Saturday, September 8, 2007

Ch ch ch…changes

It’s been a few weeks now since Tobias, friends, Norway, and I parted ways, and this is how my life goes on. My temporary home away from home is with my friend Jessica and her boyfriend Marc, nestled in a cozy valley between steep and lush mountains with jagged peaks. Meiringen, situated in the Bernese Oberland, has become the place I return to for fresh air and comfort, maybe some sort of protection by the gods who live here. CH is the abbreviation for Confederation Helvetica, the official name of Switzerland. Although many joke these letters stand for other Swiss specialties – namely cheese and chocolate, for me, CH also represents change.

When I realized my days in Norway were limited, I knew I had to make the best out of my situation. There were still a number of things I hadn’t experienced there, so I rummaged through my collection of brochures and books and created my own tourist guide for the soon-to-be-departing. In actuality, my Plan A was to take advantage of my down and out state and just camp out on the beaches among the islands in the Oslo Fjord, but that plan was foiled when the summer weather didn’t cooperate. So, I concocted Plan B. Aside from one good beach day at the “whale” beach just outside of Oslo, highlights of my Scando-summer included:

catching up on European royalty while touring the Royal Palace in Oslo (;

visiting the Hadeland Glass Factory and blowing a honey jar (;

and leading one tour group from Bergen to Oslo to Stockholm.

It was only the second trip I had made to both Bergen and Stockholm. Even though I was allegedly the leader, at times I felt more like a tourist snapping cool photos and taking in the tales from our well-versed guides. One reason I enjoy travel directing is experiencing destinations through the eyes of the guests. Since many of them are well-travelled, they, too, contribute to the trips by providing enough of their own anecdotes to fill annals of travelogues. How can you not enjoy the down-to-earth people who refer to the elegance and sophistication of a 5 star hotel as it being “a swell motel”? On the other hand, due to sheer group dynamics, there is one (sometimes three) in every group who insists on knowing it all, giving you a hard time, turning up 5 minutes late to everything, etc. While this group was mainly lovely, I was not too disappointed to see them off at the airport and meet Tobias a few hours later.

Yes. We spent our final holiday together, this time as a couple of friends, and while it was fun to run around the city with a Swede, it was miserable knowing that our good times together were all too quickly nearing an end. As an aside, I can recommend a visit to Stockholm to anyone. In fact, this capital city must be included in any real tour of Scandinavia because the variety of museums, attractions, and dining options provides a genuine perspective of Scandinavian life and lore.) After three indulgent days of urban adventures, we climbed in the car and drove to Tobias’ brother’s (Markus) family, just a few hours southwest. Along with his brother’s partner’s father and brother, they recently purchased an old manor house and land out in the country. Formerly a home of many uses (from a wayward girl’s home to a school to a five apartment block), the building is undergoing reconstruction to establish three new apartments. As we walked on unfinished floors, climbed over long rows of timber, and gaped through half knocked out walls, we arrived in our “bedroom”. A large saw, a table, and a pile of sawdust had been pushed aside to make way for two mattresses on the floor. Markus proudly showed us the rough sketches for their new space, which we compared to the original photos of the property on his computer. They lead a semi-hippy lifestyle and it was clear that they felt good about doing most of the work themselves.

And then, before I knew it, the time had come for me to pass through the immigration check point at Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport for the last time. Much to the dismay of the Norwegian immigration authorities, I did not intend to return. (Said a bit tongue in cheek as my so-called permit had perhaps surpassed its 90-day limit).

I have known Meiringen for nearly 10 years and I continue to rank it one of my most favorite places in the world. More than just another small town in the mountains, it is a play ground of alpine activities and village life. I am at ease being a house guest of Jessica and Marc, but when I see them snuggled on the couch, talking about their day, laughing about something silly, I am flooded by memories of my past relationship. Daily life is good here in the valley. We are invited to grill with friends, spend the day at a mountain hut with their families. Even a few “chicken” nights have been arranged. The gossip flies, the kids play, the wine flows. I can’t help but be reminded of the things that I once shared with Tobias. In many ways, my life is not going on, rather just standing still as reality whirls around me. Yes, breaking up is hard to do, but getting over someone, now that is the tough part. It just feels miserable.

