2013: What a year

Its been a while since I blogged, I know. Thing is, its difficult spending 8 hours on each post I did about my Contiki tour last year; no I am not finished with that! I actually have about 6 days to write about (3 Contiki + 4 in London which I still don’t have all the photos for). But I’ll get to that as soon as I find enough time.

So, back to the point of this post. What has happened this year? Well, there were at least 2 lists that I remember creating this year: my 2013 To-Do List as well as the Places (I want) to Visit and Why list. I set out to do as many of the items on those lists that I possibly could, but travelling was certainly not one of them.

I bought my first house at the end of 2012 and by March this year I had moved in. There are a lot of things I still need to do like decorating etc., but its a long process and I have many things still left to do. The house was quite a set back for me but I managed to not go broke in the coming months. The one thing that was always on my mind though was the pile of things I wanted to do this year. I didn’t know in what order I’d do them but I looked for every opportunity to be able to cross off something from that list.

The year is practically at and end now, so here’s some stuff that I can tick off:

1. I redid some of my kitchen at home. It wasn’t practical for me to strip the whole thing down and redo it from scratch, so I had the counter tops replaced and an extra section added in.

2. I met up with 2 people that I hadn’t seen for 10 years. Both were high school friends – one of which I hadn’t seen for 11 years.

3. Gyming 3 times a week which was an on and off thing, but I’m proud to say that it happened more often than not.

4. I planned on attending a rugby match but that didn’t happen. I did attend a cricket match in its place though.

5. I saw several sunrises this year.

There were several things that I didn’t get to do such as the below:

  • Visit Cape Town
  • Watch a play
  • Feed a dolphin
  • Drive an Aston Martin
  • Finish at least 7 books
  • Do charity work
  • Pet a tiger
  • Fly in a helicopter
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Eat sugarcane
  • Do a canopy tour

I am not disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to do these things. Why? Because I went to Switzerland. It was the quickest trip decision I have ever made all thanks to my relative, Dhamari, who lives just outside of Geneva in the town of Nyon. Within barely 5 minutes of her offering for me to stay at her place, I made up my mind to go. I’d never make such a quick decision for anywhere else. Its the only place I’d drop everything for and that’s exactly what I did.

It doesn’t matter to me that I didn’t get to do the other things that I set out to do this year because

1. I crossed out 2 places from my bucket list – Zurich and the CERN headquarters in Geneva.

IMG_0393

2. I went from never seeing snow in my life to going to the top of Europe: Mont Blanc.

IMG_0549

3. I saw my first glacier, Mer de Glace, a short mountain train trip away from Chamonix, France.

IMG_0632

4. I met my German penpal Melanie for the first time after we first started writing to each other in 1998. 15 years ago!

20130909_192044

5. I went to Heidelberg, the biggest town I’d ever been to in Germany.

IMG_0287

So, the moral of the story is that you should set goals that you know you can achieve comfortably if you put the effort in to it, and who knows, you might surprise yourself by doing something even bigger and better. I did not expect to cross off of any bucket list items this year, let alone two, but I did.

One thing I now know for sure is that dreams do come true. Dream them, and they’ll happen when they’re supposed to.

Places (I want) to Visit and Why

The world is huge. There’s no denying it. I read an article on CNN recently entitled “Give Children the Gift of Travel” and while reading it, I couldn’t help but nod my head. As a child, my parents took me everywhere, from weekends in the Drakensburg Mountains to the coastal towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Port Elizabeth, to overseas destinations like Mauritius and India. There were many small trips like those to the beach on the north coast of KwaZulu Natal such as Richards Bay and St Lucia. I can’t forget Cape Town of course, which wasn’t so small since it takes more than a day to drive there. We never drove though (except when I was 3); we flew instead. Every trip fascinated me, and I never knew what influence all those trips had on my thinking until now.

Like the mother in the article says regarding her children, “They learn that exploring is a must. They learn to ask questions. They learn how to navigate cities. First and foremost, they have to know the name of our hotel and how to get back to it if they were to ever get lost. They learn that life must be lived and not watched on TV or played on a video game.”

I don’t know if its only me but it seems like everyone is so caught up in the rush of the world and chatting on BBM and updating their Facebook status that they think that that’s all there is to life. I know many people who cannot function on the road without a GPS navigator. They think they don’t need to know where they are in relation to everything else. What will happen if you’re walking around somewhere and you get lost? What happens if your phone battery dies and you can’t access Google Maps? Do you know how far the closest metro station, highway or petrol station is? Not to mention, which direction?

I’m glad to say that unlike the hundreds of people who move from Durban to Johannesburg, I have not yet bought myself a GPS navigator. If I am going somewhere I’ve never been before, I Google the route beforehand, then print out the directions just to keep at my side in order to remember the road names. Getting lost sometimes is a good thing because it makes you aware of your surroundings and you can find your way back by tracing your steps. So no, you can’t fix the fact that your parents didn’t take you anywhere as a child, but at least don’t be a dumbass about it and think that technology is gonna get you out of every situation. No matter how advanced technology is, it can never outsmart the human brain.

Having said that (and I know I rambled quite a bit here), here is my list of the many places I want to visit and why. They are in no particular order.

