A Travellerspoint blog

Interlaken

And the extreme-ness of canyon jumping

sunny 10 °C
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Right now I'm trying to comprehend the enormous difference between today and yesterday, which is making it very hard to start this entry. It's a little after 9 I'm back in the hostel dorm, and probably will stay in for the night (not a whole lot of nightlife in Interlaken.) My brain is fried, but I'm trying my best here, haha:

Yesterday was our first full day in Interlaken, so we decided to go to a nearby town called Lauterbrunnen, which is a few hundred meters above us (altitude-wise) in the Alps, and famous for having the highest waterfall in Switzerland. The scenery was gorgeous, even on the train ride up-we had a perfect view of Jungfrau, the highest mountain in the region, right in front of us, and mountains coming up on all sides around us (can you say avalanche insurance?) We were also surrounded by streams coming from the waterfalls and most likely heading toward either of the lakes. Sidenote: The water here is so ridiculously blue it looks fake. All of it- the two lakes, the river, the streams- how do they do that? Anyway, it was sunny and shockingly warm, so we ended up walking around there for a long time. First we climbed up to the waterfall area- it was free and not busy, since we are in the awkward no winter-sports and no summer-sports season. We climbed up these jagged crumbly rocks and into a tunnel that went under the waterfall, which was impressive considering how slippery is was. The views were pretty incredible. Later on, we found ourselves walking past the green pastures and cows and sheep (and baby goats!!) being hopelessly pulled forward by the allure of the Swiss Alps towering before us. Our stomachs broke our trance and we headed back into town for some over-priced fondue... mmm. Something about the Swiss, they are waayy too rich. If you want an affordable dinner, you make it, end of story. So we got some groceries at the Co-Op and made our dinner at the hostel. That night we met a new roommate, Calvin, who was on leave from his tour in Iraq. He ended up being a really cool guy.

I woke up the next day and it was sunny and clear. I had my eye on some extreme craziness-brochures since we got here (I don't want to say extreme sports because I don't think falling is a sport, even if it's from high altitudes) and decided, when in Switzerland, jump off high things. I signed up for bungee jumping, and spent the rest of the morning worrying about it- I've never done anything like that before. Me and Ruaridh decided to go for a walk up to one of the lakes, and the walk was great but we never made it to the full opening of the lake, ha. We turned around, and as we were having lunch, a thick blanket of fog crashed down on Interlaken- the only way to put it because it was so sudden- and the wind picked up, the rain started, etc etc. I was pretty unhappy. For my first time bungee-jumping, I didn't want to plunge into a white impenetrable oblivion. We made our way across the park to the hostel, and I asked if they were canceling the trip at the reception desk. Of course they weren't- and Calvin found this very entertaining, so he decided to come along for the ride- even paid the smirky Australian driver 10 francs to come along. The ride up was an adrenaline rush in itself- our driver blasted some decent fast-paced music and passed cars on blind corners in that "I'm too extreme and Australian to care" sort of way. In the shuttle bus was me, Ruaridh, Calvin, and some scared-looking Asian boy. After picking up a brazilian family on the way, we get to Grindelwald, where our driver asks us if we are bungee jumping or canyon jumping. We all say bungee jumping, at which point he says "no- i think you'll be canyon jumping today." and drives onward. No. No way. Canyon jumping, as described in the brochure, is being attached to a rope hanging at a midpoint a few hundred feet in front and below you, jumping off a cliff, freefalling, then being swung through a narrow canyon when the rope catches. Before I decide it would be safer to flee from the moving van, we crawl to a stop in a clearing in the woods. As a last resort, I fall back to plea with the driver. If he followed suite and shrugged me off, I probably would've refused, but he was actually really nice about it- said I could go up and look around, and if I wasn't comfortable I didn't have to do anything and could get a full refund. At least up here we were above all the fog and rain. So, within twenty minutes I was harnessed up and ready to pass through the gate and onto the platform that I would jump from. The swiss guy who helped secure me to the rope gave me a huge grin and asked if I was ready. Calvin leaped toward the platform, camera in hand, saying "have fun! hahaha!" The Swiss guy let go of the heavy rope, which dragged me toward the edge of the platform. I could see the canyon ahead of me, but couldn't see anything below me. So I jumped! And as soon as my feet left the platform, I completely forgot I was attached to something, only thinking holy crap, I am falling. My heart never raced faster in my entire life. When the rope finally caught, swinging through the canyon was incredible. I was so full of adrenaline that all I could do was lie, limbs sprawled in midair, and look around. I was shaking so badly I could barely move to catch the rope that was pulled clothesline-style so I could pull myself toward the ladder on the side of the canyon. Some of the local alpiners were watching from a walkway, laughing and thumbs-upping me. They were pretty nice, and managed to poke fun at me without a word of english! ha. Two others went after me, and my heart still raced for them. Even though I did it, its scary to see someone fall like that, especially from the bottom. I was still on an adrenaline high when we got back to the hostel, and me and Ruaridh made fondue with white chocolate and bailey's.... mmmm. I tried writing this blog, but my brain was just way to fried. Now I'm actually recalling from a few weeks later! Haha. Anyway, a good day. Me, Ruaridh and Calvin went slopping around the rain that night to get some pizza at the only semi-affordable place in town. Then I went to bed.