Two years ago, ironically when my relationship with Tobias was just beginning, I embarked on a seven-day mountain tour with Jessica, Marc, and several other friends. Now an annual expedition in its third year, this year’s program was shorter but included several 4000m+ summits. Living at sea level for two years, not to mention my lack of sport in recent months, my body was physically not in alpine trekker condition. To summit one of Switzerland’s 4000ers was tempting, though, so when Marc informed me that I was going, I couldn’t decline the offer.

Despite my less than trained condition, these tours are nothing to take lightly. Inside his small and sprightly frame, our mountain guide, Bruno, is hardly a lightweight. Even though his bright blue eyes can’t hide the passion he feels for his job, a quick tug on the rope means business. His job is literally on that line, and we are all bound to him, to each other, to trudge up the mountain at the pace he sets. While summiting is beyond words, and landing back on solid ground an even better feeling, there is something about the togetherness of a mountain tour which is healing. Mountain tours are filled with pre-dawn starts, carbohydrate loaded meals, chocolate and beer and great companionship. We sleep together, eat together, and even pee on the sides of mountains together. With thanks to the rope and the safety it provides, the mind can wander, almost to a meditative state, to overcome both the physical and mental of a climb. On more than one occasion, I have been overcome by emotions knowing that this achievement is in part due to physical ability, but mainly due to mental capacity and the on-going support of friends.

Finally, standing on a snow covered plateau and enveloped in cold wind, we summitted the Weissmies at 4027m (13,212 ft) Bruno started naming the mountain tops in our panorama, but my mind had tuned out. I was freezing and looking forward to the descent, which was predominantly a walk with crampons down the marshmallow crème covered glacier to the moraine. A short dirt path upwards led to the mountain restaurant/gondola station. Mama, I was home. And my feet were killing me. My rental boots proved to be demons when I slipped them off and discovered one bloody sock. Not one for seeing my own blood, I nearly fainted at the sight of a blistered and bloody toe and a cracked toenail. How had I not felt it? How did I manage to make it down? A search for flip flops and the first aid kit commenced. Thankfully, no one minded altering our plans a bit and we headed to the luxury of a hotel in Saas Fee for the night. I met my team later the next day after they summitted another 4000er, the Allalinhorn, before we headed home. I am proud of me and my team because they supported me, they remained flexible, and they returned home only to venture out again the next day and summit the local pyramid-shaped peak, the Wetterhorn.

I forgot to mention that we departed from Meiringen at 6:30am in order to warm up in a gorge…filled with high ropes, caves, repelling, and awesome climbing. Like I said, an alpine playground.

The remainder of my holiday here was not as adrenaline filled, but I managed to enjoy walks with old friends; coffees and beers out in my favorite locales; visits to nearby cities, including a quick trip over the border to Lyon, France; and I finally experienced the very local tradition of bringing the cows down from the alp. What’s ahead? My long term plans (read: 6 months from now) are still undefined. There are a few fabulous options which I am weighing. As for the short term, I return to my role as Travel Director Extraordinaire in a few days my upcoming destinations include: Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Bangkok, The Kingdom of Bhutan, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. Warning: it may sound rock star and glam, but it is indeed a job and a lot of responsibility for elderly, forgetful, stubborn, and all around nutty folks (many of whom are genuinely nice people). A small part of me, which happens to be about the size of my heart, still yearns to return to Oslo. I found a lot of happiness there. However, the rest of me knows that I will be able to do so where ever I make my next home, and for the time being, I feel good here in Switzerland.

And a big danke viel mals to my hostess with the most-ess, Jessica, and (Marky) Marc (a.k.a. Flava Flave). Where would a girl be without a great girlfriend to get her through? Not to mention to impromptu moments of silliness which Marc contributed. Mercy merci.


Christian Bermúdez said...

Nice blog! keep on writing and nice to hear that you are doing good... hope to see you again, here, there, anywhere!

janerj said...

hey! thanks for the comments! i am not so good with the blog, i hardly keep it up to date often enough. and as you see, i don't write friends enough... hope you are well. did you enjoy ffs? i heard it was great, but that is no surprise. what projects do you have going on?