I grew up reading English boarding school books. Many of them were by Enid Blyton of course. The St Clare’s series and Malory Towers. But I also loved Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School books, the series of which finished with the school set in the Swiss mountains, near Interlaken. So of course on our first visit to Europe, I insisted we go to Interlaken.
We had had a long day driving, from Dijon in France, stopping in Geneva and Bern on the way, and we were tired when we arrived. We only spent a little time exploring the small but attractive town, as the key advantage to Interlaken is its proximity to the mountains as a ski resort, and to the lakes in the summer.
The next day we drove out, enjoying the views of the lakes and surrounding hills that would be called mountains in many countries. We knew the real mountains, the Alps, were nearby, catching glimpses of them through the clouds! The countryside though was interesting. We saw fields hay, but we could not understand why there weren’t more animals in the fields. We later learned from a friend in Fussen that the farmers keep the animals inside until after the first harvest. Keeping animals inside was and still is a strange concept to a farmer’s daughter from New Zealand. It starts to explain how 46% of the EU can be spent on farming subsidies. (The average subsidy per cow could fly it around the world in First Class!)
We intended to drive through the Grimsel mountain pass to the Italian lakes. The map showed a major European highway. It was mid-June, summer, and so we thought we would have no problems. We came to some crossroads with a large sign that appeared to list open and closed roads, but it was in German, and we didn’t see any names that looked familiar, so we drove on. Stopped to play in the snow. And then we came to this.
If we hadn’t taken this drive, we would never have fully understood the reason Switzerland is famous for its scenery. It is perfect in its composition, like a golf course with its carefully placed conifers, its smooth fairways and greens. The cows complete with bells appear to be deliberately positioned in the most picturesque places, the flowers in the fields look as if they were purposefully sewn there, and the villages nestle in under the hills, comfortable and comforting in their quaintness.
We drove down to the lake, and sat in the grass, eating a simple picnic. As I said, the best days are the unexpected.