DAYS 15 & 16: Zurich as Home Base But a Weekend Free to Travel and Explore (6/17/2017 & 6/18/2017)

By Courtney Sigloh

This past weekend was our free weekend for the trip. Each student was free to stay in Zurich, take day trips, or travel somewhere else in Europe for the weekend. There were a wide array of adventures; from relaxing on a beach, to spending a day in the town of Lucerne, to road tripping to Lichtenstein, or exploring the cacti museum in Zurich. I spent my free weekend with Josh Gritz, climbing high into the Swiss Alps.

weekend 3

Our adventure began early Saturday morning with a quick and hearty breakfast at the hotel in Zurich. We grabbed some extra snacks to go and headed to the train station to catch an 8:04 train to Engelberg. We didn’t quite know what this small, Swiss village would hold, but our hotel concierge had recommended it for excellent hiking, so we took her at her word. (She ended up being our first hero of the trip.)

The train system in Europe is truly incredible. Even with booking our tickets less than twelve hours before departure, everything went smoothly. We took one train to Lucerne and transferred to a second train to Engelberg arriving right on schedule without any issues. It was relatively quick and easy, and it didn’t hurt that we were riding through the breathtaking Swiss countryside.

Upon arrival in Engelberg, we had to find a hike. We had done some previous searching on the Internet for suggestions, but finding a hike in the Swiss Alps is a lot harder than you think — nothing is explicitly mapped out online, or it isn’t in English. We figured the tourist center was our best bet. There we ran into our second hero for the trip, a young woman from the area, who kindly directed us away from the touristy hikes and towards a six-hour ascent favored by the locals.

Weekend 1

Snacks, water, and map in hand, we took to the mountains. The rest of our hike is going to be hard to articulate… It was absolutely indescribable. Fortunately, we live in an era of handheld technology and cell phones that double as cameras, so Josh and I were able to capture some of the experience for everyone. Two videos are included below: the first is a fast-paced photo recap of the scenery and the second is Josh’s LIVE snapchat story from the day. Please enjoy them both, but I sincerely encourage you to take any opportunity you have to personally experience hiking in the Swiss Alps (especially Engelberg).

Although words and pictures can’t do it justice, I will try and share a few fun stories from our day.

  • We were on the “locals” hike. We were basically all alone on the mountain, except for the cows. We were trekking across different alpine farmers’ properties and fields that were full of cattle. All the cows had cowbells on them, and the ringing carried across the fields.
  • Because we were crossing through farmers’ fields, we had to pass through a series of gates and fences that marked property lines. Each gate was different, and it took us a moment each time to figure out how to operate them.
  • Along with cows, the alpine fields were full of hundreds of wildflowers. They were a variety of bright colors and dotted the hillside with life. All of the colors on the hike were so vivid, from the fresh greens of the grass to the clear blues of the water.
  • We hiked straight up. If it had been any steeper at some points, we would have needed a ladder. When we stopped to rest and take in the view, we’d comment how we couldn’t possibly climb any higher – oh boy, were we wrong. We climbed over 300 flights of stairs according to our smartphones. (For reference, the Empire State Building is close to 85 flights of stairs high.)
  • We got to take a little cable car down the mountain. It was quite an experience. When we arrived at the “station” (basically a hut high in the Swiss Alps) there was no one there. We had to call the farmer woman who runs it to let us down the mountain. She only spoke German and at first Josh and I forgot to get into the cable car, so we had to frantically call again and tell her to wait to let us in. Once we actually got into the cable car, it was quite and exhilarating ride down the mountain.
  • We hiked back towards Engelberg along the river. It was so clear, a sparkling blue. The water was also very clean. The locals just drink the water directly. Josh and I decided to give it a try and it was refreshingly cold and tasted great too! Sustainable Europe Note: we even passed by a reservoir that was connected off the river for fresh waster storage.
  • Our hike lasted six hours and every step was completely worth it. It was incredible to be moving through natural landscapes that were both intimate and majestic at the same time.
  • The post-hike pizza was also worth mentioning…. This is when we encountered our third hero, the waitress that personally made us each a pizza at 4:00 pm when the restaurant wasn’t even open yet!

All in all, it was an incredible adventure…. Here is an ending Haiku from the journey.

Weekend 2

ALL IS BEFORE ME.

ALPINE BEAUTY SURROUNDS ME.

LEARN FROM WILDFLOWERS.

Whether one decided to go shopping, beaching, or hiking, I think I can speak for the entire group in saying it was a wonderfully spent free weekend. I know that I had a once in a lifetime experience!

We have one more day on the water module, a trip to the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Research and Technology, in Dubendorf (a Zurich suburb). The on to our next stop, Freiburg, Germany, to start our transportation module and finish out the trip strong. I can’t believe we are heading into our final week…

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