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Travels with Georgia and zig
Overseas Trips

Episode 1: May 13—Lexington to Atlanta to Zurich, Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria 2010

We’re starting to get this packing routine down pretty well. Georgia pulled a 20 lb carry-on, and I tugged a 27 lb one. But Georgia also had an 11 lb flight bag, so we were toting pretty much the same weight. It was still more than we needed but we were going to two operas and one concert so that meant some dressy clothes. May and June in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland are notorious for temperatures all over the place. Layers. Thinsulate long underwear: that’s what you need. And I stuck with my one-pair-of-shoes rule (plus flip-flops for the shower). That cuts weight and my new black walking shoes could double as dress shoes. I took a heavier jacket than last time and wished I’d had my light blue “Members Only” windbreaker instead. It’s light and waterproof and rolls up into a tight ball for saving space. The jacket I took is more dressy but more bulky too. I hope it enjoyed this trip because it won’t be going with us again. Can’t believe we forgot the opera glasses and compass. I wanted to kick myself several times for forgetting that compass—maps are great but it’s awfully hard to orient yourself without knowing which way is north. Sigh.

Jenny, our lawyer daughter, gave us a ride to the Bluegrass Airport about noon for our 2:20 flight. Georgia managed to look suspicious again and get herself frisked. I stand in front of the mirror practicing my innocent look. Took advantage of the airport bar’s liquid fortification as always. The flight to Atlanta was wonderful. Quite a thrill taking off on Ascension Thursday. We pierced the clouds like an arrow and settled back to earth in Atlanta smoothly.

We did have one adventure trying to navigate the mile-long up-escalator on Atlanta’s E-Concourse though. Somehow, Georgia got on a step but didn’t manage to get the wheeled carryon on one. As it started to topple over, rather than let go, Georgia decided to topple over with it. I was ahead of her on the steps and could only watch. It looked like she was planning to tumble all the way back to Lexington. We were very lucky that there was a man standing right behind her who managed to catch her and the bag. He got them both righted without losing control of his own bag. Very impressive. I mouthed a thank you and he looked pleased and blushed. A kind man who was glad, I think, for the opportunity to really be of service. Isn’t that just the way? “Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”

The Delta flight from Atlanta to Zurich was terrific. Excellent cabin crew. Enjoyable snacks. Nice booze. Okay food. The pasta was al dente if you have very weak teeth. Watched the movie “Leap Year” and laughed out loud, even though we were listening through ear buds. Slept an hour or two.

Landed in Zurich about 9:30 am local time. Everything at the airport was shiny and new and chrome covered. With so little sleep I knew it was going to be a LONNNGGG and exhausting day. The secret to minimizing jet lag is to land at your destination in the late afternoon local time so you can get something to eat and drink then take a shower and head off to bed. That knocks jet lag in the head. Landing in the morning local time is a disaster.

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Zurich, Grossmunster on the left, Fraumunster on the right.

We bought our train and tram tickets at the after a passing stranger showed us that we were trying to buy train tickets from a bus kiosk. After getting the right machine it was easy; they’ve set up the ticket machines to work in several different languages, and they have ticket agents at the larger stations. We didn’t have any Swiss francs and didn’t see an automatic teller—though they probably had 10 of them. We just used our credit card to buy the tickets for Einseideln and 3-day passes for the local trams and buses. The ride from the airport to downtown Zurich took about 20 minutes. In Zurich it seems like everything runs like a – like a SWISS WATCH!

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The lady who owned the B&B where we were staying told us to take Tram 14 to the stop near her home. It was drizzling and we didn’t have umbrellas but we did put on our handy-dandy fold-up cellophane-thin ponchos. Unfortunately I had stuffed my Kodak digital camera in my coat pocket and when I stood up to get off the tram with our luggage the camera must have fallen out of my pocket. I never felt it. Next thing I knew I was standing on the tram platform trying to see which way to walk and a middle-aged man in blue denim work-pants and a 2 or 3-day growth of gray whiskers jumped off the tram just as it was starting to move. He grabbed my arm and said something in hurried German and tried to hand me something. I, being the worldly traveler I am, know that you just don’t accept packages from strangers. They warn us about that kind of stuff at every airport in the world. But I looked down to see what he was offering. It was my camera. So I decided I might make an exception in this case. He smiled and motioned as though he’d seen it on the seat when I stood up. And now he’d missed his tram and would have to wait for the next one. According to the electronic sign it was due in about 8 minutes. His smile reminded me of the man on the escalator. I tried to thank him with my non-existent German. It really looked like this trip was going to be liberally sprinkled with help from strangers.

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The Bed and Breakfast (Da Ciccio's B&B) was about 4 blocks away in a residential neighborhood. We had to circle around lots of roadwork. Looked like they were working on the underground utilities all over Zurich. The houses in our neighborhood were all two stories with basements. The front yards were just patios or parking pads surrounded by lovely flowerbeds, bushes, heavily pruned hazel-nut trees, or graceful fir trees. Three or four houses in a line shared end-walls but had their own entrances. Each house also had it’s own beautiful back garden. The lilacs were in full bloom—as were the bearded irises and sloppy red peonies. It must have been 40 degrees but there was lovely pastel wisteria weaving in and out of wooden trellises attached to the sides of the brick houses. There were even a few blown tulip blossoms dangling from withering stems.

