Switzerland

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Age and Adventure

Entry #1

I stop and look at myself in the mirror and am shocked at what I see. I tend to think I am still a man with youth and promise, but as I stare into the wrinkled face of my aged self, I pause; I falter as my figuratively young eyes connect with my factually old ones. My wife beside me pecks me on the cheek as I am leaving the door to venture into the world. I cannot even fathom how she could let me do this to her. With a resigned sigh, I exit my warm home to begin my journey of the unknown.

Entry #2

It’s unbelievably hot out here. What I once thought was a blistering day back in Germany is now the cool day I yearn for. The Savanna grass, tall and hay-like, sways in the almost nonexistent, sweltering breeze. The clouds are covering the sun, but they haven’t the power nor the density to block the rays from penetrating the blanket they’ve cast.  There are two tense men on either side of me, skin dark like charcoal and eyes deep and focused like a new age camera. They are staring at a pride of lions not too far from us and I can see they’re concerned. I am not, however. The lions are too preoccupied to care for us.

Entry #3

It’s day five of being confined in this insufferable, dismal hut. The locals tell me, in their most basic form of English, that the storm should be passing within the week, but I’m not too sure. I’ve never, in my entire life, encountered a hurricane quite like this (if one could even call it that). It had come in far quicker than any of us had expected, and has already wiped out the homes closer to the shore. I cannot imagine, even in the deepest expanses of my mind, what it must be like to lose so much in so little time. It’s going to be a long month.

Entry #4

I’ve made a friend. He’s a younger man, but holds a lot of promise to his name. He’s an English boy full of life, excitement, and adventure. Henry Clarke and I met on a cargo flight to the mountains of Switzerland and one thing led to another, and here we are, mapping and exploring the world together. Today we went ice climbing up the side of a mountain, the name of which I am not quite certain. Even as he slipped up and almost fell to his death, he smiled up at me and laughed. I’ve never met a man so full of life and ambition. I just pray to whoever is listening that time and age do not take that precious nature away from him.

Entry #5

It’s ironic that what I love the most in this world is what is going to kill me. I am rushing to write this out before my hand gets too numb, or my brain freezes up in my skull. I can only hope that someone will find this journal and tell my wife, Gerda, that I love her and wish that I could have spent more time with her. I am entrapped in an icy ditch, my leg crushed in the heavy weight. I know I will not survive this, and that I will not get my final rites. I just pray that God has the capacity to relinquish my sins.

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You’re your own in India

And this is how you waft into Lucerne, the weight in your backpack no match for the well-nourished knot in your heart. Hour after hour melts by in blinding stupor. You scoop out your best book but can do no better than caress it absently as the train leads you from one arresting landscape into the next. You claim the window with gratitude as this masterful montage balms your soul all the way.

This is an inter-regional train – on the SBB CFF FFS line – and you’re traversing central Switzerland. This country is a piece of God. Like most things divine, it wears its sheen with a humble half-smile. People go about their business like they could be anywhere else. You marvel at their nonchalant gait and gaze. Look at yourself – you’ve been rambling around here for more than a week now, and your head hurts from all the beauty. You have gasped your way through Berne and Interlaken, Lausanne and Lugano, Vevey and Genève, and it feels like being in one unrelenting reel sequence. This land has thrown up sensations your penmanship is struggling to articulate.

Each morning commences at a train seat, by illuminated glass windows. After the harshest European winter in 44 years, the sun is all too glad to rain down on your eager eyes, but you embrace the discomfort. Over the next few hours, before the train finally nudges you awake at your destined stop, you will slip in and out of gilt-edged consciousness. Even as your weary body yearns to sleep and heal, your eyes remain obstinately awake, embracing every inch of this Swiss grandscape like there will be no tomorrow.

You landed in this country as a prisoner in heart and thought. For months now, you have helplessly loved the squalor of your past. Much as bygones beg to be left alone, you hold on, stubborn, unwilling just yet to call truce. Your thoughts are a parade of manic highs and crushing lows. You dwell compulsively on your grief, relishing its abrasion till your insides threaten to tear. The glory of the mountains makes you want to weep, a reminder that your private sorrows are no match for the world’s wonders.

