This is it

December 6, 2009

The transition from New Zealand to the US was quite dramatic. I entered a completely different world. The one common factor is the English language, but that’s about it. Even then I had to realize that the “no worries, mate” did not get me very far in the US. It took me a couple of days to adjust and meanwhile people probably thought I came from a strange planet. The other big change was that we were back in the Northern hemisphere where the sunset is at around 5pm at this time of the year.

My arrival in Los Angeles was off to a bad start anyway. After a 14 hour flight we touched down at around 6am and as I walked off the plane it felt like sleepwalking. So I walk up to the immigration officer who engages me in the usual chitchat.

Q: What do you do for a living?

A: I am unemployed

Q: How long have you been unemployed?

A: For about 9 months

Q: How long will you stay in the US?

A: About 6 days

Q: Can I see your ticket?

A: Sure!

The officer kept starring at my ticket and by then it dawned on me that I had not yet changed my flights (my ticket actually said I was staying in the US for 6 weeks…) and that the other answers I had given were probably not very smart. Well, turns out the officer was thinking along the same lines and so I was handed over to another officer who took me to a special admittance screening. Thank God it was early in the morning and no one else was there, otherwise I could have spent hours and hours waiting…

Anyway, it was all smooth sailing from there… I had been to Los Angeles a couple of time on business but the place is so big I always found it tough to get my arms around it. Luckily, this time I was staying with my cousin Nathalie and her friend Sergio. Both of them are originally from Switzerland but moved to LA to pursue their careers in the music industry. They showed me around the city and it was great to see it from an insiders point of view.  But it was equally fascinating to learn more about the music business (a completely new territory for me) and meet some of their friends (of course also from the music business). So many of these young artists are living in hope of the big breakthrough and their life is a rollercoaster ride while they are trying to find the right contacts that will help them getting to the top. So networking is everything (just like in finance) and it was obvious that the US entertainment industry is in a completely different league (just like in finance). Also found it interesting to learn that the top stars earn relatively little with their music. These days its all about building a big brand name and getting as much juice as possible from that…

I had not seen my cousin Nathalie in about 10 years so we had lots of things to catch up on and lots of US experiences to share. She had arrived in LA about five years ago to live her dream (another thing we have in common!) and I was really impressed how much energy she has and much progress she has made towards achieving her goal of being an internationally known singer. In fact, she is about to make a major breakthrough and I really hope it works out this time. Go for it girl!!!

My impression of Los Angeles was much better than expected. There are a couple of really nice corners (if you know where to find them) and the pace of life is much slower than in New York.  Some areas like Downtown have received dramatic facelifts with impressive results. Ten years ago it was the most likely place to get killed and now the streets are buzzing with life day and night. The one big negative factor in LA though is traffic. Its hard to understand how people cope with hours and hours of commute every day and much of it being stuck in traffic jams (despite 12 lane highways!). I think this should be a big lesson for the rest of the world. Building more roads is not a solution as it simply increases traffic!

After catching up with Caroline, my other cousin who lives in LA (sorry we did not have more time) and a nice farewell dinner with Nathalie and Sergio I was hopping on a plane to New York. Arriving in New York always feels like coming home (after all I was living there for almost 4 years). I love the taxi ride from JFK airport to Manhattan via the Triborough Bridge as you can see the impressive skyline from far away. It keeps getting bigger as you approach Manhattan until you suddenly find yourself in the midst of the concrete jungle. Having lived in the Big Apple before there is no need to do all the sightseeing. It is rather all about catching up with old friends (even one from Singapore that I was bumping into accidentally), going to a few specific places, having a run in central park (its workout and people watching in one!) and maybe seeing a show or two. But things in New York change quickly so I was utterly disappointed to find all the CD shops I knew (who is buying CDs these days anyway?) and some of my favorite restaurants were closed down. But then again, new things still keep popping up and hence it was a nice surprise to find a brandnew Apple store. New York seems surprisingly resilient to the economic and real estate downturns (in contrast to LA where you could see and feel the impact) but to be honest a lot of the spending in the shops seems to be by tourists. At the current exchange rates shopping in the US is cheap as chips! But while the tourists shop till they drop, modesty seems to be the name of the (new) game for many of the locals. As my friend Nick pointed out, the savings rate in the US has gone from -2% to +5% despite a doubling in unemployment numbers.

