This was the view from my bedroom window when I awoke at around 5.00 one morning whilst staying in the luxurious appartment of my obsessively hospitable relations Franz and Mathilde in a small town near Zurich in Switzerland. The Zurichsee, the big lake that laps up against the well-heeled boots of some of the World’s richest businessmen reflects every shift of light as the day progresses and, if you have no pressing needs, it would be possible just to spend all day watching the scene from Franz’s balcony. I did my regular hour of taichi and kungfu practice as the day continued its dawning and then headed off with Franz and Mathilde, their nephew James and my good friend Heidi on a trip to the summit of their nearby Alpine mountain, Rigi.
We travelled by car through scenes of typical Swiss life seeing many of the local traditions::
Meeting another Heidi who had taken a bit of a tumble up a mountain, it seemed, but was being helped down by her very own friendly goatherd Peter.
These Zurich gnomes could have tried to look a little more cheerful, I thought, and they were trying too hard with the makeup but pushing wheelbarrows all day can be wearing.
We stopped off at a little country shop, or house, I wasn’t sure which – maybe we had become burglars.
There was no one there to serve us but going through the front door into the little house, the room was filled with good food and sunflowers and there was a box where you could put whatever money you thought these things were worth. It might have been a scene out of Goldilocks except I always go for the biggest of everything – no dilemmas for me.
Outside the “shop” I got my first sighting of the mountain that we were going to climb and I truly felt that I was in Switzerland.
It is a country of mountains and lakes where, if you like that kind of thing, you can spend your time climbing, swimming or doing silly things in boats – whatever takes your fancy.
If my swimming gear hadn’t been in my lost baggage which had joined the other one thousand cases stranded at Gatwick Airport when the loading carousel broke, I might well have joined this happy couple, springing out of the icy Alpine waters like a frolicking dolphin.
We only had time to watch whilst having lunch before we were off to catch a train. Like all good Swiss mountain train journeys we were joined by a band of guys with very long horns but it was all in the spirit of fun. This little train was pulled along on wires up the precipitous climb to the top of Mount Rigi and my relations generously arranged for me to sit in the driver’s cabin at the back where I could see the full journey in its splendour, beauty and vertigo horror.
The journey was genuinely thrilling as we went higher and higher into the Alpine landscape and there was nothing for it but the Wolf just had to practice his kungfu Chinese straight sword pattern at the very summit.
It must have been the thin Alpine air, the sheer exhilaration of being on top of a mountain or maybe the gently evocative peeling of hundred of cowbells in the surrounding valleys but this felt definitely like the real thing so I reverted to type and the cows seemed to appreciate my efforts.
I could also see that Alpine plants really do grow in the Alps:
and people really do live in cute little wooden chalets with all their winter fuel stacked up for months of snow.
The excitement of returning to her spiritual roots was too much for Heidi who took to the hills with a vigour not often seen in these parts.
Then it was time for the dreaded final descent in a machine that I had vowed never to enter – the nightmare world of the cable car:
I would have been fine just telling the others that I would be coming down the mountain when I come and doing it on foot but….
…as James, Mathilde’s nephew, a natural Austrian mountain boy looked so cool about the whole thing, I decided to try and at least look the same even if I wanted to bite my knuckles.
Oddly, being stuck in a small glass box suspended on wires over a Swiss forest actually felt not only good but exciting. I only got that horrible urge to jump feeling once:
Even the ferry that took us from the apartment to the city centre branded itself as a Lunch Ship.
So for the duration of my visit to Zurich, I should admit that I was mostly “out to lunch” and, when my case finally arrived, three days later, a number of not-to-be defined articles of clothing no longer fitted me.
Walking along the banks of the Zurichsee on a hot, well Swiss hot, summer’s day, I began to think about moving on.
There looking out over the water was a Twentieth Century statue and I walked around it to see who it was meant to represent.
It was David and the slain Goliath but I have not been able to find out the name of the artist – let me know please you sculpture experts out there – it is a fine moody piece of work but it reminded me that soon I would be seeing two other Davids, the greatest sculptures of the subject and probably the greatest sculptures of all time, the Davids of Donatello and Michelangelo. Yes, in the morning, I was off, by train through the Alps, heading south to Italy.