During my parents' trip over, I was really excited about getting to act like a tourist with a little bit of the knowledge of a local. One of the things I had always heard about, but hadn't done, was witnessing Anlässe or the "cows coming home". The cows spend the late spring and summer grazing in the Alps, eating the bright, green grass and generally being lazy. (That is an assumption on my part. If I spent all summer in the mountains, I would just eat and lay around. Oh, wait, that was my vacation in its entirety.)
Anywho, in September, the herdsmen go up the mountain and bring their cows home. And because the Swiss love nothing more than a good excuse to holiday, they dress in traditional herdsmen costumes, with the little boys in lederhosen and the little girls in dirndls. The cows themselves wear ceremonial cow bells, flowers, ribbons and (I would soon find out) miniature Christmas trees on their heads.
After doing some research, I found the perfect village with the perfect timing. Eggiwil was our destination. About 2 1/2 hours away, it would allow us to sleep in a little bit, but still catch the actual parade and have time to hit Interlacken on our way home.
Let me preface this by saying I've been having problems with our GPS in the new car, affectionately named "Audrey" after a harsh nun mr. shoe had in school. Audrey has a tendency to talk to us in a condescending voice and start "thinking" when she is supposed to be "directing". But with a bag full of snacks and a tank full of gas, what could go wrong? (Except for Dad's camera batteries dying before we even left Zürich.)
Audrey's direction once again failed us on the Swiss autobahn, causing me to have to exit the highway and change direction early on. Whatever happened at that pivotal moment changed our destiny for the day. (High drama indeed, no?)
Our route was beautiful, stunning even. Lots of little towns to drive through, lots of church steeples, valleys, cliffs and even the village of Emmental. Emmental is actually the place that the yellow, medium-hard cheese that most Americans call "Swiss" cheese is made. But we had no time to stop, we had parading cows to see.
|Some of the white you see on the horizon is the Alps. Take my word for it. They were stunning.|
Pretty soon we started to climb. Audrey hadn't freaked out on us in a while and I was feeling confident that she knew where she was going. Oh, she did...she did. I started to lose that confidence when she directed me to turn onto what looked like a private drive. Alas, it did not say "privat" and it was an actual road so I continued down it. We quickly came to a fork that wasn't shown on the map. Audrey was dead silent. I took the path that looked the widest. It almost immediately turned into a walking path. I jammed the car into reverse and attempted to back my way down across what I realized was a foot bridge. To the left I went. Audrey came back to me. She didn't realize how upset I was with her.
The map and our cruel cruise director told us to continue on. We were now climbing at a pretty steep ascent on a one-lane gravel road. There were no guardrails, just electrical fencing for the cattle every now and then. We passed a few buildings, one seemed to be a restaurant. At the very least it assured us that we weren't driving through someone's private pasture. With Dad taking pictures on his iPhone and Mom snapping away with my camera, I nervously clutched the steering wheel and prayed I wouldn't be the one driving when we all went rolling down the Alps. Once or twice a car approached from the opposite direction. Whoever had a tiny amount of land to veer onto would do so, letting the other pass.
We kept climbing even higher. At this point, the gravel was gone. We were on a dirt trail, but still on the map according to Audrey, the GPS from Hades. Out of nowhere, a cattle gate appeared. It was open enough for our car to fit through, but the herd of cattle laying in the road didn't look as inviting. A one word sign was posted beside the gate, but Google Translate had no idea what the word meant. We honestly had no choice but to press forward. According to the map, Eggiwil was within 3 kilometers (less than 2 miles) and the parade was scheduled to start in 15 minutes. Like a high school freshman walking through a crowd of seniors, I attempted to be deferential and unobtrusive as I maneuvered through sleepy cows. I had the windows rolled down and apologized profusely while trying to make my way politely through the herd. I was petrified a rancher was going to come out of nowhere and get me deported, Dad was worried about my side mirrors and Mom was worried this guy was going to get into the car:
Our first hint that something was not right was when we drive past a group of elderly people sitting roadside in lawn chairs. We brushed it off, sure that the beautiful sunshine and this stunning view was what they were after.
But then the cow dung started. And it was fresh. Even then we weren't convinced until we came up behind this:
Maybe there was a weight limit in the trailer and someone had to walk. Or maybe the fresh air was too good to pass up riding in a car. Or maybe, just maybe...
Audrey had taken us into Eggiwil through the "back way" and we had become the tail end of the actual Anlässe we had come to see.
Based on the fancy cow head dresses, the truth became quickly apparent. And yes, that is my father walking down the Alps with the cows. He wanted to make sure he got good pictures.
There is really no place to go on a one-lane road down a mountain. No one is moving quickly. And your car is guaranteed to be covered (COVERED) in cow dung. The most you can hope for is a bend in the road so that you can pull off and catch some pictures of the cow parade from above.
Oh, look, there some interested towns people and tourists who came into town the right way to watch a parade.
We had plenty of time during the cows' descent to resign ourselves to the situation. We would not be seeing the parade. We would be participating in the parade. And praying no policemen were wondering what a Ford Kuga with three Americans in it had to do with this annual Swiss event.
Yes, that is Dad again, taking pictures from our special vantage point. What? No parking spaces? Who needs to park when you are IN THE PARADE.
Luckily, the cows were placed in a pen at the end of their journey through town. We finally got our close up views from the correct end.
With a little lunch, a little shopping and a little musical interlude, we climbed back into the car, ready for the next adventure.
But until we could get to a car wash, we wouldn't be forgetting our morning and that very special cow parade.