Untours Cafe

Vance Roy
  • 81, Male
  • Sachseln
  • Switzerland
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Vance Roy's Destinations

Vance Roy's Discussions

A Fine Destination

Started Feb 1, 2010

Trip to Schliersee

Started Feb 7, 2009

Swiss Political Perks
4 Replies

Started this discussion. Last reply by Vance Roy Dec 19, 2008.



I started this blog hobby years ago for just what the title says. As I continue to approach the age of dirt, rumination seems to be more and more of my cogent day. No complaints about that except one; I wish that I had done more of this activity as a younger man. Youth equates to wisdom? Perish the thought! I will not twist your arm to believe that.

Anyway, rumination can be productive at any stage in life, and I hope we all will do this until the shades come downward.

Today, among my rumination has been one on the anniversary the death of a friend.The older I become, the more death means to me. I suspect that is true of all us older folks. I do not consider myself as unique in any particular way. I guess it is well beyond the time for me to come out as being an agnostic. That is a big jump for a guy who once thought of being an Episcopal priest. Circumstances change, and I was about forty when it became evident to me that I just did not know enough to embrace religion of any sort. 

Now, I have no interest in proselytizing anyone on this, or being the subject of such activity. My parents and grandparents belonged, at least in thought, to various conventional religious groups. I was always told that with such a personal thing, it was hoped that I would make my own decisions about religion. So almost forty years ago, I did that.

Am I an Atheist? What is Atheism? I look at them as non-believers in any higher power or theism. I believe that I do not know about such things. Agnostic, broken into its derivations means not knowing. I fit in that group, whereas to me, an Atheist believes he knows that there is no any higher force. It is impossible for me to convince myself that nothing such exists. One only has to consider the events through evolution and the genesis of a universe, not to wonder about "something".

Many years ago, my father and I discussed his father's death. I was about five years old.. My dad gave me a view on death that really stuck with me. He said we all live in a building called a body, a spirit lives in there also. That is the "us" in us. When we die, the spirit leaves the building, but remains with us. That spirit is eternal as long as we remain alive and is all pervasive. A single thought brings it into your consciousness and is with you. Now what happens when the living die? Who knows? That is where the agnosticism comes in, I guess. I do not know. Some of us believe we know, but I don't think that belief is more than a supposition. Again, I don't know. I also don't know where that spirit was before I was born into consciousness.

In defense of my dad, I must say that he was always supportive of my thoughts about religion. He did his office paper work on Sunday mornings. In fact, it was on a Sunday morning, when I met him there to ride home with him from my church visit that the subject of granddad Roy came up. My father did indeed want me to make a decision about my beliefs at the right time. He was dead before that happened.

I suspect that my dead friend who occasioned this blog, thought along these lines also. I do find comfort in feeling the spirits of such people as parents, friends, others that I have loved in such a way.

I hope we agree that I am beyond stubborn to such a degree that I hope you all can see my logic, and you are not to be challenged by some agnostic like me. In return, I will ask that you not try to change my thoughts.

Eau du Schweiz

I think this title is a good example of Swiss humor. You will not find this in a perfume store. One of my first German teachers was from Heidelberg. I believe it was her who introduced the word "Misthaufen" to me. As my times in CH increased, I found her description of this entity evident on many occasions both in CH and in Germany. "Misthaufen" refers to a (hopefully large) pile of cow manure intermixed with hay that sits outside a farmer's barn. Some years ago, a law was made that it must sit on concrete I believe. Supposedly, the larger the pile, the more prosperous the farmer.

I am uncertain of this, but knowing the Swiss penchant for detail, I suspect that somewhere in the Swiss agricultural archives in Bern, there is some sort of quantification regarding Misthaufen. Staying on topic here, this leads to the above title. After the grass is cut, as previously described, the fields are left relatively bare. Two things then happen. First, all the barnyard cats are immediately evident in the fields in watchful poses and scrutinizing the ground. They feast on any field mouse that happens to venture out without the benefit of overlying grass protection. The second thing that takes place is "misting". "Mist" is manure from the Misthaufen. This is applied in two ways; the usual is mixed with water and sprayed from a truck apparatus similar to a street cleaning vehicle. Sometimes, there is a hose attached to the truck which allows for more precise placement of material along roads, driveways, or sidewalks. The second application process is placement on the mist out of a truck with a fan blade arrangement that flings a more solid manure onto the fields. My own description of this is "flinging" or "plopping". Two things are important here. This activity is closely related to a forecast for rain. Rain promotes good absorption of the manure and prevention of burning the newly mowed grass shoots. The other thing less common is that it is illegal for misting to take place onto snow. This applies to spring when a sudden snow can occur especially at higher altitudes. I expect this law was passed to curtail the likelihood of tourists being exposed to fields covered with brown and fragrant snow.

OK now, the topic approaches exhaustion. By now, one can imagine that "Eau du Schweiz" refers to the unique odor briefly enjoyed by all. I have know people who, without fail, can sniff and tell which farmer's product is out there. Cutting grass, misting, and following rains go together, so take a umbrella (for the rain).

Spring has Sprung Again!!

Yep, correct. Just today. No big surprise.

This morning and throughout the day, my grass got cut (not my grass but my farmer neighbors' pastures. Our house is surrounded on four sides by pastures of grass used for fodder for farmer's cows in the winter. The only exception is the one used for the sheep who are here in the summer ( a lot better to watch than goldfish, as they breed, birth, and grow). That one is out the kitchen window.

Today, from dawn to late dusk, the guys have been cutting the grass. I knew this meant our weather is going to be good for 2-3 days. farmers here are so much better than TV weather guys/girls. They are not pretty but accurate.

Cut grass lies in rain and produces gas. In the open that is no problem, but if it is put in a barn, the gas collects and explodes. Swiss tax people are not so kind to casualty losses, so you can be flat out of financial luck in that venue, when your barn blows up and burns. Grass is cut when a few days of sunshine will follow. The next day, it is flipped over by machine or by hand with rakes. This dries it out, so less gas forms.

The third day is when it gets interesting, and gender comes into play. Custom has it that the men cut the grass, both men and women flip it, and the women collect it with the men. In the old days, that was a hell of a lot of work. Now, mechanization helps. Mowers are driven to cut (some even have air-conditioning in the cabs. Flipping is done with tractor pulled machines, and lastly comes big collector machines. The collected grass is then trucked to the barn for silage to be used in the winter. The most advanced technique is a machine that collects the grass, wraps it in plastic covering and then ;eaves it in the pasture or allows it to be stored on the farm for later use. These huge ball-like shapes can be seen in most barn yards. One year, the breast cancer awareness groups got the farmers to use pink plastic to call awareness to the cancer.

On rare occasions one can still see a grass cutter using a scythe for edging jobs. Old fashioned but precise. Machines and robotics has come to town. Next blog will be on "Eau du Schweiz".

Another Woman In My Life

A few of you may have read my blog about the woman in my life (March of 2006). I wrote that some time ago. Now, in response to a belated and somewhat hostile occurrence from yet another woman, I had better mention and elucidate this other lovely period in my life.

After leaving the USNR in Boston, I moved to Alabama. A large (1 mile by 18 miles) TVA lake was near my new home. While in Boston, I had taken a coast guard course in sailing. This was a didactic class and not on the water. I had an interest in sailing nonetheless. A friend offered me the use of his sleek little 21 foot day sailor. It was impossible to capsize, had a small cabin for sails, a self bailing cockpit, and a small outboard engine. I jumped at his offer, and before long, I was on the water putting theory into practice. Thus, began a love affair of some years. The sloop was easily rigged by one person, and did a fine job sailing with only minimal attention.

A six pack and a portable radio was all that was needed to enjoy a day on the water listening to a ball game and traveling back and forth in the lake. Two or three others could join me. The boat was broad minded about others sharing our time together. Of course, I did a bit of work on her appearance and bought her some new clothes in the form of sails, etc. My mind also turned to reading sailing magazines, and I fancied myself as a novice racer. I was even elected to be vice-commodore for sail at the club where we slept. Sailors are an open minded bunch, and we never heard a word about our cohabitation.

My head was turned by pictures in the magazine, "Sail", of larger and more beautiful examples of sailing mistresses. As a former president of the USA said, "I lusted after them in my heart". With passing time, I yielded to temptation. This vixen was called "Hedonist". She was drop dead gorgeous, 31 feet long, and without being crude, she was fast! She was custom made and a bit wild. Like a lot of beautiful women, she could be tempestuous. An inboard Diesel engine,  galley, head, and bunks for at least four were a few of her physical attributes. It was love at first sight, and I abandoned my first love to a friend. Then we drove her through town on her trailer with many locals aghast, and floated her bottom in the lake.

I had visited the boatyard in NY before possessing her. All seemed in order except there were few people who spoke English. This was New York, so I assumed that was a local oddity. It became clear later that many of those workers, did not have a clue as to what they were doing. More on that comes later. A friend with some sailing knowledge agreed to come with me to the launch. Then we spent the night waiting to travel through the lock on the river the next AM. The boat yard left the slings under her tummy that night (good move on their part). Before we left the next morning, I gave the bilge pump a couple of swings. Guess what? The bilge held a significant amount of water! Enough so the lift was used to raise her, and a leak in the hull shot out a very thin stream of water. Now, I knew already that girls are said by some to have an imperfect plumbing system, but this woman was brand new! When the water stopped, one could see a half inch or less screw hole that had not been sealed. A nickel's worth of epoxy cured that in a hurry.

