Category Archives: Switzerland

Montreux Jazz Festival: Day 4

Neither the sun nor the sound of boat hornson the lake were welcomed this morning. We stumbled down to breakfast, nearly begging for coffee. We planned our day, but the effort proved futile as our day unfolded.

We went for a walk down the waterfront, a walk we’ve become all too comfortable with. Continuing to enjoy the weather, Dad and Ray went to the pool, and I read my book on the balcony of our hotel room. By that time, it was early afternoon, and we dressed to the 9’s to go salsa dancing on a yacht that would take us on a 3 hour trip around the harbor. When we walked down to the pier though, we looked around at the mob of people waiting to get on the boat. It was a collection of 30+ year olds who were lively. And by lively, I mean tipsily drunk. It sunk in for the three of us then that there was a reason the boat only wanted 18 year olds and up: open bar. We gave each other a familial look that said our Bibbins intuition was sending up red flags, and we decided to bail on the salsa dancing among the men who would undoubtedly be too touchy and too drunk. Dad scalped our tickets, then we ran with fear at the idea of him spending our last day here in a Swiss prison.

Dad settled into a grassy spot in the park, listening to a big band, while Rachel and I decided to do some last minute shopping among the tents and stores of the waterfront. An hour later, we found Dad, and walked along the main road of the city to a pizzeria, where we waited for it to open. When the opening seemed farther away than our stomachs could handle, we walked the full distance to the well-reviewed restaurant in our hotel. To put this in perspective for you, today alone I spent three and a half hours walking around Montreux. I am exhausted.

We enjoyed a relaxing meal under an awning by the water. We stared down the overly confident sparrows that beg like untrained dogs at our feet. We all exchanged thoughts on the trip, favorite and least favorite moments, and compared this trip to our family vacation four years ago. The meal was delicious, and paired with a sea breeze and European songstress who serenaded the diners, the evening was beautiful.

On our walk to the Stravinski Auditorium, we had the opportunity to listen to a great guitarist from Northern England. I wish he had had more confidence in his voice, because the two skills paired would have sounded great. Instead, he played a quick walking blues and sang in a sultry Elvis-like manner that didn’t quite fit. Regardless we wanted to stay, rather than go to Stravinski. We were exhausted still from the Wyclef Jean concert the night before, but felt obligated to go see Green Day perform tonight; It was Green Day after all, and bailing on two musical events at a music festival seemed sacrilegious. We told ourselves we would leave around 10:30 though, to increase the amount of time we got to sleep before our flight. That did not happen.

We sat ourselves in our front row, VIP, balcony seats, for tonight, we were those VIP jerks. We were too tired to pretend that standing on the floor for hours on end was even remotely okay. The auditorium was packed from wall to wall, and clearly more crowded than the night before. The opening act came out, a band photo (1)called Twin Atlantic, and almost immediately the ear plugs went in. The band was from Scotland, and young. It showed in their stage presence (that being the youth, not the country of origin.) When the high decibel level was deferred by the ear plugs, it was easy to tell that the lead singer of the group was truly terrible at what he did. Using the deafening affects of amplifiers and stereos, the young man tried to distract the audience from the fact he was pitchy and untrained. Not to mention his jumpy addiction to his printed set list made me uneasy. The punk rock group as a whole had quite an irritating stage presence. When they were finished, I was clapping more for the house lights to come up than for their performance.

Half an hour later, we were in our seats again, and Green Day began to perform. They had big shoes to fill after Jean’s engaging performance last night. It began with the customary public denunciation of the VIP section. But with my legs able to finally rest, it all felt worth it. The band launched into their greatest hits, and pulled 2 teens up on stage. One to dance and dive, and one to actually play guitar with the group… and then stage dive. He was actually given the guitar at the end of his performance, a great gesture on the part of Billie Joe Armstrong. The audience was so alive and engaged with the band, and vice versa. I think everyone was entertained at the idea of a rock group being invited to a jazz festival, and this includes Armstrong, when he said, “I don’t know what the f*%@ we’re doing here. Maybe Green Day is just some jazzy s&!#.” They did find a way to incorporate some jazz, and brought out a tenor sax player to solo. Despite that, the mosh pits formed, rockers head banged, and everyone a bit more neutral just flat out enjoyed themselves.

At one point, Armstrong talked about the plane crash in San Francisco. He said how this was one of those moments to look at our feet, the sky, the people next to us, and feel the blood pumping through our arteries, hearts beating, and souls active. We are alive. And that’s a phenomenal gift. From that point on in the concert, I stopped feeling tired, and felt more excitement than I had the whole day. It was an amazing feeling, and still is! The concert went on to be one of the most amazing performances I’ve seen: energetic, musically creative, and talented was Green Day. All we had hoped them to be, and more!

