I know, I know, any reference to The Sound of Music is a bit off, since we’re comparing Austria to Switzerland, apples to oranges – or maybe apples to pears? But, the Alps are the Alps, and with the rolling hills in abundance, I can’t help but think of certain songs. It doesn’t help that our students (mainly the girls, not so much the boys who are running around grunting and saying things like “Testosterone!” – seriously) often break out in a Sound of Music chorus. Well, when they aren’t singing “High School Musical” pieces.
So, weekends usually start for us at 12:00 pm on Friday afternoon. That sounds great, but we have back-to-back classes, so we really do put in a full day of work before we depart for the weekend’s activities. Last weekend, everyone split into 3 groups, each group going to a different destination. I was with the Iffigenalp group which was to hike up to Rawil Pass. Now, I should say that organizing these trips is an intricate process. Our group took 2 different trains, from Zermatt to Lenk and then we started our hike there, but other groups had a bus ride after the train. Needless to say, I was happy about starting the hike on Friday, from Lenk to Iffigenalp. It wasn’t a long or hard hike, just a few hours, but it definitely set the scene as we hiked through woods, stopped for a waterfall and made our way to a lovely valley.
Pretty crazy, right? I always thought that Yosemite was IT, but, honestly, I’ve now seen so many amazing places in Switzerland that Yosemite almost (almost, not quite) seems… average?
For the evening, we stayed in a barn. Seriously… There weren’t animals in it, but that might be the only redeeming quality or characteristic of said barn. Quaint, it was. Maybe.It’s hard to see, but honestly, that’s a barn. I wouldn’t have minded it so much, except that I spent the COLDEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE there. I slept under 4 blankets, fully clothed (hat and mittens on) and was still freezing. Not the greatest night of my life, plus, I got to share it with about 15 of my closes friends, 13 of them being adolescent girls.
Fortunately, breakfast was great (I love the Swiss breakfasts, which basically consist of carbs and more carbs). We loaded up, which was amazing because our dinner the night before was huge, but we did need to prepare for a long day ahead. If I had known how long, I probably wouldn’t have even started because we ended up hiking around 19-20 miles in one day! The beginning of the hike was tough – a big push up Rawil Pass from Iffingenalp, but I loved the ascent and the pass itself afforded us some spectacular views.
The hike up to the pass was a challenge, but definitely not “impossible” by any means, and then the views were well worth any effort that we’d put in as we made our way up, up, up. We ate a lunch that consisted of lots of bread, peanut butter, nutella, fruit, snickers and more bread and peanut butter, looking down upon Lac Azur as we munched. Not a bad rest stop! Once we’d refueled, we began the long descent, which took the better part of the day, really. We probably walked from 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm, and by the time we arrived in Montana (seriously), my feet were beat. The rest of me felt okay, but I couldn’t wait to get out of my boots! The trip down was pretty awesome too, so I really shouldn’t complain!
I swear, it all looks so fake – total green screen, right? And we also some cows along the way… They are ubiquitous.
So, that was a pretty fantastic trip. And then, this past weekend, I got to return to the Bernese Oberland area to mountain bike with a very small group – 5 kids, 3 adults. I liked the teacher to student ratio! This past weekend was the first time that students could choose their weekend activity, and a very few, daring souls opted for the mountain bike trip. It ended up being one of the best groups of girls (yep, all girls) that I could have imagined. They were funny, at times super giggly, but also really game to tackle what was a LONG, hard ride.
We started on Friday, taking the train to Interlacken, Switzerland, where we picked up bikes and started our trip – biking to Lauterbrunnen and then catching the train to Wengen. Switzerland really is an amazing place to get around via bike – most drivers are biker-friendly and the trains allow you to transport your bike very easily. We spent the night in Wengen, a pretty quiet little place in the Jungfrau Region, and after a huge dinner and a good breakfast (yes, there is a pattern to Friday night/Saturday morning), we set off Saturday morning, heading to Klein Scheidegg. It was a rough trip up – so much fun, but a lot of pushing the bike rather than biking. Once we got to the top of Klein Scheidegg, we could sort of make out the legendary “Three Sisters”: Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, although they were mainly in the clouds. We could, however, hear the glaciers cracking and falling – it was intense!
The ride was pretty intense – my Garmin ended up dying on me because I hadn’t charged it, but in an 18 mile stretch, apparently we climbed 7,000 feet. Wowsa! That made me feel better about walking the bike. Also, this was my first time ever mountain biking! I was super nervous, to be honest, but it was definitely sink or swim, and I figured that I at least had biking experience. A lot of the girls really didn’t, so it was a “suck it up and deal with it” moment. As for the biking – we were on these super heavy bikes, mine had terrible shifting issues, it was kind of terrifying, but I really loved it. Honestly, I think that I might have found a new sport (sorry Michael!). It was challenging in a different way from road biking, but I felt that the rewards were just huge. For this trip, at least, we could see so much of the countryside and experience the beauty in a way that I often don’t when road biking. The other awesome aspect about both of these weekends, but especially the bike trip, was that it felt like fall! I can’t remember the last time I experienced a “fall”!
While the climbs were so tough, the long descents and the amazing views were totally worth it. At times, a bit terrifying, as we navigated around buses and cars and even a tractor or two. But we were able to stop and smell the roses, or admire the waterfalls!
I hate to repeat time and again the “I’m so lucky” mantra, but, honestly, I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity. I know that this sounds cheesy, and the experience isn’t even over so maybe it’s premature to make an audacious statement, but I do think that this experience has expanded my idea of what’s possible or what’s acceptable in terms of my life. In the meantime, I do have some papers to grade (really, I’m working!) and tomorrow’s hike to plan!