Monthly Archives: June 2013

hiking the alps

Our “class” days are finished, so we’ve had the past week to do whatever we want to do. So of course Pat and I spent it exploring the Swiss Alps. Because let’s be real, there’s not really a better way to spend your time…DSCN3252

We’ve been on some incredible hikes this past week. We hiked up the mountain directly behind our hotel and had a breathtaking view of the valley below us. Well, until we were completely engulfed in clouds…DSCN3222

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We got to the top, and the clouds were completely surrounding us. It felt like we were on another planet.

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Another day, we hiked to Lake Oeschinensee. It’s a beautiful lake tucked in to the mountains outside of Kandersteg. Once we made it to the lake, we decided to hike up along the steep edge of the cliff side for an even better view.

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We found a herd of sheep and they were so adorable, I’ve decided I want one as a pet. Maybe I’ll make a powerpoint presentation to convince my new husband why we need a pet sheep…

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Another day, we hiked to the Gorge de la Rouse. Imagine a slot canyon with deep turqoise water trickling thorugh it, then put the slot canyon in the middle of a jungle setting and add medieveil bridges along the way. Yes, this hike was incredible…

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However, I think my very favorite hike had to be the Via Ferrata in Lauterbrunen Valley.

It. Was. Spectacular.

The valley alone is absolutely breathtaking…waterfalls plummet thousands of feet off of cliff edges. The snowy peaks of the Alps rise high above the green mountainsides, and the wild flowers are out-of-this-world beautiful.

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The Via Ferrata, which translates to “the iron way” started in Murren. We rented harnesses from a sports store because the entire hike is along the cliff’s edge. At some places there were just metal rungs stuck into the cliff face. You actually climb out onto the cliff…the only thing keeping you from falling thousands of feet is the carabineer attached to the iron cable that runs along the entire hike.IMG_1215

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We came to a giant gorge with a waterfall running down the middle and plummeting over the cliff’s edge. There were three cables that stretched over, so we assumed we were suppose to use these to cross the gorge. It wasn’t until we were half way across that we realized the cables were used for a zip-line…the bridge we were suppose to cross was just to our right.

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It was completely exhausting, shimmying our way across the gorge. But, we made it to the other side alive, although my poor arms will never be the same after that one…

We climbed down steep ladders next to gushing waterfalls and out onto cliff faces that dropped thousands of feet. One of the highlights of the hike was when we decided to spit off the edge of the cliff. There was no wind where we were standing, but the air currents were so strong, our spit literally hovered in the air in front of our faces. It didn’t fall. Instead it just floated along, slowly drifting down. Apparently gravity doesn’t exist in Lauterbrunen Valley…IMG_1250

At the very end of the hike we had to cross a giant suspension bridge that hung over a HUGE canyon. It was pretty intense because the whole bridge was wobbling and there weren’t really handrails so you had to rely on the carabineer to keep you from falling. We were having so much fun taking pictures on the bridge, we almost missed our train.IMG_1264

This week of hiking was the perfect way to end our Switzerland adventure. It’s a beautiful country, and I’m so glad we got to explore it.

Now…we’re off to Amsterdam!

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morning runs and matterhorns

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I’ve found one of my favorite things in Switzerland is my morning runs through fields of wild flowers while the sun is just peaking over the mountains.
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However this morning was different. I woke up early, pulled on my running clothes in the dark, and walked out the door.

Right into a wall of fog.

It was the kind of fog where you can’t see anything outside of the five-foot bubble of cloudiness surrounding you. I considered going back to bed but then I realized I have never run through a cloud before…

It was one of the best runs I’ve ever been on. It wasn’t raining but by the end I was soaked. As I ran through the cloud, the mist clung to my face and body with a refreshing tingle.

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It was a great way to start my day.

We took a train to spend the day in Zermatt. It was an adorable little Swiss town that reminded me of Park City. The sky cleared up and we got a beautiful view of the top of the Matterhorn.

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We had a few hours to explore the town and surrounding mountains. Patrick and I found a random trail and began following it up the side of a river. The trail wound up the mountainside in steep switchbacks. Eventually we got near the top of the mountainside and came to a bridge with train tracks running across it. On one side of the bridge was a gushing waterfall, and on the other, a breathtaking view of the Matterhorn.