But all good things must come to an end. Tomorrow we fly home to Boston, and our regular lives will resume. But they will be anything but the same.

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For now, bonne nuit!

Montreux Jazz Festival: Day 3

I don’t know if my words can do yesterday any justice, but I can give it my best shot.

Rachel and I woke up late, and hurried ourselves down to breakfast so as not to miss it. Already accepting that the 90 degree weather would put us in a lazy mood for the day, we grabbed our books and walked down the waterfront to fold out chairs that lay by the water. Much to our surprise, two young men were sleeping in broad daylight on towels and sleeping bags, with their possessions tucked underneath the chairs. I’m seeing a lot more of these who come and go from the festival without having made proper sleeping arrangements. When Ray and I felt our skin getting pink, we took refuge in the shade and continued reading our respective books until Dad came back from dropping the rental car off in the city.

We all walked downtown together and did some window shopping and actual shopping, hoping to get our errands out of the way: we did not. Back at the hotel, we decided to go swimming at the local pool again. And, let me preface this anecdote with a disclaimer: I know, it’s Europe. Yet with that being said, there were too many naked people in and around the pool for my liking. I tried to hide how much of a prude I am about social nudity, but I didn’t do it well. I covered my eyes when walking past the nudists, and buried my face deep in my book when I was sitting pool-side so the book engulfed my peripherals. I’m still trying to move past the ease these people had at such a public display; I know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

I had hoped that we would be able to hear the finals of an ongoing piano IMG_3525competition run by Iiro Rantala that I learned about at his concert. But by the time we finished at the pool and found the location of the competition, the judging had been completed. We were only in time to hear Rantala and a few others speak, and the winner to be announced. After the winner was told what he had won (a hefty amount actually), he played the most heartfelt rendition of “What A Wonderful World” I’ve ever heard. It even rivaled that of our singer from Hotel Bären. 😉

We very quickly sought out wristbands, praising the again empty counter. After a delicious dinner by the waterfront, we strolled down to the other end of the waterfront. Dad got caught up in the music in the park by Les Castagniers, a Swiss folk group. I typically like Irish folk music, but the poor harmonizing, tacky punk look, and unskilled handling of their various instruments was an immediate turn off for me. Dad would still disagree  that they were, in fact, an authentic group. But I’m not buying.

Not too long after, we entered the Stravinski Auditorium, along with 3,000 other patrons. That was when the most amazing moments of my life were about to unfold, and I didn’t even know it yet.

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The first act of the night was Bobby Womack, a funk musician whos career I assume had hit its peak in the 70s. His music wavered between dull and and upbeat funk songs. But it felt like his background singers and horn section were pushing Womack to perform, or even stay standing. Songs slurred from one to the next with no real definition of an ending. After an hour and a half, we, and a large percentage of the audience were ready for it to end. We had run out of ways to feign interest. However, there was one man in the crowd who could not contain his excitement for the groove, despite the tempo of the music. He did quite possibly the most feminine and ridiculous dances I’ve ever seen, as if he were a 20 year old woman in a club. If you’ve ever seen Hitch with Will Smith and Kevin James, you know the type of dancing I’m talking about. I wanted to go up to him, and tell him “This is where you live, this is home.” Finally, it was over. As an experienced concert-goer, it’s hard to not think of one act preceding another as an “Opening Act.” But here at Montreux, they place importance on the fact that these shows are double-features with equally established artists.

However, Wyclef Jean’s performance that followed Bobby Womack’s made it clear who the real attraction was. Jean was absolutely incredible. He was so charismatic, yet so appreciative of the roar of applause the audience gave him. He began by playing jazz piano, then singing a bit. He later said he did that to “Not give the impression that he’s just another one of those rapper guys.” After the audience was drawn in by his reggae and messages of peace, Jean shed the mask, and broke into raps in English, French, and Spanish. He got the audience hyped up and dancing like I’ve never seen before.

At one point he stopped the performance, looked up at the VIP box that was above all of us partying at ground level, and said “F*@% the VIP!”. He made his way up to the balcony, and stood on the railing that was to protect the VIP from a tragic fall. Wyclef defied the purpose of that railing, and got the seated VIPs standing and dancing: it was exactly the statement the night needed. Wyclef read the audience like a book, and while he made his way down from the balcony, he had his DJ play “My Girl” by The Temptations so people would pair up and dance.

