In Which Elizabeth and Debby Climb Up and Down An Alp

Elizabeth and I had an authentic Swiss experience on Monday, June 15: we climbed an Alp, ate amazing chocolate, and encountered free-range cows, although not necessarily in that order.

first view of cows

We started from Locarno, a town about a 15-minute bus ride from Ascona, where we are staying. In Locarno, we took a funicular up the mountain to Orselina, where we caught the gondola that carried us to Cardada, more than 1300 meters above sea level.

view from the gondola

The view from the Cardada gondola

In Cardada, we ate lunch at one of the half dozen restaurants dotting the top of the mountain.

restaurant where we had lunch

Ristorante Colmanicchio, gourmet food in a stunning setting

The gondola ticket seller recommended Ristorante Colmanicchio, part of the Gusta Cardada program. You pay a set fee (in our case, 42 Suisse Francs each), which includes your meal and the return trip up and down the mountain.

We had a choice of two dishes off the massive menu.

totally cool menu at restaurant where we had lunch

The menu really was massive

We took one of each dish and shared.

veal with tartar sauce

This is the veal, which I ordered. It is smoked in the ristorante smoker, sliced super thin, and served with homemade mayo flavored with what appeared to be chopped fresh spinach and tiny pieces of chopped orange. It was quite tasty.

the detail on my veal

The flower arrangement on top was a nice touch

Elizabeth ordered the fish (I think it was trout), which was caught in Lake Maggiore (at the bottom of the mountain), smoked in the restaurant smoker, pan fried with chopped almonds, and served beneath greens grown in the restaurant garden (which is next to the smoker).

e had fish salad e fish closeup

For dessert we ordered chocolate cake and linzer torte.

linzer torte

Traditional linzer torte is made with raspberries, but because apricots are in season, that’s what was in our torte.

e and chocolate cake

Typical Waldman-Wishart behavior: don’t eat your food; photograph it.

After lunch we hiked the remaining 340 meters to Cimetta, where the view of Switzerland and Italy down the lake becomes even more amazing.

nice view

North is to the left of the photograph. South is to the middle/right. Italy is at the top middle of the picture (in the far south).

smiling hike to cimetta

Shortly after finding the path to Cimetta, I heard the sound of metallic bells in the distance.

“I think we’re going to see some cows,” I said to Elizabeth.

Sure enough, as we rounded a bend, there they were: a quartet of cows with the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen on cows: long, red, and silky.

e captures cows

We stared at each other, the cows and Elizabeth and I, and then Elizabeth and I headed up the path, at which point one little cow came wandering, alone, right toward me.

killer cow

I have not encountered many free-range cows. For a second I wondered if I should be afraid. Perhaps this was a killer cow? But no, he looked at me for a second, and then, as if in a video for the hit Dionne Warwick song, just walked on by.

e and the killer cow

Clearly the cow was uninterested in us.

About 20 minutes later we encountered a second, much-bigger herd of cows. They were grazing near the pizza restaurant a little further along the path.

more cows

lucky cows

“I wonder if those cows realize how lucky they are,” Elizabeth said as we took in the near-panoramic view (and the smells wafting from the pizza oven which, mercifully, overpowered the smells emanating from the cows).

cow king

King of the pizza restaurant herd. Dig that cowbell.

The closer we got to Cimetta, the more I found myself about to burst into songs from “The Sound of Music.” But I refrained, and sang in my head instead.

too hot for pants

Climb every mountain

approaching a restaurant

With the sound of music

up and up and up

Ford every stream (yes, it’s a lake, but I didn’t take pictures of any streams on this hike).

All this could be yours

The hills are alive

When we reached Cimetta, we decided to take the chairlift back to Cardada.

much better chair lift down pic

I haven’t been on a chairlift in years, and as soon as we exited the lift garage (or whatever it’s called), I remembered why: I actively dislike being suspended hundreds of feet above ground.

Every part of me was having an anxiety attack (although the anxiety attack in my bum may actually have been the vibrations from the chair. I’m still not sure).

valley view

How deep is that valley? So deep I was having panic attacks imagining myself tumbling out of the chairlift and landing in the middle of it.

chair lift and swiss flag pic

The gondola ticket seller had told us that the walk from Cardada to Orselina was about two hours. Maybe it is, if you know where you’re going, your knees work, and you don’t encounter free-range, barking dogs.