Our landlady’s daughter was supposed to meet us at eleven and we were forty-five minutes early so we parked our bags under the glass-topped patio table and went searching for a supermarket. Because SO many people live in lovely little communities in the middle of the city there are supermarkets everywhere. Coop, Aldis, Hofer. Those are the names we looked for. And they always look small from the outside. But like Dr Who’s Tardis they are always bigger on the inside. You see, the entrance is at street level and you go downstairs to the basement where most of the food is displayed, or the store winds around behind adjoining boutique stores. Because we had no Swiss francs we tried our credit card. The store wouldn’t accept it. It costs them too much. That didn’t look good. But they did accept “cash-cards” so we used our bankcard to buy our hard cider, stinky cheese, chocolate, apples, canned tuna, mayo, and Dijon mustard—but not the bread. I don’t understand why, but the bread in Zurich is always sold at separate counters outside the normal checkout line. We still had no francs and didn’t want to use the cash-card to buy 2 francs worth of bread so we headed back to the B&B and thought we’d get bread later.

The daughter, Ava, had arrived with her 6-month-old daughter Nina. She just stared at these strangers who looked normal but made the oddest sounds. We told her that our granddaughter was also a Nina. She looked dubious. Her 3-year-old brother Marcus was taking a nap. So we put our food in the little refrigerator in the basement. There was also a toilet and little kitchenette, a washer and dryer, and an exercise room with its own large shower. Our bedroom was bright and airy with light-colored fir paneling. It was large with a nice little table and two chairs. There were lots of books (in German, of course) on built-in bookshelves and a small television. The two transom windows high up on the wall were, in fact, at ground level out front. The two single beds met in the corner of the room like a capital “L.” Odd thing, though: the beds had pillows and fitted sheets over the mattress but no top-sheet or blanket. There was, instead, a down-filled comforter completely encased in its own giant pillowcase and then folded in half in the center of each bed. That was all the cover there was. Georgia was ready to go ask for a top sheet, but decided against it. We’d try covering ourselves with the giant pillow for at least one night.

Ava told us where to find the bancomat and it could display instructions in English too. She also told us which Tram to catch to the center of town along the waterway. We got our money—no problem—and headed out for the big churches and museums. We were looking for the world-famous Kunst Haus—one of the world’s premier museums. The 3-day ticket we bought at the airport not only got us to downtown, but also paid for unlimited tram travels for three days as well as getting us reduced or free admission to all kinds of museums and church exhibits. Is that a good deal or what? We took Tram 14 to another station where we caught a tram to the center of town, at the Limmat River where it comes out of the Zurichsee (Lake Zurich). It was beautiful, even in the drizzle. Visited the Fraumunster Kirche (Catholic), and the Grossmunster Kirche (Lutheran), right across the river from each other, and the St. Peter Kirche, (originally Catholic—now Presbyterian)the oldest church in Zurich.

The Grossmunster had some interesting windows made by a man named Sigmar Polke—born in 1941 and living in Cologne. One was made out of thinly sliced agate, leaded together as you would glass. There are some who think that this is the way “stained glass” windows began—with pieces of alabaster leaded together just this way. He’d also made some windows of fused glass panels—depicting “The Son of Man,” “The Prophet Elijah,” “King David,” “Isaac’s Sacrifice,” and “Scapegoat,” in generally crude and abstract figures—almost “folkart.” Interesting modern treatment for a church this old.

But The Reason we came to Zurich was to see the Marc Chagall Windows in the Fraumunster Kirche. And they were worth the trip. My first Chagall Windows were in Reim’s Cathedral in 2008. The power of his glass is unsurpassed. They are very bold, and generally each one is only in one color with other colors only as highlights. That is so gutsy—and the figures are painted in jet black on the colored glass. They are so exuberant and full of life. They too, have a sort of “folk art” quality—but I could never bring myself to call them crude. They are elegant.

The church sold a little booklet showing close-ups of the windows (they wouldn’t let me make my own pictures) but I would have bought the booklet anyway. The paper cover is a horizontal shot of the 80-year-old Chagall painting on the glass. The front cover shows his hand and the brush and the glass; the back cover shows his face. Oh, that face. It brings tears to my eyes. His head is tilted slightly back so he can look through the bottom of his bifocals, his gray hair is wild (what there is of it on top). He has a magnificent nose and a friendly open face. But most of all—his mouth is open in concentration and he has such a look of joy it captures for me the what God must have felt at the creation—that same joy he lends to artists from time to time.

There was another interesting window in Fraumunster. It was by an artist whose name was familiar but whose glass work I’ve never seen—Giacometti. It was electric in its placing intense blues and reds side by side but they were so high up I couldn’t make out any detail at all. There was supposed to be more of his work at the Kunst Haus so it was there that we wanted to head next.

I would have thought that such an important museum would be right down town but we found it on the map listed as Kunst Halle. Whoever “Kunst” was,you’d think that people as efficient as the Swiss would get the name right on their own tourist map. But you don’t argue with a map. The tram we caught seemed to be heading into an industrial area—but you don’t argue with a map. The nearest tram stop seemed to be a couple blocks away from the museum. That was odd, I suppose, but you don’t argue with a map. So we set off walking.

At least the drizzle had stopped for a while.

(to be continued)