Sounds of Switzerland

And just like that, I’m back. It feels surreally normal to be here. I’m not sure if that’s the jet lag speaking or if it simply is so.
Here’s what woke me up on my second full day back in Switzerland.

A yoga teacher of mine once shared a old wive’s tale that if something is said and then a bell tolls it must be the truth. I like the thought of that but what I love even more is the sound of church bells in Switzerland. A nice welcome home. 🙂

A new tense

When we left on our world trip, my biggest cheer leader was my aunt, my mama’s baby sister.

All three sisters – my mama, my godmother, and my aunt – are renowned for their wilfulness (some may call them stubborn, perhaps even bossy 🙂 ). It’s possible that my aunt Gertrud, the baby of the family, was the most bossy of them all. She also had a great big heart and a sense of adventure that led her all around the globe.

I didn’t know her so well growing up, but I got to spend more time with her as an adult when I lived in Switzerland and I loved the woman I got to know – direct, strong, caring, warm and a great lover of life. She celebrated the idea of the highly ambitious world trip that Roman and I were embarking on. Unlike some people in our lives we tried to explain our idea to, she never hesitated for a moment in giving our plan her full endorsement and us her unabashed encouragement and I have been so grateful for that support.

She was very ill when she left and she passed while we were still in Asia.

It feels entirely unreal to me that I will be returning to Switzerland and that I won’t be able to hop on the train to visit her and tell her all about the fabulous places that we got to visit in Asia that she never saw, compare notes about both our experiences in the Galapagos, ask her for recommendations from her travels for our next trip (yes, we’re already dreaming of a sequel). I have a hard time comprehending that she won’t be there when I get back.

(Ok, let’s be honest. I HATE it that she won’t be there when I get back. I am ok with it because you have to be but still I HATE it.)

I mean, of course I understand that she’s gone. But some days, the precise sound of her voice still echoes through my brain as though I’d just gotten off the phone with her seconds ago. The feel of her personality is still imprinted so firmly on my heart. She has been in my thoughts at so many of the most beautiful places we visited on the trip. For me she is SO present.

So it feels wrong to me to speak about her in the past tense.

My mama and I were talking about her just this morning while I was helping her make her bed and I started to say something about my aunt and I found myself semi-consciously mumbling the verb in the sentence because my heart couldn’t decide between “is” and “was”.

Saying “Gertrud is so ….” feels like I’m being wilfully ignorant (wilfulness being a trait I am proud to have inherited from the strong women in my lineage). But saying “Gertrud was” feels even more wrong and also inaccurate. How can someone who is so very PRESENT with me be described in the PAST tense? I just doesn’t work for me.

So I need a new tense, one that can let me talk about the people I love with all my heart who may not be here in the world but who are very much here with me, today and always. Not entirely sure what I’ll say while who ever is in charge of the English language sorts that out for me but in the mean time, I will be (stubborn and proud of it) keeping Gertrud PRESENT in my thoughts and heart. ❤❤❤

From left to right: my mama, Gertrud and my godmother as girls

From left to right: my mama, Gertrud and my godmother as girls

Full circle

I don’t have anything insightful to write. Only I want to make sure I mark the date.

Today is January 17th. Actually, by the time I post this, it’ll technically be the 18th, which is Roman’s last day in the US. His last day of our epic journey.

After ten weeks and two days driving a rather lopsided oval through the United States of America, we’re back where we started – that is, my childhood home, staying at my parents’ house in Connecticut.

US Road Trip

We’ve been here for coming up on two weeks now. When hit the road to head west back in the Fall, we were still fresh from our Southern Hemisphere adventures. Australia, New Zealand. Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Galapagos. What an awesome hemisphere!!

And exactly a year ago today, we were here in Connecticut as well, still reeling, trying to get our heads and hearts around the jam-packed 15 months of travel through fabulous Asia.

Two years ago today, we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we were trying – there as well – to get our heads and hearts around all we’d just experienced in our three months in India – the spectacular first stop of our grand odyssey.

Tomorrow, I’m driving Roman to the airport, where he’ll head to his first (my second) home – Switzerland – for the first time in 850 days. That’s well over two years since he left Zurich, since he’s seen his family and friends, since we’ve covered all this ground and since we’ve made a third home of the world in general. Why be a citizen of just one country when this whole planet has so much to offer?

That being said, I’ll follow him to Switzerland in a month or two and am lucky and grateful that we have a chance to try and make that particular corner of Earth home again.

Although at the moment, I can’t even imagine what that’s going to look like or feel like.

Mostly, I’m focusing on helping Roman pack and tomorrow’s coming goodbye and wondering what it’s going to be like for him to take those first steps in the Zurich airport, to see his mom and step-dad waiting for him, to smell that distinct, familiar and oh-so-comforting Swiss air as they drive away from the airport.

