Friday, July 19, 2013

pontresina, val roseg and our first time without the kids in six weeks

Pontresina has long been a special place for my family. My paternal grandparents, Albert and Liese, honeymooned in this area (following their marriage in Frankfurt, Germany) and started returning to vacation here later in life. After their grandchildren came of age, Chief and Nana (as they were known to us) started taking them and their parents here to enjoy the spectacular weather, scenery and hiking. I came here when I was 8, 10, 17 and 19. This is my first time back in 24 years. It is also my first time here with Keri and, of course, Lauren and Owen.

It is a treat to be here with the three of them. It is a treat made even better to have my parents, Uncle John, Aunt Diane and my cousins, Jennifer, Katherine and Dan with us. (Pictured here is the whole group sans Dan, who was holding the camera, and my mother, who was a bit under the weather and missed out first hike.) Some of my best memories of my grandparents come from our times here. The long walks/hikes in the Engadin, games of Spite and Malice (a card game that I am pretty sure my grandmother made up to give her an excuse to talk smack to her grandchildren) and delicious post-hike cakes. We are two days into our time here now and already sharing some of these things with Keri, Lauren and Owen. These experiences would be meaningful and rewarding for my family even if I had no connection to this place. Knowing that we are continuing some kind of family tradition, and knowing how much this would have meant to Chief and Nana only adds to my own joy.

After the four of us settled in on our first night here, we met the rest of the family in the hotel lobby and made our way to the dining room. (Hotels in this part of the world typically include breakfast and dinner in their room rates. Pictured below is where we are staying, the Hotel Walther.) The menu is posted just outside the dining room. The good news is that the menu is posted in two languages. The bad news is that those languages are French and German. There is just enough high school French and German knowledge in the group to make us dangerous. We have, quite wisely, relied on our waiter, Luigi, to translate for us so far. That may change, though, as Lauren took it upon herself to spend an hour earlier this afternoon to, with an iPad (and help from Aunt Diane), attempt to translate tonight's menu. We'll see how that goes.

We are seated at a large table in a room just below the main dining room. I think that is probably for the best, as there are often some loud and potentially embarrassing things that come out of people's mouths during our meals. At least half of those can be attributed to Owen (either as the speaker or target).

Keri experienced a little anxiety as we were ordering dinner the first night. Once Luigi assured her that the kitchen could prepare meals a little more to our kids' liking than the venison and ham and melon on the menu, all was well. Pasta bolognese, steak, french fries and ice cream, so far. Between Luigi's help and the apples, Owen will not die of hunger during our time here.

We all slept well the first night, the kids in a room adjoining ours. Keri and I made some effort at running the next morning, but we need not have done so, as our first hike ended up being a nine-miler. We walked from the Hotel Walther to the Val Roseg, a glacier-carved valley surrounded by 12,000 foot mountains with two glaciers at one end. Let me first say that Lauren was an absolute champ on this hike. She kept up with everyone and did not complain a single time. To the contrary, she was, on her own, remarking about the incredible views -- rugged mountain peaks, glaciers, and lush forest.

Owen, for his part, was not so good. He started to slow down maybe a mile into the 4.5 mile up to our stopping point. If there was something that could be complained about, he was on it -- too many bugs, an unquenchable thirst, hunger the likes of which no human had ever experienced, ankle pain that could lead to amputation if he was forced to walk further, general itchiness (I'll grant him the last one as legitimate). We spent the next three and a half miles coaxing/threatening him to keep him going. To his credit (or is it ours?), he made it to our destination -- and lunch -- where I offered to let him use my iPhone while we waited if he agreed to walk back without a single complaint. Never let it be said that Owen Eckstein is not a man of his word, as he did exactly that. I'm proud of both kids. I know that was a long hike for them and they pushed through. (Owen, Katherine and Lauren at lunch are pictured here. Note that Owen is holding my iPhone. If the screen were angled toward the camera, I suspect it would show that he was playing Angry Birds or Scrabble.)

Part of the reason Owen may have been so good on the way back is that he is quite fond of the Walther. He has access to his own room key (which he still struggles to use properly), a tray of apples on every floor by the staircase, a kids' playroom complete with a ping pong table and Lego set, and a swimming pool and whirlpool. Owen has been over every inch of the hotel property, and he is making himself at home. (Keri and I were walking with him up the stairs yesterday when he picked up an apple that already had a bite taken from it. He took another bite. Following the horrified looks from his parents, he explained that is was all good -- that he had been the one who had taken the bite and placed it back sometime earlier. Well, in that case, Owen, have at it . . .)

A second great dinner last night followed by another good night sleep in this cool mountain air. Today's hike took us to St. Moritz. My mom and Aunt Diane stayed back, and Uncle John, Kath and Dan took a more difficult route to the same destination. The rest of us took a fairly flat route that cuts across the woods that sit between the two cities. I think the walk is a little more than three miles in one direction. Owen did better today, and Lauren worse, but both were pretty good. (Pictured above are my dad, Lauren and Owen at the halfway point on our St. Moritz hike.)

We ate lunch at Hanselmann's, a place we used to go with my grandparents for some delicious cakes. I think there are now a couple different Hanselmann's locations in St. Moritz, as this one did not look all that familiar. It was still quite good, though, as the adults had either sandwiches or (what I am told was an) outstanding, thick vegetable soup. Owen had spaghetti marinara and french fries. Lauren opted for a piece of chocolate cake. Parents of the year, we know. This girl of ours really does love her chocolate though, and to deprive her of it in Switzerland just seems wrong. After lunch, Lauren and Owen decided they would accompany my father back to Ponrtesina on a bus while Keri, Jennifer and I walked back.

As we walked along the St. Moritz See, Keri and I observed that we were together and without our children for the first time in six weeks. It is amazing we have gone this long. I would have thought that at least one of the four of us would have opted out of the family by now. Truly, though, Lauren and Owen have been wonderful -- better than we expected of them. Not that we are not happy to have a little child-free time. As far as we are concerned, they can spend the next ten days making new memories with the other members of our family. We will not complain.


  1. Great post. I want to be an Eckstein. Are you taking applications? I might not be very smart like the rest of your clan, but what I lack in intelligence I make up for with sarcasm.

  2. Great post Tim. I can just picture Owen taking a bite of the apple and putting it back! I must say, I agree with Eric totally!! I don't have the smarts either but I have a halfway decent sense of humor and would be a great hiker!

  3. Tim, I've enjoyed following your European adventures. The references to Chief and Liese especially made me smile (I have long wanted to be an Eckstein on one of these trips to Switzerland, and as I write this, I find it a bit amusing that the Rosenbaum kids enjoyed referring to your grandfather as Chief as well :-)). Having known the 8 and 10 year old version of Tim, I think it is great that Liese invented a game to talk smack to you -- I wish she had taught it to me, esp for the trip to Vail with Samchael Jorkins and your alias whose name seems to be escaping me! Your grandparents were so wonderful and I'm very lucky to have known them. Say hi to your parents and Enjoy the rest of your trip! - Lainie

  4. Thanks, Lainie. I think just about everyone referred to my grandfather as the Chief. I guess it was a fitting nickname. I believe Samchael Jorkins's partner in crime may have been Melsam Turpie.