Down in the Valley

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Down in the Valley

I’m kinda over traveling in cities. I’ve seen a decent amount of churches, museums, castles, fountains, statues, etc. Nature, however, I can’t get enough of. (Except maybe the bugs.) Within three weeks, I made two trips to the Bernese Oberland and it’s definitely a place I’d re-revisit. The Lauterbrunnen Valley, specifically is completely under the control of the weather. My first time there, my hiking was cut short due to a snow-covered pathway up to Mürren. My second time there it was so warm that I did the majority of the hike in my bikini. The warmth also meant that the waterfalls were becoming stronger and more numerous. This hike starts down in Lauterbrunnen as goes all the way to Mürren. What this means is that instead of taking two gondola rides for the 5000-feet-high view, we hiked to it.

It doesn’t take long to realize why this region is the most popular hiking destination in Europe. Down in the valley, you can see the surrounding waterfalls and once you start ascending, the breathtaking Swiss Alps become closer and grander. It’s basically like walking through a postcard; definitely top recommended.

Two of My Favorite Things: Elena and Nature

(April 17-20, 2013)

I feel incredibly thankful for the study abroad experience and I feel especially special that I’ve been able to kick it with some Willamette homies too. Clara (twice), Gracie, Kevin and now Elena! Right after returning from Paris, I was greeted by the presence of Elena. While I had classes, she did some exploring around Switzerland and then we did some romping together.

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Wednesday: We meet up at Elena’s hostel near Lausanne Gare and then walk to the daily food market held in Place St. François. After buying some food for our dinner, we decide to keep walking to the lakefront since it was a gorgeous day. We stroll from the edge of Ouchy all the way to Vidy and up to the Université de Lausanne campus. After our brief reunion, we split up so I can go to class and so Elena can check out some thermal baths in the area. We meet up for dinner together at her hostel which was an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, wouldn’t except anything less from Elena. We spend our whole evening chatting with three other guests (two Australians one Brazilian) and drinking a grand total of 5 bottles of wine. Returning to my apartment on one of the last metros, I attempted to tipsily pack my weekend bag.

Thursday: I woke up with enough time to finish packing (sans toothbrush par accident) and to meet Elena at the train station. With our backpacks and bags of food in tow, we hop on the train to Interlaken! The weather was absolutely gorgeous so we decide a lakeside lunch would be perfect. First though we buy cheap postcards and find a bathroom and grocery store. Then, we head towards the lake! Well…or we thought we did. The path turns into a road which does not look promising. (The train ride made everything seem so much closer!) After about 20 minutes or so, we double back to where we know we can find the other lake. Making it back to our “starting point” aka the train station, we decide the canal is better for a lunch spot solely because it was right there. After refueling we decide to have another go at finding the lake, this time we head in the other direction. We find a gravel path along the canal lined with wildflowers and little houses. Eventually, we make it to a bridge so we can crossover the canal and reach Lake Thun. We quickly find a little pier with great views of the lake and mountains and decide to get our tan on. Elena also decides to have a lovely little dip…in the glacial-temperature water. The moment the sun goes behind the clouds, we decide to pack it up and head towards the train station again. Incredibly parched and waiting for the train, we just ogled the beverage section at Coop pronto.

A quick train ride later, we arrive in Lauterbrunnen–a valley in Switzerland renown for it’s amazing hikes, views and 72 waterfalls. Not wanting to waste the daylight, we decide to explore the area after checking into our hostel. Being a couple of rebels, we hop a fence so we can climb up a trail to get a better view of Staubbach Falls. We almost hiked higher so we could go behind the waterfall but decided against it. Good decision because when we returned to the base, we saw that there was an abundance of snow. Back at the hostel, we eat our dinner (bread and cheese and fruit) outside, meet the hostel cat and huskies and enjoy the beautiful view of the valley. We spend the evening writing our numerous postcards and doing some light reading.

Friday: We wake up to slightly worse weather, that of Oregon. We don’t let a bit of rain stop us though so we decide to hike two trails. To sum of Wengen, the first trail, in one word is: UP. Not stairs, not switchbacks, just up. It was definitely a challenge for me but it was worth it. The whole way up we had great views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley below and then going back down was a breeze. Back at the hostel we had a break for lunch and then were back on a trail. This one was slightly easier because it was just switchbacks leading up to the top of the other side of the valley. Unfortunately, we ran into some snow on road and then reached a point where the road was completely covered in snow. Having feeling rather accomplished for the day, we decide to head back down and have an early evening full of wine and relaxation. It was definitely a good call because about two hours later, the light rain from throughout the day turned into fat snowflakes. And it continued to snow for the rest of the night turning the sun-soaked valley from the day before into a winter wonderland.

