Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Traveling on the Cusp of a New Millennium

The current Carnival of Genealogy topic is the New Millennium. Where was I at the start of the 21st Century?

The 21st Century has long been revered as the epoch in which all technical aspirations would be achieved, all poverty ended, and the mysteries of the universe solved, once and for all. Well, time marches on, and it doesn't look much different from here than it did from several decades ago, except that everyone has more electronic toys at their beck and command. I'm not sure our lives are getting any easier, though.

But, they are ultimately more enjoyable! On New Year's Eve, 1999, I was at my mountain pass home trying to get some respite from long winter commutes to Seattle. My husband and I were reviewing slides from the trip of a lifetime we had taken in September of that year. We were gone so long that our poor dog nearly died from loneliness...

After coming into some insurance money, I decided I wanted to visit Europe for the first time. Rick Steves of Europe Through the Back Door became my hero. Following a year of planning, in September 1999, John and I flew into Copenhagen, and then drove through parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and took the train to Prague in the Czech Republic. The experience just blew me away, and changed my life in many ways. After coming back home, I put my mental house in order and dropped out of grad school, deciding instead to focus on the things that were of real importance to me. I didn't need an extra degree for that!

During our travels, we enjoyed the Rhine from both castle ruins above the river, and from aboard a cruise boat; we walked the ancient wall in the quaint medieval German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We also drove the Romantic Road, which has signs in Japanese, as well as in German, and we later found out just what our rented VW Golf could do on the Autobahn - not bad, even though two Lamborghinis flashed past us like we were children playing in the dirt.

In Switzerland, we explored Roman ruins in Avenches, and later enjoyed fondue on the terrace of an old pension in Gimmelwald, high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner Oberland. Our "modest" dining view was of the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger peaks at dusk. As I sipped local wine, I heard the lonely, far-off call of a train from across the valley. Looking way down, I spotted a single headlight winding its way near the base of the Jungfrau. When our fondue pot arrived, the hostess warned us with a smile: "If you forget to stir ze fondue at ze bottom of ze pot to keep it from burning, then you vill vash ze pot!"

A panorama of Gimmewald in the Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Ah, the Alps! The Berner Oberland is a slice of heaven, and we were fortunate enough to have clear weather during our entire stay. Walking the winding paths of Gimmelwald under the stars, local house cats, all looking alike, came out to greet us. Early the next morning, we took the Jungfraubahn (train) up to the Jungfraujoch, known as the Top of Europe, and on the ride back at noon we were the only passengers. From the Kleine Scheidegg station on down, my husband rode up front with the conductor, who proudly pointed out his house with his own laundry hanging in the yard, as the train passed by. I had the entire Oberland: its peaks, glacial moraines, sloping valleys, trails, hikers, and cows, all to myself from the passenger car behind...

If I could pick just one city to re-visit in Europe, it would be Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires. If you want to know Prague, listen to "Die Moldau," a symphonic poem by Smetana, and you will understand and feel his love for Bohemia. If you want to get close to old gothic Europe, get thee to Prague.

The Old Town Square in Prague
Discover Czech

So, on 12/31/1999, while a new Millennium rang in on the clock, my husband and I sat clinking our glasses in private, listening to the occasional "pop-pop" of illegal fireworks in the national forest outside our door. We were busy reliving the many details of our three and a half weeks spent in Europe that September.

I certainly don't want to wait until the next Millennium to plan a similar trip. If we are all adequate caretakers of our lovely earth and its diversity, the fulfillment and learning to be had by traveling among other cultures will still be available to us throughout this century of great promise.

Bonne joyeaux!


Janice said...

What a lovely story, and amazing photographs. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories.


Chery Kinnick said...

Thanks for your comment, Janice. It was a wonderful trip. I doubt I could get that same "wowee-zowie" factor again, although I did take another great trip to Switzerland a few years later. I'd love to show my own photos, but they are all packed away right now.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I love to travel. Hopefully someday I'll be able to take such an amazing trip. Thanks for some inspiration.

Chery Kinnick said...

Hi Apple -

Traveling is an amazing experience! And, there's nothing like that very first trip abroad. I hope you start planning right now!