Sunday, July 21: Chamonix to Grindelwald
A Neat Church Experience
It was nice to be able to sleep in a bit (7:30) and have a leisurely breakfast, rather than rushing about, and running out the door to hit the mountains. I asked at reception about the car that is parking me in, and she thought it was one of the staff cars. Hopefully it is, and it will be moved by noon, when I plan to leave.
I had a short while before church, so I went out for a final stroll to see the sights. There were a whole flock of paragliders, just popping off of a nearby mountain one after the other. I think there were at least a half-dozen or more in the air at all times.
It also struck me that while being here, I’ve seen lots of rat-dogs, that is dogs about the size of cats, but with shorter legs. I would think that in the winter, these would get lost in a snow drift and not be seen again until the spring.
Just came back from church. On my way to church, there were even more paragliders in the air, probably a dozen at all times. When Mass had ended and I was going back to the hotel, there still more of the fool things in the air—over a dozen that I could count. Given that each flight probably only lasts maybe 10-20 minutes, that is a heck of a lot of paragliders jumping off the mountain.
Going to church here was interesting. From about ten minutes before Mass to five minutes before, they rang all of their bells at full volume, ostensibly to call people to Mass. It was interesting to see people streaming in along all of the streets to the peal of the bells. It felt almost medievalish. Then the bells stopped and the large pipe organ took over.
I could follow along with the basic gist, as the form of the Mass is the same all over the world.
They had sheets giving the readings in English (and other languages). It was interesting in that due to the cadence of the readers, I could really follow along with what they were saying. There were occasional words that I recognized, particularly names, where I could check that I actually was in sync. Later, when we said the Our Father, I found that I could say it in English under my breath, and due to the cadence stay in sync (and thus end at the same time they did).
Communion was a bit strange. Instead of going row by row from the front, they went from the back, and it was a cross between row-by-row, and a random mob. Interestingly, despite France being a big wine country, they only had bread for Eucharist.
On the way in, I had noticed a guy carrying in a saxophone. I thought that was a bit odd, and I figured that perhaps he played it on the street corner and had nowhere to leave it during the Mass. However at the end of the Mass, the priest said something, and these young people stood up and played something as a pseudo-recessional. There was a sax, flute, guitar, and drum that I could see.
Now it is time to check out and see if I can manage to drive/navigate my way (via GPS) to Switzerland. I'm leaving about noon.
I made it successfully to Grindelwald. It was almost fun driving a small stick-shift through windy narrow streets.
It was strange. John’s GPS recognized the street but not the address that the hotel was on. The car’s GPS didn’t even recognize the street. So I used John’s. From Chamonix, it took me further up the valley, and over a small pass, and into Switzerland. I then proceeded to go up and down and up and down through lots of passes, switchbacks, and hairpin turns. Unfortunately, I had to keep my eyes on the (very narrow) road, so I couldn’t sight-see the mountain scenery.
Eventually the road dropped down a long decline (with the required hairpin curve) to a broad valley containing a big town: Martigny. At that point I picked up a freeway, which ended up taking me to Interlaken, where I had to go back to small roads up to Grindelwald.
A ways after crossing into Switzerland, I came to the customs station, which said “stop”. There were about a million other things it said, but it was all in French or perhaps German. I didn’t see anyone there, so after stopping, I proceeded. A few miles further, a motorcycle came up behind me. I suddenly got paranoid again. He didn’t *look* like a police officer, but he had on a florescent lime-green vest, so I thought that maybe be was. I wondered whether I had had to do something at the customs station but not done it, so they sent this guy out to pull me over.
After a couple of miles, I found a place where I could pull over, and the motorcycle passed me and roared off in the distance. I was just being paranoid.
About 3 pm I was getting rather hungry, so I pulled off at Fribourg, to look for food. I just sort of drove blindly towards the middle of the town. I saw a small parking lot with a restaurant next to it, so I pulled in there. I wandered around until I found a cash machine and got some Swiss Francs. Then I went to the restaurant, but they were no longer serving lunch. I asked her where I could get some food, and she said around the corner there are lots of places. It was walking distance, so I left the car and walked.
I found a crepe place that was open, so I went in and ordered a crepe. All this time I was paranoid, because in plain sight in the car were the GPS unit, my SLR, passport, etc. I didn’t *think* that anyone would break into the car in the middle of the day in the middle of the square, but I ate as quickly as I could, and returned to find no problem.
The gas gauge in my rental car is “interesting”. I was amazed at how little gas the car had used. After driving from Geneva to Chamonix, and then halfway to Grindelwald, the gauge was still pegged at “1”. It wasn’t until I was halfway to Grindelwald that the gauge began to drop. Somehow, I suspect that when the gauge reads 1/2, it won’t mean that I can drive as far as I already have, and not run out of gas.
I continued on to Grindelwand where my new adventures began. I got the point where my “destination” was (remember that the GPS didn’t have that street address, just the street itself), and of course there was no sign of the hotel. I drove on a bit further, but I saw no sign of it. This gave me a taste of the bad old days before GPS.
I went back to where it had flagged my “destination”, which was at a rotary. I pulled into a gas station, but it was closed. I tried a different route out of the rotary, which led me to Grindelwald-Grund, where we had taken the train to Jungfrauloch many years ago. I parked there, and asked the train station clerk if she knew where my hotel was.
