High Above the Alps: Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland

High Above the Alps: Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland

While in Switzerland, I knew I wanted to do more than ski, sled and snowshoe- I wanted to get off the ground. And when sky-diving proved to be too expensive (someday!) I opted to for another sky-high adventure activity- paragliding.

This wasn’t my first paragliding experience- I tried it while studying abroad in Argentina. But as I stood on the mountain, staring across at the impenetrable fog, my heart beat a little faster than I’d care to admit. I mean, I had done this before right?

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I feigned a shaky smile as my handsome Swiss-German instructor, Florian, fiddled with my straps. Soon he was behind me and shouting for me to run. I didn’t have much time to be scared- in seconds my feet were off the ground and we were soaring over the Alps.

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The sensation was exactly how I remembered- calming, almost meditatively so. As we floated around, I could see the entire city of Interlaken and her cerulean twin lakes separated by a canal. When I looked down at the mountains I half-expected to see mountain goats running between the pines.

And then it was selfie time! Florian instructed me to spread my arms out like a bird while he took a picture with his GoPro. And considering how weightless I felt, it seemed like a very appropriate selfie.

(This was also the moment when I kicked myself for not buying a GoPro before my world trip.Ugh!)

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For the next fifteen minutes I just floated around in a near trance, awestruck by all the views in front of me. DCIM101GOPRO

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But soon my fifteen minutes of blissful gliding were up. Florian told me it was time to land. “Run!” He shouted. And suddenly my feet were back on the ground, in one of Interlaken’s park in the center of town.

While I’ve never tried sky-diving, I consider paragliding to be sky-diving for beginners. It’s relaxing, quiet and provides beautiful views. And of course, there’s the whole jumping-off-a-mountain adrenaline rush.

Skywings provided me with hiking boots to use, but if you’re paragliding in winter bring warm clothes, a scarf and mittens. Skywings offers paragliding year-round and the experience costs 170 CHF, while photos are 30 CHF and video costs 40 CHF. The photos came on a USB attached to a little Skywings parachute- a cute touch!

Have you ever gone paragliding?

A big thanks to Skywings for providing a paragliding session in exchange for a review. Skywings in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are as always my own. 

My Absolute Favorite Camera Bag + A Giveaway!

My Absolute Favorite Camera Bag + A Giveaway!

So today I want to tell you about my favorite travel camera bag- and yes, give a $100 Jo Totes gift card to one lucky reader!

I’ve written about this bag before- long-time readers may remember I listed it as one of my top ten travel products.

Jo Totes Giveaway

Why I love my Jo Totes bag:

a. It’s beautiful and stylish. See above!

b. It’s well-made. I’ve had mine for a year and a half and it’s in great shape.

c. It’s big. My bag can fit a camera as well as several lenses, and not to mention other valuables like my cell phone and wallet.

d. It’s street-smart. No one knows you’re carrying a valuable DSLR, which is great!

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Other Jo Totes selections

This bag has traveled with me around the globe. I used it a ton during my year in France, both walking around Paris as well as jaunting about the continent. I also used my Jo Totes this year on my world trip (although I sent it home after India- tweed doesn’t really suit Southeast Asia, now does it?)

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Hanging out in London… IMG_3988-001

Road-tripping down the French Atlantic coast… DSC_5250 copy

Weekend-ing in Strasbourg… (Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase.)

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Snapping shots in Madrid! (Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase.)

So here’s the exciting part for you- I’m giving a $100 gift card to Jo Totes way to one of my readers, to go towards purchasing the Jo Totes camera bag of their choice!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment, follow me on Twitter, share about the giveaway or like my Facebook page. And you can share about the giveaway on Twitter each day for additional entries.

This giveaway will run until 8:00 a.m. on August 4, and then I will announce the winner on my Facebook page. Good luck!
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Twitter: @ashleyhfleck

Facebook: Ashley Abroad

Instagram: ashleyabroad

How Much Does Skiing in Switzerland Cost?

How Much Does Skiing in Switzerland Cost?

Skiing in Switzerland is undoubtedly expensive. Like, Dear-God-when-I-pay-my-credit-card-next-week-I’m-going-to-sob expensive. While the lift tickets are cheap compared to the U.S., just about everything else: food, accommodation, transportation, costs more.

While I enjoyed skiing in Switzerland immensely, my eight days in Switzerland were by far the most expensive of my entire world trip. So I wanted to lay out exactly how much a Swiss ski holiday will set you back.

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The view from my $60/night hostel. At least it’s a good one.

How much do rentals/lift tickets cost?