Around that time, the night took a different turn, and it became less about a concert to hear a performer, and more about one collective celebration of hip hop, reggae, rap, jazz, and latin dancing. From there, any hope to regain control of the audience was lost. We were going insane dancing and jumping around, and he loved it. He switched from old Fugee classics to newer songs of his solo career with phenomenal communication with his DJ, bassist, drummer, and guitarist. He even played the radio recordings of some of his better-known songs, and sang or rapped over them; he didn’t care. He didn’t have anything to prove to us. And we loved that.

Wyclef came back out for 4 encores, and changed the tone of each encore. He united the crowd over Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, played his own version of a Pink Floyd song on his guitar, began a Brazilian Carnevale celebration, and finally ended the night with a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Somewhere in this, a Conga line started. By then the audience had dwindled to about 700 people, and Wyclef himself joined us all in the celebration. We did the Conga with Wyclef Jean and hundreds of others from all around the world. Wow. Wyclef had other great interpersonal audience moments too. He had a few kids get up on stage and dance with him, and even grinded with a woman who could have been as old as his mother. It was disturbing, but entertaining as anything. We couldn’t stop laughing, and neither could Wyclef as he lectured “Mama” on what to do and what not to do while dancing.

By the time the performance ended, it was 1 am, chalking our time in the Stravinski up to 5 hours. We were dead on our feet, and still trying to process everything we had seen and the invigorating experience we (surprisingly) survived. Just absolutely incredible.

Montreux Jazz Festival: Day 2

I have waved my white flag and surrendered to the French half of Switzerland; Rachel has begun teaching me French. Between French lessons, we all grabbed DSC_6556breakfast and went on a walk around the beautiful lake. Cameras in hand, we photographed every inch of the sculptures and flowers around the lake. Rachel took pleasure in chasing every little dog we saw to take its picture. Afterwards, we took a family trip to the gym in the hotel. Our initial hope was to be able to climb up the flights of stairs without running out of breath; our excuse of “Oh, it’s the altitude!” is getting a little old. However, Rachel researched it, and we’re at 1,258 feet…yet everyone’s still out of breath. Hmmm…

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Post-work out, we went to the public pool next to our hotel. It’s absolutely DSC_6648gorgeous. I wasn’t careful though, and while I spent more time reading beside the pool than swimming in it, I burned to a crisp. The 90 degree weather and outrageous sun just about did my skin in for today. Whoops.

We vowed yesterday to not get caught in the same festival hubbub we did last night. Two hours before the show was scheduled to start, we made our way to the wristband counter, and asked if we could get our bracelets. Expecting a prompt negatory, we were surprised when the man at the counter gladly exchanged our tickets for bracelets. My first response was a dumbfounded “Really?!”, half-expecting an angry mob to surround us. It only felt natural that my toes be trampled on in order to gain access to the festival. But tonight that wasn’t the case.

The extra time allowed us to get dinner from one of the many venues along the waterfront. I had delicious pizza, all while my French lessons continued. At one point, a Swiss woman who had joined us at the benches turned around to help Rachel and I with both our German and French conjugations. She was so friendly to ask us what we were studying, and seemed genuinely interested. That may have been when what I was experiencing sunk in. Here I am, in this gorgeous city, surrounded by well-dressed, well-spoken, beautiful people. The languages are plentiful, and the diversity is overwhelming. Music plays everywhere, at all times, and everyone from passersby to street vendors to tourists, like myself, stop to appreciate the excitement of the music. I love it.

We then walked to one of the venues: Music in the Park. We listened to the Oundle School Jazz Orchestra from the UK, and their performance was neat. They played the classics: Chameleon, Don’t Mean A Thing, Sway, Fever. You get the idea. What intrigued me was the age range of this amateur group. And the number of people who were captivated by what would be at home, background music. People were dancing, eating, and smoking to the sounds of a hot kick-off to summer. Rachel phrased it best after the park: “I’m gonna need a Nicorette patch after this weekend, the second hand smoke is so strong.”

We made our way back to the Jazz Club again, up to Table 13, our table from the night before. Two pianos and one keyboard were set up for Act Night. First to the stage: the announcer. But after that! Iiro Rantala of Finland. Let me say, for those who expected a tame performance out of tonight, they were given anything but. Iiro played so rigorously that his face contorted as the speed of his playing IMG_3510increased. He would place a damp towel over the strings to bring out the harp-like qualities of the great grand piano. It was merely impossible to not be drawn in by his repetitive chords and rhythms, just to be snapped out of the trance at his mercy. Sitting in the palm of a musician’s hand is a frightening place to be, but exhilarating at the same time.

After Iiro came Michael Wollny of Germany. He slapped the keys like a mad scientist would furiously work away at a lab bench. He even stood up, reached around, and plucked the actual strings and hammers of the piano when the sound suited him. He was lanky, and as he jumped out and around his seat, I couldn’t help but find his stage presence amusing. He placed a wine glass on the strings, making a tinny ringing sound echo throughout the room. At the peak of his solo performance, the piano roared to its full potential as he literally karate chopped the keys. Watching him play was something akin to what I imagine watching Thelonious Monk at work would have been like. It’s a type of scary genius.