Had it not been for your demons, you’d have wanted to embrace this moment differently. You might have chosen glee over gloom. You might have cried of laughter and reveled in goose bumps.

Now, the sunshine streaming in from the window is beginning to lift the fog off your soul. You remind yourself that you’re here for renewal. And that the gaping voids in your heart are no match for the magnificence of this land. Here, this minute, you want to get off and walk along every bridge, every lake, every street, every inch of terrain till you can walk no more, till the breeze soothes your inner storms away.

The train comes to a gentle halt. Lucerne says hello.

You head off in the direction of the splendid KappelBrücke – the Chapel Bridge. Created in the 14th century. Destroyed by fire in 1993. Restored, reconstructed, revitalized. Renewed over long years. There it stands, timeless and tall. A subliminal passage waiting to help you cross over to the other side.

You step in. Your knees feel floppy, your feet stiff.

“Will you be demanding maintenance?” they’d asked.

No, you’d bristled. I am a woman. Not a wheelchair.

Your feet move faster now. Your hurts are resurfacing, you’re picking up pace. You’re on a mission to reclaim yourself.

The lake shadows the sky, alternately clear and blue. Humanity feels distant and unreal. This bridge becomes your private cocoon. Tears emerge, you let them stray. Today, you won’t apologize.

The wrongs keep returning, stronger than ever, and you let them. You remember the mouse that bit your toes the cold night you spent on the couch. You remember being told you’re less important than a cricket match. You remember being asked, while packing to leave, if you needed an extra suitcase. You allow all of it to seep into your pores – the hurt, the humiliation, utter wretchedness.

You live it up, because for months, it’s paralyzed you to stone. You live it up, because you’ve decided you will not carry it back home.

The sun has risen higher. The heat feels like sunshine.

You pick up your bag, wipe your face with the sleeve of your dress, and set out to finish the ride.

You walk, brisk and firm, guided by the song in your heart. You walk free, with ownership, with pride. As you gain in momentum, your anguish recedes, your senses unclench, your frown lets go. The winds mingle with your hair and you undo that tight bun. Your head feels warmer, your smile easier, your being lighter. You’re your own.

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In the Swiss Alps, there is a village. And in this village, there is a church. And across from this church, there is a chalet. And in this chalet, there are three people with little shovels of cheese in their hands. One of them is very, very excited.

That person is me.

My friend Anouk invited me and my husband to stay in her family’s chalet when we came to Switzerland to attend a conference. With its simple wood panels and heavy, gently-sloping roof, the chalet looks like something out of another time – and indeed it is. It was built in 1785, which you know because the date is written across the front, along with an explanation of who built it (Alexandre Busset), why he built it (in honour of a woman) and what he was like (prudent). I have never known a building to be so insistent about telling its own story.

We have come to the chalet to enjoy the views of the mountains, which are still lightly dusted with snow even though it’s April and warm enough to wear a t-shirt. But mostly we have come for the raclette.

Raclette is a dish where slices of cheese are heated up over a fire or an electric table-top grill and then scraped onto plates of potatoes and pickled vegetables. There is a certain amount of ceremony to it. Putting the cheese in your little individual shovel. Dusting your cheese with spices. Putting your cheese under the grill and listening to it sizzle as it melts. Scraping the melted cheese onto your plate. Tasting the way the cheese mixes with the soft potatoes and sharp gherkins. Drinking a sip of cold white wine. Repeating the process over and over until your stomach pushes against your belt.

The sun is streaming in through the open windows and I can hear the river rushing in the back garden. Normally the fine weather and scenic setting would tempt me to go outdoors, but I don’t want to move from my seat. It isn’t just the cheese that keeps me there, though it’s delicious and I’ve always been overly fond of the stuff. With raclette, cheese is just an excuse to open another bottle of wine and extend the conversation a little bit longer. For a few hours, your world shrinks down to a kitchen table with a small grill at its centre.