After New York it was back to Switzerland and I got back just in time for the first decent snow fall. Sitting in the plane it slowly dawned on me that I was being transported back to the real world after travelling for 12 months. I feel blessed that I was able to see so many beautiful places and meet so many wonderful people. My batteries are fully charged and I am ready for the new challenges that lie ahead.

Living my dream was one of the best things I ever did! I hope my travel stories have inspired you to do the same.

Traffic jam with a view in LA

Relaxing with my cousin Nathalie in Malibu Beach

Dinner with Sergio and Nathalie

My cousin Caroline

Ice skating with a view in Central Park

Back in Winter Wonderland – Amden/Switzerland

Home sweet home with my nieces Mia and Ladina

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Temptation Island

November 20, 2009

After spending so much time in the mountains it was time to explore the rest of the South Island of New Zealand and check out what else it has to offer. For that reason I was heading back to Christchurch where I picked up Kayoko and we hit the road in a rental car. Our first stop was in Kaikoura, a little town about 2 hours north of of Christchurch. This place is well-known for its picturesque setting on the ocean with some mountainous backdrop and the whale watching. However, we also discovered there was great seafood and steak to be had and enjoyed it over a glass of local wine. Next morning we tackled the whale watching and when I noticed they had a sea sickness alert we popped some pills. Turns out we were cruising on the ocean for well over two hours without spotting any whales. Instead we got to see lots of sea sick people (unfortunately including Kayoko while I barely managed to keep it together), at $150 that’s really a bargain… We finally did spot one whale before returning to the shores. It was great to be back on firm territory and we celebrated it by doing the Peninsula Walk, a 3 hour hike with beautiful coastal scenery.

We next headed to Blenheim which is a city in the famous Marlborough Wine region. Again we enjoyed some fantastic food there (I guess the great thing about NZ is that there is lots of organic food from domestic production) and of course headed to the wineries. Marlborough is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc but they have also started to produce some other white wines like Riesling, Chardonay, Pinot Gris, Gewuerztraminer etc. They are even producing some light red wines, primarily Pinot Noir. The wine tasting experience was very similar to the one in Australia. Lots of wines of good quality but most of the wines seem to be very similar. It was really difficult to find something outstanding and sadly it probably comes down to the marketing strategy to decide over success or failure. Our personal favorite was Mahi Wines, a boutique producer (www.mahiwines.co.nz).

Our next stop was Nelson, a city close to the centre of New Zealand (but confusingly it lies at the Northern end of the South Island…). It is also a centre for arts and crafts and hence it has a very-laid back lifestyle. This is further complemented by the fact that Nelson gets more sunshine than any other city in New Zealand. One of our highlights though were the many well preserved Victorian style houses dotting the streets. Fortunately, we managed to stay in one of these houses, namely in the highly recommended California House Inn (www.californiahouse.co.nz), a B&B run by an English couple. Ray and Janice are very friendly hosts and spoiled us with some excellent breakfast (including Birchermuesli!). So by now, you should really get the idea that the food was so good everywhere that we will return with a few extra pounds…

We spent very little time on the West Coast (basically just passing through) but enough to notice it is a completely different story. The villages are smaller around here (1% of the NZ population living on 9% of the area), the streets more curvy, the territory more hilly and the scenery even greener than in the rest of the island. Apparently the winds down here mostly move from West to East meaning that it is often very windy and a lot of rain gets dumped on the West Coast (some places have an annual rainfall of 5-8 meters!). Its a very scenic drive along the Coast but unfortunately we had to change directions soon again since we were heading for Mount Cook (we went there via Arthur’s Pass, Methven and the MacKenzie flats).