Finally was the Polish piano man, Leszek Mozdzer. His style of playing was much more philosophical, and based on a true talent well nurtured. He was not any more unique than the other two musicians, he was just talented. It’s a shame to say that being talented isn’t enough, but compared to last nights interpersonal performers, the shoes were big ones to fill.

The three players played duos and trios in addition to their solo works tonight. What astounded me most about their working in tandem was when they, mid-song, would stand up, and play two pianos at once. As if on an imaginary wheel, they would rotate as quickly as possible to the next piano, and were comfortable in the transition. Even if that meant playing a keyboard and grand piano at the same time. Their passion for what they were playing was audible through their grunts in time with their keys. By the end of the performance, the men were visibly drenched in sweat from the exercise they got. I hadn’t realized it until their final bows, but the crew looked like a group of Cousin Itt’s from the Addams Family. Regardless, it was an invigorating experience, and truly unforgettable.

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At the end of the performance, we walked home through the hustle and bustle of the waterfront that hadn’t been an issue on Opening Night. It occurred to me as I passed the throngs of teens and young adults on the sidewalk that this is their big event. In my town, we have the fair. But here, they have 16 days of free concerts, street vendors, delicious food, and tourism. Their evening activities for the next two weeks will be making plans to meet up in this, their beautiful city, and people watch. They are so lucky.

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To his credit, Leszek Mozdzer did take a more philosophical approach to his music, and I thought what he shared tonight was interesting. He played with his left hand a very rigid and repetitive line from Choppan’s “Prelude”. Meanwhile, he played a fun and interesting love song with his right hand. The symbolism lay in this performance: these two hands represented “The Division of Life.” We are faced with what we have to do, and what we want to do. Mozdzer’s toast to the audience proved that he honestly hoped that no member in attendance tonight had to ever face this division. But what Mozdzer didn’t know was that somewhere in the abyss of that same audience, a young woman was already facing that war within the soul between desire and responsibility.

I don’t want to ever leave Montreux.

Montreux Jazz Festival: Day 1

Happy Fourth of July, from abroad! Once again, I celebrate our freedom and independence not in the states. Ah well.

We embarked on the third and final leg of our journey today: to Montreux Switzerland, the initial reason we decided to take this trip. But before we began our drive, we drove up to Grindelwald to take a gondola to the top of the mountain, with hopes of zip-lining back down. As we got nearer to the peak though, our chances of zip lining grew dim. The thick clouds had settled on the mountains, and the visibility was nulled. We waited for some time at the peak’s restaurant for the clouds to clear, sipping on hot chocolate (warmed Ovaltine) and croissants. But we had no luck with the zip lines, and had to throw in the towel to go back down the gondola. Our only source of entertainment that trip was watching Dad almost toss his cookies on the gondola ride.

We drove from the base of the mountain to Broch, Switzerland: the French half of the country. Also known as: Rachel’s territory. Our trip led us to this halfway point because it is home to the Mason Cailler Chocolate Factory. We took a tour of the factory, but after a 20 minute wait for an English speaking tour. The best part of the tour was getting to taste-test any of the chocolates we wanted at the end. We took our fair share of chocolates, and then bought some on our way out. Yum!

Finally we arrived at our beautiful hotel in Montreux: Eden Palace. We had time to rest, but then set out to explore the waterfront behind our hotel, and wound up at the Montreux Jazz Club within the grounds of the festival. We were bounced from one entrance to another, and finally to a booth where we were to IMG_3485exchange our tickets for entrance bracelets. The push for bracelets as everyone’s showtimes came and went was unbelievable. There was no rhyme or reason or organization, and subsequently, we were jostled every which way. I don’t think I have ever had to protect my body and belongings so closely. At one point Rachel and Molly tried to link together and break through the barriers, but two Frenchmen (averaging about 6′ 3″) looked at each other, said “NO” very curtly, and did everything in their power to throw elbows at Rachel and Molly. Holding firm though, we made our way to the front, and got our bracelets. I think the true war hero from tonight was a frail old woman I saw who had been shoved the wrong way, and broke down crying. My heart goes out to her.

We found our way back down to the first floor of the indoor complex, and sat down at our private table in the club. We were late for the opening act: Norma IMG_3490Jean Martine. A native New Yorker, it was nice to see that our acts for the night would be in English. Her songs were touching and emotional, with a cross combination of Adele and country. I think that was in part due to her acoustic set up with just one other guitar player aside from herself. I loved the sultry nature of her voice, and the cozy club-like atmosphere I’m familiar with from home. Dad even was called upon during her performance for having read the book one of her songs was inspired by (that’d be Birdsong, by the way.)

