Saturday, 28 September 2013


Pet peeves? I am generally a happy, positive person, but I fully admit to having pet peeves. Do you have any? Irksome occurrences that raise the level of your blood pressure? Sadly I admit that I do. The lady in the grocery store express check out line with thirty items in her cart. "Ah, come on! Can't you read the sign?", I mutter under my breath.  The gentleman in the car in front of me who misses the advance green because he is deeply engaged in a conversation on his cell phone. "Hey fella, have you been living in a bunker?" I yell in the confines of my car. "That's illegal." The group of teens sauntering en masse across the width of the sidewalk, preventing any possible passage. As my frustration increases, I envision myself in a football uniform ploughing through the inconsiderate oblivious group. Insane? Probably! What can send my ire right off the Richter scale is spotting a car, without proper designation, parked in disabled parking. "Why haven't they been ticketed?", I fume. "Where are the police when you need them?" Such is my frustration, I find it necessary to then relate the incident to whomever will listen to me blather on. Let's just spread the negativity, Daf!
This week has proven to be a difficult one. Saying goodbye to our beloved, Tony, who fought so hard for every minute of his life and watching Sue, his wife, and Michelle, his daughter, begin to cope with their loss has proven heartbreaking. I feel helpless. Yesterday, we received news that literally brought me to my knees. A dear, life-long, much loved friend, part of our lives since our teen years and a favourite of my parents, is in a battle for his life, fighting stage 4 cancer. The flood gates opened. Pent up emotion from this past week and the news from our friend totally overtook me and I sobbed.
A gut wrenching cry for Tony and John and fury with myself for negative moments of frustration in meaningless situations. So precious is our life, it should not be wasted. In my self indulgent moment of anguish, I promised to spend each day in laughter and positive thought, to get over myself in those my moments of frustration. To savour each precious moment of my journey. To not take for granted or waste this precious gift of life.

Monday, 23 September 2013


Our full trip aborted, we are home. Although saddened to have cancelled the final two weeks of our journey, given the circumstances, I would chose to be nowhere else.
Switzerland did not disappoint. The rugged stunning beauty of the Alps, dramatic raging rivers and waterfalls, gentle verdant valleys, charming towns and cities, quintessential Tyrollean architecture festooned with flowers, and spotless cleanliness make Switzerland a European gem worthy of a visit on its own. Vienna, the city of classical music and Hapsburg's glamour, is nothing short of glorious and can easily hold her own amongst the great cities of the world such as London and Rome. This tantalizing taste of Austria is now beckoning Jim and I to return. Ideas for a return trip are already churning away.
4:00 am this morning and our wake up call rang. Why does a wakeup call so jangle one's nerves? Thus began our journey home from Vienna.  Fog had socked in Zurich Airport. Flights were being spaced out and so our Air Austria flight understandably but frustratingly sat on the tarmac in Vienna awaiting clearance from Zurich and Vienna to take off. "Let's just get this show in the air", I impatiently thought. Once over Zurich, we then circled for over a half an hour awaiting clearance to land. It was amusing and dizzying to watch the tight red circles form on the little GPS display above our seat and to enjoy the sun rise five times in one morning.  Not a big deal, except Jim and I originally had 75 minutes between flights and a terminal change. How nerve wracking it was to watch that time frame rapidly diminish. Once disembarked, we ran, catching the train from Terminal A to Terminal E, and arriving at our gate just as Air Canada was boarding. Phew!
Both Matt and Michelle discouraged us from coming home. In fact, we were ordered to stay put!  Michelle wrote, "My Dad would never have wanted you to cut your trip short". I believe that. If there was anyone who understood the full meaning of "carpe diem", that would be Tony. What he might have underestimated, though, is how much Jim and I loved him. How important it would be to honour his life.
Once our return travel arrangements were finalized, Michelle wrote, "I have to be honest in saying that I am glad you both will be here for Mom and Matt, and especially the kids. I think that they need to see you and know that you are both still okay". Copious tears flowed upon reading that note.
In my final Italian blog, I wrote, "That glorious red maple leaf on the tail wing of our Air Canada flight. No matter where we travel when I see that symbol, my heart sings. For me, that symbols says, 'Home has come to get you' and I love it". Walking down the Zurich Airport passenger tube to the plane, I glanced up and there was my maple leaf. Now it seemed to be saying, "You are needed at home and home has come to get you". My heart felt great relief.
We had discouraged all offers to pick us up at the airport. Jet lagged and exhausted, it would simply be easier to grab a limo for the final drive to Uxbridge. Upon exiting the customs/ baggage area into the main concourse, we heard music to our ears. "Grammie! Grampa!" yelled our little blonde bombshell, Morgan, as she threw herself into Jim's arms. Then came Matt's beaming smile and warm welcoming embraces. I would cancel a hundred trips for that moment in time.
Really, in the final analysis, that's what is most important in life - family and home!

