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Switzerland: The Last Leg of Our Trip
by Jon on Sunday, August 3, 2008 file under: Off Topic
Swiss Coat of Arms

Switzerland was the last stop on our trip, and we really saved the best for last. The Alps were, by far, my favorite part of the trip. Kortney agrees.

Our first stop in Switzerland was Luzern. We came in with beautiful weather and great views of the surrounding mountains. Most of the rest of our time there was spent under an umbrella. We quickly swept through the old town and were limited to the things we could do within walking distance. We managed to get to the other side of the lake and found a theater where we almost saw Hancock. It was an almost, because it had already been translated into German, so we decided to skip it.

We decided to take an early train from Luzern and make our way into the heart of Switzerland, more specifically Lauterbrunnen in the Jungfrau region. Lauterbrunnen is lesser known, and much smaller than Interlaken to the north or Gr?ndelwald in the neighboring valley. If I could only pick one place to return to from this trip, Lauterbrunnen would be it. From our room's balcony we could see three waterfalls. The guidebook told us there were 79 throughout the valley.

The morning after we arrived we took the first cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch, a low point between the Jungfrau and Eiger summits (about 12,000 feet). At the top is an observation deck and restaurants designed for tourists, but it also serves as a launching point for climbers and glacier hikers. In an unexpected sign of bravery, Kortney agreed to walk about 500m with me across the glacier to a hut where climbers and researchers occupy. The winds were intense and the environment was stark, but the promise of a kitchen stocked with hot chocolate kept us focussed. It was not the kind of trek you should make in tennis shoes (but that was all we had), so we were both glad we doubled up on socks before we left that morning.

By the time we made it back into the valley, we had caught mountain fever. Doris, who was keeping track of things at the hotel for most of the weekend, informed us about an easy downhill hike from M?rren on one of the mountains rims just southeast. The next day we took a cable car to the top of M?nnlichen and hiked down past Klienesheidegg. During our walk we heard a thunderous crack, like if you snapped a cedar in two, and saw a new waterfall form from a low patch of snow. That afternoon we were hit with rain again, and walked to covered glacial waterfalls, which serve as the outlet for all of the melting glaciers in the region.

From Lauterbrunnen we headed to Zermatt, about two hours southwest. We were greeted with a clear day and spectacular views of the Matterhorn. Kortney's impeccable travel planning skills put us in a room with another incredible view. Zermatt sits at a much higher elevation than the Jungfrau valley we had enjoyed. It wasn't as green, the mountains appear rockier, and the tree line much closer to the town below. Unfortunately, Kortney began to get a sore throat, so our second night there was cut short.

The next morning we took the train to Lugano, well into Switzerland's Italian region. When we left the Alps, the atmosphere changed almost as rapidly as the scenery. No more snow capped peaks, and no more Swiss-German dialect: everything was written in Italian, everyone spoke Italian, and the architecture had much more Italian influence than anything Germanic. After two and a half weeks of German immersion, the Italian region was, for me, culture shock. And to top it off, I had started to come down with the same thing Kortney had.

There isn't much in Lugano itself. The town, appropriately, sits on the Swiss side of Lake Lugano. Ferries allow you to get to other towns scattered around the lake and were free with our Swiss Pass. After an afternoon in Lugano we decided the next morning we'd catch a bus to Italy and spend the day at Lake Como.

Until this point in my life, my most frightening experience as a passenger took place on the Apache Trail in Arizona. The bus ride from Lugano to Menaggio quickly eclipsed my previous experience, and I would imagine that anything more terrifying would involve serious injury or death. On the one hand, the bus driver would enter blind turns without slowing down, just a couple taps on the horn to alert drivers who might be coming the other direction. On the other hand, the two-way road often shrunk to barely the width of two compact cars, often with a sharp cliff and a lake the only alternative to collision, if those were the only available choices.

Remarkably, we made it in one piece, and had a relaxing time. Bellagio is a cute town with tight alley ways, cheap gelato, and quite a few gigantic estates. My favorite stop was Verenna, a much quieter town across from Menaggio.

Our ride back to Lugano didn't seem as death defying, but by that time, my sinuses had taken control of me, and I just wanted some to relax in bed with a constant supply of cranberry Ricolah.

Finally, we headed to Zurich, our last stop and point of departure. My throat and nose kept me in bed for most of the day, but Kortney and I were able to walk around the city later that night. From what I saw, Zurich seemed like a wonderful city, similar to Heidelburg or Luzern in its old-european charm but at the same time hip and active.

We caught a red eye from Zurich to Amsterdam, where we had a five hour layover. Several days earlier I had suggested to Kortney that we take that opportunity to spend a few hours in the city, but in my condition I just wanted to find a place to take a nap.

Amsterdam airport has several areas filled with high back, reclined lounge chairs: a comfortable place for any traveler with a long layover. The chairs we passed were all taken however. Kortney suggested following signs which pointed to a "meditation room". Upon arrival, I found a hidden stash of lounge chairs behind the meditation room, with enough open that we could take our pick.

From Amsterdam we flew into Minneapolis and finally back to Phoenix, tired and happy to be home. Our three weeks was incredible. Kortney's travel planning skills are second to none. I've tried to cover the basics of the trip, and Kortney's put them in her own words as well, but there are far to many experiences, stories, and memories to try to describe. To quote Dr. Arroway, "They should've sent a poet."

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