Adventures in Switzerland


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“La Suisse”, “Schweiz”, “La Svizzera”… Switzerland is called by many names, especially by the people who live there and depending on where you go in Switzerland, you may be surrounded by people speaking French, Italian, Swiss-German or even the lesser known Romanche language.  never in my life have i been exposed to so many languages on such a small scale.  that’s four distinct languages spoken across roughly eight million people in a country that’s less than a quarter of the size of Washington state.  this of course does not include the many dialects that vary from region to region and English.  that’s right… they speak good ole’ English there too.

luckily, for the sake of sanity (mine and theirs) they have mostly separated themselves into three main parts – you’ve got the French speakers in the ‘French part’, the Italian speakers in the ‘Italian part’ and the Swiss-German speakers in the ‘Swiss-German part’.  over the course of my stay in Switzerland, i lovingly and jokingly came to refer to these parts as “almost France”, “almost Italy” and “almost Germany”.  and though some may not have found my pet names quite as humorous as i did, it at least helps to illustrate the puzzlement an outsider might feel when visiting Switzerland for the first time.

my initial exposure to Switzerland was from the French side including several villages along Lake Geneva.  by that stage i had become so invested with the place and its people as well as captivated by its natural beauty, i simply had to explore the rest of it.  after leaving Lausanne by train i was surrounded by Swiss-German speakers in less than an hour and when i arrived to the capital city of Bern, Matteo was there to greet me.  i first met Matteo a year prior on my trek through Nepal where we had hoofed it through the Himalaya together for nearly three weeks.  now, suddenly seeing him again in a train station after the passing of a year was pretty surreal.  he was excited to show me every inch of his country and i was equally as exited to be shown it.  Matteo grew up in Bern and knows the city quite intimately.  that day we marched through the town which revealed itself to be an adorable mid-evil masterpiece placed ever so perfectly in the meander of a river.  from a vantage point across this river upon a hill, Matteo showed me that one could take in the sight of the city in its entirety and drink beer while doing so.

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Matteo and Escapo together at last

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i didn’t know it at the time but this would end up being part one of several adventures with Matteo during my stay in Switzerland.  He currently lives and studies in Zurich which quickly became my new home as well as my jumping off point for two additional adventures with Matteo, each one more epic than the last.

the next Matteo adventure involved a very scenic cross country train ride through mountains, lakes and small villages including a few stops along the way…

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in Luzern…

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and Gstaad – a mountain ski resort village as well as home to Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski.  we tried to find Roman here hoping he would still be on house arrest but no matter where we looked, he never turned up.  we even asked some cows if they knew where Roman was but they just stared back at us as if saying “hey!, it’s good to be a cow in Switzerland”.

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my final adventure with Matteo was a multi-day trip down to the Canton of Ticino (A.K.A. “almost Italy”).  there, we stayed in his father’s home in Personico – a tiny village nestled in a valley where his father grew up.  the house was actually a military barracks that had been converted into a home and it served our needs nicely.

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a few kilometers south of Personico is the town of Biasca.  here, we visited some old churches and played in the waterfall along a cliff face that overlooks the entire town.

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further south still is the larger, more happening town of Bellinzona where several castles lie on the hilltops.

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one evening, Matteo and i had the pleasure of being invited to a local BBQ right outside of Bellinzona.  not really sure what to expect, we walked through a block of unassuming buildings to an open courtyard and there they were…  30 or so young adults of the high-school/college vintage, several kegs of beer, a mountain of food and an above ground pool!  after taking it all in, my very first thought was “ah yeeeah… it’s gonna be a rager!”, then my second thought was “i’m sure my liver will understand when i tell it i’m as young as i feel.  well, it turns out that only one of my thoughts were correct.  they waisted no time getting the party underway.  between the blasting of 70’s-80′ Italian pop music and the barrage of drunken multi-lingual discourse, i was quite impressed.  i even managed to throw down a few words of sage advice on a few of the guests.  i was also surprised (though not proud) to be one of the last ones standing, to see the night turn silly before passing out on the floor like the rest of them.  the next morning we awoke to a proper Italian spaghetti breakfast, thanked and hugged our hosts profusely and away we went to continue our adventure.

it’s time to get wet (again).  nearby, along the Verzasca River is a beautiful section of smooth boulders and a mid-evil stone foot-bridge.

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Ticino is a land of impressive beauty but the cherry on top was just about to come.  on our way back we ascended up a winding mountain road over San Bernardino pass – a 2066 meter pit-stop with a view of misty peaks and icy ponds.

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i most certainly saw Switzerland in new light after these adventures and thanks to Matteo, i can now finally begin to wrap my head around the place and its people.  simply put… Switzerland is a dream-land.  a realm of elegant terrain from every angle all jam packed into just 41,285 square kilometers.

Matteo: Switzerland's best tour guide

Matteo: Switzerland’s best tour guide

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