OK, so all evidence of domestic abuse cleared, my friend and I made our way to the Wilson Dam Lock, tooted our horn, went into this cavern that filled with water, and motored out into the lake. Thereafter began a decade of bliss (almost) with this beautiful and only occasionally fussy woman. She never won any racing trophies but was still acclaimed the best looking woman in the area. She taught me several lessons. With a girl her size, she needs attention on a frequent basis. Things like baths, bottom scrubs, lines renewed, winches polished, etc. were part of our loving rituals. If a single person could rig her, the air for sailing had to be pretty poor. A second person was needed to help her with her clothes. Twice, we had a problem. Once, a humorous one and later a real crisis. The first could have have been serious but was not. My son saved the day. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon with some nice air about, my son and my best friend's wife went for a sail along with me. It was October I believe. The best winds and no summer's boats to run about made it ideal. Cruising slowly along, we suddenly STOPPED!  I knew we were in the mud immediately. Three PM on a fall afternoon, and it would be dark soon. I tried the things the coast guard had suggested to free a boat that was aground. Shifting weights, engine reversed, sails up to blow us off the bottom, etc. Nothing helped. My wife and my friend's husband knew where we were. Help would eventually show up but when? The lake was deserted, and we were stuck! I was marooned with another man's wife on the lake. I thought both our spouses would be understanding, and thank God, my son was there to chaperone us. Then I spotted a nice looking power boat half mile away. With great noise and bodily gyrations, they finally made out that we were not drunks and motored over. With a quick tow off the mud. We made it home without any problem.

Another ailment afflicted my dear lady later on in her life with me. In winter, I always drained her engine blocks and kept a burning light in the compartment with her engine. One particular winter we had several days of temperatures in the teens. Two or three times a week, I would leave work and visit the boat to make sure the light was on, the sea cock closed, and the bilge was dry. This particular evening, all seemed in order EXCEPT the two engine blocks seemed to have a thin line of rust over their painted surface. They were both cracked. Diesels are simple engines but with cracked blocks there is no compression. Compression, fuel, and air are all that a diesel needs. Two out of three won't do. The next weekend, I drove a hundred miles or so to pick up a couple of new blocks. While in the store, a nice young man said, "doc you might want to pick up one of these two dollar manuals on how to install blocks". I am sure that this young man made a great CEO or board chairman for that insight. I grabbed a book and headed home. She was in no pain, but I was in distress. I spent two months working on her nights and weekends with book at hand and new metric tools. Some of those nights were cold and filled with exhortations to a higher power best heard on the golf course only. A dear (since departed) mother in law gave me a torque wrench for Christmas that year. With that, the book, and requisite knowledge on the importance of shims in diesel engines. I did not know a shim from a shiminsky until then. I finally fired the engine up that spring. To my amazement, the thing purred like a kitten. It had never run as smooth. The foreign workers in NY failed to get the concept of shims and diesel compression. I, and the book, had done that with great results!

As with a lot of relationships, changes occur. My lady and I remained together until it was time to make a move where there was no open body of water. With a tear in both of our eyes, she was surveyed and wound up in the arms of another man. A man who I knew would care for her. Since the day he first laid eyes on her, he had extended an offer to buy her favors when the time came. Several years later, I saw her still in the lake, obviously changed with age, but seemingly happy.


A Godson Goalie

Some of you know that I have a Swiss Godson. My only Godchild. He is 23 years old now and was ten days old when I moved to CH. He may not be perfect, but he is a good imitation of it. He was always sociable from day one and won all who met him as a toddler by stretching out those small arms to have you hold him.

His father taught him how to ski when he was learning to walk. He has been an athlete since then. With a father who was a goalie and a brother who also played goalie for a local team, he couldn't miss at being on the soccer fields and between the posts. He started as a pee wee, and I think he was always a goalie. Goalies are best if tall and sleek. J is both and deadly serious about goal keeping. He always looks mad at the ball, and I suspect he sees it as his enemy. His development has always been to be the best goalie the area has ever seen.

A few years ago, he had occasion to travel with his team to another area in Germany for a camp or some such. While there for a few days, he partied a lot with his friends. He woke up one morning, and had an epiphany of sorts. He asked himself, if he was going to be serious in his ambitions or not. To the present, he has concentrated on soccer first, and his lovely girlfriend, O. She jerked a knot in him about the same time as the above epiphany. A party with J is a lot of fun. He has a wit that will not quit and has an innate dry humor. He always has a lot of friends.

Last year, he took me to a game in which he did not play. From the time we entered the stadium grounds, it was evident that J had a bunch of friends who greeted him. No surprise to me. J has always been my Godson, and he has always acted like he enjoys that, as much as me. Of course he has a lot of people proud of his success, and they are hopeful for his future as a man and as a goalie. No matter what happens, he will be a success in this game called life. Now, he is close to the "Big Time". He could become a member of Switzerland's national team. This akin to the world series teams in the USA. He could play for other countries anywhere in the soccer world. He could be injured or otherwise reach a level of competition less than the top.

To his credit, he plans for a future away from soccer, if he is unable to continue. After all, the player he replaced is only ten years his junior. Time will tell.......

Christmas, my dad, and JWS

One of my most memorable Christmas experiences was with my dad. He died when I was 18. He was in the Lion's Club as a charter member where we lived in Jackson, Tennessee. This club sponsored a Christmas paper sale every December to raise money to furnish food and toys to those in poverty. Families were selected and screened as to composition, special needs, number and sex of children, among other things. All bags were filled with canned goods, among which was a canned chicken or turkey. Everyone was going to have a fine Christmas dinner!

Some toys were bought, and a lot of acceptable used toys were refurbished by the local firemen in the weeks before Christmas. These were matched to age and sex of the kids in a family. Every kid got a toy.

My dad and I went very early on a Sunday morning to pick up our papers for the team. Early AM for an 8 year old on a Sunday was 5 AM. We met at my dad's office where he had a shot of whiskey for his team. The weather was always winter cold and this was for medicinal purposes. I never got a shot (it would stunt my growth??)

Then we took to the paper routes with the newspapers than were being sold as a donation to the Lion's drive. One learned at my age how some people reacted to an early morning doorbell. In another scene, it was your paper being delivered by a person with his hand out for a donation. 90 % of people knew it was coming anyway. A Christmas tradition. It worked well.

Once the funds were collected, the rest was in the hands of the Lion's Club and the firemen, the remainder went forward. It was always a done deal.

Then came Christmas Eve. A late day (not up at 5 AM but around noon). We all gathered downtown, loaded into big open trucks, and began the deliveries. 

This is where it gets personal! My dad was a believer in many ways, but most importantly, he believed that you got pleasure from what you gave to others. He would call  the police if you ignored his bill and could pay it, but he would give you your glasses, if you were broke.

We drove around on that Christmas Eve to areas that were "poor blacks and whites", and we delivered burlap bags with food and toys to specific addresses. We did this because my dad said "You will feel very good on Christmas morning because you helped us with this". He was absolutely correct. I hauled the bags, along with some of my other buddies on the trucks who did the deliveries.  

That done. I did see that we had done something good. I later learned how much.

JWS was a classmate. He was not a bad guy. His clothes were not so good as mine, but in the 5th grade, boys were not fashion plates, so who cared? We were classmates. At some level, I knew JWS was less well off financially than my family. Again, as a 5th grader, who the hell knew about financial statements?  He was a classmate and a friend.

So, on a given Christmas Eve,  I was on the truck that stopped at JWS's house. We dumped a big burlap bag full of food and toys off to a grownup who took it over to the front door. I think that I knew that we were on to JWS's street then. He had several siblings. In the bag was a year old WW II wooden rifle that I had given to the fireman to renovate. We were all still fighting WW II then, and I had moved onward to other fields of effort. The rifle looked good, and I had killed many bad guys with it.

We moved onward in the area with many more burlap bags that were well received. The day moved forward, and on Christmas Day, as expected, I was happy to have given"back". 

A ten day vacation went by, and I went back to class. The first day, JWS saw me in class. He said, "I knew when I saw that rifle, it was your rifle, and I knew you were my friend".

Boys my age did not ever cry. I did not then, but I do now. JWS now?? I know not after the 5th grade. I do know that he had some joy from my rifle, and my dad proved again that  people should do good things!

Whoa Look at This!

You birds thought:
a. I had the big A and was out to lunch permanently.
b. I had become an introvert.
c. I did not have anything else to say.

None of the above. Just life reminding me that I am getting older. Honestly, I think that I just got tired and was doing too many other things. I still saw many things that I thought worth a blog, but I just did not write them down. If nothing else, this past election put many blog worthy things before my eyes.

