The Mallers Do Europe (July 2003)

Welcome to another Maller family travelog!

Doreen enrolled in the European Graduate School this summer for a Ph.D. program. The classes are being held the picturesque Swiss village of Saas Fee. Doreen's journey began in late June, and now it's July and Steve and the boys have finally caught up with her. We're exhausted, but ready to begin our exploration of Switzerland. Our travel itinerary will take us to Italy next week, also.

July 6 2003
In Transit
Our journey to the Swiss Alps proved to be logistically complicated, as Saas Fee is more or less equidistant from Zurich and Geneva, and a lengthy train ride from both. We flew British Airways from SFO to London Heathrow, and connected to a BA flight to Zurich. We then boarded a train to Bern, then another to Brig. Finally, the lone bus that runs from Brig to Saas Fee had long since gone home, so a 160 Swiss Franc taxi ride was our only option! But we did finally make it just short of midnight Sunday. As is usually the case, the "in transit" photos are rather silly and unflattering. This trip's collection is no exception.
July 7 2003
In Saas Fee &
In Transit
Doreen has been raving about how beautiful Saas Fee is, and we can understand why. Unfortunately, our brief stay with Doreen didn't permit me to get any photos, but we'll be back here in a few days, and I'll send along photos at that time. After breakfast we sat in for a lecture about Vincent Van Gogh, then once again hit the road. Or the rails, to be precise. I'm writing this aboard a train headed for a reunion with our friends the Kläusli's who we met in Thailand last year. We arrived at the train station in Winterthur to find Peter and Christopher right outside the door of the train. Those Swiss are something else! Saras made a very nice dinner for us all, and Christopher delighted Max and Sam with a tour of their village.
July 8 2003
Hanging out with
the Kläuslis
Our long-awaited reunion with the Kläusli family brought us to their beautiful village of Balterswil in northern Switzerland. The Kläuslis took wonderful care of us, making us two delicious authentic dinners, including our first experience with Raclette. We also went to the top of a mountain called Santis, and visited a spectacular weather station at 2500 meters. Fortunately we took a cable car instead of having to climb. We also went to a cheese factory, and Christopher, Max and Sam got all caught up on the goings on in each of their lives.
July 9 2003
Back In Saas Fee
After another trek across Switzerland (our third!) we returned to Saas Fee today for the last few days of Doreen's studies. She delighted us with lunch and a quick trip up the mountain, where we had a magnificent view of the village and the surrounding mountains. Then it was back to class for Doreen, and the boys and I are scheming as to how to occupy ourselves for the next few days.
July 10 2003
Touched By An Angel
Today started out pleasantly enough, with Max and Sam sleeping in, and Steve being able to catch up on the laundry and other chores while Doreen headed off to another day at school. We headed off to see the EisPavillion, a seemingly interesting museum atop one of the nearby mountains. Quite an adventure ensued, which is documented here in its entirety. After recovering from our adventure, we all spent the evening together at a couple of school events, including a reception after the Masters group's graduation and a delightful clown show. I took quite a few photographs, which can be found in this photo gallery.
July 11 2003
Another Day In Paradise
Max and Sam and I decided today we'd kick back a little, do some Javascript coding, and then take on one of the local hills. We followed one of the rivers for a bit, couldn't find a way across, so we headed up on the of the dreaded "zig-zag" trails. We zigged. We zagged. We zigged. We zagged. We zigged. We zagged. We zigged. We zagged. Gasp! We didn't make it very far, but it was great to be up there, and the photos are ample evidence of the good time we had. It was just gorgeous up there.
July 12 2003
High Altitude Fun
Max and Sam and I took off and challenged ourselves to an inspiring and energetic hike today. I had seen a picturesque set of waterfalls just above where we'd been hiking a day or two ago, and it didn't look unsurmountable. Once we got going, though, I realized it was going to be more difficult than we thought. I misjudged the steepness of the hike (a climb, really), and there also wasn't a trail there, so we were climbing loose rocks the whole way up. Nevertheless, we were rewarded once again with beautiful views of Saas Fee and the surrounding mountains, not to mention feeling the spray and thunder of the waterfalls. This evening Doreen's school presented a performance with many different forms, including interpretive dance, music and a lovely satire Doreen's group presented. There are many photos posted on a separate website that I made primarily for the enjoyment of the students and teachers, but you're welcome to come take a look, too!
