Our family lived in England for six years during my elementary school years. My father worked for a U.S. corporation that moved us there to live as he managed some of their plant facilities. While there, my parents took advantage of the close proximity to many European countries and we traveled through several of them.
One of my favorite trips was a two week skiing vacation to Davos, Switzerland. We traveled with another family, the Lloyds. They were also American’s working in Britain. Our families would get together for occasions, especially ones not celebrated in that country—namely, Thanksgiving and Halloween! The Lloyds had two of their sons (Don and Mike) living in England with them. Don and my brother, Kenny, were around the same age of fifteen. And, Mike and I were the same age of nine.
As an amusing side note, Mike was the first boy I ever kissed! We played spin-the-bottle in our laundry room when his family came for dinner one night. Since there was nobody else to kiss, we just decided to increase the length of each kiss by ten seconds. Picture our young innocent lips pressed together while our eyes were glued on the second hand of the clock. Too funny!
We flew from London into Zurich, rode two trains to bring us to the bottom of a mountain, then rode a funicular up to the resort. The funicular was like a tram that climbed on tracks up the steep mountain side. At the top, looking enormous, was our home for the following two weeks—Hotel Schatzalp.
Due to technology these days, I was able to find the same resort online. Some of the internet photos I’m sharing were taken in the summer, but we were there when everything was covered in snow. The resort, now called the Schatzalp Snow and Mountain Resort, was and still is beautiful. There were many rooms and areas to explore as kids. All around us were the most magnificent snow covered peaks and valleys, all part of the Swiss Alps. Even at that young age, I was impressed with the awesomeness of that setting.
Since I had never snow-skied before, my parents registered me for ski lessons. I had to attend all six classes to earn the certificate of completion. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish the last lesson due to a situation that overcame me every time I tried to leave the restroom. I still think it was nerves about the test required that day. The class had about twenty students—all boys except for me. I learned the basics, enough to ski some beginner and intermediate slopes over the rest of our trip.
The lodge was vast with several floors of guest rooms. In the boys room, us kids decided to collect sugar cubes. By the end of the fortnight, we had amassed almost an entire drawer full of the carefully stacked little delicacies. I would have loved to have seen the cleaning person’s face at that discovery! A wonderful outside deck offered a fantastic view of the slopes. The ski runs in Davos seemed to go on forever. There was a white table-clothed formal dining room with a black and white tiled floor. And, a lounge area complete with a polished black piano.
Kenny, Don and Mike were able to convince the parents to let them go tobogganing a couple of times. Nothing like climbing up a hill and gliding down the soft snow attempting to avoid trees. But rather, a toboggan ride like an Olympic run! A long icy chute that was fast moving. I was rather perturbed that I couldn’t go with them!
Instead, I recall having to hang out with the adults in that lounge area listening to some guy play the piano. Boring! When the entertainer took a break, my parents prodded me to go play something. Eventually, I walked up and began pushing down a few random keys. The pianist came back and encouraged me. So, I played Greensleeves. All the adults in the lounge applauded and commented on how cute I was and—gosh, I played so well for a young lady. The next afternoon, we were all back in the lounge. The pianist once again invited me up to play a song. Feeling pretty confident then, I placed my fingers on the keys and did an encore presentation of Greensleeves. It was the only song I knew! After that, I didn’t get invited back. So ended my celebrity status.
One evening when us four kids were exploring the property, we accidentally pushed the button in the elevator for the basement level. When the door opened, all we saw was a dimly lit hallway with dust on the floor that contained footprints. We thought it creepy and immediately pushed the button to go to a different floor. However, the elevator door closed but then reopened again. The footprints in the dust had disappeared! At least that’s what Mike and I believed. The explanation was more likely about the older siblings attempting to scare the younger ones.
The parents had planned a special day of fun. Carrying our skies, we were to hike up a pass, eat lunch in the lodge at the top, then ski down the other side of the mountain. It sounded adventurous and we started off on a clear, crisp morning. Hiking up the mountain was difficult in the high altitude, but the scenery was spectacular. We followed along a trail which alternated between being very wide with being extremely narrow. Even though it was hard physical work, we were looking forward to the long ski ride down.
After a while into the hike, clouds began to roll in and the sky grew dark. It began to snow harder and harder until we were in a full fledged blizzard. We could barely see in front of our faces. The only thing keeping us moving in the right direction were tall orange metal posts planted deep into the snow. It was freezing. Mrs. Lloyd had icicles hanging from her goggles and ice clung to Mr. Lloyd’s mustache. We kept trudging forward for what seemed like an eternity. At one point we reached a summit. As I crawled up over the ridge, the wind was so strong that it began to blow me towards a steep drop off. My brother quickly jumped on top of me to stop an impending disaster.