Don't think that I am going to launch into political blogs over and over. I do think that it has been long enough now to peek up over the edge of the trenches. I even watched CNN the other day. Everyone will, I think, agree that we live in interesting times these days. I was raised by two parents that voted in every election but never discussed politics with me or each other as far as I know. I went with them to the polls and followed their example.

Am I a conservative or a liberal? I am a mixture of both philosophies. Neither democrat or republican in thought consistently. There is too much lee way between two rather rigid schools of thought. I really believe the voting citizens in our country are largely bi-political and vote a mixed choice most of the time. Where I grew up, a democrat was always elected. People spoke of being "a yellow dog democrat", meaning that before they voted republican, they would vote for a yellow dog. Things have changed now. To have a good chance of election now in my old neck of the woods, you have to court the republicans big time.

I do not think the whole two party system is worth a hill of beans (and I like beans a lot more than politics). So, who did I vote for??? I am not going to tell you because a secret ballot is just what it says. I will tell you that in my immediate family, I am exposed to rabid schools of thought on each side. With that in mind, I did what my dad did the only time he ever told me his vote. I don't know why he did tell me, but I do know when. It was in 1948 when Truman was opposed by Dewey. He had no good opinion of either man. Now, 60 years after his death, I could give him a good argument if we debated on those men now. In any event, I asked him who was his choice between the two. Surprisingly, he told me that he was voting for Senator Strom Thurmond. He said, there was no chance that Thurmond would win on the Dixiecrat ticket, or any other, but my father could still vote and not have to abstain. Does this give a clue as to how I voted this past November? 

My wife, Barbara, has always been about 180 degrees opposite of me in many things. We do discuss politics. This election was no exception, but she is a dear. I have always said that we had a nice life together in many ways, especially in politics. We usually cancel each other out. In 2016, we melded our choices, but they were not the same, still they were otherwise. The main candidates lost us, and two lesser favorites got our votes. So, I guess we still cancelled each other.

Now, it is done. Providence be blessed!  What comes next? Some of my acquaintances are really disturbed both in CH and the USA. Most are not moving to Canada, but I know of one Canadian who refuses to come to the USA while the current president is in office. I think it may be very interesting and possibly advantageous to have a business man run the federal government for a change. I don't envy any person the job no matter sex or color. I know of others of different color and sex that would have been my choice. Refusal to run can be a real indication of intelligence.

I just am going to wait and see. The two year mark is my guide for now. If the opposition does well at that point, then we all should have a better idea. In the meantime, I plan to do the same as with the last president. I will honor the office but reserve judgment on the holder. This is what I tell the anxious europeans. They have enough to worry about at home.

A Trip Back and Some New Discoveries

Many years ago when Hal Taussig and his wife were running Idyll Untours off a dining room table in their home, one of his aims was to have people interact culturally. Some of of these interactions were done on purpose, but others came about through serendipity. The blog today results from both kinds.

In 1993, I met a man in a San Francisco wine shop who guided me to a "Swiss brother" of his, whose father had a winery in what I now choose to call the Napa Valley of Switzerland. The next year, I moved to CH. I then sought out this Swiss wine maker in a small village called Salgesch in Canton Valais. Salgesch has about 1400 people with 40 wineries over about 500 acres of land. Yvo was the man I sought and found. He knew I was coming, so he was there to greet me. His parents and two older brothers all were in the business of wine making. He had done an internship in California with Robert Mondavi and had befriended a USA wine student (who later became a winemaker in Oregon).

The connection established, I then went back to Salgesch nearly every autumn to buy wine at his location. I rarely saw Yvo again but did meet his mother and his two older brothers. All the children had their own vineyards and labels. As is the norm, the oldest brother, Diego, took over the parents' business on a daily basis. I lost track of Yvo and his middle brother, Pierre Allain. I continued to buy wines from the company with nice trips to Salgesch, stays in the nearby Hotel Rhone, and magnificent dinners in the hotel's "stuebli". This year's trip was to be an epiphany and awakened a new experience in serendipity.

The hotel remains, but we were sorely disappointed to learn that the stuebli was no longer in operation. The weather was rainy and dark, but we were there. Barbara immediately got on her iPhone and set about finding a new restaurant for dinner. The good news was that there was a place that sounded good about a kilometer away. We had taken the train, but we had umbrellas. After a rainy and dismal walk we arrived at Restaurant Soleil. This was to be a real highlight of the trip. As I entered the warm and cozy dining room, a pleasant woman opened the kitchen door and said "good evening" in German. Our waitress, another Barbara, was an equally nice Swiss lady from Solothurn who lived in a nearby village. Both she and the lady in the kitchen have USA connections and spoke good English. Our German was good enough for communication, and the remainder of the evening was spent speaking in "Dinglish", a combo of the two.

The meal and the wines were exceptional, and thoughts of being disappointed because of the former Stuebli's demise became a thing of the past. This is "Wild Saison" in CH now, so were both looking for game dishes. Barbara had Hirsche Entrecote, and I had Rehschnitzl. We shared both with Spatzle, pears, pineapple, and chestnuts. Mine had a carrot sauce. Barbara's sauce was from figs. No dessert was needed, but we did have a digestif of local apricot liqueur. The clear was a young version, and the older had been barrel aged. The older had a smooth touch, while the younger was a bit sharp. The pictures are below.

About this time, the fun began. The chef came out to greet all the patrons. Gaby was the lady who greeted me as I entered. She turns out to be a USA aficionado who has been from east to west, loves to ride behind her husband on a rental Harley Davidson between Seattle and Florida, loves Route 66, and has a cousin who owns the Zollhaus in Sachseln! Small world, eh?

The real serendipity began when I mentioned how I came to like Salgesch. I told her about Yvo and his family of wine makers. She broke into a big smile and ran to the next room. Momentarily, she was back and handed me her phone. She had called Yvo who was in the next village! Here we were almost twenty years later catching up. He remembered my history with San Francisco and his USA "brother" there. Yvo has his own vineyard now, and a family of two kids and a wife. The next time I go to Valais and Salgesch, I now have a new restaurant to visit and a new winemaker to sample. To end a perfect experience, there was no way Gaby would let us walk back to the hotel. She piled us in her car and delivered us to the door.

Hal and his serendipity ideas are once again confirmed.


Casked Abricotine

Gaby's USA Maps

Young Abricotine

Hirch Entrecote

"J" and Some New History

"J" will be known to a few of you, but to others, she will be a stranger. This piece will be better understood if one reviews the blogs of 24 November 2011 and 13 April 2006. Regardless of this, new information on "J" has come to light that makes for a fascinating addition to her story.

I already knew that "J" had a serious French boy friend who went to fight in WW II. Apparently, he was not favored by her father as a future match for her. He did well in the military. However, after he returned at the war's end, "J" had become seriously enamored with a U. S. serviceman. He was an American who had been born in Italy and educated in Switzerland, New Hampshire, and at Princeton. He was a Lt. in the Marine Corps who was assigned to the OSS (future CIA) in Paris. "J"'s father had made his acquaintance and liked him. He is said to have been quite handsome, and "J" fell head over heels in love with him after her father introduced them. He was a "J" also and was the reason she was in the jeep accident on the way to Germany mentioned in the first blog. Why the romance never came to anything is not known, but I plan to ask her one of these days.

Lt. "J" was in the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach, was of significant help in liberating the Crillon Hotel, as the Germans were leaving Paris, earned a Silver and Bronze Star, was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and became a staff officer in the OSS. He spent his years after the war in Rome, Kinshasa, Zaire, Rio de Janeiro, and Vienna with the U. S. Diplomatic Service. He worked later in Paris as a journalist and finally retired to Florida. He died some years ago.

Now, I realize this sounds like some Bogart/Bergman movie, but these were times that things like that happened. Can you imagine Lt. "J" being in the Hotel Crillon bar drinking with his friend Earnest Hemingway, who wants to go up and "interrogate" a German officer? Lt. "J" said, "that isn't going to happen". "J" was not there, but Lt. "J" was there and likely prevented an incident.

I wish that I had more of a timeline to go with this. One day, I may get to ask "J"........

A Dialog in the Dark Experience

On a recent trip to the USA, I had a somewhat unique experience in Atlanta. My son's wife had arranged for us to go to Dialog in the Dark near the downtown area. I have since learned that similar experiences are available in New York City, Moscow, two spots in Italy, several in Germany, and in Vienna. In fact there are places all over the world where one can visit a dialog site. I should say experience because we saw absolutely nothing at all!

On a beautiful day at Atlantic Station in Atlanta, we all trooped into a large waiting room and presented our tickets. Excursions begin about every half hour, and the whole experience lasts about 45 minutes. First, we were given canes like blind people use and told how to use them. Then a sighted guide took about 10 of us in a room where we were seated on cubes of light in front of a metal railing about 3 feet high. He explained that the lights would slowly dim into total darknes. If anyone had a feeling of claustrophobia, they were to say so, and they would be taken out of the room. It turns out that several of the group availed themselves of this option.

