Tag Archives: Alps

Intensely interesting interactions in Interlaken

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…

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The Tour of Annecy

“Put your clothes on and get the fuck out of my house! And please remove my turnip strainer from your anus!”

Just another day in the home on paragliding, Annecy, France. I opened my eyes to see a very bashful, very naked Hamster hurriedly throwing his clothes into his bag. His arms and legs were heavily bruised, and he had bite marks on his abdomen. The owner of the slum we were staying in, Adrian, was waving a carving knife around violently.

“We have to leave right now,” Hamster wept. “I think I’ve made a social faux pas.”

The apartment looked worse than I remembered, which is saying something. Empty beer bottles, blood in the walls, a TV-shaped hole in one of the windows, that sort of thing. I couldn’t really blame Adrian for kicking up a stink. I had a crushing hangover and felt like Antifa had spent the night kicking my head in, but when Hamster says we should vamos, we vamos, so that’s what we did.

I thought we might have to suck dicks in exchange for accommodation but Hamster, as always, had a plan up his sleeve.

“I met a bloke last night who has a tent we can sleep in,” he slurred, and I put plans for prostitution on hold. “He was wearing pants made out of hemp and had a man bun, but how bad can his place be?”

And that’s how Hamster and I ended up sleeping in a tipi in the middle of a hippie commune.

The farm ended up being absolutely wonderful, with wide open fields far below the peaks of the Alps. Accommodation is bloody expensive in this part of the world, so camping is definitely the way to go unless you’re made of money. After settling into the tipi and struggling through a sun worshipping ceremony and 90-minute yoga session, I was keen as mustard to get up the hill and go flying, but Hamster had other things on his mind.

“I’d like to harvest some carrots and then cook a vegan casserole,” he told me, already inspired by his new surroundings. “And Pierre has an interpretive dance workshop that I’d hate to miss, so can we put a pin in the paragliding thingy for now?”

Hamster has a history turning into a hippie for no real reason, so I know the only way to snap him out of it. I slipped a few shots of rum into his kale and quinoa smoothie while he was hugging a tree, and soon he was pulling out man buns left, right and centre and munching sausages in front of horrified vegetarians, so I chucked him in the car and took him up to launch.

The conditions were even better than the day before, and our luck got even better when paragliding guru Marque and the gang rocked up. I’m telling you, the paragliding community is so warm and inclusive, and there are plenty of people willing to share their time and knowledge without expecting anything in return. There were hugs all round, then Marque took us aside with a serious expression on his face.

“I truly believe that you two have what it takes to be legendary gods of the sky,” he said honestly. “Perhaps it is the way you take to the heavens with confidence and skill. Perhaps it’s the way you can drink cheap vodka upside down without vomiting. But today you will take the next step in your training, by completing the Petit Tour du Lac.

The Petit Tour du Lac is the beginner’s circuit around the bottom half of Lake Annecy, and provides a good challenge without the complications that come with going the whole way. It’s not an easy task, but with Marque’s smooth voice wafting through our radios, Hamster and I launched towards our destinies.

I’m telling you, it was rough as guts up there, but we were soon getting great height as we climbed towards the 50 or 60 gliders above us. Once we pulled in 1800 metres of height we jumped over to the next mountain range, and I was close to filling my pants as I sunk out, got thrown around, and generally had a tough time of it. But I made it, Hamster made it, Marque made it, and the view was unreal.

We thermalled up to 2100 metres and then cut across the lake, and that big, blue bugger looks beautiful from a couple of kilometres up. We made it across easily, and soon we were riding above ancient castles and cobblestone streets, before racing along a steep ridge. The view from the top of Doussard was superb, and soon we were spiralling down into the valley, thirsty for an ice cold French beer or 18.

Of course, Marque and the gang got us roaring drunk, and when we were at the point of starting fights with pot plants, the big man took us to the side once more.

“You boys really proved yourselves up there today,” he slurred whilst holding onto the bar to prevent himself falling over. “I think it’s time for you to meet Gabrielle.”

“Sure thing,” I chirped. “Does she have big tits?”

“No, but feel free to give them a squeeze if you want,” said a handsome man with a shock of white hair. “My name is Gabrielle. Or as my friends call me, The Eagle of Annecy.”

It’s not every day you meet perhaps the greatest paraglider pilot of all time, so I might save that story for next time!