Switzerland started off rough. The country wasn't bad, the 16 hour travel day was bad. Travel days are the days that Conner and I are tired, hungry, and wondering what the heck we are doing with ourselves. Travel days are the days we miss home. Basically, we hate travel days and this one was the worst.
We left Zagreb, Croatia before seven and arrived in Interlaken after 10:30 pm. We thought we would have time to eat or pick up some food in the afternoon but found out the supposedly long layover between trains was not so long, surviving on only the apple and pastry we had eaten in the morning. On top of that when we tried to take money out of the ATM it wouldn't allow us to.
Conner may or may not have experienced a near panic attack going through these trialling times. She began talking about the possibility of having to steal food from people's gardens to survive. At about that point in our journey I began to fear for her sanity. Praise the Lord (really, I did) for a train worker who took pity on her weakening soul and gave her a free snickers bar. I quickly began to wonder if it was all just good acting skills and that maybe I needed to step up my game if I wanted to enjoy free candy bars on the train. I'm sobbing as I write this to see where it gets me. Anyways, in the end we made it, ran to trusty McD's, Conner went back to normal (well, normal for her)and we are okay now. Correction: kind of okay...it is another travel day AND I have not yet received a free candy bar.
We arrived in Interlaken in the dark, unaware of our surroundings. Our moods were quickly brightened when we arrived at our hostel, Funny Farm (seriously), with full stomachs and found out we had our own room with its own bathroom and a television that had a total of one English language channels.
When we awoke we found we had the most amazing view off of our balcony of the surrounding mountains. It was the greatest surprise. We went to a cute cafe, Blueberry, for a brunch of coffee and yogurt with the best granola ever and headed out for a quick hike before meeting with the couchsurfing host we would be staying with.
In order to meet our host, Titia, we had to take a bus up a winding road and into the mountains. We were slightly nervous and really unsure of what to expect. We arrived at this little mountain village, greeted by a smiling Titia and her three confused children. I don't think they understood why strangers were coming to stay with them, especially strangers who did not even speak their language. Titia and her husband do speak English, and dutch, and swiss German, and German. They were pretty good with languages.
The family walked us up a steep road and to their beautiful home with the most spectacular view of the mountains and lake below. Every window of their house had an incredible view. We were in awe. The area we were staying was straight out of Heidi. Goats in the yard below, fresh milk picked up from the neighbor next door, a little village where everyone knew each other. Amazing.
The village we were in is called Habkern and its one of few Swiss mountain villages stubbornly sticking to tradition. They make sure of this through laws about how homes and buildings are built, etc. The town had a yodeling choir and the children took lessons in traditional dance. In the village was one of two or three shops in which jodelhorns are made. They are those long, low sounding horns that you see in movies and cartoons about Switzerland, but don't actually think are played in real life. Apparently they are.
The kids warmed up to us slowly and we learned to communicate through a translating Titia, hand signals, and noises. The kids were pretty adorable, and we decided they were probably even cuter to us because we had no idea what they were saying. Daniel is ten, and he is an awesome musician. He takes drum lessons, but he also teaches himself piano and guitar which he plays incredibly well. He was pretty happy to show off for the ladies, being Conner and I. Linda is about eight and I quickly became her dog. She would click her tongue to notify me when it was time to follow her. If I didn't respond I received a very reprimanding look. Somehow she still managed to be cute. Felix was about five. He was adorable. Everyday he wore a blue shirt with a blue hat with a teddy bear on it. Not a picture of a teddy bear but an actual teddy bear. Just a teddy bear, hanging out on top of his head.
Felix took the longest to warm up to us and when he finally did, Conner had to ruin it. We were sitting at dinner one night and a very loud fart came from Felix's little body. He looked around nervously and everyone looked at us seeing how we would respond. Once Conner and I could no longer fight our urge to laugh, everyone started laughing, including Felix. To clear up any possible confusion, Conner who was seated right next to the little boy said, "Don't look at me! That was Felix!" The kids of course did not understand her until their mother translated. In response everyone laughed harder, everyone except Felix. Felix cried.
We lost a friend that dinner. Our relationship was never the same, and I blame Conner for her unwillingness to take the blame of that dinnertime fart. We knew the damage was irreparable when everyone got up to wish us farewell the next morning and he sat in the kitchen eating breakfast with a "good riddance" look on his face. Snubbed by a five year old.
