BACK FROM THE SALT MINES (Gabriela's Visit)

October 7, 2001

Fall has come to Lausanne. The trees are beginning to flame into the bright mix of colors -- gold, reddish-brown, burgundy and the remnants of green -- whose lack is one of the more poignant drawbacks of Texas living. The ice cream carts have been replaced by stands selling hot roasted chestnuts, and the daylight has begun to fade in the late afternoon.

In spite of these signs of oncoming winter, however, the weather has remained much more temperate than we of southern latitudes had dared to expect. Jackets are now common, but are often worn open over short sleeves, or even carried during the heat of the day. The grape harvesters must be very pleased -- September was much colder.

However many complimentary adjectives I may heap on this year's autumn weather, though, "reliable" is not among them. The first Sunday of Gabriela's visit dawned grey and damp, so we decided to scrap our plans for an alpine hike and go to the thermal baths at Lavey instead, with a side trip to the salt mine at Bex (pronounced "Bey") on the way home.

The baths turned out to be an indoor-outdoor pool complex, temperature- regulated by a natural hot spring. I'm told that the pools range from 28C (about 82 degrees) in the summer to 35C (95 degrees) in the winter, for comfortable swimming conditions year-round. There were several nooks with bubble massage jets, a round enclosure with a fast current (good swimmers only, please), and a fountain. For anyone who might find these attractions insufficient, there were also two indoor pavilions, one with scented steam baths and the other with saunas. We whiled away some three hours there, as the fog gradually burned away to reveal an impressive rocky cliff looming almost directly overhead.

"I feel as if I've been forcibly relaxed", I seem to remember saying as we left the place.

A longish taxi ride later, we arrived at the Bex salt mines, where we had a reservation for a 3:45 tour. I would love to give a vivid and arresting description of the experience, but... well, it was a salt mine. The 1-3/4 hour tour displayed a network of narrow tunnels and chambers, carved laboriously by hand out of solid rock over a period of decades. It is a tribute to Man's stubbornness, industry, and distaste for bland food, but it remains a large and utilitarian hole in the ground.

The trip in and out of the mine was remarkable, though. We were packed into the tiny cars (3' x 8' at a guess) of a miniscule mine train, which sped us through what felt like miles of tunnels so small that there were literally only inches of clearance to each side and above. It was a very interesting experience, and possibly worth the price of admission (Sf 17) by itself, but definitely not recommended for claustrophobics.

After the tour, we had our hike after all -- or at least a walk. The weather had finished clearing and turned a pleasant late-afternoon gold, so we decided to travel the 5km to the local train station on foot.

There are only so many lyrical descriptions of alpine glory that I can come up with in one eight-month period, so I'll summarize snapshot-style:

Rows of grapevines loaded with ripe grapes, both red and white. Distant peaks with and without a few wisps of snow. Ambiguous signposts especially provided for the confusion of hikers. A stone clock tower seen from above as we came down a steep slope into town.

Train station. Pizza. Home.

Copyright 2001 Lyn Pierce