In one good day of driving we left the heat and passion of Rome behind. We drove through Umbria, through Tuscany, up to the Lombardy region and the beautiful lakes. We only stopped for gas. We had a mission: we were on our way to visit out friends who live near Thun, in Switzerland, and we didn’t want to be late. And, to be honest, we were pretty motivated to be settled in a hotel on the other side of the Swiss border before kickoff of the World Cup game between Germany and Spain. And we made it!
I cannot convey how funny it is to drive from Italy into Switzerland. My mind cannot grasp that two such different countries can share a land border. In Italy the air is heavy and horns blow constantly. Couples on mopeds buzz like mosquitos up and down the sidewalks, and women in huge sunglasses thump themselves in the chest and fling their arms out while they talk. The sorbet is so good, and the orange juice is almost always freshly squeezed. The espresso is a small tablespoon of oily black in the depths of the cup. Heaven. Switzerland? Cool, crisp air. Stunning mountains and hiking trails connecting every valley. Highways and roads functioning perfectly, in total order. A woman in a bookshop took 15 minutes to wrap a book that cost $5 . On the streets were not only trash bins, but bins to sort recyclables about 7 different ways. Also heaven. But how can they be so different? Not only that, but for a while into Switzerland, the official language is still Italian. We headed into the San Gotthard tunnel, and all the signs were in Italian. We came out to find ourselves in a German-speaking Alpine wonderland. Bizzarre.
Rory and Nora were thrilled to be in snow-covered mountains. After 9 weeks in Spain and Italy they were no longer excited about dry hills topped with castle ruins. My exclamations from the front seat of, ‘Hey, y’all, look at that!’ were meet with increasingly dull, “Oh, yeah, wow,” just to humor me. They hardly ever glanced up anymore. Now, in Switzerland, I was the one called on to witness stunning scenery and amazing sights. I pulled over near the Susten Pass, and those two burst from the car and scampered all over the hillsides until I rounded them up again half and hour later. Nora, after our two months last summer out west in the US and Canada, was delighted to discover that some mountains come with cafes on the hillside. Hiking with stops for juice and hot tea? Now you’re talking! We drove on to our friends’ with Nora and Rory foreswearing Switzerland to be the best country in the world and Larissa and Valeria the luckiest kids to live in it.
Well, two days with Silvia and Daniel and their family didn’t change Rory and Nora’s mind one bit. We played in the shadow of flowery chalets. We swam (well, they swam- I was too cold) in a gorgeous pool at the foot of a massive mountain. Nora in particular loved their spacious, bright wood-filled house. I learned to make syrup from mint leaves (or from Holundeer leaves, if I can figure out what they are). It was great to catch up with these guys, friends from a year we all lived in Kansas when our husbands were in school together. Over long chats with Silvia I realized how much I miss the company of other women who send their husbands off and then carry on the best they can. I feel so lucky when, out of all the folks in the world and in Army circles, I meet a friend like Silvia.
Silvia and Daniel helped us plan a route into Germany that was peaceful and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. We stopped in Luzern for a couple of hours, then followed the road around the lake and headed north. Now, we’ve gone months on this trip without crossing an international border, so imagine our delight to find that in one day we were (however tangentially) in four countries. The road we were on started in Switzerland, went into Lichtenstein, cut across a little finger of Austria, and then entered Germany. How exciting is that?