A Travellerspoint blog

Back in She-cog-o (Chicago)

City of skyscrapers and stories

85 °F
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“So do you live in She-cog-o?” the freckle-faced, Swiss immigration officer asks, her blues eyes beaming like Lake Lucerne. We’re at the Zurich Airport winding our way to the gate and to the plane that will take us home.

“No,” I say, “I grew up near Chicago. But I live in Idaho, it’s in the northwest,” giving her more information that she needs or wants.

“Your first time in Switzerland?”

“Yes,” I say. “You have a beautiful country. I hate to leave. We visited the small village where my great-great grandfather came from. If he hadn’t left, I might be able to stay.”

“Well, I guess that’s destiny, isn’t it? Have a pleasant journey, Mr. Clark,” she says, smiling and handing my passport back to me.

We board the plane and the 9-hour flight seems effortless. I’m tired enough that I sleep. And when I wake up, I eat and drink.

When we arrive in Chicago it seems like home. My grandson and daughter are relieved to get back. After Berne, Chicago seems big and boisterous and friendly. We walk along Navy Pier, ride the Ferris wheel, take a boat cruise along the lakeshore. The narrator mentions that Lake Michigan can hold one-and-a-half Switzerlands. We listen to loud music on the pier, and I eat a hot dog and drink beer. (What a surprise).

Our hotel rooms at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers are paid with credit card points so I’m feeling eased. They ask us if we’d like a late checkout time. I say, “Awesome. Our flight doesn’t leave until 6:30 p.m. And then they give us access to the Guest Lounge on the 32-24 floors where you can have breakfast in the morning or soft drinks and snacks in the afternoon with views of the lake and the Chicago River.

In the morning after a good night’s sleep, I’m drinking coffee when a window washer rappels in front of our window. He’s strapped to a rope with a body harness and smiles at me as he cleans the outside window of my 29th floor hotel room. Window Cleaner

Window Cleaner

I grab the camera and snap his picture. He waves, tugs his rope, and drops out of site. I love She-cog-o. Maybe, just maybe, it is my destiny.

Posted by davidmutticlark 13:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Taking the S7 train to Bolligen

Searching for dead relatives in the Swiss country side


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My wife and I hop on the S7 train at the Berne Bahnofplatz and in seventeen minutes we disembark in the Swiss countryside, in the village of Bolligen.
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Bolligen is the home of no one famous; but it is the home of my great-great grandfather, Christian Mutti. A while ago, my brother found immigration papers on Ancestry.com that documented his migration from Bolligen to Valais (a Swiss canton) to Calais to New York, and finally to Indiana.

We leave the train platform and hike fifteen minutes up a steep hill to the village. As we follow a cobblestone path that leads to the town church with a view of the valley, I look out over the Swiss countryside— rolling hills and verdant pastures that reach to a horizon of mountains. It must have been difficult for Christian Mutti to leave this, I think. But I speculate that it was economic, that he was part of the Swiss migration to America in the 1890’s.
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We decide to try to find the town cemetery. Maybe we can discover Christian’s gravestone. So we take a seat on the dining patio of the town’s bistro restaurant. We'll have a drink and ask our waitress for directions.

The bistro mixes the modern with the old. The design of the small plaza and a row of several specialty shops is elegant in its simplicity. The landscaping is lush and it looks like they must scrub the streets every night.

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I go inside the restaurant to us the WC. The design of the dining room is clean, sleek and uber-modern. No cuckoo clocks in here.

We finish our locally brewed beer, and I ask our waitress if there’s a cemetery nearby. She ponders the word and then lights up. “Yes, she says, “straight up that road.” She says, swinging both arms in the direction of the cobblestone street that runs in front of the church.

So we walk up the hill. The low-slung profiles of the homes remind me of upscale neighborhoods in California— Laguna Beach, La Jolla, or Carmel. I’m surprised that there are Mediterranean-style adobes mixed with cottages. Gardens and flowers abound. We climb for ten minutes but no cemetery in site.
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We’re about to give up as we see a man in his mid-thirties approach us; he must be walking to town. As he passes us, he nods, so I ask him, “Is there a cemetery nearby?”

“Cemetery? I am not familiar with that word. Could you explain?”

“A place where you put dead people,” I say.

"Ah," he says, "we call it 'friedhof' in German. Follow me. I will take you there."

"He leads us there and we chat as we go. He just moved here a year ago from Germany to teach art in the local high school. We arrive at a wrought iron gate. He opens it for us and says, “Here is the cemetery. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

We walk through the rows of tombstones looking for Christian Mutti. Flowers have been planted on tops of the graves. Watering pots and spigots are located nearby to allow people to tend the graves of their lost ones.
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We search for a half-hour, but we don’t find Christian Mutti. In fact, I don’t even see the name Mutti on one stone. But I think I found what I was looking for—a feeling for the place and for the way of life where part of the family came from.

Posted by davidmutticlark 01:30 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Berne, Switzerland

An ancient beauty with a youthful heart


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As we walk Berne ('Berne' in Swiss-German, 'Bern' in English), my wife tells me, “You’re saying ‘wow’ way too much.” But it’s hard not to when walking through the Swiss capital.

