Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Farewell to Doggy Days.

The chaos of the holidays was ending, and the majority of our furry friends had left or were going to be gone by tomorrow as the owners came to claim these canines that didn't want to leave the fun of Doggy Days behind. Some we were happy to see go, and looking forward to the sleep that we might get back from the restless nights of constant late night barking projected out of the hotel into our bedrooms. As the packs decreased in size it was also time for me to depart from Doggy Days. 


There are many dogs that I will miss, but the owner's Romanian sisters are the two that I would take home for myself if I could. Despite their tough shell and distance to newbies at the beginning, we were actually quite good friends by the time I had to go. Instead of running away or barking when I came into a room they would either sit up and looked interested in where I was headed or even run over and jump up to greet me warmly. Earning their affection made me feel like an official member of the house. 


And Artuse, the biggest St. Bernanrd you will ever meet. He is larger than most small horses I've seen, and has a deep stomach rattling bark that makes most of the other dogs quiver, but in reality he is nothing but a softy. Well trained, he doesn't even need a leash when you walk him, because he sticks close to you, in fact he usually knows the path better than whoever is walking him. 




Though I won't miss the constant scrubbing of the floor covered in dog urine, and being pulled down a hillside by an eager puppy while the others pull in three separate directions, or the dog chatter that sometimes never seems to stop, I will miss this dog oasis and the village of Arogno very much. 


Saying farewell to my new friends, helpers and staff, I made some open plans to see them again with the hope of crossing paths in another country again some day. Marcela and I spent one final evening gossiping and dissecting the work day together after letting the dogs out for their final late night bathroom break, and as I went to sleep dreading the early alarm that was to ring in a few hours I thought about how comfortable I had become in that home and how I might  hope to return to Doggy Days again some day. 


Luzern, Switzerland.


Beautiful Luzern is a small city in Switzerland south of Zurich, in the heart of the country. The most famous and recognizable monument of this town is the The Lion Monument. This massive Lion sculpture that measures six meters high and ten across was carved out of sand stone rock in the early 19th century. The Lion in the sculpture portrays a deep sadness as he has been speared and appears to be on his last breathe as he lays on top of scattered shields and weapons to create the imagery of a war zone. Above the wounded Lion is the engraving that reads "Helvetiorum fidei ac virtuti" meaning, "To the loyalty and the bravery of the Swiss. The Lion Monument was erected in memory of the Swiss mercenaries that  were killed through out their service in the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, the service of a mercenary was a necessary trade for Switzerland, and as a result of this, over 40,000 Swiss were serving in foreign countries during that time. 



Climbing up to the edge of the city, at the original border or the town are Musegg wall and towers of Luzern. Wandering along the lifted wall you can climb into the towers to catch a view of the entire city. On this particularly foggy day the view stopped at the city buildings, when on many days of the years you can see out far along the lake. In the center Zyttrum clock tower there is is a large bell that's bell chimes a full minute before all the others in the city, leading the rest in a full chorus on the hour. 


Another well known spot in Luzern is the Chapel Bridge, a wooden walkway that crosses over the Reuss River that runs directly through the centre of town into the Luzern lake. With wooden arches that greet you on either end, the covered wooded walkway has open air look out windows lined with blooming flower boxes where you can observe the beautiful city buildings along the river. Looking up to the covering of the bridge, every few meters is a colorful painting illustrating Luzern's history from the 17th century. 


Family in Switzerland.


Waking early, I groggily stumbled around getting ready,putting my things together and left the dog hotel while the stars were still shining. Lot and I strolled down the driveway and then rolled his car down the lane, waiting to turn on the engine until we were out of ear shot from the sleeping dogs as to not cause an unnecessary early morning orchestra of barking. Saying "hasta manana" at the bus stop, my journey to Ecce Homo began. My dauntingly long train route allowed less than five minutes between each connecting  train, and as each of the first two were just a few minutes behind schedule I ran to meet the third leg of my journey just as it pulled away from the station, leaving me stranded in a tiny cold train port for over an hour while waiting for the next train. On the journey of my final train, I starred out the foggy windows and it was clear that I had left the cities of Switzerland and was fully engulfed by the beautiful countryside. Full of gorgeous large houses with countless windows, and picture perfect streams of smoke trailing out of the silver chimneys on top, all clumped in tiny villages and surrounded by green meadows, this is the picture you create in your mind when you think of Switzerland. Departing this last train, I had one final step in transit, a city bus right outside the station where I was the only passenger. Three stops later I arrived at the Ecce Homo bus stop where I looked up to see directly in front of me my final destination, the home my great-grandmother had once lived in. 