At 3754 metres, New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook (Aoraki) is dazzling, yet there are 27 other mountains in this alpine backbone which peak at over 3000 metres all making up the famous Southern Alps. So we were back in the mountains and of course I was loving it. We got quite fortunate that the weather started clearing up after we got there, so we took a short hike and soaked up the tremendous scenery. While the mountains where spectacular, Mt Cook Village was not impressive at all. Guess I expected a beautiful Alpine village a la Zermatt but was utterly disappointed after we got there. A hotel, a cafe, a backpackers and a camping – that’s Mt Cook Village! So instead of staying there we went back to Lake Tekapo, a small village (population 315) on the stunningly blue Lake Tekapo. This is truly one of the most beautiful turquoise lakes I have ever seen in my life. When you look at the pictures below you will think we have been fiddling with the colours but I can assure you this is real. The other major attraction in Lake Tekapo (and less obvious) is star gazing. Since the place is very small and at least 50km from any other major settlements the skies are very clear. Again, seeing is believing, so check out this website http://www.earthandsky.co.nz/gallery/gallery.html

The last stop on our tour around the Southern Island was the Banks Peninsula, one of my personal favorites. It is only one hour from Christchurch yet a world away. The Peninsula was formed by volcanic erruptions and there is a spectacular drive around the edge of the original crater. The only major town on the Peninsula is Akaroa. Thanks to its French heritage (they got here before the British but did not close the deal) it feels like a charming little resort in the Mediterranean. It definitely has a glamorous feel about it but just over the next hill you can find some beautifully isolated farms, wineries and B&Bs (check out www.frenchfarm.co.nz and www.labri.co.nz). It was soooo relaxing and we had such a great time there…

I definitely had a great time in New Zealand. When you come here you feel a tremendous inner peace thanks to the beautiful nature with wide open spaces, tranquil environment, scarce newsflow (somehow the news seem to happen overnight here), healthy organic food and sparse population. However, when you do meet people, they are soooo friendly and very interested what is happening in other parts of the world. The only negative things I have to say about New Zealand is that the weather forecast was consistently wrong (thankfully in our favour) and steaks are always served well done irrespective of how you order it (a deja vu for Gustavo!).

Anyway, I am now already in Los Angeles while Kayoko has headed back to Singapore. I will update you in due course.

Stunning West Coast scenery

Pancake Rocks

Mount Cook

Lake Tekapo

Sunset in Akaroa

One of those many delicious dinners…

Lord of the Hills

November 5, 2009

After a couple of farewell dinners with friends and former colleagues of Man Australia it was time to say goodbye to Australia. I was looking for a change in scenery and hence hopped on a flight to Queenstown, New Zealand. When I peeked out of the window after only 2 1/2 hours of flight the scenery was quite different indeed. There was snow covered mountains everywhere I looked and of course my Swiss heart started beating faster immediately. Queenstown has a beautiful location at Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains (not very high but they definitely look like mountains), most notably the Remarkables range. The city has seen a huge tourism boom over the past decade or so and prides itself as being the adventure capital of the world. Sky diving, bungy jumping, jetboating, heli-biking, mountain biking, white water rafting – anything is possible around here. In winter, skiing is very popular around here. In fact, I was told that they just had the best winter season ever (in terms of visitors) and the most snow in 25 years (more on that later)!

Initially, the weather was not very good (snowfall in the first night!) but when the skies started to clear up and the temperatures got a little warmer I got ready to explore the mountains. My goal was to do the Routeburn Track (funny enough some of the other Great Walks like the Milford Track are booked for months and months). It traverses 32 kilometres of Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks and usually takes 3 days to complete. The profile did not look too challenging and I was confident I could complete the walk in 2 days (just too lazy to carry too much food). As it turns out the organization of the logistics proved more challenging than expected. While the hiking track is only 32km, it is not a loop and to get back to the starting point its a 270km drive… What made things difficult is that everything had to be booked individually. So first I booked the huts but then I had to find transportation (drop off and pick up) at reasonable cost and in line with my hiking timetable (not easy in the off season) and then finally when I picked up the hut tickets at the DOC they told me that part of the track is closed due to avalanche risk and that hikers have to get a helicoptre lift that is only available once per day. Gee, this sounds like the most complicated hiking trip I have ever done…

