Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I have always thought it would be cool to write a travel blog. How much fun would it be to hit the road journeying to exotic points across the globe where you explore the local culture, cuisine and customs to your hearts content? Then at the end of an exciting often exhausting day you sit down to share the experience with others in such a way that they find themselves drawn into the moment almost as excited about the whole thing as the actual traveler.

There is a term in French ‘flaneur’ which translates into someone who steps out of his door in the morning and heads into the world to see what there is to see. With no specific destination in mind the goal is to wander – wherever – while taking in the kaleidoscope of sites, the cacophony of sounds and the diversity of aromas that plesantly assail the senses. By becoming one of the crowd you have the best chance to experience the local lifestyle firsthand as a player rather than just an observer along the sidelines.

What better time to exercise my budding flaneur tendencies then in retirement. And what better opportunity to share the travel experience than on my current trip to Switzerland. And from what better point of view to write than that of a retiree which best applies to my present station in life as well as many of my readers  (presently or eventually to be retired).

My wife is Swiss and so I have had the good fortune to join her on two visits to her homeland prior to this current trip. My first experience was the year I turned 50 and I can vividly remember the details as if it were only yesterday. From Lucern to Brienz to Bern and on to Locarno each stop along the way held its own unique appeal from magnificent mountain scenes to inspired local specialties. I cannot wait to see what our third trip will reveal.

Phase one of our journey – the flight. We arrive at San Francisco International early as usual. Living in the Bay Area you never know what the traffic situation will be. Why not wait safely at the airport rather than risk potential last minute snafus? We get there, we check in, we survive the always friendly security check, and we eventually board along with our fellow excited travelers.

Note to self – next time pay the $27 to pick where you sit. We were reluctant to do so since it seems the airlines already charge extra for every little thing. Wrong move. Our seats were right next to the bathrooms so during the entire trip we were gifted with doors slamming and locks bolting and toilets flushing. Traffic to and from the facilities was an unending parade – not overly conducive to sleep. Even better our seats did not entirely recline nor did the armrest completely retract. Now for a quick trip these inconveniences may sound petty. But for an 11 hour non-stop they matter especially when our post-50 bodies were taken into consideration.

Despite the challenges we finally arrived – on time – and quickly put behind our traveling travails. We were back in Switzerland – truly excellent!

When traveling the people we encounter are always a big part of the experience. Their attitude and our interaction with them can make for moments memorable or nightmarish. My experiences have shown the Swiss to be friendly, incredibly accommodating, engaging, and just plain fun to hang with. Family always treat us like royalty competing for our time as they attempt to one-up each other with the best meal or coolest sidetrip. Everyone is genuinely interested in you and what is new in your life. People are free with smiles. You get the feeling they genuinely care. And this friendliness is not limited to family. Those you pass on the street greet you warmly. If you have questions they are happy to help. And should you need a dose of of inspiration to help you over initial jet lag just look for any of the ever present 80ish women with her walking staff held firmly in hand heading up one of the many mountains for her daily walk.

While the people are a major aspect of a successful journey the food definitely shares top billing. Who does not imagine the wonderful meals to be had while preparing for a trip? For some the attraction is heavy sauces or magnificent desserts, others crave exotic spices or unique pairings of seemingly unrelated fares. For me it is simple. I am all about the bread. My dream meal is an assortment of fresh breads, odiferous local cheeses, thin slices of dried meats and of course a bottle of local brew or product of nearby vineyards. I particularly love the slightly blackened bottom of loafs with their crusty smoky favor. Such a repast is standard while spending time with the Swiss. Needless to say I make the most of all that is offered – and there is plenty!

In Switzerland where you eat can be as unique as what you eat. Many intimate remote restaurants dot the hillsides – you just have to know where to find them. A typical destination is reached after an hour walk through farms and fields, down one slope and up the next. Often perched with a birdseye view of rolling valleys below the dining spot is a visual as well as culinary experience. Time to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of this wonderful area. And once done with your meal a healthy return walk waits to burn off some of those calories.

After the people and the food the final member of the three muskateers of travel is the many ever inspiring destinations waiting patiently to be discovered. At this moment my wife is working diligently with her family to chart a course through some of the highlights of this beautiful country. With world class attractions including the Alps and Zermatt, St Moritz and the Glacier Express, Lac Leman and Konstanz, who knows where we will end up. I cat’t wait to share the journey as it unfolds in my next blog. For now, be safe and auf wiedersehen.

Moving On

After a long week and even longer weekend my wife and I have successfully packed up our home in preparation for our move to Carmel Valley. The garage was filled to the ceiling with countless carefully labeled boxes. As usual we put too many books into boxes that were too big (you would think by now we would have figured that one out). Who knew we had that many clothes or all those kitchen gadgets or so many canned goods some with eclectic contents we would not likely ever consume?

Sitting here reflecting on the last 24 hours I discover aches and pains in areas I long ago forgot I had. But ultimately, at the end of the seemingly endless day my wife and I found ourselves with our duties completed planted in a nearby brewery sipping a local fare while staring at each other in a far-off-glaze. We are getting too old for this was the unspoken message. But we had done it – everything was packed, the movers were storing all of our earthly possessions at a safe warehouse, and we are enjoying a few days of downtime before heading to Switzerland to rest and recharge our weary bones.

Once it was all said and done we took a reflective if not somewhat solemn look at the house that had been a home for so many years. Where happy excited voices had rung in the years now nothing but empty echoes resided. All the furniture carefully selected over the years was gone, packed away for a future spot in a yet to be determined room. With the combined cleaning efforts of a Swiss miss and a German we made sure everything was spotless. But some of those spots we cleaned once held a glorious history of lives lived and lessons learned, a sprinkling of special moments and perhaps even a few still unknown secrets. Many a wonderful moment filled many a magical memory. The good news is a wonderful young family is moving with a youngster at the perfect age to take advantage of our safe family oriented neighborhood. We know they will carry on the tradition, we know our home is in good hands.

An interesting note: although we have lived in the same neighborhood for many years it was not until we were moving on that some residents on our street reached out beyond the customary ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’ shared in passing on the street. Seeing our for sale sign seemed to invite interaction and before we knew it our doorbell was ringing with familiar faces waiting to wish us well. Too bad we did not try a little harder in earlier days to get to know each other – who knows what friends we might have made. We don’t plan to make the same mistake twice. We will make more serious efforts to meet the neighbors at our new destination. And we will do so now rather than wait for the for sale signs to spring up.

What will we miss most about the old homestead?

Those unexpected visits from the kids who happened to be in the neighborhood or were in need of a good home cooked meal. I admit they were infrequent but that only added to the specialness (if that is a word) when they did show up.

Knowing the whereabouts of all the ‘top local spots’ in those most important categories: tastiest ice creme, spiciest Thai restaurant, richest coffee, coldest beer on tap, number one vista for a sunset, out of this world burger, most comfortable movie seats, and on and on.

Knowing all of the quirks of the home where we live from dry spots in the garden to hot rooms on summer days, from squeakiest floor board to draftiest window, form best spot to watch TV to quietest nook in the garden.

Although we leave much behind, what lies ahead is an adventure. Once we do a little fine tuning with regards to the garden and kitchen our new life will be launched. It is never easy moving on leaving behind all that is familiar and comfortable. On the other hand a new place offers so much potential. A blank slate awaits our creative input. New discoveries and new people are patiently waiting in the wings. It should be a wonderful time. And we will always have our memories. For now it is time to move on…