It was past 9 p.m. when we reached Langwies. Sarah, our host at the B&B, had asked us to come in late, so we spent a couple of hours at Chur, a small city not far from Langwies. It was the Monday after Easter Sunday, and the streets in Chur wore an empty look. At the railway station, the lady at the tourist information desk handed me a city map and suggested a walk through the altstadt.
The altstadts in Western Europe all have a similar appearance on the surface: cobblestone streets, facades of old buildings with ornate windows and fancy doorknobs, small winding alleys, squares and courtyards. There is variation, and details differ from one country to next, but the essence is easy to capture, retain, and recall. Chur was like other German altstadts, but our experience was coloured by the near absence of life on the streets. Stripped of its people, the streets with old buildings took on their medieval character, and the few modern elements visible, like bicycles, posters, or shop windows, sat incongruously in this setting. With a bit of imagination you could transport yourself into the Chur of fifteenth century. Time travel is not as hard as we think it is.
We strolled about leisurely, keeping an eye for an open cafe, but as it grew dark we decided to finish dinner before driving further. Wife chose a fondue restaurant, where a Turkish woman with a Swiss-German accent took our order. Two couples nearby – the only other people in the restaurant – spoke with American accents, which confirmed my notion that the Swiss do not visit fondue restaurants.
The drive from Chur to Langwies took us into the mountains. In the dark we saw only outlines of mountains and patches of white which we took to be snow. At Langwies, a cluster of cottages spread over a hillside, we followed Sarah’s directions (there were no street names, so the navigation system did not help), and after a stretch along a two-way road that was less than two meters wide, we saw the sign to our Bread & Breakfast. A muddy path led us next to a barn, and then there was only a shed. Where was our cottage? And a space to park the car?
On the phone Sarah asked us to park right there, next to a tractor outside the shed, and walk up the path to the cottage above. (“I can already see you!” she said, with excitement.) A strange smell entered the car as I opened its door: a mixture of mountain air and fresh cow dung. Then there were a few jingles: cow bells ringing in the barn nearby.
Sarah was at the cottage door, waiting for us. A small, energetic woman in her late thirties, with a bright smile and glowing eyes. Her accent was British (their B&B website had a mention of the anglo-swiss family background), and she spoke fast, both asking a question and beginning to answer it herself. She showed us our bedroom and a common room which we had to ourselves.
Tired after the long drive, we turned in early. I dreamt of swiss cows grazing on lush green mountainsides, their bells tinkling in rhythm with swaying heads.