Heidi? More like Fleidi!

Have you ever dreamed of being able to fly? Is your secret super-powers wish to fly? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can do it! We did it!

Let me Tarantino it back to the beginning. In the early fall, I started thinking about where I might want to travel for my October break. We were going to the wedding of some dear friends the first weekend and I knew Alex would be busy with classes at the beginning of the week. I thought I might get away for a solo trip and began thinking back to my middle school days when I first got the travel bug. Where did I most want to go? I remembered having seen something about extreme sports in the most beautiful setting when I was reading NatGeo Kids. I had always told myself that when I got to Europe I would go there. So it was decided. I started doing some research on Interlaken, Switzerland.

Alex initially seemed reluctant – whether it was because of the time he needed to write his dissertation or because of his apprehension of being locked in a 1 room boathouse with me for 4 days – but eventually he got on board and we booked the trip. I told him, to make it worth his time, he could choose an extreme activity and I would participate, no questions asked.

river

So on Thursday morning, after a nightmare of luggage troubles at the airport, we finally made it to Switzerland. We actually flew into Basel and took the bus from the aiport to the train station. Sounds like a children’s transportation book or something… Anyway, the airport is actually in France so when you arrive, you have to choose which set of customs doors you want to go through – France or Switzerland/Germany. Definitely a unique travel moment!

We checked in to our Airbnb, which was a converted boathouse on the channel leading to Lake Brienz. The boathouse included kayaks and bicycles which we made good use of. Because the water is glacial runoff, it is a super vivid blue-green color. I never got tired of looking at it. We were overdue for lunch so we headed to Huesi Bierhaus for some wursts and beer. We found most of the beer menus in Interlaken to be Belgian, so we really had to seek out a local beer to try. I guess it is clear, when you travel around Europe, who does beer best. Queue Carly Simon. We had a little walk around town which is mostly cozy restaurants and a lot of Swiss Army knife and watch shops. Sunset was around 5:30-6:00 and it was getting pretty dark so we headed to the Coop and bought provisions for our little kitchen. We decided to do an ultra-glamorous frozen pizza for dinner that night and to grab eggs, bananas, and sandwich accoutrements to pack lunches for the weekend. Restaurants in Switzerland can be quite expensive, Switzerland is not exactly known for its cuisine (besides fondue/raclette, chocolate, and beef); so we figured we could save a few francs by dining in a few times. I had also made pumpkin banana muffins before leaving Brussels and had packed them along with some other snacks in our backpacks. Back at the apartment, we were inspired by the shooting location of “On Her Majesty’ Secret Service” so we made our pizza and watched a little James Bond.

Friday morning was a beautiful, clear day and we were SO happy because this was the day we booked our extreme activity. Alex decided on hang gliding and booked two flights through Fly Bumblebee. You can choose from a range of pickup locations so we just walked back across the river to the train station. The guys from Bumblebee were in a white van with the gliders secured to the roof and were jamming to some classic rock. They made jokes the whole way up the mountain so we were laughing and having a good time instead of getting nervous about flying. I’m convinced this is part of their plan. We got to the drop off point and the guys put the frames together. They pushed the glider frames uphill and we carried the harnesses and helmets. The launch point is just a grassy knoll with a steep grassy drop off. After we assembled the gliders (much like pitching a tent), we did a little practice run. Because you are tethered to your guide for a tandem flight, you have to be able to run in sync for a smooth and balanced launch. After we had a little Go Pro photo shoot, my guide, Peter, announced that we were first to go. I wasn’t nervous at all, ran the steps smoothly and quickly, and felt the glider lift off the ground. The flight was so smooth and so beautiful, looking down over the mountains, the lakes, and the towns. We did a little rollercoaster action by stalling and dropping which was so fun but I got snot everywhere. Apparently, it happens. I was able to look back and see Alex and his guide, Toby, as they were descending behind us. In the center of town is a large field with cows (with authentic cowbells!) and that is where you land and pack up. We came in pretty quickly but all in all, the landing was much less intense than I had anticipated. Alex landed and then the others from our group and we took a few more pictures. We had so much fun and we definitely recommend gliding with Fly Bumblebee if you are ever in that area.

