Absolute Travel’s Katie Losey heads to the heart of Switzerland for the Adventure Travel World Summit and gets in touch with her Swiss roots over cows, cheese, and the sweet smell of manure.
My grandfather’s Border Collie, Birdie, would emphatically nudge him each morning to bring the cows in from pasture; it was milking time! Similar setup to how my alarm works, actually, with one big exception: Birdie woke him at 3:30am—long before the sun would light the sky—seven days a week. My dog, George, knows he stays put until 7:30am, before launching all fours to wake me.
Grandaddy was Williamsburg’s last dairy farmer. I think he owned one outfit: overalls and a toothpick. He would breathe in the smell of manure as though it was a field of wildflowers. He was a character and lived his work, happily, until the day he passed: calling his cows by name, plowing the fields, shoveling feed, filling the silos, tending the calf pin, and always nodding off in his oversized chair (toothpick still in his mouth), long before dinner was on the table. He was a dairy farmer nearly every day of his life, but he left his herd a handful of times. Once on an oversees journey with my mom and dad to visit his roots in Wengen, Switzerland. His cows and his heritage defined him.
Well, this year’s Adventure Travel World Summit was in Switzerland! I was thrilled to get a glimpse of my roots. Then when reviewing the Adventure Travel Trade Association‘s Day of Adventure options around Lucerne, it was a no-brainer when I glimpsed #23: Make Your Own Cheese on Mount Rigi, complete with Brown Swiss cows and Alpine Pigs! Kayaking, mountaineering, bungee jumping and hiking Switzerland’s most glorious peaks didn’t stand a chance. Cheese, please.
A historic puddle jumper across Lake Lucerne, an alpine train and some good old walking led us to the pristine beauty Mt. Rigi is known for. My new cheese monger buddies and I witnessed quintessential Switzerland: a woman who looked like a real-life Gretal, all grown up, tending to her towheads; a mountain man whose beard clung to yesterday’s snack, face bright red from chopping wood; and a clear glacial stream rolling turquoise and frothy—everything framed with the dramatic Swiss alps.
And then I heard the cow bells clanging. As I turned the bend I saw my Swiss Brown cows—plump, happy, and faces as sweet as they come. I interrupted chubby #5’s grazing for a photo with her. I continued to the chalet clinging to the slope and I could picture Grandaddy striking up a conversation with the bearded farmer, grabbing Birdie, and working the hillsides.
I inhaled the scent of manure and pure Swiss air, just like Grandaddy would have done. Then I got my hands elbow-deep in making cheese…just like many Swiss wives after their Swiss farmers had been out all day with their cows, now sleeping soundly, toothpicks in mouths, waiting for Birdie to come and nudge them awake.