After returning from Switzerland I was faced with hard reality
and a wake-up call. I had two weeks left and so much to do! I spent two full days writing papers, and cranked them out in A+ form. I started working out like a mad woman – jogging through Kensington Gardens every day after class. One day
I came home to find a care package from my boyfriend Tom, with gifts, letters and pictures – (this conveniently made me more excited than ever to see him). I said goodbye’s to my professors, popping sparkling champaign with my English
professor and getting drunk in the last class; and had a “Secret Santa” party amongst our flat mates. We Americans wanted to leave London in style, so on one of our last nights we rented a pimped out party bus which took us all around London for over three hours – stopping at our favorite spots for pictures and toasts to our time spent together.
Next came the dreaded Finals week which every college student must experience, even when 3,000 miles away from campus. Two massive Globalization essays and four exams later (all in 3 days), I was done! When I left my last exam, walking to the tube in the rain, massaging my aching wrist from all the writing, I felt exuberant knowing I was halfway done with my final year of College.
I spent that night packing, squeezing in some last-chance bonding time with what were now close friends, and holding in my growing anticipation of returning to the land of the free. Our group said final goodbyes with a drunken private party at our favorite Notting Hill bar, ‘Tex Mex’. One by one my fellow travelers made their way home. I was the last to leave. My last day in London_ the bustling, adventurous, extraordinary city I called home the past four months, was Friday, December 19th, 2008.
After buying souvenirs and saying my final and tearful goodbye to my friend Cat, I dressed my best and hauled my luggage to Heathrow Airport. My emotions were completely scattered, though I was mostly excited… I had barely slept the night before. It seemed like just the other day I was arriving at that very spot, completely unaware of what was to follow. Looking back, there isn’t a thing I would change. I can say with confidence that I learned more in those four months than I ever had. I was thrown into unfamiliar situations and tackled them solo, made genuine friendships with people very different from myself, experienced eclectic cultures and destinations completely new, and fell deeply in love with travel. It is a chapter in my life I will never forget.
My flight home was long and exciting. As I felt the wheels of the plane touch down on American soil in Chicago, my heart was racing. After surviving baggage claim, I finally saw my Tom, greeting me with a dozen red roses. We shared a kiss that said it all, and as he picked up my suitcase and we walked out the door hand in hand, I felt overwhelming comfort in being taken care of again.
I knew I was home…
The week after my friends left I found myself refreshed, my homesickness cured, and my excitement for the weekend to come escalating rapidly. But first I had a fun week in London ahead of me. Monday brought December with it, and a Christmas decorating party at the flat to celebrate. Tuesday my Literature professor brought our class to the impressive Imperial War Museum where we threw ourselves into the history, climbed atop gigantic war missiles, and wondered life-size submarine replicas. Wednesday brought an afternoon tea party at the house, then an adventure for me downtown…
A few weeks prior, my Theatre class was privileged with a field trip to the famous British theatre where we toured the opera houses, got to stand center stage, and play with the actual props, set designs, and costumes backstage. We even got to peek in on an actual ballet rehearsal for the professionals who were doing a show later that night. Watching the ballerinas’ elegant poise and effortless grace, I was inspired to buy a ticket to my very first ballet. That I did… the date approached fast and Wednesday night I headed downtown solo for my first ballet experience. I marveled at the gorgeous choreography and natural beauty of the dancers onstage. They wore elaborate costumes and danced to a live orchestra for the three hour show which enveloped me start to finish. The ballet was called ‘Ondine’, a unique portrayal of a fantasy underwater world complete with a love triangle, spell, and classic good versus evil. It was quite the treat!
That night I came home to pack, forcing bulky ski gear into my small carryon, and preparing to bundle up for a snowy weekend in Switzerland…
I boarded a flight, (with fellow self-proclaimed black run skiiers Kathryn, Pearson, and Xanthy), and off we flew into the mountains. Our trip was not finished when we sleepily arrived in Zurich, as we had three more trains to conquer, one being a pricey 3 ½ hour ride deep into the mountains to our ultimate destination of Zermatt. The pitch black night engulfed the scenery, so we had no conception of where we were or how deep into the Swiss Alps we had traveled. Our tired eyes flew open when we ecstatically stepped onto the train platform to witness gigantic snow flurries dancing around us! We had arrived in the winter wonderland!