Place Reason
Zurich, Switzerland Childhood fantasy. I can’t really say why because I don’t know. Maybe its just because I like the sound of the word “Zurich”. It sounds magical, doesn’t it? One reason I can give, however, is that the Lindt factory shop is only about 6km out of town. Definitely worth a visit for that!
Alaska I have not seen a single ugly picture of Alaska. Its definitely not a place I’d want to get lost in (I don’t think anyone would) but I think you can get a sense of peace there that you probably wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else in the world.
The Golden Temple, India I feel like I have some Punjabi blood in me and want to go for this reason. It will be a great place to do seva (charity work) and just pray, even though I’m not much of a temple goer.
Giza, Egypt I’ve had a fascination for Egypt ever since I was a kid. I remember doing a speech on Ancient Egypt to my grade 7 class. Nothing can be compared to the great pyramids of Giza. The fact that they were built in accordance with Orion’s Belt thrills me. Up till now, I smile at that constellation whenever I see it because I know that’s exactly how the Egyptians saw it thousands of years ago.
Berlin, Germany I think Berlin has a vibe about it that only few places have. I’d love to experience it for myself.
CERN, Switzerland Is there anyone who isn’t interested in seeing the LHC (Large Hadron Collider for those who live on Mars)? I think the smartest people on earth work there so it would be awesome seeing what they do in person.
The Grand Canyon, USA Do I really need to give a reason why? That place was probably the inspiration behind the creation of the word “awesome”.
The Dead Sea I’m not much of a swimmer, so I love the idea of being able to float without even trying. I know I’ll have lots of fun plastering myself with the therapeutic salt, too.
Montenegro Ever seen the advert on the Travel Channel? They say, “Experience wild beauty”. Montenegro has the most gorgeous landscape and I feel like I was there in some past life. I think its expensive as hell, but surely 2 or 3 days there won’t kill me?
Southern Alps, New Zealand Beauty, what else? Ok, Lord of the Rings, too. But beauty first and foremost. No other reason, really.
The Northern Lights, Scandinavia The greatest light show on Earth. I think everyone should see that at least once in their lifetime.
The Vatican at night The photos say it all.
The Vatican on Christmas Day It will probably be freezing, but its something I’ve been wanting to do for years, even though I’m not a Christian. I can only begin to imagine the vibe you’d get in St Peters Square on Christmas Day, because even on a normal day, its there.
Dubrovnik, Croatia As a child, I read a book called Matt the Goose-herd. It was based in Dubrovnik and back then I never knew where the hell Dubrovnik was, but because of that book, I wanted to go there. I don’t think I’ll rest in peace until I do.
Salzburg, Austria “The hills are alive with the sound of music”. I’m a huge fan, what can I say.
Toronto, Canada I have some family there that have been bugging me to come for years. I may end up living there one day, who knows? Though, I can’t deal with cold so I’m not sure how that will work out for me.

Should I refer to it as a bucket list? Perhaps. What the hell. I hereby proclaim it to be a bucket list, even if it isn’t a complete one but rather a snapshot of it.

I will end with a nice quote that I read which is very true:

“Travel is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer”

Trip to Europe: Day 7 – Lucerne, Switzerland

10 June 2012. I woke up to the sound of church bells, so naturally I was already in a good mood. Church bells just don’t happen in South Africa. Well, they probably do, but its so noisy and chaotic here that you can’t hear sounds like that. And we are totally missing the magic of the Alps in any case.

After breakfast, we took a short walk to the bus stop. Steve bought a group ticket and we all got on when the bus arrived. It was a pleasant drive through the town of Kriens, and it wasn’t long before we got to town. We got off near the post office, and had to follow Steve to the Lion Monument.

Mark Twain wrote:

The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the souvenir sort; the shops are packed with Alpine crystals, photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings. I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. But they are libels upon him, every one of them. There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos of the original which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right, the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world, is wanting.

The Swiss Guards, in my opinion, are superhuman soldiers. Yes, I know I can’t pretend to not know of the SEALS from the United States, but I feel like the Swiss Guards are at a classier level. I don’t know much about Switzerland’s history, but I do know that they were neutral during both World Wars, which I really admired. And how could I forget the Swiss Guard that protect the Pope to this day. The reason why I speak of my admiration for them (other than the fact that I love the Swiss, which I’ve mentioned numerous times already) is that the Lion Monument seemed to really do justice to them. I don’t think there could have been a better monument to honour them by. The more I looked at it, the more it moved me. The solemn face, the broken spear in its back, the shield with the Templar cross on it, and the general look of exhaustion throughout its body. It really was a fitting depiction of the fallen soldiers. It was very humbling.

We took some photos as Steve told us more about the history of the monument. He then let us have some free time to walk around before we could meet up again for the Swiss Fondue and Folklore show. I didn’t want to be alone that day so I made sure I stuck with some people, and that was easy because a fair number of them wanted to do the same things that I wanted to. One of the things was to see the glacier which was just around the corner from the Lion Monument, apparently, but one of the girls didn’t want to go and we didn’t wanna leave her alone, so we decided that all of us wouldn’t go. I don’t think anyone regretted that decision.

It was our only chance to get souvenirs or postcards, so my entourage and I took some random turns and we ended up at a little shop, where, surprisingly, it was run by a Chinese man. Dude, what are you doing smack bang in the middle of Switzerland? I found that rather amusing. I was so confused about what to buy because I didn’t have much time to make a hasty decision about a watch or a Swiss Army Knife, especially since I knew we were going to be taken to Harry’s Swiss Watch Centre later on where time would be dedicated to that (no pun intended). I then realised that this was my chance to get that little Swiss cow bell that my mother asked me for. About Sfr8.50 later I got one that I liked. I should have gotten one for myself. Oh well, I suppose my mother’s one will be mine one day.

After everyone picked up whatever they wanted, we continued strolling around the town. We finally got back to where we had been before, outside Bachmans. It was the perfect opportunity to get some chocolates. Walking in there was a little mind blowing. I had never seen that much chocolate in a shop before. Yes of course we have some chocolate shops in South Africa, but none are as big as this one. They had slabs, boxes both big and small, gift bags, assorted chocolates, and a whole lot of other desserts like cheesecake and tiramisu. I had no idea what to get but my favourite chocolate is Lindt, and it is, after all,  a very Swiss chocolate. My plans to go to the Lindt factory in Zurich wasn’t going to work out because of the time constraints. Besides, I knew that I would come to Switzerland again so I needed to use the time I had to see Lucerne.