To my left is my husband, who has shared many cheese-based meals with me during our European travels together – smažený sýr (fried cheese) in the Czech Republic, baguettes with pungent Brie in France, manchego with quince paste in Spain, tagliatelle with creamy mascarpone and Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy. To my right is Anouk, who has taught me so much about the simple pleasures of good food and wine. I have a plate of sliced cheese next to me, ready to be melted, and a glass of Swiss wine that tastes as fresh and clean as the mountain air. For once, I am exactly where I want to be.

About the Author: Katie Lee loves nothing more than cheese, travel and writing about them both. You can read about her adventures in Cheshire and beyond at www.eatingthecheshirecat.co.uk.

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Inspired to take on Switzerland?  WSGT found these travel books and gear to help you prepare.

Lonely Planet Switzerland:  The best book on Switzerland there is.

Swiss Cheese:  The guide for connoisseurs of cheese.

Swiss German:  Your guide to speaking while in Switzerland

Jonathan FlemingtonCarry-ons only, one per passenger. The two-hour flight from Rome to Zurich was roughly the price of a tank of gas back home in the States. People complained about the price of fuel, we held on for dear life as we braced for the worst on this ‘budget airline’.

Beneath the Zurich airport lies the railway station, delivering us just outside the bustling downtown of this frigid city. A waitress in a nearby diner tells us she is originally Czech, but came here for employment. Her English is thickly-accented, almost guttural, beautiful in the right places. She gives us pointers, dividing her advice into two portions: where tourists go, and where the locals visit. During her explanation, it begins to snow lightly. The large windows of the diner, floor-to-ceiling, open to a large town plaza, practically empty. Rails and wires turn the city into a Picasso-esque checkerboard from above. Using coins the size of small scones, we pay our bill and head into the biting frost of Switzerland.

Outside the diner with the pretty waitress, we zigzag over the rails and traverse the sloped bridge leading to downtown Zurich. The shopping center. The banking centre of the world. Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich, Switzerland, commonly known as the most expensive street on the planet. Two trolleys run back and forth like high-speed shuttles on a loom. The effect is such that anything viewed from the opposing side of the street is cut like clockwork into split-second movie frames. Through the camera’s shutter, the credits roll: Armani, Gucci, Rolex, Givenchy. Several prominent Swiss bankers head their quarters above these shops. On my side, outdoor vendors take advantage of the chilled temperature. Hot pretzels, sandwiches, and crepes. Waffles in thirty seconds. Fill your backpack with grapes for three francs. The snow still falls, steady and enduring.

Through a currency-conversion mistake on my behalf, I end up purchasing a ninety-dollar hat in the basement of an H&M. The hat looks good, my friends tell me. We fumble with our pretzels to tip a man dressed in lederhosen, blowing furiously into an alphorn nearby. Strings of light criss-cross the street, stories above, setting the illusion of bringing the spangled night sky so much closer.
Most of my group spends their next day at the nearby museums to our hostel, being primarily medical-science students. I wake late, and buy a coffee and a beer at a nearby Irish pub. The bartender and I split a sandwich, and he gives me a to-go cup, telling me how he knows how expensive things can be for young people. No charge.

The snow falls without regard. I finish my coffee within the confines of an antique German bookstore, whose surly shopkeep hurls the occasional dagger from his eyes into my direction. The room smells of must and pipe tobacco. Taking the hint, I follow serendipitously down the street, and find my way into a used musical instrument shop, talking brass in broken Swiss-Italian with the proprietor.

Emerging from their heated sanctuaries on the hill, I meet my group once again. We each try to convey our experiences to one another with frantic hand gestures, trying to allow each other so much more than a sneak peek through the keyholes of our days’ perception. We settle for photos over the river, poised on top of the hill where each museum sits, committed to an eternal staring competition across the street from one another. We stay here, perched, for several hours as the Viking sky turns to a blackish-silver. We feel like natives here, young and healthy, on top of the world.

About the Authro:  Jonathan Flemington, 24, writing student (when I can afford both tuition and the attention span). I spend my time reading, writing, traveling and running.