Saturday: It continued to snow all night so we woke up to piles of snow all around the hostel. We decided that out best course of action was to just say goodbye to Lauterbrunnen earlier than planned. Hiking and stunning views are the main draw of the valley so when the weather sucks, there’s not much to do. As we waited at the train station, we noticed that even some of the gondolas were shut down because of the snow. We took the train to Interlaken where we bought some souvenirs (more postcards for friends and a Swiss army knife for me) and then we were back en route to Lausanne. We considered stopping in Bern since we had a connecting train but decided against it since we both had been traveling a lot recently. At the Lausanne train station, we said goodbye as Elena was catching a train to Paris for her flight back to the states. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with a wonderful person in a wonderful place!

That’s Amore.

For my ten days of Easter/Spring break, I chose to visit the wonderful boot-shaped country of Italy. Like most first-timers to Italy, I planned my trip around the three main cities: Rome, Venice and Florence. Based on my short time in each place, each city has a distinct personality while still maintaining that Italian “je ne sais quoi.”

Rome

My longest stop was in Rome with three full days and two half days. I again got to see Clara and we were joined this time by our homie Kevin. Craziness filled the air as we were in Rome for probably its busiest time of year: Easter. Despite all the tourists, I was still able to get a thorough glimpse of Roma. The thing I loved most about Rome was how the clichés were fulfilled. Gelaterias and pizzerias around every corner, vespas whipping down the cobblestone roads, expressive hands, unwanted calls of “Ciao bella!”, ancient ruins casually placed throughout the city. Aided by the lovely and knowledgable Clara, we got a twofold visit, that of a tourist and that of a resident. We saw the major sites and ruins, had a Pope sighting, ate plenty of gelato and pizza, drank wine and limoncello, went to a Lazio soccer game, watched the movie Gladiator (don’t judge). We saw Rome during the night and day, rainy and blue skies. At all times it was gorgeous (except maybe the Tiber River). “This is a history major’s dream” as Kevin put it. The city is still so alive despite its obvious past.

Venice

My next stop was Venice with my sister who came over from the States grâce à our mother. (When my sister was studying abroad four years ago, I visited her during my Spring Break. We went to Liverpool, London and Dublin.) We had an adrenaline-pumping arrival in Venice at 10:30pm trying to navigate the poorly-marked streets with our less-than-helpful map and directions. Finally arriving at our B&B, we woke up a guest by ringing the doorbell and disturbed another by asking to use his phone. (This was funny because I spoke in English and French and the guy came to the door with a blowdryer. Not quite right.) Luckily, we were soon in our room, two tired travelers. Venice in the daytime was truly magical. Narrow streets, numerous canals, adorable bridges. My impression of Venice was that it’s a city for lovers due to the lack of noise from cars, wandering the streets with the inevitability of getting lost but not caring, stumbling across with bridges with locks, relaxing on a gondola. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it as I was increasing my love affair with Italia. With only one full day, we made sure to hit the major sites: the Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, Palazzo Ducale and Accademia de Venezia. It was quite a full day especially when you calculate the time and energy getting lost (not romantic for a pair of sisters with tired feet). The next day, we only had the morning before we were off again. Not being able to risk getting lost again, we took the vaparetto which is basically Venice’s transportation system via boat. We took it to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art to offset all the ugly baby Jesuses from the day before. This was one of my favorite things because it was such a surprise. I got to see works by Picasso, Braque, Dali, Kandinsky, Picabia, Magritte and Jackson Pollack.  With a hop, skip and a jump, we were leaving Venice and on route to Firenze.

Florence

While Rome is for history buffs, Florence is for art lovers. Seemingly frozen in time from the Medici reign, Florence is full of pockets of treasures. We lucked out with great weather the first day so we trekked south to the Plazo Pitti via the Ponte Vecchio to marvel at a palace full of art and meander through a grand garden speckled with signs of spring. We continued upward towards Piazzale Michelangelo which offers a great view of Florence. From here, I could really see the beauty of this European city in its preserved state. Unlike American cities that are painfully modern and recent, the cityscape of Florence is exclusively dominated by the architectural masterpieces from the Renaissance. Our second day was an art overload. We started with the Galleria dell’Accademia to ogle at Michelangelo’s David. While da Vinci’s Mona Lisa tends to be underwhelming, David does not disappoint. We continued our journey with a quick tour of the Duomo and then we were off to the Uffizi aka the best museum in the world for Renaissance art. Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, da Vinci, as well as many others. We ended the day with some purchases at the San Lorenzo leather market with gyros for dinner since we were both a little tired of pasta and paninis. Our last day, we toured the Palazzo Vecchio and had our final gelato (half stracciatella half tiramisu) and pizza.