Kiara wandering about

The Lindt section was at the back. As you can see from the image, it was massive. It had flavours we don’t get in South Africa, so those are the ones that I decided to go for. I bought 2 slabs, one that was extra milky and one that had hazelnut. I didn’t want to try outrageous flavours because what’s the point of spending money on flavours that you may not like. And you can’t go wrong with extra milk or nuts! I was also a little peckish and I could not resist the look of the tiramisu. I just had to had some kind of baked thing and so decided to get myself a mini tiramisu. It came in a huge pink box and it looked as though I bought half the bakery.

When I was done I went outside and joined some of the others who were digging into their chocolates. One of the girls had bought a whole lot of little chocolates and gave us all one to try. It was heaven. Well, of course it was, it was an original Swiss chocolate. And Swiss people are the bomb. Just like the tiramisu. Sam joined us and had a massive ice cream, cookies and cream flavour, which she bought from Bachman. Now, like I mentioned before, I’m an ice cream queen. I had just eaten a tiramisu, but looking at the way Sam was “mmmmm”ing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have one myself. And, at roughly €3, it was actually a bargain considering how big it was. I had eaten ice cream in Rome before at around €2.10 for one scoop, so I knew! I gave myself a few minutes to get over the tiramisu before briskly walking to get myself one so that I’d get back quick enough to join the others for a little walk around to see the Chapel Bridge.

We took a leisurely stroll towards the bridge with the intention of crossing it so we’d have a view of both sides of Lucerne. Apparently it had been burned down in 1993 and had to be rebuilt. Nevertheless, it was still impressive and truly beautiful with the flowers lining either side of it. The sun was peeping out too, so it made it even more beautiful.

When we got to the other side, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. We didn’t have much time before our rendezvous with Steve outside Bachman, so we decided to head back, but over the other, more modern bridge.

Not all of us were going to the Swiss Fondue and Folklore show at Stadkeller, so we knew we’d be missing a few people. Steve counted us and instructed the others on the time to meet for the cruise on the lake. Once he was done, it was time to follow him to the show. It was a short 5 minute walk there and we had to wait a few minutes outside while Steve confirmed the seating arrangements. There was going to be another Contiki group there, too.

I was one of the first people inside and could not wait to watch some of the traditional Swiss music. I knew there’d be yodeling too, even though I associated yodeling more with Austria than Switzerland. Oh well, I wasn’t about to complain.

I got a seat right at the front with Tiffany, Kelly, and Adam. Poor Adam looked so out of place without his clan (the 2 sisters and the one’s husband). I realised that we had picked a prime spot too, because I didn’t want my view of anything Swiss to be obstructed. Before any of the entertainment started, some women walked around lighting the little burner in the centre of our tables. They then placed a little red bowl with white hand painted cows of cheese fondue on it. We had some cut up bread to dip into it. The cheese was really tasty but I didn’t really like the bread, it was a little too sour and hard for me.

Now, let me just make one thing clear before I continue. Until that day, I had never drank beer in my life. When I was younger, I smelled my dad’s beer and I found it revolting, so I never tried it. I always thought of beer as being the most disgusting drink you could possibly have. Ever since Contiki started, however, I smelled others’ beers and it was actually a little inviting. Surprisingly, it smelled nice. I was itching to try it, but I still thought that it would be terrible and that it would be below my dignity to try one. Because of that, I still did not get one.

Back to the show.

There were 4 performers. A woman, who was the singer, and 3 men. Two on the accordion and one on the piano. At least, for starters. Later on they alternated. As soon as the music started, my goosebumps kicked in.  It was another one of those feelings that I couldn’t control, so again, the tears welled up in my eyes. It was not because of the beauty of the place, but the fact that I had been waiting my whole life for this. The previous day was a feast for the eyes, but here it was a feast for the ears and the soul. I tried my best to not let the performers see my wet eyes because there were several occasions where I made eye contact with them.

The lady called some people up – Taylor (the American girl who was forced to chug the red wine in Amsterdam) and Adam to blow the Swiss horns. The fact that I was sitting practically on top of the stage made me a bit nervous because something told me that I would be called on stage too. I was a very easy target.

Of course, God had a plan to make my Swiss experience even more memorable because the lady did call me up, but not for the boring (to do, not listen to) horn blowing. It

was for nothing less than yodeling. Now, yodelling is something I tried doing many times. But its not easy trying to yodel without people looking at you funny. So I never knew if I could do it or not. I always liked singing, but yodelling was something totally different and I never knew how I sounded.

The lady called up a lot of people from the packed room. There were around 45 people from my Contiki group, and I think around the same from the other group, as well as some other small tour groups. There were at least 110 people in that room, easy. I walked on to the stage, my face probably red, to join the others. One of the other American girls was there already, as well as Travis, the Australian guy who came with his wife Tracy. There was also a little girl of about 7. In total, there must have been at least 13 of us. I didn’t count, but seeing as 13 comes up everywhere in my life, there were most likely 13 people on that stage.

The lady began by yodelling, and we clapped along, laughing like blithering idiots. At least, I was. I was in my element though, I was experiencing ultimate happiness again. The lady then called each of us, starting at the end of the line on my left, where Travis and the American girl stood. She yodelled, and each person had to repeat after her while the background guys played the music. The girl did ok, but Travis was hilarious. We couldn’t help laugh at him. It just sounded so wrong for a deep voice to be yodelling. Eventually it was my turn, and I walked up to the mic. I tried learning the tune as the others did it, and it basically went something like “yoh lo lo ee uu”, which I had to repeat a few times. Of course, the tune of each line was different. I didn’t think I did too bad a job. I just hoped that someone took a picture of me doing it (though, I doubt anyone did. I’m yet to see one).