Friday, 20 September 2013


Jim and I have many blessings to count, one most definitely being our daughter-in-law, Michelle. Matt and Michelle's marriage brought a budding friendship with her parents, Sue and Tony. That friendship has evolved over the years to the point where holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, to name a few, are spent together as family. To Jim and I, Sue and Tony are quite simply adopted family. It is a deepening relationship we have treasured.
Should you view Tony on the street you would see a greying, gaunt man older than his true age, very slow and tentative on his feet. That vision outside, however, belies the strong, fiercely determined inner hero of a man.
Over five years ago, after undergoing hip surgery, Tony's body was invaded by a massive, life-threatening infection. That he survived amazed both his medical team and family who had prepared for the worst. The infection sadly robbed Tony of all kidney function forcing him into a five year routine of exhausting kidney dialysis. As if this were not enough for one man, during this timeframe Tony successfully battled cancer, a plethora of additional infections and most recently, a highly virulent case of pneumonia. Loss of core balance has led to numerous bruising falls and severe osteoarthritis has wracked his body with ongoing pain.
Many would have said, "Enough!", but not our hero. Why? One need only catch a glimpse of Tony in the presence of his grandchildren. This I have personally witnessed. An inner light and love burns so strongly it is palpable throughout the room. In my heart I believe that Tony has struggled and never given up so that he may watch his beloved grandchildren grow and thrive.
After another tragic fall that ultimately led to bleeding in his brain, Tony today fought and lost his battle and war, taking his final journey to a more peaceful place.
To Morgan and Zachary, our mutual grandchildren, I would say that such enduring love can never die. Morgan, when you jump into the lake and swim like the little fish that you are, know that although you cannot see him, your Papa is happily watching you from the cottage window. Zachary, when you reel in that big fish, the dock chair beside you may be empty, but your Papa is there helping you grasp your bending straining rod. Morgan, when you are whizzing around a winter rink, know that Papa is skating beside you and Zachary, when you ski that first black diamond run, Papa will be cheering you on. At school ceremonies and graduations, at weddings, and at holiday times, know that your Papa is present in spirit joining you in the joy of the moment. And when you sleep at night, he will be watching over you. Your Papa loved you and will continue to do so. Think of him as your guardian angel.
"I pray you'll be our eyes,
"And watch us where we go
"And help us to be wise
"In times when we don't know". The Prayer (Andrea Boccelli)
And so Jim and I will cut our vacation short. Europe is still in full tourist season and a change in air travel almost impossible but thanks to our amazing travel agent, Connie, and her compassionate contact at Air Canada, we will fly home Sunday. Home to now support Sue who has so long been Tony's rock. Home to love and support Michelle, Matt, Morgan and Zachary whenever and wherever they need us. Home to pay our respects to Tony Slot. Home to say goodby to our quiet hero.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

IN WIEN (Tuesday, September 17)

