I awaken in the dead of night to a thunderstorm. The sound of the sky exploding echoes around the mountains and back again. Rain pelts down on the rooftop below us. I stand for a while at the curtains, trying to spy some lightning over the peaks, but none appears. At last I sleep again.
In the morning, we head back into Lugano, where the shops are now open. Wendy, Carolyn, Mary Jo and I wander through the cobblestone streets but all we seem to buy is food. Sandwiches and chocolate land in our bags – and then Wendy and Mary Jo each purchase a bottle of Proseco (Italian champagne) and MJ snags some plastic glasses as well. The sun comes out and it’s warm and relaxing as we stroll along the lake toward the bus stop.
Later, the bus gears up into the mountains, and suddenly, we see the full splendor of the Alps. Thanks to last night’s rain, they are now sugared with snow, glistening in the sun, their craggy, odd peaks resembling a giant potter’s leftover clay. We are amazed at their stunning majesty; the entire group breathes out gasps of wonder and appreciation. You can’t help but gasp: it’s like every movie or postcard or picture book you’ve ever seen, and yet it’s so much more. We arrive at a scenic rest stop and stand tiny and awed by the sheer size and magnificence of nature.
We are still in Switzerland, but the architecture is different from Lugano. This is pure Swiss. Signs are now in German, replacing the Italian of Ticino.
Cottages with windows boxes overflowing with red and white flowers, sloped roofs, stone and wood chalets, dot the landscape. Shutters spread wide around ornate windows. Here and there we glimpse a field of goats or cows or horses. MJ and I think of the bucolic views in France.
The trees here are mostly evergreen. Their trunks are spindly and straight as they rise up from the mountainside to reach the sunlight. Waterfalls cascade from the cliffs. A village tucked into a valley between sheer rock cliffs and white frosted mountainsides makes us moan with amazement. Lakes and rivers of clear aqua blue follow our bus along the arch-strewn highway. Cliffs and crevices, sheer slices of rock, the enormous height of this earth that has been tossed skyward, are overwhelming.
We begin the climb downward and now the landscape is less captivating, mainly because of the many tunnels through which we drive. So we pull out our sandwiches and our chocolate and our wine and we have a wonderful, civilized lunch aboard our coach. MJ is feeling wonderful: she declares that “a little wine does a lot of good” and we all agree, tipping our plastic tumblers of bubbly to one another.
The clouds emerge from behind the tunnels, misting over the mountains, filling up the crevices. It’s windy and cool now, with sprinkles of raindrops on the windows. The trees are suddenly in the throes of autumn, streaked red and yellow.
We stop at service and food centre called Heidiland, where they actually have goats in a miniature mountain display. Carolyn tries to kiss one, but they’re too shy.
When we climb back on the bus, someone has purchased some stinky cheese, so I have to use my chocolate-covered almond bag as an oxygen mask.
Now the cliffs are somewhat lower; trees lean over the very edges. We pass a truck full of sheep; he is yawning widely, hunched over the steering wheel. MJ says no wonder, he must be counting them.
We pass through Lichtenstein, a small country the size of most cities, and into Austria.
Suddenly the architecture is very different. The houses are tall and narrow, painted red and green and deep blue. Round stone towers appear unceremoniously in the middle of a busy modern street. Cupolas and narrow shutters grace the homes. Often, a symbol or a crest is painted directly on the outside wall, a modern fresco. The Inns river races along beside us, now a milky aqua, mixed with the limestone from the white walls of the mountains. Emerald green fields whiz past when we are not engulfed by a tunnel.
Innsbruk is ringed by mountains. Wide avenues and tall painted homes line the streets. Our hotel is called Alpenpark and I’m happy when we arrive: free wireless once again.
Unfortunately, MJ has a mishap with her camera and inadvertently erases all her pictures, from this trip and others, including videos of her granddaughter’s first steps and words. She is devastated, but she handles it quite well.
At dinner, we have to order wine, because, after all, a little wine does a lot of good.