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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I found the greatest place on Earth

Anyone would be hard-pressed to find somewhere better than Interlaken, Switzerland. I dare you to try.
I don't know how, but I vow to myself here and now that I will return someday.

Before I left for Italy, Interlaken wasn't even on my radar. That is until, once again, my mom's slides introduced me to the gorgeous town. When Lauren mentioned her interest in visiting, I was in.
Bad news: It was too cold for me to venture out on a 30 Years Later scavenger hunt.
Good news: I got one without knowing it until just now. I'll post it later
These are a few of my mom's other slides to show you what inspired me to go.




You're supposed to change when you study abroad. This weekend held the first evidence of my evolution.  I don't know if it was a result of this weekend, or if this weekend was just the first time my changes were noticeable.
But from now on, Interlaken holds a special place in my heart.

We took our trip through Bus2Alps, a travel agency for students studying abroad. It cost €208 for a roundtrip bus ride and lodging, which was cheaper than I could find in my attempts to book separately.
We left Thursday at 8 p.m., and after a long, cold and loud bus ride, we got to our hostel Backpacker's Villa at 4:30 a.m.
We woke up around 10:30 the next morning. Before we even got out of bed, our Bus2Alps guide Jill knocked on our door to see if we needed anything for the day. She answered all of our questions and gave us advice on what to do before we even sat up. That's what I call service.
After showering and bundling up, we ventured upstairs and outside around noon. Arriving in the middle of the night didn't give us the chance to see where we were. So when we reached the door and saw a beautiful snowy mountain looming before us, our reaction was a collective (excuse the language) "Holy sh*t." The employees at the desk had a good laugh over that one.

View from front of Backpacker's Villa

We walked aimlessly around town. I finally found boots in my size and snatched them up. We bought some souvenirs and kept wandering. It was freezing, but beautiful.

Jill had mentioned a cafe on the top floor of the highest building in town with a gorgeous view. We weren't really sure we had the right place but walked into the lobby of a tall hotel. We quickly captured the attention of others in the lobby, so confused, we clamored onto an open elevator in hopes that we had the right building.
The top botton said "panoramic restaurant." Success! It was gorgeous, but the falling snow makes the pictures look so grey.
Jess and I split some sort of cream cake. It was delicious.
I got hot chocolate. It was like American hot chocolate, and it was glorious. In Italy, when you ask for hot coco you essentially get hot pudding in a cup. It's bizarre. I was so excited to have my style of hot chocolate... only better. Much better.


That night we went to a chocolate show where a chef showed us how they made true swiss chocolate. It cost 15 franc, but we got a voucher for a good amount of chocolate at the shop on top of the loads of free samples we got. It was cool to see how they made it. I even helped decorate something.

photo by Jess

It was a cold, but pretty night. Winter has always been my favorite season. We've been on the outs for the past couple of years when I had to walk through snow to class every day, but I still have a place for it in my heart. I was actually pretty sad I didn't get to have true winter this year.
This trip was the perfect solution. I got perfect, glistening snow and a couple of brisk winter days without the crummy in-between slushy weather.

Canyon Jumping

Saturday was the day I had been waiting for.
February 4, 2012. The day that would go down in my personal history as the day I flung myself into a canyon.
I had spent the past two weeks watching videos of canyon jumping in Interlaken over and over again. A YouTube search of "canyon jumping Interlaken" yielded me a page of purple links to videos, indicating I've already clicked them all. The first couple I watched gave me a panicky knot in the pit of my stomach. But after I watched three, four, seven, 11, 20 people fall, get caught by the rope and swing, the knot in my core loosened and my excitement climbed.
Strangely, I was hardly nervous at all.
And finally the morning came.

Even as we rode to the canyon that morning, a silly grin grew over my face. The only emotions that registered were eagerness and exhilaration.
Lauren and Jess sat next to me looking as if they were on the way to their executions.

The ride in the shuttle was somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes. I couldn't have kept track if I tried.
We stopped for a quick bathroom break and to look at the scenery. Gorgeous. Just like the rest of Interlaken.

Ziggy's photobomb.

We finally got to where we would be jumping. We could see the platform. 300 feet above the ground at the edge of a canyon. Seeing it up there should have triggered some sort of fear. Still, nothing. Only excited.