Well, let’s start with the good news! Lift tickets in Switzerland are relatively inexpensive. I paid 110 CHF for a two-day lift pass in Gstaad, which comes out to about $60 USD a day. Comparatively, you would pay around $85 a day in Aspen or Vail.

While I was lucky enough to have my ski rentals comped by a friend, I paid 30 CHF for snow boots (note- not ski boots) and 20 CHF for a sled. And here was the rip-off of the century: when I wanted to snowshoe down the mountain, I paid 30 CHF for a one-way gondola ride. Seriously. That’s $90 USD for a day of SLEDDING, not even skiing!

Also, I rented all of my gear from Intersport and was very happy with the service, prices and rentals.

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How much does budget accommodation cost?

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In Switzerland you will pay around 50 CHF for a hostel bunk that you will have to make yourself. Luckily, every hostel I stayed in was clean and provided a complimentary breakfast.

Though I did notice that many of the “youth hostels” were filled with families and elderly people. The hostel where I stayed in Grindelwald, Jugendherberge, was inhabited almost entirely by young families! While that would be fine for older guests, I was looking for a twenty-something scene and felt a bit lonely.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset The tasty free breakfast at Jugendherberge almost made up for the screaming children. Almost.

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My adorable hostel in Interlaken. And the cheapest of my trip- only 35 CHF!

How much does food cost on the mountain? And is it good?

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The food on the mountain is Switzerland is gourmet. I loved sampling traditional Swiss specialities, from the richest chocolate cake of my life to rolled-up Bergkäse (mountain cheese).

But like ski resorts in the U.S., the food on the mountain is pricey. The soup above cost me 12 francs! Thankfully it was worth every cent- a gourmet traditional Swiss barley soup with buttery kernels of barley and dusted with dried wildflowers.

Tip- bring chocolate and cheese and munch on them through the day to save on food. Plus, how Swiss is that?

Also, is there anything than tasting a light, crisp local pils while watching clouds slowly drift over the Alps?

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While beer is on par with American prices, liquor costs a pretty penny. This “snow bunny” cocktail (Schneehäsli) set me back (or rather, the Swiss man who bought it for me, ha) 8 CHF. And this was an outdoor bar! Skiing

 

What other winter sports are available besides skiing?

Snow-shoeing

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Um, I’m just going to go out on a limb and tell you NOT to go snow-shoeing. Because plodding down the mountain while sledders whizz past is maddening. Especially when it costs you $90 a day.

Sledding

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Sledding in Switzerland on the other hand is an absolute blast. You take an old-fashioned sled, strap on your snow boots and careen down the mountain at perilously high speeds. Love.

This type of sledding would never be legal in the U.S. for liability reasons- you could honestly fly right off the mountain! Which is obviously why it’s so exhilarating.

Because you use your feet to stop it’s important to use sturdy snow boots- the snow-boarding boots I had made it hard to stop as they are so soft and round.

 

Paragliding

Another high-octane winter activity in Switzerland? Paragliding! While the experience costs around 170-200 CHF, the alpine views and adrenaline rush make it worth every franc. Post on my experience coming soon!

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Overall, is skiing in Switzerland worth the expense?

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Well, I’m not sure. While the alpine ambiance is lovely, I think you could have a similar but cheaper experience in France or Austria.

One huge advantage to skiing in Switzerland over the states is the lack of lines. I waited only a minute or two for each lift- a far cry from the 20-30 minute waits at Deer Valley! Plus, the views of the alpine villages from the slopes is hard to beat.

Would you want to ski in Switzerland?

Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream: Skiing in Switzerland

Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream: Skiing in Switzerland

I haven’t mentioned this much on the blog, but I’m a die-hard ski bum. As in, my parents taught me to ski as a toddler, I raced GS and slalom in high school and I used to be on the hill five to six days a week. Not so bad for a Michigan girl, huh?

And ever since my first Warren Miller movie at the age of six I’ve dreamed of skiing the chalet-dotted mountains of Switzerland. IMG_0957

Which is why when my family friend Doreta invited me to her Swiss ski chalet for the weekend I spared no expense. Travel accounts be damned, I was going to finally ski Switzerland.

My family friend, Doreta, is someone I have admired my entire life- an elegant German woman who married an American and divides her life between the U.S., Italy and Switzerland. Have I mentioned she speaks five languages?

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Upon seeing her chalet in Gstaad for the first time I was already in love- a cozy mountain farmhouse situated next to the Swiss dairy farmer, with views of the Alps from every window.

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On my first morning Doreta prepared me a hearty pre-ski breakfast: earthy German black bread, a soft-boiled egg, wheat bread with French honey and butter and black coffee with cream.

