It was like a dream come true. Every morning we awakened for two weeks, we were greeted with a slice of heaven.
There’s no better way to sample a country’s culture than to be part of that country for a short time.
Judy and I recently made a trip of a lifetime, at least it was for us.
We visited Switzerland to reconnect with Claudia Schenk and her family. Claudia is a woman that our daughter Tammi met in Switzerland almost 20 years ago.
Go to the official website of Switzerland Tourism at http://www.myswitzerland.com/en/home.html?gclid=CKbn1ZfunLMCFQVgMgodTQMAdw
Tammi was a Forest Lake Lions Club sponsored youth exchange student to Switzerland.
She visited for six weeks, spending two weeks each at two host families and then spending two weeks at a Lions Youth Exchange Camp that hosted 40 young people from around the world.
Tammi stayed with the Hans and Ruth Schilling and Rudei and Christa Huber families.
While visiting the Hubers, Tammi met Claudia and developed a friendship that spread to both Tammi and Claudia’s families to this current time.
Claudia visited Tammi in 1994 and returned in 1996 with her cousin Andrea, the year following Tammi’s passing due to a liver disease. Claudia’s brother Michael and a friend Michael visited us, also in 1996.
The years have gone by but during this 16-year time span, Claudia, Judy and I have kept in contact, mainly through messages and photos sent through email.
Claudia and husband Thomas have four children: Ilona, Vicky, Ellin and Nicco.
Yes, it was a dream to visit Switzerland and it was made possible by the efforts of a working colleague Bridget Kasper.
International travel is not foreign to many, but it was to Judy and me.
However, the entire trip went without a hitch and is an experience that words cannot truly do justice.
How can you explain coming into Claudia’s home and seeing four youngsters at the top of a stairway wondering who these foreign visitors were?
As we passed the threshold, the arms came out and we immediately became part of the family.
Claudia’s parents, Marcel and Margrit, and her brothers Michael and Rolf were also part of our stay.
There are so many highlights to this trip that they will be addressed in future Clicking on the Web columns.
We spent three nights at Claudia’s home in Wangen, seven nights in the mountain alps of Ried and three nights with Claudia’s parents in the small town of Oensingen.
While in the alps, we renewed our meeting with Claudia’s cousin Andrea and her family: Christian and sons Lukka and Raul.
Prior to making this trip, Judy and I studied feverishly, mainly due to the help of an Eyewitness Travel publication (DK) on Switzerland. This book, validated by our Swiss hosts, helped us plan our trip. Go to www.dk.com
We read in the book: “Located in the Alpine region of central Europe, Switzerland is a landlocked country covering some 41,300 square km (15,950 square miles) and inhabited by 7.5 million people, 22 percent of whom are non-Swiss.
“Switzerland borders Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, Italy to the south and France to the west and northwest.
“Switzerland consists of three distinct geographical regions, which stretch across the country southwest to northeast: the Jura mountains (where Claudia and her parents live), covering a small area in the northwest, the Mittelland, a central plateau and the Alps in the south and east. The capital city is Bern.”
We spent a day in Bern, 800 years old, before we returned to the USA.
Our first two days were spent in Luzern, central Switzerland’s largest town. It lies on the western shore of Lake Lucerne.
From its origins as a small fishing village, it grew into an important staging point when the St. Gotthard Pass was opened in 1220.
Our first day in Luzern was spent at the transport museum with Claudia and her family.
Thanks to Thomas’ aunt Franny, who was our personal tour guide, on the second day we toured the medieval Old Town which lies on the north bank of the River Reuss, and from the train station on the south bank, it can be reached by crossing the medieval Chapel Bridge. The bridge was burned in 1993 but rebuilt.
A highlight when visiting Luzern was to see the great Jesuitenkirche, the Jesuit church of St. Francis Xavier which was built in 1666-73.
Its onion-domed towers were not completed until the 19th century. The Baroque interior is richly decorated with stuccowork and the ceiling paintings depict the apotherosis of St. Francis Xavier.
Our guide Franny emotionally took us through the church and lighted a candle in memory of our daughter, Tammi.
There were highlights and there were highlights of this unbelievable trip and another was when I attended the Swiss national team’s soccer match in the Bern Stadium against the national team from Norway.
My ancestors come from Norway but on this night, I became a Swiss fan and echoed the cheers of others: “Hopp Schwiiz.” This means, “Go Swiss.”
This was my first professional soccer game and I learned more about the game than ever before. We sat seven rows from the field, directly behind the Norway bench. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Four days later at our flat in the Riederalps, we watched the Swiss defeat Iceland in Reykjavik, 2-0. These games were leading to qualifying for the World Cup in 2014.
The next day after the soccer match against Norway, Judy and I trekked to the Riederalp with Claudia, Thomas and family. The Riederalp is located just above the Rhone valley. It is closed to motor traffic but can be reached by cable car from Morel.
It was just like turning the clock back 200 years. We walked from our apartment to Claudia and Thomas’ flat and on the way, witnessed a herd of cattle, bells attached, grazing on the countryside. We also saw sheep and alpacas on the rolling mountainside.
We also had the opportunity to visit the Aletsch Glacier (or Grosser aletschgletscher) which stretches for about 23 km (14 miles) from the Jungfrau to a plateau above the Rhone valley.
At its widest point the glacier is 2 km (1 mile) across. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aletsch_Glacier More on Switzerland will be coming in future columns.
Editor’s note: Howard Lestrud is ECM Publishers’ online managing editor.