This post was meant to be inserted earlier, but I’ll just add it now before I lose too much more time. On my second day in Switzerland, I had traveled from Zug to Brienz via train and then by bike from Brienz to Interlaken. This post picks up there and takes me on to my destination at a family’s home in an alpine valley between Adelboden and Frutigen. It took place in mid- July.
Interlaken can be navigated easily without a map, which was good, because I needed to find a bike shop. I don’t know what daily life is like for the residents, but for the visitor, Interlaken has everything you need. Groceries, clothes, tools, extras. This was a legendary Swiss resort in the nineteenth century, and the classic boulevard of hotels of vintage hotels still offers a culture of exclusivity, but the sense of chic sophistication has been dulled by twentieth century tourism. Most of the hotels face a wide, green meadow in the city center where the paragliders float like so many falling blossoms. From my last trip here, I remembered that there is a shopping district near the west side train station, so I headed in that direction. Upon passing an outdoor store, I stopped in and showed the burst tube to the shop girl. She gave me directions to the nearest Veloladen, and after showing the burst tube to the bike guy and checking my tire to ensure the new ones were indeed the right size, I bought the replacement tubes. I also asked him to try and change my cyclometer to kilometers, but we discovered that he could neither change the language nor the distance units, since it was an American model. Nevertheless, now I had back-up and could continue on my way.
3:00 I knew I could find a WIFI connection here, in a city which caters to such a bouyant tourist influx. I had told my friends that I would be at their house by six, and I didn’t think I could make it there without taking public transportation. Even if I did, I felt that I was really rushing my visit to them, and thought it would be better to come back on a weekend in July, when I would have more time. I found WIFI in a local Migros shopping complex and sent off an email saying I wouldn’t be coming after all. But they had sent me a message that morning saying they could pick me up in Frutigen, and when I checked the map, I saw that it was only 20 miles from where I was. With renewed confidence, I dashed off an email to cancel my cancellation and happily assured them I would be in Frutigen between 6 and 7, waiting at a grocery store or bakery on the main street. I figured this would make me easy to find. I headed south out of town, west along Lake Thun, past Leissigen– where I also had wanted to stop, but there was really no time now– and finally into Spiez.
The elevation started to rise here, and I had to stop a couple of times to walk, replenish fluids, and snack. I wasn’t sure how to find Frutigenstrasse, but I was confident that it would be a major turn to the left, heading south. Although it lay along a river valley, the elevation was steadily increasing. At a playground, I asked a couple with a little girl for directions for the turnoff to Frutigen. The woman advised taking the first turnoff towards a little town called Aeschi, but the man said this was not necessary, and took out his phone to show me a map, of which he advised me to take a photo for later reference. The problem with the woman’s advice was the the road to Aeschi was very steep, and the problem with the man’s advice was that I couldn’t follow the same route as the cars, since that road went through a tunnel. I kept going straight ahead, opting not to turn at the Spiez Bahnhof. I considered taking the bus to Frutigen, but resisted. I stopped in a little store on the lower side of a steep hill, and asked for directions to circumvent the tunnel, and an older woman assured me that I could continue to take the road I was on. So I did, and eventually this road took me through lowlands and fields, past the outskirts of town and into Frutigen. I arrived exactly at 6:00, and stopped at the train station to try and call my friends on a public phone.
Puzzled by the length of their number, I wondered if it was necessary to plug in the country code, since I was already in Switzerland. I asked a man at a kiosk, showing him the number I had, and he explained that I actually had to dial in a number not listed on the number my friend had given me. He offered to dial it for me and let me use his phone, which I did. After a couple of beeps, I heard a little boy’s voice on the other end. It was one of the children, and I told him that I was at the train station. He said he would tell his father, who was looking for me. I gave the phone back to the man in the kiosk, bought a cold milk coffee drink, and sat down to wait. Within ten minutes Peter arrived in a small minivan. We greeted each other warmly, considering it had been eight years since we last saw each other. He loaded the bike on the rack of the van, and as I opened the door to put my luggage inside, I was faced with a tiny blond-haired child with tears streaming from pale blue eyes down round red cheeks.
“Das isch di Hanneli,” said my friend, and noticing that I was finishing my coffee drink, handed me a liter bottle of Rivella. “Hascht du Durst? I hab’ dir was gekauft.” Rivella is a uniquely Swiss cola made from 35% milk serum. It’s pale gold, carbonated, and tastes nothing like cola, though many people call it that. It’s a pretty popular soft drink in Switzerland, but I’ve never seen in anywhere else.
Little Hannah was playing with a baby doll, and looked utterly surprised to see me. Her tears quickly dried and although I spoke to her in German, it was clear that my Hochdeutsch was as good as a foreign language. She returned my queries with Bärndüütsch, of which I could barely understand the gist. We drove towards Adelboden, some 16 kilometers away, and began to exchange stories about what had happened in the past eight years in both our lives. The road became steeper, and the mountain slopes closed in around us as we neared Peter’s house. Eventually we turned onto a very small street, which seemed barely wide enough for the vehicle, and began a slow creep up the side of the mountain, until we reached a small carport, where Peter parked. We unpacked, stashed my bike in a corner, and walked around the carport with our luggage and groceries. “Du errinnerst dich daran, oder?” asked my friend, gently. I looked to the grassy hill which stretched a hundred feet or more above me on a steep slope. At the very top, beneath a cluster of dark trees, stood their wooden house, solidly built with whole timbers. “Auf geht’s, Hanneli,” Her father nudged the little doll-faced child, who began quickly to spring up the flagstones which wound long switchbacks up the hill towards her home. I followed.