Friday, 1 August 2014

Getting High on Alpine Benches

It's easy to get high on benches. Miggy, Mungo and I were in the Alps for a few weeks looking for benches, and also camping, swimming, climbing, and having a mountainous time. 

I left my husband, His Excellency, at home. He has a phobia about yodelling and is also quite nervous around alpine horns.

When we got back I contacted animal editors dot com and they sent Heinrich, who's from Slapbummel in Bavaria. And apparently he's a vegetarian so we fear the wurst.

But Heinrich is an amiable alpine man, who is well qualified to guide us through some glorious benches from the heart of the Alps. 

Welcome, Heinrich. Love the lederhosen. 

Heinrich: Guten tag. I am looking quite awesome in these lederhosen I think.

Indeed you are. Now I'd like to show some of the benches we found in Switzerland, where we started our search in the Poschiavo Valley.

Heinrich: There is an alpine region in New South Wales I believe. 

There is, but this blog is about the Alps in Europe. 

Heinrich: I am finding this very boring already. I live in Slapbummel so I am already knowing the Alps in Europe. 

Yes, but this blog isn't for you. It's for Benchsite readers who are interested in seeing lots of benches around the world.

Heinrich: There is an alpine region in Nova Scotia. 

Let's be clear then. This story is about the Alps in Europe. We're starting with Switzerland. The little red Bernina Express train spirals up and down and through the mountains most impressively.

Heinrich: I am riding the Bernina Express many times. It is four hours to travel seeing only mountains. There are 196 bridges, 55 tunnels and a height of 2,253 metres at the top of the Bernina Pass.  

My imaginary friend Miggy isn't interested in the Bernina Express either. To her, Switzerland means just one thing.

Heinrich: Ja, chocolate is a gut thing.

On our annual bench-seeking trips, in addition to finding benches, each of us, Miggy, Mungo and myself, has our own agenda. 

For example, my imaginary husband Mungo is a quiet person who likes to sit and observe what's going on. 

Heinrich: Mountains at St. Martin in Kafel looking at mountains in Martelltal. Not interesting to me but Herr Mungo looks like he's enjoying himself. 

Yes. He tends to sit in the sun and forget that these trips are all about looking for benches.

Remember, I told him, you need to find at least one good bench in each place. At least ONE.

Miggy, however, is more problematic. She has a habit of going off to look for ice cream or chocolate. Or men. 

Such looking for men is verboten in alpine regions. 

In Poschiavo she fell for this woodcutter.

Or as Miggy put it, What a hunk! 

And it's true: he had thighs like tree trunks. He hacked off one of his legs there and then and made her a log bench.

I guess he was trying to impress her.

We moved on to St. Moritz, where Miggy fell for this wine waiter.

Heinrich: This fellow has no physique for lederhosen. 

In his spare time he's apparently a great yodeler though.

We didn't know what to make of Switzerland. 

The Swiss are interesting people but sometimes wooden in character.

I knew a Swiss family once. Name of Robinson. Used to live in a treehouse at Disneyland.

There was nothing wooden about them.

Even the tree.

It was concrete. 

Anyway, the wine waiter gave Miggy this fine wine bench.

We were confused by all the languages in Switzerland. Heinrich explained about French, German and Italian-speaking parts of the tiny country. When she was given the wine bench, Miggy didn't know whether to say danke schongrazie or merci.

I wanted to take the wine bench home as a souvenir for His Excellency.

Unfortunately, Heinrich got there first.

In the Alps we are having a culture of celebration with a drink.

I would like to have a drink with my friend Heidi, who lives somewhere in the mountains. I haven't seen her since we were kids.

I hope Heidi hasn't got stuck with some yodeler and a couple of goats kids. 

Heinrich: She has done well for herself. She is out standing in her field.

Meanwhile, I thought St. Moritz was supposed to be an ultra-sophisticated place for jetsetters. 

Call me critical of fake brick, but I don't find the St. Moritz Hotel too impressive.

Miggy, on the other hand, was so taken with St. Moritz and/or the wine waiter that she started looking to buy a house down by the lake. 

This one had pretty lupins but it was too pricey.

"I wouldn't be able to afford any furniture," Miggy said. 

"Not even benches," said Heinrich. 

This house was cute but rather small.

And this one was pristine clean with a bench outside and the obligatory geranium boxes.

"Too boring," Miggy said. "Too Swiss clichéd."

So back to camping. 

Mungo said the trouble with camping is that it's intense. 

And the weather in Switzerland was not great for camping. It was six degrees. The clouds clung to the mountains all day and it poured with rain. 