Later, we heard Lianne La Havas play. Her band consisted of one back up singer, one drummer, one keyboardist, and a bass player. Her songs were unique; they teetered on the edge of acceptable with chord progressions and harmonies thatIMG_3491 some wouldn’t even dare touch. Her song topics explored all ranges of human emotion, but capitalized on frustration, temptation, and anger. Even her love songs weren’t what I would consider soft and compassionate.

Regardless, these two performers rivaled Leonard Cohen that night for audience members, and I was pleasantly surprised by the show they gave. Really, I absolutely loved it.

Afterwards, we walked home along the water. This was another instance where I

IMG_3493 IMG_3494was grateful for a language barrier. On the walk home, Rachel and I enjoyed the breeze and neon of the festival set up. However, there were a few drunk Frenchmen a little older than us who were looking to strike up a conversation. All Rachel told me was “Keep walking, keep walking, don’t look back.” When I asked her later what they were asking us, she eluded to a certain European openness, tailored to promiscuity. So, in short, they weren’t asking to pick our brains about the Egyptian power struggle over a cappuccino. And I’ll say this now: were we in America, I would have felt more than comfortable explaining to these guys what is socially appropriate and inappropriate to say to women. Again: language barrier.

Once again, I am relieved to have the safety and comfort of a warm bed, and the view over a gorgeous lake. In that way, and many other respects, I’m very fortunate. So far, this trip has been one amazing experience and opportunity after the next.

Bon Soir!

Lake Brienz

“The more people you travel with, the fewer people you meet.”

That brilliant adage can be accredited to Gavin (or Kevin…) whom we met while white water rafting in Interlaken today. It was a rainy and gloomy day in Switzerland today, and surprisingly perfect weather to go in the river, since we were already wet. With that, the day did not go to waste.

Dad and Molly began their day with a hike, which I had intended to go on. But at 7 am, my body had other plans. I arose later, and walked out onto the patio to see the clouds settled among the mountains, and got ready to go rafting in my IMG_3477swimsuit and sunglasses. By the time we had been picked up in front of Hotel Bären, Reuben the Kiwi made it clear to me that this wouldn’t be like other rafting trips I had been on before. When we arrived at the company, we met the 30 other rafters we would be journeying with: Girl Scouts. Yes, we went white water rafting with Girl Scouts. I couldn’t think of a greater paradox if I tried. They all spoke English, but it was cool that they were all drawn together from Australia, New Zealand, and England to do a tour of Europe. The only other American was a young man from Michigan: Gavin/Kevin.

The extreme sports company was run by Kiwis, and their humor (and delightful accents) made stripping down out of comfort and into wetsuits tolerable. There was nothing not hideous about wearing wetsuits, life jackets, water shoes, and helmets while trying to balance on the side of a raft. But we managed to focus on the fun and fear Grade 4 rapids presented, versus our aesthetic appeal… or lackthereof.

The rapids were amazing, and I took a helmet to the face a couple of times, but it was exhilarating to paddle and swim in the frigid water in the middle of a storm. Our guide, Tim (or Tazzie) was as serious as a heart attack about our diving out of the raft for practice, much to our dismay. We were all shocked at how quickly Rachel was able to get back into the boat. Only later we learned that she had held on to the OS (“outside”, or “oh shit”) ropes the entire time. Meanwhile, I got to know a few of the girl scouts on our raft for a bit too: one from England, two from Australia. It made me wish I had stayed with Girl Scouts years ago… just kidding. Troop moms prove to be awful internationally.

When we were spit out at the end of the river, we got out of the raft and swam in the stunning blue Lake Brienz. The water was noticeable warmer, which is IMG_3456probably why the ducks and swans enjoyed it so much. Afterwards, we took the bus back to the base, stripped out of wetsuits and covered ourselves with what little we had brought to warm ourselves in the storm. That’s when we met Gavin/Kevin, the CPA from Michigan who had only nice things to say about where he came from, and the tour of Europe he was taking alone, using the saved up vacation time he had. A lot would think about traveling alone as a lonely experience. But he looked at it differently: an opportunity to meet new people, travel between hostels cheaply, and do what you’d like at your leisure. The entire time Gavin/Kevin told us about his experiences in Corsica, Germany, etc, I kept thinking to myself “I’m going to do this, and travel as much as I can.” This is where Gavin/Kevin’s one piece of advice came into play.