When we were all done, we thought we could just walk off the stage. But oh no, the lady had a surprise in store for us. She gestured towards my right and I saw that one of the accordion players, the tall bald guy, was pushing a table (with wheels) full of tall glasses of beer. I was slightly nervous because I didn’t know how I would refuse it. But at the same time I thought “this is a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m in front of at least 100 people, don’t be an idiot and back out”.

The lady took a glass and offered it to the American girl. Immediately most of the people in the room started shouting “chug chug chug!”. She tried, but failed. Travis was next, and he downed it effortlessly in barely 3 gulps. A glass of water was given to the little girl, which was really cute. I did not expect to be called next, since I wasn’t next in line. Again I thought that it was something that I’d probably never experience again, but I still wondered whether I should chug it or not. After all, it was my first beer so I didn’t know if I could do it. It was a split second decision to try, and yes, I chugged it successfully. I didn’t think as I put the glass to my lips, and I don’t really know how I downed it the way I did. I just remember it being cold towards the end. It was actually pretty good, and much lighter and than I expected it to be. I was rather proud of myself. I don’t remember the crowd’s reaction but I think  I did get some cheers (no pun intended here, either).

I realised after getting back to my seat that I can put myself down in history as the girl who chugged her first beer. Not something I’d want to be remembered by, but certainly not something I’ll forget.

Once the show was over, we had some time to kill before meeting up again for the Lake Lucerne cruise. It was to be our third and final cruise on the tour (I don’t really want to count the gondola ride in Venice as a cruise). It was around 1:30pm and we had until 3:15pm to do whatever we wanted before meeting up with Steve again. Some people wanted to get some toiletries, so Steve and Driver Steve said they’d take us to the station where there were some grocery stores, and we could waste some time there.

I went with them and we all split up when we got there. I wandered around not really sure what to do with myself, but I knew I’d catch up with someone later on. I found some call boxes and thought of calling home, but I didn’t have the right type of calling card and I thought it would be too much effort to get one, especially since my parents had the phone number of the hotel and would probably call that night. I also came across another chocolate shop, which I walked in to, but left empty handed.

When I came out of the station I met Steve, Tiffany and Kelly again. We also bumped into Chloe and Seeta, who also weren’t sure what to do. We then decided to ask Steve for suggestions, and thought it would be a good idea for him to show us around himself. Personal tour guide. Woohoo!

We walked towards the lake and saw some blue paddling boats. It was a great way to kill time and also admire the sights. We were told that the boat would fit 5 people, which was perfect since there were 5 of us. But in order to balance the weight, one of us would have to sit at the front. That someone would be Tiffany. We paid a deposit and all pitched in around €4, which allowed us to have the boat for an hour. The timing would be perfect and we’d be able to finish quick enough to meet up with everyone else later.

We got into the boat as slowly and carefully as we could, trying not to make it rock too much, before we set off. We had to keep close to the left side of the lake so as not to come in the way of bigger boats. Steve and I were the paddlers, with Chloe and Seeta sitting behind us. I left the steering wheel to Steve.

Now, I’m pretty hydrophobic. I’m fine if I can touch my feet down when I feel tired, but as soon as I’m in water that’s deep enough for me to struggle to keep myself afloat, I panic. What was weird here though was that even though we didn’t have life jackets, I felt so safe. I didn’t think that anything would happen, and even if something did, I’d probably drown happy because I’d be drowning in my favourite place on Earth. Yes, I know I’m crazy.

As we paddled, the sun came out even more and it made the surroundings all the more beautiful. Steve showed us some of the monumental buildings, which included some of the top hotels. I asked him which side which country was on, and he pointed out the direction of Germany, Italy, and France. It was amazing hearing that. I felt like I was in the centre of the world.

We were enjoying ourselves so much that Steve suddenly wanted to go faster, so we both started paddling madly which made the boat rock. This didn’t go too well with Tiffany because some water started coming in and conveniently ended up right where she was sitting. So, while I’ll go down in history as the girl who chugged her first beer, Tiffany unfortunately will go down in history as the girl who got her butt wet in Switzerland. Sorry Tiffany, that was just too hilarious to not mention. And let’s not forget the photo that she wanted with the “ducks”, which were actually swans.

About 20 minutes into our ride we spotted some girls from our tour walking along the lake side. We paddled towards them to say hello before heading back “out”. At one point Steve began complaining that his legs were sore. I didn’t know what he was going on about because mine weren’t sore at all. He then decided to let go and let me do the hard work. Ow, that was bloody painful. I hadn’t realised how much effort he was actually putting in so that I didn’t have to. I thought it was sweet of him but I could understand why he couldn’t go further! Eventually he had had enough, and Seeta offered to take over. It was a rather awkward affair for the 2 of them to swop places, since Seeta was behind me. When she took his place, I kept paddling with the same amount of effort. Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer, either, and then got Chloe to swop places with me. I ended up back next to Steve on the back of the boat. We had a chance to stretch our legs and relax a bit, and to enjoy the view from a different angle.

I was also the time keeper, but unfortunately I made the girls turn around too soon. We still had around 10 minutes to go. Oh well, at least we got to the rest of the group early. We had to meet at a sundial which was just a stones throw away from Bachman.

By 3:30pm we started making our way to the cruise boat. We each got a token which would allow us one drink. If we wanted any more we’d have to buy it. We all went to the upper deck of the boat as of course this would allow for the best views. The cruise lasted around an hour, and it just got better the further into the lake we went. The Alps were breathtaking, and the water of the lake was insanely clean. In some places you could see right to the bottom. There was more than one occasion where I thanked God for where I was. Again, my dream had come true. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there, in the place I loved the most.

At some point I decided to use my token. I didn’t want more wine. In fact, I wanted a beer. After that surprisingly tasty one I had earlier, I was in a way craving another. I felt weird about it though, but decided to go for it. I went to the lower deck and handed Steve my token, which he exchanged for a beer. I then went back up and wondered about whether I should tell the others that the one I chugged earlier was actually my first one ever. I decided I should, after being praised by Tracy for my yodelling, for which I got some cheers. That was great.

