Hello friends! As you all know well, I’m somewhat of a fan of taking part in races whenever I get the chance. Well, as it turns out, that apparently also extends to when I take some vacation time! This post will cover both the vacation that Deanna and I recently took in Switzerland (3 weeks!) as well as the half marathon that we both race in while there. Some of you may not realize this, but I am lucky enough to have dual citizenship. Canadian, and Swiss. I still have quite a bit of family over there, and it’s been a long time since I visited. Add to that the fact that Deanna has never been over there, and you can quickly see why this ended up being the perfect place for us to take a nice vacation. As you can well imagine, we took a ton of pictures, which you can all view in the collection that I put up on flickr. Eventually, I’ll pull together a ‘best of’ set, but for now, you can have a look at the whole lot of them. Read on for some of the highlights of the trip.
Best of Switzerland Pictures
I’ll embed the slideshow here eventually 🙂
Let’s start with the question of weather. Generally, I like taking October vacations. Many of the places I’ve travelled to around the world are ideal around that time of year. Morocco last year was splendid. In the southern hemisphere (South America, New Zealand), and in the Caribbean, also great weather. Because it is after labour day, there are less families travelling, and rates will often be a little lower, and availability of places to stay also better. Switzerland is no exception to this. The weather is generally agreeable. It is fall there as well, but still much greener, and stays above freezing for the most part. Unfortunately for us, we ran into a fair bit of less than perfect weather. All makes for great memories though. We hiked in the high alps in both pouring rain, and had to change plans on the fly when a route we wanted to hike was buried under 30cm of snow! On the plus side, it made for a very magical hike near the Matterhorn, as well as stunning alpine views of the Eiger, Jungfrau, and Monch. So no dwelling on the negatives here!
Next up: what do you think of when you imagine Switzerland? Ok, sure, you said, cheese, chocolate, and mountains, right? Well, don’t forget military. Hunh? Well, Switzerland is well known for it’s neutrality during global conflicts. However, to ensure that neutrality, they have always needed to be prepared to defend that neutrality. As a result, they have a well-established military history, and that extends to mandatory military service. While I personally never completed military service, I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the system. So, it was pretty cool for Deanna and I to get to attend three uniquely Swiss events related to military. First up was a Swiss military concert, composed of the best military musicians. They put on 2 concerts a year, and we got to see one. Each region has their own military bands, and these are the best of those players. Fun night with good music. The second event was a full day of military demonstrations at one of the bases. It was friends and family only by invite, and thanks to a close family friend, we got in. This particular base focused on things like search and rescue, disaster cleanup, and fire suppression, so there were some cool demos and technology to see. We also were treated to some military marching, as well as a special flag ceremony. Our last event was a large military surplus sale in an arena, where tons of used and/or obsolete gear was being sold in bulk. Much as I wanted to buy 1920s helmets and 1930s glacier goggles, I sadly lacked the room. I only ended up buying a belt! If you’d like, here a direct link to a slideshow from the military stuff.
With military out of the way, let’s turn to the cheese and chocolate aspects of the trip. I’ll sum it up by saying, “yes please”. And I’d also add wine to that list of gastronomic pleasures. It’s safe to say that not a day goes by that we didn’t enjoy some cheese. Chocolate had a slow start, but once we got into the swing of things, there was plenty of chocolate consumption. We also enjoyed several fondues and raclettes in our travels. These were either made by our hand, or by family, none of that commercial mumbo-jumbo :-). We also quickly discovered that Swiss wine is both plentiful, and quite good. The reason you don’t hear about in our part of the world is that the vast majority of swiss wine is consumed internally. I can assure you that after wandering through kilometers of vineyards along Lake Geneva, there are lots of winemakers and great growing conditions. In addition to the vineyard hiking, we also spent an entire day on the Chocolate Train (see slideshow) an excursion on a 1940s train to visit both a large chocolate maker (Cailler) and a renowned cheesemaker (Gruyere – the only place it is made!).