Berne is a beauty, an ancient town with a youthful heart. The Old Town, which is encircled by the Aare River, dates back to the 1400’s. So you walk through Old Town on cobblestone streets without traffic. You stroll past bistros and restaurants and gelaterias. You amble between masses of students from the university sitting at sidewalk cafes or riding bicycles or singing and drinking to 5 a.m. on Friday night. And you sit at a restaurant and listen to a band with four saxophones, two trombones, two horns, and keyboard and bongo players. They play jazz with a bossa nova beat.

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I’ve been walking Berne since we arrived on Friday afternoon, and what I wow about is the dramatic vistas. I wasn’t expecting this. Mountains encircle the city and steep slopes drop to the river. And hugging the mountainsides are beautiful homes, mostly pristine old homes with balconies and shuttered windows but also an occasional ultra-modern home interspersed between their gentrified neighbors.
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They say Berne is one of the smallest European capital cities. It feels just right. Sheri says, “I normally don’t like cities, but I love this place. I could live here.”

But tomorrow our alarm goes off at 4 a.m. We catch a train to the Zurich airport and fly to Chicago. My body begins to ache.

Posted by davidmutticlark 15:08 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Dinner with Momo

76 °F
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“Call me Momo,” our 30-something waiter said almost in a whisper, flashing a subtle smile of perfect white teeth. Momo is a handsome Egyptian whose name is Mohammed. When we walked onto the dining patio, he greeted us with hello in four languages.

I responded with “Bonjourno,” one of three Italian words I know.

“Oh, Italiano,” he said, rattling off a few Italian sentences.

“Uh, no, Americano,” I said sheepishly.

“Ah, good,” he said, “I need to practice my English."

We were having dinner at the Stella del Lago, a hotel and ristorante in the small lakeside village of Hiltfinger. Sheri and I had had a drink there earlier in the day after our morning walk. Our waiter who served our drinks then was a friendly Italian who charmed Sheri with two words, “Ciao, Bella” upon our departure. When I had asked him for a local beer, he brought me a Moretti. “Good Italian, local beer,” he said, laughing.

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Now, at dinner, Momo banters with us for ten minutes, and we learn than Momo has lived in Switzerland for eight years. He’s worked as a waiter for the entire time at the restaurant. He lives with his wife in Bern and commutes by bus and train. His best friend is an American who’s from New Jersey who also works at the restaurant.

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Switzerland has four official languages. Momo speaks six. Sheri asks him, “Is that ever confusing having all that stuff in your head."

“Sometimes," he says.

I wonder what that would be like—being able to speak six languages fluently. Would you use different languages for different tasks? German for giving orders? Italian for flirting? French for cooking?

Earlier in the week while having dinner in Lucerne, I eavesdrop on the conversation of a couple next to us. They bounce from Swiss-German to Italian to French to English. So why do you do that? Are certain thoughts or ideas expressed better in one language rather than another? Or maybe they’re just showing off. Regardless, I’m jealous.

Posted by davidmutticlark 09:57 Archived in Switzerland Comments (4)

Laid Back on Lake Thun


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I had reserved lake view rooms. I thought this may be the only time in our lives we would be able to visit Switzerland. I saw it as an opportunity to create a memory. Something Courney and Jake would remember when they ripened to the age of 62.

Each suite had two sets of French doors opening to a patio that looked over the village, the lake, and the Swiss Alps. Okay, I can die now, I think. But considering how much I paid for the rooms, my family won’t be able to bury me. So just put me in a pine box and call it good.
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Included with the room is breakfast. It’s a buffet in a dining room with an incredible view. The espresso machine has 6 buttons to press and two spouts. I figure out how to make an Americano—first do the espresso button and then add hot water by placing your cup under the Heiswasser spigot. I can learn German when I have to.
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The pastries, the juices, bacon and eggs, and the croissants are incredible. I’m gaining weight fast, but we do have to descend and ascend 260 steps later this morning.

We plan a laid back day. Do whatever you want. Sheri and I decide to take a morning walk along the lake up to the next village, Hilterfingen, while Jake and Courtney sleep.

We pass marinas, gardens, parks, and mansard-roofed mansions. We walk around the grounds of a castle that’s been converted to an historical museum, and then we decide to walk back. Along the way we find an Italian hotel and ristorante, Stella del Lago. It’s time for a birra. Our waiter is Italian. He’s a friendly chap, and we converse using broken Italian and English. We’ve only been out of Italy for a few days, but I realize I miss the loudness of Italian conversation. We’ve felt conscious of the volume of our banter in Switzerland. You can feel the difference in cultural expectations.

We talk with our waiter about Italy. He’s from the Italian Alps. We finish our drinks, and he takes Sheri’s hand and smiles. “Ciao, Bella,” he says. Sheri beams and floats all the way back to the hotel.
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After we return to the hotel, Sheri & Courtney decide to go shopping. I decide to go swimming in Lake Thun. I find my way to the public beach. It seems like a private beach club, a lido. But it’s not. And it’s free. It has rows of tidy changing rooms, a café, and tables and chairs under a shingled roof. The beach is grass. There’s a diving platform, a diving board, and ladders leading down the side of the concrete wall into the water.

I swim out to the buoy and back. Clouds are rolling in and the wind is picking up. I walk back to the room, up the 260 steps to the Park Hotel.

Posted by davidmutticlark 13:36 Archived in Switzerland Comments (1)

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