Cold, dark and rain were our welcome to Vienna last night as we disembarked our eight hour train ride from Zurich. Exhausted, we signed in at our hotel, immediately crawled under eiderdowns and fell blissfully asleep. What a wonderful discovery it was, upon opening our drapes this morning, to find massive gothic St. Stephen's immediately across the platz from our hotel. This cathedral is considered by many to be the heart of Vienna, although some would argue for the Opera House or Hofburg Palace.
Skies were dull and temperatures distinctly chilly, but the torrential downpour of last night had dissipated. Thank heavens for the heavier coat I packed for our mountain top adventures. Wishing to walk for a day and stretch our train-strained legs, we followed good old Rick Steve's "Vienna City Walk", taking in the primary sites, absorbing the atmosphere and pace of this vibrant classic city, peaking in chandeliered cafes offering scrumptious delicacies, and deciding which sites we will concentrate on for the next three days. Traffic free cobblestoned streets make it clear - this is a city for the people.
Fountains and sculptures are in themselves storytellers and Vienna has no shortage. I was reminded that as beautiful as Vienna is, her past has been a difficult and scarred one. One monument in particular -The Monument Against War and Fascism - moved me to tears. The monument consists of four thought provoking and heart breaking statues meant to remind Austrians of the consequences of not keeping their government on track. The first section with two white slabs of granite is cut from the infamous quarry at Mauthausen. Moving towards these slabs symbolizes standing at the gates of a concentration camp. Carved into the granite monoliths are chilling wartime images such as chained labourers and gas masks. At the base of the monument is a low sculpture of a hunched over Jew forced to wash anti-Nazi graffiti off the street with a toothbrush. Citizens would stand over these workers jeering and spitting on them. So starkly moving is this piece that it reduced me to tears. Behind is the 1945 declaration of Austria's second republic, the first having been annexed by the Nazis, with the human rights built into it actually carved in stone. The experience gains emotional impact when you realize that this monument stands in the spot where several hundred people were buried alive when the cellar they were hiding in was demolished in a World War II bombing.
This evening we ate at a local wine cellar, Gigerl Stadtheuriger. Music, good Austrian wine, and an assortment of inviting local foods, the names of which I had no comprehension, made for a great end to our first day in Vienna (Wien).
I am going to list what these photos contain as I have not described most of them in the written part of my blog:
1. The view of St. Stephen's from our hotel room.
2. Cafe Sacher. One of the delightful chandeliered cafes.
3. Cafe Sacher is famous for their Sacher Torte. Two forks please!
4. Concentration camp gates - Monument .against War and Fascism.
5. Carvings on the granite monoliths.
6. Hunched over figure of Jewish street cleaner.
7. Austrian Human Rights Code carved in granite.
8. Opera House, considered one of the world's premier opera houses. Note giant outdoor screen on which some performances are projected for the public.
9. Vienna's walk of famous opera stars, conductors and composers.
10. J.& L. Lobmeyr Crystal in business since 1823. Gorgeous crystal museum on the third floor.
11. Interior of Lobmeyr's. Chrystal chandelier in centre of store reminds me of a trilobite!
12. Holy TrinitynPlague Column erected by Leopold I to thenm god for sparing his city in the 1679 plague.
13. Lady Faith and Cupid toss an old naked lady, representing the plague, into the abyss thus aging the city. Mesh covering on statues is to keep the pigeons off!
14. St. Peter's Church - ornate organ
15. St. Peter's Church - cupola
16. Celebration at Hofburg Palace - a new ambassador's presentation of credentials to the Austrian President. Problem? We don't speak German so we don't know which country he represented.
17. Can you identify this new ambassador to Austria?
18. Hofburg Palace
19. Roman ruins outside the palace.
20. Jim and I - dinner at Gigerl Stadtheuriger
21. Interior of the charming little restaurant.

Monday, 16 September 2013

THE "Daffies" (Monday, September 16)