I thought back to my trip to the South Pacific. At 16, I was so uncomfortable traveling alone. I floated in a pack of about 8 kids who became my life line in Sydney, Auckland, and Waikiki– predominately the bigger cities. This was partly due to my nerves of being “an outsider” and partly due to our rigid instructions to stick to timetables and together. In Germany, my fears waned, and I met a lot of new great people because of it. But there is a lot of truth in what the young American told us today. Traveling alone or in smaller groups allows you room to meet new people, and broaden your horizons. Yes, even if, those horizons are only expanded so far as to include 30 Girl Scouts.

When we came back, we did the typical trek up four flights of stairs, fought the heavy door of our family corridor, walked up more stairs to our rooms, and collapsed. Quickly though, our subconscious minds grew paranoid about the grunginess of the lake and overused wetsuits. We had to cave: the dingy hobbit shower had to be used. Blech, that’s all I’ll say.

After a quick nap, we set out for a “vacation from our vacation.” We went to eat at an Irish pub: the menu was in English, the timing of the meal was American, and our waiter spoke flawless English. SCORE! We ordered burgers, fries, and salads, and it was a pick-me-up sort of meal that topped off a day of English, but also let us relax before we begin our drive to Montreaux tomorrow.

Guten Nacht!

Jungfrau: Top of Europe

DSC_6513Today was quite the adventure, filled with diversity beyond belief. We woke up to a very German breakfast: an assortment of meats and cheeses. Naturally, I went for the least threatening yogurt. We decided to take the train in downtown Wilderswil to wherever it may lead, which was apparently the top of the mountains. We took 3 separate train connections to get to “Jungfrau: The Top of Europe”… as you can see they’ve really capitalized on their cog railways to the point that their slogan hangs around like a head cold that won’t go away.

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The trains reminded me of the T in Boston: electrically charged, but with the added bonus of gears that cranked the trains up the mountain. The views were spectacular: on one side, we could see green rolling hills, complete with wooden homes and waterfalls. On the other side, we scrambled to take photos of the snow-capped mountain that awaited our arrival. The scenes were picturesque, and the other families on the train must have thought so too, because we all seemed to be rushing to take the same photos: imitating the actions of those who seemed to catch on to a new angle first.

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Our arrival at Jungfrau was a tedious one. They stopped the train every so often to acclimate us to the new altitudes, but all I felt as the train made its steady climb was oxygen deprived, and subsequently, sleepy. When we got off the train at the top, the view was spectacular. But our journey inside the mountain only began there. We walked through extensive tunnels and caverns to new viewpoints, and to get outside onto the mountain. I, in my boat shoes, sweatshirt, and baseball cap, clearly came unprepared in comparison to the hikers who wore their wool. I only braved the freezing temperatures for a minute before I went back inside.

We then travelled back through the tunnels, and the nausea began to sink in. The altitudes made us light-headed, and the tunnel system was so still, it made our heartbeats feel boisterous. I couldn’t walk a straight line, and I felt completely DSC_6521 DSC_6520out of control of my body and mind, which had turned not only against me, but each other. Regardless, we had to press on for the one thing we had journeyed to see: The Ice Palace (Eispalast.) Inside the mountain, ice tunnels had been carved and preserved, which then led to an ice museum of intricate ice sculptures and doorways. It was unreal, and frigid. My claustrophobia only got worse, and as soon as we had seen all there was to see, we exited and set off to find Rachel, who had given up fairly quickly on the ice escapade.

With the claustrophobia and nausea only getting worse, we all set off down the mountain via railway, clamoring for space between the other tourists. It seemed our plans were just in the nick of time, as it started to rain. We hiked up the small village of Wilderswil, and relaxed in our (still quaint) hotel.

Later, we set our sights on the town of Interlaken (pronounced Interlocken), and ate at an Italian restaurant that came highly recommended, mainly because it was in close proximity to the Diskothek. The food was delicious, and as usual, took hours to enjoy. We then made our way to the Disko, which interestingly enough, must be Swiss for “divey bar.” The room was dark, and the walls and ceiling were plastered with years upon years of memorabilia. This includes, but is not limited to: bras, sunglasses, drumsticks, and neon signs. The Disko also doubled as a tattoo parlor. I’d say the only real pluses to a place such as this was the great rock n’ roll music (all classic American hits), and the bartender. He drew a couple of German lines from me, but it was hard for me to say anything more than my name and where I was traveling from, because he just before had remarked how he hates speaking German. Greeeatttt.

When we’d had enough, we gracefully made our exit, disappointed that a Disko wasn’t really a disco. We split our return journey home between a train and Taxi, and the evening came to a close.

