Monday, May 31, 2004

[This post was actually typed at a much later date--August 2, in fact--but I'm putting it here to maintain the chronology. Greetings from the future!]

We woke up the next morning to the sound of cowbells in the pasture across from our hotel. After a delicious breakfast of warm croissants and hot chocolate, we headed for Elm, home of Elmer Citro (think Swiss Sprite). Elm is the town we were shooting for way back in March with Fred's parents when we got turned back by the snow on the road.

We made it to Elm with no problem and set about exploring the tiny little town. Mike and Annabelle had fun frolicking in the flowers next to our parking lot:

Here's a picture I took from that same parking lot, looking up past the town into the mountains that tower above:

Mike is reaching that stage where he is starting to be taller than a handful of adults. He is keeping a list and was delighted to be able to add Gretchyn to it. They decided to size each other up right there in the middle of the road in Elm:

After stopping by the town grocery store to grab a few bottles of Elmer Citro, we got back on the road and headed for the Klaussen Pass in hopes of being in Luzern by lunch time.

The Klaussen Pass is without a doubt the most beautiful drive I've ever made. The roads are narrow and curvy--the natural enemy of the American minivan--but the scenery is so breathtaking that it helps to distract you from the fact that you're inches from plummeting to a certain death.

The lower fields were full of cows, all wearing their musical cowbells. Gretchyn taught Mike and Annabelle to shout out, "We need more cowbell!" which apparently is a reference to a Christopher Walken sketch from Saturday Night Live. They thought that was quite hilarious.

As we climbed higher, we started passing areas of snow on the side of the road. At the insistence of my traveling companions, I pulled over and took this picture of them making snowballs. How do you think they repaid my kindness? Naturally, by pelting me with the snowballs the minute I put the camera away:

The little patches of snow were soon overshadowed by vast fields of snow as we reached the top of the pass. Here's Annabelle sitting, quite literally, on the top of the world:

Gretchyn took this picture of me with the kids to show how deep the snow was on the uphill side of the road:

In case you're wondering if the area is at risk for avalanches, here's your answer:

It was right about at this point that the "check engine" light came on in my car. Little did I know that my car had been molested by a small ferret-like creature and merely needed an air hose reattached. That little red light cast a pall of anxiety over the rest of the trip for me, but it didn't keep us from having fun.

We finally reached Luzern in the early afternoon. I managed to stuff the van into a parking garage downtown, but I had to execute a stunning 30-point turn in order to make it line up properly with the parking space.

We stopped in a knife store in the shopping district so that Mike and Gretchyn could by Swiss army knives. We left the knives there to be engraved and set off in search of fondue for lunch. Here I am with Gretchyn, enjoying our chocolate fondue:

After lunch we went to a souvenir shop so that Gretchyn could buy a Heidi dress for her daughter Alexandra. You would think that should be pretty easy to do in a major town in Switzerland, but it turned out to be rather complicated. The kids and I waited on the sidewalk while everything that could go wrong with Gretchyn's transaction did go wrong. Suddenly I had a wave of panic that the knife store might close before we got back there to pick up the engraved knives. I left the kids waiting for Gretchyn and ran back to the knife store, stopping only long enough along the way to take a picture of this lovely family. I'm thinking I might try to pass them off as us for our Christmas picture:

When I reached the knife store, I found that they had indeed closed for the day. I could see a worker in the back though, so I banged on the door until he let me in. After I got the knives, I went back for Gretchyn and the kids and we hopped on the highway heading north.

If we were ever undecided about going to France, it wasn't hard to choose a path when we reached the Swiss border. We found a huge traffic jam waiting to get into Germany and nobody at all heading towards France.

We reached Strasbourg at about 9:00 p.m. We stayed for about an hour, just long enough to look at the cathedral and buy a few postcards. It was starting to get pretty dark by the time we left, but here's a street scene that I took on our way in:

Somewhere between Strasbourg and Germany, the needle on my gas gauge dropped like the proverbial rock. Gretchyn and I got off the highway and found a pub in a tiny little town. The nice people there directed us to the next town over where, they said, you could buy gasoline 24 hours a day so long as you had a credit card. What they did not know, however, is that you need a Eurocard. We tried every American credit card we had between the 2 of us, and nothing worked.

I was getting ready to burst into tears when out of nowhere another car pulled up to the pump across from me. My guardian angel is a middle-aged French man who speaks German but no English. He understood our predicament and allowed us to give him cash in exchange for him buying our gas on his credit card. He even pumped the gas for me!

Pretty soon we were back on our way and heading to Germany. Somehow I managed to get hopelessly lost and wound up having to drive a good 30 miles out of my way to find a place that I could get home from. We arrived home well after midnight and stayed up most of the rest of the night talking, despite having to get Gretchyn back to the airport by 8:00 in the morning.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. Even our misadventures somehow added to the fun, although I could have done without the check-engine light and the gas problem. We're all looking forward to November, when Gretchyn plans on bringing her daughter and her husband back for a visit.

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