However, next morning when I jumped in a mini van all the logistical stress was soon forgotten. The skies were deep blue and the snow covered mountains shining beautifully in the morning sun. Putting 10kg on my back felt like a deja vu – except after all the partying in Australia I really felt out of shape. So I took it easy, marched up the track at a slow pace, enjoyed the crisp air and the beautiful environment. The track started off in a stunning green forest (it looked greener than a normal forest because of all the fern and a lot of the trees are covered by moss, it really looks like an Alpine rainforest), following a river with crystal clear waters and eventually the forest opened up to reveal open grassed flats and we also got some glimpses of the mountains. The higher we climbed in the valley (it was not very steep though) the better we could see the mountains and eventually the full panorama. This made me realize how much I have missed the mountains – I could not get enough of the views! Despite my slow pace I got to Routeburn Flats early and took the side trip to the North Branch. Again, very interesting landscapes characterized by beech forests, tussock clearings and of course the towering mountains. I got more impressed by the minute and it was fascinating to observe the changing light conditions throughout the afternoon. Finally, I tackled the ascent to the Routeburn Falls Hut which was only 45min up the hill from the Routeburn Flats Hut. Some beautiful waterfalls around the hut and only 17 hikers staying there (capacity of 50). Over dinner I had another deja vu – I was hungry like a wolf!

I was almost certain that this beautiful day could not be topped, but the following day got even better. We hiked uphill for about one hour to Lake Harris where we had to wait for the helicopter to pick us up. There was now more and more snow on the track and made me realize why the track was closed. The scenery at Lake Harris was simply spectacular and so was the 5 minute helicopter ride to Mackenzie Hut. Instead of me trying to describe it, I suggest you just have a look at the pictures. From Mackenzie Hut it was all downhill towards The Divide and I felt kind of sad to leave this beautiful scenery behind. It was like walking away from a beautiful dream…

Anyway, I made it to The Divide in time for my bus pick-up and was driven to Te Anau, a sleepy but lovely town on the shores of Lake Te Anau. From here I took a bus trip to Milford Sound the following day. The fjords of Milford Sound are one of the most visited attractions in New Zealand. When visiting you are not sure whether you should wish for a blue sky day so you can see properly all the stunning mountains and rock formations rising from the water or should you wish for a rainy day that creates hundreds of waterfalls in the fjords. Well, turns out we had something of a mixed bag, grey skies but no rain. Nevertheless, a beautiful experience.

After returning to Queenstown I spent a couple of lazy days around town with some amazing spring weather. Also made a short trip to Wanaka, a smaller sibling of Queenstown that probably gets more action in winter because the skiing is better. I put on my hiking boots again for a short hike to see the Rob Rory Glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park. From Wanaka, the experience begins with a one hour drive along the beautiful Matukituki Valley into the national park. The drive was great because mostly on unsealed roads and the numerous fords seriously stresstested my little Toyota rental car (of course I was not supposed to drive there)…

So much about the mountains and Queenstown. I will be heading to Christchurch tomorrow and now really curious to see more of New Zealand. This is an amazingly beautiful country and there are a lot of good things happening down here…

Beaches, Manly

Farewell 1 with Lindsay and Richard at Beaches in Manly

Billy Kwong, Sydney

Farewell 2 with the Man Crew at Billy Kwong in Sydney

En Route to Routeburn Track

En route to Routeburn – looks promising…

Side trip to North Branch

North Branch of Routeburn

Lake Harris

A very happy Lord of the Hills at Lake Harris – amazing!!

??? Mountain

Ups, forgot the name of this one…

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Rob Rory Glacier

Rob Rory Glacier

Life is a Party!

