Faulensee/Interlaken, Switzerland

Tristan spent 2 months in the States with my parents. He was so brave and flew back to the States as an unaccompanied minor. Ever the climbing enthusiast, he was able to complete his summer climbing camp, as well as hanging out with all of his best buddies. I think it was an excellent, refreshing time for him before he begins life at a new school (for real this time, since last year was all virtual). Flying home, my mom was able to accompany him back to Germany.

I’d made all of these big plans to be nonstop traveling – five countries were on the agenda, however we only made it to 3, which I still think is pretty damn good for her first visit in Europe. Our original plans included Germany (by fault), France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland. We unfortunately didn’t make it to Belgium and Luxembourg, but our one big trip easily made up for the missing countries.

I struggled with deciding what I wanted our big trip to include. I tossed around Lake Como, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Athens. I wanted my mom to experience Europe to it’s fullest while she was here. I wanted her to see why I love it so much; why I needed to be here, to live here, to grow here. But it was also difficult planning with all of the COVID restrictions and the small amount of time I had between shifts. It needed to be somewhere amazing, somewhere easy to get to, and somewhere Tristan and I hadn’t been before either.

My friend kept bringing up Switzerland, and I kept brushing it off. It’s on my bucket list, but not somewhere I was burning to visit. I’d heard how expensive it was and wasn’t interested in having to stop for a currency exchange and vignette (a sticker that goes on your window so you can drive in Switzerland). I didn’t know much else about Switzerland other than mountains, neutrality, and chocolate. But my friend insisted we go. So we did.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Switzerland, to be honest. Mountains aren’t usually impressive to me – the beach calls my name. But, holy frijoles. When the tops of those mountains tip over into the scenery, it truly leaves you breathless.

Interlaken, Switzerland from the ferris wheel. The large green courtyard squares are where we landed after paragliding.

When looking for a hotel, I chose a place in Faulensee on the lake. It had a huge balcony that my mom could relax on and enjoy the view. It was also close to both Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen. Most of our plans were either in or began in Interlaken. We drove about four and a half hours down through France, passing through Basel. At the Switzerland/French border, we were stopped in order to acquire our vignette. We drove on through an incredible amount of road construction (Schweiz, you rival Deutschland in your road construction!), through some of the longest road tunnels I’ve ever been through, and through the most amazing scenery I think I’ve ever seen.

We arrived about an hour early to our hotel hoping to check in before Tristan and I had our first scheduled adventure. I wasn’t sure how long our paragliding would last, so I wanted my mom to be able to relax on the balcony until we could come get her for dinner. However, the hotel staff had stepped out, so we moved along to Interlaken. It was fortunate that the first half of our paragliding adventure was chocolate making with The Funky Chocolate Club. Our lovely teacher gladly let mom fill a spot in the class.

Tempering chocolate

If you get the opportunity to package the chocolate making class and paragliding (The Funky Chocolate Flight), do it! Both were such an awesome experience. Our lovely host for the chocolate making class was exceptionally knowledgeable, engaging, and fun. We learned about the coco bean: where it originated, how it smells, tastes, and feels. We were able to smell, taste, and listen to the snap of the different kinds of chocolate (the louder the snap, the higher the chocolate content). After picking our chocolate (Tristan picked dark, and I picked milk), we tempered the chocolate, poured it into a mould, decorated it, then let it sit. Paragliding Interlaken came to pick us up from our class, then drove us up the mountain.

Admittedly, I was a bit terrified. But, my tandem rider was amazing at calming my nerves (I mean, he was very easy to look at as well). We both tied our hair back, slapped our helmets on and watched on as Tristan and his tandem flier ran off the side of the mountain.

Tristan was short enough compared to his tandem and so was able to just hang while they ran. I, on the other hand, was told to “run, run, run, just keep running, until I say stop!” Pretty sure I ran until we were flying in the air (imagine the Road Runner running off the side of a cliff…), but oh was it absolutely exhilarating!

Timo, my professional paragliding partner, talked to me the entire time, pointing out places down below, explaining the differences in the colors between the two lakes, and how passionate he was about paragliding. He told me how his mother is a nurse, and said that I was brave because I was a nurse, which meant that I’d probably like doing tricks on the way down to land. I acquiesced with a little hesitation, and immediately regretted forgetting to take a Dramamine. The spins and flips were exciting and fun, but my stomach was about to drop. I ended up taking a Dramamine almost an hour later because I would still feel waves of nausea.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

The rest of the evening we spent meandering in and out of the stores along the main square, picking up our chocolate and having dinner.

The next day we kicked off early to our next adventure. We caught an early train from Interlaken to Grindelwald where we caught the Eiger Express Gondola up to Jungfraujoch – 3466 meters above sea level. Jungfraujoch is part of the Bernese Alps and connects the ridges of Mönch (4107 meters), Eiger (3967 meters), and Jungfrau (4158 meters). The Jungfrau Railway that takes you to the viewing platform, is the highest railway in Europe, which gives cause to the nickname Top of Europe.

From the tourist center, we explored the Ice Palace and stood looking through the mountain pass, watching the hikers as they made off into the snowy white distance. We breathed in the thin fresh air and basked in the closeness of the sun. I marveled at how close we were to the clouds, and how they rested on top of the peaks like lazy little hats. For whatever I was expecting of Switzerland, these views far outreached my expectations.

The route up and down on the Eiger Express was absolutely breathtaking as well. It was so hard to find a view to focus on, and so easy to imagine living in one of the little Swiss houses wedged against the side of a hill, lush green grass until the black rocks and rubble of the mountains grew into the air to meet the land of the giants. The water in the streams and canals were the clearest of turquoises, white foam gurgling as it rushed from the mountain springs. Even the water in the lake we stayed on was so clear and refreshing. It truly is mind-blowing.

By the time we came down from the mountain, we were tired and hungry. We found a traditional Swiss restaurant where we ate rösti (a Swiss-German hash brown) and watched people ride by on their bicycles and listened to the locals in their harmonic Swiss-German lilt.

Tristan and I decided to take a walk across the street to the lake, where I proceeded to dip my feet in and run. I enjoyed the sunshine on my skin while I encouraged Tristan to go deeper into the ice cold water. He, bravely I might add, swam to the floating dock and, after a moment of building up his courage, dove right in.

Sunbathing, swimming, and all things summer are interestingly different in Europe. Babies and toddlers run naked in the sunshine, men wear the smallest of speedos, and public affection seems to be par for the course. People smoke at their blankets, lap up the sunshine, and enjoy an ice cream or beer. One man somehow changed from his speedos to full dress underneath his towel.

Tristan unsuccessfully tried to tempt me further into the water, but thigh-deep was as far as I would go, so we made our way back across the street to the hotel. I laid down for a nap and woke up the next morning.

Our plans for the following day were to drive down to Lauterbrunnen to see the waterfalls before driving back through France, stopping in Colmar for lunch and then heading home. We were all pretty tired, so skipped Lauterbrunnen, and ended up skipping Colmar because it was so crowded and busy when we drove through. We landed home, ordered out for dinner and gladly settled into the couch after such an amazing vacation.

Where do you think we’re headed to next?

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