Skiing the Swiss Alps in Engelberg

After a few days in Lyon, the bi-annual ritual trip to Sirha and Bocuse d’or, we needed to get to Engelberg. Europe is connected by so many trains, flights and buses that its hard to chose the best route – flying was too expensive, buses took too long, but the train made a happy medium. We went from Lyon to Mulhouse, then Basel where we could stop for an hour and eat at the mouthwatering food hall ´Alte Markthalle´ beside the station. We got the next train to Lucerne and then changed for the third and last time for the local train to Engelberg, but still felt nothing from the journey – when you get to skip the mundane security of airports and baggage controls of budget airlines, travel truly is a pleasure. The journey took us through the French mountains and up into the Swiss alps, past lakeside villages and snow-topped glaciers, with views to Titlis at the end, and within a few hours, we were checked into the Baenklialp Hotel, recently bought by some Icelandic friends.

That flag…

We ate cheese, fondue, and more cheese, not missing the chance to visit the famous cheese factory Schaukaserei Kloster just a few hundred metres from our hotel. We skied both sides of the mountain Brunnihutte and Titlis/Jochstock, and a 3-day pass was the perfect amount of time to spend on the slopes. We went to the top of Titlis, with unlimited visitbility over the valley in all directions, and without any fear for heights, also had to walk the Titlis Cliff walk bridge at 3041m above sea level.

the picnic tables started disappearing under all the fresh snow

Our last day on the mountain was the first time in my snowboarding history that I can complain there was too much powder. It had started snowing the night before, and over 40cm of fresh snow had been groomed before the runs opened, but the snow kept coming. With the help of other riders carving snow into piles and the wind gusting powder in random banks, there were places on the runs with waist-deep powder, and if the angle of the downhill wasn’t steep enough, you’d slowly slide to a halt, your feet and board buried in powder out of sight, and the risk of sitting down meant utter disappearance. I wasn’t sure we’d even make it down the mountain on the last run, and I lost Thrainn in the powder for nearly 30 mins, with a couple of glimpses of orange jacket between the whiteout to be sure I was waiting for him in the right place.

on the way to the top

I’d never been to German-speaking Switzerland before, and having just left France, there were a few moments when I’d forget where I was. But people understood French and English more readily than I could speak either (German trips me up so much), so I always ended up looking like the stupid tourist, especially when I kept calling francs euros. We left via Zurich, a cheap and easy train ride from Engelberg, where Icelandair flew directly home to yet another frozen, winter wonderland. It’s never as pretty without fresh snow though, especially if you cant ride your snowboard thru it.

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Thinking about German in Switzerland

German-speaking Europe is a confusing place. There are so many dialects of German that some German speaking people don’t even understand eachother. Some German words have only one vowel per six consonants, twisting your tongue in werid ways as you try to pronounce it (ie. Dirndls, schloss) The German word for “Austria” looks more like “ostrich” than Austria. English and Icelandic help me understand a lot, but I’ve been wishing I could speak more German– high German, low German, Bavarian Dialect – I don’t care which version.

The slopes in Flims

Switzerland doesn’t use euros, and their Swiss Franc is illogically abbreviated as CHF. Well, the “F” makes sense, but CH stands for “confederazione Hervatica” (which I now know is recognized as the mother of Switzerland). I like the way Swiss German sounds, it’s somehow softer and sweeter to the ear. I stayed with a friend, Ursina, in Flims, a picturesque ski town in the middle of the Alps, and in this region of Switzerland they have another official language called Romanish. It’s the closest language relative to Latin, and it sounds like old Italian poetry being recited.

Ursina's mom with their Icelandic horses

Her family, the Isenbugels, is well known in Iceland because of their contribution and involvement with Icelandic horses. I visited her parents in their mountain hut near Laax, which we had to hike half an hour past ski lifts and through 2 feet of snow to get to. They had Icelandic horses there, mostly young yearlings and new foals with their mothers, and an Icelandic dog. Her father, who has eyebrows growing out like bangs, spoke English and some Icelandic. Her mother speaks Romanish, and also German with an accent I found easiest to understand.

I went with Ursina to her sisters Icelandic horse stable near Zurich, where we rode horses into the night. Gallopping through a forest without seeing anything was an adrenaline rush I hadn’t before

Zurich

experienced. I would love do it again, but Iceland lacks forests, and it doesn’t really get dark in June or July when Im riding most.

my horse, almost invisible in the black background

Everything in Switzerland costs more, even though you can drive quickly and easily past the German, Austrian or Italian border to buy the same thing for less. The doner kebab trumps McDonalds and Burger King combined as the king of fast food, and I’ve been using it as a base price economy marker. In Berlin, you can get one for €1.50. In Munich, €3.50. Vienna, around €4, and in Zurich, it costs as much as €8 for the exact same thing.

But I guess prices are all relative, to the people’s standard of living and places’ economy. What really puzzles me is how wine can be cheaper than water, and beer, almost always cheaper than coke. If only Iceland could pick up on that trend.