kayaking

We headed back to the apartment, ate lunch, and changed out of our flying clothes. Alex needed to dedicate some time (on the porch overlooking the channel and mountains, no less) to writing an essay so I decided to take the kayak out to Lake Brienz solo. On one hand, the water was so pristine and clear, the lake was so quite and solitary, and the weather was amazing, On the other hand, it was a little too quiet and a little too eerie and I’m strong enough to admit that I got a little freaked out a few times. I only ever passed one other boat and that was just as I was returning to the house. I passed a little set of waterfalls, a huge white cliffside, and tons and tons of fall foliage. Such a beautiful setting for a quiet kayak ride. When I got back, I joined Alex on the porch with my Kindle and read for a bit. We headed into town on the bikes for a bit of Christmas shopping for family and then to Brasserie 17 to redeem our free beers from our hang gliding tour. We enjoyed people watching and trying a few local beers. I even had one called Jungfrau Weisse (named after the tallest mountain in the area). After that, we walked a bit and found our dinner reservation at Restaurant Laterne. Initially, I was worried that I had been led astray by my trusty travel blogs and TripAdvisor. It seemed a bit seedy and sports-bar-ish… complete with a huge cigarette dispenser by the door. Once we got our menus though, we realized we had hit the jackpot. Laterne brags something like 8 fondue choices and 7 roschti choices. After soup, we went for 1 of each. We chose the classic fondue with pieces of bread for dipping and the house roschti, which is similar to a hashbrown breakfast skillet but add wursts and thick slices of bacon instead. We made the chilly walk back to our apartment and left the bikes chained up in town (no drinking and driving, ya know).

Saturday morning was totally foggy – to the point that you wouldn’t even know we were surrounded by mountains. We had a lazy morning and opted to ride the bikes out to the Geissbach Falls.  Most of the way there was uphill and the bicycles were not super high quality, so we both ended up pushing them for a bit.  There also were not helmets so we were being quite careful to go slow and not bust our brains out as we went higher and higher. We finally arrived at the falls and were able to hike a ways up next to them. At the top, while I was sitting and resting on a rock, the fog burned off and we were able to see the mountain range. There were still heavy clouds below us so it was like sitting up in the sky for awhile. We rode the bicycles back downhill with the wind in our hair and headed into town for dinner at El Azteca. The owner is from Mexico and boasts the most authentic menu we’ve had since moving to Europe. Still not quite the same, but my Texan tummy was satisfied. Great margaritas and excellent guacamole. The best part was that it was Halloween so some patrons were also celebrating Dia de los Muertos early and the owner along with a customer and the hired musician played guitars and sang really fun songs in Spanish.

basel

Sunday morning, we packed up and headed out to catch the train to Basel. We had a few hours in town so we had a walk to the Rhine River and around the altstadt. We made it to the aiport in the fog and, long story short, weren’t actually able to fly until late Monday morning back to Brussels. I won’t post all of the gory details but it was stressful and frustrating but we survived and my students seem no worse for the wear after having a sub.

We would definitely recommend Interlaken for a long weekend if you are interested in a very sporty/active area but also enjoy picturesque backdrops. We would also recommend saving up for a trip like this, and do what you can to mitigate costs. We spent quite a bit on the hang gliding but planned well for food and took part in other free activities (kayaking and cycling to the waterfalls). Hiking is also obviously free but the fog hindered any views we would have so we forwent it. Our Airbnb was a studio and quite small so therefore cheaper than a hotel in town, but we spend very little time at our actual places of lodging when we travel and my bottom-line priorities are a clean restroom and comfortable bed. Long story short, don’t let an “expensive” destination scare you from going. We were able to have a great time without paying 5 star prices. It can be done.