Why Travel In Retirement

We are nearing the end of another memorable trip to Switzerland. Everything to this point has been spectacular from the uncharacteristic perfect weather – a bit warm but virtually no rain or other atmospheric negatives, something the locals say is unheard of this time of the year – to the manageable crowds to the other worldly beauty everywhere we look.

Looking back at the journey I want to share some highlights as well as a few pictures (I was requested by numerous readers to share some of the sights with a snapshot or two. The hard part is picking just a few):

(1) Seeing the family again – I talked about this in an earlier blog but cannot say enough about the incredible treatment we received from everyone in the family. Just last night a bunch of the relatives came over to share an evening and meal including the newest additions to the clan age 1.5 and 4 years. Between the perpetual energy of the kids and the tasty spread that included a diverse selection of salads along with most of the meat groups (steak, chicken, sausage, and more sausage) there was never a dull moment. I cannot wait to return the favor when they visit us.

(2) Getting slightly closer to overcoming my fear of heights – one gondola up the side of a 12,000 foot beast of a mountain, two train trips through the Alps along canyons and precipices high above the ground below, one backward Alpsmoving tram up the side of another steep mountain watching the towns below fade into obscurity in the widening distance, and numerous hikes along trails that sometimes brought me a bit closer to the edge than I would desire – I survived them all. As a matter of fact I find I no longer break into a cold sweat viewing some dangling transport inching its way up a mountainside even when imaging myself a passenger – progress!

(3) Incredible scenery in all directions. We visited some world class spots to view magnificent nature at her best. I can assure you those unreal pictures you may have seen of Switzerland are very real. It turns out all we needed to do was step into the backyard where we stayed to gaze upon a ring of mountains in all directions and the picture perfect geometrically precise farms that dotted Swiss flag on Jungfrauyochthe valleys at their feet. I may have a few favorites – Schynige Platte on a crystal clear day or the tiny husli where we spent a few nights in a cozy farm house in Grindelwald or the many dizzying sights riding the Glacier Express – but second and third and fourth place are all spectacular.

I am fortunate to travel as I have with my multi-lingual travel companion, guide and lovely wife. I am learning from her to be more than an anonymous traveler. There is so much more to experience by engaging with those you meet along the way. While in Zermat Beatrice took time to talk with a Japanese tour guide at the next table learning where her group had been, where they were going and all about her tour guide career that had her in foreign countries 180 days each year.

On another occasion we were riding a train in Pontracino with a young family seated across from us. She casually said a few words in Swiss German and soon we were all smiling and communicating in a combination of German, English, and sign language. Later we ran into this same family high on a Alpen lichenmountain trail and then one more time while having dinner. Each time we greeted each other and briefly caught up on the events of the day. Although I do not speak the language I am getting better at picking out a few key words so I get the gist of the conversation – at least about 30 percent of the time. And I have learned a simple gruezie (hello) is a great ice breaker generally eliciting a broad smile (hopefully not merely because of my pronunciation).

Traveling in retirement can be a wonderful experience. Travel allows you to try something new whether a new place or new people or new activities. It allows you to release your inner flaneur providing the freedom to wander, nowhere in particular, always with the possibility you may discover something amazing around the next corner. Travel allows you to step outside of your comfort zone and be whomever you want. You are no longer just someone retired from the job but rather a world explorer, an exotic adventurer, an international man/woman about town, a connoisseur in training.

Not speaking the language is a sure fire way to make you realize how helpless you could be if not for the fact many along the road speak English to some degree. With a little effort you should be able to start picking up a bit and then a bit more of conversations around you. I think there is no better mind exercise than learning a new language. And it is an education for a lifetime – the more you work at it the better you get.

Enjoying the local gastronomic specialties is a task to be happily undertaken whether of the food or beverage variety. How fun it is to ask for “a local beer” and wait in great expectation of what will be delivered to your table, frosty and foamy, a small piece of this particular spot on the globe.

blogflowersA wonderful trip, many beautiful pictures, lots of memories, and now back to reality. But even reality will be a new exciting adventure as we now move into our new digs in Carmel Valley. We are beginning a new journey, this time a bit closer to home. But a new journey just the same. I can’t wait to step out the front door and head to the left or perhaps the right as this flaneur in training continues his journey through our wonderful world. Auf weiderschen, adieu, hasta la vista, and see you soon.

