Hiking in Gstaad
Switzerland  (July, 2010)
Obviously, the Swiss do not celebrate United States Independence Day, so Irmi, me, and our friend, Luciano, spent the
fourth of July weekend hiking in and around the mountain resort town of Gstaad.  A three-hour drive from Zürich, Gstaad
is located between Lake Tun and Lake Geneva, a Mecca for the rich and famous but also accommodating to those of us
not so wealthy and not so well-known.  Our friend, Doris, had been wanting us to visit for quite some time.  Her partner,
Christian, grew up in the region and owns a small dairy farm there.  He would be our tour guide and culinary advisor.
After driving for over an hour, we stopped at Cafe Krenger, overlooking Lake Lungern in
 the village of Lungern.  Luciano is sitting on the left and Irmi on the right.  It was a warm
  day, so Irmi ordered an ice coffee, which on The Continent consists of a deep glass of
 ice cream drenched in warm coffee.  Luciano and I opted for manly double espresso's.
This is Lake Lungern, viewed from our seats on the outdoor terrace of Cafe Krenger. 
We have arrived.  This is Gässlihof (pronounced "guess-lee-hoaf"), a sort of dairy 
farm bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Gstaad run by friends of Christian and Doris.
If you stand at the front door of Gässlihof and turn ninety degrees to the right, this is what you see.
Friday evening, at Gässlihof, enjoying dinner.  L to R:  Doris, Christian, me, and Luciano.
(with Irmi behind the camera)
Late Saturday morning, hiking in the hills above Gstaad.
See the red blooms?  Those are called "Alpine Roses."
Whoa!  Check out the babe downhill.  Let's see if we can get a good shot of her.
Irmi, checking out the guy who is checking her out.
Doris and Irmi out in front.  The low stone wall must be several hundred years old.
Beyond every hill is . . . another hill.  That's Luciano standing at the crest.
In winter, I ski across meadows covered in three to five feet of snow and never give a thought to what
lay beneath my feet; in summer, I wander among these magical blooms.  Where do they come from?
Luciano and Doris ahead.  See the band of sunlight across the distant hills?
Doris with her faithful Kiera (pronounced Key-Rah).  Kiera is a purebred
Alpenzeller, an extremely loyal, one-person dog.  Kiera bounded headlong
through open meadows and scrub brush alike, an absolute joy to watch.
We stopped at this old farm house for lunch -- and to witness a batch of Alpine cheese in the making.
About twenty cows are housed in a barn on the other side of the wall.  The large copper kettle was filled
with milk and warmed over a wood fire for about one hour.  Here, the Farmer has just opened the curved
  protective steel casing and swung the kettle out and away from the fire and closed the steel casing again.
The milk has curdled from the heat and settled at the bottom of the kettle.  The farmer and his
wife are in the process of scooping out a batch; and, yes, folks, that is genuine cheese cloth.
Next, the curdled mass has been pounded into a round wooden form.
The round wooden forms are then placed under one-hundred pounds of pressure for approximately one hour.
After one hour, the cheese wheels are removed from the wooden forms and placed in a cool cellar to age.
Three to eight months must pass before the cheese becomes edible.  The markings on the cheese wheels
 identify the production date and the farmer who provided the milk, as several farmers share this kettle room.
After lunch and the cheese demonstration, we hit the trail again.  This was the first time
 I had been in the lead all day, so I turned to my rear and snapped a shot of the others:
Luciano on the left, Doris in front, and Irmi in the rear, with Lake Arnen in the background.
Having climbed higher still, we paused again to look back down on Lake Arnen.  The
  structure in the middle is where we ate lunch and watched the cheese being made.
This was the highest point of our ascent.  Christian's father, at that time ninety years young and imprisoned
 in an old folk's home, had spent many summers living in the hut in the distance and also climbed several of
the mountains in the background.  Doris promised to bring him a photo of "his" hut, and some Alpine Roses.
Pausing a few minutes before heading back down the mountain.
  L to R:  Kiera, Doris with her Alpine Roses, Irmi and Me (with Luciano behind the camera).
Luciano and Irmi taking a short break next to a small (hidden) stream.
Having dropped several hundred meters, we approach the shoreline of Lake Arnen.  Luciano
 and Doris are about to disappear around the bend, . . . and Irmi and I are about to steal a kiss.
The trail on the left side of the lake was blocked due to recent flooding, so we backtracked around to the
right side for the final leg to our car, parked beyond the tree-covered spine extending across the water.
Around eight o'clock Saturday evening, Christian drove us up a steep, kidney-jarring rutted and oft
 unpaved road to a vantage point at 1800 meters elevation for a panoramic view of the surrounding
 area.  A sliver of Lake Arnen, where we had hiked earlier in the day, is visible in the background.
  Left to Right:  Ron, Doris, Christian, and Luciano (with Irmi, of course, behind the camera).
Celebrating dinner Saturday night at a tiny, one-man (French) extremely rustic restaurant halfway up the
mountain.  (We are sitting in a former animal stall!)  The menu called for cheese fondue, and yours truly is
lactose intolerant, so the chef also provided homemade soup, farm bread, pickled onions, sausages, and
   dried meat strips from a pet cow butchered the previous fall.  I must say, it is unnerving to be told the name
of the unfortunate beast that gave its life for your main course; but, hungry is hungry, and I ate with gusto.
Our room at the Gässlihof Sunday morning, as we prepared to check out.
Our hosts, Walter and Daniela.  Friday evening, we came together as strangers.
Sunday afternoon, we parted as friends.  That's how it works high in the Alps.
Late Sunday morning, we took a stroll through downtown Gstaad.  Unfortunately, the old man on the bench
wouldn't move, so there he sits, in the middle of the snapshot.  See the flags above the street?  The Swiss
 flag hangs at both the far left and far right.  Along with Vatican City, it is one of only two national flags in the
world that are square and not rectangular.  The two flags containing the bear are from the Canton of Bern.
One of the oldest chalets in Gstaad.  Irmi could not resist the gorgeous flowers on the balcony railings.
On the drive home, we stopped for coffee at a small restaurant on the shores of Lake Tun, in the village of
Faulensee.  The weather here was much warmer than up in the mountains.  The lake water was still on the
chilly side (18 degrees C / 65 degrees F), but a group of scuba divers were training, and a few brave young
 boys went swimming.  We settled for dipping our feet in at the water's edge.  (Luciano at left; Ron at right.)
That's all, folks.  Adios, adieu, und auf Wiedersehen.

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