60 Years Ago Today

Wednesday, 9 July 1952:

I had a delicious cold shower this morning. We had been staying on the top floor of a boys’ dorm. A little man had locked our door from the outside during the night and had stood guard all night long to presumably protect us from the men. I took my bag down from our room on the top floor. We were miles away from where the rest of our crew were staying. Our group was really separated this time. Across the street I got fruit for lunch where oranges were 300 lire a kilo. Then we left and had little trouble finding our way out of Milano.

We traveled on Autostrada, a toll road. I caught sight of Lake Magiore. It looked like a wonderful place to spend a lifetime. There was an island out in the middle like Venezia. As the mountains got higher, the air cooled. Switzerland was coming up! We stopped at a small town about 12 miles from the border, Domodossola, to unload the last lire. It was one U.S. cent for the “john”.

We were definitely leaving the low country now. The sheer mountain peaks were rising abruptly as we left our last stop. I felt the Swiss influence or maybe it was the influence of the mountains. There were swift running streams, little rock houses, and winding mountain roads with patches of snow. The border buildings were unimpressive. In between all of this I saw a 1952 Studebaker.

There wasn’t any red tape on the Italian border, but at the Swiss border our passports were checked. As we journeyed into Switzerland, there was a swift moving stream between our bus and the sheer rugged cliffs. Herr Watkins commented that we were leaving behind the academic part of our tour and entering the esthetic portion.

Everyone was excited about going into Switzerland—such breathtaking scenery! Beautiful meadows stretched right up to the edges of the snow. Families were outside making hay on the hillsides. I saw a little boy under an umbrella on a hill by Simplon Pass. Also I saw the movie Heidi relived on the mountainside in my mind. All of us were shooting pictures out of the window.

There were fortifications in several places along the way. We found out the roads were mined and were ready to be blown up at a moment’s notice. This was in case of an invasion. Meanwhile the bus had clutch trouble, so we stopped at the next rest stop.

While we were at the rest stop, Carmela was busy gathering bugs with Henry’s milk bottle. At the same time Henry was searching madly for his bottle to get milk from a Swiss farmer. The current topic of conversation was milking cows. As we continued there was more snow visible in the mountains and it was much cooler, so bringing our coats hadn’t been for naught.

The water was finding its way down the mountain in little rivulets. Herr Rogers gave a Swiss lecture about how mountains play a big part in Swiss life. The Alps and Jero Range helped form a border between France and Switzerland. These mountain barriers helped the Swiss people maintain their independence. Switzerland with few natural resources was dependent upon tourist trade.

We hit a 12 mile tunnel, Simplon Pass, where the passes were mined and fortified. Then I saw a valley meadow with an old church where workers were removing the mines along the road. There was a free shower outside. When I saw little kids herding cows, it reminded me of my childhood. Switzerland had 22 cantons, a small administrative division of the country, which occupied distinct valleys.

As we stopped for gas and milk I saw a large statue of an eagle on a hill top at the summit pass. SOS casa contoniera is the Swiss’ rest stop. Back on the bus there were colored mountain goats on the inclines and little clouds hanging down between the huge mountain walls on the east side. Beautiful waterfalls dotted the mountains as well. What terrific scenery!

Herr Watkins yelled out and asked a man if he knew his great grandmother. Then there was some kind of bottleneck ahead. All the men jumped out to investigate. The rain had washed the bridge away. We couldn’t wait for it to be fixed or we would miss the train to Zermatt.

So we had a council of war with a decision to be made. I guess we were going on a cross country hike to the bridge. We got our suitcases down. The kids opened them on the road in the rain to get their supplies out for two nights. We definitely got our raincoats and boots out as well. With big suitcases back inside the bus, we bid adieu to Andre.

Whatta sight! Thirty-six characters with different kinds of garb and bags on a cross country hike. As we met the road again, Herr Rogers buzzed by in a car in order to make arrangements ahead of us. Bonnie had a big suitcase and Helen’s suitcase was not so small. We thumbed a ride and everyone piled in with suitcases.

As the rain stopped, we could see the car’s tires going down so Helen and I got out and walked. We shed our coats and brought up the rear. It was a beautiful refreshing walk in the Swiss countryside. As we strolled into the town of Brig, a little boy leaned out of a three-story window to wave. Brig had clean streets and shops.

At the railroad station, I changed my first traveler’s check into Swiss francs. My insides were groaning with hunger. We found a café in the station that provided a delicious meal for 4.25 francs plus tip. I had spaghetti and pork. It was time for the train, so the waitress put the fruit for dessert in a sack and we ran out.

Somehow I got out on the wrong side of the depot. Probably because there were train tracks all over the place. I ran around madly trying to find a sortie. In the process I darted into the same office twice and finally remembered the stairs I had used to get to the café. It was past time for the train to leave as I dashed frantically out the right door onto the right track.

No one was in sight. I couldn’t see a train on the track and a sinking feeling set in. I asked the first person I came to if the train for Zermatt had gone. “No, it’s right there,” as they pointed to the next track. I peered in the windows. Yep! There they were. What a relief!

It was an interesting train ride to Zermatt. I practiced a little German with servicemen on leave from Frankfurt. The scenery was rugged with magnificent meadows right up to the snow line. The water and waterfalls were trickling down the mountainsides in unexpected places with a view of little houses with rock shingles. My first glimpse of the Matterhorn was impressive with its stark rugged peak above all the rest and clouds hung all around it.

We made it to Zermatt! All out. Hotel where art thou? It was right across the street. First class too. My room 14 was right off a beautiful lobby. OOOh! The bed looked positively luscious with a beautiful fluffy silk comforter on top. It felt like we may need it here. There were double sinks that were big enough to take a bath in if necessary, plus overstuffed chairs. Gee it was quiet. There were no cars.

First job on the docket was to remove the dirt of Mount Vesuvius from our tresses. Believe it or not, my hair hasn’t had a real shampoo other than the swimming on the first night in Rome when I went to the concert with wet hair. I went out to the desk to check on maps and events. Then I crawled into bed to write. Whatta farce! I should have known better than that. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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