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I want to take a moment to share something deeply personal for a moment. On the day of my high school graduation, I cried to my boyfriend for hours about feeling like one of the “unimportant” people in the world. I had watched my classmates grow, and I felt like we had naturally divided ourselves into those who are “important” and going places, and those who are merely pawns, here to build up the self-esteem of those who are important. I had chased my dreams for all of high school: made great friends, travelled the world, and established myself in several leadership positions. But where did that leave me, and what did I have to show for it? I felt one chapter of my life closing, and I didn’t see the potential for a new one to be written. Retrospectively, this was a very VERY childish attitude to have. But in that moment on my couch, it felt very real. I’m not afraid of too much, but I was petrified of my amazing journey coming to an altogether halt. Something occurred to me tonight though as I wrote this post:

My experiences thus far have made me happy; I have pushed myself to know more about myself, harder than I know anyone around me to have pushed themselves. I have sought answers to unanswerable questions, and tried unceasingly to quench my thirst. I have travelled to run away, travelled to find myself, yet have found the most satisfying feelings in sitting perfectly still. I have actively made a difference in my own life, but also those around me. More importantly, I have allowed others to make differences in my life. I never stopped loving, or hoping for the best out of people or situations. I think that’s pretty rare. So, I am important. I’m important to some: my community, my family, my friends. But I’m also important to myself. I matter, and I make a difference. I don’t intend to stop traveling, writing or searching for answers. I couldn’t satiate those hungers if I tried. But my worth, validity, and “important-ness” are reflected in my actions. And I reap the benefits of that through my unmeasurable happiness. A fact I have to write down in order to remind myself!

Thank you always for listening to my rants of epic proportions! 😉

Guten Nacht!

The Swiss Alps

Guten Abend!

This morning we woke up in Italy, and discussed our options for the day over coffee cups 1, 2, and 3. We could walk into the city of Como and explore, or lounge by the pool until it was time to leave for Switzerland. Naturally, Rachel and I chose the latter option; we felt the need to tan somewhat for the remainder of our time in Italy. What I can say about our decision is this: The sun from high noon until 4 in the afternoon is much hotter and effective than the evening sun we enjoyed yesterday. After a while, my dad commended Rachel on her tan, yet told me to lay a towel over myself AND move my lounge chair into the shade, for fear I would toast like a marshmallow in a fire pit.

Between the tanning sessions, Rachel and I exhausted our welcome in the massage pool, but we didn’t care. There was an air of security in our pool area that lay nestled between the mountains that surrounded us every way we looked.

Around 5 pm, we set out for Switzerland in what we fondly now refer to as the VD Mobile, because of the license plate…and the VW mini-van isn’t what one might consider a chick magnet. We wound our way through the tall Italian villages IMG_3434around Lake Como, then made the conscious decision to turn around and drive towards our actual destination. 😉 Not too long after, we nodded our way through border patrol at the Swiss-Italian border, and were able to exhale a deep sigh of relief. We feared nothing more than getting lost in Italy, where none of us spoke Italian, so when we could be certain we were headed in the right direction, the previously existing tensions lifted, and the car was filled with high and happy spirits once again.

The drive was scenic, but our real fascination began with the small villages we passed through that placed their churches on the highest hills of the area. It was symbolic to see every home face and look upward to the church. As our winding drive continued, the incline of the road steepened, and it became clear that we were finally in the Swiss Alps. Waterfalls gushed from the tops of the glacial peaks at every turn; gallons upon gallons cascaded from the rocky cliffs constantly. The glaciers made it feel like it truly was wintertime again, and the outside temperature dropped as our altitude increased.

Swiss Alps

It seemed as though the Swiss could make tunnels out of anything along these roads, because too many times the road drove through the middle of the mountains, and the chipped away rock was merely smoothed with concrete. As if these make-shift tunnels weren’t enough, sometimes we would pass under metal and fiberglass structures that were sturdily attached to the side of the mountain, as if to flaunt the Swiss’ architectural ingenuity. Dad fondly referred to the Swiss after that as “The Tunnel Wizards.” The roads were not only steep, but narrow, and too many motorcycles passed us on the left, leaving our hearts to leap out of our chests, should their risky maneuvers be ill-fated. Nausea set in at the tight switchbacks that came with no warning, as we were forced to look downhill. I already hate heights, and this position did me no favors. But our excitement was tangible; there were beautiful scenes to to seen out every window, be they front back or sides. Somehow, the drive up the Alps caused us each so much individual joy: it was new, fresh, and beautiful. And by far, among the fondest moments of the trip…so far.

