Tuesday, July 23, 2013

my uncle does not attempt to eat his weight in desserts and the segantini is not to be trifled with

The good news is that Lauren and Owen went with us on a moderately difficult hike. The bad news is that Lauren and Owen went with us on a moderately difficult hike.

First, a few reflections on dinner at the Hotel Walther. We have eaten well. As mentioned in a prior post, breakfast is included in our nightly room rate. Dinners are more formal than any of us are used to eating -- soup, appetizer, salad bar, main course and desert courses every night. There are a couple options in each course, described in the hotel menu in French and German. Through the hard work of Lauren (with some assistance from other family members and Goggle translate), our family arrives at dinner every night with an electronic version of the menu in English. I cannot order without it. Once she got rolling with the translator, Lauren took it upon herself to produce a copy of the menu in Italian to present to our waiter, Luigi. He was very pleased to get it, complimenting Lauren on her great work. He told us a couple nights later that he was originally from Quebec. Very disappointing. I suppose it could have been worse -- he could have been from Brooklyn.

The highlight of the weekly dinner menu is the dessert buffet, which is served every Sunday night. (Pictured above are Lauren and Owen enjoying their introduction to the dessert buffet. Lauren, as you can see, has opted for two kinds of mousse, among other things. That smile is probably still in place.) My recollection from 23 years ago is that the buffet table was covered with platters of full-sized cakes and pies, and that my uncle would attempt to eat his weight it desserts. He may not have hit that lofty goal, but I am certain I saw him go back and forth at least five times to the buffet table, each time returning with a plate piled high to the point of toppling over. When you impress a 19 year-old boy with your food consumption, you are doing something remarkable.

Whether it is my faulty memory or the buffet has changed, there were few large cakes, the buffet featuring bite-sized torts, chocolates and pies, fruits, shot glasses of mousse concoctions, bowls of chocolate and vanilla mousse and ice cream and mango gelato. Everything was good -- really good, but it was different than I had remembered. My uncle ended up making only a couple trips to the buffet, as well, which was slightly disappointing. My aunt gave him credit for showing restraint. I don't know it was that, or whether he, too, was expecting something a little different and whether his heart (and stomach) just weren't in it. Perhaps some things are best preserved in our memory banks. (One other possibility is that the hotel, mindful of my uncle's past exploits, has put in place for the next two weeks a special, Eckstein Family dessert buffet. Seems like a lot of trouble, I know, but the economics of it may be justifiable.)

Sunday night's desert buffet inspired/guilted the whole group into a Monday hike from the Muottas Muragl back to Pontresina. We took a bus and cable car up to the Muottas Muragl, which is just over 8,000 feet, and offers spectacular views of St. Moritz and the Val Roseg. (Pictured here are Lauren and my mother with St. Moritz behind them.) There were a number of posters up promoting an Earth Wind & Fire concert there tonight. Not two things I generally associate in my mind.

From there, we hiked down a bit (350 feet) and up the Muragl valley, filled with flowing streams, grass-covered hills and pastures, and lots of cows. The latter led to my uncle sharing his observation that the cows, many of which were of a different hue, did not seem burdened by the same prejudices as us humans. (Pictured below are the cows that inspired my uncle's insights into human behavior.) A few minutes after this observation, we happened upon some cattle where the only two gray cows were separated from the herd. I suggested that age discrimination seems to be common to all species.

At the end of the valley, we had a choice, head up to the Chamanna Segantini (9000') and then down to Alp Languard (7640') where you can take a chairlift into town -- or walk around the Segantini to the same end. The Segantini is most famous in my family for a trip, 24 years ago, where my Uncle John took a then-sixteen year old Jennifer from Pontresina to Segantini, over to Alp Languard and then up to Piz Languard (10,700'). This hike took more than ten hours. And it was on day one of their vacation. Jennifer still bears the emotional scars from it. I think my Aunt Ronnie also broke her ankle on this mountain some years ago.

Keri advised both Lauren and Owen that they should go with their grandparents and Aunt Diane on the even path that wraps around the Segantini for a much less-strenuous hike. As is often the case, they ignored their mother's advice. The four of us hiked together most of the way up the Segantini, separating about three-quarters of the way up. Keri moved ahead with Lauren while I stayed back with Owen. I will not repeat here his complaints from prior hikes (all of which were pulled out), but I will give him credit for one new complaint (why can't we eat lunch before we hike???) and for a slightly new behavior -- laying down prostrate on the ground and declaring that he simply could not move another step. I will further say that I was no longer speaking to him by the time we got to the summit.

Eventually, we all made it to the top. (Pictured here are Katherine, Dan, and Uncle John.) There, Owen decided he needed to collect "crystals," which I think are just whitish-colored rocks. He brought over some "crystals" and placed them in glass of water that had been set aside for him to drink. He said the "crystals" needed to be cleaned. He later forgot what he had done, and took a sip of what he thought was a mix of apple soda and water. He declared it disgusting. I took some pleasure it that one. (He got his revenge, though, by sneaking his "crystals" into my wallet, which I only found this morning. I am thinking about upping the ante and placing them under his sheets on his bed.)

The four of us and Jennifer started down around 130, which turned out to be not a moment too soon. The hike down was challenging, a narrow path that hung on the side of a steep slope and had a number of places with some slippery rocks. Lauren and Owen were both pretty scared. With some small steps, slow hiking, encouraging words, and hand-holding, we all ended up getting to the Alp Languard in one piece. Steps from the chairlift, the rain started. It slowed down and then picked up as we rode the lift down, eventually becoming a nice little hail storm. To her credit, Lauren was pretty positive throughout.

Let me first say that we are proud of Lauren and Owen for getting through the hike. It took some real work to get to the top and the way down covered some legitimately treacherous terrain. The kids definitely went outside of their comfort zone and, I hope, have grown and gained confidence as a result of their achievement. That said, I think some of these hikes are just too much for them. Hikes like yesterday are probably just not worth it. Whatever confidence may be gained cannot make up for the the total misery that everyone is put through during the experience.

When we got back to the hotel, we learned that my father had fallen a couple times, injuring his calf muscle. A couple who was staying in a neighboring town helped him back to the hotel. My uncle examined him and thinks he probably tore some muscle fibers, but not enough to require surgery. My father stayed in bed last night, but was up this morning, walking (slowly) to the breakfast room, the salon and back to his room. I don't think it will heal enough for him to do any further hiking here, which is really a shame. (Although not technically on the Segantini, my father's injury was just below it, making it close enough to fairly credit this mountain with another victim.)

Between my father's injury, and some mental/physical exhaustion in the rest of the group, today was declared an off-day from hiking. Lauren and Owen were very happy, and would probably be happy to have non-hiking days from here on out, as they would prefer to spend their time hanging out with family, playing in the pool, and on their iPads here at the hotel. After yesterday's hike, their parents would not disagree.

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