We then proceeded around a mountain, inching our way along a path that was only a couple of feet wide. The faint lights from the lodge we were heading for in the distance. One side of the path was straight up, while the other side was straight down! That was a bit hairy, but the adults felt it was the only way to finally reach the lodge before we all froze. At long last we made it safely to the warm destination. As we looked up at the large board that displayed the status of the ski runs, we saw that the pass we had just hiked up was closed due to severe weather. The disappointing end to that eventful day was the weather didn’t clear up so instead of skiing down, we had to take a train.
Our family certainly sustained some injuries. At one point when I was skiing with my dad, I saw him fall and hit his head really hard on the icy slope. He didn’t move for a few moments, which was rather unsettling. My mother took a bad tumble and strained her knee. Unfortunately, this put an end to her skiing. Or perhaps fortunately, for she spent a lot of time in the spa during the remainder of the trip.
With just three days remaining of our holiday, we were on the slopes getting more incredible skiing in. Kenny had skied a particular run twelve times that day. He grew frustrated because the bindings on his skis seemed to be releasing more than necessary causing his skis to periodically pop off. So, someone tightened his bindings slightly. The thirteenth time Kenny skied the slope he fell, but the bindings were too tight and didn’t release. He broke his leg.
The efficient and busy medical team strapped my brother into a stretcher shaped like a shallow trough. One of the guys zigzagged their way down the long slope to the lodge pulling my brother behind him. From there, they loaded him into the funicular to get to the bottom of the mountain. Then, it was off to the hospital and into a ward with eleven other teenage boys—all with broken legs strung up in the air! Because we were supposed to be flying back to England only a few days later, the doctors decided they would not set his broken leg. This meant that until we returned home, he had to keep his leg elevated at all times.
One of the activities Kenny missed due to his hospital stay was the sleigh ride. One morning we boarded a horse drawn sleigh; Mike and I bundled together in a blanket on the high back bench and my parents in the middle seat. There were several sleighs that traveled together caravan style with live musicians on one of them. The scenery was gorgeous as we glided across the back country on the gleaming white snow—just like in the movies! For lunch we stopped at a tavern. I recall my father lifting me up on his shoulders to ring the cowbells that hung from the ceiling.
The vacation came to an end. During the journey home, we had a tight connection (maybe five or six minutes) in which to disembark one train and board another to carry us to Zurich. With eight people, one of which had to be carried, and 14 pieces of luggage it had to be a quick and calculated plan. My father made sure we all knew what to do. Once the train we were on stopped, my dad would carry Kenny (because of his broken leg) across the station to the awaiting train. My mother would stay with him. Meanwhile, the rest of us would unload all the remaining luggage and pile it up on the platform. Mike and I would watch over the luggage as the others would transport it from the platform to the second train approximately fifty yards away.
Everyone was prepared to implement the plan and we all jumped into action. The train stopped, my father carried Kenny to the other train, took off his jacket, and left him there with my mother. Meanwhile, Mike and I stayed with the pile of luggage as the others hastily carried items to the awaiting train. There were no wheels on luggage in those days! Everything was moving along smoothly, but time was getting short.
As my father, Mrs. Lloyd and I ran with the last load of bags, the train started to pull away from the station. My mom was standing in the doorway of that train. As a nine year old, it was terribly frightening to see my mother leaving on a train without me. I started crying and running after her alongside the moving train. An official at the station and my dad were yelling at me to stop as they were afraid I would fall under the train onto the tracks. When I couldn’t catch her, I just stopped and sobbed uncontrollably.
My father began yelling some choice words in English at the station official who reciprocated by yelling back in his own colorful language. My father was furious that they couldn’t have waited for thirty more seconds before letting the train leave. Finally, after they both had calmed down, we learned another train was coming in just five minutes later so they were unable to delay the first train. Our plan B was to board that second train that was actually faster. This would deliver us to our desired destination more quickly than the train the rest of our group was on. Back then, there were no cell phones to communicate all this with our loved ones.
My father, Mrs. Lloyd and I boarded that next train. I remember still being very shaken up and wouldn’t even remove my jacket. The conductor came by to collect our tickets. It was then that my father realized when he had removed his jacket and left it in the other train, inside those pockets were all our tickets, money, and passports. We had nothing to give the conductor but our story. Fortunately, he believed us and allowed us to remain onboard. We quickly stopped at station after station. Then suddenly at one stop, Don walked onto our train with our tickets and packed lunches! He had taken a chance that we would be on that train.
When we arrived for the flight home, they put our family in first class because my brother needed to sit with his leg raised up. After arriving in London, they took him off the plane in a scissor lift. He was then taken directly to the hospital where they set his broken leg. As they removed him from the surgery table, they promptly dropped him and broke his leg again, then had to reset it all over!
That trip to Switzerland was one I remember fondly. It was in the most beautiful country and was full of adventure and stories!
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