July 14 2003
Verona and Venice
On something of a whim, Doreen and I decided that we'd take a crack at hopping in our new rental car and heading east to Venice. We weren't sure what to expect with finding our way and the traffic and parking and the storied Italian drivers. But it worked out beautifully. We have a nice little Ford Mondeo station wagon with a turbodiesel engine that's surprisingly peppy. And despite the complete unfamilarity with the roads here, we managed to find our way out to the "Autstrada" (the Italian equivalent of US Interstate highways). Once on the Autostrada, I realized that the posted 110km/hr speed limit was just a polite suggestion; the prevailing velocity in the fast lane was well above that. Once I got tucked into that most manly of traffic lanes, the Mondeo's speedometer was hovering at about 160km/hr, which translates into 100mph. That was fun for us to do that, and it made the 120km or so to Venice go by rather quickly. The Italian drivers can be intimidating, but they are simply agressive. If you drive conscientiously and alterly, they're actually much better than American drivers. Once in Venice, we discovered a city which has been both commercially infested and yet beautifully preserved. The piazzas, the architecture, the canals...all of it is just as it has looked in movies and books. We were pleasantly surprised, and despite deciding not to take a romatic gondolier ride, we declare the day's excursion a success. We returned to Verona by just past nightfall, went out for a late evening dinner, and turned in, satisfied with another day's adventure.
July 15 2003
Verona
The Maller Brothers in
A Night At The Opera
This day's early adventures involved getting our clothes clean, getting our email, and doing some shopping. We bought tickets to see Bizet's Carmen in the "Arena di Verona", the magnificent ancient architectural marvel next to our hotel. It is an open theater in the spirit of Rome's Coliseum, and probably every bit as old. I read several admonitions on the internet about how uncomfortable the stone seats might be (we opted for the "cheap seats" at a savings of almost $100 per seat), the crowding and whatnot. So we got all dressed up in some of our new Italian finery, we queued up early to get good seats, we brought a blanket to sit on, and it really worked out quite well. The staging of the show was on a scale that Doreen and I had never experienced. There were at times well over 100 actors and actresses on the stage, several beautiful horses, donkeys, and stage sets that took your breath away. Max and Sam expired after the second act, so I quickly ran them back to our hotel, and made it back just as the "intermezzo" was ending. As if it couldn't get any better, the moon rose over the stage as Act III was beginning, which lent a spooky air to what is already a surreal set of scenes. It was another lovely evening in Verona, which as turned out to be a perfect city for us.
July 16 2003
Verona & Lake Garda
On The Road
We made a quick stop at the Castle Vecchio in Verona before heading out on the road. It appears to be like so many dozens of other castles that one would see in Europe, but this one has a distinguishing characteristic: it houses a magnificent, world-class art collection. Doreen was excited to see some original works by many of the masters of days gone by. It was well worth the detour. We left Verona early in the afternoon, and headed for Italy's "lake country". We had originally planned to go to Lake Como, but found ourselves drawn to the more rustic and provincial Lake Garda. Upon arrival, we decided on a lark to circumnavigate the lake in the counter-clockwise direction, which turned out to be the wise choice because the East side of the lake is quite built up and rather slow in driving because of the multitude of little beach resorts along the way. But once over the top and heading down the west side of the lake, it's pretty much a straight shot, with a lot of surreal, very long (more than 1,000 meters) tunnels cut into the granite. After becoming hilariously lost (three times through the same two-mile sequence of tunnels!), we found our way to our chosen destination, Sirmione. We drove out onto the tiny peninsula (think San Francisco, but about two miles long by about 100 meters in places) and wandered into the Hotel Sirmione, a lovely and luxurious place on the end of the peninsula. Fortunately, we managed to secure two rooms and moved in for a couple of days. Sirmione is just gorgeous, and we look forward to a couple days' R&R.