October 24, 2009

I spent the last 11 days on a group trip from Surfers Paradise to Cairns organized by Connections Adventure Travel. The company is specialized in adventure travel for people aged between 18 and 39. It was about 33 of us (from all over the world, ie England, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Norway, US, Canada plus two Australian guides) who travelled the 2,500km from the Gold Coast to Cairns on a bus called “Matilda”. It was great having an opportunity to meet so many new people and getting to know them really well in a short time thanks to long hours on the bus and even more hours spent in the pubs and bars (at times it felt like the group had turned into a nocturnal species!). Once again it was proven that travelling is all about the journey and not the destination! Everyone had a great time and it was no surprise that a few tears were shed when it was time to say goodbye this morning! The weather was also great during the trip and it was a relief to go back to shorts and T-shirt.

My personal highlight of the trip was the 2 night sailing adventure in the Whitsunday Islands aboard the British Defender. British Defender is a high tech Whitbread Around The World Racing Maxi that was raced by the British Armed Services during the 1989/90 Around The World Race. When I first saw the yacht (83ft long) I could not believe it was possible to squeeze so many people on it. But over the next 2 days I figured out that life on a yacht is great despite a tiny bunkbed and limited facilities. Actually while we were sailing I completely lost track of time (even more so than during the rest of the year!) and I also had a feeling of total freedom. Our sailing trip was off to a bad start though and there were suspicions that someone had braught bananas on board. First, one of the crew members (french canadian trainee) dislocated his shoulder and it was so bad that we had to turn around so he could go to the hospital. Later, one of the sails got damaged and could not be used anymore. From then on however it was smooth sailing. For most of us it was the first time on a yacht and hence there were some nervous faces the first time the boat was inclined (not sure this is proper sailing language…). Once we got used to it though, we could not get enough and just wanted to sail faster and faster. They almost had to kick us off the yacht at the end of the trip. So sailing was great and some of the beaches we got to see were simply beyond belief. These must be some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (but unfortunately also some of the most photographed)! Finally, it was the great crew of the British Defender that really made a difference. They were genuinely nice, spoilt us with some of the  best food of the trip (despite a tiny kitchen!) and gave us some very useful lessons in sign language (big fucking shark anyone?).

My other favorite was the day we spent in the Great Barrier Reef. Actually, I had no idea how large the GBR is – over 2000km! The 2 hours boat ride to get there was a torture since many of us fell sick thanks to the rough sea. However, once we got there all the pain was forgotten. Snorkelling and diving around the reefs make you feel like being on a different planet. The colours and varieties are stunning and thankfully the part of the reef we saw still seemed in very good condition. It was the perfect location for my first scuba diving experience and so I spent about 30 minutes under water with an instructor. If you follow the basics (just keep breathing normally, equalize ear pressure) and get taken by the hand, scuba diving seems like a pretty easy thing to do. We did not go much deeper than 4-5 meters but it was enough to spot some amazing creatures and definitely showed me the underwater world from a different angle (compared to snorkelling). Also, my instructor allowed me to touch a number of things such as the giant clam, a sea cucumber and some of the corals. As much as I appreciated the experience, water will never be my preferred element and hence I dont think I will become a serious scuba diver anytime soon.

During the trip we also stopped in Rockhampton (the beef capital of Queensland) and spent the night at a Rodeo event. I must say these cowboys are pretty courageous (or crazy?) to sit on these wild beasts and not surprisingly minor or major injuries are quite common. We also got a taste of how friendly the locals are around Rockhampton as some from our group got invited to a private residence with free flowing alcohol and a swimming pool. And as we all know the combination of lots of alcohol and the presence of a swimming pool inevitably lead to a minor or major pool party. Well, our youngsters even topped this with some balcony climbing back at the hotel after the pool party was over… Another stop on the way to Cairns was in Undara (it is considered to be part of the accessible outback) where we did some bushwalking, wildlife spotting (kangaroos, bats), got a fantastic bush brekkie in the morning and heard many stories of all the dangerous animals that live out here. While we spent only a couple of hours in Undara, it was enough to realize that this is a totally different breed that is living out here.

