Snow in South Africa is like Christmas in July – not really a thing.
Admittedly, it does fall in this country in the winter months, but mostly just to the point of a light dusting, where the heavier snow occurs in mountainous regions that aren’t always easily accessible. Also, it normally occurs round about the time of year my dad whisks us off on a family road trip to Namibia or Kruger (it’s a tough life). Anyway. The nub and gist is that I’d never seen snow in my whole twenty-two (and a bit) years of existence, before the day I arrived in the storybook world of Engelberg, Switzerland – and went completely mental (but, like, in a good way).
As our Topdeck bus driver gallantly navigated the steep mountain passes and hair pin bends that would take us to our Swiss alpine lodge, I could not contain the excitement levels. Out the window, all I could see was mountains on mountains on mountains, their peaks covered in pristine snow, which gave way to strips of waterfalls running down the greenest grassy cliff faces. I was literally climbing over seats and travel buddies to press my face against the glass and take in all the magnificent views.
Minutes later, we pulled into Engelberg, a tiny ski resort town located at the end of the railway line, nestled in a little valley amidst more picture-perfect mountains. As I wandered the sleepy, deserted streets in search of the only bank, the only other souls I saw were four fellow tourists sipping on bright orange Aperol cocktails, and one lad aptly clad in his ski gear. The lack of overcrowding – despite the jaw-dropping beauty surrounding every inch of the place – shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since Engelberg’s population only comes in at a grand total of just under 4000 inhabitants. The quietness, the crisp fresh air, the clear skies and the stillness that settled over the town as the sun set – it was all so far removed from the high-energy streets I’d hustled through just the day before in Paris. The fact that the nearest city, Lucerne, is an hour train ride away also added to the feeling of seclusion, and being completely surrounded by nature was the perfect, soul-soothing remedy to the freneticism of Paris.
Having seen the snow atop Mount Titlis from our accommodation at the foot of the alps the evening we arrived, I could not wait to hop aboard the gondolas and be whisked to the top of the mountain where the good stuff awaited, as was planned for the following morning. And, wow, what a morning it was. As soon as the gondola landed, I bolted out into the freezing air, straight for the snow and, like a broken record, literally would not stop telling everyone who would listen just how excited I was. As if I actually needed to make that clear to them. From the way I was running through the snow, lying in it, making snow balls from it (and then throwing them at unsuspecting victims) and just generally being a hooligan, I’m sure they got the point that my crazy levels had reached an all-time high (see manic grin below).
Besides the joy and wonder of just being on a freakin’ alp in the middle of freakin’ Switzerland, there were so many other breathtaking activities to do on Mount Titlis, including a suspension bridge which afforded even more panoramic views of the surrounding mountainous vista, and a ski lift which carried us, legs dangling and hearts a-racing, down to another peak where tobogganing and snow-tubing awaited. I was screaming with laughter like a little kid as I went racing around and down the slop in a tube, lungs filling with that beautiful, crisply cold mountain air.
After the best morning of frosty adventures and unbelievable views featuring high peaks and green valleys way down below, we headed into the city of Lucerne for a vaguely calmer afternoon.
We wandered through the new quarter of Lucerne and then crossed over the iconic Chapel Bridge into the cobbled streets of the old city. Here, we made a stop off at Harry’s for Swatch and Swiss Army Knife shopping, where I bought one of my favourite souvenirs of my whole Eurotrip – a tiny, forrest green Swiss Army knife for my brother (because I’m the best little sister ever) engraved with his name. Switzerland is the only place where you can get the knives in that particular green colour, so it makes for the perfect gift.
To wind down, I sat at the edge of the Reuss River, which intersects the city, with a cup of Starbucks (besides for the snow, this was another novelty first for me, since we don’t have Starbucks chains in Cape Town) to take in the oil-painting perfection that is Lucerne. The river water is as clean and crystal clear as the Swiss air, with the Chapel Bridge as the ideal centre piece.
As I sipped on my (admittedly average, very overpriced, but still somewhat satisfying) cup of coffee, I also had a moment to relocate the calm after dropping my camera (Oh yeah, that happened too. When walking towards the new part of the city, my camera strap, which was slung over my shoulder, suddenly unhooked, sending my beautiful Nikon straight for the pavement, lens first. There were no casualties, thank goodness, but I was still having heart palpitations for a good half an hour after that almost-tragedy. I mean, what if that had happened while I was on the ski lift? Tragic) and to internalise all the adrenaline-filled adventures of the morning.
I was thinking about how something weird happens to me when I’m away from home, on my own. Of course I have an adventurous side, but when I’m out of my comfort zone (especially to the extent that I was while in Europe), I seem to become a little less fearless and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Even now, my palms are getting sweaty at the thought of the thrilling adrenaline rush of the ski tube, and the dizzying height of the ski lift, but at the time I thought nothing of it. I was just having way too much fun. Side note: it’s cheesy as hell, but I love how travel can change you – less fear, more fun.
One of my favourite things to do is to get outdoors and explore our natural world, something which I’ve been lucky enough to do quite a lot of in South Africa and Namibia. But, to be able to do that in Engelberg was such a treat and not something I’m likely to forget. The natural beauty of Switzerland is the kind that hits you in the face, gets into your soul, and makes you question everything you thought you knew about life. The still and empty streets of Engelberg like a movie set, or an illustration in a story book; Lucerne like an oil painting – it’s so perfect none of it feels like real life. And yet, all that fresh and breezy air makes one feel super alive. Even in the city of Lucerne, the air felt pure – I swear the Swiss people must live longer, breathing in all that lovely, untainted oxygen, never mind their extremely high standard of living. I think I need to move there. Like, yesterday.
Either way, I’m definitely making it my mission to go back – even if just to get tipsy during a highly competitive game of beer pong, played against an unreal backdrop of snowy peaks, waterfalls and fields of the greenest green I ever did see. After a meal of cheese fondue and “cervelat”, of course.
Next stop, Roma! (ohmygodiloveitaly)
Until then. xx