The remainder of us were told to follow our guide's voice. She was a new person than the man who brought us in the room before the lights went out. She had been blind for some years due to early onset glaucoma. She had a pleasant voice, and we all tentatively worked our way to it. She seemed to hear where we were. We then followed her to another room where it became evident that we were in a park, walking on grass, could feel a stone wall that was wet, and hear a brook with a waterfall. We then crossed a bridge, and found ourselves in a grocery store. On my left, I could feel different vegetables and fruits in a produce case but see nothing. Then we went through canned goods and wound up at a checkout line. The lady explained how grocery stores have people available to help blind people orient themselves. Next, came a boat ride! We carefully entered what seemed to be a boat and sat down. The water sounds and the rocking of the boat were realistic. Next, we stood on a curb and listened to the sounds of a busy street before crossing it.

After crossing the street, we next entered the cafe where we stood at the counter and ordered the drinks. Our guide (now bartender) knew the drinks by the shapes. She could not tell between a diet coke and a regular coke since they are in the same shape container. We paid with bills, and she made change. We knew ahead of time to have 0ne dollar bills in a certain pocket, so that was not a problem. While we drank, we were encouraged to ask her questions about being sightless.

Some things that I learned:
Persons born sightless have no memory of colors. Think about describing the color red to someone who had never seen the color red. Probably good to have a sighted person help these folks with wardrobe choices.

Persons with sight who become blind, all have a photo memory of a color ingrained in their brains.

Sightless people, in this day and time, have learned to travel, shop, and get around in cities by various means. Not the least of these is having a place for everything in their homes, putting canned goods marked with rubber bands, paper clips, etc. in order in their cabinets. Having markers on socks, etc.

Textures can tell one a lot about what things are. Restaurants serve sightless people with instructions as to where on the clock their foods are on their plates.

By the time our tour was finished, I almost felt that I could see things in my mind's eye without the use of light. I was reminded of a sightless man that I see getting on a train in Luzern. He counts stops until he knows where to get off. Usually there are people he knows at the same stop, so I know he would have help if needed.

An unexpected result of our tour was the loss of a feeling of personal space. It was almost an hour of walking into other people, touching them with hands, feet, and cane, and generally intruding on other's space. As we began to leave the bar, a young lady told me that she was going to place her hand on my back and let me lead her to the door. We made our exit, but I never saw her.

Sightless people may have a blank stare, but they are thinking all the time.

Big Boys and Cry Babies

The title would suggest that there are two types here. At this point, I can tell you that they can be one and the same. I know because I am both.

My dad was of the generation that believed "big boys" do not cry. I grew up in his image. Now, he was a long way from being a hard hearted John Wayne type, but men did not cry in his world. His mother outlived him, but I do recall seeing him red eyed (no tears) when his father died. So, that was the way I grew up. My mom would cry at the drop of a hat but not him. When I cried, as a child, and he saw me, he would just tell me to shut off the waterworks and be a "big boy". He had far better judgement than to say that to my mother. My dad loved me. I am sure that he thought that he was making me a man, and he did. When he died, I sat by my mom and never let a tear grace my eye. I did have this strange tightening in my throat though. He would have been proud.

Almost sixty years later, I find that things have changed. How and just when, I do not know. I do know that somewhere along the way, change occurred. These days, I can tear up at a sad event without a problem. Just why, I have no clue. Maybe enough sad things have happened, so I cannot help it. Most of my life has been exceptionally happy, but we all have sad things in our lives. I have certainly seen plenty of sadness in other people's lives. Maybe we all have a limit to what we can experience and witness before we lose our "big boy" mentality.

Maybe with birthdays we lose some of our inhibitions. I do know that age can decrease the frontal parts of the brain that control emotions. I have seen a lot of stroke victims who have emotional lability as part of their deficit. Some people cry at inappropriate times with other conditions. Maybe it is a combination of upbringing, emotional experience, and mental function. All I know is that it is as it is. I don't worry a bit about it.

Machine Gun Kelly and My Pop

My dad grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. He went to Lenox Elementary School from about 1909 and Central High School until about 1921. I say "about" because he was born in mid-December 1902, so I count 1903 as his first year for school age purposes. Anyway, at Central, in one of his classes (Chemistry, I think because he related this to me many years ago), he sat behind a boy who became George "Machine Gun" Kelly. I once asked my dad what this guy was like. He told me that he was, even then, sort of a bum. He was not good in school, not in class a lot, etc.

If you don't know Machine Gun Kelly, the link above will tell you about him. I am glad the he and my dad never became real buddies.

Running, Then and Now

First, for those that don't know me, I am approaching the age of dirt. I like that, when other choices are considered. I do have a few more senior friends than me (they know who they are). The most senior is 92. As far as I know he is still a walker.

In 1969, I accepted the best deal that I ever got from the federal government and wound up in the Neurosurgery Department of a naval hospital in Boston, MA. I lived in Peabody, MA (pronounced "PEA body" instead of the famous Memphis hotel, "The pea BODY"). We lived in an apartment complex know as Northshore Gardens. Now, the Gaaaaardens, as a Bostonese would say, was nice enough. Nice paved streets and hills were at the front door.

For some reason (I told you I was old), I put on a pair of basketball shoes and started to run these hills. The only time you saw any shoe remotely like a running shoe was at a track meet. There were a lot of military guys staying in shape out there in the dark every morning. I did not see them a lot, since it was dark. I could hear them breathing, so I knew they were there. I didn't realize it then, but those basketball shoes were a good training aid. Kind of like running with lead shoes. Anyway, this little bit of early morning running did not get me hooked.

When military time was over, I moved all to Alabama to get started with the serious business of making a living. Our first house was close (not too close) to a high school with a quarter mile track. One early morning, I put on the big shoes and started doing track mileage. In summer, there were probably 6-10 guys that would show up during an hour. In winter, you just heard a lot of feet hitting the track and heavy breathing. One occasion really sent me in a new direction. There was an ad in a magazine for a running shoe. They were from France and not cheap. I ordered a pair, put them on, and felt like I was floating when I went for a run. They were way too narrow, and the worst shoes that I ever wore after the basketball footwear. Still, they were the lightest shoes that I had ever had.

Not long after that, I was in Memphis for a day or two and came upon a running shoe store of all things. After trying out a few, I bought a pair. Probably Nikes, but who knows now? I took them home and was partially hooked. Why partially? Because a few weeks later, a friend told me that he found street running much less boring that that on a track. HE WAS RIGHT!! From then on, the only time that I ran on a track was to do interval training. About this time we moved about a block away from the track. I started running in the street, and that was that. I had a regular 7 mile out and back course that was along a nice road to and from an industrial park. It was a good mix of ups and downs. On an early morning, I might see a dozen cars.

So, began my serious life as an amateur runner. I soon acquired a painter's cap, a singlet, and some running shorts. My pride (I think they are still in a box somewhere) was a set of "New Zealand Splits". These were next to nothing in weight and were shorts cut up to the waist band. I had no other equipment. Shoes, sox, shorts, singlet, and cap. I later got a cheappo watch for timing. I do not recall when I first ran in a 10 K race. By this time, the running craze had begun. It was probably a friend who told me about races. I should say definitely, that I was never a competitive racer. I began as a LSD runner (Long slow distance) and stayed with that. I remember a friend telling me that on race day, I would run my best time. This was due to the added adrenalin from the excitement of the event. I thought that he was full of it. I knew my times. He was right. I bested my times always on race day. Not a lot, but it got so that if I had not been a little faster, I would have been very disappointed. I found that the "runner's high" was a real thing. It started at about 4 miles at first, but as my distances increased, it took longer to appear.

One physiological fact for me became quickly evident and guided my run routes always. About 4 miles into any run, I began to get a "colon call". Later with marathons, I always had an enema before race day. I probably did this before 10 Ks too (told you I was old). On my daily runs, I was fortunate to be in a lot of undeveloped property areas with lots of trees. A baggie with some toilet paper in it stuffed in a sock worked fine. It was usually dark anyway.

There was a fledgling group of runners in the area, so I went and met with them on occasion. One night a man came over from an adjacent city as a guest runner. This guy was "Mr. Runner" in Alabama then. We started with a 10 K, and then we talked with each other. I found out that in December of each year, there was a marathon in Huntsville, AL. In those days, there were probably 20 or less marathons in the whole country. Two were in Alabama. Huntsville was the best in many ways. It had more recognition and was relatively flat. I started to train for this in March of 1979 (I think). Training advice for marathons abounds today, but in 1979, there was little to none. The only thing besides increasing milage was to add some intervals once a week. Probably, these were of psychological benefit only. December arrived, and I thought I would give it a try. With an empty colon, I drove over to Huntsville, lined up, and got underway on a very nice and cool day.

Today, a marathon is a lot different. Some have activities that last several days before the run. There are all sorts of shorter runs, exhibits, carbo meals, etc. At my first marathon, I could have gone the evening before for a spaghetti supper, and that was it. I passed on the supper because if carbo loading helps anyone at all, it must be the really fast runners. I was not then, and never was, in that group. In Huntsville, after you finished, you got a hot dog and an orange. Of course, I was excited. I had been over a lot of the course already, and I knew that unless I fell, I would finish. At the end of the day, I could say that I was a marathoner. The race was run. At about 20 miles, I met the "wall". The "wall" is a point where your body has used up all the usual muscle energy sources and shifts over to protein as a source. This is not fun at all. I owe a lot of my will power at that point to a rather large Huntsville policeman standing in the road. He was saying over and over, "You are looking great, and it is only a 10 K to go". At that stage, a 10 K seems like a walk in the park. With a further and slower struggle, I made it to the end. I had reached my goal of under 4 hours, had my hot dog (tasted really fine too), and drove back home to soak in a hot tub. Climbing stairs was a challenge for a few days. Going by the book, I skipped a day, and two days later, I ran my regular 7 miles. For a time or two, 7 miles seemed really short.

