Sunday, July 21, 2013

bad naked, good glaciers

The Hotel Watlher has an indoor swimming pool and hot tub. Next to the pool is a single locker room that is used by everyone, regardless of age or gender. Down the hall from the locker room are a couple massage rooms, as well as an entry to the spa. The spa, unlike the locker room, discriminates on the basis of age -- no one under the age of sixteen is allowed. It does not discriminate on any other basis, though. And, like the locker room, clothing is most certainly optional. (My uncle took it upon himself to sneak both kids into the spa a couple days ago when no one else was using it. Owen was most happy to be breaking the rules. We think Lauren may have already confessed to the hotel management.)

I went into the sauna yesterday where there was already a couple sitting, as naked as the day they were born. They appeared slightly older than me and in average shape. I took one step in before I saw them. Having taken that step inside the room, I had a choice -- either continue in and sit down (swimsuit on, of course) as though nothing irregular was taking place, never, ever, ever looking at either of them or stop, turn around and walk out, likely offending them/outing me as the prude I am in the process. I could not think of a good way to negotiate a graceful exit so in I went and sat down on my towel. I did everything but whistle in the air and look at the ceiling in my effort to avoid looking at either person. Minutes later, they walked out. Perhaps they were offended by my attire.

Back at the spa today, Keri walked into the steam room to warm up after our rainy afternoon hike. She was met by a 60-something woman who, like my couple, had nothing on. The woman was making herself right at home, performing a series of exercises and stretches. (I actually saw the same woman minutes later, sitting down, crossing her legs and leaning in as though she was going to start cutting her toe nails. Look away, Tim, look away.) As a general matter, I would think a steam room a good place to stretch out one's muscles. The particular time and place of these exercises were, however, most certainly, a case of bad naked (another Seinfeld reference for those who have been with us for a while).

Keri and I are not sure why there is the age limit on the spa, in particular given the non-age restriction in the locker room. We don't think either of our children has been exposed to naked elderly European flesh as of yet, but it is just a matter of time. We're always happy for them to have something else to work out in therapy.

Two good hiking days this weekend. Yesterday, our third full day here, saw our hiking numbers dwindle to four -- Uncle John, Dan, Keri and me. With sufficient adult supervision at the hotel, we felt comfortable leaving Lauren and Owen behind. I should say that no two people were happier than they not to be hiking.

The four of us who did hike walked a little more than the three miles up to the Morteratsch train station, which is at the mouth of a valley at the other end of is which a glacier with the same name. The Morteratsch glacier and the Pers glacier (which runs into it) combine to make the largest glacier in the eastern Alps. They are spectacular, sitting below the snow-capped peaks of the Berninas.

Without our children, we made pretty good time to the train station. Once there, the four of us elected to hike to the Boval hut, one of a number of mountain huts in this area that are used by serious rock climbers (for food, shelter, and starting points for very difficult, technical climbs) and less serious day hikers like us (for food and destination points). The Boval is probably 1.500 feet above valley floor, just below where the serious climbers do their work. It provides incredible views of the two glaciers, the peaks that surround them, and the entire valley below. The hike there is moderately challenging, between the altitude here and elevation change. It is, as Keri said, worth every bit of discomfort given the scenery, both on the hike there and at the end. (Pictured here is one of several waterfalls that lead up to the Boval.) And no offense to our children, but not having them there may have been the best part. Silence, punctuated by adult conversation, all the while keeping a good pace and stopping only for good reasons. You know, hiking.

Today's hiking experience saw some of that, as we returned to the Morterasch, although this time with the whole group and with the intention of staying on the valley floor and hiking up to the glacier itself. My mother and aunt took a train to the Morteratsch station, and graciously took Lauren and Owen with them. Once there, we all started walking up the path that leads to the glacier. Among the interesting things about this walk is that there are signs marking the regression of the glacier by year, from 1900 to 2010. I remember coming here with my grandparents in 1978 and 1980. Memory is often not too accurate and, without signs, I would have said that I remember the glacier coming further out into the valley on those trips. Fortunately (and unfortunately), the signs back me up, showing regression of well over a thousand feet in that time.

Lauren, as before, was terrific the entire hike. Owen, as he did the first day, was a royal pain for the first twenty minutes or so. Some tough love from Keri seemed to shake him out of his funk, though, and both kids acquitted themselves well. They kept up a good pace on our walk to the glacier, climbed over rock piles, and jumped over small bodies of water, all leading up to the glacier's edge. I know this is something they will not forget. Standing beneath this massive sheet of ice and dirt, a river of water flowing out from underneath while a cold wind blows over the top of it. The scope of it is awesome and humbling.

We walked back to the train station, had lunch and my parents took the kids via train back to the Walther, while the rest of the group walked back. About one minute into our walk, the rain started. A light mist, progressing into a comfortable shower and then a steady downpour. As Dan pointed out, it was one of those rains that gets so serious so quickly you don't have sufficient time to adjust your behavior (should we think about taking a train?) or clothing (I know I have a rain jacket here somewhere) before you are totally drenched.

We made it back, though, having a good ten miles hiked today. We built up our appetites for the traditional Sunday night dessert buffet at the Walther. And, without the rain, I doubt Keri would have used the spa today, and we all would have been cheated the joy that was her one-woman show.

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