In the US, the common refrain is “I need a vacation.” In Europe, that refrain is more like “Which holiday is next week?” What they say about European vacation time and holidays is true. There are a lot of them. And to add more green to US envy, Spring Break is always two weeks and falls on Easter. And everyone gets the exact same two weeks. What a novel idea.
Thinking it rude to go on holiday while my in laws were in town, we decided to stay put for the first week. (I happen to like them a lot so it wasn’t really a concession. Although I do like to keep them on their toes.) For the second week, we debated between Croatia and Switzerland. Back home, that debate would have been whether we would drive to Sun Valley via the Interstate or back roads. And of course, which kid would have to miss school. Croatia took the lead when we saw 20 Euro roundtrip airfare per person -- meaning our family of four could fly to another country for less than the cost of a single NBA game ticket. Wowza. In the end, we decided to save Croatia for another (warmer) time. So a road trip to Switzerland it was. It took us only 5 ½ hours to reach our destination – so roughly half the time it takes us to drive from Seattle to Sun Valley. I think that calls for another Wowza.
Early April is officially slack season in Switzerland (and
many ski areas north of the equator). With warming conditions (except for
Luxembourg, Spring 2013, but that’s another blog post about the winter that won’t
end in Northern Europe), retreating lowland snow, only a couple of downhill ski
runs stay open, all the epic 5+km
sledding hills have closed, and as we discovered – most of the restaurants have
shut their kitchens for the season too. No
fondue for you! But, slack or not, Switzerland is not lacking in beauty at any
time of the year. We rented a chalet in
the small village of Rossinière in the Alps area of Pays-d'Enhaut. Sandwiched in between the touristed town of
Gruyere (birthplace of the famous stinky cheese) and the ritzy resort of Gstaad
where the slogan is “Come up – Slow Down”, this valley could be described as
one of the more undiscovered parts of Switzerland. With sun shining bright for the first two
days (a welcome change from Luxembourg, but again more on that later), we
chased the snow (which really wasn’t very hard) to find some of the “best sledding
hills of all time” in Saanemoser, did an amazing alpine snow shoe hike in
Launensee (where we had to turn back after encountering a sheer ice climb), and a couple of Wanderweg walking hikes along gorgeous one lane
country roads. We didn’t have a walking
stick, but we should have. The boys were happy walkers, and we had some memorable conversations that seem only to happen out in the fresh air.
After being out all day, we’d retire back to the 300 year old chalet we rented. The chalet – appropriately named the “Heidi Chalet” – was 1 km up a mountain road overlooking a lake without a neighbor in sight. The setting was spectacular. Being that it was built in the 1700s (!), the entire cabin with attached barn was made of wood and very rustic. Brett sustained several concussive events with the low ceilings. Heidi’s husband was clearly not 6’3”. We were cognizant of the fire hazard that is a wood house and so were very careful about use of the wood stove. We were however not so careful about checking for wood tongs inside the toaster before using it. Smelling smoke in a wood house when you should not be smelling smoke is a disturbing event. And then there was my first ten minutes in the rustic kitchen where the glass top on the gas stove exploded into thousands of tiny pieces. Oi vey. How was I to know the glass top was only a cover and supposed to be removed before I boiled a pot of water? Answer: the same way that I should have known to not leave potatoes in a basket on the floor. Something’s nibbling at my potatoes and my common sense.
But rustic aside, the cabin was comfortable, cozy and the
perfect setting to slow down and relax. We ate well, made (safe) fires, played board
games (Ticket to Ride Europe and Spy Alley), explored outside, threw darts,
read, and the boys even did a woodworking project. That’s what can happen when you put the iPad
away for a week. They made a stool – not
exactly one a human can sit or stand on, but one that could hold a few pounds
(and maybe whatever was eating my floor-stored potatoes.) If you know Brett, you know that this was a unique experience. It was also a unique experience having the
shower and toilet in two separate rooms, which was accessed through the unheated
barn part of the house. Kind of like an
inside outhouse. Okay… I’m not actually
putting rustic aside. We were warned there was limited water supply –
due to an unsealed well filled with rainwater.
Our showers were hot and the water pressure better than 1908 E. Calhoun
Street. Though I would guess with
several feet of snow melting, water supply is not an issue during Slack season. Neither was finding things to do even in a place where most things -- except nature -- were closed. Maybe I'm a closet camper after all.
The thing about the European’s approach to vacation time is that it gives you more than one opportunity to release tension. We all need a little more slack – in time, expectations, pace of life. So for my friends at home who deserve much more slack than I do – those of you who are struggling with illness, parenting alone, difficult relationships, financial hardship, and more – wishing you a Spring Break where you get a break.
(See all Switzerland photos)