Donnerstag, 15 Juni
It was a cool morning. No rain, but rain was expected. This is the day we set aside to take the train to Thun and tour the castle there. We were also going to be looking for some good schnitzel in the evening. We had budgeted for a big meal out.
The sign in the train station said, Abfahrt -- Departure. This led to some low humor. Fahrt is the German for journey or trek. Scouts use it a lot, and it shows up in many travel words. We like to say in our Crew that there's nothing quite as satisfying as a good Fahrt.
We arrived in Thun in about 45 minutes. The train station had pay toilets. Boo. We took a moment to take stock of our surroundings. T.C. and T.J. were bringing a vending machine to my attention. They had already noticed that cannabis was on sale at certain shops in Switzerland, but they were kind of nonplussed by seeing this where anybody could buy it:
Vending machine treat
The Alps are higher than you think
The cannabis ice tea offered a fine discussion point about recreational drugs. But we were after more satisfying goodies. We crossed the Aar River (which gave rise to various pirate jokes, as in, Toon be whar the Aarh River meets the big lake) and almost the first thing we came to was a pastry shop. We sampled real Apfelstrudel and a nice macaron. Then it was up the street to a Teeladen (tea shop), where T.J. could buy some herbal tea.
We turned into one of the main streets below the old town, sort of an outdoor shopping mall. A game store presented itself. I went in to shop for gifts. After this, we began to try to get up to the top of the town, where the castle was. We could see the castle, but in the tight little warren of streets, alleys, and covered stairways, we couldn't figure out how to get to it.
How do we get up there?
Eventually, we worked our way around the whole of the old town and approached the high street from the other side. A long, narrow street at the very top of town rose from west to east. First we came to the Stadtkirche (old city church). A gnomon on the wall hung over a painted sundial that not only gave the hour, but the day within the astrological sign of the month.
Only works on God's time, not Daylight Savings
I stood in it, to see how it felt
From the church it was just a step up to the castle, the entrance to which was through another gift shop. There, I found the perfect gift for Daniel's birthday: a toy crossbow with suction cup darts and a target with William Tell's son on it, apple on his head at the bullseye!
I started into the castle, only to find that I was losing the group. I tried to give a low whistle to get T.C.'s attention, and discovered, to my astonishment, that I seem to have recovered my ability to whistle in the Alps. Weird. After sinus surgery years ago, I lost the fine motor control over my pursed lips necessary to whistle well, but that day, I had no problem.
There were many displays in the castle, which consisted of several large stories. Several out of the way tower rooms had been used as cells for prisoners in times past. Lots of weapons were on display, including some toy ones kids could use for fun. In one room was a Roman milestone. It was just dawning on me how Romanized the Alps were. This was not a frontier zone, this was fully integrated into the Roman Empire, beginning with Julius Caesar's repelling Ariovistus from the lands of the allied Helvetii.
Halberds and icky-sticks
Thun from the castle battlements
The castle dominates the whole valley
T.C. finds some armor and a horse
I missed a low step in Thun Castle and went sprawling. Alane rushed up, asking, "How bad? How bad?" Well, nothing was broken, but it was bad juju on my injured right ankle. The step I missed was with my left foot, causing my whole weight to come crashing down on the bad foot. I restrained myself and only gave in to "Cowboy cussing." I believe what I said at the time was, "Mother of Pearl!"
This wouldn't have been so bad, but I did it again down on the street. Stepped off a curb right with my good foot and came down on my bad one, re-re-injuring my right leg. Ouch. I was glad to get on the train again. We moved on up the line to Spiez, looking for dinner.
The train station at Spiez is way high over the actual town, which straggles on down to the Thunsee (Lake Thun). I managed to walk all the way down, though it was very steep. At the park down by the lakeshore we saw two kids throwing an American football in the town swimming pool. That was odd. Next to the pool, there was a greensward, and two others were kicking a rugby ball. And, yeah, there were some kids with a soccer ball, but my notions of what Europeans play to amuse themselves got some serious adjustment all at once in Spiez.
Pretty lakeshore town
By this point, we were tired, and I was hurting really bad. The sun was broiling us (the threatened rain having departed). We started looking for a bus to schlep us back up the hill to the train station. Alane asked at the town museum. The only transport was a little tour bus in the form of a "train." We approached the conductor to see if we could take it just part-way (the uphill way).
The conductor spoke only limited English; the driver, basically none. Which led me to the point of carrying on the longest conversation in German in my life -- mostly about restaurants. It was great. You have to understand, I took German in college over forty years ago. I have tried to keep up my skills with occasional reading, and I joke and sing in German with the Scouts and Venturers. But right at the point where I should have gone and immersed myself in the language in order to fix its usage in me, I went and fell in love and got married and all that, and this was my first visit to a German-speaking culture. I am enormously proud to say that I managed to speak German with actual German-speakers. I'm sure I made many mistakes, but no more than many foreigners in the U.S. make when they try to speak English. The point is, I did it. I can do it. And over the next couple of days, I became increasingly comfortable doing it. This was the fulfillment of a long-delayed wish of mine.
Our impromptu guide recommended a restaurant called die Krone (The Crown). The little tour train dropped us off right in front of it. We were early for dinner, but no matter. We were ready for some serious dining! We were not to be disappointed.
Die Spargelzeit had just ended the day before. That's the annual season when the asparagus is all coming on at once, and all the restaurants in Germany (and Switzerland, apparently) serve special asparagus dishes. The day we arrived in Kandersteg, the pizzeria in Kandersteg was offering Spargel-pizza, for instance. I was disappointed to have missed it, but the waiter told us there was some white asaparagus soup left, and Alane and I jumped at the chance to get some. Yum!
The specialty of the house was something called Cordon Bleu: a double-wide schnitzel folded over your choice of cheese and other fixins, breaded and fried. Yeah, buddy! We each ordered what sort of Cordon Bleu we liked, with various sides. Then came dessert. T.C. had never had Creme Brulee before. He was overwhelmed. We were stuffed with all kinds of good things.
The king of schnitzels
I think I’m in love
The beginning of a beautiful relationship
The Swiss like to take their time eating. Waiters bring the courses slowly, with plenty of time to linger between. Quite unlike the U.S., where the decor is often painted in angry orange in order to disturb the diners and move them along, so others can be served. The bill also takes some time in arriving. When the bill finally came, the waitress had a bottle in her hand and four shot glasses. "A little schnapps to finish off your meal," she said, and she poured us each about a half-shot.
T.C. looked nonplussed. I said to him, "This is brandy." He looked still blank. "It's distilled wine," I said. Still no response. Oh well, I thought, he'll find out. "Cheers!" the waitress said. "Prosit!" I replied, and we all knocked back a small swallow. T.C.'s reaction was hilarious. At first he said, "Oh!" And that was shortly followed by, "Woah!"
"Why didn't you warn me?" he said. Hey, I tried to, but some things you've just got to learn by experience. It didn't stop him from finishing the rest of his schnapps, I noticed. The final cost was 157 CHF for a fine dinner -- about $172, or $43 apiece. Pricey, but worth it.
Finally, we got up from the table in a happy mood and stepped over to the train station. We caught our ride back to Kandersteg and walked back to camp, talking over the day's experiences. Tomorrow, we would hike the mountains!