Anyway, after spending so much time travelling along the coast of Australia I am now ready for a change and will be flying to Southern New Zealand in a couple of days and hopefully go back to a more active lifestyle (of course I am talking about day time!).

Airlie Beach Party Night

Party time in Airlie Beach

Fraser Island

Fraser Island

British Defender

British Defender, our home for 2 nights

Champagne Sailing

Champagne sailing

Near Whiteheaven Beach

Near Whiteheaven, incredible…

Sunset Undara

Sunset in Undara

Great Barrier Reef

Our snorkelling/diving site in the Great Barrier Reef

Aborigines

A new tribe of English-Swiss Aborigines

A (chilly) Australian Spring

October 13, 2009

Some of you must be wondering what I have been up to in the last couple of weeks. Well, I briefly stopped in Singapore/Phuket then continued to Sydney and have been enjoying the Australian spring ever since. Amazingly there are no signs of an economic crisis in this part of the world. In Singapore there are still more construction sites than in any other place I have been in the last 12 months and locals are back in their favorite activity of real estate speculation. Australia on the other hand is probably the only major country in the world that has not been in recession since the crisis started and hence it is no surprise that no one is bothered by it down under. The Aussie real estate market has also sprung back to life, albeit for different reasons than in Singapore (supply-demand imbalance, population growth) and the Central Bank has just raised interest rates to avoid a speculative bubble. Real estate prices in Australia have been going in one direction only for the last 25 years and are now among the highest in the world.

Anyway, after spending quite a bit of time in Australia on business trips it is actually nice to be down here and have time to explore the country. Sydney remains one of my top spots in the world and every time I come down here I get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It is a small city with a spectacular setting , there is a very diverse restaurant scene and nightlife (Pure Platinum, Rodney!), some of the top beaches are very close to the city (my favorites are Manly and Bondi), the climate allows for a great outdoor lifestyle and finally people are relaxed and have a great sense of humour. The only downside is that the cost of living is high because of the real estate prices (as mentioned above) and the high taxes (not just income but also alcohol, cars etc).  But I guess if you want a piece of paradise it comes at a cost…! Oh, and the other interesting thing is that this is the only place in the world where I can watch a sports channel and have no clue about what is going on (cricket, footie, netball anyone?)

 Luckily, I have made some friends in Sydney over the past couple of years and it was great catching up with them.  Particularly enjoyed staying with Lindsay and Richard (we met in Peru earlier this year) in Manly. They showed me where to get the best pizza and boobs combo, inspired me to do the Manly Scenic Walk (highly recommended) and we had some good laughs about our travel experiences in Peru. Ups, almost forgot to mention that I happened to be in Sydney during the dust storm. It was surreal and felt like the end of the world was approaching (plus I could not stop coughing)…

After a couple of days in Sydney I was off to Adelaide a pleasantly laid back city with roughly 1 million inhabitants. The city itself is nothing to write home about but the beauty is that beaches and wineries are very close. So I spent some time in the beach resorts of Victor Harbor and Glenelg and also took a ferry to Kangaroo Island. Now, KI is a very special place. It’s a pretty big island (150km from one end to the other) with only 4,000 inhabitants but plenty of wildlife and spectacular coastline. In fact, the place really reminded me of the Galapagos… Kangaroos, koalas, sealions, penguins, whales, dolphins and all kinds of birds. Too bad the weather was not very good (very cold!), otherwise I would have spent more time there. The flipside of the coin though was that I got to spend more time at the wineries! And I did quite a bit of tasting in Barrossa Valley and McLaren Vale (plus later in Coonawarra). While still not a wine expert, my general impression was that the whole wine production is very commercially oriented (ie made to drink not to age) and it was difficult to find some nice boutique wineries (but thanks to Daphne I did!). Also, while the quality of the wines is of high standard it was difficult to find something exceptional or outstanding. My favorites are Langmeil (Fifth Wave Grenache, Freedom Shiraz), Fox Creek (Shiraz!), Rymill (Cabernet Sauvignon), Bowen Estate (Shiraz/Cabernet) and Redman (Cabernet-Merlot). Because of my travels, I had limited capacity for any cases but still managed to snap up a bottle each of Langmeil and Redman. Thanks to the flexible BYO policy of local restaurants we could enjoy them with a nice dinner (wish we had a BYO policy in Europe)!

