, and kept both of the room doors open, you could walk freely between both rooms making it a big family suite with two bathrooms, two TV’s, four beds, etc. Each room had its own balcony with a sliding glass door. You could go out and get a great view of the town, and the surrounding mountains. This was the best hotel we stayed at in terms of being family friendly.
I saw a door card, similar to ones used in the US to order breakfast the night before. But, this one was to use to report any repairs that were needed in the room. The rooms looked like those model hotel rooms that hotels show you when they are trying to get you to buy a time share. It was clean and functional to the point where I was worried we might mess it up. But, we got used to it, and made ourselves comfortable.
We decided to go have lunch at the tall hotel the taxi driver pointed out. It was a great choice for the view. I can’t say much for Swiss food. It was just kind of strange. I started to wonder if I had ever heard anyone talk about going to a great Swiss restaurant. Nothing came to mind. I can’t remember what I ordered, but the view was spectacular. I took this picture of Erin out on the terrace:
We finished up, and went for a walk around town. I was feeling really sick from the cold I was catching, and starting to cough a lot. I found a store and went inside to look for more ActiGrip. They didn’t have it, but they had this stuff called “Rhinitin Retard”:
Joseph with some
Swiss cold medicine.
The town of Interlaken is really like something out of a storybook. The only thing I can really compare it to is Disneyland. Everything is pretty, everything is clean, everything works. There is no trash. There are dogs, there are cows. None of these appear to leave any excrement. Nobody appears to be homeless, nobody is begging for money. When you walk into a shop, and they see you speak English, they speak English. They are happy to see you, and want to make sure that you get what you are looking for. Everyone is well dressed and reserved. Not unfriendly, just proper.
We went back to the hotel for a while, and I tried to lay down. If felt terrible. The Rhinitin was making me feel retarded, but it wasn’t doing much for my cough. The directions were in German, and I had no idea what it really was supposed to help. On the way back to the hotel, I noticed a real pharmacy, with a lit green plus sign. I decided to go over there to see if they had anything like Robotussin cough syrup.
I walked into the pharmacy and tried to see what they had on display. Just as I figured out that I was in the feminine hygiene section, a young woman asked me in German if she could help:
Me: Do you have anything for a cough?
Her: Is it a dry cough?
Me: Yes. I’m traveling with my family and everyone has had it. I’m just getting it and I’m coughing a lot.
Her: Are you allergic to any medications?
Her: We have tablets and syrup. Which would you like?
Me: I’m traveling, so maybe the tablets would be better. Less likely to come open and spill.
Her: That will be 8.05 francs.
She brought out a white box. Inside were 20 pills about the size and color of Advil. She told me to take one in the morning and two at night.
I left, and immediately started a coughing fit, so I bought a bottle of Evian and took two.
I continued to walk around town. Soon, I started feeling better. More than better, I felt kind of warm and euphoric. I pulled the box out of my jacket pocket and read the ingredients:
Butetamatum citricum 60 mg. Thymi extr. Sicc. 50 mg. Codeini phosphas 20 mg.
Hmmm… Codeini Phophas? Had she just sold me something with the narcotic opiate Codeine over the counter?
When I get a cold with a cough, the only thing that really works for me is Codeine. But, it is a controlled substance in the US, since it comes from the Opium Poppy, the same as Heroin. You have to go to the doctor, and if you ask for Codeine, you are more likely to get a referral to drug rehab than a prescription. So, you have to kind of beat around the bush and say things like, “my cough is keeping me up all night”. Or, “Robotussin works fine during the day, but at night I still cough”. If you are lucky they will give you a 4 oz bottle, and no refills.
So, I was kind surprised that in Switzerland, I could just walk into a pharmacy and walk out with a narcotic medication. Then I noticed I was coming up to another pharmacy. I walked in. “Do you have anything for a cough?”. We played out the same scene. This time I picked the syrup.
I got down the street and looked at the ingredients. One of them was “ethyl morphin”. Jeez… Let’s just say, I was still sick, but I didn’t mind so much anymore.
There was a lot to do in Interlaken. Mostly adventure sports type of things like skydiving, mountain climbing, parasailing, etc. Most of us were too sick by then to want to do anything where it might be cold and windy. They had a train up to the Jungfrau mountain. I looked on the TV and they had a Jungfrau camera showing live video. It was just above freezing on top, and it took several hours on the train to get there and back. We decided that Interlaken was going to be a place to rest and shop. Given the favorable exchange rate, this was a smart move.