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Breakfast is already one of my favorite things in the world- there’s truly nothing I love more than to waking up to toast. But nutty German black bread? I was a goner. But I guess with a surname like Fleckenstein it’s in my blood.

Once Doreta’s son outfitted me with complimentary ski gear (Danke!), we headed to the hill. While we rode the gondolas Doreta spoke German to everyone while I sat and cursed myself for not knowing a word of it.

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Doreta also taught me a neat trick- to carry snacks on the mountain. In my pockets I kept one ziploc of gruyère and one of chocolate, which helped us stay out longer as well as save money on lunch. Genius!

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But despite all the fun I was having, on my first day I was almost in tears. My boots were too big (racing boots are much tighter than recreational ski boots) and I felt so out of practice. It had been almost three years!

But I couldn’t be too upset as after a full day on the hill I got to relish one of my other favorite rituals- après-ski. Because is there anything better than sitting in a toasty living room after a cold day on the slopes, cheeks flushed with a glass of wine, chatting with friends? Well, no, in my opinion.

On my last day in Gstaad Doreta took me for a little spin around town. I loved seeing the little villages, where clothes hang between 18th century chalets. Many chalets had inscriptions on the façade, with the last name of the family, a prayer in German and a date of construction- I saw some that dated back to 1757!

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And between the beautiful blue skies, no-lines skiing and lovely company, I couldn’t have had a better time finally experiencing the Swiss Alps.

Are you a skier? Would you ever want to ski Switzerland?

It’s my 24th Birthday!

It’s my 24th Birthday!

Hey guys! Today I’m 24. Which officially means I’m in my mid-twenties. Is it weird I’m mostly totally okay with that?

First off, I want to thank each and everyone one of you who responded to my twenty-something crisis post. I teared up reading a few of the comments- seriously, you guys are so awesome for sharing your sympathy and wise advice.

Okay, and back to the birthday. My family threw me the loveliest birthday at my lake house, complete with the same strawberry cake I’ve had every year since I was 16. And while I did receive some lovely gifts (a new Swarovski necklace!), the real gift was being home: riding old-fashioned bikes with my brother, sipping champagne with my grandmother, hearing my grandpa’s World War II stories over coffee. I adore my family. ash ash1

Also, I do have some exciting plans in the works. While I don’t want to prematurely announce them, I’m 95% sure of where I’m moving in September- but my lips are sealed until I sign the lease!

Until then, I will be right here. IMG_1981

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And I’m so excited to continue blogging about my world trip- I still have Switzerland, England, Wales, Spain, France, India, Thailand, Malaysia AND Vietnam to cover! There’s so much I can’t wait to share.

And long-time readers may remember that last year I posted a list of 23 things I wanted to accomplish in my 23rd year. Here’s how I did!

COMPLETED: (8/23)

Learn how to scuba-dive, get in the best shape of my life, learn how to cook Asian food, get 3 freelance articles published, fight muay thai, make a conscious effort to keep up my French and Spanish, try Stand Up Paddleboarding, pay off all my debt

WILL COMPLETE (I SWEAR): (10/23)

Move to a new city after the Asia trip, learn how to drive manually, get a job that I love, try surfing again, go to a music festival, volunteer for a great cause, attend a travel blogging or media conference, take a graphic design course, throw a surprise birthday party, run a 5K Color Run

HALF-COMPLETED/DEBATABLE: (5/23)

1. Learn how to use my camera in manual, learn how to shoot in RAW and edit with Lightroom.

I learned how to shoot in manual and use Lightroom, but still don’t know much about RAW. Oops.

2. Buy a new wardrobe.

Um, do a few ASOS dresses and two pairs of jeans count?

3. Buy a custom-design for my site.

Well, I got a new theme. But money was way too tight for a $5,000 redesign.

4. Learn how to do liquid eyeliner like a French girl (yup, still failing after a year).

Yeah. I think I’ve got this one but I’d have to run it by my French friends.

5. Keep blogging!

Well I took an intentional three-month break, but I fully intend to blog regularly now.

. . . . . . . . . .

And for next year? Here are seven goals. (Apparently 23 was far too ambitious!)

1. Make a conscious effort to be happy and make friends wherever I move this year.

2. Post at least one recipe a month on this blog. I miss cooking, especially cooking French food!

3. Stay in shape. I’d love to run my first 5K and get into pilates.

4. Keep up my French and Spanish. Y’all know how much I love languages.

5. Write handwritten thank you cards. It’s just classy.

6. Get better at dancing. Perhaps belly-dancing or salsa?

7. Try a wreck dive. Now that I’m an Advanced Open Water diver I’d love to do this.

. . . . . . . . . .

So, do you set goals at your birthday? Or is it just me?