Our arrival was late at night, leaving us to a desolate town
blanketed in about two feet of snow. After traversing the ghost town for over an hour in hopes of spotting our hidden hotel, (and allowing chivalrous Pearson to haul our bags through the snow), we finally found the place camouflaged within a hilly road. The four of us shared a tiny room (Zermatt can be pricey otherwise), so we bundled up and set our alarm clocks for early the next morning. We quickly fell into a slumber amidst this snowy place, and visions of sugar-plums danced in our heads…
The next day we awoke to a perfect day in Zermatt. The sun beamed from the cloudless blue sky, shimmering along the fresh powder that lay on the
ground from the night before. The group and I explored the tiny town on foot – making our way up to a ski rental shop where we promptly threw down our credit cards for a chance to fly down the slopes. The tiny ski town is home to local families who run the adorable shops and restaurants, (which were dressed in Christmas décor this month), and whose children literally ski and snowboard to school and home. The ski bunnies were everywhere – and I was overly impressed with the tiny tots who were no doubt better at skiing then walking. The entire population of Zermatt is merely 5,700 – and it is a completely car-free town, which makes it even more magical. The only vehicles allowed are for public
transit, and they are almost all battery-driven and completely silent. I felt like I was in a different world – perhaps the North Pole. Maybe Kris Kringle was around the corner…
On our trek down to the local bus which shuttled us to the chair lifts, I kept stopping to take in the views, and my jaw kept hitting the floor. Zermatt is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
Simple as that.
After buying ski passes and making our way up the everlasting chair lifts (it took over 45 minutes of chair lifts just to get to the top of these natural giants!), we got our legs used to the art of skiing. (“We” excluding Xanthy, who promptly named the mountains too difficult to ski, and quit after her tumultuous descent). And then there were three… Kathryn, Pearson, and I could not be happier with the ski conditions. We were here a bit early in the season, leaving minimal tourists – and the mountains virtually to ourselves. The ski runs in Zermatt are atop four groups of mountains, the most well-known being the Matterhorn (recognize the name from Disney World?). The skiing is world-class; you can even ski your way over the border into Italy!
Skiing the never-ending trails of fresh powder without seeing a single other person was truly the highlight of the trip. Not only are the ski runs nonstop, but the views are unrivaled. (I have skied Colorado and Utah which are amazing of course, but Switzerland takes the cake!) We spent the entire day
skiing every run we could find, facing a constant battle of ski versus stop-and-stare. At one point, we somewhat-novice skiers ducked under a fence to go off-roading in about 4 feet of untouched snow! We could see only the tops of trees buried in the powder to help guide us along – and took a countless amount of hilarious spills on the way down. We were happy to do it, though, because our reward was a secret trail amongst the tree line which circled the entire mountain, just a few feet away from the edge. The view of Zermatt nestled
between the commanding mountains was priceless.
We skied until our legs couldn’t take it anymore, and our cameras’ memory cards were out of space. The gang reunited to shower up, dress in matching rugby jerseys we bought in Ireland, and eat a delicious meal at a local restaurant complete with traditional Swiss fondue. We toasted German beers to our amazing feet… we had skied the world-renowned Matterhorn.
The next day my friends left, but there was no way I was making this trip so short! I opted to stay alone for the next two days, getting everything I could out of this winter wonderland. So I woke up to some free breakfast at the hotel, munching on Swiss cheese (how fitting) and made my way back to the base of the Matterhorn. This time, I challenged myself to ride every chair lift to the very top, until I couldn’t go any further. Today’s
weather was quite the opposite of my sunny experience yesterday. As the chairlifts increased in altitude, the temperature dropped. A whiteout blizzard had engulfed the mountains and I could barely see ten feet in front of me… now THIS was a challenge! I fought the elements and strapped on my tinted goggles for the rough ride ahead.
Skiing down the steep mountains, flurries hitting my goggles,
wind whipping my face, I fought to stay in sync with my skis. I conquered run after run, taking many breaks along the way as my legs were burning. This was some of the toughest skiing I had ever done – I was alone without many people around, hidden in amidst the white noise – trapped within mountains I couldn’t even see. An adventure it was! When I finally made it down after a few hours, I was proud of my accomplishment, and weak in the knees. I sipped espresso at a tiny shop, and rested before returning my loyal skis on the other side of town.
My night was spent getting into the Christmas spirit. I followed
a golden string of lights to the sound of live music and ate a delicious pasta dinner at a bar, making friends with the Swiss bartender. My last day, I leisurely strolled the town on foot, enjoying the sunshine and views. I walked through a small gravesite for locals with some of the most elaborate gravestones I have seen, built a miniature snowman, and took photos of the gorgeous Matterhorn gleaming in the sun. I hopped on the free bus that took me around town, watching locals and tourists get on and off with their skis. Though I wished I could have sped down the mountains just a few more times, it wasn’t in my budget and I had an afternoon train to catch. Little did I know before
boarding the train, my adventure had not come to an end.
I felt like I was aboard the Hogwarts Express as our cozy red
train wound back and forth through the snowy peaks. I stared out the window in awe the entire three hours… the views were indescribable! I marveled at the engineering of the speedy train that transported travelers to such a faraway place. The steel vessel passed creeks and waterfalls, greenery and snow; it took quick turns alongside the steep cliffs, and conquered the endless range of mountains. It took me one delayed flight and twelve total hours to get back to
London. It did not matter though; the trip proved to be one of the best experiences of my life.
For the pictures from this trip, visit the Photos Page or Click Here.