But when I stop and think about our huge road trip, about where we were a year ago, and two years ago, about all that we’ve seen and done, I do get rather bowled over by it all. Hopefully I’ll be able to be a bit more articulate about it all at some point once I’ve been able to digest it a bit better.

For now though, I think it’s bedtime. There’s one more flight yet before the Journey’s over.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

At a pooja in India

At a pooja in India

Zip lining in Thailand

Zip lining in Thailand

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Chilean desert!

Chilean desert!

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

Galapagos!

Galapagos!

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Holidays on the road

The year is almost out. The last time I wrote, Christmas and my birthday and nearly the whole month of December on the road was still to come.

Now it’s a rain-drenched night in Nashville where I’m sitting and tomorrow morning we leave for our final destination of this month/year (nearly the final destination of our road trip – of our epic journey – but that’s a though for another day), where we’ll ring in the arrival of 2013 holed up in a cabin in the Virginia woods, cut off from internet and, most likely, cell phone reception, where I plan to watch movies with Roman, cook, eat, nap, read, sit by the wood stove, nap, write if I get ambitious, walk if the weather cooperates and nap some more.

And it’s not a moment too soon.

The past month has been AWESOME.

December first saw us leaving San Fran for a couple days on the pacific coastal highway. Then there were all the dear friends we got to spend time with in LA. A rollicking drive through twilit Death Valley to a surreal stint in Las Vegas. Zion National Park. Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon.

DSC_0738a rare bit of sun along the pacific highway

DSC_0837Seasons greetings from Disney on the “It’s a Small World” ride

DSC_0951Rodeo drive all blinged out and sparkly for Christmas

DSC_0381Las Vegas’ take on the holiday spirit….

DSC_0798Zion for my birthday! 😀

DSC_0295Stunning Monument Valley

DSC_0867We visited the Canyon on a snowy, blustery, cloud covered and beautiful day

DSC_0944In the canyon

Reconnecting with my most favorite friend from college in Phoenix. Meeting her husband for the first time. Less than 24 hours in Santa Fe. A long drive to Amarillo, Texas for a surprisingly snowy and bitterly cold Christmas.

DSC_0040Christmas lights and cacti in Phoenix

DSC_0421Ceramic Santas in Santa Fe

Oh, and we got to watch the Hobbit in 3-D Imax at the movie theater next to our hotel – one of two places we could find in Amarillo that were actually open for Christmas. The other being the Big Texan, home of the 72 ounce steak, where we out of necessity and an appreciation for the kitsch factor ate dinner both nights we were there.

DSC_0446

 

And finally, two long days of post-Texas driving changed the landscape dramatically and brought us to Arkansas and now Nashville.

We’ve been on the road trip for just over nine weeks now. In the month of December alone, we covered 9 states, made 11 stops, spent time with lots of people I love dearly, saw lots of new stuff. And now I am TIRED.

This afternoon I crashed. We’d gone to see Jack White’s Third Man Records. I was so excited to be there. I took bunches of pictures, chatted with the friendly lady working the counter, fed the automaton monkey band a quarter so they would play a White Stripes jam.

DSC_0600


All smiles. Then I headed out of the studio door and walked head first into a big fat wall of grumpiness.

Suddenly I was just done. At the moment, there’s not a single thing more I want to look at, hotel I want to research or book, place I want to go, history or natural wonder I want to ponder or regional specialty I want to eat. Sometimes with travel this happens. You just get full up. Any drop more would simply be too much.

I’ve been watching sit coms in a horizontal state in the hotel room all night and it seems to have helped – I’m over the grumps at this point. But I’m still SO glad it worked out (in the last minute!) to rent this cabin that – from the looks on google map – is pretty much literally in the middle of no where. There will be nothing to do but chill. I mean, the closest Starbucks is an hour and a half away! 😉

And that’s exactly what I need. A few days to digest all that the past month – two months really – has been. And a few days during which the future – 2013 and the end of the trip both – can wait.

I hope December has been good to everyone out there. Once I have space to think again, boy will I be excited to see what 2013 brings. 🙂 Happy New Year everyone!!

Road trip haikus: 13, plus Wyoming impressions

Welcome to Wyoming!

We pretty much only saw Wyoming from the car. We drove through its south-west corner to get from South Dakota to Colorado. I don’t know if the entire state is like this, but the little bit we saw was bleak. Highway-side towns comprised of small clutch of ramshackle buildings, rows of white, bare trees like arthritic skeletons offering the only shade for miles around, and empty, rolling planes fading toward the horizon in all directions.

It’s the tenth largest state in the Union, yet it has the lowest population of all of them – less than 600,000 people live in all of Wyoming. It is pretty darn empty.

