Interlaken, Flying Without Wings

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter IV

Interlaken, Flying Without Wings

Country: Switzerland
Currency: Swiss Franc
Travel Date: 6/9/2008 – 7/9/2008

There was only one pure goal for Interlaken – to fly. Whilst there are many ways to fly, including those death-defying ones, one way certainly outshined the others. It was the one that I have always longed for when I was a kid. It was also the one that could only be done in limited parts of the world – hang-gliding.

Okay, I have to admit that I wasn’t the pilot who controlled the flight and I didn’t see myself doing it either for my first flight and crash myself to a cliff and then smashing my body into powder before blown away by the Alps wind, or just fall down right to the ground breaking my body into pieces similar to what happen when a watermelon hit the ground from Empire State Building high.

So what did I do? Simple, tagged along someone that can guarantee my life, even though singing my own death warrant was still compulsory. But I was willing to do it for the first time in my life and it was not because I got knackered with living. It was purely the lust for the sudden surge in adrenaline that sealed the deal.

However, as usual, own fear wasn’t the only factor that could possibly bar me from the participation of hang-gliding. There was still the weather.

Finding a pilot that operates in late summer wasn’t easy. Finding a pilot that operates in late summer and not charging you a fortune was even harder. Finding a pilot that operates in late summer, not charging astronomically, and a blessed good weather in a late summer Switzerland – frustratingly challenging.

My session was the only session of the pilot that day, a day when the sun hid in the blanket of clouds, real dark heavily charged clouds that were eagerly decomposing themselves.

The initial session time was 10 in the morning and it was drizzling before the first delay to midday.

Midday and the sun was still hiding, or perhaps finding a protective shelter from the now pouring rain. My dream to fly tumbled. But both the pilot and I were hopeful. He of course wasn’t trying to dazzle me with his kindness to fulfill my desire but to only worry whether my money would eventually switch home to his wallet.

It was further delayed to 3p.m.

That was the bottom line I drew. I had a train to catch later that day. I can’t afford endless waiting and spend another night living in the freezing cold attic of a hostel that was offered for free to me.

The time reached and unfortunately the weather didn’t seem to be promising. But the ebullience of the pilot to earn my money had put us into a literally no turning back situation – to risk it!

Boarded on a van, ascending the winding mountain path, still cautious about the weather outside, my heart started pumping furiously. It was however to both our surprise at the “death point” – the no-more-land-beyond-this point, or simply the departure point – that the weather seemed to have sided us eventually.

After a quick assembly of the flight, a speedier-than-preparing-instant-noodles take off lesson, and the endless reminders of not murdering the pilot with my arms while flying due to devastating fear or intense enjoyment, I was there, literally hanging my life on thread.

“Remember, 1-2-run-
run-run-run! Run the shit out of your ass!” shouted the pilot. Eew! That was down right disgusting. But I decided to hold on to the crap talk for at least the coming minute. Clinching my fists tightly at the appropriate places, we did the 1-2-run, passing the death point, feeling a sudden weightless drop for a second before a tensed pulling force from the chord, and,

“I am flying!” I screamed.

It was the first time in my life, flying in the air without mechanical engine. The opportunity to see the world with my own eyes while smoothly sailing in the air like an eagle was sensational. I didn’t murder my pilot with my arms, but to be honest, I wanted to release his safety chord so much during the flight so that I can gain total control of the flight. Bad idea I know and I am glad I didn’t do that, or otherwise I would have already been six feet under.

Montreux, First Swiss Taste

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter III
Montreux, First Swiss Taste

City: Montreux; Country: Switzerland; Currency: Swiss Franc; Travel Date: 6/9/2008

Waved goodbye to my extremely short stay in Nice, I boarded on a flight that spared me from the 16-hour train ride from Nice to Geneva, Switzerland. However, Geneva was merely a transit point to my forty-euro-for-an-hour ultimate first class train ride from Montreux to Interlaken.

Information intolerant? That is exactly what I wanted! And now come the details.

The morning was gloomy and rainy, at the Swiss side. At the French side, it was fantastic. Still bringing with myself the warmth of summer, I braved into the Swiss storm. Luckily, a glimpse at the snow-capped Alps Mountains was still possible at the tail of the airplane. For the first time, I flew over the Alps, literally feeling I was on cloud nine.