It turns out that it was on that first road I had taken, I just needed to go a few miles further. I did so, and soon found the hotel. Even better, I found a parking spot out front.
This is a big, modern hotel, very posh. It has a pool and a spa (for a fee), and they serve a fancy 5-course dinner at their main dining room (reservations required). It has a totally different feel than the personable quaint historic hotel I stayed at in Chamonix.
This seems to be the main road through Grindelwald, so I’m not sure why the GPS units had so much trouble finding it.
I brought my stuff up to my room. One interesting detail is that they had a little rubber ducky laid out in front of the shower stall. One bad thing, which seems to be par for the course over here, is that they have no sheets, only a nice heavy comforter. On the other hand, the room was about 80 with no A/C. I opened my window to try to let some cooler air in. The room is smaller than most rooms in hotels in the US, with only a single bed nestled against the wall, but it is big enough for my needs. One complaint is that the outlet near the desk is maxed out. So I need to use my netbook at the desk on battery power, and then plug it in by the bed to charge.
They also have the same sort of floor numbering scheme as Chamonix. That is, the floor above the ground floor is 1 not 2. Must be a European thing.
After getting settled, I went down and inquired about hiking. The guy at the desk gave me a map, and I planned out a route for tomorrow. I then decided to go for a walk and scope out the area and look for a possible place for dinner. It was cloudy and threatening, so I took my fanny pack with my sun glasses and my “magic” umbrella.
This time, the magic of the umbrella failed me. A few minutes down the road, a few rain drops began to fall. At first I ignored them, but then as they got heavier, I was forced to take out the umbrella. Before I returned, it was raining significantly, and we were in the middle of a thunderstorm.
I had been debating whether I should drive down to Grindelwald-Grund and get a time schedule (I didn’t think to get one when I stopped for directions), but when I got back to the hotel, there were about 3 parking spaces vacant, so I jumped in the car, drove down, and got the schedule. I drove back to the hotel, and started cursing when those three spots as well as my own were filled with cars! I drove back through the small parking lot, figuring that I would have to stop by the entrance and get the magic incantation to get access to the parking garage (which was not free), but then I saw another parking area off to the side. Fortunately for me, it had a few spaces, and I was able to park.
I went up to my room, sent a few emails, and then went down to the a-la-carte restaurant for dinner. That was probably around 7 or 7:15. I’m glad I went because it was a good dinner, and they are not open on Mon or Tue, so this was my last chance to go there.
I ended up ordering their specialty, the “hot rock” thingy with salmon. This was similar to that thing I had seen in the next table over at Chamonix, so I wanted to try it. Besides, it was the specialty of this restaurant. I ordered the salmon, figuring that if it wasn’t cooked enough, it would be like sushi. The “directions” in the menu said to not wait for the meat to cook, but to carve off thin slivers, and cook and eat them in turn.
In my case, I got something not so elaborate as in France. There was a large wooden board, with a dish with potatoes, a dish with vegetables, three small dishes with sauces, and a large rectangular rock with a chunk of salmon on it. The rock had been heated to about 400 degrees, and all it had was the residual heat to cook the fish.
I wished I had brought my camera to dinner with me.
The rock did its job, although with no external heat source, it cooled off. By the end, it was barely cooking the fish. Although at the beginning, I had to be very careful not brush against the rock (which was on my side of the wooden server), lest I instantly “cook” some of my wrist or arm.
This place is crawling with Japanese tourists. There were one or two tour busses unloading them when I first arrived, and there were two more busses that unloaded while I was eating dinner. This place seems to be a tour bus magnet.
After a nice dinner, I went back up to my room. At least, I was going to do that. But there was a large flock of Japanese tourists waiting to use the (small) elevators. So to kill a few minutes, I went down stairs to check out their fitness center (which was closed) and their spa. I wandered down a very long zig-zag corridor, and then I came upon something really strange.
There was a normal door on the side of the corridor, but it was inset about a foot or so. Swung back against the corridor wall was a *massive* door that was about a foot thick, and which seemed to be made out of concrete or something. It fit into that inset where the normal door was. There were two massive dogs on the door, similar to what you might find on a ship (or a vault?) that would seriously close that door and keep it from opening. There was also a gasket around the face of the door, so it looked like it would seal the opening as well.
I have absolutely no idea what that thing is or why it is there. If this were a B-grade horror flick, I would be very worried about this, but fortunately this is reality.
Then I returned, found the elevators vacant, and went up to my room. I immediately noticed that something was different. I had left my window pivoted wide open. When I returned from dinner, it was mostly closed. When I looked more closely, I saw that the bottom was closed, but the top was hanging ajar.
My first thought was that the wind had somehow slammed it shut, and the shock had broken the hinges or something. Then I realized that this was one of those weird “ambidextrous” windows, where you could open it all the way around a vertical axis, or you could open it along a horizontal axis at the bottom, but only such that the top opened a few inches.
Clearly, someone had been in my room while I was at dinner and had changed my window. But who? And why? I didn’t quite think that someone had spotted my window open in the thunderstorm (which is now over) and gone in to close it. So I investigated, and as I expected, I found a candy on my pillow. It hadn’t been there before. I guess someone had come in to turn down the bed or something, and while here, had opened the window in a manner than would let less rain in (and less ventilation).
Like I said, this place is sort of posh. They have an apparently nice pool here, but since I didn’t bring a bathing suit, I never checked it out.