Switzerland is best known for reliable watches, multi-purpose knives, successful tennis players and its lively gangsta rap scene, but all I was really interested in during my visit was climbing a really big mountain and then paragliding into wild. So after bidding adieu to Hamster I headed straight for Interlaken, an adventure playground high up in the Alps that offers something for everyone.
Switzerland (not to be confused with Swaziland – if you’re not sure which one you’re in, just look around and count the black people) is about the size of your average Manly fan’s penis and has great public transport infrastructure, so it’s easy to explore. With some time to kill in Geneva before catching the train to Interlaken, I took a stroll through the buzzing city centre and along Lake Geneva’s lively waterfront. The mixture of history, culture and architecture makes for a stunning place to spend an arvo – shame there was a half-pissed Aussie ruining the authentic Euro feel of the place.
A few hours on a modern train brought me to the fairytale village of Interlaken, with it’s shimmering lakes, cute houses, thunderous mountains and swarms of Chinese tourists. Ignore the throngs of selfie-snapping shitheads and it’s easy to fall in love with the place. The sweet scent of freshly-baked bread and cakes wafts through the streets, and the sound of energetic music competes with bird songs for attention. There’s something beautiful to see on every corner, it’s easy to get around, and there are usually paragliders soaring through the air, so it’s pretty much a slice of heaven.
As the name suggests, Interlaken is in-ter-middle of a couple of wonderful lakes. The water is cold year-round, but slug a few cans of Quöllfrisch and they’re fine to swim in. There are dozens of hikes to take on, a couple of funicular railways that look like they’d be plenty of fun(icular) if they didn’t cost so much, and the opportunity to go bungy jumping, sky diving and jet boating. Whether you’re poor as a dog’s foot or have cash falling out your anus, there’s no reason to be bored in Interlaken.
A word of warning, Interlaken is more expensive than a Filipino mail order bride, and even a night in a bog-standard hotel costs as much as buying a three-bedroom house in Wyong. Luckily, there’s a cheaper option – the less-than-salubrious Balmers Tent Village. The beds aren’t comfortable, the toilets aren’t clean, and the whole shebang feels like its going to blow away in anything more than a gentle breeze, but at least it’s in the price range of your average drunken Aussie. The fact the old birds I was sharing my tent with brought me breakfast in bed each morning didn’t hurt, either (even if it left me wondering whether they’d been sucking me off in my sleep).
Interlaken is the heart of the rugged Bernese Oberland region, but there are lots of great little villages surrounding it, and they’re all worth checking out. I caught the train to Grindelwald – which is sure to put a grin on anyone’s face – and was astonished by how beautiful it was. The mountains are so enormous and imposing they even put the Andes to shame, and as the sun peeked through the clouds and shone off the verdant green pastures and eternal glaciers, I really felt like I was somewhere special.
There’s a cable car to the 2166m-high First summit, but it costs $90, so being a
work-shy deadshit budget-conscious backpacker I decided to hike it instead. It’s not a particularly tough trip, and the views are unreal, but it is pretty bloody dangerous. Not because of avalanches or rockslides, but because the path up the hill is shared with Asians scooting back down on go-karts. Our little Oriental mates aren’t great drivers at the best of times, and their skills don’t magically get better when hooning down the side of an astonishingly steep mountain at 150km/h.
When I made it to the top I looked out in wonder at the magnificent landscape in front of me, then got the hell out of there before anyone could ask me to join the search party for the half-a-dozen Chinamen who zoomed off the cliff to their deaths that afternoon. All in all, not a bad way to check out the Swiss Alps, but now it was time to fly over them…