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. 

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?

Murano: The Perfect Daytrip from Venice

Murano: The Perfect Daytrip from Venice

While I spent majority of my time in Venice lazily wandering the canals, one day the group and I mustered up the energy to lazily wander the canals of another island- Murano.

Murano is famed for its glass-making, and upon arriving I realized the entire island truly is glass-obsessed- I even spied glass pastries in the shop-windows.

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While I wasn’t a fan of most of the glass for sale (mainly because I can’t stand millefiori) I did spot some ruby-red goblets à la Pablo Neruda I have long coveted. But alas, world trips don’t lend themselves well to delicate glass goblets.

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For lunch we stepped into a little hole-in-the-wall crowded with workers in technicolor orange uniforms. As always with Edna, I was in for the meal of my life: seafood pasta brimming with mussels, moist salmon in a spicy green pepper sauce, bitter spritzes to accompany.

The company wasn’t bad either.

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After lunch we ambled up and down the canals and took about a million photos. I particularly loved snapping shots of the antique wooden boats moored up around the island- my family has a 1957 Chris Craft at our cottage so they’re very near to my heart!

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Before leaving the island we stopped for gelato, my daily indulgence in Italy. Sitting there, basking in the warmth of the Italian sun with hazelnut and chocolate gelato dripping down my fingers, I joked about how my life is exactly like Eat Pray Love. And realized that I’m totally fine with that.

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Have you ever visited Murano?

Carnevale in Venice: My Favorite Experiences

Carnevale in Venice: My Favorite Experiences

I arrived in Venice at night by vaporetto, the boat rocking gently as I observed the promenade. I could faintly smell seaweed as I stepped out of the boat, the cobblestones illuminated by ornate street lamps as passersby strolled past in 18th century carnevale costumes. I looked up and to my surprise, saw stars.

From the start, Venice felt both magical and bizarre, like a cross between a James Bond film and medieval time travel. And needless to say, I quickly fell in love with the surreal, sinking city.

And while visiting Venezia I didn’t see one museum, because damn it, after the Midwest’s polar vortex I wanted to enjoy some Italian sunshine.

Here are the highlights from my lovely week in Venice.

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Staying in a Gorgeous Rental House in Zattere

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Thanks to the lovely Edna‘s invitation, in Venice I stayed with her group of friends in a stunning canal-side house. The house was located in Zattere, a residential neighborhood with a wide waterfront promenade.

I think bunking up in a residential area was among the reasons I fell so hard for Venice- sipping my cappuccino while watching runners in the morning and groups of surly teenagers smoking cigarettes after school was so much more interesting than being among fellow tourists. IMG_5526

Also, in our beautiful six-bedroom home we were able to cook every night. When it was my turn to make dinner I prepared tortilla de patatas, a Spanish classic, and we enjoyed fresh fish, beautiful vegetables and fondue on other nights.

Joe taught us how to make spritzes and negronis too. (Which I thought tasted like cough medicine. So much for being sophisticated.)

And next to our house was a charming cicchetti bar, Cantinone Gia’ Schiavi. Cicchetti are the Italian cousin of pintxos, little appetizers on bread. I particularly loved the creamy gorgonzola and walnut- yum.

 

Sampling the (Somewhat Dangerous) Local Wine

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On the way home one evening, Lizard and I stopped at La Freschetteria, a wine bar where the owners fill up plastic jugs of wine for you for only a few euros. We opted for a prosecco and red sparkling wine (raboso).

Well, it turns out, this wine was… overly effective. After a wild night out at a Venetian club we deemed the wine to be roofie juice, devil wine and the most dangerous substance in all of Venice.

Having Fried Doughnuts and Italian Coffee for Breakfast

Apparently in Venice it’s tradition to eat fried doughnuts, or fritelle, during Carnevale. As a Detroiter this very felt familiar as we eat pączki on Fat Tuesday.

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And of course, when it Italy you have to imbibe as much coffee as reasonably (or not) possible. Because as we all know Italian coffee is the nectar of the gods. IMG_5726

Wandering the City

Venice is a labyrinth. So many times we hit dead ends while wandering (and in Venice a dead end is water), and eventually we realized it’s easier to to just take a vaporetto than to navigate the canals.

But whenever we got lost we just drank more coffee, so no loss, right?

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Disappointments

You guys know I keep it real on this blog, so I wanted to detail what I didn’t love about Venetian Carnevale.

Well, Carnevale as a whole was a disappointment. While I was expecting merry-making and dancing, what I got was occasionally seeing someone walk past in a costume.

I highly recommend coming to Venice but probably not during Carnevale. It seems better suited for older people- it’s not as much a young person’s festivity.

And aside from the cicchetti and one venison ragù with fresh pasta, the food in Venice was the worst I’ve had in Italy. Plus, it was highly over-priced.

But overall I had a fantastic time in Venice. Venice made me realize how arrogant a traveler I’ve become- I had put off coming to Venice for years because I thought I’d hate it. And I am so glad that hubris didn’t sway me from visiting this winter.

Have you ever visited Venice? Would you want to go for Carnevale?

NYC is for Besties

NYC is for Besties

New York City- the first stop on my four-month round-the-world adventure, and one of my favorite cities in the world.

This year I ventured to the Big Apple with my best friend, Alyssa, also known affectionately as Lizard. (And it wasn’t our first trip- one year we both worked backstage at New York Fashion Week together!)

The first item of business after six months of not seeing each other? Craft beer. Obviously.
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After lunch we headed back to our cozy room at the Best Western Seaport Inn. Seaport Inn is truly a gem, with fluffy beds and prime views of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is located in the Seaport neighborhood, a pocket of charm and calm in the financial district with a beautiful waterfront and quaint brick streets.

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Our second order of business? Wandering. From roaming under red lanterns in Chinatown to pretend-shopping for my dream brownstone in the Meatpacking District to stopping for coffees the size of my head at Angélique, NYC was lovely as usual.

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I’ve noticed my favorite American cities are the ones geographically confined to an island or peninsula like NYC or San Francisco. The space limitation makes cities walkable and leads to neighborhoods being jam-packed with cafés, restaurants and bars. (Kind of like Europe, ha.)

Also we made a few stops at my favorite shops on Bleeker: Bond, Alexis Bittar, MAC (where I tried on Ruby Woo, MAC’s most dramatic red lipstick of course).

And I noticed my favorite French shops popping up all of NYC: Zadig & Voltaire, ASH, Comptoir des Cotonniers. (I use favorite loosely- I have never bought anything from any of those stores. I would like to though!)

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Chelsea Market

The next day we headed to Chelsea Market per the recommendation of C’est Christine. Um, guys, the next time you’re in NYC, please go there.

Chelsea Market is an indoor market with excellent food, trendy clothes and vintage jewelry- all of the good things in life, right? I resisted buying some vintage 1970s gold and onyx jewelry but it was a very close call. (My backpacker budget doesn’t allow for many $70 pairs of earrings, sadly.) IMG_5408

And because I couldn’t decide between green curry pie and a bánh mì, I had Italian. (Even though I was days away from heading to Venice. Sue me.)

At Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina Lizard and I ordered pasta e fagiole, a.k.a. butter-soft beans with homemade pasta, as well as a side of roasted brussels sprouts. Because we like to pretend to be healthy.

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Highline Park

After lunch we stretched our legs at Highline Park, a railroad turned park à la one of my favorite spots in Paris, the Promenade plantée.

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While I imagine Highline would be better in summer, we still enjoyed our brownies while basking in the weak winter sun. IMG_5364   IMG_5431

And then? We were off to Europe!

Seaport Inn offered me a night’s stay in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are my own.