So whose idea was this?

As the aerial cable car moved across the last supporting tower at almost 7,000 feet above sea level, I looked out the window and my stomach plummeted down the mountain. I saw only a sheer drop, a bottomless pit of gray rock cascading into oblivion. I white-knuckled the grab bar inside the cable car on the steep, almost perpendicular, ascent to Mount Pilatus above Lucerne, Switzerland. I closed my eyes, a whimper escaped my throat, and I hung on.

My husband Phil and I had taken a military hop to Europe to meet my sister Judy and her husband Don for a bit of traveling. We linked up with our German friends in Heilbronn and journeyed south to Switzerland.

We strolled around Lucerne, laughed and posed for snapshots at various renaissance and baroque fountains, admired the colorful paintings on the sides of buildings, explored churches and meandered through the flea market. That’s when Phil, pointing in the distance, suggested we take a cable car up to Mount Pilatus.

The gray outline of Switzerland’s famous mountain loomed in the distance above the magnificent, twin-spired Jesuit Church, other old-world buildings and the famous wooden Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) crossing the river, which flows through the center of Lucerne.

We bought our tickets. The first part of the journey was a 30-minute panoramic gondola lift to Fräkmüntegg, the midway point. A four-seater gondola with Judy and Don and hubby and me in one car, and our German friends, Regina and Gerhard, in the car ahead, we enjoyed the stillness and quiet of the ride.

Mount Pilatus rose slowly above while we skimmed across the green hillsides and the tall pines. The only sound was the low hum of the cable pulley and the occasional muted jangle of cowbells on the hillside below. The car gently rocked as we ascended. We disembarked midway and I hoped we were already at the top. That was easy, I thought.

“No,” Phil said, “it’s just the halfway point.”

But the midway gasthaus invited me to sit and have a glass of wine at a small table. The others would climb aboard a larger aerial cable car for the second half of the trip with the peak of Mount Pilatus beckoning from the heavens as their destiny.

“I don’t need to go any higher,” I told them. “I’m good. I’ll sit here and wait for you.”

That’s what I love about Europe. You can find a gasthaus … a cafe … a bratwurst hut … a pension … a wine stand … anywhere. Even on the side of a mountain.

Deathly afraid of heights, I reluctantly relented to their encouraging pleas to keep going. I inhaled deeply and stepped into the aerial cable car, which housed about 20 people oohing and aahing at the sheer rock and snow-capped peaks, the blue waters of Lake Lucerne and the rolling green countryside disappearing in the fog below us.

As the cable car passed over the last supporting tower before reaching the top, my white knuckles were glued to the bar as I sank to the floor and squeezed my eyes shut.

I could be down at the midway restaurant sipping my wine and gazing out over the Swiss alps and forests below, I thought to myself.

I could be walking the cobblestone streets of Lucerne and shopping for cuckoo clocks or souvenir cow bells in the many boutiques.

I could be sitting in a cafe eating cake slathered with Swiss chocolate icing and watching tourists stroll by.

The aerial cable car pulled into the station with a swinging stop and we alighted, I with shaking legs.

Calmly, as if he knew exactly what I was experiencing, Gerhard pulled a flask from his jacket and said, “Here, Ellen. Schnapps. Trink.”

My eyes widened. I tilted the bottle back and took a swig. The warm, honey-colored liquid went down smoothly to the bottom of my feet.

“Immer I carry schnapps mit,” he said and replaced the cap on the flask. “Good for das Herz.”

My Saint Bernard.

We walked over to the Pilatus-Kulm restaurant, and relaxed with strong coffee as it was kaffeezeit, around 4 o’clock. The waitress brought a tray of flaky pastries and German cakes for us to choose from.

Afterwards, we stretched our legs outside where the air was clear, clean and cold, gazed at the rocky peaks and wondered at the majesty of it all. As we waited for the next cable car down, I inhaled deeply and was ready for the descent, more calm and relaxed now.

I sat down on the bench in the car while Phil stood next to me and held my hand. But I did look to make sure that my Saint Bernard, Gerhard, was nearby. With his trusty flask. After all, thirst is a dangerous thing.

(Editor’s note: Ellen Hart is a former member of the public affairs Family at Fort Bragg. To learn more about military Space A go to www.spacea.net, which is an unofficial web site started as a volunteer service to members of the uniformed services/military community.)