And just like that we were headed to Rome for just a night before our early morning departures. We had a bit of a mishap with our Rome accommodation (ask me about it later) but it did not damper my opinion of my experience.Ciao Italy! Grazie! 

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Ski Weekend

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Ski Weekend

With spring (slowly) approaching, I made my last adventure to the slopes this past weekend. And with so much style. The exchange program through my school organized a ski weekend that was crazy cheap! It included: two lessons, two days of skiing, two nights accommodation, two dinners, two breakfasts and transportation. We stayed right at the base of the ski resort so in the morning it was just a five-minute waddle in our ski boots to get to the lift. While the conditions were poor and the snow was unimpressive, it was still a great weekend. The highlight for me was getting to do the Swiss version of night skiing. Unlike American ski resorts, none of the ones here have lights on them meaning them close around 4:30. What my group had the opportunity to do was ski with flaming torches! We skied down without poles with the slope only being lit by the people with torches.

The second day was the longest I had ever skied in one day but that didn’t stop me from après-ski-ing at a Mexican bar in the village. The last day had the best weather, with great visibility which led to a faint goggles tan. At the end of the weekend, I was incredibly exhausted at the action-packed weekend. With my ski season in Switzerland coming to a close, I feel thrilled to say that I’ve done a third of my skiing in the Swiss Alps and that I definitely improved my skiing abilities. I will miss the mountains but I’m excited for the warmer adventures I have planned in the near future!

Fasnacht: Swiss Gone Wild

Simply put, Fasnacht is the craziest time in Switzerland. Trying to explain it or draw comparisons is rather difficult. Imagine…a musical festival, a street party, Mardi Gras, Carnival, Halloween, marching bands, no smoking or open container laws, bar hopping, pub crawls, dance tents…all these combined is sort of what Fasnacht is. And this all takes place with people who are typically orderly and quiet during Swiss winter temperatures.

I was pretty much completely unaware of all this upon my arrival in Brig, Valais. I didn’t know that costumes were vital for Fasnacht, so I had to borrow something. (I also didn’t bring a costume in my limited suitcase space.) My train gave me a top hat and a man’s fancy dress coat so I looked like a cross between Charlie Chaplin and a butler. An important thing to note about Fasnacht costumes is that you do not wear a coat over you costume. You just layer up and suck it up.

We started the night by just walking through the entire festival seeing the different bars, booths, tents, bands, costumes, insanity. For the first part of the night, we stayed in a bar listening to a rock cover band all dressed like cops. During the second round of beers, a guy in my group points out that some female “hippies” are looking at me. I think I am being confused for a man but my group thinks that I’m being hit on. We were both wrong because they approached me thinking I was their friend. This was my first instance of the weekend where I was completely “dumbfounded” when someone approached me and spoke Swiss German.

Around midnight, we moved to main open space to see this one band play. Shivering and clutching yet another cup of beer, I was able to ogle all the interesting and creative costumes. Next we moved to a bar in a tent where that had music blasting. As I learned throughout the night, it is hard to move and specifically dance when wearing four layers of clothes.

The rest of the night was dedicated to dancing in a haze as we went from an underground dance club full of colored lights and pulsating music. It was more of a generic dance club without that Fasnacht specific feeling so we didn’t stay there long. Next stop was to a dance hole called “Glory Hole.” It was literally just one small room of a basement but with a live dj, a bar for drinks and a bar for shots. Apparently with Fasnacht there’s not much emphasis on rules, because people were smoking whatever they wanted in that little basement. With the party still bumpin’, we decided to leave at which point I realized it was after five. I still don’t know how we spent those four hours in two dance clubs but apparently it happened. We got back to my friend’s house at 6:00 in the morning where we drank some water, ate some pizza and decided it was probably best to just go to sleep.

I woke up the next morning (eh “afternoon” I suppose) still in half my costume and was greeted by the Swiss sun exposing the gorgeous mountainous landscape. Quite a lovely intermission between the nighttime festivities of Fasnacht.