This year marks our seventh visit to the same little remote village in Switzerland, high up in the Bernese Oberland, literally perched on a cliff about 6,000 ft above the valley below.
It's accessible only by cable car/train (the last one runs at 9:00 p.m.), it's got little nightlife to speak of, no celebrities grace the slopes, its only 4-star hotel stands mysteriously vacant and seemingly abandoned, and it's virtually devoid of cars.
Our first visit here was a random sightseeing pitstop as we drove across Europe's countryside in the fall of 2008. From the moment we stepped foot here, we knew we had to come back to experience this little village in all its winter glory.
And even though we rarely go to the same place twice on vacation because we tell ourselves there are so many places in the world to visit and explore, we can't seem to tear ourselves away from this snow-veiled winter oasis. So for two weeks every winter, for the last six years, this is where we've hung our hat and ski boots.
Beyond loving this place for what it is and what it offers, we've started to love it for the memories we've made here over the years.
Kiddo and I learned to ski here (I KNOW, I'm CANADIAN ... but amazingly we don't all ski, play hockey, live in igloos, or say 'eh'). I was 39, Kiddo was 5. Kiddo is on her way to earning her Red Snow Queen badge with the Swiss Snow School this year, and me ... well, I can now get down a slope like a proper amateur, using a variety of techniques including carving, short turns, and the occasional (usually unintentional) venture off piste. Today I actually made it down the Schilthorn Birg intact.
Smilin' Vic taught Kiddo how to play chess here, and backgammon. This is where I taught Kiddo how to chop garlic and mix up a yummy salad dressing.
For two weeks every year we spend our early mornings trekking 6 km down a winding wintery path. Then we ski for a couple of hours. We spend evenings in front of the fireplace, or eating our meals out on the covered deck seated on hides. We watch the sun rise and the snow fall against an alpine backdrop that defies description. We enjoy apres-ski eating hot french fries while sipping on warm gluwein and hot chocolate. We snuggle up nightly with nothing to do but play UNO/Clue/Snakes&Ladders, watch repeat episodes of Horrible Histories, make puzzles and read to our hearts' content.
If you were to ask me why I love this place, I'd obviously list all of the above. But the reasons I hate it would pop up too:
- I have to pack light. 2.5 weeks of clothing, cosmetics and supplies have to be packed into a single rucksack weighing less than 20 kg. I'm exhausted in the weeks preceding the trip just thinking about everything I have to eliminate. But once I'm here, I relish in the freedom of not having to worry about the next day's wardrobe selection beyond tights, t-shirt, ski pants, winter boots, anorak, tuque and gloves. That's it. Every day.
- My minimalist packing has to include dress clothes for Zurich, where we have to spend at least a night. And believe me, you cannot walk around fashionable Zurich in a snowsuit and come away intact. But the fact is I'm spending time in Zurich; can't really whinge about having to pack a pair of heels.
- Kiddo's stuff all has to fit into a single rucksack. This includes snow gear, a minimum of four stuffed toys, Playmobil, Cludo, chess board, Uno, craft activity books, electronics, etc. On the upside, once we're here we have nothing much else to do but enjoy leisurely evenings sitting around the kitchen table playing all the games we rarely get to play at home.
- We have to catch 6, six, SIX trains to get from Zurich to our destination. Our longest layover is 7 minutes; the shortest is 2. But if the schedule states the train leaves the station at 12:02, the train actually leaves the station at 12:02. The effectiveness and dependability of services and products here is mind-boggling.
- I have to lug my rucksack over the 3-hour train trip. Amazingly, my soon-to-be 45-year-old body is still happy to help me do so with relative ease. I make sure to thank every aching bone at the end of the trip.
- Before boarding the train, Smilin' Vic and me always end up in a fight at the Co-Op across from the main train station in Zurich. One year it was because I insisted on wearing my rucksack into the store (didn't want anyone stealin' my STUFF), and ''' apparently ''' I was whacking other shoppers with it as I made my way through the aisles. One year it was because I left Smilin' Vic and Kiddo outside with my STUFF, which included a re-corked bottle of wine which toppled over and drenched everything else in the rucksack. One year it was because we missed the train (I have tunnel vision ... it takes me a long time to shop). There's always a reason, there's always a fight. Oddly enough, it's become a strange tradition, and we laugh and joke about it every single trip now. Any misgivings always melt away as soon as we take out our amazing picnic of baguette, ham, lettuce, crisps, Swiss chocolate, veggies and dip.
