Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Switzerland

Day 0 Thursday 2.2.06
     Emile Haag canceled his history class for Thursday morning and rescheduled it for Wednesday night, so on Thursday I had no class until 17h00. I managed to show up for lunch, which I ate, checked my email, and headed back home. I got showered and presentably dressed and headed back to the chateau for my hour of class. After class the program as a whole headed to the Oberkorn church where Georges Backes (music teacher of last semester, a tenor), Gerd Wachowski (organ player and professor in Frankfurt, friend of Backes whom I met last semester), and Pierre Kremer (a trumpet player I did not know existed before this night) were to play a free concert for us. The opening piece was a piece for a solo trumpet that was played in front of us, the rest of the pieces were played behind us where the organ is in all old churches. This made it strange, since you listened, but just stared at the alter where nothing was happening. It was a good concert, and Daryl, John, and I hung around to talk to Georges and Gerd afterward. I was flattered that Gerd actually remembered me. We had a nice little conversation then they took off and Guy (who is on the board of directors for the church) went around locking things up. We asked if we could play the organ and he flipped it on and let us screw around for a while. We then begged him to play something, having been tipped off by another host parent that he used to play. He eventually started playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and it was really cool. Guy then tried to get us into the reception at the Chateau, but Dr. Stiller vetoed it and we went home. John busted out the Kraft Mac n Cheese he had brought from home and we ate that, Guy came home; we played Euro monopoly, and slept.

Switzerland!

Day 1 Friday 3.2.06
Arriving at school, John and I headed to a computer lab to check email before class and we saw that Dave Kreager, an old buddy from Oxford was on. We had a long stimulating chat room session there until we had to go to class, which was the usual junk, then it was time for Switzerland
     Switzerland? You might ask, I thought you were going to Berlin! You would be right, but wrong. While hanging out in the Cave of the Chateau on Monday, a ski trip was mentioned, and a quick calculation in my brain decided that skiing with Rick, Whitney, and whomever else wanted to go would be more enjoyable than going to Berlin alone. The original group also included Jill, but then she dropped out and Abbie, one of Rick’s friends joined us. We had four, and we started planning. The idea of renting a car came to be rather attractive to us, with one small problem. You must be 21 to rent a car in Luxembourg and we were all 20. We set out to find a 5th person who was also 21 years of age. Allison toyed with the idea for a while, but it wasn’t until Wednesday night at the MUDEC Wednesday hangout at Halfway House that Whitney walked over and said that Ian had agreed to be our renter and fifth person. We had acquired a full car and a way to rent said car, we were set. Back to Friday.
     Ian, Whitney and Rick are all in the Business base course that lets out a half hour later than the rest, so Abbie and I had to sit and wait for them. Then we had to get directions. So we ended up getting to Luxembourg on the 13h30 train, a full hour after class let out. We grabbed a bus, and headed to the Budget car rental place. Then they had to find our reservation. Then they said Ian couldn’t drive because he didn’t have enough experience. Once we explained that it was just a renewed license and he has been driving for 5 years, they let us have our…Skoda Octavia. Made in the Czech Republic. Yay. I opened the door and it fell off. Not really. It wasn’t bad, it had a little diesel engine, so we were gonna get great gas mileage. I jumped into the driver’s seat (neither Ian nor Whitney can drive manual transmission) and headed off. I drove from Luxembourg deep into France, on Autobahns lined with beautiful snow covered trees. We eventually got hungry and stopped at an exit that said it had a McDonald’s. It was like three towns over, but we found it, and ate, and Abbie took the wheel. She drove for a while, then Rick took it from shortly before the Swiss border to Gryon.
     As Rick took the last leg it started to get dark and we were going up switchbacks in the fog, which was fun. The women were getting a bit freaked out, and Rick probably didn’t help matters when he gave the wheel a little jink for no reason, inciting a storm of curses from the women and laughter from the men. Once we were on the correct mountain, we asked for directions three times before finding our hostel. You would think it would be easy to find things when there is really just one substantive road,  but when the actual buildings are another 40-50 meters farther up the mountain, and hidden by trees, its not that easy. We eventually found it, and the Aussie who was waiting up for us. We were a bit later than we had expected. He was a funny guy, and we got checked in, got our skis and boots rented, and then he pulled out the ski map. He proceeded to tell us all the trails we should and shouldn’t go on, which ones would destroy the skis, which ones would be fun, and which ones the newbies should stick to. With that knowledge, we went to bed, so as to be somewhat alive at 9am the next morning when we planned to start skiing.