I continued to run my 35 miles a week and ran in some 10 K races to keep up. Two more Huntsville marathons were in my future. The second one was in the rain, and the only time that I ever got hungry while running any distance. This occurred when I passed a fast food joint. The third and last marathon, I did with a friend who was a first timer. We had made an error in out training, in that we ran a 20 mile course only two weeks before the race. This was not enough time to recover. I ran a few minutes (12 as I recall) over my 4 hours, and I got bored. After that, I stuck with 10 Ks only.

The old knees began to give out, so I retired from running. Three days running and three days crawling around was not worth it.

These days, I am surrounded by runners. Three generations of them and a spouse still pound the pavement in all sorts of races. Equipment abounds. All sorts on improved shoes, orthotics, timing devices, monitors, etc. are a big business. There are even watches with GPS systems built in, so you can find your way home if you are lost. These days, I go as the unofficial photographer, medical support person, general jacket holder, and flunky. If I could run now, I think I would still go with some decent shoes, a singlet, a cap, and my good old New Zealand splits!

A visit to the Onion Market in Bern

Each fall, there is a big market in Bern right in front of the capitol building and spreading through all the side streets. I had not been to this in years, but this year, there was an American friend here who wanted to see this. The last time I went, it was a cold and messy day, but this trip was going to have beautiful weather, so off we went. Our friend met us in the main station, since he was coming from Zurich. They run special trains to this affair, so it was no surprise that it was covered up with people. This affair usually sells about 50 tons of onions in all fashions. This year, they added about 6 more tons to that figure. There is a real carnival atmosphere on that day. There are onions made into all sorts of wreaths, chains, and doo dads of every sort. There are all sorts of onion and garlic dishes. A vampire would not be happy here.

Of course there is garlic butter bread that is toasted. The small cheese and onion tarts known as Zwiebelkuechen, and lots of spicy Gluhwein. There is no shortage.

Hey! I didn't Think I Had Been THAT Good!

This morning about ten, the doorbell rang. The mailman had come and gone, so I had no clue as to who it was. I go down and what do I find? Sammiclaus and his two helpers. What did I see otherwise? One of the helpers had a bottle shaped sack in her hand. It was a gift from Sammiclaus. I was wished a Frohe Adventzit and a Happy Christmas by Sammiclaus, who then agreed to having a photo made.

Later, I found the sack to contain a nice bottle of Swiss Dole. It is the custom here for each resident over the age of 70 to receive a bottle of wine when Sammiclaus comes each Advent season. I believe that each "round" age year (70,80,90, etc.) you also get a loaf of bread. Tell me that old age doesn't get you any respect!

An Update on "J", a Teenager During WW II

In April of 2006, I wrote a piece about "J". A lot of people seemed to enjoy this. I know that It was a fun thing for me to do. For the present reader, I would recommend having a look at this now. I always enjoy hearing stories of "J"'s youth and young adulthood in Paris and the areas adjacent during WW II. "J" is 87 years old now but still retains a lot of memories of those times, as a teenager and young woman. I recently had a chance to ask more questions of her.

I have just finished a book entitled "Paris" by Anthony Beevor and his wife, Artemis Cooper. It covers the years between 1944 and 1949. I found a lot of names that I recognized but knew very little about, so I thought of "J". I should say now that she and her husband have both had a share of health problems, and I found her thin and frail but still mentally sharp. Since the last visit with her, we have had an opportunity to visit her old Parisian home in a Paris suburb and could relate to her stories of Jewish neighbors who simply disappeared, the bomb shelter that was in their basement (and remains there today), and the small enclave that was her street. "J" still retains that house, but it will likely pass on for sale after she dies.

It was enlightening and fun to spend an hour or so with her. I started by asking her about Charles de Gaulle and her thoughts about him. From Beevor's book, I had gotten the idea that like him or not, most French people thought of him as a savior and the future of post-war France. Indeed, "J" was a Gaullist of the first order and agreed with me that had it not been for him, France might well have become a communist country. I was surprised to find that "J"'s father, an industrialist, used his factory as a haven for Jews, as well as others, who would have been deported to Nazi camps. By keeping them on as required workers, they were spared scrutiny by the Germans. She said that at first, the tales of concentration camps were not believed, but later it became evident that the stories were true. When the Germans left Paris, there were still a lot of French places, such as Alsace, where military actions took place with the Free French and the Allies fighting together against the Germans.

About this time, after her recovery from her back injury in the OSS "J"'s father wanted her to go to England, where he had business connections, so she spent almost four years in post-war London. In spite of the desolation of blitized city, the young people there had many social events and parties. She had spent some time in England before the fall of France, so she had English as a language already. Apparently, she took one of the last ships back to France before the Germans took the country. She lived in a boarding house in London until another lady invited her to share her apartment. She endured rationing as everyone did, but despite this she had a good experience. Her next journey was, of all places, to Argentina. Her Godmother had properties in that country, so they traveled to South America on a freighter, making many stops on the way. In Argentina, the Godmother's property had been illegally sold to other people, courtesy of a crooked lawyer. This occasioned "J"'s return to Europe.

After all this, she wound up going to Engelberg to get away from the destruction all over Europe. There, she stayed in a hotel owned by her future husband's family, met him, and they have been married over sixty years. They still have an apartment in the village there. She tells me that there are many old photos that she can share with me. I hope to be able to see and scan these for a future blog. To say that "J" has had a historical life is an understatement.

Cleavages, Clefts, and Kilos

As I begin this, I am in Western Austria in a narrow valley toward the Italian border in a region known as Tirol. We are in a village called Laengenfeld, where there is a spa called The Aqua Dome. Now, ordinarily I am not the least interested in spas, but some friends of ours have been here three or four times. They cannot stop singing its virtues, so I decided to give Barbara a birthday gift of three nights in this hotel/spa. Unlike me, she can sniff out a spa miles away. The trip from Sachseln to the spa goes through the beautiful Arlberg region of Western Austria, so the three hour drive passed quickly. Our spa days began on a Tuesday, so we spent Monday night in a Gaesthaus near the village. That way, we could check in early and have a whole day of activity in the Aqua Dome. I think the words "decadent fitness" best describe the Aqua Dome. It is a sumptuous and elegant hotel with all the amenities one would expect. Having a daughter with a degree in hotel management, elegance in hotels is not an unknown concept for me. It reached a new level when we were upgraded to a suite with a fireplace, and I switched on the flat screen TV to be welcomed by name on the screen. Suffice it to say that this suite was luxury compounded. The philosophy of Aqua Dome seems to be to encourage fitness for those who want it and throw in as much decadence as anybody desires. They seem to do a great job with both entities. As one might expect, I went heavy on the decadent side. Here, I might mention that we are in Germanic Europe here where customs and mores can be a bit different from other places in the world. The brochures and web sites of the Aqua Dome mention that some areas of the spa are "Textilefrei". In English this basically means no clothes or bathing apparel. Where I come from originally, this means "nekkid". Saunas and spa pools are commonly sans clothes in the less puritanical areas of the world. This along with large pools of bubbling thermal spring water, had been an item on my bucket list for some time. I anticipated this with only minor reservations, quickly resolved by our friends who assured me that after five minutes, no one noticed a thing. Of course, I did not drive three hours just to skinny dip with a bunch of people who I never met, but it presented itself as an opportunity that I had not had, even with the neighbors next door to us in Switzerland who have a hot tub. Bathing in a thermal pool and enjoying the variety of saunas sounded good to me. The set up of the hotel was such that movement about between Textilefrei and clothed areas in the bathrobe furnished to each guest was no problem. I was surprised at how easy it became to shed all modesty and inhibitions when people without clothes were in the majority around you. We are all made alike in most ways, and sometimes slight variations can be of interest. There were no Playboy Bunnies seen by me, just natural creations. That all out of the way, food was another consideration, as the pictures below confirm. Breakfast and dinner came with the daily price of the hotel. Both were meals beyond the ordinary to say the least. If one was in a Textilefrei area and wanted one of the meals or a snack, this was not a problem. I saw a few people avail themselves of this in the areas set aside for such. Some had robes on, while others did not. Hot soup in the lap could be a hazard, I suppose. We had meals in the clothed hotel areas. In the main dining room, we were assigned a table for the duration of our stay and got to know our neighbors. The hotel and spa are multilingual, so all sorts of languages can be heard. English is spoken throughout, but as usual in Austria, the locals try to accommodate you if you try another language. Our servers went out of the way to help us along our somewhat primitive ways in German. It was obvious that the employees are happy here. They do a wonderful job and are genuinely happy to see you. English seems to be the common language between locals and those from elsewhere in the world. This is true in Switzerland, so we were not surprised.

