Switzerland. The land of the Swiss Alps.
I think that everyone hears about just how amazing and beautiful the Swiss Alps are. Growing up I've always dreamt about visiting the place that was almost mystical in my mind. This dream was on track to become a reality when my friend Christian and I planned to make a trip across Europe.
Our planning was minimal. Resources were scattered and trying to get information through communication was difficult at best with the time difference and language barriers. We ended with unlimited train passes in hand and excitement to finally get the chance to visit Switzerland!
Our time in Switzerland began by touching down very late at night in Zurich on a very rough flight. Our tummies were on empty, but we wanted to make it to our Airbnb and start laundry for the next day's journey before coming back out for dinner.
Luck was not on our side when we arrived however. Our host had apparently fallen asleep. She did not answer the door or her phone as we tried to get in touch with her. There we were, homeless sitting on the side of the curb in Zurich, Switzerland with our backpacks trying to find last minute lodging accommodations. We were defeated.
Our options were slim so we decided to give it one more go after a hour passes. We rang the doorbell and called one additional time with no answer. By some miracle, after standing outside of the door for what was about another 20 minutes trying to calculate the next move, we hear footsteps coming towards the door. The lock clanked and the door opened and there was our host, hair all messed up, wiping the sleep out of her eyes, and extremely apologetic for what had happened. A "great start" to our Swiss adventure!
We get in and immediately try to do laundry in preparation for our early departure the next day. We didn't know the language or how to operate the machine but we figured out that we did need coins to operate them. We still hadn't eaten at this point, so we figured that if we went back to the airport, we could find coins and find food while we were there.
Having wasted several hours, our arrival at the airport was met with everyone closing their doors for the night. It's safe to say that luck wasn't improving. We had to settle for very overpriced McDonald's chicken wings and was able to get change in Swiss Francs from paying with Euros before making the journey back to begin laundry. So much for sleep.
The next morning we hopped on a train bright and early towards Grindelwald as we hoped our luck in Switzerland would get better. The train ride was absolutely amazing. The track cut right in the valleys of mountainous canyon walls cut by the crystal clear blue glaciated water rushing through the rivers. This is what we imagined from Switzerland.
We did not know exactly what we wanted from the country, but we know we wanted some hardcore outdoor exploration. The train ride over sent our eagerness through the roof.
As we arrived in Grindelwald though, we could already begin to tell that it may have been a bit too touristy for us. We hopped off the train to throngs of people awaiting (not exactly what I want to see). If I had to describe the feeling of it, it felt exactly like Disney World except surrounded by mountains.
Don't get me wrong, the village was beautiful. Hazily shadowed beneath the towering Bernese Alps. The streets are lined with shops and restaurants and the atmosphere is lively. We figured we would explore the village and set out to find an adventure off the beaten path the next day.
In short, we wanted a trail that was a little more rugged and that could get our boots a little dirt. But we struggled to find a hike that wasn't really just a sidewalk on a mountain. We explored throughout, but by the end of the evening, we had figured out that Grindelwald wasn't the place for us.
The next morning it was a no brainier to hop on another train towards Zermatt. If you know anything about Switzerland, you'll know that Zermatt in fact has no cars. It is a town where you can only walk in the streets. To say this place wasn't beautiful would be a lie, but again it wasn't for us. When we hopped off the train we almost immediately turned right around just to go find something else. In the end, we decided to stay. But yes, you got it, the next morning we were out on the first train towards Lausanne with no idea where we would actually end up.
We took the train out of Zermatt with no direction the next morning. We rode it until we were hungry and stopped off somewhere near Interlaken. At this stop, we saw a poster for a park and discovered that it was just a train stop away from where we were currently located with some decent looking hiking options. After we filled our hungry stomachs, we were off with hopeful thoughts on what we were about to see. Was this what we were looking for?
We ended up in a village where not a single person spoke English. We got in a van full of schoolchildren at a bus stop that was taking us to what we thought was the trailhead. As we continued to climb up the mountain, we realized that the van was not going the way we wanted it to. We tried to ask the driver where we were going, but he knew no English and we knew no German. Eventually we reached a dead end in the road and the driver was able to convey to us that we had to get off and that he would return within the next hour.
There we were, stranded again! There just so happened to be a local pizza and beer joint on the top of the mountain that we could eat at while our driver was gone. After we ate, we went back outside and enjoyed the marvelous views as we waited on our bus driver.
Even though we couldn't tell you were we were or how exactly we were getting back, this moment was the most fun that we had in Switzerland thus far. We were in actual quietness, alone to explore the village that we found ourselves in.
Eventually the driver came back and took us back down to where we started. We mapped out how to get where we were going and went on an actual hike which ended in a beautiful view. There were no tourists, but just a few locals that we had passed a long the way. It was relaxing and exactly what we were looking for.
After two days in Switzerland fighting the tourists, we had finally satisfied our craving for adventure. We had spent a day hopping on random trains, random buses and getting lost in the beautiful country side and I was much more content with that than spending money to ride to viewpoints.
Switzerland was a journey. While the experience wasn't quite what I had hoped and dreamt that it would be, I owe a lot to the country for what we learned and the memories that will forever be engrained in my memory. We may not have had the true Swiss Alpine adventure, but we were lucky enough to be nomads in Switzerland. I can think of worse situations to be in.
If you're reading this, let this be a testament to making the best out of every situation. Not everything will always go your way, especially in very unknown places, but that is the best part of adventuring. You learn and you learn about yourself and take away lessons that can't be taught in a textbook. Because of that, looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.