From the start of my study abroad, I had a list of top places I wanted to visit while here in Europe. Switzerland was close to the top of my list. Everyone here warned me about how expensive Switzerland is and I quickly became discouraged, thinking I wouldn’t be able to make it to the cute little towns my friends back home told me all about. Luckily, I was able to find a cheap flight and inexpensive accommodation, making Switzerland a reality! So I hopped on my tiny plane to Zurich and stepped into the unknown of Switzerland. Zurich was pretty far away from where I was planning to stay in Interlaken so I had to figure out a way to get from here to there without it costing me an arm and a leg. Coming across a train ticket window, I ended up asking a man what the heck I should do to get where I needed to be. Luckily, he was amazingly helpful, he helped me buy a train ticket to Interlaken, converted some of my euros to Swiss francs, and gave me a free bar of Swiss chocolate. Off to find my train platform, I headed down the escalator and realized I had already gone the wrong direction, awesome. Back up the escalator I went, hoping the train ticket guy didn’t catch my moment of immediate disorientation. Finally finding the correct platform, I must have looked like I belonged or had some sense of what I was doing even though I surely didn’t, because a pair of old English gentlemen came up to me, showed me their tickets and asked if they were in the right place. This was a blind leading the blind moment when I told them “yes, you’re in the right place”… “If I’m in the right place”, I’m thinking to myself. While waiting for what ended up being the right train, a woman getting off a different train came up to me, pointed at my striped, mustard-color, hippie-esque pants, and started speaking German about them. Smiling in response, I have no earthly clue what she was saying about my pants but I’m just going to assume she was complimenting them. For all I know, she told me there was a giant stain on the butt of my pants and I smiled idiotically in response, oh well. On the 2 hour train ride to Interlaken, I realized my phone wasn’t working. Normally I use my Slovenian sim card on all the trips I go on, but the catch is it only works in EU countries, of which Switzerland is not a part of. So here I am, arrived in Interlaken with no clue how to get to my hostel, no matter, it’s just a minor roadblock. Bought a Swiss sim card after a small struggle to find an English speaker and now I was ready to still get lost on my way to my hostel. It was a twenty minute walk to my hostel which gave me ample time to become discouraged and lost in a dead end street. Here I am, at the end of a dead end street, lost in Switzerland when a black and white cat materializes out of a yellow flower bush to greet me. It’s amazing how cats seem to sense my helplessness and appear just when I feel furthest from home. Man, I miss my cat. With cat hair covered pant legs, I continued toward my destination. Eventually, I made it to my hostel, checked in, and walked up three flights to my shared room. So far, I’ve never stayed in a hostel, but the accommodation in Switzerland was much more expensive and it was all I could afford. The hostel didn’t seem so bad the first night because my six bunk room was empty and I had it all to myself, that would soon change.
Today, I had plans to go to Jungfraujoch or “The Top of Europe”. The ticket for the several trains to the top of the mountain were quite expensive, but I was already on the train so there was no turning back now. On one of the transfers to a different train, I was sitting all by myself when an older Chinese man comes and sits across from me, snapping photos out the window. Then, another younger Chinese man comes and sits right next to me and they start speaking in Chinese to each other. Oftentimes in a situation when people are near you, speaking a different language, you assume they are talking about you out of paranoia. Now in this situation, they really were talking about me. Tapping me on the shoulder, the younger Chinese guy gets my attention to ask if it was alright if his friend took a photo of me. In response, I gave a confused look as he grabbed his friend’s phone and showed me a photo of myself taking a photo out the window. Super weird. Not a terrible photo though. The younger Chinese guy spoke a little English and he asked me to take a photo at the top of the mountain and I said yes, not trying to be rude. Little did I know that I had just agreed to spend the whole day with them and their Chinese colleagues who were next to us on the train. Jungfraujoch was set up as a step by step tour through the several attractions. The first room my new Chinese friends and I walked into was 360° video screen showing a trip through the mountains, it was really beautiful. Next, up the elevator to the viewing platform over the Swiss alps. On the elevator ride, one of the Chinese girls in the group gave me a piece of chocolate and they all taught me how to say thank you in Chinese which was pretty cool. Never thought I’d be learning Chinese in Switzerland. Getting to the top of Jungfraujoch was worth the trip. Miles and miles of mountains and clouds to the point where the two were indistinguishable. For the first time at one of these touristy spots, I had someone to take a photo of me, in exchange for taking a slew of smiley photos for the Chinese group. Fun fact: when the younger guy asked me to take a photo at the top of the mountain, he meant with him, so now I have a fantastic photo of me and my newly made friend from China, haha. Enjoy. They also had this really interesting egg snack that they told me I had to try. Apparently it’s a very popular snack in China, it was an egg but it was a really dark brown color. I asked if it was chocolate and with their collective english skills, they still didn’t know what I had asked so they made me try it