Thursday, August 31, 2006

Driving North to Switzerland 8.17.06

Early on Thursday morning, the 17th of August, under cloudy skies, Bob and I packed up the car and headed north to Switzerland. We enjoy the drive north from Verona with all the vineyards and mountains that are part of the pre-Alps and under foreboding skies, it was all the more dramatic. We had carefully planned our route to make a few stops along the way, expecting to be in St. Gallen, in Switzerland, by the end of the day.

Our route took us west, around Milan with a stop for coffee in Lake Como.
The weather was uncooperative and raindrops fell on us as we wandered around the small historic part of the city and looked out over the lake, stopping to admire the 14th century Duomo. We ordered cappuccinos and cornetti and sat at a café by the lake, but not for long, as it was clear the rain was imminent.

Back in the car, we headed into Switzerland. The northern border of Italy, the top of this tall, slender boot has a curved and lacey edge that rises up into Switzerland and Austria to the north, flares out to France in the west and Slovakia to the east, with Croatia directly across the Adriatic. It's a fascinating area with all these cultures overlapping each other and at the border towns, melting together so that some places in Italy seem more Germanic or French and others in Austria and France, more Italian!

Switzerland dips down into Italy at Lakes Como and Lugano, where you cross the border. We made a point of stopping to have our passports stamped, although this is not required any more when traveling through Europe. No one even checks to see if you have a passport, or documents of any kind; your car is just waved through. We found this a bit surprising in the current state of world affairs and wondered if perhaps there is what we Americans would call "racial profiling" going on, but did not witness anything like this. Crossing into Switzerland, almost immediately the mountains seemed taller, the Alps began to grow before our eyes. The darkening, cloud-filled sky and falling rain made the views all the more dramatic and everywhere we looked there were waterfalls, pouring down from incredible heights but with nowhere to stop the car and take photos we had to just soak it in to our memories. Photos I snapped from the car windows do not do it justice!

The rain had let up and we were able to enjoy lunch at an outdoor café in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, where we did what most tourists who are passing through do: we had our passports stamped and we bought postcards and mailed them from this tiny little principality! I painted a small watercolor of the cathedral and we drove up the road to a park behind the prince's castle (the crown prince and his family actually live there, in a castle on a hill overlooking the city) where we decided a short nap would be more beneficial than a short walk in the woods and we took advantage of the peace and quiet to do just that.

Driving into Switzerland we were very aware of once again being illiterate and not speaking any German it was a challenge to do even the simplest things. We managed however and most people were kind and helpful.

We arrived as planned, in St. Gallen in the late afternoon, found a place to park our car temporarily near the train station and called our friend Helena who came to meet us. After hugs and greetings she suggested we move the car to a less expensive place. Parking in this garage cost 2.50 euros for every 15 minutes. We were beginning to see what she meant when she said that Switzerland was very expensive!

(to be continued: St. Gallen, Switzerland 8.17 - 8.21.06)

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