(This is a blog I wrote for a travel organization while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. It's about Interlaken, a small town in southern Switzerland. It was nostalgic for me to read again! Enjoy.)
We were well under the spell of the Swiss before the end of our first day here in Interlaken. This is probably due to Bernard (well, we think that’s its name), the massive St. Bernard that mosies around the halls and lounge of the Funny Farm hostel. It (sorry, I don’t mean to be impersonal, but I never figured out the gender of the dog. I love it just the same, though). Bernard really became quite a memorable figure to those traveling in and out of the hostel throughout the weekend.
Bernard is not the only charmer in this Swiss town, however. The ground and rooftops are laden with snow, and Christmas decorations still abound. The gingerbread-esque style of so many of the buildings and houses in town might lead one to think that they had stumbled upon Santa’s workshop.
While Interlaken is nowhere near the North Pole (yes, for those of you who doubt, it does exist), magic still abounds in this quaint Alp-encircled town. Extreme sports seem to be the big pull here, fitting since the surroundings are just that: extremely large, extremely daunting/daring (depending on what your mood is reading that day), and extremely beautiful. Sky-diving is a rather popular endeavor, just watch out for the prices; while canyon-jumping and paragliding may not reach sky-diving on the Richter scale of “extremeness,” they are nice substitutes that go a lot easier on the pockets. Skiing and snowboarding are obvious musts if you have a love for either sport (I mean, these are the Alps, for cryin’ out loud), but for those of us study-abroad students who are on the type of budget that begs you to question “wait, do I really need dinner tonight?,” night-sledding is the activity for you (us).
At about 90 francs (that’s roughly 65 euros), you get a full night of sledding, as well as an included fondue dinner. Hello Swiss food! The fondue was good, but go easy on it. I found myself feeling a little bit queasy after eating my weight in melted cheese and then riding in a bumpy van for 25 minutes. Don’t let that dairy get ya!
For those of you with the difficult stomachs and worrisome minds, don’t fret. Below the black diamonds and parachute-requiring frenzy lies a town full of culture and personality and…Swiss chocolate. It’s not even that good….
Ok I’m lying. The chocolate is amazing. It would be finger licking good, but Switzerland is too cold for chocolate to melt on to your fingers, so its just good. Period.
One of my personal finds was a store called “Woodpecker.” My friends and I were drawn in to the store for two reasons: one, there were a lot of machete-looking knives in the window and two, sitting in the window was what I thought was a stuffed cat, until it blinked and ran away from me.
So, naturally, we go in to the store only to find a little room filled front to back, top to bottom with hand-carved wooden gadgets, ornaments, Swiss paraphernalia, and kitchen-ware, all (or most) done by the smiling parental faces behind the counter. It was honestly breath-takingly beautiful. It was an image that the likes of Tolkien could have written, almost as if we had stumbled upon an Elfin souvenir shop, made and crafted with the precision of only the most adept and patient hands. When I asked the kind woman assisting us how much she was offering her cat for, she replied in the slight German accents that most people in the town share, “Oh, honey, you could buy him, but he’d just come running back to me.”
Walking around Interlaken is entertaining, especially for those architecturally-minded, but once our shivering bodies had had enough exposure to the winter air, we found our way in to a small little pub and ordered some meat and goulash soup. I would recommend this to ANYONE here. As I was eating it, I kept imagining myself as a child here, coming home for dinner after…ice skating practice? (sorry, I’m just not sure what Swiss children tend to do for fun..) to find my mother waiting with a hearty soup of this sort. It warms your every inch. It’s so cool to see how food adapts to the region and climate of which it is a part. There were no gelaterias. Anywhere.
Note to the fearless! And the fearful (come on, you’re in Switzerland!): GO NIGHT SLEDDING. Ok, yes, there is a substantial risk of flying off of a snow ridge, and you will crash and fall off of your sled more than five times. However, it’s an experience that cannot be missed. I knew we were in for a very interesting experience when our tour guide (who was a native Interlaken citizen, as well as a Viggo Mortensen look-alike) laughed in our faces when we asked if the slope for night sledding would be well lit. How American of us, I suppose. Basically, you sit on a tiny plastic sled, with your feet out in front of you, and fly down the sound of a mountain at pretty impressive speeds for the size and make of your sled, I thought. Using your feet to both steer and brake, you let yourself go and hope to the high heavens that you manage a bit of coordination and luck.
Night life in Interlaken, for those of you traveling and staying in a hostel, mainly consists of two spots: the bar below the Funny Farm hostel itself, and the underground night club at Balmers, the adorable little hostel right down the street. Heck, why not just hostel-hop and do both every night?
The bus ride is about 7-8 hours each way, and the Florence for Fun staff are really a delight to travel with. They are really helpful and organized, but more importantly, they really make an effort to get to know the students that they are traveling with. Definitely make sure you share some quality time, or drinks, with Fabio, the owner of Florence for Fun and overall life of the party. He is full of energy, is full of great tips for traveling, and provides great motivation for keeping your weekend schedule busy and active.