Hiking the Lakes

Today was again cloudy and cool, but perfect hiking weather.  We set out towards Flims and parked at an area around two lakes.  There are lots of trails here, and we started by making our way to Lake Cresta and around.

It was a short walk along a wide path through firs and moss, reminiscent of Middle Earth, or more mundanely of Ellen’s and my hike near Lake Superior.  We skidded down the path to the lake, which is an unearthly blue-green.  The water is so still and clear that you can see right down to the shallow bottom, covered with rock slabs and ghostly dead fir trees.

Halfway around we came to a little cafe where we veered off towards Conn and Lake Cauma.  This path was also filled with moss, firs, rocks and meadows.  We could hear cow bells clinking bt couldn’t be sure if they were somewhere just beyond view or if they were from the cows we could spot dotting the meadows across the valley.  We stopped for many wildflower shots, and once for a bit of chocolate beofre continuing on our way.  After a while we came to a restaurant filled with walkers, where we stopped for a delicious bowl of barley soup, Gerstensuppe.

Here we were above the Rhine, and a spectacular viewing structre beckoned to some of us.  Biffy and I stopped after the first set of steps and quickly made our way back down, where we could take pretty good pictures from a less scary vantage point.  Brave Silla and Judy lingered at the top and returned with wonderful views which I plan to steal to illustrate this blog.

We continued on through firs, moss, rocks, meadows and Alpenblicks.  Every now and then we would raise our eyes and more often than not see snow-covered peaks across the way.

Soon enogh we were at Lake Cauma, another clear, blue-green expanse, this one a bit more touristy as it is a popular swimming spot in summer.  The most fun was taking the funicular back up the steep mountainside. From here we wended our way back to the car.

More than six miles, 18,000 steps, and spectacular country.  Who could ask for more?

Oh, my, Obbeermutten!

From here we had one more stop, but what a stop it was!  Silla turned the car to the left off the main road and we began a steady ascent up the side of a mountain. We went up switchback after switchback, always thinking wemyst be there but always going up.  Finally the paved road became a dirt road, and still we went up.  We came ot Mutten, but no, we were headingto Obermutten, so still we went upward.

At LONG last, we reached the top.  It was chilly up here, and we even found some snow nestled in a few low spots.  We entered the small wooden church and enjoyed its simplicity.  We took in the views and the fresh, cold air and walked down the hill a bit to see whether we could see the valley where we started from – almost!

This was an amazing experience.  Silla was a sure-footed driver who never lost her nerve (though I would have many times over).  Here are a couple videos to give you a sense of the height, the views, and the bends.  Wow.

Geology! Waterfalls! Wildflowers!  History! Danger! 

The Via Mala had it all.

The churches made a wonderful start to the day, but it continued to be quietly spectacular. We drove along to the Via Mala, a path through a deep gorge carved by the Rhine.  This was one of the routes the Romans took through the Alps, so it has been in use for centuries.  But it’s not an easy route.

The path down to the gorge was punctuated by signage telling stories of disasters that overtook previous visitors.  Note to self:  a carriage hauling wine barrels + a driver too fond of his cargo + bad weather and nervous horses = the Rhine turned red from the wine (and perhaps from the blood of the injured as well).  We marveled at this enormous boulder wedged between the gorge walls, not just its size but its swirling markings.

We stopped to take pictures of wildflowers, played Pooh sticks at a bridge (Judy won), and marveled at the waterfalls.  To say nothing of the people who traversed the gorge before the advent of bridges and paths.  All hail the Romans!

A Rich, Full Day, part eins

Today could not have been more glorious.  Ancient, quiet churches, high mountains, lunch at an old mountain hotel, lovely walks – all was wonderful. We started out leaving Chur and going up the road to Rothenburn, where a painted castle stands high up on an outcrop overlooking the tiny village.  We walked up to the gate so that we could see it up close.  It’s now owned by an unpopular politician who just uses it for meetings. From here a path between meadows wound its way up a small hill to the church.  St. George’s, Sogn Gieri in Romansh, is unassuming from the outside, but inside is a riot of color.  St. George and his dragon are painted on the flat wooden ceiling, while the walls are covered with paintings depicting Bible stories.  I always like to see how Adam and Eve are portrayed.  The apse paintings have been well restored and are charming to behold. We were very struck by the pews.  Silla suggested that they were designed to have additional seating on top but we weren’t sure how that would work.  1741 is not so old in this part of the world, but it was a good period for graceful, simple architecture.

