In May 2009, I was leading a group of 51 people (20 students and 31 adults) on EF College Study Tours’ “France, Germany and the Alps” tour.
We had landed in Paris three days before, and were now off to Switzerland. Everyone was still giddy from all the excitement we’d found in the “City of Lights” as we took in the incredible scenery that whizzed by us—first the
beautiful countryside of France and then the amazing Swiss Alps. The trip from major city to the beautiful mountains provided a stark contrast, but that is part of what makes traveling in Europe so special. Our Swiss hotel, near Lucerne, was a quaint, family-run inn straight out of a storybook. It was nestled in a tiny village miles up in the Alps, only feet from the main road; we were all expecting to see Heidi running down the mountain at any moment. Since our group was so large, we had booked every room in the inn, which only strengthened the feeling that we were becoming one big family. The Hotel Alpenhof Post, as it was called, would be our home for the next two days.
Around 11 p.m. that first night, when most in the group were exhausted and
drifted off to their rooms, a few students and adults gathered around the piano in the lobby. We all are from the southwestern corner of Virginia and with our heritage, it wasn’t long before the singing began. Our Tour Director, Jürgen Sahl—the good German, as we called him—was taken by the talented group of singers and loved our Southern accents; soon he had joined us, and “The Sound of Music”—Virginia style—filled the air. It was a special evening. Around midnight I strongly suggested that our 6 a.m. wake-up call and a full day in Lucerne might require that we try to get a few hours of sleep. Everyone agreed and we retired to our rooms, exhausted yet euphoric.
Being responsible for the group, I usually wake an hour or so before the wake-up call. But after the last few long days, I slept like a rock that night. In what
seemed like a dream, I finally awoke to the sound of a distant bell, and looked at the clock to find it was only 5:40 a.m. I had never heard of church bells ringing at this time, and I determined that it wasn’t a phone. But what was it? Soon, there were more bells, and they seemed to be getting closer. By now my wife Carolyn was awake and was as confused as I was. We quickly jumped up, walked out on our balcony, and there they were a family of six, herding cattle right past our window! About fifty head of cattle, each with a huge, decorative bell, were in the middle of the road, being lead to greener pastures for summer. Amazed, I turned to find our entire group at their windows, in pajamas and armed with cameras, savoring the moment as we were. It was an unexpected treat to say the least! Now, a small cowbell ornament from Switzerland hangs on our tree every Christmas season to remind us of the best wake-up call ever.