Being in the International Business Management Studies Program (IBMS) put me in classes with probably 10% of the exchange students- the rest are in the European Studies program. This gave me a long weekend break at the end of March that many of my companions didnâ€™t have. Since my general travel strategy was to follow the action, I decided to try to catch the end of the ski season in the Swiss Alps alone for a few days. After some research, Interlaken, Switzerland became my destination. It has some of the higher peaks in the Alps (or at least the area) where I hoped to catch some snow. Again, I was plagued with naysayers who told me how expensive Switzerland is and so on, but I booked my flight anyway.
It was exciting to be traveling alone, since I heard it was a totally different experience. I landed in Basel in the north and took a long train ride south towards Interlaken. Itâ€™s name is pretty explanatory. This little town of 5,000 is nestled between two lakes with some of the bluest water Iâ€™ve ever seen. On the other two sides of the town lie mountains- still snowcapped, to my liking. I didnâ€™t really know what to do in this place, but I had packed my outdoor gear and so I started inquiring at the hostel about hiking and skiing. The first afternoon, I bought some water and chocolate at the super market and headed up an old logging road for an hour or more. I will admit that the groceries were expensive, but a little difficult to compare to Holland because of the Swiss Franc exchanging closer to the dollar.
I learned that in Switzerland, you rent your skis, poles, and boots in the town and then haul them up the mountain with you. You canâ€™t purchase anything on the mountain, not even the lift pass. Even though I was in the German-speaking part of the country (the Swiss donâ€™t have their own language), everyone I spoke with at the hostel, tourist office, and ski shop had great English skills. That evening, I rented my gear and lift pass for the Matterhorn Mountain and got some rest so I could get up early to ski while the snow was still good.
The train ride up through the glacier-cut valley to the mountain was really spectacular. The valley, called Lauterbrunnen, is probably a quarter mile across at some parts and lined by cliffs hundreds of feet high on the sides. In the valley itself, though, there is green grass, waterfalls coming off the cliffs to form little brooks, and picturesque Swiss chalets lining the narrow asphalt road.
My plan for the next day was to hike in the Lautrebrunnen Valley that had so impressed me the day before. Without much idea of what kind of trails it offered, I bought a light lunch outside the Lauterbrunnen train station and set off walking, hoping to find something nice. A small sign led me through someoneâ€™s backyard and up the beginning of a path crisscrossing a mountainside. The trail had no name, no length, and no destination, but it said â€œexperienced hikers onlyâ€. To make a long story short, my hike turned into about a 6 hour trek during which I encountered only 2 people, a couple of lone houses, a waterfall, and some of the best mountain views Iâ€™ve ever seen. By the time I made it back down the mountain to the train station, I was really tired but hugely satisfied with my day. I ended the day with a fondue pot, which I learned has Swiss origin. It is about what it seems- melted cheese and bread for somewhere around 24 Euro. Terribly expensive for what you got, but when in Switzerlandâ€¦
The next day, I had a later flight out from Basel, so I had a half day or so to hike around. I flirted with the idea of kayaking or canoeing on the lakes, which was reasonably cheap, but decided the water was a bit too cold and my time a bit short to bother. I walked around the town, picked up some fine Swiss chocolates, and then waited for my long train ride back out. If any readers are outdoor adventure fans, I canâ€™t recommend any place I know of more than Interlaken. They have skiing (in the Alps!), glacier hiking, and snowshoe hikes in the winter, and skydiving, hanggliding, bungy jumping, canoeing, kayaking, and a strange sport called zorbing in the warmer seasons. Yes, the place is expensive, but it has got it all.
Travelling alone was a different experience, but one I was really glad to have. For this particular trip, it would have been really difficult for me to find someone on exchange who was up for the kind of experience I knew I wanted: sleeping early, getting up early, and going outdoors nonstop for 3 days straight. Sure, I wouldnâ€™t have minded some company for mealtimes and a beer after a long day, but I was really glad that I didnâ€™t let my want for company keep me from this great trip.