And then I was on a train for another train appointment from Geneva, after a confusing manoeuvre in the airport – The Swiss, the French, and the German sides really are something not so fun to play with. But I got through it of course and started to digest everything Swiss that is welcoming me.

And so I witnessed the mountains, the lake, the typical small town, the Swiss knifes and the infamously expensive trains of Switzerland, all in Montreux.

That’s all about Montreux that I had experienced in 3 hours – a delightful Swiss introduction.

Oh wait, my train. It was a first class, first row seat at the very first carriage, even more advanced than the train driver, which offered the ultimate view of Swiss surrounding during the train journey, at a cost of a normal first class train ticket, plus a little reservation fee. What is it called? Golden Pass Line.

Captions (from top left):
Alps from airplane; typical Swiss scenery; lake in Montreux; also a typical Swiss activity - boat trip; Swiss child having fun with semi-nature; my train - my seat is the first one on the right hand side.

Nice, Pinocchio vs Fenocchio

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Part II Chapter II
Nice, Pinocchio vs. Fenocchio

City: Nice
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Dates of Travel: 5/9/2008

Caption: Baie des Anges

If you are travelling to a city named Nice, it would only be appropriate if you ensure a nice feeling throughout. And this rule shows no exemption to a three-hour train delay and missing information on the bus you have to catch to the airport the day after. Because by the end of the visit, you know you are going to get a nice icy and creamy ice-cream under the sizzling hot sun before diving into crystal clear cooling sea water.

I remember I was told to visit Nice when I was searching for a beautiful beach in Europe. Indeed, Baie des Anges was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in Europe by the time of visit, especially when an aerial view of the beach was caught from Parc de la Colline du Château, arguably the highest point of Nice.

Caption: Real palm trees in Nice (left), Old town of Nice (centre) and hill leading to Parc de la Colline du Château.

However, the creator of nature intended for a joke.

Here is the catch, the beach has no sand. It was amazing to learn that how an enclosed sea would have brought such immense amount of pebbles onto the beach which stretches for a few kilometres. But there they are, the pebbles, lying quietly on Baie des Anges, challenging the endurance of sun bathers under blistering hot weather.

To me, the hardest part was not the tanning session when one was lying on the rocks because a beach towel proved sufficient for a comfortable few hours nap. The most challenging activity however was the walk to the sea.

Caption: Old town of Nice.

The beach is gently flat, but when it approached the shoreline, it sloped down sharply. Combined with the extremely energetic waves constantly smoothing the pebbles on the shore face, it was barely possible for one to walk steadily, without feeling pain at the feet, without risking breaking an arm or leg after a fall caused by the slippery rocks.

However, once you have passed all the tests, the sea – lightly salted, comfortably cooling and lovely empty – is yours.

It was possible to find sections of the beach to be nicely padded with a layer of fine sand. However, unless you check in to one of the ridiculously expensively priced hotels along the beach, you will not be granted entry to these sections.

Caption: Baie des Anges from Parc de la Colline du Château (left) and Quay of Nice.

The infamous but popular pebbles beach was surely the major attraction of Nice. But during my week of visit, something even more exciting was in store for me, though as always, came with a little disappointment.

I was talking about ice-cream. There are two insanely sought-after ice-cream shops in Nice; the Pinocchio and the Fenocchio. These two shops are located right opposite to each other, contesting with the fiercest competition. But ask anyone from Nice, you will be recommended to Fenocchio and so I was there, spending my very first part of the fifty-euro ice-cream budget during my trip.

Other than the provision of absolutely bizarre flavours that caused hesitation during purchase, the number of flavours offered was also the causality of battle between the taste bud and the wallet.

Caption: Fenocchio and ice-cream bought at the shop.

Divided into three sections; the normal, the special and the weird, Fenocchio’s intention to dazzle you and your wallet was indeed successful. And most importantly, during the weekend of my visit, the store was producing a recurring annual special flavour utilising locally produced wine.

However, the disappointment was: I visited a day before the weekend, and the shop had not decided whether the special flavour would be produced this year. Secretly, I was hoping it was not produced but no confirmation was sought afterwards.

My visit to Nice was short, and became shorter after a train delay. However, I experienced the most desirable activities in the city – a swim in the sea, a pocket-burning for ice-cream, and a sunset walk along the Promenade des Anglais. If a relaxing vacation is what you are looking forward to, and if you have some money, Nice is for you.

Nice is simply nice.

Caption: Baie des Anges and its pebbles (left) and interesting transportation mode of police.