Posted by rwills89 11:34 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Interlaken

So far

sunny 16 °C
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Another full day of travel ahead! Our next stop is Interlaken, Switzerland. I'm kind of happy to be moving on from Germany and into a new culture, especially because Interlaken is supposed to be lovely. After the several hours transferring here and there, we start to see the huge blue and white snow-capped mountains, and the lakes for which the town is named. Sidenote: I've started experiencing a post-train-sickness sensation. You know when you are on a boat for too long and you feel like you are rocking later when you are on land? I'll be sitting still at a cafe and think I'm moving forward. Ha. Anyway, despite our guidebook naming Interlaken as nothing more than a tourist-heavy passing through town, it's incredibly pretty and the views are unlike anything I've ever seen. Ruaridh gets excited about fondue as we make our way to the hostel. It's cute and impeccably clean (swiss standards) and the beds are comfy. We stop at the Co-op and make dinner back at our hostel, deciding to have the night in (not that it's much of a choice here.) Other note: no idea there was such a huge asian population here. Even some store signs are in korean (i think) and everyone coming in and out of or hostel is korean. So anyway, I gather lots of brochures and we decide tomorrow we will see Lauterbrunnen and the waterfalls.

Posted by rwills89 13:39 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Rhine Valley

all seasons in one day
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After a hurried breakfast, we get back on the train to Berlin Hauptbanhof, where we will (we think) head to Bacharach, a small town on the Rhine River, via Frankfurt. We were suggested this HI hostel, a renovated castle, that is supposed to be pretty amazing, but they don't take online reservations, so before leaving the main station to Frankfurt I give them a call. The woman tells me they are booked until Sunday- what?! Now I start to panic. I try to contact a few other places in the area, and don't succeed before we get on the train. I'm not very happy. We get to Frankfurt after a few hours, and one of the places, an HI Hostel in Koblenz, tells me they have room. I finally stop freaking out, and Ruaridh is grateful no one perished. We get on the next train to Koblenz, and it is already dark out. We figure this place is a good second- it''s a 13th century fortress overlooking the Rhine, once the largest in the world (I didn't think this through.) So we take the instructed bus once we get off at Koblenz Hbf- I didn't realize this was going to be an actual city, but it's quite large. Anways, we cross the Rhine and get to the stop we were instructed to take, and the fortress looms above us, lit up, rival to Edinburgh castle. A man on the bus starts talking to me in German. I catch Jugenherberge- youth hostel. I say yes! Youth hostel! And he nods, bla bla bla, and tells us not to get off at the bottom, wait 2 stops. So we do, and we are dropped off in a dark suburban area, thinking ok, look for the massive glowy thing. We reach, after much strenuous climbing, a 3-way dead end- meaning it might as well be a dead end, because there's no way I am walking down a pitch black street in god-knows-where, Germany. We decide to stop a station wagon coming down from one of the roads and ask where the hostel is- its a mother and teenage daughter, and they offer to give us a ride. Turns out, it was very far, and she drove through an unlit construction site to get us there (can you say Hell No) we go through the many archways of the castle and the fortress, when she drives up to a toll-booth looking thing, and says something in German to the worker. He lets down the stoppers and she drives us right up to the hostel entrance, telling us they don't normally let people drive through but she told him that she had two lost Americans with her, haha. We check in, and our stay at Koblenz ends up being pretty unremarkable, and we realize why HI Hostels should be avoided if at all possible. We've stayed at one HI hostel before, in Oban, Scotland, and it was lovely- this is the type that backpackers warn you about. Huge, no character, useless staff, and full of screaming little kids and their parents. On check-in, the girl tells me that the room I'm staying in has no key. I ask her if there are lockers, and she says she doesn't know. So me and Ruaridh pick up our sheets and move to our respective single-gendered rooms. I'm walking and walking through multitudes of vast, white hallways and huge wooden doors before I get to my room at the end of the hall. The woman in it has a chair against the door, apologizes because she thought she was alone in the room. I don't blame her. I try to quell my overactive imagination and eventually fall asleep.