Exactly like the pictures I had seen, the beautiful old house is covered in dark wood on the outside, with bright green shutters that frame the white windows perfectly. Feeling bold and confident after such a complicated journey I walked up to the front door, and looked at the door bell with the name "Josef Lounde" and rang it, not entirely certain that anyone would be home. I heard shuffling around from inside and soon enough the door opened and a familiar face that I had not seen in many years looked back at me. I smiled at him and told him who I was, and without a questioning look or hesitation he simply said, "yes, come in" and led me up the stairs. As he turned into the kitchen I heard his wife, Lottie, speak quickly to him in German, what I assume was something along the lines of "who is it?" after he responded to her  she came beaming around the corner to greet me with shock and surprise as she held her arms open for a big welcoming embrace. Realizing as I turned into the kitchen that I had interrupted their lunchtime, I felt terrible, but Lottie didn't even hesitate before quickly setting a place for me and served me up some of her delicious meal as we sat around the table catching up. It had been over ten years since I had seen these relatives, cousins of my grandfather, when they last visited us in the states. They had also gotten to know my parents during a trip that they had taken to Europe almost just as many years ago. My grandpa often sends family photos and updates about the happenings from the states and about what our family is doing each year, so Josef had many questions about updates on the family members. Though he would disagree with me, Josef's English is great, especially considering the fact that he couldn't remember the last time he had to use it to such an extent. While Lottie and I can not communicate directly, since I do not speak any German and her English is limited, we did manage to find other ways to communicate as she pulled out her photo albums from their visits to the states as well as from my parents trip to visit with them. They gave me a tour of the beautiful home they live in, that was once lived in by Josef's mother as well as my great-grandmother. The inside is very modern because as Josef put it, nothing is original but the walls. We discussed my travels as well as the trips they have been on and it became clear to me that all share a great ambition for travel, and they have even visited places that I would not yet be courageous enough to try. 



As the afternoon progressed I started to think about making my way back, not wanting to over stay my welcome, but they had other plans in mind. Down the road about thirty minutes from their home is a very small village called Illgau where my great-grandfather's family, the Burglers, are from. Josef and Lottie offered to take me there so I could visit the church and cemetery full of my ancestors. On this very foggy day we rode up the hill into the village and I toured around inside the cemetery with the two of them, amazed by how many Burglers there were in one place. Even driving along the road, the name of the construction company advertised their work on the roads was Burgler construction, the same name my grandfather's construction company had for so many years. 


Getting back into the car, certain that this wonderful afternoon with my family was complete, Josef asked if I had a schedule for the day, and I told him I simply had to be in Luzern by late that night in order to check into the hostel. Satisfied with that answer he nodded and said our next destination was the town of Brunnen where we would visit the tourist centre so I could learn more about the area. Along the drive and inside the centre they pointed out many significant pieces of Switzerland's history to me, and we watched some informational videos and chatted with the staff there about all the things this region of Switzerland is known for. After the centre, we popped up to their daughter Bernie's house, who I had never had the chance to meet until now,  and had her join us for an afternoon snack in the city before it was time for me to catch my train. Josef took me to the station and I expected to say our farewells at the car park or after I purchased my ticket, but instead he kindly walked with me all the way to the platform, and kept me company while I waited for the train to arrive. When the train pulled in I gave him a hug and thanked him endlessly for a wonderful day, and Josef stood along side the train as I boarded and waved good bye to me as I headed south to Luzern for the night. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Snow arrives early in Arogno.

The shock of the mid-October snow storm hit all of us, including the dogs that simply couldn't understand why they had to be cooped up inside the hotel for most of the day. The snow settled on the hills surrounding us, but melted away from the permitter of the house as quickly as it fell. Owners of the dogs were in distress as they picked up and dropped off their pets after driving up the steep winding driveway. The dogs were restless inside and too cold outside, but I on the other hand, was loving this glimpse of winter and wishing for more even as it continued to look like a blizzard outside. Bundled up in as many layers as I could scrounge up for taking the dogs outside, I frolicked around with them and was disappointed when they weren't enjoying the storm as much as me. Taking them back inside, I sat upstairs with the small dogs, watching the winter wonderland happening from the window. The snow fall only lasted one day, and the dogs were happy to be outside again the following morning, and we all sat on the highest point of the property to enjoy the view of the snow covered mountains in the distance. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Arogno, Switzerland.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, well rested from a day off, I decided to trek down the hillside trails and wander into the small town of Arogno. The tiny village of less than a thousand residents sits high up in the hills, surrounded by tree-covered mountains full of trails to discover and creatures to meet along the way. Walking down the trail from the house into the village I found black, slimy, orange-spotted salamanders wiggling their way slowly across the path, and tiny lizards scampering under the rocks along the side as they heard me coming. The first fuzzy faced friends I made were two curious donkeys roaming through the field that came over to greet me as I passed by their property. Continuing down into town I found a pasture of cows, each with a large bell tied around their neck in case one strays from the group, which means you can hear the group clanking around from miles away. I also passed a group of sheep, llamas, and goats all along the way to the center of town. The most visited spot of Arogno is the beautiful church that sits up on one of the highest points. Climbing up there I passed through a well kept cemetery full of large colorful tombs and vibrant flowers growing along the edges before entering into the church. After spending some time looking down over the quite village and watching the sun disappear behind the hills along the border of the small town I wandered back up along the road to Doggy Days. 

