Blown Away in Switzerland

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Oh, Switzerland. The tiny little country that treated us so well and exceeded our every expectation.

I spent five days exploring this magnificent country with one of my dearest friends from UBC, and from its breathtaking natural beauty, the stellar hospitality of its people, to its unmatched skill in the art of perfecting cheese and chocolate, I think we’re in agreement that Switzerland blew us away.

We spent the first leg of our jaunt in the wee town of Fiesch, a quiet, Bavarian-esque place with this cable car that takes you up to the gargantuan, UNESCO-certified Aletsch Glacier, which we found out about during a random Skype session while I flipped through the Suiza (Switzerland, in Spanish) Lonely Planet I’d acquired earlier while school textbook-shopping.

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But the story of Fiesch, Aletsch, cable cars, and frolicking through the Alps (I’ll get to that in a bit) would not be complete without an account of our almost disastrous arrival. So buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, this is no short anecdote. But it is a perfect example of just how incredibly lucky we were and just how amazing Switzerland is.

Despite touching base before meeting up in Geneva last week, neither of us thought to look up directions to our hostel (something that I have never neglected to do since I’ve been in Europe this year). So by the time it was nearing 2330 (that’s 11:30pm, friends, five-plus months in Europe and I’m almost fully on the 24-hour clock), the Matterhorn express train we’re on tells us there are two different Fiesch stops, and suddenly it strikes us we don’t know which one is ours.

We get off at the first stop, get somewhat spooked in the darkness and decide to ask the conductor if he knows where the hostel is (luckily, I had the address on a note in my iPhone). Lo and behold, he says it’s the next stop, tells us to hop back on the train (despite our tickets only being good for this stop and not the next (the last) one), and less than a minute later we hop off at a train stop resembling a sketchy bus stop rather than a legitimate train station. It’s dark. It’s chilly. It’s almost midnight now. And we still have no idea where our hostel is.

Luckily there’s a large, fully-lit map just up the road. We see we’ve arrived at the Fiesch Sport Ferien Resort. One of us recalls our hostel being associated with said resort. And oh my goodness, there’s a Jugendherberge (which my friend by calling upon her expert-but-actually-basic German deciphers as YOUTH HOSTEL!) on the map, so we head there.

Lights are out, all is silent and we are literally the only two people out on the street in this entire compound, and reception is that way. Reception is dark and clearly closed, but the automatic door opens and what so we find but an envelope taped to the inner door to the reception desk with my friend’s name scrawled on it in Sharpie. In it is our key and a map with the location of our room circled and suddenly all is right with the world.

Our brief moment of worry is over, and we thank the travel gods and commend the beneficence of the Swiss for the conductor who let us back on the train and pointed us in the right direction, and whichever godly person left us that envelope of joy. We sleep well in our comfortable and otherwise unoccupied room and pay a bright, bubbly, and blonde German receptionist the next morning for our stay. Thank you, Suiza.

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Oh right, so the next day there were cable cars. You take two to get up to the Aletsch glacier, one from wee little Fiesch to the even tinier Fiescheralp, and a second to Eggishorn, supposedly the best of the three principal viewpoints. We spent a good hour perched on some rocks, taking in the sheer size of it all, and also getting rather excited about the fact that we were indeed, in the Alps.

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Our hike that day essentially consisted of an aimless wandering through the Alps (no big deal). There were dozens of trails and everything was extremely well-signed, so despite having devised a hypothetical route plan on our map, we ended up just following the signs and heading for trails where views looked promising and where the hills looked most alive (yes, that song came up a lot of times, but never in jest and always in full-on, 100% authentic childlike excitement and wonder).

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Perhaps the most thrilling part of our day (other than seeing nuns viewing the Aletsch glacier from a bench at the Bettmeralp glacier viewpoint, thus putting a cherry on top if the idyllic but hilarious Sound of Music fantasy we felt we were living out) was scaling the questionable, erratic, zigzagged, stone-and-snow, and sometimes creaky wooden- and ladder-stepped pathway up the Bettmerhorn, bringing us to another amazing view of Aletsch, a 360-degree panorama of all those majestic Alpine peaks around us, and to what would end up being the highest altitude we would reach during our time in the Swiss Alps.

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All in all, it was a fantastic first full day of wanderlust in Switzerland. All capped off with a pleasant meal of hearty Swiss bread, delectable Swiss (or rather Appenzeller, the best ever) cheese, gorgeous dark Swiss chocolate with a hazelnut and almond filling, and dyed hard boiled Swiss eggs (yes, these exist in Swiss supermarkets. Genius).

The next day we made our way to Zermatt, home of the peak of all Swiss peaks, the famous Matterhorn. And let me tell you, it is so much better in person than the Disney knockoff ride.

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It’s probably best, though, when you serendipitously ascend a couple hundred meters more than your originally-planned route entailed, and find yourself nearly looking it in the eye (an over-exaggeration, yes, but a wow-moment, heck yes).

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The hills were alive once again, and this time they even invited us for a swim later in one of their lakes, Schwarzsee. After debating it for a little whilst wading in the freezing water, as tiny little fish bit and prodded at our tired feet, we stripped down to our underwear and plunged right in, receiving an unexpected applause from the various groups clustered around Schwarzsee’s edges.

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Our dip was brief, as the alpine waters were bone-chillingly cold, but as we were basking in the sun waiting for ourselves to dry, we heard a violin start to play. And what so you know, an entire (albeit very small) wedding party made its way out of the tiny chapel on the other side of the lake, hugging, taking pictures of the bride and groom, even doing the bouquet toss right then and there.

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We couldn’t believe our luck and timing that day.

The hike down didn’t fail to disappoint either. Again, we were very lucky in our choice of hike route. Everywhere you look are Alps, Alps, glaciers, and more Alps. And of course a great perspective of just how tiny Zermatt is.

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That second fine day of Switzerland wanderlust was capped off with another delicious hodgepodge dinner of cheese (more Appenzeller), chocolate, and bread, but this time with some red peppers and cherries to balance out the otherwise (almost) exclusively carbs and dairy diet we’d been following in an attempt to eat cheap in Switzerland (which is extremely hard to do in a place as unfortunately expensive as Switzerland). But at least we had our own bench under a sweet-smelling tree along a river with yet another marvelous view of the Matterhorn.

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All in all, I can’t imagine a better first-time in Switzerland. Everything about it exceeded my expectations and absolutely blew me away. A brief but surprisingly fulfilling trip in the Swiss Alps in the company of a true friend. What more could I have asked for?

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