Before turning into a wine addict I hit the road again. This time with my cousine Melanie who had flown in from Perth.  We were planning to do the  Great Ocean Road,  a beautiful stretch of coast between Adelaide and Melbourne. It is famous for some beautiful limestone formations just off the coast (most prominently the 12 Apostels). They really are magnificent but so are the lovely coastal towns like Port Fairy and Apollo Beach. We also managed to do some whale watching at Logan Beach (from the shores!) and spent 2 days in the Grampians National Park where some stunningly beautiful mountains rise out of nowhere.

I am currently in Melbourne and heading to the Gold Coast tomorrow. Melbourne used to be the world’s richest city during the gold rush of the 1850’s (there is no gold rush currently despite record high prices – somehow everyone is into real estate here too) and it is still a very nice place (apparently voted as the world’s most liveable city). Again, I like the compact size, the bustling alleys, the many green parks and when walking along Lygon Street I really felt like walking on Italien territory…

Anyway, that’s it for now. I shall keep you posted more regularly again on the coming adventures…

Sydney sunset

On a day like this, this is the best place on earth!

Manly Scenic Walk

Manly Scenic Walk

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island

Penola Rainbow

Even mixed weather has its advantages (Penola)

Coonawarra Winetasting

Winetasting at Ryemill in Coonawarra

Southern Grampians

The Southern Grampians

12 Apostels

12 Apostels (in black and white)

Brunchtime in Melbourne

Brunchtime in Melbourne

The Great Hike – in 30 days across Switzerland

August 14, 2009

The project

The Alpine Culture Trail has a total length of 650km and is crossing Switzerland from Lake Geneva (St. Gingolphe) to Muestair, the Easternmost village of the country. Along its path it crosses 10 different Cantons (VS, VD, FR, BE, LU, OW, NW, UR, TI, GR) and all four language regions. Hence the goal is not to go across the country as quickly as possible but rather to learn something about the culture of the different regions along the way. Also, while 650km of walking is quite significant I found the altitude changes much more significant. During the 30 days the altitude gain was roughly 27,000m or in other words 3x Mt Everest and back! Why did I do all of this? After so many years of living in (foreign) big cities it was time to spend some more time outside and to learn more about my own country. Moreover I liked the physical challenge…

P1030140

My path across Switzerland

P1030116

The beginnings in St Gingolphe VS

 

Preparation

Almost none… I had done a lot of hiking earlier this year in Patagonia and Peru. That definitely brought me in shape and also taught me the importance of having the right gear. The weather changes in Patagonia are notorious and are well designed to check how weather proof your gear (and your personality) is. Back in Switzerland I did a couple of hikes to keep in shape but nothing too serious. Also I replaced, repaired and upgraded some items. Most importantly my hiking boots got new soles and I also bought a somewhat smaller backpack (that still ended up weighing 8kg…). Finally I bought kind of a travel guide for the Alpine Culture Trail but did not read it before I set out… Also did not bother bringing any maps – Swiss trails are marked very well (got lost only once or twice at my own fault).

 

Accomodation

I did not make any bookings in advance so as to keep the flexibility. I figured as a one man team I would always be able to find something and luckily it worked out. In most places the choice was very limited anyway and so I mostly stayed in lower end hotels but also some B&Bs, hostels and mountain huts. Because of the inexpensive nature of accommodation I did not expect too much in terms of service. Nevertheless the range was surprisingly wide (primarily measured in quality of the breakfast) and you could definitely tell who is wholeheartedly in business and who is not… And the highlight was of course when I got to stay at Melanie and Erwin’s where I got a great BBQ, comfy bed and probably the most comprehensive breakfast. Thanks again guys!