It's Friday morning, and if this place has one thing, it's pretty amazing views. One thing I didn't to expect looming in the distance, a nuclear power plant. But it certainly made the panorama more interesting. After breakfast, we decide to make the proper descent out of the fortress and go down into Koblenz. There's not much, so we walk back into the city center, and get lunch at a really great turkish place. We take the bus back, and find the entrance for the chair lift up. Ruaridh doesn't look happy about it, but we go anyway- beats the walk up! Tonight we plan our next stop- we decide to book a day in Bacharach, and from there go to Interlaken. I'm alone in my big scary fortress-y room but sleep fine anyways.
The next day, our last full day in Koblenz, we wake up facing white-washed windows and not much else. We are completely enveloped in a thick fog, so I catch up on my blog! Originally we were going to take a Rhine boat trip from the Deutches Eck, but there is no point if we can't see anything, so we both agree that it's no big deal if we don't go out-and-about today. The fog burns off mid-afternoon- right before we die of boredom- so we walk around the fortress grounds a bit. A very uneventful day ahead, tomorrow is Bacharach.

Bacharach is what you picture when you imagine a beautiful little town on the Rhine. I'm so happy we spent the day there, and definitely wished we had more time. We take the morning train from Koblenz to Bacharach, a really scenic route along the Rhine River. We see all the castles dotting the hilltops, and even see Loreley rock, the most visited attraction I think (I'm glad we didn't go out of our way for it though) we get to Bacharach, and walk through what looks like the only street in the town until we see the steps leading up the the castle, perched on the hillside. The walk up was pretty strenuous with our bags, but well worth the view. After checking in, we sat in the courtyard with some tea (I got black forest cheesecake also) and relaxed, with the Rhine river stretching out on either side below us and golden vineyards rising on the hills to our left. We later made the descent into town, realizing we only had the one day, and decided to try some of the local wine- after walking around, I realize that Bacharach must really be a vineyard town, because the street is dotted with winehouses and wagons pass us carrying loads of grapes. We stop at a place suggested by the woman at reception, and I get the Federweisser- the young wine, or "must," that looks like fizzy pineapple juice because it still has yeast. It is very sweet and very delicious. Ruaridh and I split two other ones, then wander the town some more as the sun starts setting, past the little cobblestone streets and hanging grape vines. In the morning, we leave for Switzerland.

Posted by rwills89 13:37 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Berlin

sunny 10 °C
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Sunday is our first real day in Berlin. You could easily spend a couple weeks here because of all the history, museums, and nightlife, but we don't have long and Ruaridh is still far under the weather. Before going into the details, I have to say Berlin is the most unique city I've seen- it's hard to describe what it feels like there, a city that has risen so incredibly, considering how recently the Berlin Wall was torn down. The Nazis, the leveling of the city, the Wall- historically speaking, it was yesterday- you can still feel it. But the city is making sure that it is all in the past, almost over-compensating by taking down almost anything remnant of their messy history. The exceptions, though, are incredible- a church, with half the dome destroyed, was left untouched as a memorial of sorts. Annette will show us much more (I'll get to that.)

Anyway, after arriving back into the airport-like Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station), we walk out and see the Reichstag, then down to the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Germany unity but also a point that East and West Germany were separated by. I get my passport stamped as a little souvenir at one of the marking points. We walk through the Holocaust memorial to Potsdamerplatz, the mammoth ultra-modern commercial and business center of Berlin. I didn't expect almost *everything* in Berlin to be brand new, but it is. We see parts of the wall erected here and there in the city, and a double line of cobblestone snaking its way through the city marks where the wall once stood. We go to the Topography of Terror, not yet a full exhibit but close, which recounts the terrors of the world wars, the Nazi regime and the construction of the wall. Lining is is a large part of the wall, and Ruaridh finally finds "Glasgow Rangers" spray-painted in blue on one of the panels. His dad offered him $100 if he got a picture with it. That night we meet with Annette, a high-strung German grad student who gives us tour plans for Germany that she had worked on for a long time. She showed us what remained of historic Germany, like this large old house converted into a club/bar/cinema that the government wanted to tear down, but the German youth protested and ended up keeping it. It was pretty crazy- definitely a symbol of the Berlin sub-culture. Next, we saw the last building in Berlin that still had shrapnel and bullet marks in it, which was quite haunting. Afterwards we saw an art exhibit and a Jewish memorial, then started walking back. Annette points out that all Jewish buildings, like the temple, still have cops out in front. She leaves us with a pile of print-outs and itineraries, and grateful, though overwhelmed, we thank her and leave.

