Backstory to our Switzerland 2021 Trip

Rescheduling a Cancelled Trip

Like many others, we had originally planned this trip for Summer of 2020. By March 2020, the trip had to be cancelled due to COVID. Fortunately, we lost no money on any cancellations of hotels or airfare.

I somewhat jokingly referred to the original 2020 trip as my "pre-retirement year trip." That must not be a 'thing' :) But, as things so often work out, traveling to Switzerland a couple weeks after my real retirement date (Aug 1, 2021) turned out to be much better and more relaxing, in spite of uncertainties hovering around COVID-issues.

Living in Germany in the 1980s

I already had a pretty clear idea of how long I wanted to stay in Switzerland and what I wanted to see and experience. Our unique situation made our trip different than many "off-the-shelf" tours of Switzerland.

We lived in northern Germany (Kiel) during most of the 1980s. Two of our three children were born in Germany. Our children grew up speaking German as their natural language. We had a bilingual household: I spoke German at home and Cathy spoke English. Of course we all spoke German outside the home.

During those years we had visits from many friends and family members. Only a few times did we travel into Switzerland. Then, as now, it is about a 12-hour drive from Kiel to Bern. So we spent most of our vacations touring Germany, to popular places like Munich, the Rhine castles, and Ludwig's castles (Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau). That was about as far south as we would go. We enjoyed many more shorter trips to the North Sea island of Amrum and other destinations in Schleswig-Holstein.

Returning to Past Dream Destinations


A few times we did venture into Switzerland, such as in 1980 when we spent a night in Interlaken. The following day we drove to catch quick peeks of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. A short hike somewhere in the Lauterbrunnen Valley on a beautiful sunny day set in motion a dream to come back some day. In 1980 I also first learned about the "car-free" village of Mürren, and that became a definite destination for a future trip.

Emmental > Kaltacker > Spycher Lodge (Heimiswil)
Evolution of a travel destination

During the 1980s we developed a friendship with a young Swiss couple about our age in Bern. We visited them a time or two then, and again in 1995 during a trip back to Europe from the U.S. Cathy and I left our children with friends in Kiel and took a short road trip to Bern. As we became aware en route that we would arrive at our friend's home in Bern too early (they would not yet be home from work), we decided to take a smaller Landstrasse somewhere after crossing the Swiss-German border at Basel. I do not recall exactly where we diverted from the main highway, but I definitely remember stopping at a farm house that had a sign for "Brot" and "Eier" to ask where we might find a nice stop for lunch. I could somewhat make out the answer delivered in Swiss dialect. The directions I vaguely remember were (in English): Continue south on this road, turn sharp left at the next main road. Go through the woods as the road curves a bit this way and that, then follow the signs to Kaltacker.

It must have been this: We headed south from Wynigen to the roads:
Lorraine > Kaltacker-Lueg-Strasse > Eggen > Hub > Gutisberg > Kaltacker

Sure enough, at Kaltacker we found a lovely restaurant: Hirschen Kaltacker. On the way there, and at the restaurant, we enjoyed lovely views of rolling hills and fields -- and those beautiful brown Swiss cows with their cowbells. Somewhere along the way we saw a sign indicating we were in the region of the Emmental. I assumed that must have had something to do with Emmental cheese, or what we call "Swiss cheese" :)

When we left the restaurant at Kaltacker, we must have driven down the Rumistal and Kaltackerstrasse through Heimiswil on our way to Burgdorf, where we continued from there to Bern. Little did I know in 1995 that 26 years later we would spend 4 nights in Heimiswil!

Fast forward to 2020. During Spring of 2020, we spent a lot of time at home cleaning and sorting. Among some old photos, I found this postcard with our lunch receipt attached for our meal at Hirschen Kaltacker on September 1, 1995:

The captivating Emmental landscape, and the lovely restaurant at Kaltacker, became destination goals for my retirement trip. I thought it would be relaxing to stay a few days in the Emmental at the end of the trip, after seeing the more traditional tourist sites. But, where could one stay? The place had to be accessible to public transportation, since we were not going to be traveling by car.

While investigating the Hirschen Kaltacker website, I clicked on the menu icon (the circle with 3 horizontal bars in the upper right corner of the home page) and found a link to: "Freizyt u übernachte." (Swiss-German for the German "Freizeit und Übernachten" -- not so difficult to understand). I scrolled down to "Bike" - "Wandere" - "Übernachte." There were 3 links. The first link: Spycher Lodge. I was immediately "sold." I checked out every page on the Spycher Lodge site. On the "Impressionen" page, we watched the fabulous YouTube video and gazed at the attractive photos. It was settled. We'll spend 4 nights in the Spycher Lodge at the end of our trip. And so we did :)

Other Destinations

We had other destinations for this trip. I wanted to see the Matterhorn, so we included a 4-night stay in Zermatt.

A colleague also retired in the summer of 2021 and moved back home to his native Lucerne, Switzerland - our first stop on our trip! We had only corresponded via email, but now we had an opportunity to meet in person. You can read more about what a wonderful experience that was in the trip notes for Lucerne and Rigi.

We wanted to connect with the "young Swiss couple" from Bern I referred to above. We were able to spend a day with them on this trip. 30-40 years ago we were young married couples with young children. Now we are older married couples with grandchildren :) So fun to compare life stories after so many years!

Then there is the "pen-pal" story. Sometimes all it takes is a few brief letter exchanges as teenagers 50 years ago, a brief meeting for a couple hours while on vacation 30 years ago, and then you are invited for Abendbrot and spend an evening talking about life, faith, raising children, careers, and somehow you have known each other for a long time. More details in connection with our trip notes on Zermatt. Short version: In Jr. High School German class we were set up with German pen-pals. I exchanged a handful of letters with a student in Germany in the mid-1960s. In 1970 she sent me an wedding/engagement announcement. In 1979 when we moved to Germany, I used the information in that announcement to find her address and send a letter. She responded and still remembered who I was. In 1980 we visited her and her husband in their small village in the Rheinhessen area of Germany. They owned a vineyard and operated a winery. In 2018 Cathy and I visited them in their home during a 4-week trip to Germany and Austria. In 2019 we were able to visit them again after I presented a conference paper "nearby" in France. We started staying in close touch, which led to coordinating a 4-day stay together in Zermatt during this trip.

These examples are just part of the story, but indeed, all the details of this trip evolved over a period of more than 40 years!


To trip itinerary

Gary & Cathy Martin