THE lowest country in Europe is Holland.
The highest country in Europe is the land of the Swiss people, called Switzerland.
There is hardly a hill in the whole of Holland. The country is as flat as a ball-field.
There is hardly a hill in the whole of Switzerland. The hills are all mountains-the highest mountains in western Europe-mountains so high that there is snow on their tops all the year round, in summer as well as winter. They are called the Alps.
But you can't have a hole in a doughnut without the doughnut, and so you can't have a mountain without a valley. The mountain tops in Switzerland are white, but the valleys are green, and cows with tinkling bells graze over the fields. The melting snow from the mountain tops makes beautiful waterfalls and babbling, tinkling brooks in the valleys.
Have you ever seen the snow on the roof of a house suddenly slide off and fall to the ground? That is called an avalanche. But suppose the roof of the house were a mile long like the side of a mountain, and suddenly the snow covering it slipped and fell into the valley beneath. That is an avalanche such as they have in Switzerland; and sometimes avalanches bury people and houses and even whole villages beneath.
Some long and wide valleys are filled with snow that has turned to ice. The ice filling these long valleys, like a river frozen to the bottom, is called a glacier, and the biggest of these glaciers have names just as rivers have.
Most rivers start from springs, but in Switzerland they usually start from the melting ice under a glacier. One of these big glaciers in Switzerland is called the Rh?ne Glacier. From under the end of the Rh?ne Glacier, as from an ice cave, flows a cold stream of melting ice. This stream grows larger and larger as it flows on down the valley and is joined by other streams of melted snow and ice. It is then called the Rh?ne River. It runs on until it reaches a big, broad valley, which it fills and forms a lake-the largest lake in Switzerland-called Lake Geneva.
The Rh?ne flows out again on the other side of Lake Geneva, down through France past Lyons and the mulberry-trees and silkworm farms and silk manufactories I told you about, and at last empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
Another river with the same name as the Rh?ne, all except one letter, is the Rhine. It, too, starts from underneath a glacier, but flows north between France and Germany, through Holland, and empties into the North Sea.
There are many people in the World who think it great sport to climb mountains-the higher the mountain and the more difficult and the more dangerous it is, the more they like to climb it. Now the highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc, which means White Mountain. Part of it is in Switzerland, but the top is in France. Every summer many people climb Mont Blanc and other mountains in the Alps. These mountain-climbers use long poles with spikes on the ends to catch on the ice, and they wear heavy shoes with hobnails; and they take along guides who know the way to go and the way to climb, and they are tied together so that if one slips over a ledge the others may pull him back. But every summer people lose their lives in such mountain-climbing. They slip and fall and are dashed to their death or they are covered by an avalanche and buried alive under the falling pile of snow.
Probably the hardest of all Swiss mountains to climb is a mountain that looks like a huge horn. It is called the "Matterhorn." Only the most skilled and the most daring ever attempt to climb it, though the only thing you can do after you have risked your life to reach the top is to admire the view. The reason most people climb it, however, is simply so they can say "I've done it."
So many people go to Switzerland to see the giant snow-covered mountains, even if they do not climb them, that the Swiss people have built hotels wherever there is a fine view of a mountain, or a waterfall, or some other wonderful or beautiful sight. There are thousands of such hotels all through Switzerland, so that the chief business of the Swiss people seems to be hotel-keeping, and they keep them very well indeed. In fact, it is said they are the finest hotel-keepers in the World. They are famous for other things too: Swiss milk chocolate, which you have probably eaten; Swiss cheese with big holes in it, which you may have eaten; Swiss watches; Swiss wood-carving, and cuckoo-clocks and cowbells and music boxes.
Most countries have an army and a navy as we have police and a watch-dog to keep out burglars. But Switzerland is one of the few countries in the World that has no seashore. So she can't have a navy, and she doesn't have to have much of an army either, because the mountains are like great walls to keep out the enemy. Switzerland kept out of both World Wars, although every country around her was fighting.
Switzerland is completely surrounded by other countries. On one side is France, on the other Germany, and on another Italy. So the Swiss have no language of their own. On the side nearest Italy they speak Italian, on the side nearest Germany they speak German and on the side nearest France they speak French. In fact, many Swiss people speak all three languages.
To get into Switzerland or out of Switzerland, or from one part of Switzerland to another, you don't have to climb the mountains. You can go over the low places between the high mountains, but many of these low places are a mile or more high, so they are not so very low at that. These low places are called passes. One of these passes is named the Simplon; and Napoleon, the French general I told you about, once crossed the Simplon Pass with his army into Italy. But you can now go under and through the mountains, for in many places long tunnels have been built.
One of the longest tunnels is St. Gothard. The men who built it started to dig from both sides of the mountain, and the two holes they dug exactly met in the middle. Some people said it was wonderful that two tunnels, each miles long, dug from opposite sides of a mountain, should meet. The men replied, "Not at all. It would have been wonderful if the tunnels hadn't met. We are not moles digging blindly. We had figured it out beforehand and we knew where we were digging."
But the longest tunnel in the World is under the Simplon Pass. At one end of this tunnel is Switzerland and at the other end is Italy. It is over twelve miles long. I have been under the pass riding in a train through this tunnel and I have been over the top of the pass carried by my own two legs. It takes sixteen minutes to go through the tunnel. It took me part of two days to climb over.
Near the top of the Simplon Pass is a house called a hospice where I once spent the night. It is a house where certain priests, called monks, live, and the reason the hospice was built there and the reason the monks live there is to provide a shelter for travelers and a place where they may rest safely in case they should be caught in a storm.
Few people now cross the pass, for it is so easy and so quick and so safe to go through the tunnel; but before the tunnel was made underneath there was no other way for people to go from Italy to Switzerland but over the top of the pass, and many people were traveling that way all the time. Snow-storms and blizzards were likely to happen almost any time, summer or winter, and often travelers would be lost and frozen to death. These good monks living in the hospice were the life-savers of the mountain pass. They had built little huts along the mountain pathway and they had large, strong, intelligent dogs called St. Bernards who were trained to go forth from the hospice when there was a storm, and search for travelers who might have been overcome, lost their way, or fallen in the snow. A dog would carry, strapped to his neck, a barrel filled with bread and wine. His sense of smell was so strong he could find a man even though buried in the snow, shake him back to his senses, and drag him to the nearest hut, to wait for food and drink until the storm should stop. The Simplon Hospice is one of the few places in the World where any one, whether he be rich man or poor man, saint or sinner, will be housed for the night, fed, and taken care of for nothing, without question and without charge.
Do you know the story of William Tell? Well, Switzerland has many lakes, but the most beautiful one is called the Lake of Light-Lake Lucerne-and on the shore of Lake Lucerne is a little church marking the spot where William Tell is supposed to have shot the apple off of his young son's head.