July 17 2003
Sirmione, Lake Garda
Two Wheelin’
We’ve truly adopted the Italian notion of a day, with a late breakfast (typically 10:00 AM), a light lunch at 3:00 or so, and dinner near sunset (8:30 or 9:00). This morning we wanted to wake up early and avail ourselves of some free bicycles that our hotel said we could use, but we couldn’t drag our tired bodies out of bed any earlier than usual. So once we got the bikes (a truly rag-tag assortment), we headed out at just before noon, something only knuckleheaded Americans would do in the 90 degree heat and high humidity of Northern Italy in July. The countryside around Sirmione is beautiful, with numerous beachfront walkways and bike paths, nice flat roads and picturesque vineyards and farms. Despite the heat and some navigational challenges, we put in a vigorous 25 kilometers or so, and we were all four thrilled with the ride. The rest of the day was fairly quiet, so there are few photos from today.
July 18 2003
Sirmione to Milano
Yet Another Rendezvous
We climbed up inside the ancient Roman castle that’s next door to the Hotel Sirmione. It gave us a lovely perspective on this beautiful little piece of land. Then we headed back to the Autostrada for the drive to Milano. We made it to the Milan city limits in decent time, despite some of the first real traffic we'd seen. But once inside the city, we found ourselves hopelessly disoriented. The Italian version of urban planning is quite hysterical. Milanese streets are rarely straight for even one block, and tend to change names at each intersection, making navigation a comic endeavor. And of course the addresses are of no use at all. I'm amazed at how the locals find their way around. Somehow, Doreen pulled a rabbit out of her hat and got us from the city center where we had landed to our destination (Hotel Rubens). Our dear friend Ann Brownstone ("Annie B.") was alread there with her daughter Liza, and our other London-based expat friend Paula Tevis showed up later in the afternoon. Once we all had our reunions, we all got ourselves gussied up for our night on the town. Ann had ordered us tickets for Teatro alla Scala, Milan's historic opera house. It is currently undergoing renovations but their production of West Side Story was quite fun and excitingly staged in their temporary quarters, and made for a great evening on the town. Thanks to Paula, we even skipped the very expensive taxi ride home and used the relatively efficient undergroud Metro system to get home, and interesting cultural experience at nearly midnight.
July 19 2003
Milano, Italy
Urban Explorations
Today is to be our only full day here in Milan, so all seven of us headed out relatively early (11:00 AM!). Just as our good travel luck would have it, there was a local market set up right across the street from our hotel, and we took the time to stroll through, sample some of the produce and take some photos. Our major activity for today was to visit the Museum of Science and Technology, which ironically was also undergoing renovations. But they have some carefully constructed versions of many of Leonardo da Vinci's engineering drawings, as well as some other interesting technologically-oriented exhibits. We all did some shopping with moderate success. The trains proved a convenient and inexpensive way to get around Milan. Our day came to a close with an absolutely delightful and delicious dinner at a restuarant downtown. Our dinner and our way home were filled with stories and songs. We really miss the Brownstones and the Tevis/Katzs!
July 20 2003
Milano, Italy
The Last Walk and the Last Supper
Today we began our long goodbye to Europe with a quick visit to the small church nearby that is the home of da Vinci's famous rendition of The Last Supper. We were late getting there (directions in Milan are pointless!) so despite having to pay the full tariff of 8 Euros each to get in, our sparsely narrated visit was over all too quickly. But the sight of that magnificent piece of work was quite inspiring to us all. We bought lots of souvenirs, too. After a leisurely walk back ot our hotel, we packed up our rooms, said our goodbyes, and are now on board a train beneath the mighty Swiss Alps on the way to Zurich. We're going to have dinner tonight with Hans, one of Doreen's classmates from EGS. Then we depart Zurich first thing in the morning for London, then on to San Francisco.
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