Thursday, January 21, 2010

Heidiland and the Moon

Walensee, or Walen Lake in Heidiland

Long weekends are meant for skiing. If I had my way, any old day would be spent skiing. But work impedes on that and sometimes, we need to do other things. So this was a pretty good weekend spent. We headed to Heidiland. I was able to find a good deal on It included 2 days of skiing and 2 nights lodging at Flumserberg. It was the culinary package, so they threw in some amazing dinners as well. And we threw in an extra day of skiing on Friday at Pizol. I want to go back.

The town of Flums overlooks Walensee in eastern Switzerland, also known by tourists as Heidiland. Our hotel, Hotel Schiffahrt, was situated across the street from the lake, so the views were delicious. The package included dinner at the hotel one night and dinner at Sagibeiz in Mols the next. I think the name translates roughly to 'tightrope walker.' It was a funky, rustic old boathouse with fancy wine bar. The food was served on these sculptural, long skinny plates. Quite the presentation and very tasty to boot.

the moon, aka Pizol, aka unbelieveable

The first day at Pizol was like skiing on a snowy moon. There are no trees, but the weather and the hills created crazy shadows on the snow. It was deserted. Nothing like having an entire snowy moon to ourselves. The trails are 'loosly' marked at best, so we skied where we pleased and spent the entire, yes I mean the entire day, in powder. Priceless!

note the marshmellowy peaks in the distance, from Pizol

To get to Flumserberg, all we had to do was drive about 2 minutes down the lake from the hotel, park for free and board a gondala. Piece of cake. The gondola ride provided amazing views of the lake and valley and enough time to get sufficiently bundled up for skiing. Again, for 2 more days, we were blessed with blue skies and great powder. The crowds had grown as it was the weekend, but it was totally manageable. We only went indoors to use the facilities. We took breaks and lunch slopeside, choosing nice snowy perches in the sun to rest and rejuvenate, as needed.

powder, powder powder

The topography at Flumserberg is odd, but good. Just when you think you see a pattern, it changes. You really can ski in just about every direction, up down and across these mountains. If you feel like chasing the sun, you can, but you don't need to to get in great, long runs.

There are two things that struck me about Flums. First, the landscape is full of trees, rock and valleys - never a bad view. Some of the stretches 'in between' can be tough on a boarder. Scott borrowed my poles to get along in many instances. Second, this place is family friendly. There was every age of child here, not necessarily skiing, but hanging out, having fun. They have these cute little goggle-like shades for the babies. Adorable. No one is getting left inside at daycare here.

Scott actually got stuck in the flat, deep snow!

yup, we came from way, way up there...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Busy Celebrating Winter!

Winter is wonderful. Especially here, as I am finding out. Yes, it costs twice as much to go on Field Trips, but it is relatively easy to get around, Switzerland being just a tiny mountain pass of a country. You can get anywhere in less than 4 hours. It is even easier considering my husband drives me all over on the weekends. Thanks dear! I plan it, he drives. Good deal.

Last weekend I planned tobogganing and snowboarding Field Trips. First, we headed to Engelberg to go sledding. This is a serious thing here in der Schweiz. We have done it once before, in Austria and had an amazing time. So much fun. In Austria, it seems as though the kids use it as the primary means of transportation in the winter. I use the term 'winter' lightly. The lovely white stuff is known to stay around until well into springtime here and can show up in the early fall. Nirvana, for me.

Just as we remembered, it was a blast. The track was great and there weren't too many people out. No lines! You take the gondola up and get your toboggan at the top. After the ride down, which lasts about 15 minutes at a good pace, you give them your sled and head back up for another run. The Swiss (and Austrians, too) have this tobogganing thing down to a science. I love it!

I will spare you the snowboarding details for now. Lets just say that I am a skier. I will have a better tale to tell about skiing after this weekend. We are headed out to play in the snow yet again. In fact, my goal is to have a ski or toboggan Field Trip every weekend until we go home.

One of the reasons that I love skiing so much is because of the landscape. All of the senses are engaged up on a mountain or on a chairlift. I like everything about it: altitude and elevation, scenery or lack thereof because of snow and clouds, the smell of trees and snow (yes, I think snow has a very distinct scent), the peaceful sound of woods when you are all alone, the feel of snowflakes on the tiny exposed area of my face, the swishy noise that my skis make in the snow, even the ice. One of my favorite things is to hear the melting water rushing downhill in a stream in the woods near the lift. You may not be able to see it, but you can sure hear it and it is very relaxing.

And now, living in Switzerland, I am surrounded by many people who probably feel the same about winter as me. I have yet to hear any of the natives complain about the weather. So this is another good example of people enjoying the environments that nature gave them, making the best of it all and keeping fit at the same time. Yes, nature is manipulated in the case of skiing, but when I get to design them, they will be sustainable. The Swiss really know how to enjoy snow. I am very thankful for the winter weather and the landscape that surrounds me here.