There were a lot of good walking/hiking trails starting in Habkern. We decided to hike from Habkern to the neighboring village the one day which took about four or five hours. It took us along some roads, through some woods, and onto some cow pastures.
At one point we had to walk through a gate to continue on the path and soon realized why when there was a massive cow sitting on the trail. It quickly stood up upon seeing us and must have called its cow friend who came trotting over out of nowhere. They didn't look very happy and started stamping their feet a little bit. Conner figured that as the Texan cowgirl she was raised to be, she would go over shoo them away. Instead of being scared off they started moving towards us unhappily. Conner began to question her tactics and began considering other paths. I suddenly gained some courage and thought as the animal lover I was, they would let us get passed them if I talked to them nicely with my baby voice. No go. Instead they began running at us and we took off running for our lives towards the gate we had come through. I wish I could have witnessed the scene as an outsider because I'm pretty sure it was ridiculous. Once we sprinted back through the gate, the cows approached and stood there staring and mooing at us. With a barrier between us, they weren't so bad. But they were vicious when we were in their pen. Vicious I tell ya.
Since we were blocked from the trail by the herd of vicious cows, Conner and j had to travel down a very steep hill. At one point Conner fell and started sliding down, only to catch a tree with one hand and hang on for dear life. Okay, it was not actually "dear life" but she was holding on to a little tree and banged up her knee a bit. As the good friend I am, I couldn't help but laugh at the event, but only after making sure she wasn't seriously hurt, of course. She still talks about her wound inflicted when she fell down a cliff running away from wild bulls. I've inserted a picture of the wound below.
Conner and I did not plan for this, but once we arrived, Titia told us that there would be no need to buy food since we would eat with the family. Meals are set up differently in Switzerland. In the morning we would eat fresh bread with jam, honey, some meat slices, sometimes an egg and coffee (from her awesome little espresso maker). Lunch was the biggest meal and typically a warm dish with meat. We only shared lunch with them once since the other day we had a picnic lunch on our hike. Everyone came home for lunch, including the husband who worked.about 15 minutes away. Dinner was again a smaller meal of bread, cheese, jam, honey, fruit, yogurt and tea.
Because of a large midday meal, a wife and mother was pretty tied to the home to be able to prepare and serve the meal. Titia was from the Netherlands and moved to the area permanently after meeting her husband, Sam, who grew up there. It was interesting talking to her about the roles of a Swiss mother, as she is a foreigner and an educated, independent woman. It seemed she adapted to the role of stay at home mom, since that is what was expected in that area, but she wasn't very fulfilled by it. Titia dreams of travelling to New York, but while she can afford it financially, she does not know how to make that happen while keeping the children fed and taken care of. We're rooting for her to make it there!
Our time in Switzerland in the little village of Habkern with a wonderful and welcoming family was one of the coolest experiences of our trip thus far. We really saw how life happened in that particular culture. We found that while we respect the way things are done there, we are incredibly grateful for the choices and opportunities we have back home, not stuck by the expectations of those around us, especially as woman. I think I'm realizing that the idea of, "life would be so much cooler if I lived _____(fill in the blank)," may not always be true. We are pretty blessed in the good 'ol US.
SIDENOTE: One of the coolest things to watch in Interlaken was the parasailers coming down from the mountains. On nice days, they were everywhere in the sky. We could see them in the distance from Titian's house traveling from the mountains to the city. When we went on a hike, we kept hearing voices nearby, only to realize they were parasailers right above us taking off from the mountain we were walking up. You'll see them in several of the photos below.
ANOTHER SIDENOTE: You may notice a strange photo of a reflection of someone in a red sweatshirt below. That was an unfortunate sighting of an IU alum. While sitting on the train, Conner returned from the bath room only to relay the bad news that there was a guy in an IU shirt sitting directly behind us. Turns out that it was the day that I wore my Purdue shirt, so of course I had to immediately "go to the bathroom" and stare him down on my way back, pointing with disgust at his shirt. We made fake nice for a few minutes, then went on our way. Lets face it, a real friendship was just impossible within this Romeo & Juliet tale.