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Caitie's Travels

Switzerland... the land of cheese, chocolate and FONDUE!

SWITZERLAND | Tuesday, 1 March 2011 | Views [1311] | Comments [1]

Day One & Two –  Travelling and Arrival at Our Chalet

After a plane, a bus, a night in a hotel, another bus, two trains, another bus and then a mini van… I have arrived at my destination! It was definitely worth the trip… there is snow falling softly to the ground, the silence is profound as I look out to the mountains surrounding the old wooden Chalet, nestled away just outside the town of Adelboden. Everything is so peaceful here, definitely the place to come for some relaxation and chill-out time! The plan for the days ahead are snowboarding lessons, a swiss night run by the chalet staff, hiking around the hills, a day trip to Interlaken (the highest peak in Europe), snowshoe hike, igloo building, hike to Engstligen Falls, snowtubing, campfire and then time to go home… I think I will definitely be sleeping on all that public transport to get home! At least in Switzerland the transport is very well organized, always on time and easy to understand! (Much like their watches really…)

By dinner the chalet was teaming with people – a group of Scouts from Norway, a Guide group from England, and a couple of individual members, like me. The dining room was packed and everyone was deep in conversation over our meal. “Where are we from, what do we do, how long are we here for, what activities do we have planned?”

 

Day Three – Snowboarding Lessons & Swiss Night

I awoke today with great excitement – for the first time EVER I was going to have a go at snowboarding! (nor have I ever been skiing, but I will eventually!). I packed my bag, put on my warmest clothes and headed down to the ski school in Adelboden. After sorting out my lesson details and hired the appropriate equipment, I boarded the bus to Geils along with many people of various ages all keen to learn the skills of skiing and snowboarding. We started our lesson with a game a group tag to warm up, it was quite a challenge in knee deep snow! After that our rather large group split into three smaller ones depending on ability, I was, of course, in the “very novice, have never even seen a snowboard before today” group. We headed off with our instructor Katharina, who over the process of three and a half hours attempted to impart her knowledge of snowboarding upon us. She was quite helpful, although it must have been hard going on her as she had to deliver each instruction twice – once in Swiss-German, and then in English! (I felt rather uncultured, as I was the only person in the group who wasn’t bilingual, unless Aussie Bogan counts?). I learnt how to go down a gradual slope facing both ways, and gradually became better at controlling the board. At times it had a mind of its own, which often ended up with me on my behind! I think I spent more time lying on the ground laughing at myself than standing… By the end of the lesson though I had managed to make it down the slope twice without falling over! (Three times if you don’t count one very small fall towards the end… J) Suffice to say I was VERY proud of myself! I would have liked some more time practicing, especially once I seemed to get the hang of it more, but the buses were departing for the village, and whilst I could choose to stay it was a complicated journey to return on my own, and one I didn’t fancy attempting whilst lugging the snowboard! Now that I have had an introduction to it, I will certainly have another go in the future… most probably in Canada at Christmas time!

 

Once I returned to the village of Adelboden, I wandered through the local shops (I eventually purchased a new pair of hiking boots to replace my old ones, as I had realized they really didn’t have much grip left!) and I admired the view. I have more photos of snowy mountains than I care to count! I will upload the best ones, but they really don’t do this place any justice. The sun came out today and cleared the clouds away, and it was beautifully clear. The night is amazing, the hills are dotted with lights from the chalets twinkling in the cool night air… It’s like standing in the Milky Way.

 

Back at the chalet we enjoyed a dinner of rosti and ratatouille, I swear I could eat rosti forever and never get full! It is a delicious mixture of shredded potato, cheese and a little cream… kind of like potato bake but so much more delicious! After dinner we participated in a swiss night run by the chalet staff, where we learnt some of the history of Switzerland, searched for jigsaw pieces of the country and competed in a trivia contest. The prize was chocolate fondue, one for each team of course J. A delectable end to an adventurous day!

 

Day Four – Woodcarvers Hike

This morning I set off for a hike to the Woodcarver’s with a Kenyan volunteer from Our Chalet, Amina. We trekked along the snow covered roads, enjoying the amazing vistas that greeted us at each turn. The sun even came out to play for a little while! Eventually we reached the Woodcarver’s, a little shop that sells all sorts of woodcarvings, with some Guide and Scout themed badges, woggles, keyrings, etc. The front of the shop has lifesize carvings of brown bears (now extinct in Switzerland), snowmen, cats, and other creatures. It was mesmerizing to watch the very talented woodcarver sit and carve shapes out of blocks of wood, that gradually took shape as a cow, or an owl, or a bear. Whilst the owners are not Guides or Scouts, they get a lot of visitors from the movements as both of us have centers nearby. On the ceiling of the shop there is a huge collection of different Guide and Scout badges, representing all the different groups who have visited the shops over the years. I didn’t have one of mine on me, but I promised I would send one with another group the following day. I managed to locate a couple of Australian badges, but we definitely need to add more to the collection!