We climbed down underneath the bridge and hung out in the criss-crossing metal of the bridge supporters…a hundred-foot drop right below our feet. Let’s just say when the train rumbled by over our heads, it felt like we were in the middle of an earthquake.
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It was a fun adventure! And despite the crazy-high drop underneath us, we managed to get away with no casualties besides the grease stains on my white shorts…

the pilgrimage of a cow

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Before we came to Switzerland, I didn’t know much about pilgrimage. To me a pilgrimage was something people did in the 1600s to escape religious imprisonment….now I know this isn’t the truth.

In Europe thousands of people still go on pilgrimages for a variety of reasons. Religious, personal, to reach a goal, to have time to think…the list is endless.

Today we got to go on a pilgrimage of our own. We walked from the town of Schwarzenburg to Fribourg, along the “Way of St. James.” By the time we reached the cathedral in Fribourg, we’d walked about 16.6 miles. 16.6 miles of gorgeous Swissness.

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The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. There were endless fields of silky wheat blowing in the wind (we ran our hands through it in a tribute to Gladiator), rolling hills spotted with grazing cows, old castle ruins tucked amongst deep forests, cobblestoned pathways winding through tunnels of smooth stone…absolutely beautiful.

Awee look how adorable…it’s Patrick the pilgrim.

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16.6 miles is a long time to think. So naturally, I had some profound revelations. Ok not really, but I did have a few interesting thoughts along the way…

At one point I was walking past a grazing cow and found myself thinking something I’ve considered ever since I was young.

In the past, sometimes when I was having a hard time with something I’d thought “if only I were that bird over there, life would be so simple…”

Yes, my mind works in strange ways.

And now I was looking at this cow and thinking about how easy the cow has it. Its only concern is where the best grass is to eat. If I were a cow, life would be so simple.

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That’s when I had a thought I’d never had before….

What if that’s what God thinks about us? What if He’s watching us living our lives everyday and thinking, “Wow. They have it so simple and they don’t even know it. If only they realized how simple their life really is, maybe they would be more grateful for the life they have…”

I mean, maybe to the cows finding the best grass to eat seems like a really big deal. Maybe it consumes their thoughts and days so they don’t ever stop to think that there’s more to life than finding the best grass to eat.

Maybe we should take more time in our lives to stop and think about what really matters. To re-evaluate our perspective. Maybe all those little things we think are so important really aren’t that important…

Life really is all about perspective isn’t it?

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So now you’ve endured my moment of “profoundness.” It really was refreshing to be out in nature all day. I loved being able to just think and enjoy the peacefulness of it all…

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chocolate food babies

It’s been a little while since I last posted. We’ve just been too busy! But here are a few of the highlights from the last week…

We went to Bern for a day and rented bikes to ride around the city…we rode to a beautiful lookout spot and found a garden of roses. Gorgeous.
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We took a gondola ride to the top of the Eggishorn and had a gorgeous view of the Aletsch glacier.

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We went to the Vitra Design Museum…it’s filled with incredible and very innovative, unique furniture. Unfortunately I now have a Christmas wish-list that would total the price of a brand new car…European taste in furniture is apparently kind of expensive.

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We took a tour of the Cailler Chocolate Factory which included an all-you-can-eat feast of chocolate goodness at the end. Can you say food BABY?!

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We went to Vevey and found a giant fork in the water. Yes, a giant fork in the water. Who woulda thought?

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And we enjoyed a tour of the Spiez and Oberhofen castles…they looked like scenes from a fairytale. 
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It’s been an incredible week and we still have two weeks left to enjoy this beautiful place!

castles and karate

Traveling in Europe brings all sorts of surprises.

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Yesterday we were at the train station when I realized I needed to find a WC (water closet) ASAP. I turned around and saw a woman walking out of a bathroom holding her son’s hand. I walked right in to the bathroom, and noticed the row of urinals along the wall. I thought it was a little strange, but we’re in Europe. Who knows, maybe unisex bathrooms are the norm in European train stations.

I proceeded to take care of business, and as I was washing my hands a man walked in. After giving me a strange look, he turned to the urinals and dropped his pants.

When I walked out of the bathroom, I got a weird look from one of my classmates as he walked in past me.  I turned around and saw the very obvious picture of a MAN on the door of the bathroom I had just used.

Yes, I shamelessly used the men’s bathroom.

We’ve been traveling all around Switzerland. We’ve visited all sorts of interesting places from quaint Swiss towns to busy cities. We’ve seen too many castles to count, and we’ve witnessed multiple herds of cows adorned with giant bells crossing the roads.

