After a two hour flight to Basel, William and I are cruising along in our snappy Skoda. We’re on our way to Grindelwald, a village in the Bernese Alps (and also, as it happens, the name of one of the most sinister dark wizards in the Harry Potter series… you know, if you’re into that kind of thing). In any case, there is nothing sinister about the scenery here; lush green pastures dotted with sheep are interrupted by the occasional cluster of traditional Swiss chalets. The entire scene is framed by snow-capped mountains stretching the length of the horizon. It’s official: Switzerland is the queen of alpine cuteness.
A Winter Eden
As we near Grindelwald, the brilliant green of grass is replaced by a downy white blanket of snow. We drive through Grindelwald’s “downtown” area which consists of one main street with a spattering of restaurants, lodges, and sporting goods shops. A few more hairpin turns and we arrive at Silvi’s Dreamcatcher Inn, a quiet chalet perched on the hillside overlooking the town. I almost never talk about our accommodations – sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re a place to crash, but this place is truly special and deserves a shoutout.
We are greeted by Sandra, a tall, slim woman who I take to immediately. She shows us the property and somewhere between the view, the hot tub, and the sauna, Billy exclaims, “This is awesome!” That’s the thing about men… they won’t treat themselves but invest in some soft towels and scented candles and they can’t deny life feels a bit more luxurious.
But we can’t rest in the lap of luxury just yet! Keen on adventuring, William and I try cross country skiing. We gear up in a meadow as large flakes fall around us, occasionally catching in my lashes. I always thought cross country skiing would be dull, but it boasts the benefits of downhill skiing with none of the potential disasters (e.g., a skier on high about to rain down on you and crush your cranium). We follow the small trail markers past homes, through cathedrals of trees. Sometimes we go side by side, sometimes single file. The only sound is the muffled crunch of snow beneath us.
At times we encounter a barely-there slope and pick up speed – weee! Once I lose balance, placing my arms in front of me to brace my tumble. But the snow is soft and deep and my arms continue to sink up to my shoulders. Simply put, dear Reader, I was face down ass up in a snowbank. Billy, also on his bum at this point, is laughing. Time to call it a day. He checks his Polar for our distance and calorie burn – not that it matters because obviously we’re having fondue for dinner. But first… to the hot tub!
Politics and Winter Walks
Sandra, our host, has cooked William and I a delicious breakfast. I can’t say enough about this tasty meal since we’re coming from Italy – a land without breakfast (caffè and cigarettes, anyone?)! The three of us chat about Switzerland, living abroad, and politics. Sandra comments (almost inquires), “You have some very interesting debates in your country…?” Of course, we know she is referring to the recent debate where the size of Trump’s hands were the hot topic. I can only assume this was her impossibly polite, Swiss way of saying, “What.The.Fuck. with your country right now?” Mortifying.
We talk about other aspects of our cultural identities including gun violence in the U.S. – a topic our European friends ask about frequently. “Switzerland,” I remark, “…so neutral, so tidy… what are your problems here?” Sandra admits that life in Switzerland is, in fact, pretty good. However, it is also remarkably expensive. So while everyone, even a server, makes a decent wage, the high cost of employment forces managers to cut other costs. In this case, the restaurant manager may need to spend less on food thereby opting for frozen items instead of fresh ones. I see the conundrum, but the situation still seems preferable to crushing economic inequality (images of Dickensian mob scenes with pitchforks come to mind).
Unable to solve the world’s problems over breakfast, William and I don our new Lowa hiking boots and set out to conquer the mountain. The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and Billy’s got a backpack full of dried fruit and Girl Scout Cookies; we’re unstoppable! A deer peeks at us through the trees, only mildly interested. We frequently step aside as children sled down the pathway and disappear down the mountain.
“I want to sled back down!” Billy says.
I smile and nod.
We meet a few other couples on the trail, each well dressed and eager to help direct us in German, French, or English – take your pick! Ready for a break, we turn the bend and, out of the pristine wilderness, a small cabin bar suddenly comes into view. Hazaa! William buys a brownie and I enjoy the sun on the outdoor patio before we hit the trail again. Life is good.
What Goes Up….
If our way up the mountain was tranquil, the way down is…. decidedly less so. The young guy at the sled rental chuckles when Billy and I say we haven’t done this before. In hindsight, this should have been our first clue…
“What do I do?” Billy asks, perched a few feet away from me atop the sledding piste.
“You just… go down!” I reply, noting the complete lack of steering or breaking devices on my wooden vehicle.
Through what can only be called enthusiastic trial and error, we discover that putting your right or left leg down makes you turn – rather, careen – in that direction. Putting both feet down makes you stop… kinda. I’m really getting the hang of this when I hear Billy’s serious voice call, “Malia!” What’s that about? Psshh! Clearly he doesn’t see how well I’m doing back here. And then I see it… a series of three jumps heading into a sharp turn. Sweet baby Jesus. One! Two! I’m okay. And THREE…!! Which brings us to my second faceplant of the weekend, dear Reader. After an exhilarating hour of nearly nonstop racing and tumbling, we stand up and look at each other: that was fun!!… I think?
On the drive back to the airport we discuss our next visit to Grindelwald. With so many great outdoor activities, we’re anxious to check it out again in summertime. Muse plays in the background (…you electrify my life…) and Billy comments on their new album.
“I bet they’re on tour this summer,” I say, pulling up google. And yup, they are! “How about Copenhagen in June?”
“YEAH!” Billy confirms. And why not? What else are we doing?!