My first time in Switzerland was in September of 2003, when I was still a backpacker on a very tight budget and, as a double whammy, at a time when Switzerland was nowhere near as affordable as it is now. (The franc is one-to-one with the US dollar finally…can you believe it?!) So I lived a very frugal existence, stayed in the notorious Balmer’s hostel in Interlaken—a backpacker’s rite of passage—as any early twenty-something is wont to do, engaged in the few adventure sports I could afford (and fell in love with canyoning), and left when my money ran out. Of course, my money went all the quicker when I became that cliché, the one who leaves the country with two Swatch watches and a Swiss Army knife to boot. And chocolate. Lots and lots of old-fashioned Swiss chocolate.
When I got invited back six years later, there was not a moment of hesitation. Switzerland had always been high on my list of favorite countries, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to return—and do it right, this time (and on someone else’s dime at that!). Even better: the theme of the trip was adventure, and well, was there something more fine-tuned for me—trekking and biking and the like in the high Alps? No, no there was not.
I was a little surprised by how similar the weather in the Alps is to…my beloved San Francisco (at this time of year at least)! Foggy and cool in the mornings, which would burn off midday and make way for some gorgeous Indian summer afternoons.
The thing is that getting to Switzerland from California is not as easy as it was while I lived in New York; to arrive in my first stop of Pontresina took two long flights and four train connections. But the outcome was totally worth it. For example, this was the view from my balcony at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof in cute lil’ Pontresina the first two nights. Pure bliss, I tell you.
This was the interior; by far the biggest room I’ve ever stayed in anywhere in Europe. (The continent’s not exactly known for its spacious digs.)
After a leisurely first evening, we were thrown right into the outdoors mix, with an all-day mountain biking journey beginning early the first morning. Mountain biking is something I have done very little of in my life; like skiing, the going downhill really fast on unstable terrain scares the bejeezus out of me.
First, we had to lug our bikes all the way up from Engadin Mountain Bike Tours in the town of St. Moritz to the peak of Corviglia via a series of cable cars. We were so high up that from the moment we started for the tram, I felt extremely light-headed; in fact, much of my time in Switzerland was as if I had always just consumed a bottle of champagne—I was that dizzy from the altitude.
And then after one speedy session with how to work the gears and brakes—why did I remember mountain bikes being so much easier than this?—it was time to hit the trails.
I was a bit terrified to find that we would be going downhill the whole time; I would much rather climb some mountains on my bike than go plummeting down one. One look at the grade and loose gravel had my stomach jumping up into my throat. I’m fearless, but clearly not that fearless.
After I made her go ahead of me in my numbing terror, my fellow Sewanee gal Kate took a spill on the first hill and tore her hands to shreds—not to mention, her legs looked like victims of domestic violence—but was a total trouper and had some worthy battle wounds to show off the remainder of the week.
It was only fitting then that I would follow suit and take a spill myself on the second hill and bang up my knee pretty badly—only, the sad part is I WASN’T EVEN BIKING. Oh no, rather we were walking our bikes down said hill after Kate’s tumble, and while doing so, I slid on the gravel, my feet came out from under me and I fell right on top of my bike, in typical Kristin klutzy fashion. This was taken right before it happened when I still had my cool.
And no, I did not deign to actually film on the bike this time. We all recall what happened the last time I took a stab at that—and that was on a pretty flat paved path in California, too.
The landscape was unbeatable, though. And, we saw Heidi’s hut (“hutte”) from the iconic movie!
(It was much tinier than it looked onscreen.) After the hard work was done, we cruised along Lake Moritz and cooked up one mean picnic.
And by we, I mean the rest of my group. I was too interested in photographing the friendly ducks (do not ask me why).
But they did good (my fellow bikers, not the ducks, that is). The food was delicious.
As was the backdrop.
Oh Switzerland, how soon can I move to thee?