After the cruise, Steve took us straight to Harry’s, where we’d have our chance to get our Swiss watch and army knife. There was so much to choose from that it took me a while to find what I wanted. The watch was my top priority, and I decided to get an army knife only if I had time. Of course I had to get a Victorinox knife too, as that is an authentic Swiss brand. Plus, if we bought a Victorinox knife, we could have it engraved for free.

I found myself a watch that I loved, which had a brown face and a brown strap, and what looked like silver crystals around it. It was a Candino watch, Swiss made. When I asked the lady to pack it for me, she said that they do not call it brown, they call it chocolate.

I love the Swiss.

I managed to get 2 Victorinox army knives. One for myself (a silver, rather tech looking one) and one for a recipient I haven’t decided yet, which was the traditional red. I asked for mine to be engraved with just my first name on it. I wouldn’t know until the following day how it came out, as Steve would receive them later.

After Harry’s we could either stay in town or head back to the hotel. It was quite early so a large number of us voted for getting something to eat. We didn’t have much to eat at all that day other than the lunch of sausage and mash at Stadkeller. We headed to one of the restaurants along the lake side and got ourselves 2 tables since there were 15 of us. I sat between Tina and Kiara, who came with her sister Coralie. Everyone at my table was Australian, besides the twins who sat opposite me, and Dylan, the South African guy. I didn’t have any Swiss Francs with me so decided to wing it with my Euros. I didn’t want to spend too much. Besides, everything on the menu was bloody expensive. Sam, Coralie and I opted for the mushroom soup which cost around SFr10, or roughly €9, which is insane for soup. But, price aside, it was the best mushroom soup I’ve ever had. It really was made of mushrooms. I’ve never had a soup that was so rich with the flavour of the thing it was supposedly made of.

I remember Kiara having something with Salmon, Tina having something with chicken, and the twins, with their beer jug, having something to that was like a sandwich. It was a great dinner with such nice company.

When the time came to pay the bill, someone went to call the waiter, but when he came round he said that the bill had been taken care of. We were all in shock, because how could a bill for 15 people be taken care of when none of us had a hand in it? It was not long before we found out that it was Tina who had paid the bill for everyone. We thought she was crazy because the bill came to around SFr160. How could you pay for all of us, Tina? I thought it was the nicest thing anyone could have done, though. She told us that she had done it because we had made her trip so special and it was her way of saying thank you. She felt that way after barely 4 days with us. Wow.

Thanks Tina, you’re the special one.

Once we left the restaurant we thought of popping in to one of the pubs to watch one of the Euro 2012 games, but all the pubs we passed were so packed that we had to stand outside. We weren’t too keen on that because it had started to drizzle and get a little cold, so we decided to rather get back to the hotel. It had, after all, been quite a long day. We got to the bus stop which Steve had showed us, and were fumbling to get tickets. Some of us did, but the majority of us didn’t. I don’t know how it crossed through everyone’s minds that when the bus came, we would just get on without buying a ticket. We were rebels for that little time. We knew that  no one checks the tickets. Most of us got on to the bus without a ticket, which was a big risk because we heard that there would be a ridiculous fine if we got caught. Sorry, people of Switzerland! We didn’t mean to, we were just young tourists who didn’t want to get cut off from our group!

When we got back to the hotel, some of us stayed in the lobby to take advantage of the free WiFi. We also met the old lady to whom Steve had spoken to the previous day from the cable car. I understood then why he had such difficulty explaining to her who he was and the number of rooms that were booked. Melissa, one of the Australian girls I had befriended, couldn’t get her laptop to connect to the WiFi. It sounded to me like an issue I had had about a month earlier at home when I couldn’t connect to my WiFi via my laptop at home. I tried fidgeting with her network settings but we still couldn’t get it to work, which I found very strange. Her iPhone could connect, however, so it baffled me. One of the guys (whose name I remember but won’t mention) decided to go behind the counter and fiddle with the router to see if that made a difference. Melissa shielded him with her laptop in case the old lady caught him behind the counter. The sneaking was hilarious. It didn’t help though and Melissa eventually gave up.

The guy had just gotten back from behind the counter when the old lady appeared out of nowhere holding the cordless phone asking for me. She pronounced my name in a very strange way but I knew it was me she was asking for (I’ve become accustomed to people not being able to pronounce my name). It was my mother, of course. After speaking to her and catching up more on Facebook and Whatsapp, I decided to head up to bed. The fact that I had told Steve earlier that I wanted to do the white water rafting the next day made me a little nervous, but it was another one of those “once in a lifetime” things that I couldn’t miss. Not in the Austrian Alps. It was with this nervousness that I went to bed, sad that my time in Switzerland had come to an end. At least, until next time.

Trip to Europe: Day 6 – Mt Pilatus, Switzerland

9 June 2012. This was going to be the best day of my life. I could just see it. Ever since I was a child, the only place I have been dreaming about visiting was Switzerland. I can’t explain how much I was in love with it before even seeing it. I told Alex the night before that we had to make sure that we got front seats on the bus because I knew that we would be getting fantastic scenery from driving through the south western part of Germany and into the Alps.

Ah, the Alps, something else I had always dreamed about. I think I need to blame Heidi for this because I can’t recall anything else that was associated with Switzerland in my childhood besides some dolls that my mother had bought when she visited at my age. I had been looking forward to this part of the trip the most. I just wish we had longer, but I knew I was going to enjoy every second of it.

We left our hotel at around 7:30 that morning, after breakfast of course. My excitement made waking up very easy. We had to get to Lucerne at around 1 so that we could go to the top of Mt Pilatus (at least, those who wanted to) and be at the hotel in time for dinner. Since the drive was close to 500km, we had to make a service stop after about 3 hours. It was still too early for lunch so I got myself a little cappuccino and some kind of pastry with jam in it. Both were delicious, as expected, but I think they overkilled the pastry with jam. According to my receipt, we had stopped in Freiburg! I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t meet up with Melanie, my pen pal, but the fact that I was helpless made it easier. I didn’t feel so bad then.

