Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Italian Switzerland and my German brother Thomas Oliver

Fancy Switzerland

Oliver was a perky, inquisitive 10-year-old when I came to live with the Kral family almost 40 years ago.   I’d always longed for a younger brother—my sisters seemed less fun than my friend’s younger brothers, and I loved to run around and play with them.   Oliver helped me learn German, pointing out my errors and correcting me as I read to him at night.  He also laughed himself silly when I said I had to wash my Haar—“What, you only have one hair?  Hahahahahahaha!”  (in German you wash your hairs).

Then he told me I looked like a “Brummer” in my blue-and-yellow snow suit.  When I asked what a “Brummer” was, he laughed and said in his sweet English-German accent, “A Bum-Bel-Bee!”  The image of myself as a big fat fuzzy blue-yellow insect made me cry, and my German mom Valerie scolded him thoroughly.   
Not exactly what I wanted to look like

But for the most part we got along famously, chasing each other through the house until Valerie yelled at us, playing epic ping-pong matches, helping with pear-picking and klettering with ropes up the Swabian cliffsides under father Rainer’s tutelage.  And when I was in Tübingen six years later, Todd and I went to Eichendorf and sailed on the Starnberger See with Oliver and his then-girlfriend.

Sailing on Starnberger See

Now Thomas Oliver, better known by his adult name, Thomas, is pushing 50 and lives in the Italian part of Switzerland, a nurse by profession.  He came to Tegna to attend a famous acting and performance school, then switched to nursing when his first daughter was on the way.  We’d long been talking about visiting him, going skiing in the Dolomites or coming up from Italy.  This was our last chance to see him before we left Europe, and so we planned three days in Tegna, a tiny village outside of the fancy Swiss resort of Locarno. 

Oli (or rather Thomas) looks a lot like I remember him at 10!

We left Colmar in the morning and stopped through Freiburg to visit my aunt Andrea, my mother’s sister and a medically-trained naturopathic doctor, and toured her house/office complex in this beautiful little city.  Then on to Switzerland, where we stopped for a coffee in a café overlooking the River Aare with our friend Flori, granddaughter of Elizabeth “Mamu” Kronseder, an artist and long-time friend of our family.  (Flori inherited Mamu’s house in Bavaria, my first introduction to Europe when I was 16.) 

The river Arn in Bern
I had planned a beautiful day-long drive through the peaks of the Alps on our way to Tegna, but alas!  It was our ONE rainy day that week, and the clouds obscured the jagged passes as we wound our way through the quaint Swiss chalet villages.  We arrived in Tegna having seen no snowy mountaintops, no herds of goats or yodelers, no fields of edelweiss or maids in dierndels.  Rats. 

What we missed
We arrived in Tegna late that night since Thomas didn’t finish his shift at the hospital until 11 pm.  We wove up the tiny streets, marveling at the stone houses and searching in vain for streetsigns, our GPS only getting us to the approximate location of Thomas’s apartment.  Suddenly a motorcycle parked next to us—Thomas!  We’d come to the right place.

The beautiful stone houses of Tegna

The next day Thomas took us for a quick swim before breakfast—to the most beautiful alpine-granite lake-stream I’ve ever seen.  Our granite-strewn creeks in the Sierra Nevada are beautiful, but don’t hold a candle to the amazing locations just short walks from Thomas’s apartment.  

A calmer part of the river
First we swam in this amazing pool of so-fresh-you-can-drink-it water, with an enormous waterfall cascading down one side.  That afternoon we went upstream to meet Thomas’s eldest daughter Johanna at a calm, boulder-strewn little lake with flat sandy spots to nap.  Then Thomas’s partner Andrea came in from Zürich, and we all went to a fine Italian Swiss dinner just around the corner from his apartment.

Secret swimming holes

But the following morning was the coup de grace: After hiking up to the little church behind Thomas’s house and enjoying the views, we went with Thomas’s other daughter Caroline to the Schlucht, or gorge.  My eyes popped wide.  

What a place to swim

Rising some 70 feet above the silken-black water, the gorge’s ancient granite walls were washed as smooth as glacier ice into swirls and caverns and undulating forms.  We swam upstream for fifteen minutes, slipping through the chilly but not unpleasant, deliciously fresh water.   Above us towered these massive cliffs, soft and whitened from eons of raging floodwaters, sometimes coming so close together above us that it looked as if you could jump from one side to the other.

Ancient stone-wash
Just watch out for the dangers...

We ended our visit at the “grotte” or cave-restaurant where Johanna worked, where we had polenta, fresh cheese, lasagna, pesto, and ribs.  We invited everyone—Johanna, Caroline, Andrea, Thomas, and his son Jonathan, who was traveling around on Interrail at the time, to visit us in California.  We would love to reciprocate by sharing with them our little Sierra Nevada paradise! 

Typical Swiss valley

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to add your comments here!