- Once off the train, we always have to rush to get to the rental agent's to collect the keys for the flat, rent our skis, and get to the Co-Op before it closes. Since we get there on a Saturday and everything is closed on Sunday, we need to stock up with enough to get us through the weekend. Once all the rental stuff and food stocking is done, we huddle up around the fireplace for the next 24 hours doing nothing but relaxing and enjoying an AWESOME Sunday feast of Bratwurst and salad!
- When we first reach our destination at +/- 6,000 above sea level, we can barely breathe. Living at sea level in Qatar, the thin air at these heights has us panting by the time we get off the last train. It takes us a few days to acclimatise and to be able to walk more than a few feet without needing to rest. But the air is so incredibly clear and clean here you can literally feel yourself getting healthier with every breath.
- I get a 4-day nosebleed and my eyes are so puffy in the morning it looks like they might pop out of my head. By the second day, it usually feels like I'm blowing my brains into the tissue. Not sure if this is just a detox from the heavy, sand-drenched Qatar air, but it can be anywhere from slightly to extremely disturbing. On the upside, it's motivation to go for long morning walks, because the cold air seems to make the swelling go down and to shake the nastiness from my head.
- There are no cars ... we have to walk everywhere - to the ski lift, the train station, the grocery store, the restaurant, the sports centre, the skating rink, the . Wait ... uhmmm, we have nothing else to do and nowhere else to be. Leisurely walks to 'everywhere' rock!
- Smilin' Vic gets severe HAFE (High Altitude Flatulence Expulsion). This basically means he farts 80 times a day, every day, with enough force to break the sound barrier. This lasts for about 12 of the 14 days we are here. There is no upside to this one. Other than it makes him laugh. A lot.
- We get altitude sickness. This makes us lethargic and slightly nauseous, gives us headaches and causes sleep disturbance. Which means we can't drink so much wine and have to fill up on water. ''WOT?'' This year we brought seasickness bands. Coupled with lots of water, wine drinking becomes enjoyable again. Whoop, Whoop!
- The altitude in the village after the altitude of the flight usually makes my feet swell to Shrek-like proportions. This usually resolves after 2-3 days, but makes the first few days of tying up ski boots HELL. Bonus is that after the swelling goes down, I'm overwhelmed with the false impression that I've magically lost weight.
- The whole family snores to the tune of Eidelweiss ... without respite. At some point each night, one of us will wake another with our honks and snorts. Again, thinking it may be the smog-free high-altitude O2, but can't be certain. On the upside: we don't need an alarm clock as one of us will always wake one or the other every hour on the hour.
- Portions are huge, and everywhere we turn we're surrounded by pork. Ooopsy, what's this doing on the list?
- Donning my ski pants in Switzerland is always a reminder of a progressively expanding waistline. After last year, I thought 1 more kg might turn my pants button into a mini-missile should it bust off my pants. Incredibly, this year the waistline had slightly released its tight hold on my girth. Miracles do happen!
- It's so quiet here. When we go out at night, either for a meal or to go sleighing, our voices are literally the only sound we're likely to hear other than the wing howling across the valley. Oooooopsy ... don't think this was meant to be on the list either.
- Every day is much like the day before. Drink coffee, take a walk, have breakfast, go skiing, enjoy a little apres-ski, have lunch, play board games, go for a swim, watch a movie, get supper ready, pour a glass of wine, sit out on the deck listening to the silence, read a bit, go to bed, and repeat ... Have I mentioned I thrive on routine?
- I'm really struggling here. ....
- I've realised 18 lame reasons to hate Switzerland was all I could really come up with.
Even when I try to ''poopoo'' 15 different types of mayo ...
this awesome beef bouillon paste thingy that makes any sauce taste amazing ...
extra large portions of fresh gummy bears ...
or herbed butter at every turn ...
there are some things in life you just can't put a bad spin on.
I've decided I just may have to come back next year to search out two more reasons to hate Switzerland.
Seriously, sorry folks. Switzerland really rocks!