The stereotypical tourist, a retiree who gingerly steps off a tour bus, is chaperoned through an art museum or two, allowed to briefly view a natural wonder, then whisked back to his hotel to await his prescribed meal at the hotel restaurant – that person is someone I never hope to be. Tour groups remind me of kindergartners crossing the street en-masse, holding hands and led by their teacher. What’s next – wheelchairs, nursing care, diapers? It all runs counter to my sense of pride.

Mary and I have freelanced just about everything we’ve done since arriving in Europe and, as you can probably guess, we’re proud of it. Nevertheless, we inched a wee bit closer to stereotypicallity yesterday when we let our guard down far enough to join Stefan of Reiseburo-Stefan for a ride on his sleek, zebra-striped, Mercedes bus through Switzerland.

We didn’t really know where to begin in Switzerland, which is only about fifty miles to the south of us. Rather than drive around aimlessly looking for the good stuff, we decided to let Stefan do the hard work.

Stefan arrived at the bus stop along the highway near our apartment at 6:55 prompt on a cold, foggy morning. He drove a small van. One “elderly gentleman” was riding shotgun. Stefan’s a big guy. He seemed a little gruff to me at first meeting. He asked for our tickets and seemed impatient for us to get in the van.

I told him I had expected a large tour bus and he assured me that we would soon be transferred to one when we got to Oberstaufen.

P1020943.JPGStefan and his “Baby”

Sure enough, his gleaming, new bus awaited us in Oberstaufen.

“She is my baby” he announced.

After several more stops, we totaled seventeen paying customers – less than half of what Baby could carry. Across the aisle from us was an American couple from Philadelphia – the rest Germans.

Being the first ones aboard, Mary and I chose the front seats with forward view out Baby’s broad windshield.

P1020937.JPGOur View

Stefan had encyclopedic knowledge of town populations, mountain heights, lake depths and historical facts of the landscape we passed through which he mono-tonally shared with us passengers through his microphone. It would have been a bit too geeky even for a geek like me if I hadn’t caught on to the driest of wit he interspersed between statistics.

I asked him if he didn’t worry about damaging his new bus on the winding, narrow roads in Switzerland:

“I close my eyes when the road is too narrow” was his reply.

Mary asked if he would be picking us up after our ride through the Alps on a cog train. His reply:

“If I’m still alive.”

Freed from the need to know where we were going (we didn’t know where we were going and until we get a good map of Switzerland, we won’t know where we went) we sat back and watched the scenery go by. Through Baby’s broad windows we saw an endless parade of glacial hanging valleys, castle ruins, mountain meadows, mountain glaciers, and craggy peaks. We stopped for lunch at an Italian restaurant where Italian waitresses served us overpriced pizza ($30), rode a cog train through the Gothard Pass, and re-joined Stefan and Baby for the ride back to Oberstaufen. We made a brief stop for supper at HeidiLand which was a sort of Swiss Howard Johnson. I don’t think anyone bought supper there. At the Burger King (yes, Burger King) the Whopper was 14.90 Swiss Francs ($17).

My overall impression: Switzerland was nice but had nothing on Bavaria. Certainly not architecturally. The Swiss seem to favor sterile stucco while the Bavaians, well…….we all know their taste.

P1020935.JPGSwiss Village in a Hanging Valley

P1020944-0.JPGMary Eating a $30 Pizza