Food is a subject close to our hearts. It would be an understatement of the first order to say that we had wonderful meals morning and night at the spa restaurant. I will say here that our photos are mostly of food or outdoor scenes. Carrying a camera into the "Textilefrei" areas did not seem like a good idea. After breakfast, anyone that needs to eat from hunger must have a serious medical problem. For a typical buffet breakfast, one finds analmost indecent array of food. Huge buffet tables of breads, fish, sauces, cereals, meats, fruit and juices, cheeses, and eggs. We agreed that three days of this was about all we could handle without going home in a smock with guilt about gluttony.

My routine became thus, in the morning I spent time in the "Saunawelt" alternating between several different saunas and periods in the two thermal pools. Both pools had alternating changes in the water flows, so one got a massage, as well as, a soak in warm water. At one end of a pool there was a terrace where one could have a drink or snack, in or out of, your robe. Behind that area was an outdoor sunbathing area walled off with hedges. There, one can find a area of snow, if you are so inclined to roll in it after a sauna. About noon, I would pull on some trunks and go to the regular swimming areas. There one could stay under cover or go into one of the three elevated basins. There was a choice of a whirlpool, a salt water pool, or a pool containing a higher level of sulfur. They all had fountains and whirlpool action. Everywhere, one could lean back and see blue skies and alps. A moonlight evening soak was spoiled by the coming clouds. After a day of such delights, one felt very pleasantly fatigued. Not work fatigue, but that fatigue that is such as one feels after a long period of slow running.

After some evening libation (saw no snakes but was on the lookout), it was dinner time. That was never a chore! By ten PM, no one wanted to do anything but sleep, and sleep well.

If this was spa life, number me among its fans. If anyone was serious about spa treatments, there were plenty from which to choose. There was even a 500 calorie menu to order, if you dared do this.

Some of our food pornography is at:

Normandy 2011

There is an old saying that "You can't go home again". I believe that is true of most vacations, holidays, etc. of course if it were an infallible truth, I would not live in Switzerland. We just returned from ten days in Normandy that I believe were an exception to that rule also. This may largely be due to Carol and Steve spending six of those days with us, as we all sought things of interest. What follows is what some might call a trip log of our adventures into a time past.

21 April, Thursday

We left home in the early AM, as the dawn was breaking. This trip was to be a first real test of our use of a GPS tracking system, so we listened as our guide, Jill, led us along roads that were at first familiar, but then became unknown. We crossed the Swiss border into France at Basel. As we drove through the Alsatian country, we reached a point where we decided to fore go our point to point instructions to Jill, and let her take us on her own to Saint Quentin. Since we had decided to make this a two day trip to our destination, we had booked a hotel in the city of that name just to be able to say that we had spent a night in Saint Quentin. This was no problem for Jill except for a short stretch just outside of Saint Quentin when some parallel high tension power lines got her a bit bumfuzzled. She recalculated, and we arrived just fine.

We left home in the early AM, as the dawn was breaking. This trip was to be a first real test of our use of a GPS tracking system, so we listened as our guide, Jill, led us along roads that were at first familiar, but then became unknown. We crossed the Swiss border into France at Basel. As we drove through the Alsatian country, we reached a point where we decided to fore go our point to point instructions to Jill, and let her take us on her own to Saint Quentin. Since we had decided to make this a two day trip to our destination, we had booked a hotel in the city of that name just to be able to say that we had spent a night in Saint Quentin. This was no problem for Jill except for a short stretch just outside of Saint Quentin when some parallel high tension power lines got her a bit bumfuzzled. She recalculated, and we arrived just fine.

Jill, our GPS

The hotel/motel was of interest in itself. It was totally automatic. There was a desk person available for a few hours, but check in, meals ordered, and check out was all done by computer. It wasn't a bad spot for a night.

22 April, Friday.

We were up and away from Saint Quentin after a quickie coffee and croissant breakfast. Jill, our GPS assistant, got us through several rest stops and even more toll booths to Bayeux by noon. The French roads and expressways are very nice. Even though there were places with high volume traffic, the pace rarely slackened. Compared to German autobahns, these were much better in that respect. The tolls seem to be well earned. We arrived at The Dean's Manor on the edge of Bayeux, loaded into our room for the two nights before we can get into the apartment on Sunday, met the Chilcott family members (the colonel, his wife, a son, and several grandchildren who are visiting from England), and then decided to find the Hertz rental location, so we would be familiar with it when Carol and Steve arrive tomorrow afternoon. We went to Arromarche later for a look around. The weather was warm and beautiful, and there were a lot of tourists there.

6th June Restaurant in Arromanches

23 Apr Sat

We were out after a light breakfast at the Manor. We went into the village to meet Elizabeth and Bob Castleman. I had not seen these folks in at least 50 years, and it was by coincidence that our paths crossed at the same time in Normandy. We had a nice two plus hour visit and lunch with them. Then we went to the Bayeux train station to pick up Carol and Steve and went to pick up their rental car. After they got settled in at the manor, we decided to go back to Arromarche, so they could see the lay of the land there. We had dinner there again at the 6 June Restaurant before returning home for the evening.

A bit about Colonel Chilcutt. He was deathly ill in the Caen hospital four years ago when we were here. Today, he says he is better than he has been in years. He is ambulatory, lucid, etc., but I doubt he is as good as before his illness. His demeanor would put some off, but I found him to be very knowledgeable about the D-Day happenings and the logic behind them. He can come over as a demanding host, but if one listens and ignores his bluster, one finds him possessed of a very dry wit. He is 77 years old, and his father landed with the British here on D-Day. He has a map room in a large attic over one of the barns that is packed with wall maps, all sorts of air and beach mockups, and several large picture scrapbooks of D-Day original photos. I hope this collection will find its way to a museum some day.

24 Apr Sun

Out to the Bayeux Cathedral where the other three went to mass, while I cruised the village. The processional at the mass was led by several older men, one of whom carried an American flag. They were obviously WW II veterans. After mass, we had a reservation at La Rapiere. This was a treat and likely, the best meal of the many fine meals on our trip.

At La Rapier

Next, we made our way to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Arriving in mid-afternoon, we saw a long line into the new visitors center. We bypassed that and enjoyed the new entrance walk way to the cemetery. This spot is, for me, just like going to Arlington National Cemetery in the USA. There were mobs of people, but there is a hush over the whole place. People walk the paths and go into the rows looking at the stones. The place is kept in immaculate condition at USA taxpayer’s expense, but one does not resent a single dollar used for this purpose. A majority of these heroic soldiers died well before thirty years of age, and one marvels at the loss of such potential for our country. Of course, if you take over nine thousand young men in a general population, you will have some misfits. Perhaps the war saved them from that, but it extracted an ultimate price. Keeping one’s eyes dry can be very difficult.

After a supper of snacks, we all packed it in for the night.

Markers at American Cemetery

25 Apr Monday

Monday was a French federal holiday. The big LeClerc supermarket was closed. I had seen a notice in a grocery in the middle of the village that said it would be open. I drove down, found it up and running, and stocked up on some items there. I saw some jars of duck fat. The French cook with it, so I will take one back home to Sachseln with me.

Returning home, we unloaded the groceries and took off for lunch in Port en Bessin. This harbor town was a favorite from the trip four years past. We honed in on our favorite restaurant and had a sumptuous lunch.

A Plateau of Seafood

After a post-prandial stroll around this pretty village, we took off for another D-Day site at a spot down the road called Longues sur Mer.

Longues sur Mer is at a point on the map labeled “Chaos”. It must have been chaotic on D-Day The battery at Longues sur Mer is an impressive group of bunkers that bear testimony that the Germans knew what they were doing when it came to reinforced concrete in their Atlantic Wall. A forward bunker served as a spotting site so the guns behind them could obtain an accurate range. The broad expanse of flat land between that point and the guns surely cost some major casualties to secure.

We left Longues sur Mer and drove a short distance to Pointe du Hoc. This was the site of a fierce battle against the Germans by the rangers of the US Army. Out of about 200 men, 90 were left able to fight after the capture of the area. To see the cliffs that these men negotiated with cables and ladders while being fired upon by the enemy is amazing. The whole area is reminiscent of a golf course with way too many grass bunkers. The “bunkers” are shell craters from the allied bombing and naval fire before and during D-Day. The capture and neutralization of this point eliminated it as a spotter outpost for the German guns firing at both Omaha and Utah Beaches.

26 Apr. Tuesday

Today was exceptional. We drove to Caen about 40 minutes from Bayeux and spent most of the day at the War Memorial Museum. Caen was the scene of some of the heaviest destruction in the Normandy fighting. The city was virtually leveled. This museum has exhibits starting with the end of WW I, going onward to show how the armistice made life intolerable for Germany, and how this led the population to accept Nazi leadership as their only hope for the nation’s survival. The exhibits then go into great detail with WW II, and then even give a good background to the Cold War after the allies defeat of Germany. It was an impressive visit, and even though we thought we were “Museumed out” for the day, we were very close to the Pegasus Bridge. Off we went with our faithful GPS leading.

