THE EUROPEAN TRIP 2020 (or how to survive a pandemic in a foreign country without really trying)
On March 6, 2020, 29 brave members of the Chattanooga Ski Club caught a big bird and set off to find a pot of gold, the Ark of the Covenant, or just a good time in St. Moritz, Switzerland and Scotland. But as it is with many spiritual campaigns, such as the Crusades to the Holy Land, sometime obstacles get in the way.
The coronavirus, or what everyone on the trip referred to as a ”simple ingrown toenail type of situation,” was on everyone’s thoughts. Our side trips to Italy were canceled but everyone felt comfortable staying in Switzerland and started to slide in their own “easy chair happy person mode,” to enjoy the sights, food and skiing in St. Moritz.
For skiers, St. Moritz is a no-mogul area. It is just a lay the skis down the mountain and let them run like greyhound puppies. Several hard cores skied five days and loved it.
While some skied, everyone else took a horse-drawn sleigh ride around the town, and they went to the castle of Not Vidal (Yes, it is Not Vidal, not Gore Vidal). He is an artist of some note, but I encourage everyone to look at his portfolio online and speak to anyone who went on the excursion. He was a friend to Andy Warhol and his paintings and photographs in his castle cannot be explained in this little letter (ask about the Asian guy they cut with a knife head to knee at a cocktail party done as “Performance Art”). Of any regret I have of this trip, not going to the Not Vidal castle was a boo-boo on my part. I will always go on castle trips again even though I have been to many others in the past.
The cities of Chur and Lucerne were side trips that everyone seemed to enjoy and Lucerne was just as lovely as it was years ago on a trip with John Rollins.
Everybody was having a great time until about 2:45 am Thursday morning when our government closed the U.S. borders for travel from Europe.
The closing of the borders was not the problem. The part about American citizens being able to get back in the country was left out of the President's speech, but was prominent on the Homeland Security website. This brought some comfort, but whether we needed to go home, continue with the trip, or if we would be able to go home or stay in Switzerland for an extra 30 days was just unknown by everyone including Alpine Adventures. Interesting time.
The telephone call and bustle at these early morning hours in our room was intoxicating and you could cut the uncertainty in the room with a knife.
Another group from Boston traveling with Alpine Adventures were in Davos. At 3:00 a.m. several from the group packed their bags, rented a car, drove straight to Zurich, and paid a pretty penny to catch the first plane back to the U.S.
Panic is a dangerous drug!
Most everyone with the club on Thursday was ready to go back home without touring Scotland. We were in the process of obtaining tickets reissued to go back early on Saturday, and then the most amazing thing happened: we got a tour of Edinburgh.
A clean, beautiful, and historic city is Edinburgh and before we got off the bus from a short city tour, everyone wanted to stay as long as they could in Scotland. We did not go to Loch Ness, Inverness, or see the Highlands up close. But we saw Edinburgh, Perth, St. Andrews, and Glasgow and every place in between the central part of Scotland. It was amazing.
Our guide for our trip was Joe Harrower. He is a retired microbiologist raised in Edinburgh and was involved to a small degree with the Scottish cloning of the sheep “Dolly” several years ago by Edinburgh University. He also had taught, in the U.S. and Scotland, techniques used for gene splicing with Dolly and how it may relate to other areas of science.
Joe had an amazing personality, but, other than his charisma, he went out of his way to make us understand and see the simple beauty, the complex intricacies, and reasoning behind why Scots have such pride and love of their country.
To lose something you come to love is always harsh, but Alpine Adventures felt we had to come back three days early to make sure that we could get back home. I think that I can safely say that leaving Scotland was difficult for everyone. But when we had our going away dinner in a casino in Glasgow, we were the only ones in the restaurant. Coming back early was not from our being scared but from just the uncertainty of everything.
We came back to the states with no broken bones and no viruses (hopefully), but everyone felt a self-quarantine period was on their immediate future for friends and family’s sake.
KUDOS TO THE FOLLOWING:
- 1. Ina Gerlach - While putting up with several groups that were panic-stricken, Ina took care of everyone in the group whether they needed to go home early, stay a little longer, or just needed a flight changed by several hours. The year before last, Ina dragged me out from the bowels of St. Anton one night after I had busted my shoulder and she did it again this time with the entire group.
- 2. Alpine Adventures - Whether we were all going, all staying, some going, some staying, the company went out of their way to do what we wanted until it was time to come home. We were not the only group they had to deal with.
- 3. Don Drumm - When we were leaving, the gate representative from British Airways said he and Janie could not travel and enter the U.S. Don calmly told the rep very nicely that she needed to call her superiors because there was going to be a riot if our group could not get on the flight. The rep and her superiors listened to Don and we came back with no problems. Word to the wise, always listen to Don about anything.
- 4. ABBY TOURS - This was the group that toured us around Scotland. They did an excellent job.
I think it is safe to say this sounds like, and was, the basic, ”TRIP FROM HELL.”
However, I feel confident that this was a great trip for everyone because it had good skiing, good food, and we were all ski cub people just getting along enjoying each other. We saw some amazing sights.
I will never forget walking down the 18th green of St Andrews’ old golf course, hearing something beside me, and seeing it was a dog with a ball in its mouth rolling on the grass. Everybody walks the course grounds on Sunday due to the course being closed to golf, but open to the public for walking and playing with frisky dogs. Take that, Augusta.
As with the song “A Boy Named Sue,” in the end, he said he was going to name his son anything but Sue. It is my hope and wish that with any other ski trip the club takes in the future, the trip leader deals only with lost luggage, acute tummy aches, and just good old country whining about the weather.
It is my prayer that no other trip leader in the future will have to deal with anything close to or anything resembling a global- and panic-inducing-pandemic virus!!!