Day 2 Saturday 4.2.06
We all reluctantly woke up and got our ski gear on, and headed to the train station. Two stops later we were at the slopes. We bought lift passes for the student price of 77 sfr for two days, which is not a bad deal at all, something like $30 per day. The whole mountain seemed shrouded in fog when we got on the gondola. As we got towards the top we suddenly broke through the fog, and were speechless with the absolute beauty of the Swiss Alps. Look at my pictures on webshots. Wow.
We hit the bunny hills a few times and Ian (first timer) was having issues. Abbie, Whitney, and I left Rick to try to learn him, and headed farther down the mountain. We took a wrong turn at some point and had to ski off-piste (off the trail) for a while to get back to a lift. That was fun. We fell. It was ridiculous, and VERY tiring. We eventually made it to where we started, and Rick had gone looking for us. He came back, and we all went inside to eat lunch, having not eaten in like 24 hours. The prices were insane, but we were hungry and thirsty. Once we straightened up and pulled up our pants, we got back on the hill. We went down the way we were supposed to and Whitney managed to ski off the side of the trail (essentially a small cliff) twice. The slope was promptly renamed “Whitney Death Slope”.
She then decided to stick to the bunny hills for a while, and Rick and I went out to the other parts of the mountain. There were tons of trails, and some of them got pretty difficult. One of them was very narrow and crowded. I hit an ice patch, then had to avoid a little kid, on a trial that’s less than 8 meters wide. I was out of control; I went careening over three bumps, managing to stay upright before absolutely biting it on the fourth. My skis went flying, I went flying, one pole went flying and I rolled to my feet with my arms up expecting the whole slope to be laughing at me. They were glowering. Get a sense of humor, Swissies! I was laughing pretty hard. Rick arrived about 15 seconds after I stood up, also sliding on parts of his body and not his skis. We got up and kept going. We eventually made it back to the starting bunny hill.
My confidence was pretty shot, and I was exhausted, so I collapsed next to Ian and Whitney, the other ones lacking confidence at the moment, who were lying down near the lodge, and didn’t want to get up. Eventually we decided to do one or two more runs down the bunny hill before hanging it up for the day, and Whitney wanted someone to take pictures of her in action. I did a few jumps, got about halfway down the hill, set my camera to take pictures as long as the shutter is held down, and took a dozen action shots, a couple of which turned out all right. We all got home, walking instead of taking the train, and grabbed showers. We took advantage of our hostel’s kitchen and made pasta for dinner. It was good. We then collapsed in bed, needing sleep if we were to ski again the next day.

Day 3 Sunday 5.3.06
     We got up, checked out, and drove to the resort. Once again, we came up through the fog into stunning scenery all around. My first run down the bunny hill I used the edge to do a few jumps and decided I had the confidence and feeling back. Rick, Abbie and I decided to head over to the partsof the mountain we hadn’t seen yesterday. There were a ton of runs and we had to walk through a town to get to part of them. (We stopped for pizza, it was amazing.) The runs were a ton of fun and we all had a blast. At one point Rick and I decided to try to ski off the trail. It was exhausting and difficult. On our way back we took a wrong turn and ended up on a hellish run down narrow crowded trails in thick fog. It required all our attention, so at some point Abbie got separated from us. After some frantic text messaging, we figured out what was going on, and all got back to the car. We exchanged stories and headed for the Chalet to return our equipment and pay the rest of our bill. The Aussie (“Hostel Matt”) gave us brochures to bring back to MUDEC and also a list of hostels that they are affiliated with. Since this was one of the best hostels I have stayed in, I will be using that list quite a bit.
We then left sans showers. Rick took the first leg, then I took the leg from the middle of Switzerland to the middle of France. It was hellish. Basel was under construction and I wasn’t on an autobahn while I was in France for the most part, so it was not fun. I stuck it out until finally one of my contacts fell out, and I gave the wheel to Abbie for the home stretch. We arrived home around 3am, and dropped off everyone at home. I ate Guy soup and went to bed.
The next day I found out that Rick (the only one who lives in the city) had to sit at a gas station for over an hour for it to open and fill up the car, drop it off at the rental place, and only had time for a shower before he left to go to the Chateau; he got NO sleep. That sucks. Anyway, that was one of the best weekends I have had—the skiing was great, the travel partners were great, and the hostel was one of the best.

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