DSC_6398

When we reached the top of the mountain range, before we began our descent, Rachel and I stripped down to our bikinis (per Molly’s suggestion), and stood in the snow for the sake of a few funny pictures, and bragging rights. Sans weather-appropriate clothing, we stood in one of the greatest mountain ranges in the world, in just below 40 degree weather, looking at the snow, glaciers, and thick fog that surrounded us. How many other times in our lives will we get to say we did that?! Afterwards, we sprinted to the car, shaking with goosebumps, and scrambled for our shorts and t-shirts.

Suits in the Swiss Alps

Perhaps it was the mystery of not knowing what laid ahead of us that made the ascent feel so lengthy, but the descent seemed so anti-climatic and short by comparison. We wound our way down the mountain, and past flat villages and fields, hoping that we would eventually wind up at our hotel: Hotel Bären in Wilderswil. I was excited to be in the German-speaking part of the country, and still am. But the first sentence out of my mouth when we pulled into our parking space was: “This reeks of having to entertain ourselves.’” The quaint lodgings confirmed my initial reaction. While a cute space, it’s difficult to have a positive first impression when you can’t find your room after a 4 hour drive, only to later discover that you are on the 5th floor, in a separate “family corridor.” Hm.

We were seeking food desperately, and decided to try the hotel restaurant. You haven’t experienced true joy until a 71-year-old Hungarian man serenades three tables in a dining hall to the tune of “What A Wonderful World”, in the style of Louis Armstrong. And, by style, I mean near-perfect voice imitation. It was too funny to listen to a group of young drunk men try to sing along. That aside, we ate heartily, and I ate one of the best meals of chicken and noodles I think I’ve ever eaten in my life. I love German food!!!

On that note, my Wi-Fi hunt has taken way too long. So Auf Wiedersehen, Bis Später!

European Excursion

Dear readers, it’s that time of year again where I embark on a new adventure and take on a new city, country, or continent. This summer? Northern Italy and Switzerland. I’ve been up for 31 hours straight, so if my writing tonight is incoherent, I apologize.

***

Welcome to Milan, Italy: the fashion capital of the world! Where graffiti is abundant, and every day for a pedestrian becomes a struggle for survival. Speaking as both a taxi cab patron, and pedestrian, I can attest to this. 😉

Our flight landed in Milan-Linate around 10 am, and after being on-the-go for collectively 12 hours (including our stopover time spent in Amsterdam), it felt nice to stretch our legs. We took a taxi to what we thought was the home of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” However, due to a communication error with our cab driver, we wound up at Piazza del Duomo, home to THIS work of art instead:

Milan Cathedral Milan Cathedral

We spent a few hours perusing the square, and re-caffeinating before we began our trek on foot to the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie: the real home of Da Vinci’s original fresco. It was amazing to see this work of art in person. We were only allowed to see the painting for 15 minutes, but that was just enough time to take in it’s vast size and historical significance. I’m surprised I was even able to appreciate what I had the pleasure of seeing, mainly because only 30 minutes before, I was in the process of falling asleep on my backpack in the square in front of the convent.

Da Vinci's "Last Supper"

After that, we all agreed we had had enough. We took a taxi back to the airport, picked up our rental car, and made the hour and a half drive to Como, Italy. Our hotel, Grand Hotel di Como, is gorgeous, and I’ll have to post pictures of it tomorrow. Unwilling to succumb to the drowsiness that had been nagging us for the past few hours, my dad and I set out on a search for food. Keep in mind, we began the hunt around 5:30 pm. However, we had forgotten a lesson we learned from our last trip to Italy: When we are ready to turn in, the rest of Europe is just waking up. Of every restaurant we scouted for food (in and around our hotel), none would serve dinner until 7:30 at the earliest. Our stomachs hated us for it, but we decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and pass the time by walking around Lake Como. The architecture and landscape of this sea-oriented city is gorgeous: just unbelievably stunning.

Eventually we returned to the hotel and ate course after course, trying to control the impatience that boiled within us as a product of our lack of sleep and beyond empty bellies. Our poor waitress was much more accommodating than we probably deserved.

And now, I am here: sitting in the hotel lobby mooching off of the free Wi-Fi they skillfully place in “public” areas of the hotel. When I travel abroad, it’s nice to have the language barrier sometimes. No one here is willing to ask the quirky American girl why she’s lounging in the front lobby of an exquisite Italian hotel… in her pajamas. I’ve taken refuge in my laptop screen, so I don’t have to look up and meet any of their disapproving glances. Like I have reflected in earlier posts: Most Europeans are nocturnal. Their activities, lives, and interests operate around the time the sun dips below the horizon. For someone such as myself, I’m lucky if I can even keep my eyes open beyond 11. With added sleep deprivation? Fuhgeddaboutit! This is bed time for me. And with that, I’ll say goodnight and sign off.

Buona Notte!