Our little tent was barely up to it.

We were going to get a hotel but we noticed that the upstairs bedroom is outside. Also that the bed has collapsed. 

"I can't make sense of Switzerland," Mungo said. "Or Swiss people either. I don't know how they can tolerate this climate."

These Swiss folk are hardy. But a little shy.

We met a fellow having a picnic by himself in the mountains; he didn't say a word.

Heinrich: He is maybe from another alpine region.

Heinrich explains that in his part of the Alps people are more outgoing. In Slapbummel they have a good sociable Oktoberfest and lots of dancing where they smack each other in the leiderhosen. 

"Anyway, we're not here for anthropology," I reminded Miggy and Mungo. "We need to find some benches."

The three of us held a round table discussion about what to do.

Eventually we decided to go deep into the forest and keep a look out. 

There was plenty of wildlife.

The ants were enormous.

"Everything is made of wood," Mungo noticed. 

Even the bulls. 

Even the gorillas.

But then he happened upon this marble Swiss woman. 

"The nudism is verboten in Switzerland," said Heinrich. 

Mungo didn't care. In his view, the trip was shaping up. 

Miggy wasn't happy though.

"It's just cuckoo spending our holiday looking for benches. We're wasting our time."

Miggy and Mungo sneaked back into town to look for more houses. Mungo didn't think much of this one.

"The words box and room come to mind."

This one had a nice bench in the living room but its walls were worryingly open plan.


"It would be no good with the snow blowing in," Miggy said to the wine waiter. He accused her of being too soft and said she would need to toughen up if she wanted to be a mountain woman.

Meanwhile, I was toughening myself up by trying to swim in the icy waters of the river En. 

Swimming is verboten here.

Indeed. The last person who tried this ended up chained to a rock beneath the covered bridge.  

You can just about see him, still clinging on.

I was so cold by the time we got back to camp that I didn't know whether I'd be able to bounce back.

"It's time to leave Switzerland," Mungo suggested. 

At the tiny town of Martina we took an extraordinarily twisty mountain pass which delivered us, seven kilometres later, into Austria. 

Heinrich: An Austrian's home is his schloss.

Migs immediately found two lovely houses and stood there with her handbag wondering which one to buy.

This one's very fine, she thought. 

And this one would do nicely too, but unfortunately it was already in use as the toilet block for our campground.

The first thing I did was to find a warm lake to swim in. 

I had just taken the plunge when a policeman and his dog came along and ordered me out of the lake. 

Dummkopf! Swimming is verboten in this lake. Didn't you see the sign?

Well, yes, Heinrich. But I don't understand German.
It was unfortunate that someone had written another sign, in English, just behind me.

What with the Swiss policeman on my case, I knew I was in a jam.

Luckily, Miggy came to my rescue. 

"I think I know you," she said to the policeman."Didn't you used to work in Euro Cave in Geneva?"

Indeed he did. But then he is becoming a police officer and putting on a little weight.

Heinrich and the policeman had a conversation in German in which the words Swiss and Army were mentioned.

I feared the knife might include a pair of handcuffs but as it happened, the policeman just wanted to give Miggy a little package. He invited her back to his police box . . . 

my photo, Devizes, Wiltshire

. . . but then there was an unpleasant uproar coming from the mountain.

An alpine horn lesson. 

It's cheaper if you do it in a group.

While the policeman was distracted by the sound of Edelweiss, we hit the road.  

Just before the Reschenpass, we slipped over the border into Italy where Miggy was much impressed by the stylish and very fit cyclists whizzing past us.

The sun was shining in South Tirol so we dried out our soggy tent in the park.

This activity is verboten in all nations of the EU.

We noticed that the Swiss policeman was still after us. His chase car was a dead giveaway.

Mungo remembered that Swiss mountain dogs can find anyone, even in huge drifts of snow. 

"What if they send the dogs in after us?"

Having decided that a disguise was needed, Miggy put on traditional dress. 

It suited her pretty well.

In the Vinschgau Valley we decided to ditch our car by the side of the road and make a run for it.

At Latsch we caught a cable car high into the Sonnenberg mountains.

St. Martin's church clung precariously to the side of the mountain. We considered taking sanctuary there but it was too scary.

The valley was wide and the hills were steep.

"That policeman will never find us here," I said.  

But what is coming up must be going down. 

And true enough, we realised we had to get ourselves off the mountain before nightfall. 

Mungo started wandering, his knapsack on his back. 