Off to go plan my next snowy Field Trip! There is hope to live out that ski bum dream yet, even if just for a little while.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Matterhorn and Scale

Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to See the Matterhorn. Sometime back in history, I created a mental Bucket List. And the Matterhorn is on it. But now I can check it off. In fact, there are several items on my Exit List and Bucket List that are the same, so I fully expect my time in the Land of Milk and Money to be fruitful and lived to the fullest.

Why the Matterhorn? Well, I cannot pinpoint the exact reason. It happened when I was a child and unfortunately, my memory fails me sometimes. I guess my head is too full of random useless facts to remember with detail all the "critical" memories sometimes. But I am creative. So whether this is accurate or whether I created it in my creative mind to make myself happy, who knows. But this is what I remember and I like it this way.

We had a video game system by Texas Instruments when I was a child. When everyone else was playing Pac-Man on Atari, I was mountain climbing on a game called Alpiner ( Yup, my love of mountains started young. The goal of the game was to climb 6 of the world's highest peaks. The Matterhorn was number 5 on that list. That's OK, I was only 9 or 10. Hadn't quite reached overachiever status by that point in my life and I was playing against my Dad and older sister at the time, so it was what it was. In fact, I have no idea how far I actually got in that game. But something about the Matterhorn appealed to me and it has stuck in my head all this time.

My grandmother also lived with us at the time. Her parents both immigrated to the US from Switzerland. Do you see another Bucket List item here? She probably told me stories about her trip to Switzerland and saw that I was excited about the Matterhorn, simply from playing this game. And so my need to See the Matterhorn was born.

I am certain that none of this made any sense to me at the time. Can anyone really explain why we get so nicely fixated on the things that we do? But I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. That reason may not be clearly evident at the time, but it will be eventually. So here I am, just a girl living in Switzerland, with Swiss ancestry, standing in front of the Matterhorn, Seeing that which I have admired from afar, for unknown reasons as a child. Priceless!

It was also all about scale. It was big, in fact immense, but it felt like it was totally conquerable. Our Field Trip only allowed us a few days in Zermatt. Too much to See and too little time, as usual. On our last day, we were a little tired and had a few well-earned blisters. But the mountain air is exceptional in making one feel like they can accomplish just about anything. We went up the gondola at Schwarzsee Paradise and decided to do the short hike to the lake.

Scott and I discussed what time we needed to leave by, so we could get back to Basel at a decent hour and give him a little time to relax. He had to work the next day. So we get to the lake, take in the immense scenery and I start watching a few people heading higher up. They seem to be making good time. Again, it is all about the perceived scale.So I say to Scott, "Lets just go a little further, up to that bump there. I can get better pictures from there." He lovingly agrees and we proceed.

Next stop, more of the same on my part. First a bump, then a hut, then a ridge. After a few of these discussions about, "just a little farther, please?" finally we get to a really shaky metal staircase that looks like it is barely attached to the side of the rock face. You can see through it because it is made form metal grids. But I insist that I must go on. I made it this far, I wasn't turning back. So instead of walking, I ran so as to cover more ground in less time without making Scott worry too much. But on my way back, after resigning to the Matterhorn, he had followed me and was insistent that we head down. He is a very wise man.

Talk about Seeing. It was amazing. I stopped when I realized that the trail turned into what looked like a mountain goat path. At this point, some sort of mountaineering gear would have probably been recommended (unless you are Swiss of course - they do this stuff from infancy). But we were so close, it looked like we could just reach out to touch it. Or fall to our untimely deaths into the valley below.

Along the way, we kept passing pairs of young, strapping Euro men with climbing gear who were descending so quickly that it looked like they were running down the mountain. On our way back down, one passed us. I wanted to talk to him to find out if he had just summited. But me, who walks faster than anyone else I know on normal terrain, except my husband, couldn't catch him to chat. I am just going to blame that on the blisters on my feet and that he was in such a rush, he probably wasn't interested in chatting with silly Americans anyway.

When we made it down and were relaxing on the train back to Taesch, we looked at the map. Little did we know at the time, we had been on the path to Hoernli Hut, which is at an elevation of 10,696 feet. This is where the climbers go to spend the night, before they try to get to the summit, a base cap of sorts. We probably stopped and turned around at about 10,000 feet, with basically just the ridge left to go. We were so close, but had to think about heading back to Basel. If I had known how close, I would have insisted on getting there. My sense of scale failed me in this vast landscape. Hmmm. Perhaps another time.

All in all, this Field Trip rocked. As a landscape architect, I think I understand scale. But one really has no concept of it until you spend some time at that altitude in such a vast, gorgeous expanse of harsh terrain. Seeing the Matterhorn was priceless.