Some European Adventures

Here’s another transcribed group email I sent out during my first year living in Switzerland:

Since I’ve been back from Turkey (did I mention how good THAT trip was???) I’ve been going non-stop.  Not work mind you, because due to this crazy country I haven’t worked a full five day working week since I got back!  It’s been full of three- and four-day long weekends (not that I’m complaining…).

After returning to work for a whole two days I trained across to Salzburg for three days.  The weather was crap, but I still had a great time.  It’s a beautiful town with a few things to see, but first stop for me were the ice caves, the Largest In The World (oooh errr).  Catching the train down south into the mountains, I arrived at the beautiful little village of Werfen.  After a bus trip up the mountain, then a cable car up some more and finally a 15 min walk I arrived at the cave entrance.  The tour was conducted using lanterns and magnesium strips and meandered through these huge chambers filled with frozen ice formations and shapes – absolutely breathtaking (and not just because of the freezing temperatures)!

Back at Salzburg it was time for the ubiquitous “Sound Of Music” tour.  Doing it with four crazy Canadian girls made it a good laugh, but the rest of the tour group (Americans and Indians (?) mostly) were pretty sober.  That was probably because they weren’t still drunk from the local beer hall – actually still a functioning monastery – the night before.  We had more fun after the tour than on it when we went around Salzburg and the Mirabellgarten recreating some of the scenes.  Sure we looked like idiots but who cares!

The next weekend I did a lovely day hike above Walensee, SE of Zürich..  The walk was along the Churfirsten range – beginning from the Walenstadt train station I walked continuously up 1500m to a top altitude of over 2000m.  The walk then continued along a “terrace” below the mountain summits, with still a fair bit of snow around that I had to trudge through.  It was a warm perfectly clear day and the views across the lake to the alps on the other side were tremendous.  Deciding to shortcut it down to the village, I found myself careening down the side of a bloody cliff on the steepest path I have EVER experienced.   Things soon got worse when I got into a steep valley – a winter avalanche had totally obliterated the path, so I had to find my own way down scrambling down the loose rock and ice.  Bit of adventure never hurt anyone!

Speaking of adventure, I think I had the ultimate of Swiss adventures last weekend (it’ll be hard to beat anyway!).  I decided to go for a spot of snow touring/mountaineering with a mate from work.  Catching the train from Lauterbrunnen to Jungfraujoch (3500m), we then dropped off the back of the mountain onto the glacier.  Original plan was to climb Jungfrau (4150m), but the initial climb to a saddle took far too long as I was on snowshoes and it was slushy spring snow.  The summit ridge looked a bit dodgy as well in the conditions.  After a two hour slog up a climb of over 700m (altitude taking its toll!), using both snowshoes and crampons, we lunched at over 3750m with clear blue skies, a hot sun (hello blisters) and incredible views of the alps in every direction.

Dropping down the glacier on the other side, we eventually connected with the Aletsch Glacier (Europe’s largest), and powered all the way uphill, with mountains towering over 1000m above you on both sides of the 2-3km wide glacier, for about six hours to the top of the glacier near the Hollandiahütte (about 3300m).  For the hell of it we built a small snow cave as the weather started to close in.  Pretty uncomfortable, but warm and worth the experience!  However, I wasn’t feeling the best due to a combination of dehydration and a mild case of altitude sickness (no preparation – the last time I was at this altitude was at Zermatt in February!).

Weather and snow conditions wrote off out idea to climb Mittagshorn Sunday morning, instead we had an easy day descending 10km down the other side of the valley, along the glacier, scrambling down the face and then along the valley floor to Fafleralp, a pretty little village in the Wallis region.  From there we caught a bus to the train, where a thoroughly exhausted and blistered (face, not feet!) me could finally rest.  Urgh!  Tough work, but it was absolutely worth it!!!!

For the last in the series of long weekends I popped down to Barcelona for 4 days.  After a hellish night train saga – sleeping on the floor instead of a cosy warm couchette!) – I joined the same four Canadians from Salzburg (big HI! to Sloane, Steph, Andrea and Aili).  Barcelona didn’t impress me that much: a bit pretty but nothing spesh.  Made up for it in nightlife though and I quickly learnt that these Spaniards know how to party:  start eating and drinking at 10 or 11pm and take it from there, sleep in, midday siesta, and then it all starts again!  Four days of drinking sangrias, eating and sleeping (oh, and some sightseeing along the way too…).  Straight to work Monday morning off the night train feeling slightly hungover.

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