Valerie, Valer-ah. Valer-ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha . . .

Please don't sing, Heinrich. It reminds me of yodelling. 

We walked for hours and the path got steeper and rockier. In places it was dangerous.

Ja, many persons are meeting their doom here. 

At a crossroads, Miggy got out the parcel the policeman had given her.

Energised by the emergency chocolate, we walked as fast as we could, aware that the weather in the mountains can change suddenly.

We crossed bridges and forded streams before they turned to ice.

We rested only briefly at the stations of the cross.

At last we could see a glimpse of civilisation between the trees.

An Italian's home is his schloss.

We're in Italy now. Why don't you use the Italian word for castle? 

In South Tyrol we are speaking mainly German

So that explains the Laas swimming pool in South Tyrol, where the lifeguard's bench sign is in both German and Italian.

"That bademeister is a bit of alright," said Miggy.

"A relationship with the bademeister is verboten," said Heinrich.

Miggy was thinking maybe the bagnino was Italian though.

That relationship is verboten also. 

Finally, at dusk we descended into Latsch where, in the town square, a couple of people were chatting behind the benches. 

One of them was the Swiss policeman. He was asking if anyone had seen Miggy. 

He wanted to give her this.

Miggy had one more house she wanted to see. The estate agent's description called it An Alpine Fantasy. And so it was.

When we got there the door was opened by someone who looked strangely familiar. 

"Do I know you?" I asked.

Yes, it was Heidi. 

Her goat herd had expanded to the point where she needed another mountain so she was selling her house and moving on to a bigger valley, greener pastures, a higher Alp. 

She told me all about chocolate-making and showed me the shop where her chocolates were sold. Thirty-one flavours eat your heart out!

After several bars of chocolate, she told me everything the Robinson boys had been up to since I last saw them at Disneyland. Old man Robinson had passed on, and his wife Elizabeth too. The older boys Fritz and Ernest had moved on to an alpine region in Slovenia. But Jack was living just down the road in a little log cabin.

And young Franz was right next door. 

He looked very fine in his lederhosen so Miggy sat on Heidi's bench and admired the view.


Heinrich, my guest editor for this post, is from Slapbummel in Bavaria, which has a lively tradition of dancing and appears in my Alphabet of Dance Benches.  I met Heinrich through animal editors dot com. I have used animal editors before, not without problems. Meredith the cat helped me with the St. Helier post, and also World Cat's Day. It didn't go well. Worst of all is Eddie, my Inner Editor, who just happens to be a primate. Dragons, oranges, red and blue benches  - Eddie has ruined helped with so many of my posts. Much better to stick with amiable Heinrich, or Ursula, our Unicorn in Residence. I'm not sure if she counts as an animal though. 

As Heinrich so helpfully points out, the word alpine is difficult to define. The simplest definition refers to a location above the tree line, at high altitude. Immediately I think of the Alps, but there are Alpines in Canada, in Australia, and in fourteen US states. There are also alpine cars, and alpine meusli and a host of other things deemed alpine. 

Martin Fisch from Wiesbaden travels a lot and his photos of the Poschiavo Valley were better than anything I managed to take when we were there. He has photos from many places and his animal photos are brilliant too; I spent quite a long time looking at Frankfurt Zoo.

The 2007 photo of the two alpine horn players at the start of the story is from Liz Dawson at Geograph at

The group of alpine horn players later in the story was uploaded by Paebi to VAls 06     

We stayed at Camping Boomerang in the Rhaetian Alps, which is part of the magnificent Poschiavo Valley in the Graubünden area of Switzerland. It was the night of the Switzerland Argentina world cup game and we were welcomed by the family Priuli-Bondolfi, who gave us strawberries and crisps while we watched the game. Sadly, Switzerland lost but we had a lovely evening and the next morning we drove over the Bernina Pass.

The Bernina Express was photographed by Hans-Rudolph Stoll , who lives in Zurich and is interested in trains and tramways. The Bernina Express is a World Heritage Site, connecting the towns of Chur (or Davos) in Switzerland with Poschiavo and Tirano in Italy. The metre gauge of the line is 1,000 mm or 3 feet, 3/8 inch and it's a four hour railway journey involving 196 bridges,  55 tunnels and a height of 2,253 metres at the top of the Bernina Pass. 