On the way back from the Woodcarver’s, Amina and I took a slight detour down to see a frozen waterfall. We walked down and down the steps, which eventually led under a natural rock bridge and out the other side. It turned out this was Choleren Gorge, which was also closed during the snow! Oops! The sign on the side we entered was only in German, so we didn’t realize! It was absolutely beautiful though, the waterfalls frozen in time halfway down the rockfaces. It was very difficult to capture the sheer beauty of it on film…photos really don’t do this place justice. Every time I turn around I am amazed by the natural wonder that I am standing in… truly a place to calm the soul (not to mention gather sore muscles from all the physical activity!)

After our hike I had a nice quiet afternoon and a bit of a nap before dinner. We both had ravenous appetites after our exercise! Our night time activity tonight was activities and a ceremony to celebrate World Thinking Day, the day Guides and Scouts celebrate our founders, Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. We played some games, learnt some information and then had a ceremony outside in the snow whilst we raised the Guide World Flag, and the Swiss Flag. It was quite an enjoyable night, and certainly one I will never forget. It seems quite surreal, that I have been learning about this place for so many years, and now I am finally here… It is everything I thought it would be, and more.

 

Day Five – Interlaken

I set off on my own this morning on an excursion to Interlaken, a town that is “between lakes”. After taking a bus and two trains to get there, I set off to explore. It was an amazingly clear day, with a beautiful blue sky and crisp cool air. After getting my bearings, I decided to head out to Lake Thunersee first, and took a circuitous route through the old town. The roads were very narrow in some places, though that didn’t stop buses and trucks! Eventually the houses thinned out to become a nature reserve, and I enjoyed a peaceful walk along the river. I had lunch along the way, admiring the spectacular view over my vegemite, swiss cheese and homemade bread sandwiches. There was a little haze over the other side of the lake, so you couldn’t quite see Speiz clearly, but the view was impressive nonetheless! I then made my way back towards the town and walked along the main tourist strip. After passing the many Chocolatier and Swiss Army knife shops I continued on towards Lake Brienserzee. The view of the lake took my breathe away… I was in awe! At my feet was crystal clear water covering round river rocks, leading out to the main lake that was bordered by forests and snow covered mountains… what a view! I was rendered speechless, which for me is quite an achievement! I took many, many photos, desperately trying to capture the sheer beauty of this lake, and whilst there are some pretty good photos, nothing really does it justice. I could have quite happily sat and enjoyed the view for hours. Unfortunately I didn’t have hours, as I had to get a move on to catch the train… but I sincerely hope that I can return to this amazing place sometime in the future. Until then, my photos and memory will have to suffice.

 

Day Six – Snow Shoe Hike & Igloo Building

Today I joined the group of English Guides that are staying here on a snowshoe hike. We set off up the neighbouring valley, trudging through the very deep snow. It was snowing quite heavily for most of today, at least 10cm! Visibility at times dropped down to around 50m, and never really got more than a couple of hundred. We worked our way up the valley, crossing roads by crawling across (so we didn’t damage the snowshoes). Eventually we reached the pinnacle of our journey, an old gnarly hollowed out tree, affectionately called the Magic Wishing Tree. In keeping with tradition, we each stood inside and made a secret wish, followed by a photo to prove we were here! The Guides tried to see how many they could fit inside the tree, I think they ended up with 5 or 6. Afterwards we headed up through the forest then back down to Our Chalet for a brief reprieve from the snow inside for lunch.

In the afternoon we had a go at making Igloos. Even though the snow was really light and fluffy, we compacted it down and sprayed it with water to help it stick together. Gradually the two igloos started to take shape! I was sitting inside the igloo for most of the construction process, smoothing out the joins and putting in reinforcements by way of extra snow, spraying water and adding sticks to help the roof construction. I ended up with a lot of snow down the back of my neck, as every time someone added snow on the outside, inevitably some would fall inside, onto myself and Yuliya, my fellow construction worker. After almost three hours we emerged from the inside of a completed igloo, very proud of our efforts and more than a little soggy and frozen! It was definitely worth the effort though, we were quite pleased with our little igloo hut. It will be interesting to see if they survive the night!

