a girl, a guy, a tomato, a bean, and a bear

Monday, March 30, 2009

February 2008- Pisa, Florence, & Switzerland- Part IV

Ah! Finally! The last set of pictures from the Italy/Switzerland trip of last year. Now I only have to squeeze in all of March's pictures by...tomorrow. Who thinks that will happen?

Most of this set is more from Florence. These first two were taken from the rooftop cafe terrace inside the Ufizzi.


These next two were taken from the famous square, Piazzale Michelangelo, which, as you can see, has a fantastic view overlooking Florence. On the way up we had our second helping of gelato and realized we'd been waaaay fleeced as tourists the first time around. Our first sampling was on the famous Ponte Vecchio, a bridge spanning the Arno lined with shops of all varieties. We are pretty saavy travelers and should have known better than to buy something as touristy as gelato in a place as touristy as the Ponte Vecchio. I think we were charged something like 14 euro for two cones--something to the tune of $20 for a couple of scoops of ice cream. Yikes! The prices weren't listed and we were too sheepish to back out once we had the cones in hand. Anyway, the next day we stopped for more on the walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and when the woman held up 4 fingers, I fished out 8 euro, thinking we'd found a deal on two cones. No, no she gestured--4 euro for BOTH cones total, not each. We got MUCH more gelato for WAAAAAY less. Live and learn.

We almost didn't make the trek up the hill in the first place, actually. I had to beg Justin to walk up to the piazzale--it's kind of out of the way, and obviously uphill. His default setting is resistance when it comes to "adventures," but is always agreeable once I get him going. He would much prefer to be curled up snug at home with a good book or writing. I am really a homebody at heart too, but I do enjoy traveling and a good adventure.


We knew this about eachother, but we also learned a valuable lesson during this trip, as illustrated by...


(to be said loudly
and with an eerie echo)

Ok, so the THE PARABLE OF THE MATTERHORN!!!! begins innocently enough. We checked out of our hotel in Pisa and started the day trying to find the Army installation, Camp Darby, that is nearby. We wanted to make a pit stop there to pick up gas coupons so that we could avoid paying through the nose for gas on the Italian economy. Unfortunately, Camp Darby is not well signed and we got lost, not having an address to put into the GPS. It took a couple of hours longer than we had planned and by the time we'd FINALLY found the darned place and filled up on gas, we were way off schedule and a bit frazzled.

The inital plan was to drive back through Switzerland at a leisurely pace, taking in the beautiful and scenic views of the Alps and breaking that night near Lucerne. Easy. I had, maybe a bit ambitiously, hoped to see both the Matterhorn and drive through Interlaken as well. It was going to be maybe a 7 hour driving day, but that's not too much for me.

My problem, however, is that I plan for the "best case scenario" and in the face of reality I will often Pollyanna my way into trouble. Having had such a delayed start, we should have nixed the Matterhorn, but I just couldn't. I COULDN'T! I figured we were never going to make a trip back to Europe just to see the Matterhorn, and it was oh so famous--our lives would certainly be imcomplete without witnessing it and all of its glory in person. To be SO close (relatively) and NOT see it was certainly a crime. Here's where our default settings got us into trouble. Justin was sitting there arguing against going to see the Matterhorn. It's too far away. We don't have enough time. All I heard, however was Waaaaaaaaaaaa! I want to go home! Not another stop! Thinking it was just another instance of having to drag him kicking and screaming to do something fun, I insisted. So, we plugged in the town closest to the Matterhorn into the trusty GPS, and we set off.

On the way there we passed some truly amazing views. Where are those, you might ask? Oh, I don't have any pictures of those. The camera was quickly losing its battery charge and I wanted to make SURE I had enough juice to capture the Matterhorn in all of its glory, so I kept the camera tucked away in my bag as we wound our way through sunlit, snowcovered mountain tops that would take your breath away. It felt like we were high enough to be flying, but the mountains were so dense and the roads wide, so there was no sense of vertigo. I'm not particularly afraid of heights, but I have my limits...as you will see...

The drive was taking longer than expected. We got stuck behind some big trucks going super slow, and I'm just not comfortable passing at breakneck speed around blind mountain curves. I know, crazy, right? Well, the Swiss thought so. The locals traveled at frightening speeds and were really agressive and obviously irritated by those who weren't with the program. At the point when it became clear that our projected ETA was slipping later and later toward the evening, we should have called the stop off as a lost cause and replugged the GPS with a new destination. We were traveling out of our way at this point, headed west when we needed to be going north. I can be really stubborn though.

I had in my mind's eye an idyllic image of the Matterhorn. Something like this:

I'd seen pictures of the Matterhorn in the course of my research for the trip and was really taken by the view. In my head, we were simply driving close enough to see it soaring into the sky from the valley below, towering above its surroundings and dwarfing everything around it, and then we could course correct and be on our way. Just a little bit further. Any mile now, we'd turn a corner and see it on the horizon. I'd snap my picture, breathe in the moment, and we could be off.

That's not what happened.

We kept driving, and driving, and driving, and before long, we were getting really close to the endpoint on the GPS, but still there was no soaring Matterhorn.

