Travel Thursday: Cold War, Cold Weather, Cold Everything

Mürren, Switzerland

The fun part of the cold war. . . how to have a secret rendezvous with a babe from the “other side.”

I couldn’t remember if I’d been to Mürren before, since all these quaint little mountain villages look alike, unless you memorize which mountain went where. Even then, except for the Matterhorn, mountains weren’t all that easy to tell apart, even the Eiger, which I knew was one of those around me. . . somewhere. I didn’t bother looking at the map right now.
Savoring the schnitzel, as well as the alliteration, for as long as I humanly could, I soon realized it was time to get going. Looking very much like a tourist, something to be glad for this once, I made my way to the cable car. I didn’t like to go on any kind of transportation after eating, considering there were times I got motion sickness out of the blue, but I figured this was a short enough ride, and really, I had no choice.
I certainly didn’t remember ever taking a bike ride around a place like this. I’d been on plenty of funiculars, but again, one looked like every other, and as for waterfalls, I was pretty sure I’d never visited an interior one, so odds were this was a new place for me, and I would treat it as such. I also knew I’d never been to that revolving restaurant that played such a big part in an old James Bond movie, but since it was bound to be tremendously overpriced because of that, I wouldn’t have gone anyway. I didn’t know if I could take photos while on the bike, even cruising downhill instead of pedaling, but I’d find out soon, even without kneepads. I just hoped I wouldn’t be going downhill when I saw a spectacular view that simply had to be photographed, and have to trudge back uphill. . .
But no use crying over milk not spilled yet, or bridges not burned. After only ten minutes I turned to see if I could spy the town down there between the hills and all the twists and turns of the road. Knowing how strict everyone was in this country, I’d made sure I had the right road by checking that the signs had little “bikes allowed here” stick-figures-poppin’-wheelies next to the street names, and now I saw one that also included a “viewpoint” sign, so I dumped the bike there and got the camera ready. Not that the town was all that great a shot, as mentioned earlier, but at least the mountains cast some interesting shadows. Which made me realize it was a pretty warm day, all things considered. Sure it was spring, but it was spring in the Swiss Alps, and all those mountains were white, and stayed that way year round. Which meant that the waterfall later on would be icy, and the temp would no doubt drop rapidly at nightfall, or even if it got cloudy. So yeah, right now I was sweating in my t-shirt, but the backpack had a sweater and heavy jacket just in case. Of course the backpack itself was helping me sweat, but that couldn’t be avoided.
After about an hour of cycling–downhill–and shooting, I finally reached my destination, Trümmelbach Falls, at the base of the Jungfrau. . . sorta. The waterfall was actually inside the mountain, and with a name that basically translated to “Stream that sounds like a drum,” it wasn’t hard to figure what my ears would be subjected to in the near future. Still, it was one of those things you had to check out once in your life, and it couldn’t be as loud as backstage at a Rush concert. . . right?
I left my bike in the assigned area, checked my watch one more time, and made my way to the elevator, which I personally thought shoulda been on the outside, with glass walls, to take in the views, but that was just me. I took another glance at the clock function on my pedometer as I made my way through the caverns, saw I was right on time, and suddenly found myself outside, kinda; not a total outside, but rather a vertical tunnel hollowed out by millennia of water runoff, with the roof collapsed and letting in the sunshine, which was kinda weird in this setting but sure helped to make a lot of pretty rainbows in the spray. Since I was supposed to be a tourist, I took as many photos as I could, trying not to show up the others but still coming up with angles and possibilities that never came to the minds of the non-professionals in the cavern.
Protecting the camera from the spray, I leaned over to look down the twisting narrow channel, almost like a flue, but didn’t get very far before I was warned not to; not like I’d been planning to take a shower, but okay, whatever. Too bad I didn’t have a video camera, because neither words nor photos could do justice to the power and speed of the water rushing down through the mountain.
Okay, time to get to bizness. And there she was, wearing jeans and a tight t-shirt, her blonde hair gathered in back with a blue ribbon; the overall impression was one of cuteness rather than all out beauty, but I hadn’t seen her face yet, at least not beyond her photos. Not that it mattered, of course, but even less so this time, especially inside a damp thundering cavern. Still, it never hurt, in fact would probably help her cover. But more on that later. . .
At first I thought the recognition signal was silly, but the more I put my brain to it, the more I knew it would work, if everyone could keep from giggling. After all, who carried only one rollerblade?
So that was her, but how to let her know I was the guy she had come to meet? I could picture tons of guys coming up to her and asking what the deal was with only one rollerblade, as an opening line. Well, in that case, don’t ask the question, assume the answer. But not something stupid, like, “Did you lose the other one?” Of course, she might reply with “No, I found this one,” but not likely. Play it safe. . .
“Let me guess,” I shouted over the roar. “You’re taking it to be repaired.”
She’d startled a little to find a guy right beside her, but she figured that was due to the roar in front of her. So she dimpled at me and told me, “You’re very smart. About the blade, and to talk to me in English.”
“You prefer German?”
“Not at all! Do I sound like I know German?”
Not knowing what that would sound like, or not sound like, and not wanting to waste my vocal chords on inconsequentials, and trying not to wonder why she spoke English so perfectly, I pointed to a certain part of the waterfall while yelling directions in her ear. When someone walked by too close, I shouted that the water falling past us was going at four thousand gallons per second. Her laugh told me she thought I’d made that up, but I’d actually read that in the brochure. Not that I wasted time assuring her of it, of course.
I could sense the adrenaline running through her like she could barely keep from screaming. . . not that anyone would hear her, or blame her for finding out if she could go louder than the water, but it still might make people look over and maybe get a good look at her meeting partner, which would be a very bad thing. . .
It was over quickly; any observer would assume I’d been coming on to her and got shot down. . .
Feeling satisfied with things, and hoping the storm forecasted by the local weather pundits wouldn’t arrive till tomorrow, I backtracked my steps until I found my bike and shoved back down the road. Not long after that I found myself in the town of Lauterbrunnen, the Valley of Loud Waters. . . well, it sounds more mysterious in English. I’d read in the promotional stuff that morning that the Lauterbrunnen valley was the visual inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s sketches and watercolors of Rivendell, and of the river itself, but since I’d never been able to get through that book, it didn’t mean anything to me.
Anyhoo, good enough place as any for lunch, with plenty of time to finish my ride and get to where I needed to be. Problem was, after having schnitzel for breakfast, what to do for an encore?
Well, there was always more schnitzel. . .
I sighed as I looked out at the pedestrians, mostly tourists, probably searching for a place to eat as well, but there was no easier way to spoil a meal than to think of business during it, so there. At least I didn’t have to worry about getting back uphill to Mürren, not on my own power, anyway.
About an hour later, after a rich dessert and some easy downhill pedaling, interspersed with many more photos, I made it to the particular funicular I’d need to get back, which turned out to be an ugly long gray plastic-looking box, not at all like the colorfully painted ones of countries to the east. As I paid the toll and let the guy place the bike in the back rack, I took a glance uphill and realized I’d never been on a train this steep. “Sixty-one percent incline,” the driver told me cheerily once inside. “But no accidents in over a hundred years.”
I was about to ask if that meant there’d never been an accident on the line, or if there’d been an accident over a hundred years ago, but once the jolt that signified we were on our way occurred, I decided I really didn’t want to know. As I stomped to the rear to take some more photos, the funicular did its job quickly and safely, so I gave the driver a tip–with orders to spend it on his wife or kids–and went back to biking downhill for a while longer, realizing the day had been kinda fun and photographically worth it, and that was besides getting the mission going.