I will admit however, that above the military, cheese, chocolate, and wine, I would place the geography of Switzerland. Yes, I’m talking specifically about the pointy bits that I love so much! I’m probably my happiest when outdoors, on a great hike, surrounded by mountains. All the better when I’m doing that with the love of my life, and when at the end of the day, we can enjoy a glass of wine and some tasty food. Due to Switzerland’s nearly unlimited hiking trail options throughout the country, it is very easy to find great day trips into the mountains that finish off with a short train ride back to where you started. This creates what I would call a very civilized mountain hiking environment, which we took advantage of quite often. We hit pretty much every major mountain village in the alps, and supplemented that with some of the best-known mountain train routes as well. Probably the two most stand-out days of our mountain hiking days would be the day we went up the Schilthorn (where a James Bond movie was filmed), and when we made a detour for an overnight trip to Zermatt (home of the Matterhorn).
For Deanna and I as a couple, I think it was on one of those great hikes that we made a possibly life-altering plan. At one point, Deanna turned to me and said “We should live here!”. That got us thinking, and formulating a 5-7 year plan which involves us finding some way to spend a year overseas in Switzerland. The could manifest itself as a house swap with relatives or something of that sort, with us hopefully finding some form of employment as well so that we can afford to have some fun while there. Nothing firm yet, but a goal we now have in our minds.
Right, so now, what was that about a race? Well, picture a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. The region is the Interlaken region, well known for it’s adventure sports mentality. The race was called the Brienzersee Lauf, which is apparently Switzerland’s oldest road running race, and rate the 4th most beautiful running race in the country by runners. There are a number of options for how to race in this event. The full 35km ‘Around the Lake’ is the classic event. There is also a Half marathon option, which is what we opted to take part in, and finally, a relay option where 3 people split the work of running around the lake.
Although the weather wasn’t absolutely perfect for the race, it was definitely good weather. The temperatures started out a little cool, but by the end of the race, we did see some sun, and were feeling pretty warm from the effort. There were perhaps fewer racers than I had expected, but at the same time, the people that did participate skewed more towards the ‘racing’ category, rather than ‘participating’ category. Lots of speedy people. For our part, Deanna pulled out a PB, in spite of the fact that the day before we’d spent probably 8 hours on our feet, and 6+ hours of that hiking! I followed along as the official event photographer for us. Although there were no medals, we did get nice race shirts, and the post-race events included a great beer gardens with a great atmosphere, and lots of racers and locals mingling around. However, in true Swiss precision, when the event was over, it was over. Finish line and starting corrals were dismantled and carried away promptly on time, in front of our eyes. As well, the makeshift changing room was being taken apart while I was still standing in the middle, buck naked, sorting out my stuff and getting dressed. Too funny. Great time though.
Although I can’t speak directly for Deanna, I think that one of her highlights was also the time we spent touring the beautiful Chateau Chillon. This is probably the single best preserved castle in all of Europe, which is constantly being renovated and new rooms opening up. This is a huge castle located right on the shores of Lake Geneva near Montreux. We arrived in the afternoon of a beautiful sunny day, and lucky for us, the crowds weren’t too heavy, so we had a lot of the rooms to ourselves to picture what life might have been like hundreds of years ago.
I could obviously go on and on about all the amazing places we visited, and the amazing rail system that is the SBB/CFF/FFS (Swiss rail system). Suffice to say I definitely wish I could make it over to that country more often than I do. However, there is a whole world out there, and I’m still itching to see a lot more of it, and with limited funds and vacation time, that makes things difficult. With the new 5-7 year plan though, I’m optimistic that I’ll get to spend more time in the land of my forefathers. This leads me to the final point about our trip. My family is great! We were fortunate enough to spend a fair bit of time with cousins, friends, and my aunt and uncle while we were there. They shared their homes and their meal tables with us openly and offered up great advice and conversations. We had a lot of laughs and reconnected in person in a way that you just can’t over facebook, email, or Christmas cards! They are wonderful people and always treat us like more than just family (if that makes sense).
To close off, far too many people try to do a ‘Europe Tour’ in 2 weeks. In that tour, you get to hit a couple major cities per country (if you’re lucky), then go home. For us, we spent 3 weeks in Switzerland, trying to get a better sense of the people and the entirety of their culture. However, even there, I don’t think it was long enough. There are parts of the country we didn’t go near, even though the entire country can be driven across in 2.5hrs! We had a wonderful time, wish to thank all our hosts, and can’t wait to go back. However, it was back to Canada for us, and gearing up for the next event we had on tap, the Fat Ass Trail Run in Batawa, which will be the subject of my next post! Till then, get ready for the snow folks, I think winter is nearly upon us!