It's funny how you can be climbing in altitude, but if it's a gradual ascent, you'll hardly notice. I'm not sure how high up we had gone, but suddenly, we were UP in the mountains. And then we were committed. We found ourselves on a NARROW, winding road, on the side of the mountain, WITH NO RAILING and no where to turn around. The Swiss were still zooming around like their houses were on fire, and then...it got worse. The road narrowed again and became two way. I'm not kidding. With the sunlight starting to fade, you'd come around a corner and find yourself nearly nose to nose with an on coming car. Every few hundred yards there was a shoulder just wide enough to allow two cars to barely scrape by, but if you didn't happen to meet at that point or with enough time to plan for the circumstance, one of the two vehicles was forced to BACK UP a few hundred yards on the winding mountain-side rail-less roads of DEATH.

At this point Justin was struggling hard not to say "I told you so" and I was cursing the name of the Matterhorn and thinking this had better be worth it. My knuckles were white from clutching the steering wheel and I was not having ANY fun.

After what seemed like an eternity of this--it was probably only 10-15 minutes in actuality under those conditions, we came to our destination. I'd like to tell you that it was all worth it; that the experience was life-changing and that, despite the hard road there, that view was indescribable.

It was indescribable, alright:


After all of that, only the topmost blip of the crummy thing stuck out over a tree. We could barely see it because of all the other blasted mountains. We must have just been on the wrong side of the thing, because the view from where we were sucked. It was so disappointing, all we could do was sit there and laugh. I think we let Chokydar out to pee on the thing and then got back in the car, dreading what lay ahead: the drive back down the road of death. By that time it really was getting quite dark and we still had about 3 hours of driving if we made straight for the hotel. Sorry, Interlaken, trying to squeeze you in was waaaaaaaaaaaay out of the question.


I felt really pretty foolish at this point and very disappointed. We'd been driving for at least 8 or 9 hours by then and it was past dinner time by far. We stopped at a McDonald's not wanting to waste time getting to the hotel and struggled ordering, Justin shouting German across me into the speaker box. Having eaten things were looking marginally better. The acursed Matterhorn was more than 2 hours behind us and we were closing on the hotel fast. The GPS was taking us off the beaten track to give us the fastest route, winding through smaller towns through the mountains. Have I mentioned lately that we were driving through the Swiss Alps? In the middle of February? In a 1999 Toyota Corolla? At 10 pm? While I'm nearly 5 months pregnant? Okay, just making sure.

Had I said ANY of that outloud during the planning stages of this trip, of course I would have realized that it was a bad idea. A VERY bad idea. I didn't though, and I had brushed off Justin's admonitions as him being a wet blanket. So there we were, trying to make the best of a bad situation, telling ourselves only a few miles left. By the GPS estimate, we were a mere 30 minutes away from a warm bed.

And then the unthinkable happened. As we drove through this tiny Swiss town, covered in snow that had been building all winter we wound a corner and the GPS chimed out "Turn left now!" Blinking, I strained my eyes. Justin and I looked at eachother in disbelief and attempted to make the situation not so by sheer force of will. There was no place to turn left. Well, there should have been, except that the road was completely snowed in. Entirely impassable. We drove up and down the block several times, hoping that there was another way through, but there was not. From the road we were on, you could look through the trees beyond the snowed in road and see the lights of cars whizzing by on a major interway off in the distance. We were SO CLOSE but there was no way to get through that road, and without a map detailing Teenytiny-backwoods-town, Switzerland, we were more dependent on the GPS than we should have been. Trying to stay calm, we back tracked a ways and attempted to get the GPS to recalculate another route. It doggedly kept directing us back to the snowed in path.

We pulled over in the parking lot of a closed restaurant and by the car's dome light Justin began examining our physical map to see where the closest major road was. The verdict? Two hours back the way we had just come. Back towards the Matterhorn.

I wanted to cry.

With the delay of having to backtrack halfway across Switzerland, Justin projected that we wouldn't be getting to our hotel in Lucerne until close to 3 am. We'd been driving for nearly 12 hours, and the sickening thought dawned on me that, had we driven directly from Pisa to Germany, we would be home by then. Having little choice, we set out, back the way we came.

The idea struck me along the way, as I searched in desperation for a way to end the nightmare in which we found ourselves, that we might be able to switch our hotel reservations from the Ibis in Lucerne to the one in Bern, thereby cutting off several hours of the journey that night. It was a gamble, not knowing if the hotel in Bern would have room, but we were getting desperate. Justin looked up the Ibis in the GPS's index and plugged it in.

I left the car running at the curb as I stumbled in to explain our situation at the front desk and ask, trembling, if we'd be able to stay the night. After making a phone call to the other hotel and checking the computer and calling over the manager, we were told "yes." I can think of few times I've been as relieved as I was at that moment.

The next day, Justin was keen to put the entire ordeal behind us and head straight home. "But we've never seen Bern!" I exclaimed. He shot me a look like I was crazy.

"Okay, okay," I gave in. He took this picture for me of the historic district as we drove by on our way out of town.


So, now in our family, a really bad idea is called "Pulling a Matterhorn" and we've learned a very valuable lesson about listening to one another, especially in situations when we have strong opposing feelings. We've also learned not to drive through Switzerland in the dead of night, in the dead of winter, after a day's journey back through Italy, nearly 5 months pregnant, in a 1999 Toyota Corolla without a reserve supply of gasoline or food. I am SO grateful it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Definitely Pulling a Matterhorn.


Brad said...

I'm sure that'll be a great story to tell Evie some day!

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