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At one castle we found the sacrificial rock where human sacrifices were offered in the Middle Ages…
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And, of course, we’ve found a few epic locations for karate kicks…
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On Saturday we traveled to Sion and had a private organ concert in a church. It is apparently the oldest functioning organ in the world. I’ll admit it sounded a bit rusty, but it was still a beautiful experience.

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We really can’t complain. A month-long European honeymoon/study abroad ain’t bad…

puppies and monks

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After spending three days in a catholic hospice nestled in the snow-covered alps of Switzerland, I have decided to NEVER become a nun.

Patrick and I made it to Switzerland after a painfully long day of traveling. There are 42 of us on a study abroad with the art department of Utah State…

Three days ago we all set out for the St. Bernard Pass. Hundreds of people have crossed the pass on pilgrimage expeditions. It’s a dangerous venture…avalanches have killed many people during their treks over the pass. The weather is relentlessly brutal. So…St. Bernard built a hospice at the peak of the pass to help travelers.

We snowshoed up the pass, (which is called the Valley of Death,) and spent three days in the hospice, living amongst the “monks.” The BBC came with us…Simon Reeve was filming a documentary on pilgrimage, so I got to have a nice conversation with him. It was inspiring and somewhat intimidating to talk to such a successful journalist…

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As a service project, we spent the majority of the second day cleaning the chapel, polishing Catholic relics that were hundreds of years old. Of course Patrick got the fun job…

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St. Bernard dogs used to be kept at the hospice to locate and dig out lost travelers. To keep tradition alive, the dogs are still bred and kept at the hospice in the summer. His tongue alone was about the size of my head…

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When I first saw the dogs, I wanted to take one home with me. That was before I realized what he would do to my carpet, my clothes, my face…FURRR everywhere. And the fact that the dog wouldn’t ever recognize me because his eye sockets drooped over his eyeballs. By the end of our visit with Bernard, I decided the monks could keep him.

We were in the little town of Martigny, just below the St. Bernard Pass. We hiked to the top of a hill to explore an ancient castle. Their were 125 steps to the top of the tower, but the view was worth the thigh-master workout to get to the top.

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After spending a few days in the hospice, I was relieved to get some fresh air and head back to our cozy cabin in Leysin. It was an incredible experience, and I enjoyed it for the most part. I learned a valuable lesson as well.

I. SHOULD. NEVER. BECOME. A. NUN.

I’m just not cut out for the hospice life…

lake como by moto

Today we rented motos (Vespa scooters) and cruised the shores of Lake Como all day. We discovered that motos are the way to truly see what Lake Como has to offer…

We turned off random roads to explore. We found old abandoned churches, cozy stone homes from hundreds of years ago, flower-filled cemeteries and beautiful lake-side villages. We stopped in one adorable little village for pizza and gelato. The gelato thing is becoming an addiction…

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(this is the “sacrificial stone” we found at an old abandoned church)
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At one point we found a trail that led all the way up the mountain. We followed it quite a ways up, and would have continued, however the baby tires on our poor scooter were not made for that kind of adventure.

Regardless, it was a magnificio day. We had a few close calls, but that’s to be expected when driving with those crazy Italians.

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For dinner we bought lettuce for a salad from the supermercato and warmed up the leftover pizza we had kept from yesterday. I sort of felt like I was eating a dear friend, after all we’d been through together the day before…   

Tonight is our last night in this beautiful country of Italy. Tomorrow we train to Switzerland, and begin a whole new adventure. Ciao Italia!

the journey of a pizza

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I am confident to say in the past three days, we have truly experienced Lake Como.

Friday morning we got a late start. This was partly due to the fact that we stayed up till 5 am Thursday night, and partly because the buses are either extremely unreliable or we just can’t read the bus schedule…

Regardless, we made it to Bellagio, a beautiful town a ways up the coast from where we’re staying. We attempted to find lunch at 3 pm…a rookie mistake. *note to self: do not expect to find ANY open restaurants in Italy between the hours of 2 and 5. Apparently they take a siesta right during your stomach’s hungry hours…

We eventually found a bar open all day, and each ordered a pizza. It was delicious, but we had left overs, so we boxed it up and took it to go. Little did we know then the places that pizza would go that day…

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We took a ferryboat over to the town of Feronna, because we’d heard rumors of an old castle to hike to.