Pegasus Bridge was the scene of a significant British result at the D-Day landings. It bridged the Caen Canal and was a vital source to protect against German counterattacks. The Brits used glider landings to place troops on the ground there and capture the bridge. The museum at Pegasus is specific to that operation and was a source of interest, since we knew barely anything of this history.

Pegasus Bridge

27 Apr Wed

We had heard that the museum at the new visitor’s center associated with the American Cemetery was not to be missed. The long lines had discouraged us on our initial visit. We tried to be there for the opening and had no problem. The entrance security is much like an airport, hence the line. This site was under construction on our 2007 trip, but I have to say that this is a penultimate museum of which any American can be proud. I am glad we did this in two segments, since the cemetery itself warrants some time in itself.

We then decided to go on a mission to find Brecourt Manor. This was a topic seen best in the Band of Brothers series on TV and DVD. After a bit of convoluted driving, we did find a spot that the GPS said was Brecourt Manor. About all we saw was the barnyard and a bit of the manor. In the barnyard however, we met two young men whose English was better than our French. One guided me across the road, pointed at a pasture with a hedgerow, and said we were welcome to look all we wanted. The pasture was mined, but this time only with cow paddies. We got an up close look at where the men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne knocked out the four big guns shelling Utah Beach. Since our visit, I have learned that there is a monument to Easy Company at Brecourt Manor. We missed this, but I’ll bet we were within a few yards of it.

The Hedgerow at Brecourt Manor

Next, we sought Utah Beach. It was low tide, breezy, and practically empty. Extensive construction is underway at the museum, and it was time to look for lunch. Barbara and I had lunch at a beachside spot near Utah Beach in 2007 on the way from St. Mere Eglise to Utah, so we drove a few kilometers in the opposite direction to find it. The Brasserie Normandie was still there, as it had been four years before. We enjoyed it again.

After lunch we made a quick stop in St Mere Eglise and parted the four of us, so Steve and Carol could see the excellent 101st Airborne Museum there. Barbara and I continued onward to the German War Cemetery near La Cambre where 21,000 soldiers, known and unknown, are buried. This is a beautiful and peaceful spot in contrast to all the mayhem that led these soldiers to be buried here.

German Cemetery at La Cambe

28 Apr Thurs

We explored the map room in the top of a barn at Dean’s manor first. One could easily spend a full day here with all the maps, table mockups, and photo books. Students from military schools over the USA, including West Point used to visit this room for tactical instruction.

The Map Room

After the map room, we made our way to Grandcamp Maisy to explore the German battery there only discovered and opened about five years ago. Though well documented in war records, this site was covered over after the war to use for farming. Aerial Photographs studied by a young Englishman showed its presence and it was rediscovered. Today, it is a work in progress, but in the four years since we first saw it, much has been done.

Maisy Battery

Then, guess what? It was lunch time! We went back into the village proper, and after searching a few menus, found our spot. La Belle Mariniere was a great choice. A small room with two brothers, one the chef, and one the waiter. We had an elegant and tasteful lunch with a reasonable price. certainly a spot worth a return!

A fine Meal

After our lunch, we headed back to the manor so Carol and Steve could pack for their return to Paris the next day.

29 Apr Friday

Today's first order of business was to watch the royal wedding on TV and computers. That social obligation out of the way, I took Steve to turn his rental car in. We went to the station with them to catch the train and saw them off. Although it was somewhat gray and later turned into a drizzle, we decided to head for Juno Beach. Jilly got us to Courseulles sur Mer, the village at Juno Beach It reminded me of Arromanches at Gold Beach. The day was not pretty and after a snack and a look around, we made our way back home.

Juno Beach Monument

30 Apr. Sat.

We slept in awhile, then we got the packing underway. We made a last foray into the village to buy some gifts for people back home and had lunch at La Table du Terroir. It was a memorable experience. The last Norman oysters of this trip were as good as always and the absolute best Tripes al mode de Caen that I have ever eaten, bar none. Barbara's appetizer and pollock main dish were much to her pleasure also.

Tripes a la Caen

Now, we have paid our landlady, said our goodbyes to her and the colonel, and plan an early departure for the AM.


Well, another new thing has entered my life! I can tell you that it would have been the last thing I could have imagined too!

I have long been a fan of the American TV network, A&E, but it has been some months since I looked at any of its material. Now, I find the focus seems to have shifted away from arts, and in my view, it has moved a long way away from entertainment. I was recently exposed to some episodes of "Hoarders". This program can only be described as sad and repulsive. After some time away from the USA, I am at a loss when I see what the public will support and watch.

For those uninitiated in this program, it seems to chronicle the stories of a variety of people afflicted with a disorder causing them to pathologically collect and store a variety of items, both animate and inanimate. The scenes in and about the homes of the people affected are truly spectacular. They are also perverse, disgusting, and filthy. This not a show to watch while eating, or contemplating such. It might serve as a weight control measure, if you watched it enough.

I must admit that for me, it could become a morbid fascination, but only in homeopathic doses. I still think it would be best presented by its own separate channel. Perhaps, something such as The Weird Channel would do.

A few Hours above the "Soup"

This time of year in CH, we can go for days without seeing the sun. Our house on a lake is 500 meters above sea level. Some times, the fog is so dense that we cannot see across the pasture to our neighbor's house. I like these days. They are fine for books, internet, and napping. Driving is not a problem, so we are free to travel.

Some people cannot tolerate days of no sun. They get "Seasonal Affective Disorder", known as "SAD". Some get really depressed and need to go upwards for some sun. This may mean a few hundred meters or even more. That is why one often sees people at ski areas shedding clothes like they were on fire to get the sunshine.

There is a little known spot above Sarnen called Langis. Langis is a well known cross country ski area in the winter with about 40 kilometers of groomed trails. In the summer, it is a fine place to hike, and along a small river, a good spot to cool off and picnic.

Langis is at 1500 meters above sea level. The fog is always below, and on pretty days, the sun is bright. There are two places to enjoy there. The Langis Hotel and a smaller restaurant along one of the trails.

Recently, we spent a few hours for lunch at the hotel. The place becomes more popular each year, and I am told that on weekends, the large parking area is full with a waiting list.

This shows about 10 % of the parking lot at Langis.

Below is the beginning of the winter walking and cross country trails. The trails are on an honor basis. You just put 5 CHF in the wooden box. There is no control, and you do not have to have a ticket.

Here is the hotel. A postal bus makes the trip up from Sarnen several times a day in the winter. In the summer, there are fewer trips, but at least two daily.

Of course, lunch was a good reason to drive up to Langis. Here you can see what on a lot of menus is called "cheese toast". OK, it is toast and cheese, but it isn't a Kraft slice run under the oven. It is a large slice of Swiss bread, covered with ham, and layered with some wonderful "Bergkaese". Then the whole thing is splashed with a bit of white wine and run under broiler covered to steam. It is not your Momma's cheese toast!!

Gigli's Page of Stuff

Profile Information

What is your favorite place in Europe so far?
Where would you most like to go next?
Tell us about one of your favorite places to stay on an Untour. Do you have a favorite host? Apartment? Village?
Our apartment in CH with Berit and Albert.

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Do you have any special interests or hobbies that you follow when you travel?
Digital photo and video, computers, genealogy
When you upload photos to Untours Cafe, you are also giving Untours permission to use the photos in their promotional material (with credit to you)
Glass door shattering in Zuerich Flughafen (seriously). Read my blog about it.
Which Untours have you already done?
Heartland in CH, Golling in Austria,Castle in Germany,Alsace, Locarno in CH, and Bayeux in Normandy
What advice would you give others considering an Untour?
Just do it!
What is your favorite Untour? (so far)
Golling in Austria and Bayeux in Normandy

Eiger Groupie Confessions

"> For more widgets please visit www.yourminis.com


For more widgets please visit www.yourminis.com

Anyone who knows me well understands that I am an Eiger groupie. The North Face of the Eiger has fascinated me for many years. I first learned of it when a friend gave me a copy of "The White Spider". This account of the many attempts to climb the north side of this mountain was written by one of the men who did it first, Heinrich Harrer. I have read this man's book many times, been to the north face several times (the last time was yesterday, 16 Sep. 2007), and never tire of reading about it, or seeing pictures of it. Below is a telescopic picture that I made of the White Spider landmark.

I found a new and interesting account with photos today at


Walking the Eiger Trail from Eigergletscher to Alpiglen should be on every hiker's to do list. Reading the book first brings it all to you in great clarity.

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Vance Roy's Blog

Above the Soup at Langis

Posted on February 6, 2011 at 9:45am

An Old friend

I'm sure that no one wants the chat or cafe to become an obituary listing. Mike Katen died last night in his 90th year. He and Rose, as well as their daughter and son in law have been long time Idyllers. I first met them here about 25 years ago on their first Idyll trip. They told me it would be nice if a note was put on the chat. I am not sure how or where to let people know. Below two friends, Albert on the left and Mike at right.…


Posted on June 7, 2010 at 8:00am

Gigli Eats a Bit of Crow

Some of you know that I am not much of a

Francophile. I don't know why. I have French ancestors, a French name,

and I have had some great excursions to Province, Grenoble, Lyon, and

Normandy. Regardless of this, I have never had an urge to see Paris. I

have often disparaged the city as sidewalks covered with dog poopage,

surly people, French snobs, etc.