Today it was the birthdays of two people staying at Our Chalet, one is the husband of one of the Guide leaders, and the other was a Norwegian Scout. We sang happy birthday to them during dinner in a variety of languages, which was followed by an impromptu “sing-off” between the Guides and the Scouts. It was a rather jovial and light hearted atmosphere as we sang some old favourites and learnt some new ones. Our night activity tonight was a ‘snow cinema’, a movie screened onto a screen rigged up by the rovers staying at the Chalet in the previous week. It was a rather chilly evening so we dragged out blankets and sleeping bags, and layered on many warm clothes. We shared popcorn and hot chocolate as we enjoyed Ice Age 3… a rather fitting choice really! After that it was off to our nice warm cosy beds… I’m glad we’re not sleeping in those igloos tonight! J

Day Seven – Engstligen Falls & Campfire

I set off this morning on a hike to Engstligen Falls. The route followed the stream that is fed by the falls for the majority of the way, and it was a very picturesque walk. It was hard going at times though, as the snow was covering the path. Walking through snow feels very similar to walking through sand dunes, except with heavier boots and clothes! Suffice to say I have definitely got my exercise today. When I reached the falls I enjoyed lunch with an amazing view, in front of me was one of the snow covered alps, and to the left was the falls I was aiming for. They were mostly frozen over but you could still hear and see some water running underneath. I felt rather dwarfed by the large mountain in front of me, the sheer scale of it was impossible to capture in a photograph! After lunch I headed back down the path a little way to the gondola station, which I caught up to the top of Engstligenalp. When I reached the top I was overwhelmed by how white everything was! The sun was shining through the clouds, and the glare was phenomenal. For the first time since I came to the Northern Hemisphere I actually needed my sunglasses! I had a wander around for a while, and found snowtubing (I was going to have a go but had no cash left – no Eftpos at the top of the alp!) and an igloo that served fondue… I was very tempted by the cheese fondue, one of my all time favourite foods… but it was rather expensive so I had to give it a miss this time. Just gives me another reason to come back in the future! Once I had seen all there was to see, I headed back to the gondola and caught it back down the mountain. Then I headed off back towards Adelboden for an afternoon nap and a well deserved dinner.

After dinner all the guests at the Chalet shared a campfire. We sang many songs, some old and some new, and had a lovely evening sharing our favourites around the fire. The campfire itself was held in a round tent with a vent in the roof to let the smoke out, and it got quite toasty in there, even though it was surrounded by snow! It was a very special ending to my amazing week here at Our Chalet, certainly an adventure that I will never forget! The people, the scenery, the food… everything has just been fantastic. I don’t want to go!!

Day Eight – Back to Zurich

Unfortunately I didn’t get a choice, I had to go back to London to keep earning the pounds! It was an absolutely beautiful day, a gorgeous blue sky and not too cold. I decided to make a slight detour on the way home by way of a suspension bridge a little down the valley. It stretched across over the river, as I walked with my big pack and backpack I was hoping I didn’t exceed the weight limit! It swung a little as I crossed, and I can confirm I was holding on rather tightly! This is one bridge not for the fainthearted, as you can see right through the metal platform down the river far below your feet (better stay away from this one mum!). It was a great view though, and definitely got the adrenaline pumping! There wasn’t really much on the other side except for a small café that didn’t really appear to be open, so I headed back to wait for the bus.

After my little side excursion I continued on back to Zurich. I had McDonald’s for dinner, as it was the only place around to eat at, apart from room service which was 30 Swiss Francs for a burger!! Even at McDonald’s it was very expensive, 6.60 Francs for a Happy Meal (12 or 13 for a normal meal!). That’s about even to the Australian dollar, so rather overpriced for McDonalds!

Day Nine – Flight Home

As I had to check out of the hotel at 10am, and my flight wasn’t until 8pm that night, I spent Sunday exploring the city of Zurich. I was finished by around 3pm as it was a Sunday and everything was closed! Zurich itself wasn’t really that exciting, but the lake is quite pretty and has some interesting things along its shores. After walking through the city and seeing some churches, I headed down the west bank of the lake and had lunch along the way. I found some rock sculptures, mostly towers about a metre high of small to medium river rocks stuck together, but also some comical faces and even a foot! The local artist was sitting there collecting tips as people walked by. I continued on through the gardens and found a small lake with stepping stones across, it was quite pretty as the water was very still and all the foliage surrounding it reflected in the water. After taking some pictures I kept walking and ended up going through what seemed to be the summer ‘beach’ set-up… A fenced off area in the water with slides, jumping platforms, diving platforms, etc and lockers and change rooms nearby. A little bizarrely, this was all next to the Zurich Casino, which was basically a small office building. Not nearly as flashy as the usual casino! After walking for a little while longer it started to rain, so I decided to head back to the city. I eventually ended up back at the airport and checked in for my flight… which ended up taking off an hour late due to previous delays. By the time I got back to my house in London it was 12.30 at night! I fell into bed after an amazing week for some well deserved sleep J

Tags: alps, our chalet, snow, switzerland, zurich

 

Comments

1

Great stories Catie. Switzerland is certainly a beautiful place to visit. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

  Dad Mar 2, 2011 12:11 AM

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