anyway. IT WAS NOT CHOCOLATE. It was an actual hard boiled egg, but what was it boiled in? I may never know. Nothing can describe my horror after I was expecting chocolate and bit into a vinegar spiced egg thing. Lord help me if I visit China someday. Next, we made our way down to the ice palace. Elsa would have been impressed. There were ice sculptures and ice tunnels, it was pretty cool(pun intended). Desperately trying to keep my fingers from falling off, I kept rubbing my hands together. Being a universal sign for “I’m cold”, the Chinese guy kept jokingly offering me his jacket to which I continuously declined. All jokes aside, it was nice to have people to experience things with for once and he ended taking a decent photo of me looking genuinely happy in the ice palace. On the way back down the mountain, my new friends invited me to come with them in their rented car at the bottom of the mountain to Grindelwald, deciding it’d be poor judgment to get into van with a bunch of strangers with whom I have a prominent language barrier, I politely declined and proceeded back to Interlaken. Perfectly enough, one of the stops on my way back was a town called Lauterbrunnen in which my best friends back home informed me it was their absolute favorite place they had visited on a trip in high school. Lauterbrunnen was a charming little town situated in a valley between two mountains with a stunning waterfall in the center, streaming down from great heights. Living here must be a dream everyday. With the setting sun, I had to take the train back to Interlaken. Walking up the three flights of stairs, I mentally prepared myself to actually have roommates tonight even though I prayed for continued vacancy. Slowly, I opened the door and found four guys who had made their homes in the bunk beds of my room, well our room now I guess. Two of the guys were my age, from Louisiana, and studying in Madrid. They were nice enough but left late to go party and made a terrible drunken ruckus when they came back at 2:30 in the morning when the rest of us were snoozing. After they had left to do whatever it is they did, a girl came in and took the very last bunk right above me. I was relieved there was another girl in the room, but I’m not sure it was worth her annoying phone buzzing against the wood irregularly, keeping me awake. Turns out it was also bothering one of the men at the other end of the room as he audibly sighed in exasperation after every annoying buzz. Obviously much more confrontational than I, he got up, came over and woke up the girl to tell her to turn off her phone. She seemed pretty upset, but the buzzing ceased. Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else fight your battle. Once the confrontational guy fell asleep after the lack of phone buzzing, he was own problem with his resounding snores. Yay, staying in a hostel!
Started my day by dropping my favorite earring in the sink. Frustrated with myself, I went downstairs to eat my free breakfast of toast and yogurt then spilled my coffee all over the place. Off to a great start. Choosing an empty seat, I sat down next to a girl who I found out was in Switzerland to go skydiving. So cool, I definitely have skydiving on my bucket list, maybe not this weekend though. Interlaken is situated between two beautiful lakes and surrounded by mountains and I wanted to explore both while I was here. After breakfast, I got on a bus to the train station to spend a day at Lake Brienz and explore some waterfalls. Giessbach waterfall ended up being really beautiful and there were barely any people there which made it so much better. Looking out from behind the waterfall, I could see the lake, mountains, and hotel Giessbach which was probably crazy expensive, but beautiful. Feeling like I didn’t get the full waterfall experience, I headed down to the bottom of the waterfall and ended up climbing over a few rocks and walking around.
Turns out I had too much fun at the waterfall because I missed the bus back to the main train station and had an impromptu hour hike around the lake. It was a long walk, but it kind of turned out great because it was the most beautiful walk through hills and right by the the bright blue lake. During one of my detours, I was by the edge of the water, searching through pebbles in the lake to bring back home to my sister who requested only rocks from my various adventure spots. Intently searching for an interesting looking pebble, crouched down in the water, I hear a hissing sound near me. Startled, thinking that it might be a snake, I look up to see a giant, very angry, white swan staring in my face then it lunged at me, trying to bite me! This was one unhappy swan, perhaps because I didn’t have any food as an offering. I was able to catch a photo of this very swan terrorizing two young girls down a bit further after it had given me a heart attack. I’ve never been afraid of birds, but this one is a different story. Just look at it. Evil, I tell you. Other than my being attacked by a bird, the unexpected walk to Interlaken was delightful. Back in Interlaken, I walked around the town shops a bit and then decided to sit in the middle of Höhematte Park to enjoy the mountains and great weather. While sitting in the grass, I noticed several paragliders landing right in the large expanse of grass before me. One particular paraglider flew right over me before landing a couple feet beside me, it was a tad frightening but also pretty amazing. So very badly I wanted to be one of the people paragliding over the alps. Before coming to Switzerland I looked into paragliding but it seemed like something I’d maybe do later in life when I had more money or time to plan. Trying to rationalize going paragliding, I started thinking about how I hadn’t actually gone out to eat or spent any money on food in Switzerland whatsoever. That night in bed I made and appointment for paragliding first thing in the morning.