From here on towards Spluega.  But first, a stop in Zillis to the famous St. Martin’s church.  This was one of my clear memories from my year in Chur because of the mirrors you use to view the painted ceiling.  I had forgotten the gorgeous setting:  a valley set between high mountains (like most of this part of the world), with small villages dotting the landscape and snow on top of the mountains. But the church!

The exterior features an enormous painting of St. Christopher with the baby Jesus, although the church itself is dedicated to St. Martin. The nave/apse is painted in shades of cream, grey and red, simple and beautiful.  But turn your eyes upwards to see the most amazing painted flat ceiling.  I took no pictures but did purchase a little accordion-folded set of about eight of the panels.

Around the perimeter are pictures of fantastic half-land,half-sea creatures (fishy unicorn, swimmy wolf), but the rest depict stories from of Christ, from the Annunciation to Christ crowned in thorns.

We followed up with a visit to the nearby museum, featuring an informative slideshow about the history of the church and the provenance of the paintings.

From here to the Via Mala (see next post), and then on to Spluga.  We parked by a big old hotel bu Silla had another place  in mind. We walked up and up through the village, encountering roadwork that made the route a bit confusing.  Finally Silla found the little path around to the hotel, a Swiss Heritage hotel no less.

Inside was a very Swiss mistre of old and new, the old being the stone and wood structure and the new a set of elegant, simple steps, and these beautiful windows showing off the view of the meadows and mountains beyond.  Glorious.  We had a simple lunch of dried meat and cheese and bread, and then we left this spectacular place for an even more amazing one.

First Day in Chur

There we were, standing right next to each other in the passport control line and didn’t even know it! Great hugs all around, then found Silla with great joy.  She drove us through Zurich to Jurg’s elegant apartment overlooking the lake.  He and his wife, Nelly, gave us coffee and croissants and we caught up just a bit.

The apartment was so lovely that I had to take pictures of it -the clean lines, the oversized art – o, and even the people (photo to come).  It was lovely to see Jurg again after so long and to meet his wife.  Cheek kisses all around and we were off.

Silla and Biffy talked about this and that as she drove us the two hours to Chur.  Judy and I dozed in the back seat, waking up only to see one of the things I remember best from my year in Switzerland:  steep mountainsides dotted with farms, and the lake or valley below, then the mountains rising up just as steeply on the other side.  Wisps of cloud, fog and occasional rain obscured the view but just made it all the more magical.

Silla’s equally elegant apartment is just around the corner from Ottoplatz, where she grew up and I spent a year back in 1967-68.  WE were so jet-lagged that just about all we could do was pull out the sofabed and fall on it like wounded soldiers.  A two-hour nap restored us, as did a big slice of a delicious apple nut tart and a cup of tea.

With renewed vigor, we set out to walk around Chur. We started off at the Hotel Romantik where Biffy and Judy will be staying.  It is a charming old hotel with Carigiet paintings on the walls, knotty pine and beautiful stonework, and these delightful pillows (pic).

Although many memories have vanished over the last almost 50 years (can it be???), I absolutely remember the walk up a steep path to the CantonSchule.  The school itself, with its courtyard shaded by enormous trees, has long since been replaced by a new building, but the steep sidewalk and the bishop’s vineyards are still there.

We went into the Catholic cathedral, built on a site that has been home to a church since the 800s.  It’s fairly austere for a Catholic church, but the beautiful altar and some stained glass windows brightened the interior. We also liked these Celtic-looking animals (pic to come).

From here we walked down the hill, past the spot where in the 16th century there was a wall or gate separating the Catholics at te top  of the hill from the Protestants at the bottom.  This was the old town that I remembered, with cobbled streets, sgraffito’d house fronts, and interesting little shops.  We stopped at a pharmacy and ended up sampling Churer Roeteli, a local liqueur.  A little farther on was a fabric shop, and I ended up with a nice selection of locally inspired yardage.

By now it was starting to sprinkle, so we wended our way back home again, weary but happy, for Silla to cook for us while we draped ourselves over the furniture and assured her that we would be good helpers tomorrow when the jet lag wears off!

Spider lily (?) at the Getty Center

Planted today

These are around the two tomato plants (Brandywine and Sweet Cherry 100), where the butterfly bush used to be and where a new shrub – a viburnum? – will be planted this fall.  None of them is from this year, so let’s see how they do.

White seashells cosmos

Zinnia ‘cactus mix’

Butterfly zinnias cha-Cha-Cha