This is a ginormous post, but since this is my blog, you guys are just going to have to put up with it. You meaning all 3 of my visitors :)
This was to be our longest driving day in the trip, so Chris was up before the break of dawn obsessing about getting on the road. Our first stop was the library in St. Gall. Since the library is part of an ancient monastery established in 613, deep in the old part of St. Gallen, we had fun navigating the one way, narrow roads trying to decipher what our GPS was trying to tell us. Does it mean this road or the next one? Eventually we made it and found ourselves at the entrance to the cathedral. Not actually on the itinerary, but lets take a peak. WOW WOW WOW WOW. A stunning example of Baroque architecture, according to the literature. I would have just said breathtakingly ornate.
We then hurried off to find the medieval library. The delicate inlaid wooden floor requires all visitors to don felt slippers over their shoes. These are one size fits "all" so I felt a little foolish in them, until I realized that Lucas and Michael also needed to somehow fit in them. Because the slippers are so big, one needs to shuffle along to make sure they don't fall off. I guess it is a two-fer, protect the floor and get some polishing done too. To enter the library one passes beneath a sign "psyches iatreion", which is Greek for “Pharmacy of the Soul”. The library contains over 400 books and documents that are over 1000 years old. There are 2100 handwritten books, and some very beautiful illustrated books on display in glass cases. The room itself is again in the Baroque style and the whole place is a UNESCO Heritage site both for the architecture and for the books. Equally impressive was the behaviour of my beloved children. Not to brag or anything, but we were in there for 20-30 minutes and nothing above a quiet voice emanated from their lips. They didn't even have to be reminded not to touch anything! Of course the sense of reverence and awe in the room is palpable even to a 3 and 4 year old. But we couldn't stay long, we had places to go!
After leaving St. Gallen, I programmed in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein and we were on the highway once again. After seeing a few signs for Heidiland, I remembered the audio CD I had bought for the trip of an abridged version of Heidi, so I popped it in. Chris said he thought he saw a sign for Vaduz, but since I was getting to be a stressball driving on the highway, and he couldn't find our position in the travel atlas of Switzerland we had brought with us, we just followed along the GPS system. By the time we stopped to figure out where we were, we were at least an hour past Liechtenstein. Poop! I was rather disappointed, but we continued on our way.
To get into Engadin valley, one must cross a big mountain range. There are mountain passes, which in August are not so difficult to do. There are also train ferries, where a train ferries cars through the mountains in a long tunnel. This was an expensive option, but since the mountain pass was intimidating, and the boys are both fascinated with trains and tunnels, we decided to splurge. Alas, the GPS struck again. It led us to the wrong train station. I enquired at the train station where we SHOULD go, but neglected to write that information down. I had thought I had seen a sign on the highway indicating the correct exit and assumed that we could just look for that. WRONG. After going half an hour down one highway (the train was supposed to leave in 40 minutes), we backtracked to see if we could find the sign on the way back. No such luck. I thought that we should take another highway, the one we would need to take for the pass anyway. After another hour or so of driving around we gave up and started down, or rather up the road to the pass. Again, I was rather disappointed, and this time the boys were too.
The pass on the other hand was lovely, and not at all difficult to go up. We climbed up to 2200m from about 600m at the beginning. I was amazed at the number of bikers also traveling along this path. Actually, there were a large number of bikers EVERYWHERE we went. By bikers I mean bicyclers, not motorcyclers, although they did seem to hang out in gangs. Again I had the "luck" to be following someone very slow. On the other hand, this guy was REALLY slow. I also had little experience driving standard and zero experience driving a standard down a long and steep descent. I had thought that the best thing to do would be to hold in the clutch so no forward power went to the gears and then use the brake as needed on the way down, as I had done with every descent up until this point on the trip. Those descents were not this long. Those descents were not following someone this slow. By the time we got to the bottom, there was a STRONG smell of burning brake and we finally realized it was us. To be fair, there had been a lot of construction at the top of the mountain, so there were other unpleasant smells not related to my novice driving skills. I was convinced I had killed the car. The Engadin valley is still up at 1800m, so we were eventually going to have to go DOWN again. First though, we needed to get to our campsite.
Our campsite was the only "wilderness" one of the trip. It was about a 20 minute drive outside of St. Moritz at about 2000m. We set up our tent within sight of the playground and decided to eat at the canteen, in part because I was afraid to get in the car again. During dinner, the wind picked up and the sun started to go down. It got cold. The kids didn't seem to care and played happily at the playground while I shivered. We hit the sack a little early while the sun was behind the mountain range, but still giving some light. The boys were still a bundle of energy, no wonder after having been couped up in a car all day, except for that one outing to a LIBRARY!!! Poor things. After 2 hours of listening to them talk and play and fight we separated and had a one parent, one child sleeping arrangement that night.
Before I leave you, I would like to point out that my error in driving is apparently quite common for "first-timers". My friend who's aunt has a chalet in Engadine and has traveled there all her life said she made the same mistake the first time she drove the pass. Not to ruin the end, but the brakes never failed although they were smelly for more than a day. When we got back to Geneva one of the first things I did was take the car to the garage (the brakes also squeaked, but had since we started off) and the mechanic found the brakes to be in perfect condition. Phew! To anyone who is interested, the proper way to go down a mountain in a standard car is to gear down. The car essentially brakes itself when in 3rd or 2nd gear (or 1st if you are really going slow), but this does take a certain touch! What would you do in an automatic? I presume riding the brake the whole way down would also be a BAD idea. Maybe that is what the 1 and 2 options are for on the shift. I always ignored them, overdrive and reverse were the only options I paid attention to...