Santosh Puthran is a well-travelled technology enthusiast, gadget lover, Internet and photography addict, and fun loving person who speaks his mind on iWaant. He took the photo of the Swiss chocolate bar, shown in his photostream at

We visited St. Moritz on a very drizzly day. People were jogging around the lake wearing expensive clothes. I noticed a sign saying it takes 60 minutes to swim around the lake, however as the air temperature was only six degrees, I decided to photograph wine waiters instead. Also benches and houses and wine boxes and wooden men with their dog who looked like they might be Swiss policemen. The St. Moritz Hotel, however, is not in St. Moritz. Not even close. It's in Sandown, Isle of Wight. 

The empty wine bottles were photographed by Monika in 2005. Monika, aka nahlinse, is from  Hannover, Germany. Her photostream includes, among other topics, interesting albums of Switzerland, people, and things in a row.

The little wooden girl on a wooden bench is in Brienz, near Berne. She was photographed by stephengg in 2010. Stephen lives in the UK but he's also rather keen on photographing Vienna, Germany, Switzerland and his dog Yankee.

The Swiss Family Robinson is a novel about a shipwrecked family, first published in 1812. It was written by Johann Wyss, a Swiss pastor, who laces the adventure story with moral lessons for children. There are four sons: Franz, Jack, Ernest and Fritz, who help their father built a beautiful treehouse home on a tropical island. Walt Disney recreated this treehouse at Disneyland in California, which I saw for the first time when I was eleven. While there were many wonders at Disneyland, I was spellbound by the treehouse, especially the fact that its massive trunk was made of concrete and the leaves were made of plastic. 

The Vintage Read in Greenville, South Carolina sells vintage childrens books, vintage cookbooks, Little Golden Books, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, vintage prints, vintage sci-fi, vintage readers, classics and more. I was raised on Little Golden Books, including Joanna Spryii's Heidi, which was my introduction to the Alps. By the time The Sound of Music came along, I was well prepared. It's a great pleasure to see so many Little Golden Books available at

Merrill is bent on bringing more beauty and happiness into daily life, in a way that helps the planet. Ivy Lane Designers is her imaginative outlet (etsy shop and blog)  Merrill can up cycle almost anything into environmentally friendly toys, games, jewelry, and unique journals and mini jotters.  The Merry Yodeler is a vintage record album cover of Austrian folk music, which Merrill has made into an eco friendly journal notebook.And you know those old crayons that collect in schools every year? You'd be amazed at what she can do with them. 

In a remote part of Switzerland's Lower Engadine is a national park, founded in 1914, which is the oldest in the Alps. The visitors' center is at Zernez but we drove on to Scuol, where we crossed a very pretty covered bridge over the river En (or Inn, as in Innsbruck). It was only later that I saw a bronze man chained to a rock in the middle of the river under the bridge, a bird by his head. The icy turquoise water raged around him and I wondered how long he had been there. At Camp En Sur we found an amazing sculpture park spread across the mountain. We followed the tracks through the forest for hours, enjoying strange and wonderful creations amongst the trees. People, animals, airplanes, computers - everything was made of wood. But then we found some marble sculptures too, and some stone, and some bronze. Gorillas in the Alps? You can probably work out in the story which photos came from the sculpture park. 

Speaking of logs, there are some very nice log benches here in Benchsite. Let Miggy show you her log benches. Just logs. And cake, of course.

The lonely panda at a mountain bench was photographed in Grindenwald in 2006. The photographer is Qabluna, who does not explain why he's there but anyway, it's nice to see an animal in Switzerland which is not made of wood.  Qabluna explains that she spent a summer working in the Canadian Arctic a few years ago, and 'qabluna' in the Inuktitut word for 'white person' or 'outsider,' and since her usual nickname (Kanuck) was already taken on flickr/yahoo, this is what we get.

Speaking of cold, the people of Snowvenia are frozen. How do they endure it? See the good advice from Stanko and Darko at

Cuckoo clocks were made in the middle of the 18th century and their technology has not changed since. My grandfather had one which he wound up faithfully every night before he went to bed. These clocks were photographed by Churchil Angelio in Luzern in 2010  Churchil is from the Philippines but currently lives in Singapore. 

St Johann in Tirol is one of the many beautiful ski towns we visited in summer. I'd love to see them in winter too, but our little tent wouldn't cope. In St Johann in Tirol we stayed at a camp which had a rather splendid Heidi-house toilet block. From there we took a cable car into the Kitzbuhel mountains and walked down, stopping first in glorious wildflower meadows. 

Kecko is from Rorschacherberg, currently living in Switzerland at Rheintal, the border valley between Switzerland and Austria. He took the photo of the Swiss Army chocolate at Furkels in St. Gallen in 2011. Apparently Swiss Army Food is now available in the canteen of the privately operated former military fortress Furggels, above in Pfäfers, St. Margrethenberg, Switzerland. And you thought Swiss Army only made knives.