So what do you do when you have eight hours on a train, even if it is the speedy Railjet, travelling at speeds of up to 233 km per hour. (Speeds and the route map are posted on overhead computer screens. Quite slick!) I for one let my mind wander to "silly" things. Like the Monty Python crew and their "silly walk", this is me and my " silly talk". I have unilaterally decided to create the "Daffies" - awards for my Swiss Best List. Not quite the Oscars, but what the hey!
Best City/Town:
Nominees are Zurich, Gruyeres and Lucerne.
And the award goes to....Zurich. (Cheers and applause can be interjected here!) I loved this dignified city with its quiet charm. I admit that the Chagall windows in Fraumunster may have played a large part in my decision. I would return to Zurich just to revisit those vibrant masterpieces.
Best Experience:
Nominees are Chillon Castle, the Lavaux Wine Terraces, and the Jungfraujoch (The Top of Europe)
And the award goes to....The Jungfraujoch. (Yahoos are heard all around!) Not even counting the adventure of two cog train rides, one actually taking you through the Eiger, the mind boggling views from the observation station out over the Alps and glaciers is a hands down winner. It was difficult at times to take it all in. How small and insignificant is mankind. Close on its tail, however, is tasting wine sitting outside on the Lavaux Wine Terraces surrounded by row upon row of vineyards. Not to mention the views over Lake Geneva. Oh, and the delicious wines!!
Best Music:
Nominees are the choir in Gruyeres Town Square, cow bells, ad hoc groups of yodellers.
And the award goes to....cow bells. (Bravo! Bravo!) Switzerland for me will forever be the land of tinkling cow bells. Even now as we whizz across the Austrian border, I can hear the welcome sound of those bells. Quintessential Switzerland!
Best night Music:
Nominees are: the rushing sound of Appenzell's Sitter River, the gurgling fountain in Gruyeres, the roar of Lauterbrunnen Falls.
And the winner is........the gurgling fountain in Gruyeres. (Applause! Applause!) How could you not have sweet dreams with the happy, inviting, bubbling and gurgling sound of that cheery little fountain as the backdrop?
Best Dinner Out:
And the nominees are Cully (tagliatelle with chantarelle mushrooms in a white wine sauce), Lucerne (the famous chicken pot pie at Opus), Cully again ( grilled perch, fresh from Lake Geneva).
And the winner is..... Grilled Perch from Lake Geneva. (Smacking lips can be heard.) Truthfully, the only area of disappointment for me in Switzerland was the food. To dine out nicely is exceedingly expensive. I missed the little Ma and Pop trattorias of Italy where an outstanding meal can be savoured for just a pittance. With the exception of one meal in Lucerne, the best food we enjoyed was in the French region of Switzerland.
Well, enough of these Daffies. I could list hundreds more and bore you - and me - to death. Our train is speeding on its final leg into Vienna. It has been an extremely long and tiring day, waking at 6:00 a.m., taking three different trains and ultimately arriving after 10:30 p.m. I would fly next time. Who was it that said travel by train?
Switzerland has been a treat. Every inch of the country is spotless ,neat and beautiful. Its friendly, accommodating people are fiercely proud of their mighty little country and so they should be. Their engineering ingenuity is staggering from mountain tunnels, to extensive bridges to mountain passes. Not an inch of their wild topographical landscape remains unused. The highway system, no matter how small the road, is beautifully maintained. Not a pothole to be seen. Did you hear that Mayor Ford?
With the exception of our departure from Zurich when we fly home. It is auf wiedersehn and au revoir to the land of cow bells, chocolate and cheese.
Let our Austrian adventure begin.......
I have only added two photos today. One is of the guardian angel, Niki de St. Phalle who hangs above the heads of travellers in the Zurich Train Station. The second is a logo I took of the side of a train. Nice to know that Canada plays a part in the efficiency of the highly regarded Swiss train system. Yeah Canada!

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Solid cloud had descended during the night to conceal the jagged peaks at the end of our valley. Heavy shrouds of mist clung to the walls of the Lauterbrunnen cliffs. Such was the view that greeted me this morning when I stepped onto our balcony. I confess to having a "Scotland moment". Was this Switzerland? Accessing the Schilthorn weather cam revealed a 'socked in' peak. Thank heavens for our weather window yesterday. Are we allowed to feel even slightly smug?
After a leisurely breakfast, we set out for Trummelbach Falls, Europe's only accessible glacial waterfall within a mountain. To be more precise, Trummelbach actually consists of a series of ten successive waterfalls. The ten glacial waterfalls have been made accessible by Swiss engineering ingenuity - a tunnel funicular, illuminated interior walkways, stairways and viewing stations. On approach, the green forested hills and sheer cliff walls reveal nothing of the raging glacial waters within. That is, if you cannot hear the thunder of this Swiss Niagara. I wondered what early settlers thought. A ghostly ogre? A roaring, angry mountain god?
Trummelbach drains the glaciers of Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch carrying 20,200 tons of boulder detritus per year and up to 20,000 litres of water per second. Viewing is prohibited during the spring runoff months. No kidding?
Once at the base, you ride a funicular up through the mountain to a level between Waterfall 6 and Waterfall 7. (I should interject here that Waterfall 10 is at the top, Waterfall 1, at the bottom.)
Exiting the funicular is to be instantly deafened by the roar of raging glacial waters. So overwhelming is the noise that Jim and I found ourselves yelling to be heard. We quickly reverted to hand signals for communication. An old throwback to our sailing days? Oh, and that hair you so carefully coifed this morning. Hah! Water dripping from the tunnel roof can only be likened to walking in a rainfall without an umbrella. My second shower of the day!
Now you begin your climb through claustrophobic wet caves, alongside the raging river and up a series of endless stairs. Each Waterfall presents a different photographic moment. Thank heavens for digital; the click of our cameras never ceased. The final ascent to Waterfall 10 is up a flight of 185 steps. To that fact I can attest because I counted each and every step. My quads, by the way, will verify such! Waterfall 10 is magnificent. Glancing upwards a cleft in the ceiling allows you to see the edge of the cliff and the point at which the mighty surge of glacial water begins its plunge though the mountain.
Your descent now begins back to the funicular station or, as Jim and I chose, a descent on foot to the lower five waterfalls. Passing below the tree line on this descent, you catch whiffs of green scented air, hinting that the base of the falls is near. Our adventure had ended.
A charming Swiss inn and a caffe latte provided us with a moment to reflect on the absolute power of Mother Nature - how her tools of time and water surpass the power of any tool man can devise.
This afternoon has been spent the the comfortable lounge of the Staubbach, organizing train schedules and preparing for our next phase - Austria!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