We took some pictures before the 15-minute hike to the ledge.

We reached the top of the canyon. I watched Ziggy attach the rope that would pull us through the canyon to its cable.

One of the girls with us read the jump contract aloud before we all signed our lives away. The last line made me laugh. I lied. My mom did know I was there.

As I looked into the canyon, as I stepped into a harness, nerves never registered.

I stood in line for my slot to jump: third in the seven-person group.
Jess asked Ziggy, who was helping us jump, if anyone has ever died. Not sure why she decided that was the appropriate time to ask, but she did.
His response:
"The bad news is you're all going to die. Just not today."
The perfect motto.
I remember watching Erika jump first. I screamed louder than her as I watched her fall, disappear and then reappear swinging on the other end. We were all screaming. One of the other girls went second. I didn't watch as I prepared myself to go next. I showed Jess how to film me and put my glasses into Lauren's purse. I kept checking that my pockets were zipped and my scarf was tucked in tight. I was ready. And still not nervous.

I allowed myself one last look down.

I stepped into the small triangular area for the jumper who's "on deck." I hopped from one foot to another in excitement and to keep warm in the -3°F weather. No nerves.
Ziggy hooked me up with three simple climbers clips and unlatched the rope blocking me from the platform. This was it.

A huge problem I have is that I over-think things. I analyze and scrutinize everything in my life far beyond what is necessary. I hoped to return home after my time abroad being able to just do; to calmly move forward in my life without constantly worrying and surveying the minuscule. I whole-heartedly believe my approach to this jump reflects my newfound ability to do just that.

Ziggy held the rope attached to my stomach out of my way as I stepped onto the platform.
"Can I go?" I asked impatiently as I turned.
"Take a deep breath," he responded and let go of the rope. I felt it pull slightly at my core. Don't think.
I inhaled once, took two deliberate steps forward and launched myself as high as my frozen nubs of feet would push me. And I fell.

There are about four seconds of freefall before the rope catches you and you swing.
The first second was complete excitement and giddiness. My arms were raised high, and I was smiling. Then every nerve I didn't feel before I left the platform hit me fast and hard. "What did you just do, Lydia?" my mind screamed in a panic. I grabbed the rope with both hands. And just as fast as the terror came, it exited. And I was left with two seconds of falling. It was the strangest moment I've ever experienced. I couldn't scream. I didn't feel like I was falling. I just felt suspended in time and space. It was almost zen. I wasn't waiting for the rope to catch. I wasn't scared. I was just there.
It was as brief as it was bizarre.
The rope caught and I swung, completely free. Hands down the best thing I've ever done.

Watch for yourself:

I watched that video at least 20 times that day. We all sat looking at our cameras in awe of what we had just done. I still can't believe I didn't hesitate. I didn't pause or wait. I just went.
If I can do that without freaking out, worrying, analyzing, I can handle anything else life throws my way.
I'm still so proud of myself. Although my parents were both scared for me, they're proud of me too.
My dad now has a photo of me jumping as his desktop background. I might do the same just as a reminder. Jump in. Jump off. Just do.

The rest of the day we floated around on a cloud. Erika, Jess and I took a bus to Thun Lake. We took more of an adventure than we had anticipated, ending up on the other side of the lake on the wrong bus. But we just got coffee and waited for the next one. And repeated ourselves several times "But wait. We did what?"

We got back to the hostel, picked up Lauren and walked to dinner. We had planned to go to a bar afterwards, but once we finished our pizza, we were all too tired. The jump and constantly shivering took it out of us. We went back and crawled into bed at 10:30 p.m., more than happy with our day.

Sunday we had to be back at the hostel to board the bus at 11:30 a.m.
But we still wanted to get our last fix of Switzerland, so we took the bus to Lake Brienz.

I took this at the train station, waiting for the bus to Lake Brienz
Lake Brienz
from Lake Brienz

Then we went back into the city, spent our remaining francs on Swiss chocolates, knowing that however much we would lose in the exchange back to euros warranted more chocolates.

We returned to the hotel, and I reluctantly boarded the bus. They waited for about half an hour to put in a movie so we could enjoy our view out the window. I have to admit, I almost cried both at its beauty and at the fact that I was leaving it.

From the bus window:

Until next time, Interlaken.

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