We ended up buying all kinds of things. The kids all bought Swiss army knives. I bought all kinds of Swiss Chocolate, including about 30 candy bars to take home and give to people at work. There were all kinds of cow things. I guess cows are a big deal there. In the center of town they had a pasture full of cows that all wore bells, so they made this light tinkling sound that you could hear all over the place. It was the cleanest pasture I’ve ever been around. I’ve passed some in California and Texas that make you want to barf from five miles away. I don’t have any idea how they pull that off.
Jane poses with the cows of Interlaken. Right in the center of town, and it’s the cleanest cow pasture I’ve ever seen. How do they do it?
We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had Weiner schnitzel. Much to our surprise it has nothing to do with hot dogs, or even sausage. It’s kind of like what we would call “Chicken Fried Steak”. It was pretty good. But, we were missing Italian cuisine.
When we went up to bed, I laid down on the left side. Jane told me I should sleep on the other side because they had a slanted ceiling, with a wood beam that came down to about 5’5” by the wall. Jane is only 4’11”. I’m 6’ tall. She said, “You are going to get up at night and bump your head”. I had been popping those codeine tablets all day, so I was really feeling comfortable at that point. I just said, “Uh huh”, and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up about 1:AM, kind of disoriented. Maybe it was cold. Maybe it was the Actigrip. Maybe it was the Rhinitin Retard. It couldn't be all the codeine. Jane wasn’t in the bed, and I wondered what happened to her. I needed to use the WC, so I got up, walked about a foot, and WHAM! Bashed my head into the beam right above my hairline.
I hit so hard that it knocked me off my feet. I laid there on the floor of the hotel in this pitch dark room all alone for a while. I knew it hurt like a bastard, but I wasn’t sure if I had just bumped my head or done something really serious to it. I began feeling around to see if I felt anything wet running down. I couldn’t find anything but a big lump.
I struggled up to my feet and tried really hard not to hit my head again. I turned on the bathroom light, and Jane was indeed missing. I opened the door to the private hallway, and she was in there reading.
Me: I hit my head.
Her: I told you that would happen.
Me: Yeah I know. Are my brains leaking out?
Her: your brains look fine. But, you are bleeding a little. You’d better sleep on the other side of the bed.
Me: Okay. Obviously, you were right.
I went into the bathroom, and it really didn’t look that bad, but it hurt like hell. I downed another couple of the codeine pills and two extra strength Tylenol.
Then I laid back down. I come from a long line of hypochondriacs. I started thinking, “Gee.. what if I have a concussion, and now I just took a narcotic. What if I go to sleep now and don’t wake up?”. I really freaked myself out. But, I did go to sleep, and eventually woke up fine.
The next day we did laundry for the third and last time. The hotel directed us to a coin laundry, and like everything in Interlaken, it was clean and everything worked. It was also the least expensive of all the places we washed clothes. It came with a lady in charge, but she stayed off in a little room, and had a sign to ring for assistance. They had this independent spinning machine. You took your clothes out of the main washer, and loaded them into this thing. It took something like .20 francs. I didn’t have change that small, so I rung for her. She was polite and friendly, but nothing like the lady from Montecatini, who I thought was going to ask me to marry her daughter.
While the clothes washed and dried, we walked the town. It was so pleasant. Cool, with a little rain on and off. Clouds that crept along the mountains like something out of a Gothic novel. The night before, I called my Mother in L.A. She has never been to Europe, and I don’t know if she has any desire to ever go. I told her that if I could take her one place that we had been, it would be Interlaken.
The fall colors in Interlaken taken from a bridge while we were washing our clothes.
Really, we didn’t do very much in Interlaken, except enjoy the scenery and relax. It’s a great town, because if you wanted to be very active, you had a lot of choices. If you just wanted to rest, the location was perfect for it.
Next: We return to Paris, and climb the Eiffel Tower!
But first… Interlaken was one big photo opportunity. It was just a beautiful place where I’d like to go back and spend an extended period. Two days wasn’t enough. Here is a photo of my son, Christian (26), standing on a bridge in Interlaken. What’s not to like?