Woke up super duper excited for paragliding this morning. First things firsts, I ate breakfast seeing as it’s the only thing I’ve been eating here. I was sitting outside on the balcony eating when a Japanese guy came and sat next to me. He didn’t speak English very well but he was quite friendly. What I did get out of the conversation was that he and a friend created an app, he wanted to bike from New York to California next summer(good luck), and he told me “all foreigners are so beautiful, why are you not all in movies?” so that was a fun conversation. I tried to help him with some English words while he was speaking and he taught me some Japanese, who knew I’d learn so many random things in Switzerland? He asked to take a selfie with me and then I headed outside. The paragliding van was supposed to pick me up outside my hostel but they ended up driving right on past me so I ended up walking to the paragliding meeting point, well actually I got lost and then Luki, my tandem flyer guy, found me looking lost in the street nearby. We hopped in the van and made our way up the mountain, they asked if I wanted the lower or higher jumping point and I chose higher so we kept driving. Everything happened so quickly, there was no time to build up anxiety or fear. I stepped into my harness, he set out the parachute, and we were all set to go. Defying all logic, we began running toward the edge of the mountain, took two final large steps, felt the wind catch the parachute, and then I was paragliding!
It was an incredible feeling, there was no fear whatsoever. I was expecting to feel some sense of panic or uneasiness but there was nothing but pure joy and excitement. Now I know what it feels like to be a bird! Glorious feelings of freedom and wonder as I looked down and out across the stunning Swiss alps and beautiful Interlaken. Honestly there was some point when I felt as though I must be dreaming. There was no way I could be paragliding in Switzerland, it was beyond belief. So happy I could’ve cried, just kidding, I don’t cry about emotional things. There is a video of me controlling the parachute for a second and my guide spinning us around a bit which was awesome. I absolutely hate the way I look/sound on video so I thought about not showing anyone but what’s the fun in that?
Best experience ever 10/10 would recommend. So glad I decided to go paragliding on a whim in Switzerland. After a perfect landing, I said thanks and went on my merry way to Lake Thun. St. Beatus Caves are located on the side of Lake Thun, I knew they had beautiful waterfalls and I was not disappointed. Seeing the stunning waterfalls leading up to the caves really made me want to visit the inside of the caves themselves but the ticket was pretty expensive so I enjoyed free waterfalls on the outside instead. Instead of taking the bus back to the city, I decided to take a long walk along the lake and stopped to sit on a log in the shallow part of the water and enjoyed the mountain views for a couple hours. So, this sounds really odd but one photo I really wanted to capture on this trip was a photo of a brown Swiss cow because they are cute and I don’t know, maybe I’m just a weirdo. Well on my way back to the city, I had to walk through some of the countryside and I found cows! I walked up pretty close to them and I wanted to get closer but also was trying to be sneaky because I wasn’t so sure if the owner of the small farm would be keen on me being there so I snapped a few photos and headed back to my hostel. Tonight I had all new roommates. Four of them were Korean-American couples who were amazingly kind. Talking to one of the women, we discovered her daughter’s name was Katrina and she was the same age as me which is crazy! She was so excited to have met someone with the same name as her daughter and was eager to tell her husband who had just walked into the room. They asked me all sorts of questions about my studies, where I’ve been, where I’m from, and things I’d done in Switzerland. She was so surprised I had gone paragliding and told me someone would have to pay her to go paragliding. It was like I had Korean parents for a night. Her husband told me that I was living life studying abroad, and traveling with my parent’s money. I was like hold up… I’m not traveling and studying with my parents money, I’ve been saving money from working for years and earned a scholarship due to good grades and I’m proud of it. Impressed, he gave me two thumbs up for being so independent. I think I gained the respect and approval of my Korean father in one night, it was a great feeling. The next day was my last day in Switzerland, I ran into my Korean-American roommates in the breakfast lobby and they asked to take a photo with me to have and send to their daughter. Third time I’ve had my photo taken with an Asian person in Switzerland, kind of funny. Leaving Switzerland was sad because it’s the most brilliantly beautiful place I’ve ever been. I do look forward to going back to my temporary home in Ljubljana, and being able to eat food at a decent price again.