Once we were done and paid around €2 for using the bathrooms, we got back into the bus for the final stretch. I couldn’t contain my excitement from that point and I think I must have been smiling like a sheep the whole way.

The signs for Zurich and Lucerne were getting closer, even though we were still in Germany. I knew that of all the countries that we would be going to, Switzerland would have a proper physical border that we would pass through. I didn’t know this as a fact, I just love the Swiss too much and I wouldn’t expect anything less from them. They’re like superhuman for me. I think they can do anything that normal mortals wouldn’t think possible. No, I don’t think I can blame Heidi for this perception I have of the Swiss. I actually have no idea what made me love them this much. I just do.

After some time Steve made an announcement that we were approaching the border and that we should have our passports ready, just in case. I remember smiling to myself when he said the word “border”. When I saw it about 100m away, my heart started beating faster. I think my eyes became bigger too.

The second we  passed through it, I could not hold back the tears. No, I did not start howling like a deranged banshee, I just cried to myself. Like I said, it was somewhere I wanted to be my whole life, and at that point I knew that my dream had come true. I can’t say that there have been many occasions where I cried tears of joy, but that was undoubtedly the happiest moment of my life. Here I was, in Switzerland, surrounded by the Alps, with nothing but some clothes and a bunch of wonderful people. That’s all I could have ever asked for and I just kept thanking God that I was there and that it happened.

Soon, we got into the town of Lucerne. I didn’t actually care about which town we were in at that point. All that mattered was that I was in Switzerland. Driver Steve of course headed straight to where we were to catch the cable car to the top of Pilatus.  The whole drive there was so scenic, and I think I was so busy absorbing the stunning beauty of the place that my eyes took control over my hands which were clinging to my camera (phone). I therefore didn’t take many pictures of the town at all. At the back of my mind though I knew that I’d get great views of the whole town from the cable car, so it didn’t really bother me that I didn’t get many pictures in yet.

When we got out of the bus, Steve asked us to wait at the entrance while he got our tickets. We had of course paid him already, when he opened the bank on the bus (i.e.: us sitting on the step at the front of the bus between him and Driver Steve, while he had his paperwork, pen, and wallet out), so all he needed to do was pay for the tickets and hand them to us. Some people had also paid for all the optional excursions at the beginning of the trip, which helped the rest of us who wanted to pay in instalments. Also, it would allow us to go for an activity now and pay later.

We had some time to take in the mountain air and admire the surroundings, which included the little red cable cars directly above us that were leaving the station. When Steve got back he explained that the small cable cars seated 4 people, and that we’d have to get off at the second stop and meet there. From there, we would all get into the large 40-person cable car which would take us to the summit.

After we received our tickets and left some people behind (they were crazy, how could they miss this of all things?!), we swiped in and joined the line to get into the cars. Tiffany was already freaking out a little because she’s afraid of heights, which made my ride in the little red car all the more amusing because she would scream at every little whim that the car made when going over the wheels. It was just the 3 of us in the car – me, Tiffany, and Tiffany’s Australian roommate Kelly. I don’t know where I had lost Alex, but I guessed she had probably moved ahead because I paused to look at some items in the shop at the entrance which had nice jackets with the Pilatus dragon on it. As much as I love jackets, I really didn’t want the extra baggage so I gave it a miss.

As we were going up in the little cable car, besides Tiffany’s occasional screams and frantic gestures, I felt like I was surrounded by heaven. I had to turn almost right around because I was facing the mountain, therefore the town was behind me. We had spectacular views of Lucerne, as well as Lake Lucerne. As we got higher, the trees became far more dense, until it was obvious that we were surrounded by forest. The thing with being in a cable car is that you don’t really realise how fast you’re travelling until you look at the angle of the cable and how many cars are in front and behind you.

What really confirmed that I was in Switzerland was the sound of the Swiss cow bells. It was unmistakable and it wasn’t long before we saw some cows grazing directly below us. The cable cars were so high above them that they were totally oblivious to our presence, which I loved. They looked so peaceful and at home.

On our way up we could also clearly see the stainless steel toboggan path which Steve told us about. He said that once you get to the summit, if you walk a little down, you can toboggan down the mountain instead of taking the large cable car. I was pretty sure I was gonna do it, even though I was a little nervous about it. But I just could not pass up something like that when I was in the country I was waiting the longest time to see. And besides that, who knew when I’d ever get the chance again?

After 20-25mins, we reached the second station where we teamed up with the rest of the group. We had to wait a few minutes for the big cable car. Everyone was a little nervous because all we could see in the direction of the summit were clouds, so we had no idea just how high we were going to go. I was also a bit uneasy at the thought of it being cold and windy at the top, as I had never been to the top of a mountain before and wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

When we stepped outside it was quite breezy and rather chilly,  but it was only a few moments before the large cable car arrived. We got as many people inside as we could, and then we were off. I became aware of a few people who were scared of heights, one of them being Steve. I think I am a little too, but remember, I was in the hands of the Swiss, so I had nothing to worry about.

It was not long before we were totally surrounded by clouds and the only thing we could see was the cable leading into the skies. We all had a moment of panic when a wooden pivot station showed up, if you can call it that, out of nowhere and the cable car was approaching it at the same speed as we had been travelling the whole time (which was much faster than the little red car). It was obvious that that wasn’t the last station, but the fact that we couldn’t see around or beyond it made everyone’s eyes pop out. We all gasped when we were lifted slightly over the peak and then dropped back down, even though it was probably only around half a metre.

Eventually we got to the top station and entered a wide open, yet enclosed space. There were some shops and a restaurant, and glass windows all around so you pretty much had a 360 degree view from anywhere. I didn’t want to waste time there though, I needed to go outside.

