Saturday, April 06, 2002

Switzerland: Cold Showers and Blue Eyes

It's that time again--time for me to report on the happenings of the past few weeks. I'll start from the very beginning of our Easter break; it's a very good place to start (as he subtly references "The Sound of Music"...). We had a five-day weekend, so the teachers spent the time doing all manner of things. Marsha flew to Chicago and then went on to Michigan for a leadership conference. Jerry spent a few days in Cesky Krumlov with his parents. Heather and Tanya stuck around Prague and relaxed. Prissy and Patty took a trip to Luxembourg and Germany. And lastly, but not leastly, Karen, Sissel, and I hopped on a run-down Czech train for Switzerland.

We spent all night in a sleeping car on the train and arrived in Stuttgart, Germany the next morning. After an hour-and-a-half layover we hopped on a nice Swiss-German train to Zurich. In Zurich we switched to a train to Interlaken, and from Interlaken caught a train, just in time, to Lauterbrunnen in the Jungfrau district of Switzerland. From Lauterbrunnen we caught a bus to Stechlberg 6.6 kilometers away, where we had reservations in the Naturfreundhaus, which I'll interpret, for those not as fluent in German as myself. It means "Nature Friend House."

It was a nice little place, and the three of us dropped our stuff off there in our private 8-person room, and then hiked the 6.6 kilometers back to Lauterbrunnen on a nice cliffside trail in the valley there. Stechelberg had no ATM machine or moneychanger, so in order to pay for our room we needed to find a money source. While we knew we weren't in trouble, and we hiked out of pleasure and not necessity, you should note here how you'd think that experienced travellers such as ourselves would learn to change money at more opportune times.

Anyway, it was a great hike through a valley with sheer 1000-foot cliffs on either side with snow-fed waterfalls coming down at fairly regular intervals. What was particularly impressive about this place was the fact that the tops of the cliffs were actually the bases of the mountains above them, so the land rose another several thousand feet above us in addition to the first thousand of the cliffs. Alps are big.

Back in Lauterbrunnen, we withdrew money and went to a grocery store to stock up on bread and jam, which we would subsist on for the next few days. After stocking up, we ate at a restaurant there in town, and had a pretty good meal. Then we caught the bus back to Stechelberg and the Naturfreundhaus for the night. It was at this point that I had my first experience with the Naturfreundhaus's experimentally therapeutic showers.

They apparently heat them with liquid nitrogen, or perhaps they used liquid hydrogen. I don't know, maybe they just take the water straight from a glacier without heating it at all. At any rate, we would soon grow to love to hate these showers. After literally 3 seconds under one, a person would no longer be able to feel their body, much less breathe. After my hyperventilatory shower experience, we went to bed.

Seeing as how we had an abundance of beds and a shortage of people in our room, we stole the blankets and pillows off of the unused ones and used them to further insulate and cushion our own beds and heads.

The next day we took a cable car up the sheer side of one of the cliffs, then switched to another cablecar, which took us higher on the mountain, then switched to another cable car, and then switched to the final cable car, which took us to the top of the Schilthorn. There is a revolving restaurant there, where one of the James Bond movies was filmed. We hung out there for a while and enjoyed the view.

Then I proceeded to intelligently lose my ticket to get back down the mountain and had to beg the lady at the gift shop to write a note for me so I wouldn't have to pay the 56-franc fare. Luckily for me, she was very nice and took pity on the poor boy with brilliant blue eyes.

On the way down, we skipped the third cable car and hiked down from a town called Murren to a town called Gimmelwald. These were both nice Swiss Alp towns. I'd love to go back in the summer and do some backpacking in that area. It was your typical "The Hills are Alive!" kind of stuff.

Anyway, we finally took the cable car back down the cliffs and went back to Nature Friend House. The three of us spent the rest of the day reading on one of the beds while curled up underneath 7 or 8 comforters due to the Nature Friend House's desire to be friendly to all forms of nature, including arctic temperatures, which were effectively housed in our room.

The next day we went to Lucern, toured the town in about 4 hours, ate at Subway, hopped on a train for Zurich, ran outside the station in Zurich and took a picture for novelty's sake, ran back downstairs to our underground train platform, jumped on the train for Stuttgart, met a couple of American tourists bound for Prague, gave them a list of stuff to see, switched trains in Stuttgart, went to sleep, arrived in Prague the next day, met the American tourists again and showed them the information desk, and then went home to take a hot shower.

I did have other things that I wanted to write, but that is such an aesthetically pleasing place to stop that I'm going to go ahead and sign off now.


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