Friday, September 09, 2005

Mount Pilatus

Tuesday, Sept. 6

I woke up this morning with two new blisters. I am not allowed to have blisters because of my diabetes. Although my shoes are very comfortable Birkenstocks, too much walking in the same shoes will cause your feet to protest. I put a couple of bandages on the blisters and switch to tennis shoes.

Down to breakfast with the cheery Maria. Today is her 64th birthday. She is all smiles and gemutlichkeit. (Hey, I know three German words.)

We catch the bus for the train station and buy our tickets for Mount Pilatus. We will take a one and one-half hour boat trip on Lake Lucerne to Achnitigal, then take a half hour trip up the mountain on the world`s steepest cograil train to the peak where there is a restaurant and observatory. When we are done looking, we will take a gondola part of the way down, ride an alpine slide and then go down the rest of the way in a gondola and take a bus back to downtown Lucerne.

The boat leaves at preciselz 10:25. We decide to sit inside by a window to keep from getting too much sun. With the window open, there is a nice breeze. This is another perfect day. Sunny. Temperature is in the low 70s I would guess.

The cruise is very peaceful and relaxing. The boat makes six to eight stops at little villages around the lake, all of them looking like postcard scenes, with traditional Swiss houses and lots of flower boxes. We see a fly on our window, the first insect we have seen in Switzerland. No one has window screens. The doors and windows stand wide open, and there are no flies and mosquitos. I noticed this in Paris too. I do not know if Europe is just too clean to breed flies or what. Rosalee reminds me that she killed a spider in our room the other day, so I guess they must have some insects, but not many. Only the affluent ones, I would guess.

The views of Mount Pilatus keep changing as we move around the lake. Most of the passengers are German-speaking. The announcements are mostly in German. Even the English ones sound more German than English.

We finally arrive in Achnitigal and get in the train. The grade is 48 degrees at some points, but the car stays level, so there is no sense of danger. The view is spectacular as we climb the mountain. Along the way, we pass working farms, with cows grazing in the meadows, their bells making continuous tinkling sounds.

At the summit, there are paths, some more steep and others blasted through the rock to give a fairly level way to get around the top. We take the easy route, although it involves many stairs. We can hear the tinkling of the bells, even at the summit. Goats push up to the fence to lick the hands of the tourists.

My feet are complaining when we finally sit down for a lunch of bratwurst and beer at one of the restaurants. The food is very good, and not that expensive, for Switzerland. Certainly better than aluminum snack crackers.

We buy some souvenirs; I buy the perfect hat for my walking buddy. We will see if he is reading my blog as promised because I am not going to give him the hat until he mentions it.

We head down the mountain on the gondola. It is not as scarey being on the gondola, as it is to see them swinging over vast nothingness, supported by slight cables, with rocks far down below. About half way down, we get off to get my alpine slide ride. Rosalee thinks I am being childish for insisting on this ride. She points out that most of the people going on it are kids. I know I am being childish, but the ride we took 15 years ago in Galena, Illinois, was such fun that I will not be discouraged. (An alpine slide, for those unprivileged enough not to have experienced one, is a track down the mountain on which you slide, sitting on a special tobaggon. It has a brake with which you can control your speed. At the bottom, you are pulled back up via a ski lift.

I am more hobbling than walking by the time we get to the slide, about half a mile from the gondola. Changing shoes did not clear up my blister problem. Rosalee is extremely skeptical about doing this at our age. I ask the attendant about it, pointing out my age and weight, and he encourages us to do it. So we lock briefcase, purse, coat and camera in a locker and head down the mountain.

What fun! It would have been more fun if a cautious Japanese man and his daughter were not going very slowly ahead of me. I saw them start slowly, so I waited a long time before starting to give them a chance to get way ahead of me, but I caught up with them about three-quarters of the way down. No matter, it was well worth the time, money and hobbling.

The gondola we get on to go the rest of the way down the mountain is a four-person car, instead of the approximately 16-person car we started wtih. It hangs from a cable, much closer to the ground; maybe 15 or so feet off the ground, which is now covered in grass, rather than the car that was a thousand feet above rocks we started off with. There is another passenger in our car, a man who is a biologist and was up on the mountain to take scientific readings. He is a pleasant traveling companion and entertains us with the facts and lore of the region.

When we get to the bottom, there is a 15-minute walk to catch a bus back to downtown Lucerne. My feet are really hurting by the time we make the bus and get back to the pension.

We are going to another concert this evening, one Chris has recommended, although he is not playing in it. This is by a percussion ensemble. We barely have time to shower and change to dressup clothes before we have to catch the bus to get there. This concert is not at the main concert hall, but is at an alternative venue in a residential neighborhood. Maria helps us to locate the place on the map and gives us instructions on which bus to take to get there.

But either Maria is mistaken or we do not follow her instructions for we get off the bus in a neighborhood of houses, with no possible venue for a concert. We try asking several people, but everyone we accost does not speak English or pretends not to. One man, working in a yard, tells us it is down the steps to the left. But there are no steps to the left that we can see. Finally a young woman comes along who knows where were are trying to go and tells us she will walk with us most of the way. We head between houses, along what looks to be private paths, and sure enough come to a series of steps to the left. When I say steps, I do not just mean a few steps, but a plethora of steps. We step and step and step. We finally get to the bottom of the steps, and then follow some streets to where the young lady has to leave us. She gives us careful instructions and we proceed, anxious that we are going to be late.

By the time we get to where the concert is supposed to be, we are sweating heavily in our good clothes. We find a deserted-looking warehouse, with no apparent way to get in, and are convinced that once more we have been misled. Luckily, Rosalee spots the associate concertmaster making his way around the back of the building, so we follow him around and find ourselves in a vast warehouse-like space. It is packed, with at least 1,000 people, and has more percussion instruments on the stage than I have ever seen in one place. The woman at the door gives us earplugs, but I resolve to fully experience this concert. Besides my hearing is so bad, a few more decibels are not going to make any difference. This turns out to be not a dress up kind of concert. Most of the audience is young, although there are some gray hairs of people older than us. Pierre Boulez is conducting, and he is way older than us. If they can do it, we can do it.

The first piece is by Rihm. I do not know what the piece is called because, although there is a program, there have been changes to it and all of the announcements were in German. I do know there were six complete drum sets, and when they were all beating in unison at the beginning, I could feel the vibrations in my chest. It was an awesome (in every sense of the word) piece.

When the concert was over, I hobbled over to the bus station, the correct one being only about two blocks from the concert place. When we got back to our room, it was past midnight. I took off my shoes and socks and saw that my blisters were open and bleeding, in addition to a newly-activated corn. Okay, I have reached my limit. Tomorrow, I will stay off my feet.


Anonymous said...

Oh great--if I mention to you that I read your blog, you will bring me a souvenir too? I'm enjoying reading your blogs. Hope your blisters heal up quickly and don't cause you to miss anything!

Amishlaw said...

My blisters are fine now. Nothing to keep me from walking Monday morning at 5:30. We`ll see what I can do souvenir-wise. I might give you Paul`s.