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switzerland1Majestic mountain tops, leafy pine trees amongst the immense white and sprinkles of glistening lakes, these are the first things you might notice as your coach approaches your resort. Then as the sun sets, the golden twinkle of villages below, reflect the stars above.

As you arrive to your chalet, a crackling fire and freshly cooked rösti welcome you in to an oasis of warmth. Laughter and stories fill the rest of the night, as you will away the hours until it will be Ski Time in the Swiss Mountains.

And then suddenly it’s dawn and you are raring to go, the best would be to be the first on the snow. Daybreak is spent in a flurry of thermal leggings and tops, a lost glove here and a wooly hat there, a quick breakfast at most. One last equipment check and a lather of sunscreen meticulously applied to face and neck, before catching the first golden rays from above. The queue at the ski lift booth seems eternal as it suddenly dawns that there are other early birds in this neck of the woods.

Finally you are crammed in the gondola, trying to take a peek at the fading village down below and a glimpse of the mountain triangles above. After an abrupt halt, the doors open and you all spill out from the lift, at last being able to breathe in the beautiful scenery that surrounds.

switzerland2There’s something dream-like about looking over the vast whiteness all around, outlined by the dark spots of grey where the mountain-tops meet the clear blue sky. It is now time to buckle up and float along towards the pistes; Except, you don’t head for the piste, but stop on the edge of one of the connecting trails and look down below – the off piste to the side is where you’re aiming to go.

It is scary as the skis turn towards the ungroomed terrain, with the weight of the boots still fully touching the ground but the tips of the skis already dangling mid-air aiming at what lies beneath. Now is the time to take a big breath and push, push all your weight forward, and land on both skis in the white powder below. The softness of the terrain might surprise you, as both skis sink slowly into the white mush as if into water. Don’t expect to touch solid ground, instead start floating along from left to right as if dancing, picking up the rhythm of the terrain as it tells you to turn or glide through. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, feeling at one with God’s creation, forgetting all your fears and inhibitions, flying through the snow as if it were cloud number nine.

You may pass trees on one side, followed by a rock pointing out, avoiding these obstacles as you make your own path. At times you may weave your way into previous skiers’ tracks, but you are always free to make your own new ones as you want. You are even free to take a gamble and land in soft mush, then get up again and continue to carve your own tracks.

switzerland3As you reach the bottom and re-join a piste, following once again a more herded course, you look back up at the plunge that you chose to take and the sense of freedom it gave.

About the AuthorOrsolya Kerek
I am a Hungarian traveller, currently living and working in Luxembourg – the only grand duchy in the world! Learning new languages and getting to know different cultures have always been my passions. Recently I have also become an aspiring travel writer.

Find him on Facebook.

Picture1Change sneaks up on you, each tiny increment like the wings of a hummingbird, hovering with seemingly invisible forward and back strokes near 80 times per second, until finally the bird lifts and soars away.

But hummingbirds don’t hover at Jungfraujoch, the icy top of Europe that sits between the Mönch and Jungfrau mountains in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. Here, at 3,471 meters above sea level, I found little but an ice castle guarding, not a king or a queen, but the largest glacier in the Alps mountain range, the Aletsch.

I love the majesty of mountains, but hate the way their shadows cast darkness over the places below.

That said, I’ve always found being in the shadows preferable to standing at the top of the peaks, perched on the edge of nothingness. To put in bluntly, I’ve been afraid of heights all my life—none of the challenges I’ve taken have ever eliminated it. I guess that’s why I’m still a prairie girl.

Fear, however, wasn’t about to stop me from experiencing Switzerland’s Jungfraujoch or the Eiger Trail, one of the world’s most famous hikes.

My morning at the mountain top disappeared in a whirl: In and out of the ice palace rooms and sculptures; through the Sphinx observation hall and terrace; a walk on the snow trail that leads to the 120 sq. km. glacier; even smiles for friends on the zipline that flew them down from the castle until they dragged their feet in the snow to stop.

