Switzerland greeted me with two things: a bruised ego and a sore bum.
After 10 hours of travel spent battling waves of nausea brought on by a surprise bout of motion sickness; I was not feeling fantastic.
To say I was excited to escape the bus and breathe in the crisp, snowy Grindelwald air is a huge understatement.
My enthusiasm for the indoors caused a temporary lapse in my ice and snow related common sense. In my excited dash to get off the bus, I only semi-processed our trip-leader Mercie’s warning about taking care on the frozen ground. The group shuffled off the bus and I had to disguise my giggles as a cough while watching a few passengers struggle to get a firm grip on the ice when stepping off the bus. I was rather chuffed when I made it out without falling. Me being pleased with myself didn’t last very long.
Aiva the bus driver was doubled over in the storage compartment chucking suitcases and backpacks into to waiting hands. I stood near the back trying to eyeball my black case when all of the sudden the world went reeling. Where I had been looking at the backs of beanies and jackets moments before, there were now small white flakes falling from a wide black sky. In mere seconds I had gone from standing stock still to being sprawled on the ground. A truly spectacular bail even for someone as clumsy as myself.
Resting on my backpack like an awkward tortoise, with Swiss snow quickly dampening my backside, I stared up at the falling flurries and wondered why anyone would ever want to visit a place coated in the horrible substance or why snow even needed to exist.
Luckily for me there were two helping hands ready to haul me up and I was soon pulled out of my icey existential crisis.
I managed to laugh it off while inconspicuously massaging the pain away. I don’t think the rest of the group thought I was too much of an idiot (I hope) and the two friends I travelled with only made fun of me for a few hours. So all in all, not too horrendous of an entrance in Switzerland.
Finally, armed with my suitcase, rosy cheeks and a damp bum, I finally made my way into the warmth of the hostel and the promise of a change of pants.
Waking up to snow
I don’t remember my first experience of snow. I was a couple of months old and my parents had braved the 12-hour flight from South Africa to Scotland with an infant-in-toe to take me on my first visit to their home turf.
The only clue I have about my first encounter is a 21-year-old photograph stuck into a baby album. It shows my mom standing in my granny’s snow covered garden holding what looks like a bundle of pink blankets. Looking closely, you can spot a scrunched up pink face– me – pouting in the cold.
Venturing out into the frost on my first morning in Switzerland was slightly more glamorous than that first experience. Bundled up in several jerseys and four pairs of socks, my friends and I headed out into the crisp morning air and were quickly sprinkled with a layer of snow.
Switzerland is a country with a long history of political and military neutrality from its inception in 1499. It was a space of nonalignment in both world wars and even became the place to store valuable artefacts and treasure during World War 2 (according to our tour guide).
But even without the promise of hidden fortune I would re-visit this country time and time again because, simply put, Switzerland is beautiful. From the rolling hills to the pristine lakes and snow-capped mountains, Switzerland is full of incredibly magical landscapes that are so different from the scenery in my home country.
Grindelwald is nestled in a valley floor in the Burnese Alps and is surrounded by mountains including the famous Jungfrau summit. Unluckily for us, during our two days there, the cloud cover blocked our view of the tops of the alps but the scenery closer to the ground was just as magnificent.
The Hostel was a 20 minute walk or 5 minute train trip down the mountain from the main town, in Grindelwald Grund. The area was tiny with the only restaurant a 100 meter walk down the road (granted this 100-meter walk was slightly intimidating when the roads are covered in ice and I have the balance of a new-born foal) but the setting was beautiful in the frosty morning light. The roofs of the buildings in the surrounding valley were topped with snow with brown logging peeking through the spaces where the snow had fallen away. It felt like being surrounded by hundreds of icing-toped gingerbread houses.
The centre of town looked like something out of a chalet brochure. Grindelwald has one main street lined with shops full of watches, Swiss army knives, touristy tatt, chocolate and pastries.
We walked up and down the main street, taking in the chalet style buildings, peering into shops and browsing through the Swiss memorabilia. We didn’t buy much except for some Milka from the Co-op because Switzerland is expensive especially for three South African students travelling on the incredibly weak rand. I had to pull myself away from staring longingly at the windows of the chocolate shops. Truly tragic.
The walk was incredibly peaceful and it was a great way to experience Grindelwald’s charm and it was magical to see the shop, house and street lights come on and cast a magical golden glow on the surrounding snow.
The first snow of the trip was definitely the best. It was hilariously endearing to see how people of all ages turn into kids again when playing around in centimeters of the white, fluffy wet stuff. I doubt the town would have been as beautiful to me had it not been for the blankets of snow.
My first snow of the Topdeck Eurotrip combined with the excitement of my first experience in a new country has left me with a special snowflake shaped place in my heart for Switzerland.