When I ascended some stairs and actually got outside, I thought I was in heaven. There were clouds everywhere, I was actually walking inside them. The weather was surprisingly pleasant. It was somewhat nippy, but refreshing; nowhere near chilly. Even though it was dull, I needed to keep my sunglasses on because of the glare. I was literally on cloud 9.

Alex and I took some photos of each other before going up an uneven staircase, made of a combination of wood and rocks, to the summit. It turned out to be quite a climb, but the fact that we couldn’t see how high up we were made it a little easier. At times we had to awkwardly step aside in order to let other visitors who were descending to pass.

When I finally reached the summit, I had to take a moment to take in the view surrounding me. I couldn’t see much except clouds, but there were places where the sun was shining through the the clouds were like white, rolling hills, with a bit of green in the background. I was convinced that it really was Heaven. I could not stop smiling.  I was looking directly at the sky without even having to tilt my head upwards.

Alex and I spent some time admiring the view, and got more pictures of each other, including some slightly daring ones. I don’t think I would have sat where I did if I could see what was behind the clouds, which is why I refer to the pictures (or rather, our positions in them) as “slightly” daring. My mother would have certainly killed me if she saw what I was doing. Sorry, Mummy!

I wished that the clouds would clear but they didn’t. Seeing how fast they changed from such a close range amazed me. I had obviously been in clouds dozens of times before, from all the flying I’ve done, but you can’t count that as really being IN them. It was just me and the clouds here, with nothing but air separating us. I loved that the sky was peeping out now and again too, and I needed only look straight ahead to see it. 

After some time we decided to make our way back to the station, and maybe meet up with the rest of the group or have a bite to eat. I wasn’t really hungry, I think my excitement was keeping me going. I walked around the area and went into one of the souvenir shops. They had some great stuff but I ended up not buying anything. I knew we’d have time the next day so I didn’t want to waste my money going crazy in a shop I knew would have typical touristy prices.

I saw a watch that I really liked and since it was my goal to get a Swiss watch, I was really tempted to get it. But again, my brain told me not to jump at the first thing I saw. At the back of my mind was the advice (I don’t know whether it was good or bad) Steve gave us on the first day: “Rather live in debt than regret”. Hmmm, you know, Steve, some people may abuse that advice! But not me, at least, not in this case. I was gonna wait till we went to Harry’s, the Swiss watch shop the next day.

I found some people from my group and met up with Alex again and we decided that we were going to do the toboggan ride down the mountain. I was both scared and excited as we were walking up a bit of a hill to get to the wooden cabin that sold the tickets. As we were walking up, I could not help but stop now and again to take in the view. It was just breathtaking, and the only sounds I could hear were cowbells, birds, and the occasional toboggan rider going down the steel run.

When we reached the top, Steve was already there with some of the guys. Steve said that he goes on the toboggan ride every time he visits Pilatus, and when we got to him, he was actually just about to go for his second run. That gave me a little confidence boost, especially seeing how wide open his eyes were from the thrill. He was sort of jumpy, and it was obvious that he just couldn’t wait to go again. I on the other hand wasn’t sure if I would do it a second time (I was such a bloody chicken), so I just bought one ticket. In my defense though, everyone I was with bought only one ticket too, so I didn’t want to be the only one going for a second time which would have meant me being alone on the mountain when everyone was gone back down. I was such an idiot. If I died there, I’d have died happy.

I remember Alex saying that she was gonna go as fast as possible to try and break the speed record (I can’t remember what it was now, but I think it was something like 45km/hr). I know it didn’t work out as she planned, but anyway, for someone going on it for the first time, one can’t really predict how one would react. We had to carry our own toboggan to the start of the steel run, and had to swipe our ticket in the machine in order to get to the starting point. There was actually a little robot (or should I say traffic light, for my American friends) that signalled when to go, so as to allow for enough space between you and the rider in front of you.

Off went Alex, and it was my turn to get on. It was simple. There was a lever between my legs, and I had to push it down to go faster, and pull back to brake. I must have looked like a spastic idiot when I pushed down and the thing didn’t move, but then I realised I wasn’t really at a steep enough angle for it to move. So after waddling a little forward while still seated, I pushed down the lever and off I went. I was a little scared and didn’t really go fast at all. I must have definitely seemed like a senior citizen at first, but then, suddenly, the mild adrenaline got to me and I just thought “Let’s do this!!” and I began speeding up more. The smile on my face intensified as I started to enjoy every second of it. The only other things I had to remember were to brake slightly around corners, and to lean in to the corner so as not to be thrown off from the force. I remember saying to myself “This is GREAT!!”. I knew that the speed camera was coming up soon too, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going like an old lady, so I sped up and managed to hit about 32km/hr, which I didn’t think was too bad. What a thrilling ride!

When I eventually got to the bottom, the Swiss man at the bottom was smiling at me already and asked how it was. The only word I could think of that described my feeling was “Fantatsic!”. When I came to a stop, I picked up my toboggan and pushed it along the horizontal steel path that was especially designed for it. The man then picked it up and placed it on the steel tube that was going back up the mountain. He told me to sit still and enjoy the view, and that I was not to touch the lever. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go because of the angle, but I left it in his hands. A hook that was attached to a long cable above me arrived, and he hooked it into the back of my toboggan. Up I went!

I sat with my forearms resting on my knees and just looked around me as I ascended the mountain. I had not had a moment alone like that in my life. Even though I spent an afternoon alone in Amsterdam, it was nothing like this. If I was a guy I’d be embarrassed to say this, but I got emotional for the second time that day. I couldn’t believe that I was there, in what seemed like the most peaceful place in the world, surrounded by lush green grass, a forest on my right, a mountain behind me, and a gorgeous town and lake in front of me. I had time to admire the little things like the little white flowers on the grass (I even grabbed a few and played with the petals as I looked around) and the goats having their early supper. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. It was too bad that I didn’t have my camera with me because I had to leave it at the log cabin where we bought the tickets. In fact, I didn’t even leave it there, I left it (my bag) on the table outside the shop next to the log cabin, along with some other girls. My passport, money, cellphone and wallet were in that bag, but I had so much faith in the place I was, that I didn’t worry a single bit about theft. When I eventually got back to the top of the mountain, the shop was closed but my things were safe and untouched right where I left them.