It was a source of conflict for me when two of my grandchildren wanted to…

Posted on April 19, 2010 at 2:06am

An Explosive Experience in the Zurich Airport

31 May 2007

Barbara and I left Zurich for the USA on 30 May this week. As usual, we shipped our luggage to the airport, so we did not have to schlepp the bags from two trains. The baggage is kept at the "to claim" section of the airport's SBB station where one picks up it with claim checks before checking in. No problems as usual. HOWEVER, this year we were told that they would sell us baggage checks for our use when we returned in a couple of months.

As I went in to…

Posted on September 26, 2009 at 1:59am — 1 Comment

A Walk along the Southern Slope

The southern part of the alpine peaks is a different wold from that in the north. The people there speak some French, some German, and a tiny bit of Romanisch. For some years, I have had a friend, Fred Osterholz, from the USA who makes at least one trip a year to CH, frequently with his friend, Julia. Fred and Julia are very unique friends; they are New England Yankees, not a breed that I ordinarily seek out. They seem to put up with me, so I reciprocate, and over the years, I can count them as… Continue

Posted on June 27, 2009 at 10:14am — 7 Comments

Whoa Boy!! Sachseln in the headlines

An Idyller staying Sachseln alerted me to an article in a commuter newspaper about an attempt to put Sachseln even further in the public eye. An outfit called Erotic Planet had asked the town council to allow them to produce a hard core porno film up at Aelggi Alp, a few kilometers from now and site of the geographic middle of CH. The council, in its wisdom, said "no way" to the film company. It felt that Aelggi Alp had enough recognition as it stands. The film folks are now going to ask to… Continue

Posted on June 5, 2009 at 3:34am

Berit is Dead

With these words, the minister in the Protestant church in Sarnen ended her memorial service yesterday. The place was packed with all sorts of people from Europe and the USA, whose lives she had touched in many ways, and I think she would have been very flattered had she been there, other than in our hearts and minds. Her grand daughters spoke her biography, played music, and gave an eulogy. Her ashes will be placed in the Sachseln church cemetery which is ecumenical. A small urn will also… Continue

Posted on June 5, 2009 at 2:51am — 2 Comments

Berit Photos: Norwegian flag at half mast; Urn

Posted on June 1, 2009 at 5:33am — 1 Comment

A Light Has Gone Out In CH

Berit Greutert died this morning about 0430 local time in the Kanton Hospital in Sarnen. She came from Norway, and always loved her homeland as well as CH. She and Albert had been married 52 years and had lived in CH 40 of those years. They had three wonderful children, Jan Erik, Heidi, and Elisabeth. These three gave Berit a host of grandkids, and great grandkids. They in turn gave her love beyond the norm and were with her when The Circle… Continue

Posted on May 28, 2009 at 1:30am — 10 Comments

Swiss Mountain Pass Conditions

You can monitor the conditions on the passes here:


Most in The Heartland remain closed for now. The Gotthard (about 27 May) is a priority, and they have about 200,000 TONS of snow to move there. Next come the Oberalp (about 14 May) and the Klausen (about 5 June). Then they will work on the Furka (5 June), Susten (19 June), and Grimsel.

Posted on May 9, 2009 at 3:26am

Eiger Nordwand Takes Two More

Two more men have died on the North Face of the Eiger. Read about this here:


These two well trained men surely must have reached the summit, but like others, died on the way down. The weather is what caused them to die on what a lot of climbers believe is the most dangerous part of a climb, the descent. That part of the effort is when fatigue is the greatest, and the tendency to become careless is the greatest.

Posted on March 27, 2009 at 7:54am



And some people have asked me why I would ever move to CH??? Well, here is a reasonably good answer. I know that the Swiss are a bit nervous about a decrease in tourism, but this should take care of that. Even with my arthritic bod, I may have to get out and about, but I will wait until summer. I can only imagine how popular this will be with the Idyllers. So much for cross cultural exchange, right?

While on…

Posted on March 22, 2009 at 10:38am

Switzerland: Recession? Depression? Tourism?

Everyone seems to be (or will be) affected by the the economy's chaos right now. No matter what you choose to call it, jobs are lost, much less money spent, and less resources are gathered. The Swiss are well aware that what affects the USA will cross the Atlantic and affect Europe and themselves.

Today's Luzern newspaper has several articles regarding this. One deals with the likely fact the tourism (over 90% of the Swiss GDP is dealing with tourism), especially the number of…

Posted on November 8, 2008 at 7:26am — 2 Comments

A Diiferent Sort of Wanderweg

This is a Spanish Wanderweg that is not a good idea, especially for acrophobes. You will note that most parts have a cable. Hope this file works for you. It is best seen in full… Continue

Posted on May 4, 2008 at 12:30am

Mole Form in English

You can download this to read it also. I think it better to print it, and then got to www.skincheck to fill it in, attach the picture, and send it.

Posted on May 1, 2008 at 2:15am


As of 1 May, there is a website created by the Swiss called www.skincheck.ch

It is in German, French, and Italian as are most things here. What it does do is allow one to make a digital photo of any and all skin lesions, moles, etc. Then you fill out a form in one of the languages and send it to the site. A certified dermatologist will check it and get back to you. If it is suspicious, it is up to you to get to a doctor.

This is a part of "Skin Cancer Awareness" here in…

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 7:07am

Just When You Think......

Just when you think that you have heard it all, here comes another crazy story (no, not about Eliot Spitzer).

The day before yesterday, it seems that four Korean gentleman tourists decided to take the Wanderweg from Alpnachstad and walk up to the top of Pilatus. In summer, that is a somewhat boring four hour hike. In winter, it is covered with deep snow and has no train service by the steepest cog train in the world. Because of areas of avalanche danger, it is also avoided under… Continue

Posted on March 11, 2008 at 4:00am — 1 Comment

So, You Think that Your Taxes are Bad?

At tax time, it might interest some to see what Europe and CH pay.

Belgium--58.2% of income
Kanton Vaud in CH-37.9%
Kanton Bern-34.7%
Basel City-34.0%
Kanton Obwalden-25.0%

Now, don't you feel better?

Posted on March 1, 2008 at 6:15am

Sushi in der Schweiz????

Yep. It is true. Stop by the local 7-11 in Sarnen (ESSO station), and they will fix you up. Sushi has been around for several years in the big cities, but now it has made it to The Heartland. I am still waiting for catfish.

Posted on February 22, 2008 at 11:00am — 2 Comments

Comment Wall (27 comments)

At 11:57am on June 22, 2007, Marilee Taussig said…
ok, NOW it's a party! Welcome -a great opening salvo of photographs!
At 1:13pm on June 22, 2007, Vance Roy said…
The young man in the picture is my Godson, Jonas.
At 2:37pm on June 22, 2007, Bill Kover said…
This is a fabulous new toy for us all!
At 6:48pm on June 22, 2007, Eleanor - 'El' said…
Hi Vance and Barbara,
Normally, I leave the communicating and photo displaying to Bill, but this site is so enticing I had to sign-on. How are the sheep on the hillside? We miss their early morning sounds, and their personal greetings as we return from each day's Swiss jaunt.
Is Barbara still teaching adult classes?
At 5:05pm on June 23, 2007, Pete and Maggie Haggart said…
Love your photographs Vance. Can't wait to get back to the Heartland again - maybe in a couple of years. Meanwhile keep the "rants" and the photographs coming!
At 4:35pm on July 5, 2007, Patti Mollenhauer said…
Hi Vance,
Thanks for your comment! I've "spoken" online to Barbara once or twice, and have greatly enjoyed all that you write via Untours. We love Sachseln, too. The name Mollenhauer is German, and has something to do with the keeping of sheep?-I was told. Don't know more than that. My husband's family changed the spelling after WWII from Moldenhauer. Patti
At 4:43pm on July 5, 2007, Marlene Hench said…
Hi Vance,
Have spoken with you a few times on idyllchat. Have enjoyed your comments over the years and your trip logs.
Just signed in today so am trying out the site. Have been on a Paris Untour for the past 2 weeks.
Marlene Hench
At 5:20pm on July 5, 2007, Marlene Hench said…
It looks great. Kinda like a MySpace for Untourists, huh!
Thanks for the response. Be talking more later.
At 11:55am on July 22, 2007, Joan and Bruce said…
Vols everywhere! Our here om the frontier the Cal sports website shows 41 days, 7 hours, 9 minutes until the much anticipated Cal/Tennessee football game. After the warm hospitality in Knoxville last year, Cal fans are attempting to help traveling Vol fans unravel the mystique of Berkeley. And, wouldn't you know, that weekend the Bay Bridge will be closed for continued retrofit work.
At 8:21am on August 15, 2007, Shirley Thornton said…
I loved the Olympic Air story. Did I tell you that Lance and Chris are doing the Greek Untour in Oct? I am so jealous! That will be preceded with a week in London with Home At First.

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