COFFEE WITH BOND, JAMES BOND, THAT IS! (Saturday, September 14)

Possibly the worst James Bond film ever released, at least in my mind, was the 1969 "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". The appearance of Diana Rigg in that film may have been its only redeeming feature. So why mention it then?
With the exception of a few scenes filmed in St. Moritz, the majority of mountain and winter scenes captured, were filmed here in the Berner Oberland and more particularly, in Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn. The movie put the Schilthorn and Piz Gloria on the map, so to speak. Our desired destination today was the Schilthorn peak with its 9748-foot elevation, solar-powered revolving restaurant, and famous panorama terrace.
Web cams showing live video feed from the most famous peaks play just about every where you go - restaurants, hotels, shops. When the local economy lives by the weather you can understand why. Rain was our disappointing forecast for today. Imagine our delight when accessing the Schilthorn webcam early this morning, we were treated to pictures of a cloud free sunrise.
Aware that weather at the peaks can change drastically from early morning to even noon, we dressed, gulped down coffee and shovelled in breakfast in record time. Gluttony, with a purpose! By 7:30 a.m., we were purchasing our tickets at Stechelberg for our four-stage ascent. Yup! It takes four spine-tingling gondola rides to reach this peak. Where was my little cog train when I needed it?
As you ascend through each stage, ears popping, the altitude meter in the cable car registers your increasing height above sea level. For me, the stage that freaked me out was our final climb from Birg (8738') to the Schilthorn peak. Birg sits almost precariously on an rock massif jutting eerily out of the mountainside. From that point to the summit, the cable car, with views to the Mars-like landscape below, climbs straight up. I have to admit that I was "channeling my inner Amanda" here. One can feel the strenuous lugging of the car as it pushes to its ultimate stop. Then, smash! Crack! The few people in our gondola jumped in shock as our operator smiled and pointed up. "Ice". Yah, okay!
Stepping onto the panorama terrace with its mind boggling views over the majestic alps made me immediately realize the tiny place I occupy in our amazing world. Jim and I lingered at the top, identifying each peak and enjoying the unscheduled sunshine, mountain breezes and -2 C temperatures. Eventually, Jim elected to walk along a ridge out the back across a trail of scree and ice to an observation point. Chicken-hearted me, not eager for a slip and slide walk, remained behind on the terrace. Coffee was slowly enjoyed in the Piz Gloria restaurant in order that we might experience one revolution.
Long wisps of captured cloud on surrounding peaks were our signal to begin our descent. At Murren we made the decision to hike rather than ride down to the Gimmelwald gondola station. The steep trail wound down through heavily scented forests, aged Swiss farm lands, fields built up with avalanche bridging and past raging streams rushing to their ultimate plunge over the "Lauterbrunnen cliffs. Para-gliders, flying with the birds, were visible below us, their brightly coloured kites in sharp contrast to the sheer cliff faces.
Arrival in Grimmelwald, lunch at a charming little pension and then our final descent on the Grimmelwald to Stechelberg gondola. Leaving the gondola, we high-fived each other. Another sunny day, another peak and more "once in a lifetime" vistas.