Should you ever have the notion to visit three countries within one hour, try Martina in Switzerland and then take the seven kilometre shortcut which straddles the border with Austria. The road is technically called the 187b, which drops you across the mountain into Nauders in Austria. 'Road' is rather stretching the point though; it is mainly a ribbon of twists and turns. From Nauders it's just a matter of minutes through the lovely valley to the Italian border. 

The Reschenpass is in Italy, just over the border from Austria near the lovely town of Nauders. The Reschen See is a beautiful gleaming lake and up ahead, as you move south, are magnificent snowy peaks. At the foot of the pass in the Vinschgau/Venosta Valley is a whole alpiney German-speaking world, though this is Italy.

The Swiss policeman's Bench dot car was photographed in Salzburg in 2009 by Caleb Maclellan. Caleb's photostream is at  Caleb is an extremely well travelled freelance programmer who lives in Colorado. His photostream includes glorious photos of the Alps in Germany and Switzerland.

The Swiss mountain puppies appeared on Benchsite in a previous post about big and small and cute and tiny. How do you get ten puppies to stay on a bench so you can get their photograph? Gini managed it when Arlette and Hoss had their litter of ten Greater Swiss Mountain puppies in 2000. They're not Swiss;  they're from Brushcreek Farm in Philipsburg, Missouri. Gini's photostream is at  For more delightful dog benches see

The woman on a bench in traditional Swiss dress is an unused antique postcard from Starpower99 at Etsy Her name appears to be Roserl. The shop is run by Ben, Michel and Tony Starpower in New York, selling photographs, coins, beads, jewelry, buttons and vintage textile clothing. There's a lot of interesting Swiss stuff, and a lot of Swiss people on benches in some very splendid vintage photographs. Miggy would like to make it clear that Roserl is a little older than Miggy is, or perhaps it's just the costume that makes her seem so.

At Latsch in Italy we took a cable car up to St Martin, at 1736 metres. From there we were told it was a two and a half hour walk back down the mountain but two and a half hours later we were only part way down and the paved road had turned to a narrow, steep path which left us clambouring over rocks on precipitous ledges. It was four hours before we limped into Latsch and caught the train back to the swimming pool at Laas, where the lifeguard's bench was curiously empty. For the importance of swimming benches see  

The Swiss Army knife shown is a Victorinox,  photographed by James Case in 2010.  Swiss Army knives were founded in a cutler's workshop in 1884 by Swiss pioneer Karl Elsener. The original Swiss Army Knife is now legendary and comes for different purposes: pocket, household and professional. The Victorinox knife shown is a small 'Officer's Knife' which is highly recommended for picnics. Lord Brassica, Fifth Earl of Drizzly, is an authority on picnic benches. I wonder if he packs a Swiss Army knife in his Harrod's Hamper? 

The icy bench on the wintry lake front was in Nyon, in the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland, photographed by Yves Merckx in 2012. I am fascinated by ice benches and there are others already in Benchsite. Yves's albums include fetes and festivals around Europe, nature, panoramas, and beautiful wintry scenes.

The Heidi chocolate bars were photographed by «R☼Wεnα», who lives in Lecco in Italy. I have not personally come across these Heidi bars but I certainly like the look of them.  Rowena writes a lovely blog. I've copied her delicious vegetarian lasagna with courgettes, peas and mint. If you're into pasta there are plenty of tasty Italian benches, including The Mozzarella Bench, at

The chocolate shop which is chocka with chocolate bars is in Gstaad in Switzerland. It was photographed in 2011 by Oleg Sidorenko, aka oksidor, who is a publisher from Moscow.   His albums are full of Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Italy, Croatia, Las Vegas . . . Oksidor gets around. 

In 2015 we were desperately seeking benches in East Germany, Poland, the Baltic and the Netherlands. Traffic, crowds, blazing rows - I don't always get a good service from Miggy and Mungo on these trips. In 2013 for example, our trip to Greece was a bench mission impossible. Our bench-search in 2014 included Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. It wasn't all Alps. We also managed to find some tasty Italian benches, though ice cream was just as much of a priority. 

Here on Benchsite there are many fabulous European benches and much diversity. Twenty-eight EU countries, twenty-eight benches: how hard can it be? There's a whole alphabet of Dutch benches, and if you want to go beyond Europe, have a look at the fiesta of Mexican benches or the lovely benches of Las Vegas or Japan.

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