The Journey Continues

Our travels continue as we work our way across Switzerland visiting some of the touristy attractions but more importantly looking for those special off the beaten path spots.

In an effort to follow my flaneur tendencies upon arrival at Zermat we headed out the door – no destination in mind – turning left. We wandered a bit enjoying the surroundings when about a mile out we discovered Gornershkucht, a deep gorge carved into the landscape by the constant flow of the fast violent river it contained. White water, wild flowers galore covering nearby walls, cool mist on a hot day, what a perfect place that we knew nothing about it before stumbling upon its in our wandering. I confess I did not make it to the very end, stopping four flights of stairs short of the top. I have never been a big fan of heights and felt I was plenty high enough right where I was. Note the next day I did make it to the top of the Kleine Matterhorn an impressive 12400 feet up after an hair raising final leg in the gondola that was basically upward along a vertical wall. So I am making progress.

Before Zermat we visited Grindelwald, an area known for its proximity to three major mountains – Monch, Eiger, and Jungfrau. Hikers and climbers come from all over the world to climb their lofty heights. They wander the town garbed in a mishmash of walking sticks, backpacks, designer climbing clothes, and elaborate mountain boots, impatiently looking skyward as they anxiously await their turn at an upward ascent. But equally spectacular (especially for those of us who prefer to remain earthbound) can be the surrounding lowlands. We spent three nights in a Husli – basically a small (really small) farm house located on a steep hill tucked away in Grindelwald.

Tucked into a steep hillside only accessible by walking up an equally steep road it nestles at the foot of monster snow capped mountains on all sides. A small musical stream meanders down the hillside while a tiny porch allows for the perfect spot to take it all in. We started and ended each day here quickly assuming the casual pace of life the locals enjoy. Everywhere you looked was a postcard worthy view. You were tempted to take a snapshot every time you looked up. And as if making a point – better an exclamation point – the evening of our last day a thunderstorm ripped and roared across the valley making for a truly dramatic end to a wonderful stay.

I could go on about the incredible places we visited (more for a future blog) but want to mention some equally incredible things I uncovered beyond just the geography.

Something as simple as a toast becomes much more when the Swiss do it. In the US we proudly throw up our arm with glass in hand toasting all within hearing distance. It is a happy moment and we want everyone to be part of it. The Swiss patiently toast each individual making and holding eye contact for a few seconds. The message is clear – for that moment you are the center of their attention, you are all that matters and they want to personally toast you. I am working on upgrading my toasting etiquette.

The Swiss truly love and respect their country. Look as I may during this journey as well as earlier ones I saw no signs of trash. Not along highways, not along neighborhood streets, not in local towns, definitely not upon pristine mountains or valleys. Of course when you go to the big cities there is likely a little trash here and there. But nothing like what I find I where I come from. The Swiss take great pride in maintaining their beautiful country. All efforts are made to recycle everything possible. Whatever cannot be recycled goes into a special garage bag that is taxed per bag. I will try to follow their example.

Family is first – always. If a relative needs help watching a youngster all possible resources across the family pool make themselves available. Dinner time finds the whole family at the table sharing stories from the day – and no TV. When we visit everyone goes out of their way to rearrange their busy lives so as to make time to see us and catch up. Extended family is often as close as siblings routinely making time to stay in touch. It is soothing to know those you love are near at hand and care.

No matter you may be count on hearIng bells reminding you to take a moment to collect yourself as you go about your busy day. Small churches ring their bells for all they are worth sending musical tones echoing through the valley. Not easily ignored they do a great job bringing you back to earth at least for the moment. And sometimes the harmonies are simply heavenly.

Finally, one of my favorite past times while traveling has been searching for the next longest single word. My wife explains a word is often in fact a collection of thoughts rolled together. It is not easy to keep the original meaning unless you include a little something from each contributor. So far I have two favorites: Zuwiderhandlungen which means basically breaking the law. How about six syllables! My second favorite is Dampfshifffahrt which is a steam boat. I bet you have never seen three ‘f’s’ in a row in one word. Those are the top two for now but the search is ongoing.