{This is from stuff she told me when we met again}

Of all the things she’d heard about Switzerland, the one she most wanted to see, yet least expected to, were the cows with the giant bells. And there they were, mooing and bawling but mostly just chewing the cud without moving; perhaps they were tired of hearing the bells under their snouts too.
Feeling like she’d walked halfway up the mountain by now, Nikki was relieved to reach the pond she’d been told about, where she waved back to the little kid running around with her dog. She could see what all the hilarity was about, since the geese in the pond were amusing themselves by swimming slowly so that they stayed just out of the dog’s mouth-snapping range. Even from here you could sense the dog’s frustration, which was kind of sad but still funny, especially to a kid.
Turning back to look in the direction away from the pond, she once again noticed the bell around the cow’s neck and wondered if she was pining for matching earrings.
The cow, not her.
Feeling hot and sweaty, she pondered just how cold the pond water must be. Probably glacial, though she’d managed to survive that polar-bear swim thing in the past. But no, she’d rather take a shower when she got to the place, if the place had one. Come to think of it, she had no idea what it was–a lean-to, a rustic cabin, a chalet; the guy had only told her to walk a certain path for so far. Well, he was probably looking for her out the window, and she was pretty sure she wouldn’t walk past it without seeing it. . .
For some reason the thought of becoming a mummy in one of these snowy canyons made her laugh. Then she wondered when was the last time she’d laughed back home. . . then wondered if that was something she’d have to work on, lest the people in her office wonder what she was hiding. But no, it was a dour office, full of dull people with no imagination and no curiosity. As long as she pretended to be one, the security service would have no reason to suspect a thing.
Still, she was just beginning to realize what a huge step this was. Not that she hadn’t before, but suddenly it didn’t seem so simple. Or maybe, since there was no going back after she met with the guy from the other side. . . the immediacy of the whole thing started pressing onto the back of her brain.
There, that had to be the place. Just in time, too, with her legs protesting. She’d thought she was in shape, but there weren’t many mountains back home. . .
{The rest of this story has been redacted by seven intelligence agencies. . .}



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