Did I mention I love the Swiss?

Some of the people had already started making their way back down to the station where we were to get the back in the small red cable car, but Alex had also arrived just a few moments before me so she was waiting for me. We didn’t know who was after me but there was one bag left behind, so we waited and found that it belonged to Chloe, another Australian. When she got back, we began our descent. Not far down we stopped to watch some people on the zip line. The lady we were watching took forever to get going though, so we gave up before she could let go.

When we got to the station, there was another long line. The cable cars were moving pretty quick and Steve’s one had one spot left, so I made a quick dash for it. I think Jose and CC were in it too (the American couple from San Diego). On our way down, Steve spoke about his fear of heights. I’m just glad he didn’t scream the way Tiffany did. That would have been hilarious. He got to spend some quality time with him on the way down as well, and found out how things operate for a Contiki tour manager. He had to call the hotel to confirm our dinner, and we found it quite amusing listening to the difficulty at which he was trying to speak to the old lady who answered the phone, one who didn’t speak very good English. Haha.

Once we got to the bottom, we met up with Sam and the rest of the people who didn’t join us on the mountain. Some of them went shopping while others walked around the area a little and grabbed some lunch. We all got back on the bus and Driver Steve drove us to the hotel in the little town called Kriens, not far from the base of the mountain. The hotel seemed to be divided into 2 buildings, with one being across the street. The boys were placed in that one, since there were only 14 of them (besides Steve and Driver Steve) out of our group of 51. After freshening up, we were all starving, and we went down into the dining room.

Alex and I found a table close to one of the windows, and sat with Kameron, a tall Australian guy who thought he was the oldest in the group at 32, and if I’m not mistaken, Adam, another Aussie. By the way, there were 3 Adams in our group – the one I met on the first day who came with the married couple and the girl who was not his girlfriend, this one who I was sitting with at dinner, and Aadam, one of the twins.

We had a pleasant supper and ended off with ice cream for dessert. One thing I must make clear is that I love ice cream. It is my thing. When I was a kid, I would eat a 2L tub every week. I generally prefer sweet over savoury, but I don’t like anything too sweet. When I tasted this ice cream, it was on the extreme end of sweet. I wanted to have it because I mean, look at that thing, it had the Swiss flag on it, but I could not get beyond a quarter of it. It was just too much to handle and sadly I had to leave it without finishing it.

Steve gave us till 7ish to be done and he was going to take us to a nearby pub, since the Euro 2012 was on. I wanted to walk a little around the town and since I hadn’t been to the pubs in Amsterdam, I wasn’t about to pass up on any opportunity in Switzerland. It was a short 10 minute walk to the pub, and I got to admire the quiet little town of Kriens. Some people were waiting to take the bus into town. It was, after all, a Saturday night. Another reason for me to go to the pub.

When I got there it was very strange territory for me. We don’t go to pubs in South Africa, at least, not the way the English or Europeans do, and especially not Indian girls. I’m not much of a drinker at all either, I had never had  a beer in my life, so I had no idea what to even get. It was great watching some of the locals who seemed so at home there. It was like a normal thing to do to stop over for a quick beer before heading home. I loved that kind of life. Well, not the beer drinking bit, but how natural it seemed for them to do it. There’s nothing wrong with it anyway.

After dilly dallying around and watching a bit of the game, I felt pretty tired and thought I should make my way back to the hotel. Some girls came with me and we walked back in the light drizzle. When Alex and I got into bed, I  heard some church bells and I smiled for the hundredth time that day to myself. Switzerland so far was everything I had dreamed of, and I still had another whole day to look forward to.

Europe

So its been a lifelong dream of mine to tour Europe.  I wanted to go in 2011 but I didn’t have enough leave or money. I then decided that I would save both for the next year, and do it in 2012. The original (2011) plan was to go with my partner in crime, Rowan, since he also wanted to go. Then as time went on, another friend of mine also expressed interest. She’s also a travel nut like I am. I think I inherited it from my mother…definitely not something I’m ashamed of!

Anyway, back to the point…I started to gather a good few people who were interested in the trip. But slowly, as time went by, one by one they started falling away. I still did not lose interest though because I was wanting to go on this trip for so long. Eventually, it was back down to Rowan and no one else, since they either didn’t have enough money or they changed jobs. Then, after I opened Rowan’s eyes about not being paid enough at his company, he also changed jobs. So now, its just me! I also planned on changing jobs, just for the sake of career growth and diversity, but I had spent almost a year saving my leave days as well as money, so I didn’t want to cancel it just because of the possibility that I might go alone.

The original plan also consisted of a 12 day Contiki tour of Europe, followed by an additional 3 days in London. When it was decided that it was just me, I thought hey, what the hell, let me do the 16 day tour and still do the 3 days in London. I mean, who wouldn’t want to add 4 extra days that include Monaco, Pisa, and the French Riviera (Nice to be exact) into their trip if they could help it?

As if things couldn’t get any better…I’m staying with a friend in London. She was actually my neighbour from the time I was about 5 years old till I was 17ish. We’re like family. She’s a big Harry Potter fan like me. Once I told her about the Leavesden Studio tour, where all the Harry Potter films were made, she booked tickets for us! Its definitely a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to visit that place while the films were still being made. Can’t believe its actually happening.

The most difficult thing about travelling is waiting for the time between booking and checking in at the airport to pass. Other than that…all excitement.