Making Connections: Being Awestruck in the Swiss Alps

Writing Retreat in the Swiss Alps! Hiking and writing, Laura

I jumped out of the cab, frantically calculating the time I had to make my train from Zürich. Everything depended on that. Not wanting to chance it, I told the driver that a train would likely be quicker. He had pulled over a few minutes earlier due to a minor fender-bender about two minutes into my ride to the main station, and now we were waiting for the police. I had no time for this! This was not exactly how I expected to kick off my vacation in the Swiss Alps, but at least the view from wherever we were on the road was still beautiful.

The driver pointed in the direction of the nearest station, which he said was about 500 meters ahead. That would have to do. I had no idea where I was except that I was no longer in Meilen and not yet in Zürich, but I was on a schedule. I pulled on my backpack – which was about the size of a third grader – and began my trek, my brand new hiking boots pounding the pavement and feeling more like cement blocks than shoes.

This was not exactly how I expected to kick off my vacation in the Swiss Alps, but at least the view from wherever we were on the road was still beautiful.

It was hot and I was not used to being in real heat since moving to Dublin. Back in Boston, summer was in full swing, but being subject to low sixties and clouds most of the time these days made it easy to forget what season it was supposed to be. Switzerland already felt delightfully familiar with its blazing sun and clear skies – summer the way nature intended!

The driver was spot on, the station was just about 500 meters from where we were stopped – 482 of which were uphill. I arrived at the ticket machine with mild oxygen deprivation, my pack hanging from my shoulders as I guessed my way through the Swiss German prompts (which are indeed different from German prompts) and purchased a Klasse 1 (First Class) ticket. I was headed to Zürich in luxury! As I settled into my unnecessarily plush seat, I asked no fewer than three passengers to confirm that this train would in fact stop at Zürich HB, just to be sure.

A spur-of- the moment flight to see a friend in Madrid? Sure! But a structured trip with an actual itinerary was not something I had sought out before.

Once at the main station, 12 minutes later, I stood in front of the massive schedule in the atrium and zeroed in on trains headed to Bern – I had exactly four minutes to make it to platform 35, wherever that might be. I hurried past delightfully aloof travelers and ticket machines that I had no time to use – here’s to hoping for an on-board purchasing option!

I made it, finding an empty Klasse 2 seat just as the train began to stir past the platform. I checked my schedule for my next connection – there was Interlaken, then on to Lauterbrunnen, followed by a gondola to Grütschalp, then a final train to Mürren. It was travelling dominoes: one missed connection and the entire schedule would tumble, and I would surely have to hike up the mountain to my destination. My third grader and I had zero room for error.

I was expected in Mürren by 5pm for a writing and hiking retreat for the following seven days. This was entirely new for me, as far as travel style goes. A spur-of- the moment flight to see a friend in Madrid? Sure! But a structured trip with an actual itinerary was not something I had sought out before. And forced interaction with strangers? Despite all this, I said my goodbyes to my boyfriend and cat back on the Emerald Isle and set out. I had always wanted to hike in the Alps, and doing so with a group was likely a great way to experience it.

The writing component of the retreat was especially intriguing. I liked the idea of writing more (and by that I mean, at all) and this situation might push me to do just that, and maybe figure out what I really wanted to write about in the first place. I gazed out at the scenery whipping by and could not help but feel very travel writer-esque, taking a train from one beautiful destination to the next.

However, my anxiety about my next transfer had already begun to knot my stomach. Or maybe I was just hungry? I was running on coffee because that was all I knew how to order in German: eine kaffee, kleine milch, keine zucker, bitte. I was so proud when my order arrived as expected, and I didn’t want to sully the interaction with a botched query for a pastry.

Making Connections: Being Awestruck in the Swiss Alps

Eventually, I found myself on a gondola rising above Lauterbrunnen, completely immersed in the scenery, and feeling very small (in a good way). People live here? Why don’t more people live here? I later mused that it might have something to do with the fact that 3oz of coffee costs a dear 5 CHF. After a final 10-minute train ride, I was finally in Mürren.

I exited the small station and found myself on a pedestrian walkway that hugged the ridge over a valley 800 meters below. A smattering of clouds shrouded the giants in front of me: Eiger, Monk, and Jungfrau. Their peaks seemed to gaze at the tiny village from their perches that stretched impossibly upwards. On the other side of the walkway, opposite the mountains, the village of Mürren reclined into the hills.

Small houses with traditional Swiss detail reposed in the greenery – the hills were indeed alive, and I felt a transient feeling of envy towards those who could call this place home (even if it did make New York City seem cheap). The view alone would be worth working a second job. There were no cars of course (how could they get up here?) so only the sounds cascading down the mountains filled the village – cowbells, birds, and waterfalls created a sonic backdrop that would, in a few days’ time, become so familiar. I didn’t even feel the weight of my pack anymore, my third grader had lost weight, my body too busy taking it all in to concern itself with the beginnings of scoliosis that were likely taking root.

I gazed out at the scenery whipping by and could not help but feel very travel writer-esque, taking a train from one beautiful destination to the next.

There are so many experiences I can detail here, from hiking along with the cows, to chasing waterfalls inside mountains, to the writing workshops that opened my eyes to the stories I wanted to tell. I even jumped off the side of one of those ridges over the 800 meter valley and soared alongside Jungfrau with a professional paraglider named Casper (I’m keeping that one in mind for a second job). But the most unexpected experience was forming meaningful relationships with the aforementioned dreaded strangers during the week spent in this tiny village.

As I sit on the train headed for Zürich once more, though going in the opposite direction, I can’t help but envy myself standing on that walkway for the first time, the whole experience still ahead of me. Nursing my 5 CHF iced coffee as the train whisks along a lake, I have no anxiety about making my connections, the transfers and stations now familiar (plus I downloaded a Swiss Rail App, which was a game-changer if there ever was one).

This was not exactly how I expected to kick off my vacation in the Swiss Alps, but at least the view from wherever we were on the road was still beautiful.

The most important connections to me had already been made over the past seven days. I tried to capture Switzerland and save a bit for myself through journaling and pictures, but nothing can truly do it justice. I got everything I had hoped for out of the trip as far as exploring and writing.

On top of that, I’ve come away with an indescribable joy for having connected with others who were just as awestruck and grateful to find themselves in such an incredible place. Fortunately, I get to take those relationships with me, and hopefully will cross path with my new friends in other corners of the world.

 

Have you traveled to the Swiss Alps? We’d love to hear your travel tips. Email editor@pinkpangea.com to share your story.

About Laura DeBenedetto

Laura DeBenedettoA US East Coaster through and through, Laura now lives in Dublin – another East Coast – and is traveling every chance she gets. She’s an endurance athlete, lover of books, and has recently picked up golf (sort of). When not traveling or working, you’re likely to find her hanging out with her beloved Maine Coon, Henry or trying to figure out who keeps stealing her copies of The New Yorker from the mail room.

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