I haven’t had many moments when I just wanted to pause time, take a deep breath and really absorb the moment I was in. Usually these moments occurred when I looked back on my life and wished I had done something different, when I should have fought harder, when I should have said no to something I said yes to. But this time, for the first time, I was living in the moment. I was standing on the top of Mt. Harder Kulm in Switzerland; I was standing so desperately small next to The David in Florence; I was sitting in a gondola floating through Venice; I was sipping wine and watching the sunset in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. For once, I was living in the moment, not dwelling in the past. I was finally in the now.
I never realized how truly small and irrevocably arrogant I was to the world around me. Up until a few weeks ago, my life and my world revolved around a few certain people and the small town in which I lived in. I put my worth and life in the sole provision of acceptance and love from others. I thought traveling abroad would be an adventure, and heck yes I was sure that I would make plenty of memories and that I would return changed (and I am not referring to the weight gain from eating so much pasta). I never would have imagined that traveling abroad to six countries would not only change my point of view on life, but make me really want to start over and truly live and work on myself.
Within these next few blogs, I implore you to join me as I relive my journey through Europe, as I remember the sweet, brisk winds of Switzerland, the smoldering hot sun of Bologna, the crisp smell of leather in Florence and the sweeping sounds of gondolas as they push through the canals of Venice. With each step that I made in each new place, I found a new part of me, a new strength, a new meaning to the definition of independence.
My first true taste of adventure and pure curiosity occurred not when first arriving in Bologna, because I sure as heck was more jetlagged and sleep-deprived than I was bushy-eyed and ready to explore the world. It was two days after arriving in Bologna, when eight students in my study abroad course bought train tickets to Interlaken, Switzerland. We left later in the afternoon, embarking on our own little journey all by ourselves in a foreign country, indifferent to cultural trends and barely breaking the language barrier.
We arrived to Interlaken at the peak of night, and after eating authentic Swiss rosti, we searched for a cab to our hostel. But first, let me take a slight detour and talk a little bit more about this Swiss restaurant. First off, the servers were all wearing cow print, fuzzy pajama pants. I know cows are basically the official country animal due to Switzerland’s renowned cheese and chocolate products, but fuzzy cow print pajama pants? Jealous! (Subway would not even budge to letting us wear vegetable or cheese printed pajama pants: that would be too cheesy.)
Second, our waiter was the epitome of the best, humorous and slightly ignorant to us Americans, who kept asking for ranch and natural (non-fuzzy) water by the pitcher full. The meals, for being served close to midnight, were surprisingly fresh and top-notch. Everyone was itching to buy a cheese fondue, but spending 17 euros on a bowl of Swiss cheese on the first day just didn’t seem quite right.
Thirdly, because we had just been in Italy, most of us had euros on us, or American dollars. In Switzerland, its currency is franks. Thank goodness the restaurant accepted euros and credit cards, but if we paid in euros, our change was in franks. Currently, the exchange rate from euros to franks was one Swiss franc equals 0.92 euros, so we were almost breaking it even. To end the night, the restaurant had a wall that travelers from all over the world who had frequented the restaurant had signed or carved their name or school into the wall. Clarion University Study Abroad Group 2016 left its mark on the wall, among schools from Germany, England, China and so many more.
Now let me tell you, it was around midnight by the time we arrived at our hostel, The Funny Farm. A name like that should have been our first clue that things were going to be sketchy. A hostel is an inexpensive establishment that provides lodging for mainly backpackers, travelers and students. My group of eight ended up sharing a room consisting of 12 beds, three of which were occupied by North Korean students traveling abroad. When we first arrived, our sketchy and creepy dangerous alerts all went off in our minds. The lobby attendant first of all asked if we even wanted a key to our room, because as we later found out our room door didn’t lock. Below the hostel in the basement were two clubs, where several presumably high and intoxicated men lingered and later approached a member of our group to ask her if she wanted to party.
The room itself was tiny, the bunk beds were small and rickety, and when I jumped on the floor the whole room and all of the beds shook. I don’t think many of us slept that night.
As soon as the sun rose above the mountains, the whole atmosphere of the hostel, the eeriness of the night before and lack of excitement all changed. In daylight, the hostel was a glorious large building, placed along the side of a typical touristic town. The view we had from our bedroom window was glass shattering beautiful. The foundation and design of the Swiss buildings coupled with the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains quickly dissolved any worries of staying at the hostel another night.
We had not even started our day and exploration of the small town and I had taken close to 50 pictures, just from our hostel window. It was amazing how in three short hours we had left the hustle and bustle of Bologna, Italy and had submerged ourselves into a world of serene views and desktop worthy pictures.
Switzerland is known for its cheese and chocolate just as well as they are known for its snow caps and breathe taking views. As much of an experience staying the night in what we thought was a sketchy, club hoping hostel, the moment we stepped out into the streets was another experience in itself.
You probably have heard about the mystery and beauty of the streets of New York City, how despite the hustle and bustle, there is peace and tranquility. The streets of Interlaken were much more than just that. Country flags, flags representing local police departments, signs advertising for cannoning, parasailing, kayaking, trolley tours and carriage rides lined the streets. Shops advertised authentic Swiss cheese fondues, gourmet chocolates and pastries and spicy sausage sandwiches that would make anyone’s mouth water. There was much to see, so much to do in just that one little town and we only had a day and a half to take it all in.
For the day, we all decided to ride a trolley up to the top of Mt. Harder Kulm, one of the many tall mountains engulfing the town of Interlaken. Interlaken sits nestled between two lakes, lakes Thunersee and Brienzersee, a wedge keeping the two lakes from ever meeting. In order to get to the trolley, we had to walk towards the edge of town. It was as if walking through a Disney movie.
Besides the temptation of authentic cheese and chocolate lingering around every corner, the temptation to capture every living moment through a camera lens like the average tourist was even harder to resist. One thing that I soon realized is that although pictures can capture the scene, they can’t capture the moment, the moments of realizing how truly small you are in the world and how much the world has to offer.
One of the most gorgeous gardens that we saw on our way to the trolley was a Japanese Garden, a twin to a Japanese Garden in the town of Otsu. The gardens were created as a token of friendship between the two towns and share a pond and pavilion area.
Close by was a large field where parasailers would land in their parachutes, greeting the hundreds of locals and tourists that gather in the field to take pictures in front of the great mountains. As the above picture foretells, my little study abroad group was no exception to the picture perfect opportunity.
Once we reached the top of Harder Kulm, more and more moments and views of scenery knocked the breath out of me, made me wish that those who I loved and cared for were there taking in the scene with me. Even with my high-tech Nixon camera I wasn’t able to capture the full view of Interlaken and the two great lakes. The blue, actual radiant, piercing blue color of the lakes almost beat the audacity of the sky above.
The rest of our trip consisted of our group walking jaw-dropped through the city, tasting samples from chocolate stores and dining on authentic cuisine. A day and a half was just not enough to capture the spirit and livelihood that Interlaken provides for its tourists.
All in all: Switzerland was just the beginning. In one day I took over 200 pictures and had over 1,000 “oh my gosh” moments. However overwhelmed with the surrounding culture and language barrier I was, I did have to remind myself to live in the moment and not through a camera lens or in the future. In order to fully enjoy the day I had to set aside my worries, leave my stress and doubts in the U.S., and realize that hey, holy heck I am in Switzerland. It was as if entering a whole new world, a new realm, where life was literally a box of Swiss chocolates and watching sunsets on top of a mountain. I was in Switzerland and it was only the beginning of my two week journey of studying abroad.