Otherwise, you can count on a three-hour walk.

For us, the walk was made more complicated by the fact that we’d forgotten to bring water, and the path was lined with rocks ranging from about the size of a paperback book to the size of a small coffee table. Uneven pavement and weak, wobbly knees do not a good combination make. Every time I took a wrong step (which was often), I wrenched my poor knee, gasped in pain, and set Elizabeth to wondering if I’d died in the middle of the path.
After a while she stopped paying attention and raced ahead.

the walk down

Elizabeth in a typical position on the way down the mountain; as far from me as possible.

A few times we lost the path completely. Once, after not having seen signs for nearly an hour, we finally encountered one, but it said nothing about Orselina, only that we were heading to St. Bernard.

the scary bridge

At least it was shady most of the way down, a blessing given that we forgot to pack water…

This was rather disconcerting, as we were unaware of St. Bernard (the place, not the dog) and had no idea where it was. However, we did have a map, and upon consulting it we discovered that St. Bernard was one town north of Orselina. So at least we were headed in the right direction.

better scary bridge pic

Elizabeth on the unsteady, barely-held-together bridge, one of several that we had to cross.

Shortly after the St. Bernard scare, Elizabeth came upon an actual dog scare — a really loud, barky dog. The dog was blocking her access to the path. I was too far away to see that the dog’s tail was wagging excitedly, so when she called out to me that a vicious dog was blocking her way, I agreed that we should take a detour.

However, detours only work if you know where you’re going. We did not know where we were going, and there was no path except on the other side of the dog.

“We have to go past the dog,” I told Elizabeth.

“But it’s barking!” she said.

“It’s friendly,” I assured her. “Plus, we have big sticks.”

We did not need the sticks. This was definitely a case where the bark was worse than the bite, because (thank goodness) there was no bite.

Down we proceeded, Elizabeth still leaving me in the dust.

e descends scary bridge

At one point she stopped, put her hands on her head, and turned slowly toward me. She was too far for me to call out “what’s wrong?” but it was clear something awful had happened.

My first fear was that she had left her phone on top of the mountain, which by now was nearly two hours behind us. There was no way I was going back up there.

My second fear was that there was a dead person on the path in front of her.

It never occurred to me that she had just remembered that she had left the keys to her Leeds dorm room in the jacket of the coat she’d sent back to Edmonton with Dave.

But that was a problem we could do nothing about. The problem in front of us – the path – we had to deal with, so on we went, until we finally reached what could have been St. Bernard, but what we prayed was Orselina. However, it looked nothing like the Orselina we’d been in earlier in the day. There were no signs of the funicular, not even the cables.

We found the one human in the area. He assured us that indeed, we were in Orselina. However, when we said “Funicular?” he shrugged, looked confused, and told us he spoke no English.

A few hundred feet down the road, we encountered a staircase. “I’ll bet this is a shortcut so you don’t have to take the winding road,” I said to Elizabeth.

She zipped down the uneven stone steps. I hobbled and cursed. I’d figured there would be about two flights of stairs. Instead, we descended the equivalent of three Empire State Buildings.

e said this was a tub

Elizabeth thinks this is an ancient bathtub. I think it’s a coffin. By the time we stumbled past it, I was ready to crawl into it for eternity, just to relieve my aching knee. You will notice that there are no more pictures after this one. I had pretty much lost my enthusiasm for everything at this point, photography included.

When we reached the road at the bottom of the stairs, we still had no clue where we were.

We found another human, who spoke only “Deutsch.” Fortunately, my high school German was good enough for me to understand that we had to take one more set of stairs and, at the bottom of the next road, turn right.

Again, we figured we’d be going down a couple of flights. This time, though, we descended the equivalent of three Eiffel Towers. On the positive side, when we reached the bottom we recognized where we were.

It took another 40 minutes to get from Orsellina back to Locarno, during which time we drank a lot of water and rewarded ourselves with treats at Laderach, a fancy chocolate shop that Silvia had recommended.

By the time we returned to Giuseppe and Silvia’s, I could barely make it up the three flights (of normal, even, manufactured stairs!) to their apartment. I collapsed on a chair with an ice pack and an Advil. I think I can still walk today, but it ain’t gonna be up no mountain.

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