Book I - Switzerland
Saturday, June 15 - To the Swiss Flat
So, as you now know, the first part of our 2013 trip to Europe was to take place in Switzerland. To get there, our route took us from Ottawa to Montreal, then from Montreal to Brussels, and then from Brussels to Munich, Germany. We could have flown to Switzerland, but the logistics of returning to Germany and meeting up with Asmir and Miriam meant it worked out better to rent a car from a location in Germany. Plus, the car rental choices were better.
Sunrise over the Atlantic
Our week in Switzerland was organized around using the Roemer family's flat as our base. We first needed to get some groceries, and decided that it made more sense to do that in a large city center in Germany as opposed to a smaller mountain town in Switzerland, where prices were likely to be higher and choices more limited. Fortunately, there's a fairly large grocery store right in the Munich airport that nicely served this purpose.
After getting a supply of groceries and securing our rental car, it was time to head south to Switzerland. In fact, we had a specific appointment to make: Miriam's family had arranged for a neighbour living at the flat complex to wait for us. They were good friends of the Roemer family and had a spare key on hand. We had agreed that we would knock on their door between 7 and 8pm on Saturday evening.
So, there was no time to waste. South we headed on the autobahn, taking generous advantage of the 'unlimited' speed sections to make good time. After stopping to purchase the required highway vignettes (mandatory for both Austria and Switzerland), we crossed briefly into Austria, rounded the end of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and then soon after, crossed over the Rhine river and into Switzerland.
Fast track to Switzerland
The next part of our drive became increasingly scenic. We continued to drive south up the Rheintal (or Rhine Valley, in english), with mountains on either side rising higher and higher. The valley bottom at first was wide, flat, and extensively farmed. As we continued up-valley, it gradually became narrower and more alpine in character.
We stopped only a few times along our drive (we were attempting to locate a place where we could buy a SIM card to give us internet access). The car's GPS navigation system showed that we were only just barely going to make an arrival time before 8pm, so we didn't want to dally too much. After a last attempt [to find a SIM card] in the city of Chur, we decided to forgo any more stops.
Mountain towns of the Vorderrhein
The Rhein valley splits off into two major tributaries above Chur: the Hinterrhein (the Posterior Rhine) and the Vorderrhein (the Anterior Rhine). Both are alpine valleys with glaciated peaks at their heads. The Roemer family flat is situated in a little town partway up the Vorderrhein - and so that is the way that we headed. Following the gently winding highway up the bottom of the Vorderrhein valley, we began to see many of the picturesque mountainside towns and pastures that have made Switzerland famous.
The little town we were headed for is called Waltensburg (more fully, it's called Waltensburg/Vuorz, but I'm just going to call it Waltensburg). Like many towns along this section of the Vorderrhein valley, it sits not next to the river itself, but up on a high flat terrace about 300 metres (1000 feet) above the river.
Soon we saw the Waltensburg sign, marking the start of the narrow switchbacking road that leads up from river level. There was no traffic on this Saturday evening, so we sped up the switchbacks, soon arriving at the start of Waltenburg's narrow main street. We slowly made our way through town to its upper end, turning down a driveway and arriving at the flat. It was just minutes before 8pm. Just in time!
I quickly knocked on the door of the flat adjacent to Miriam's family's, and was greeted at the door by Esther - good friend and neighbour to the Roemer family when they are vacationing in Switzerland. Esther doesn't speak english all that well (and I don't speak German at all), so she passed me on to her husband, who happened to know some french. Since I also can manage a little french, we had a short but friendly introductory conversation, and he showed us into the flat, giving us a quick rundown of what valves to open and what breakers to turn on (to get heat and water, etc). Then, with a friendly wave, he left the keys with us, leaving us to set ourselves up.
Jenn and I had been here once before (in September of 2009 with Asmir and Miriam
), so we were familiar with the place. Situated on the upper floor of a four-unit building, the flat has a pretty view out across the Vorderrhein valley. Although the biggest peaks are not visible, there is still a lot of nice mountain scenery to behold from the flat's living room windows. The flat is situated on the outskirts of Waltensburg, so the feeling when one looks outside is quite rural.
Gnocchi for dinner
After partially unpacking our bags, the first order of business was dinner. It had been a bit of a rush to get here, and there had been no time to stop and eat. Jenn prepared a simple but enjoyable meal of gnocchi and salad.
Even though it was pushing 9:30pm by the time we finished dinner, it was still quite light out. Feeling slightly restless, Brian and I wandered outside to take in a bit of the beauty of the countryside. We walked through a few of the nearby fields, admiring the view down-valley. We were looking forward to our week of mountain adventure.
Flat and Vorderrhein Valley
Vorderrhein Valley at dusk