We started hiking…with our box of pizza, of course.

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The trail was deserted, which was a welcomed relief after spending hours fighting through throngs of tourists in Venice. We stopped along the way to take some karate kick pictures, and just meandered our way up the mountainside, in awe of the beautiful landscape. It truly was a spectacular view. It was one of those almost spiritual moments, where you’re surrounded by something so beautiful, you can’t really believe it exists. I love these moments.

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It took us about an hour to reach the castle. As we were walking up to the gate, a worker was locking the fence. Apparently, the castle closes at 6 pm. It was 6:01.

And that’s how we ended up sneaking in to an ancient European castle…carrying a box of pizza. The risk of being caught was worth the view…IMG_1791

We took the ferry back to Bellagio and were there by 7:30. The town seemed strangely quiet. It took us a moment to realize the bus station was closed. No more buses were leaving Bellagio. Until TOMORROW.

No taxi’s. No rental cars. Only our tired feet and the road.

It was a 5-mile walk to our town, and it would be getting dark soon. But, we started walking toward our cozy attic, with the box of pizza tucked under one arm.

Now let me just explain what we were up against. The Italians drive like crazy people. The roads barely fit one car, and people speed past one another, around curvy roads chiseled into the sides of cliffs. And there we were, walking along the side.

We stuck our thumbs out a few times in an attempt to hitch a ride. But they were driving so fast, our thumbs probably just looked like a blurry smear of color…

If you’re going to get stranded somewhere, Lake Como is a good place to do it. The walk was gorgeous…the sun was just setting over the glassy water, and the temperature was perfect. At one point we found a trail that jetted off from the highway, and couldn’t resist the adventure. We started hiking up the trail, intending to turn back once we saw where it led.

The trail zig-zagged up the mountainside in steep switch-backs. Our legs were exhausted but the thrill of not knowing where the trail ended pulled us up the mountain. We passed beautiful waterfalls and cliffs that dropped miles below us. We never turned around.IMG_1858

It was getting darker, but the trail was slanting downwards, so we continued along. We came to some old stone homes and a pathway that led back to the highway! We had cut out a solid mile or two of dangerous highway roads and took a beautiful hike up the mountainside. I’m convinced our box of pizza guided us back to the highway…

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We had a couple miles to go. We found an old “tomb” on the side of the road, and a gelateria so we stopped for a sweet treat of pistachio and hazelnut heaven to motivate our tired feet.IMG_1884

We made it to our cozy attic in Pascau by 10 pm. We were exhausted after all our adventures, but we still had our box of cold, hard pizza…and that’s the important thing, right?

earthquake in the wagoon

(Written by Patrick)

So there I was, dreaming of opening wedding presents when all of a sudden I was abruptly awoken with what sounded like an asteroid hitting the wagoon. I immediately sprung awake and looked to my side to make sure Sarah was ok. I felt a surge of panic when I saw she wasn’t there so jumped up to go find her when I saw her in her underwear sprawled out on the floor. A look of extreme confusion covered her face. Apparently she was getting out of bed while half asleep and SOMEHOW fell off the 3-foot drop, face first. There is something special about that girl.

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This is how my morning began. With a face full of wagoon floor. Don’t ask me how I managed to trip off of the bed and land flat on my face. But somehow I did it. Rough morning.

The rest of the day was a traveling day. Patrick and I managed to navigate the train system, which is actually a little overwhelming. But after six long hours of train rides and a windy bus ride along the coast, we arrived at our destination…a little town called Pescau nuzzled along the coast of Lake Como.

It’s beauty is breathtaking.

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We’re staying in a little cozy attic apartment. It’s no wagoon, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s pretty adorable and will be a great place to stay for the next three nights.

We ate dinner on the patio of a pizzeria just a two-minute walk from our attic. It was a breathtaking view of the lake, and the food was deliciouso.

A few things I learned today:

1)   The floor of the wagoon makes a terrible alarm clock.
2)   Europeans eat french fries with a FORK.
3)   Those little pre-made sandwiches stuffed in a plastic container and sold at gas stations and apparently on trains…are really not that good.
4)   Europeans actually walk up escalators.
5)   Restaurants in Italy take a VERY long time to bring you the bill. To them, the meal is about the experience, not the punctuality.

I’m excited to spend the next few days exploring Lake Como…it is absolutely magnifico!