Monday, October 18

Gruyeres

Our bus took us around Lake Geneva, past Lausanne, and to Gruyères, in the center of the cheese-making country. We went to a beautiful old castle (I don't think there any new castles) with a little village attached to it. The homes in the village had many flower boxes and lace curtains at their windows, and appeared suitably quaint. The castle and its village were built at the top of a small hill at the base of some lovely mountains, and looking over some farms, with Lake Geneva in the distance.

Since few people could read in the times of castles, businesses hung out symbols to let people know what they offered for sale.

Gruyères stands in the midst of the Fribourg green pre-Alpine foothills.

The castle, one of the most prestigious in Switzerland, towers majestically above the medieval town. Nineteen counts are accounted for in the period between the 11th and the 16th century. The last of them, Michel, had been in financial trouble almost all his life only to end in bankruptcy in 1554. His creditors shared his earldom between them. From 1555 to 1798 the castle became residence to the bailiffs and then to the prefects sent by Fribourg. In 1849 the castle was put up for sale and sold to the Bovy and Bailland families, who stayed at the castle during summer time and restored it with the help of their painter friends. The castle was then bought back by the canton of Fribourg in 1938, made into a museum and opened to the public.

The ground floor and the mighty dungeon were built in the 13th century while the main building was reconstructed at the turn of the 16th century in Renaissance style.

As I walked through the rooms of the castle I noticed that each had a fireplace, and was thankful for my own central heating. I also noticed that the windows were just openings with nothing to cover them. The owners of these castles had none of the comforts which we take for granted. The purpose of tapestries on the walls was to conserve heat, and protect the occupants from the cold of the stones with which the castle was built. I toured both the inside and the outside of the castle. The gardens were pretty, the mountains were wonderful and the view out over the pasture land to Lake Geneva was glorious!

In the little village below were many flower boxes which added such a bright touch of color! The people lived above their little shops. Lace curtains were at the windows. In the center of the town was a fountain which provided water for both drinking and washing.

We met for lunch at a cheese restaurant in the village. Everything on the menu was Greyères cheese. Some people liked the fondue, others the ricollete, and I chose an open sandwich. It was delicious, and I would have liked to finish it except for the high fat content of cheese. For the remainder of the trip, no one would order anything with cheese.

We continued along the road toward Lauterbrunnen, stopping at Witterwille to photograph a pretty chalet with many window boxes full of geraniums. We were warned to step only on a certain portion of the parking lot across the road, because when Joe and José stopped here on their planning trip, a lady came out and threw them off her area of the parking lot pavement. She had a big dog too. We could hear cowbells ringing as cows grazed in the area. Somehow that made it seem so rural, as in the olden days, as we remember (or imagine) them.

We were now in the Swiss Mittleland, a central strip of gently rolling valleys which runs Northeast to Southwest, and is known as the Swiss Plateau. It is about 1700 feet high, but is surrounded by mountains which are much higher. This Mittleland contains 30% of the Swiss area, but 80% of its population. The entrance to our Silverhorn Hotel in Lauterbrunnen was blocked by construction, so all the luggage was loaded into a car to be driven up the narrow drive, impassable to our 48 passenger bus, to the back door and unloaded. To my great good fortune, the front passenger seat was vacant, so I was allowed to ride in it instead of walking.

The Hotel Silberhorn was more like a chalet than a hotel, very clean and been owned by the same family for 100 years. We each had our own balcony from which we could see the opposite side of the valley, covered with green grass, on which sheep were grazing. There were also many little wooden huts, too small for a person to enter. Were they to stop avalanches? Eventually I learned that they provided shelter for the sheep in case they wanted to warm up.

Our dinner was chicken with assorted fruits - the best meal of the trip so far. Our room, like all the others, was very warm, and people talked about how they tried to cool down. Perhaps the people believed that all Americans live in over-heated houses. Perhaps we just do not match the stereotype of the typical American.