Monday morning, and Ruaridh is all the sicker. We had plans to meet a woman named Kersten for lunch, but ended up missing her from our adventure at the post office and getting lost in the campus near her work. After getting some good chinese food, we head back to the hauptbahnhof and pick up Eurail passes for the second half of our trip, which will cover the rest of our major journeys. At almost 400 euro apiece, they're one trip away from paying for themselves (one week later.) Ruaridh is about to keel over so we head back to Potsdam and settle hostel arrangements for our last 2 days in Berlin, since Kusi is having guests the next night.

Tuesday morning we pack our things and head out for Wombat's, our Berlin hostel, and lunch with Kersten. After another go at the post office we finally come out victorious and ship some of the things we no longer need home (finished books, souvenirs etc.) we meet Kersten for our rescheduled lunch, and she is incredibly nice. Afterward we go out for coffee, and she tells us the history of the buildings we pass on the way, and talks about what being educated in East Berlin in the 80s was like- doesn't sound fun. After thanking her and getting our stuff, we head over to Wombat's, our hostel, also very nice, by Alexanderplatz. I didn't realize East Berlin would be so hoppin'- we are surrounded by hostels and bars and clubs. I guess they are really trying to draw in a young crowd here, and they succeeded. Unpacking in our room, I reflect on all my previous assumptions about east Berlin, and how wrong they are- before I see a swastika carved into our coffee table. Ok, so maybe not everything has changed, and maybe East Berlin isn't exactly 'scenic,' but it's certainly fun. We don't partake in the nightlife this time- Ruaridh collapses on the bed, occasionally running to the bathroom, not looking very pleased. We walk down the street to a restaurant called Marrakesh for dinner, and it was really excellent and inexpensive, even though our waiter was a tool. It's already late, and we call it a night, not making any definite plans since Ruaridh doesn't look like he's going anywhere too quickly.

Wednesday morning, and Ruaridh is forcing himself to come out with me- he's starting to feel guilty about everything we've been missing, even though I keep telling him I pulled the same thing in London when I got food poisoning. We walk down to the Museuminsel (museum island i think) with the goal of seeing the Pergamon museum, which turns out to be closed for the 4 or 5 days we are in Berlin. We walk around a bit more in Unter den Linden, the wide street on the east side of the Brandenburg gate that has souvenir shops and huge foreign embassies and some upscale shops. We head back to Alexanderplatz and Ruaridh is starting to feel better, so he eats almost an entire pizza, and we head back to Marrakesh. The same waiter, but much nicer this time for some reason. We get some drinks, and see a few middle-aged woman come in and share a hookah. That was funny. Tomorrow we leave for the Rhine Valley.

Posted by rwills89 13:32 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Potsdam

sunny
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We arrive fairly late in Potsdam, and meet Kusi, the man we will be staying with. He is incredibly nice, and his wife Kati is the sweetest woman I've ever met. We are offered dinner- rolls, hot-dog like sausage and other various meat and cheese- very German. It's not long before we pass out on the couches provided for us.
We reserve the next day to lock ourselves inside and plan the rest of our trip. Before leaving, we only planned up to Berlin. We get a decent amount done, and Kati offers to drop us off in central Potsdam on her way in. We accept, and go to an Italian place for dinner. My food was great, but Ruaridh started to not feel well so he didn't eat much- what we didn't know is he would stay sick for the rest of the week.
Saturday was warm, clear and sunny, so we went to see the beautiful Sanssouci Park. Ruaridh keeps making fun of me because I pronounce it "San-soochee"- proof to the Italian influence in New Jersey and New York. It's actually "Sance-suzie." We spend the whole day taking photos, walking around the ponds and admiring the many palaces and statues. After eating, we head back to Kusi's, and plan our day in Berlin for the morning.

Posted by rwills89 13:31 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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