At one point, one of those brown recreation signs along the highway caught my eye – “Oregon Trail Ruts“. Apparently there was so much covered-wagon traffic in this particular area that the wheel ruts can still be seen to this day. It was not hard to picture pioneers making their way across the empty vast planes on either side of the highway. I have to wonder if the landscape has changed at all in the 150+ years since those people took their fate, luck and lives in their hands and crossed the country into an unknown future.

Might be hard to tell, but if you click you can see there is a ranch or farm or something in the distance….

Even in our little SUV, behind glass and with freshly bought bottles of water in our cup holders, I still felt exposed in Wyoming. At the mercy of the sun that burned my cheeks through the wind screen, overwhelmed by the emptiness all around, speculating in the back of my thoughts about how far the next rest stop might be…

It wasn’t a far jump for my mind to be able to speculate about what it was like for the pioneers pressing westward. A place as big and empty as Wyoming does make one’s imagination wander…

And maybe it was just the timing – the sun’s harshness softening as twilight set in, but after leaving Wyoming, something about Colorado seemed instantly and entirely less harsh.

Driving day: Wyoming to Colorado

Oh Wyoming, so
vast and so empty! Where am
I supposed to pee???

Unforgiving land.
No where to run, no where to
hide under this sky.

We cross the border
into Colorado as
the sun softly sets.

Gold clouds smudge the sky
and blue mountains fade to grey
as twilight gathers.

Poetic madness: The House on the Rock

I first heard about the House on the Rock in Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods.

Not that I would ever need prompting to want to road trip – anywhere but especially in the US – but Gaiman’s book taps into and is a wonderful reminder of one aspect of what I’m looking for out here on the road – unexpected magic, myth and beauty in my home country.

The novel’s image of the meeting of old, forgotten gods in the carousel room stuck with me, and I felt like I hit the road-trip-jackpot when I was flipping through a road trip book to get ideas for our route to Wisconsin, and I happened to notice that the House was more or less along the way to our destination.

The House on the Rock sort of defies explanation. The place itself offers a video biography of the House’s creator, but never really manages to delve into the why. Here’s their website if you want to learn more, but this is one of those places that you have to just see to believe, and even then, the why will probably remain elusive.

The world’s largest carousel is only one part of the entire experience of the place. But of everything we saw, it was for me the most overwhelmingly jaw-dropping. It is insane. It is beautiful. It is haunting. It is awesome in the old-school definition of the word.

I will borrow from Neil Gaiman’s book/blog – why bother when such an amazing writer has already described the place. 😉 Photos are from the carousel as well as other parts of the House.

The largest carousel in the world – barely fit my camera lens!

From American Gods, Chapter Five:

Calliope music played: a Strauss waltz, stirring and occasionally discordant. The wall as they entered was hung with antique carousel horses, hundreds of them, some in need of a lick of paint, others in need of a good dusting; above them hung dozens of winged angels constructed rather obviously from female store-window mannequins; some of them bared their sexless breasts; some had lost their wigs and stared baldly and blindly down from the darkness.

The photos are not the best – it was tricky capturing moving objects in a dimly lit room…

And then there was the carousel.

A sign proclaimed it was the largest in the world, said how much it weighed, how many thousand lightbulbs were to be found in the chandeliers that hung from it in gothic profusion, and forbade anyone from climbing on it or from riding on the animals.

And such animals! Shadow stared, impressed in spite of himself, at the hundreds of full-sized creatures who circled on the platform of the carousel. Real creatures, imaginary creatures, and transformations of the two: each creature was different – he saw mermaid and merman, centaur and unicorn, elephants (one huge, one tiny), bulldog, frog and phoenix, zebra, tiger, manticore and basilisk, swans pulling a carriage, a white ox, a fox, twin walruses, even a sea serpent, all of them brightly coloured and more than real: each rode the platform as the waltz came to an end and a new waltz began. The carousel did not even slow down.

“What’s it for?” asked Shadow. “I mean, okay, world’s biggest, hundreds of animals, thousands of lightbulbs, and it goes around all the time, and no-one ever rides it.”

“It’s not there to be ridden, not by people,” said Wednesday. “It’s there to be admired. It’s there to be.”

* * *

No photo can do the carousel justice. No video either – and this one is extra grainy (had to make it small, or else I’d be uploading for another month with our current internet), but this might give a bit more of a feel:

Another room in the House. Steam-punk paradise…

Among other themes, the House has a vast collection of circus miniatures…

Would love to know the story behind this antique woman’s prosthetic leg/pistol holder!

There’s also a doll carousel. Spot the skeleton… 🙂


If you are ever in Southwestern Wisconsin and have a couple hours to spare, visit the House on the Rock. I can’t say if you’ll love it or hate it, but you’ll definitely NEVER see anything like it!