A Swiss Adventure

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
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Trip End Aug 10, 2010


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Flag of Switzerland  , Swiss Alps,
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Switzerland, the land of fine chocolate, fine watches, and fine mountains. This place has always had an undeniable appeal to me. Last time I was on a tour of Europe during highschool, Switzerland was the one place that kept its place in my mind.

Coming back to this country, I was going to explore it the way it was meant to be explored: by foot. Hiking the Swiss Alps is no cliche; there are in fact more hiking trails than roads in Switzerland. It is the best way for both local and foreign tourists to experience this wonderful country.

Georges drove down from Luxembourg and picked me up on Saturday morning and we drove down to the beginning point of our hike: a small touristic mountain town of Kandersteg. We began to arrive within its proximity around 5:30pm. To save money, we had decided to camp wherever and whenever possible, in favor of paying for a room/hostel bed.

As we were driving towards Kandersteg, I felt homesick for the very first time in my life. I can't explain what prompted it, but I physically felt nauseated and had the desire to be back in Vancouver with 'the familiar'. Possibly it was because before I left for Switzerland, I had booked my plane ride home for August 9 from Frankfurt. Maybe the knowledge that I actually had a flight home made me want it sooner than my time.

We decided to arbitrarily pick a farmer's property and ask permission to camp on his lawn. Many of the houses looked empty, but we finally stumbled upon one that looked fairly lively and almost like a hotel (but in the middle of a farmland)! Georges used his Germany skills to communicate with the family who were eating dinner on their patio. They mumbled upon themselves wondering if it was even legal to camp in the open in Switzerland, and to our surprise, instead invited us to stay in their house. We asked how much we can pay them for one night stay, and they responded, "You stay for free! We're not a hotel!" They gave us a super cozy room, in their 100 year old log-house and then told us to come down for dinner. We got served the most delicious pork chop (wrapped in bacon) I have ever eaten in my life, along with some fresh fries, salad, an XL bottle of Swiss beer, and cake and coffee for dessert. After dinner, the family looked through the maps of the area to help us plan out our 4-5 day hike. The next morning, after a breakfast of home-made swiss cheese, bread, jam, and milk coffee freshly squeezed from the cow (not the coffee part), the daughter of the family came to town with us to show us the tourist office, grocery stores, and bank. These were some really, really nice people, and I couldn't help but radiate a smile all throughout our stay with them. If there was one thing I have learned on this trip, it's that no matter where I am in the world, I can ALWAYS rely on the kindness of strangers. And just like that, my previously felt homesickness had dissipated.

On our first day of our hike, we hiked 6 hours from Kandersteg up to Blumlisalphutte (Blumlisalp hut) at 2840m, where we were treated to a wonderful sunset above the clouds. It was an exhausting 1600m of altitude gain in one day and this was considered the 'easy day'. Over the next few days, we hiked an exhausting amount of distance and altitude through the Alps. In a typical day, we would descend 800m, ascend 1000m, and then descend again 800m. On one section, we opted out of hiking and instead took a 15 min gondola ride to descend 800m in a mere 15 minutes, saving us both our time and knees. Switzerland has exceptional mountain train and gondola services that can bring you to nearly every worthwhile destination in the Alps. Despite taking the one gondola ride, we still wanted to experience the Alps the way it was meant to be experienced - on foot.

I've been in several mountain ranges in my life, but I have never felt closer to the mountains than I did in the Alps. The Swiss mountain weather was absolutely perfect, and the alpine meadows were ridiculously beautiful. I was constantly blown away by the gorgeous scenery. By the third day, we hiked right next to the base of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau - the 3 giants. Perhaps the most famous of these among mountaineers is the Eiger - a notoriously technical north-face mountain climb that has captivated thousands and killed hundreds of climbers.

By Day 4, we arrived in Grindelwald, a giant, world-famous mountain resort town of the Alps (think Whistler). Despite being ultra-touristy, this town had a great night-life as we roamed through the streets that evening.

From Grindelwald, we had to get back to our car parked in Kandersteg. To take a train, we would have to take 4 seperate trains and pay almost $100 each. We decided the best option would be to try and hitch a ride from Grindelwald to Interlaken, and then from Interlaken to Kandersteg. Armed with two signs - George's saying "INTERLAKEN," and mine saying "2 NICE GUYS FROM CANADA AND LUXEMBOURG," we began to walk to the edge of town. People warned us that it might be difficult to hitchhike in Switzerland, because people are generally quite wary of the practice. Indeed, many BMWs, Mercedes, and Audi's with old white people passed us by without even the slightest glance, kinda like we were homeless people on a street begging for money. A few people give you the sympathetic hand gesture that they aren't going there, or they don't have space, or what have you.

After 45 minutes, a sporty Audi pulls over, and a burly man with a friendly smile invites us to come in. He seemed to check out - long untameable hair, a bikers goatee and sunglasses, and large tattooed biceps. His name was Oly and he was on his way to an arm wrestling competition in Belgium where he will be facing people from 15 European countries. He explained he was the 4th best arm wrestler in Europe and the 6th best in the world for his weight class. As we drove the 1 hour distance, he described the sport of arm wrestling to us in detail. We got dropped in a strategic location for our next ride to Kandersteg.

Within 15 minutes, we got picked up by a gay theater actor from the big city of Zurich. He had grown up in the countryside of Switzerland but has studied and lived around the world. He drove us right to our car, we thanked him, and we were on our way to Bern. Our plan was to check out 3 major cities: Bern, Lucerne, and Zurich in 1.5 days and then head home later the next night.

We spent 2 hours walking through the city center of Bern. I was pleasantly surprised with the city - it had a calm, yet active feeling to it. It also had a beautiful river running through the town, which I later discovered seemed to be standard for Swiss cities. After Bern, we drove a few hours down the road toward Lucerne as night began to fall. We pulled over in a vacant, underground parking lot of a grocery store where Georges and I shared a 1 euro can of soup for dinner and then found a place to park our car and sleep for the night. Switzerland is not a cheap place to travel; but I'd like to think our one night of frugality has offset those costs.

The next morning we woke up, drove to Lucerne, and then Zurich before heading home. Both cities were equally beautiful, but if I had to choose one, I would say I wish I had more than 2 hours for Zurich. The city seemed to have a lot to offer.

All in all, we left Switzerland with a good mix of city and country life, good adventurous stories, and once again, another positive experience with this wonderful country. I am sure I will return again someday.

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Comments

Cherie on

your pictures are gorgeous! first thing that came into my mind when I saw the sunset pics was: priceless. i'm glad you're having a wonderful time in Europe!

Suzy on

For some strange reason, I find your Zurich pics captivating

chowmander
chowmander on

Thanks Cherie!

Richard on

My dream country!!! One day I'll set foot there too!
Great pics, esp the ones above the clouds. Stunning

Efren Delos Reyes II on

I realy love switzerland, im prayin' that someday i can see those mountains and be with swiss family. i love traveling..
i love all of your photos.. i love everything in switzerland.. soon i will go there and i will see the beauty of switzerland.. very relaxing place and it looks like paradise to me..
You are lucky, because you have seen and experience the swiss life.. i hope i can experience it too.. Thanks for those photos it makes me inspired! :-)

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