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That Time I Was Hiking Through The Swiss Alps

May 1, 2013


(My dorky souvenir hat from
my visit to the magically
beautiful Swiss Alps.)

About an hour after I posted “Have a Blog, Will Travel,” I was in the grocery store and got a text from my sister.

“You forgot to mention Switzerland. How could you forget Switzerland?”

In the post, I listed some of the places my wife and I have had the good fortune to visit. And I did, indeed, forget to mention Switzerland. I hit the “edit” button and fixed that oversight. Later, I talked to my sister on the phone, and she asked me how in the world I could have forgotten “THAT HIKE?”

The answer is: I could never forget that hike. It slipped my mind at the time I was writing that post, but I could never forget it.

Here’s what happened…

In 1997, or thereabouts, my sister, her husband, my wife and myself went to Europe for a rollicking two-week vacation. Our first major stop was Wengen, Switzerland. We stayed at the Hotel Eiger. (When I regale this tale, I always ask the same question: “Have you ever seen The Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood.” Invariably, 99.9% of the time, I get blank looks and a, “Huh?” Sometimes, I think I’m the only person who ever watched that movie. If ever I’m walking the lovely streets of Carmel, and I have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Eastwood, I’ll ask him if he enjoyed making The Eiger Sanction. I won’t be a bit surprised if he replies, “Huh?”) Interlaken is at the base of Mount Eiger and the Swiss Alps.

The hotel was run by a young, industrious and very nice Portuguese family. I enjoyed talking with them in our mother tongue, although I quickly exhausted my Portuguese vocabulary, as the words head, face, nose and belly are difficult to work consistently into every sentence during an average conversation. (I could have called the manager’s parental origins into question, thanks to a Portuguese phrase I learned from my father, but I decided that restraint was the way to go.) Fortunately, they spoke excellent English.

The next morning, we decided to go up into the Alps and do some hiking. We went to the modern-looking tram that would take us up to our goal. We studied the huge sign in the office that displayed the various lift rates. My wife, who is always looking for a way to save money, suggested we pay only for a one-way ticket, because we could simply hike back down the quaint, little switchback trail into town. As I was the only dissenter, I was outvoted, one-way tickets were purchased, and off we went.

The tram dropped us off at a rolling, grass-covered vista that was breathtaking and made me feel that at any moment, Julie Andrews would come walking over the rise, with her arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive…” we took lots of photos of each other with the spectacular Alps in the background. I remember saying to my sister, “Go ahead—try to take a lousy photo. Try! I dare you!” it wasn’t possible. Everywhere you pointed the camera, the frame was filled with beauty and majesty.

Finally, it was time to start our hike back into town by using the quaint little switchback trail. The only problem was that there was no quaint little switchback trail. Instead we found a dirt road that meandered down the mountain and if there had been a helpful informational sign posted, it would have read: “Wengen: 20 miles.” Well, actually, if a helpful sign had existed, it would have read: “Wengen: 32.1869 kilometers.”

At first, the walk was exhilarating. To our left were the stark white, snow-covered Alps. Eiger and Jungfrau, rose into a perfectly clear blue sky. It was truly a gorgeous day in a gorgeous land.


Explosives echoed in the distance, followed by the rumbling of cloudy-looking avalanches cascading down the mountainside. Ski conditions were being improved and made safer right before our eyes.

A couple hours went by, and we were still walking. Festive and energetic conversation was now mostly heavy, puffed-out breaths accompanied by slight grunts with each step we took.

I turned to my sister. “Just think,” I said, trying to sound cheerful, “next week when we’re back at our jobs, we can work the sentence—You know, the other day, when I was hiking through the Swiss Alps—into our conversations. It’ll be great.”

My sister, at this point in her life, was in top physical condition. (Periodically, She’d take these short, guided biking getaways and would always be in the lead, going, “Oh, look, isn’t that pretty. My, that’s scenic, I must say. You don’t see that where I come from.” Meanwhile, everyone else would be head down, teeth clenched and having heart attacks trying to keep up with her.) The shoes my sister wore weren’t marathon-hike-in-the-Swiss-Alps approved, so after who-knows-how-many-more miles of walking, her feet blistered and began to bleed. And that’s when She got serious and was soon ahead of my wife and me and stayed ahead of us all the way back into Wengen.

When we got back to our hotel rooms, we collapsed onto our beds and went into coma-like naps until it was dinnertime. We found a restaurant and we had our taste buds set for native Swiss cuisine. We were informed by the headwaiter that the special that night was Chinese food. I kid you not. While I thought that was the most hilarious thing I’d experienced in over twenty-four hours, my brother-in-law was livid. He took it as a personal insult that he’d come over 9,000 miles to Switzerland, to bask in the food, wine and culture, only to be served Chinese food. How dare they! Fortunately, the chef was an understanding chap, and we were served offerings that were more indigenous to the area. My brother-in-law probably ordered Swiss steak, I’m not sure.

Anyways, that’s why my sister couldn’t believe that I left Switzerland off my list. Understandable. To this day, she and I jokingly refer to that walk back to Wengen as “the quaint little hike of great sorrow and pain.”

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  1. jennymiller62 permalink

    This is a hilarious story, and you are a great storyteller. Thank you for following my blog!

  2. Thank you, Jenny. Glad you enjoyed the story. And you have wonderful blog. I look forward to reading more of your work.

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