The rain fell heavily and steadily until about eleven this morning, but undeterred we left the fog enshrouded flat and started a long walk to Unterboden. The rain got lighter, it got heavier, it stopped, it started again.
We climbed up through deciduous forests and found ourselves in an alpine cluster of huts where cows and herders stay the summer. The fog hid the cows and then they reappeared; peaks with fresh snow towered above us, and the jagged tops looked like black shark’s teeth.
We descended into a valley and crossed from our canton, which is Glarus, into another canton: Uri. Uri is one of my favorite cantons: it’s wild in landscape, its people are earthy and pleasant and rather talkative, and the vibe is that of Switzerland untrammeled.
We reached the village: Unterboden. The schedule I’d been given today by the post office indicated that a bus would take us back to Braunwald at 4:45, but it was incorrect! A misprint! How unlike the Swiss.
Instead, we had to want until 5:50. The drawback was not getting back in time to shop for groceries and wine. The advantage was visiting a new, local dairy and buying yoghurt and milk; and, going to a local pub-restaurant and enjoying beers and soup in view of the long valley.
So tonight it’s teetotaling with bucatini, chanterelles, and young onions tossed in butter and Sbrinz.
After five straight days of splendid, but arduous hiking, it was fine that heavy rains came along with dense fog. It left us housebound, mostly, which meant I was able to finish reading another book and start a new one.
The yoghurt from the dairy in the next village over added a lot to the start of the day. The lentil soup and dark rolls and salami were good in the middle of the day. The fondue this evening, after World Cup, will be a fine way to put matters to rest.
Rumor has it that tomorrow we will have a return of good hiking weather so we’ll be on our feet again.
Beginning at the restaurant in Nussbuehl, with its verandah overlooking the Glarus alps, and a lovely lunch of Kalbswurst, rosti, and a thick onion sauce, we headed back up the mountain.
A long, tough climb past calves and cows.
At the top views of alpine valleys, an unusual alpine marsh, and those alps.
Tonight it’s spaghetti & bucatini.
You can hear the crows.
After about nine miles along a ridge, through forests, beside a lake, and in a pasture, I’m back at the modern house overlooking the village and distant valleys and the Glarus alps while sipping iced mountain water and feeling good as new after a long shower.
The dairy we passed by was closed after 10:30 A.M., but it was evident that it makes cheeses from the milk of cows and goats.
People are beginning to arrive from cities for quiet weekends.
If I can get the grill going, it’s kalbswurst, rot sauerkraut, oven roasted baby potatoes, and red wine from near the Rhone in the Valais.
But first: Most. (Hard apple cider.)
The day started with farm Speck and two large eggs mixed with Gruyere fried in Swiss butter and then Muesli and hazelnut yoghurt and blood orange juice and good strong coffee.
Then we took a Gondelbahn up the mountain and started a walk to the west along a ridge that went through forests and pastures with a view of the very majestic Glarus alps with Todi, the highest peak, flat at the top.
Along the way, we stopped and ate rolls from the village bakery with alpine cheese, smoked ham, and Emmental.
Heading east, we came to a narrow summit with views south, east, and west. Below was a lake and a dairy farm, and the sound of cow bells mixed with that of birds chirping.
At the end, we took hot showers and then drank Most–hard cider, about 4.5%–which we enjoyed with pretzels from the village store on a small, cement deck overlooking the mountains.
Heavy rains yesterday prevented a hike, as planned, so it was a restful day indoors for some time reading novels, which is a good thing. When the clouds lifted, we walked down the hill to buy walnut bread and lentils for soup.
The rain was light enough to walk through so we took a two mile hike in farm lands. The landscape is unlike any I’ve walked through in Switzerland, combining deciduous forests, chiefly Sycamore, with pine, open fields, and boulders.
Back at the apartment, named Sycamore Lodge, it was more reading with naps thrown in, and later a dinner of truffle stuffed ravioli, one oven braised young onion, and chanterelles cooked in butter.
The sun is out. We will take a cable car up and hike for hours today. Awaiting us this evening is a dinner of chanterelles and pappardelle with chopped beef and chives.
The Glarus alps, their peaks, anyway, are visible this morning through clouds and heavy rains. The valleys are hidden. The slopes and pastures can’t be seen.
Last night I made a simple risotto with two fresh porcini and served it with three, thick German spears of white asparagus cooked in butter, followed by lettuce tossed in olive oil and vinegar.
With today’s inclement weather it may be that we will have an indoor picnic of soup, Stanser Flada cheese, bread, and salad.
The skies may clear.
After a Sunday in Luzern, spent along the lake, and then by the concert hall, designed by Jean Nouvel, we fetched a family member, became a trio, ate in the pub of the hotel where clear chicken soup and a quail egg preceded a kind of typical Luzern puff pastry stuffed with veal, accompanied by a 2004 Bricco Rocche (what will those Ceretto brothers think of next?), we left today, Monday, for the high mountains.
It is a three hour train ride to Braunwald, reachable at the end strictly by funicular, and it is as quiet and breathtaking as it is remote. We arrived in a torrential mountain storm with high winds, lightning, and thunder. An elderly man, German by birth, in his nineties, found us a “taxi,” as the village is car free. Our daughter had carried his suitcase for him.
Having shopped for porcini, chanterelles, ravioli, pappardelle, and vegetables at Globus and Coop in Luzern, all we needed here was milk, eggs, and butter. We found that in the one village store where a girl stood barefoot.
Unlike some places or cultures, where the context defines behaviors, Switzerland for the most part, with one glaring exception, is a nation in which people go about their business headstrong and unyielding.
(The exception is the mountains where it is impossible to allow one’s perceptions, moods, thoughts, or feelings dictate the terms of experience. That doesn’t stop the Swiss from trying.)
The result of Swiss focus can be found in a broad fascination for engineering as a means of twisting the environment to conform to human needs. Unlike some countries, like Japan, which I know best after this place, Switzerland, through its citizens, seeks mastery of nature.
On a practical level, this means an infrastructure unparalleled (and aided by government mandated allocation of moony to the public sector, yet another irony in a nation notorious for being a haven of tax evaders in their own countries; the tax evaded capital is used, in part, to build a public infrastructure here!).
Even more practically, we are talking about the world’s best breads and cheeses. Why, only yesterday my old friend Rolf Beeler, Switzerland’s top cheese maker, sold me chunks of his Gruyere, Emmental, Stanser Flada, and a craze good Glarus cheese. To say nothing of the Willy Schmidt blue.
Sometimes challenging nature rather than trying to refine it has its gustatory rewards.
Luzern with its centuries old Italianate buildings along the River Reuss, is a place I’ve known, with growing intimacy, since I was thirteen. Once a trading center with Italy, nowadays and for close to two hundred years, Luzern resonates instead with those seeking an idyll of urban life centered close to the mountains and beside an enormous lake.
This morning, which is a weekly market day, I stopped by the booth of my friend Rolf Beeler, who I’ve known seventeen years, whose Gruyere and Emmental are simply the best. The depth of their flavors and the textures are memorable. Rolf, a former teacher, has a feel for the work, and an awareness of structure needed to repeat each year the tastes of his cheeses. Today we talked about a farm in Glarus; I’ll need to go there apparently to write about the family’s work with an Alpine herd of cows that graze on high grasses and then lower hay that is so carotin rich it changes the color of the milk from white to a faint orange.
Later today the idea is to take the boat to Vitnau and then the train to Rigi and then walk down to Weggis. It’s a walk I’ve done many times, and it’s always refreshing.