After that, it was time for the Eiger Trail. I’d been getting in shape for months, however, in Saskatchewan we can’t even imagine a landscape as steep as the Alps, never mind hike it.

252I boarded the train down the mountain, braced my feet against the incline to keep in my seat, and rode to the Eigergletscher railway station where I nervously exited.

The mountain stretched above and below me, so I felt tucked into the belt of a tall, skinny giant. It was easy to find the trailhead where it started at a lone wooden gate with no fence attached.

There didn’t seem to be a counter to log the number of hikers, nor would the gate keep animals of any sort from the train depot. After a few moments, I had to ask the guide accompanying our group what purpose it served.

He said, “If you’re too big to get through, you’re probably not fit enough to make the hike, so should take the train to a lower level.”

Question answered.

I stepped between the posts, thinking a gate measure at home might embarrass a lot of Canadians into considering their fitness level more seriously.

The Eiger Trail, now that it stretched out in front of me, seemed little more than a cow path twisting and turning down the mountain. In fact, hikers shared the trail with numerous cattle, the bells around their necks cling-clanging a tune that reminded me of Heidi, the famous Swiss character I’d met in a novel during childhood.

I kept my fear of heights at bay by keeping my eyes focused on my hiking boots, and my thoughts on where to stab my trekking poles into the worn path. Left. Right. Left. Right. The rhythm controlled my breathing and my fears.

Lumpy pebbles and pointy rocks clattered away, tumbling down the mountain as I poked at the ground. I didn’t want to follow them…

Most of the first half hour the path curled down, but then we came to a section where it snaked up a steep incline. Ten minutes into it and my legs felt like rubber sticks. I sat, pulled out my water bottle, and contemplated turning around and returning to the train.

Picture3No.

I forged on, one foot after another, following cows, following the group I’d come with, following the steps of other hikers who’d passed this way a decade, even five and ten decades ago.

Pretty soon only the mountain mattered. The sun, a yellow smiley face in the empty blue sky, encouraged me on.

The trail grew tougher again and I pulled myself along by rough ropes hung from weathered posts, panting as I caught glimpses of what must be a village far below.

A waterfall splashed over rock above me, its gurgles mixing into the harmony of cowbells.

Another half hour passed.

Cattle grazed ahead, blocking the path, and we slowed again, waited for them to move. I smiled, turned until I faced down the mountain and caught a breeze that caressed my face.

At last, I stared at the grassy alpine slope spread out around me, so steep I felt I could leap off and fly. I realized I was the hummingbird, finally free of the thing that had challenged my independence—fear.

About the Author: Linda Aksomitis teaches the online courses, Introduction to Internet Writing Markets and Publish and Sell Your E-Books, through community colleges around the world. She has conducted class from the top of the mountains in the Yukon to the rainforests of Borneo to the Mayan jungle in Mexico.

 

In October 2011, George and I were the hosts for Meet Plan Go Los Angeles, part of 17 cities hosting events about Career Breaks, Mini-Retirements and Long Term Travel. We had traveled for nearly a year in 2008-9 and this month we left again for at least a year. Meet Plan Go National recently posted this article about our second career break: NOT WASTING TIME!

Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever and the rest of us? I just wanna wake up with more time on my hands than hours in the day. – In Time (2011)

In Time is a movie that really spoke to me. In the movie, the main character, Will, is falsely accused of murder and must find a way to bring down a system in which time is money. While the wealthy can live forever, the poor have to beg, borrow, and steal enough minutes to make it through each day. At one point, a character gives his time to Will and tells him, “don’t waste my time.

How many times have you been in a pointless meeting thinking what a waste of time it is? So many of us waste time every day. We casually think that there will be time later. One of my strongest memories of seven years working on cruise ships was speaking to a widow who said, “we always planned to come here to Alaska together but there was always something that got in the way.” I heard over and over again, “don’t wait to make your dreams come true” or “you are so smart to travel like this while you are young.” I often felt like a character who had borrowed against time and was running to spend my time wisely traveling.

When my company went bankrupt after September 11, 2001, I thought I would never travel again.

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