Welcome to Doggy Days.

"My roommate will pick you up. He is a tall shaved head Spanish man. He doesn't speak English, but I think you will be fine."  

This was the final piece of information I was given before arriving in the city of Lugano to await a pick-up to then be taken to the final destination of Arogno, Switzerland. Lot, the Spanish roommate, met me in front of the train station that evening, and my new boss could not have been more accurate with her description. He was kind to me as we tried to make exchanges before quickly realizing that our ability to communicate stopped after the basic "how are you?" dialog, but we managed some how to learn a few things about each other as we pulled together some Spanglish phrases using gestures and pictures from his phone. The drive from the city up to the village of Arogno was entertaining to say the least, and after winding up the narrow roads we arrived at my new home on the top of the hill, the Doggy Days hotel. 

Greeted at the house by Carla, the owner, and her gang of canine's I was welcomed quickly and shown to my room where I chose my bed by the window with the view of the village and the mountains surrounding. I was introduced to her two live-in employees, Alvaro and Marcela. Marcela, is from Argentina originally, but spent many years in Spain before coming to Switzerland, and lucky for me her English is very good. She speaks softly with an extreme kindness, as she is always checking in with me to see if I am comfortable and taken care of. She is often shooing me away from assisting her with household tasks as her work ethic won't allow her to sit still and let anyone help her. Alvaro is quiet at first and I learned later that is because his English is limited, but with his attempts to communicate with me I learn quickly that he is a bit sarcastic and has a dry sense of humor that assures me that we are going to have some fun together over the next few weeks. My first night was spent at the dinner table enjoying a delicious meal cooked by Marcela, and shared with her, Lot and Alvaro. As the chatter flew back and forth across the table in Spanish I sat there thinking to myself how much I wished I had payed more attention in my high school Spanish courses. Marcela translated the relevant information to me, but any conversation we had left Lot and Alvaro behind. 

Carla welcomes new helpers by explaining some of the general rules and things to know about Doggy Days, and also about how to live in the house with the others, including the five dogs of her own. With each of the dogs being a rescue, "they all have issues" she put it bluntly. I was told to give the two street dogs rescued from Romania, Viola and Betty, a chance to warm up to me since they have been known to bite new helpers within the first couple days. They act like sisters even though they aren't, deciding as a unit if you are worthy of their affection. The tiniest of the crew, Bocio, jumps and barks and jumps and barks as he makes sure you know he is there and that he is obviously not a afraid of you (except when he is). Moca, another small dog, that is mostly blind and partially deaf,  knows the in's and out's of the house better than even the people living in it and is clearly the leader of the pack since no one messes with her. And finally, the sweet mellow golden named Abby, that doesn't bother anyone until there is food being dished out, then she wants in. 

The day's work is long but enjoyable, spent with the dogs of all breeds and sizes, each having such an individual personality. The groups change daily as new dogs arrive and others return to their homes, and the dynamic can alter in one afternoon depending on who is present. The work hours are spent hanging out with the dogs by walking, feeding, playing, and cleaning up after them, and generally keeping them as happy as we can. I've been told that the first week will be calm and allow for me to become adjusted with the routine before the chaos of the school holidays begins and the hotel occupancy triples. 

My love for dogs has always been strong, but I underestimated how much I would enjoy having this many furry friends around at one time. They are constantly interested in you, and watching them all together is absolutely wonderful and of course extremely entertaining. The greatest part about these four legged friends is their unconditional love of you. After scolding them to be quiet, or breaking up a quarrel and having to yell sharply to be heard I am certain that they will hate me forever for being cross with them, but it is simply only a matter of minutes before they come trotting back to me looking for more love and affection, as if nothing ever happened. Crawling all over me, trying to gain the best piece of my lap and the most affection from me as possible, there are sometimes three or four small ones on me while the large dogs lean up next to me, looking back as if to say "well, why aren't you petting me yet?" and I wish for extra hands because how can you say no to those faces? Basically, this is a dog lovers dream place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bern, Switzerland.

With the intention of getting some useful information from the US Embassy located in Bern, I took off on the train from Zurich one morning to see what the city had in store for me. After a more than unsuccessful visit to the Embassy and feeling very discouraged, I was welcomed warmly by the quaint little city of Bern. The buildings in the centre are all built with the same design, varying only in color, each one decorated with vibrant shingles and blooming flower boxes that frame the windows perfectly. As the streets wind through the center they are lined with fountains that are topped with statues of bears, which is the symbol of the city, and other significant figures, each completely radiant from head to toe. The clock towns that hover over the streets are vibrantly colored with large clock faces. In one square old men enjoy a game of life sizes chess or checkers while people passing by stop to watch or shout out strategic advise. The shops are busy with people hustling in and out with their purchases and jumping on the bright red tram that takes them through the city. At the end of the town is the famous bear park, where one large mama brown bear can be found romping around with her two cubs, and all are welcome to stop and watch the bears play and splash in the moat surrounding their personalized habitat.