St Bernards, A Whole Lotta Love

I love dogs, but I especially love big dogs.   The St. Bernard (also known as St. Barnhardshund, Alpine Mastiff and Bernhardiner) is one of the world’s largest.    They range from 25.5-27.5 inches ( 61-70 cm) and weigh 110-200 pounds (50-91 kg).   The are most likely a cross between Tibetan Mastiffs with Great DanesGreater Swiss Mountain Dog and Great Pyrenees. Initially, they had short hair; long hair coats collect icicles.

Augustinian Monks living in the treacherous St. Bernard Pass (the western route through the alps between Italy and Switzerland) bread the dogs.  8,000 feet above sea level, the pass is 49-miles long and is notorious for its changeable weather and high winds.

The St. Bernard pass was well travelled before St. Bernard de Menthon founded the famous hospice in the Swiss Alps as a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous passes between Switzerland and Italy around 1050.  There are even remains of a Roman road there.  If you were a pilgrim headed to Rome, this is a likely route you would have taken.  You wouldn’t have been the only one.  Napoleon famously used the pass to cross the alps to invade Italy in 1800.

Image from Stories About Animals on http://www.zookingdoms.com

In the 17th century, St. Bernards were used to rescue people from avalanches and other dangers in snowy alpine passes.    Saint Bernards have many features that make them well adapted to this task.   They can smell a person under many feet of snow.  They can hear low-frequency sounds humans cannot, possibly alerting people to avalanches.   Their broad chests helped clear paths through the snow.  Their large paws helped spread out the weight and worked like snowshoes to keep them on top of the snow.  Their large paws helped them dig through the snow.  Upon finding someone, they lie on top them to provide warmth.

The most famous rescuer was Barry (1800-1812).  He is credited with saving the lives of more than 40 people.  Today, Foundation Barry (named after the famous pooch) works to educate people about and preserve the breed.  They also do alpine hikes with the pups!  Both Foundation Barry and the St. Bernard Museum are located in in Martingy, a village down the mountain from the pass.  Both have the adorable pups on site.

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The Mesmerizing Matterhorn

Last weekend, we went to Zermatt and saw the Matterhorn!  It was insanely beautiful, even mesmerizing.  I am a child of the eighties and so I use the word “awesome”.  More accurately, I misuse it.  When you see something as awe-inspiring as the Matterhorn, you vow to use the word properly in the future so that words to describe such beautiful, moving things will have power and meaning.

We took the train up to Gornergrat (elevation 3130 meters/10,269 feet).  It has a nice view of the Matterhorn and of the glacier.
 
 
From Gornergrat, we hiked down to Zermat (elevation 1620 meters/5,250 feet).*  It was wonderful to see the Matterhorn over time and from so many different angles.  We also liked seeing the change in vegetation on the way down.  The weather cooperated.  I don’t think there was a cloud in the sky.  This late in the season meant that any snow that was going to melt had already melted.  As a result, we could really see the geology of Switzerland’s mountains.
 
When I say I was mesmerized by it, I mean it.  I took at least 300 photos of it.  He made fun of me (deservedly so), but I couldn’t help myself. 
 
Zermatt is in the valley below.  I swear it looks closer than it felt going down.  You can see the change in vegetation as we descended.  The tree line slowed down my rabid picture taking.

*The next day our quads were sore.  I may lose a toenail (or two).  Oh well, it was so worth it.

We Fit Almost Every Swiss Cliche Into One Day

My mom has been visiting.  We wanted her to see as much Swissness as possible during her visit so we took her to Brig to see the Cow Festival.*  It was perfect.  I’m sure that if we brainstormed, we could fit a few more Swiss clichés into the day, but they hit all the big ones.

It was interesting to watch them try to move something so big that did not want to move.

We arrived in Brig a bit early and got to see the cows arriving.  They may walk down from alpine pastures, but they take trailers to the parade.  The cows are a special kind of Swiss cow that is raised almost exclusively in the Valais region, Herens.  These cows are known for being particularly aggressive.  In the spring, this area has cow fighting contests.  Here’s a YouTube clip for inquiring minds.

Do I look like I want to wear a flower hat?
I’m in love.  Again.  We had a connection.
My favorite part of the parade
Traditional costumes

This is the capital of raclette.  When in Rome…

What’s a parade without someone handing out samples of local wine? 
They also baptise the crowd with wine. Yes, they really do. Check out the guy in the plaid shirt’s face.
Alphorns!  They sounded great echoing through the valley.
They handed out the apples decorating this float to the crowd.  They did not hand out the cauliflower.
I’m not sure if this is traditionally Swiss.
Carved woods signs announcing the top cows = uber Swiss
Note the ribbons.  That cow is all done up for a night on the town.

Mountain Reine National translates to National Mountain Queen.  She is the prize cow so to speak.  Do you think she won the smack down? 

Sometimes, the cows got really excited about hitting the grass at the end of the parade.
They were lined up according to number and set about eating (and, ahem,  answering nature’s call).
Another cute parade participant
Sorry I didn’t get any decent pictures of the goats.  They were unruly to say the least.
Other parade participants. It said “Heidi” across the back of the cart!
*In the end of September and beginning of October, Switzerland has festivals all over the country to celebrate cow’s descent from alpine pastures.  This was one such affair.