 

Food

As indicated above, breakfast was mostly included in accommodation but unfortunately the quality was skewed to the downside. The standard was pretty much just tea, bread, butter and jam. So whenever someone offered muesli, fruit or cold cuts it felt like Christmas. During the day I always had plenty of snacks and liquids with me while trying to minimize the weight on my shoulders…At times I felt like a cow because I was eating and drinking so much but it was necessary.  The body was asking for it and indicated quite well when it was time to refuel (in that sense the human body is a miracle). After a couple of days I also noticed that water was not enough anymore and partially had to switch to isotonic drinks (Gatorade etc). The prospect of having a nice dinner at night was one of the things that kept me going every day. So I was dining in restaurants every night and I quickly learnt the importance of eating right (carbs!). As with the hotels, the restaurant choice was also limited and I was quite happy to cross San Gottardo and eat some great pasta in the Italian part of Switzerland (thankfully Graubuenden also had great food, so I was almost spoilt in the second half of the trip…). A word of caution though – in Switzerland there is a serious risk of starvation on Mondays because everything seemed to be closed…

 

Weather

Some are claiming that we have had a mild winter rather than anything of a summer. Guess the truth is that weather has been quite unstable this summer. Particularly the first half of my trip was quite wet and cloudy. Temperatures were great for walking though. Fortunately I was lucky and avoided the worst rainshowers/thunderstorms with good timing or when I was caught in the rain it was typically during easy stages in the valleys. It could have been different. Some SAC mountain huts got up to 40cm of snow on July 18… The good thing about the bad patch of weather was that I really enjoyed the (many) sunny days in the second half of the trip. There is nothing better than a beautiful day in the mountains with spectacular vistas…

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Swiss summer has been pretty wet

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Sometimes the hiking paths turned into little rivers…

 

The walking

The Alpine Culture Trail is divided in 30 different stages. It is a good mixture of different distances, terrains, difficulties and its easy to lengthen or shorten the various stages. And just to clarify, I purely relied on my feet for 30 days – no train, no chairlift, no bus – just walking… On an average day I was walking for roughly 6-7 hours with a distance of 20-25km and altitude changes of 1500-1800m. That was quite manageable particularly after I had found my rhythm (probably around day 5). On the extreme end, the toughest days saw me walking for 10 hours, up to 44km and altitude changes of 3000m. Luckily those days were few and I can assure you that I always slept very well at night. But even after the toughest days when I arrived at my destination exhausted I was amazed about the body’s ability to recover over night. Some stretching, a good dinner and 10 hours of sleep can do wonders. What also makes a big difference is the surface. I definitely preferred to walk on natural mountain trails than paved roads. The latter make your feet burn badly after a couple of hours. In that respect days 3 and 10 were probably the worst since I seriously thought my feet were on fire when I arrived in Saanen and Altdorf respectively. On those days I tried to find a cold mountain river to reanimate my feet. From a technical point of view the trail was not difficult. Thankfully so given the long walks and the weight on my back… I also have to say that I was amazed about how far you can get with just a couple of days of walking. On any given day the day seemed long with little progress but when you put a couple of days together it makes a difference quickly. It’s actually great to go at a slower pace for once. It gives you more time to observe your environment and makes you realize how much we typically rush through life. The other advantage of walking is that it takes you to many places that are otherwise not accessible. It was impressive to walk on many paths that were historically important trading routes but have been rendered unimportant by the construction of (rail)roads. I guess times do change…


Health

It was amazing… No blister, no scratch, no twisted ankle, no headache, no nothing…! The only problem occurred a few hours after I arrived at the final destination. I came down with a stomache flu just when I was getting ready for the 30 days of partying…

 

Support

While I was walking alone on most of the days, there were some friends who joined me for a hike during the last 10 days or so. A big thanks to Andrea, Melanie, Nicolas, Paulo, Dominique and particularly Aggi who joined me for 2 days and Christine who I got to see twice during the 30 days! Everyone else did a great job on inquiring about blisters, fitness level and weather via phone and text messages or at least thinking about me every now and then… A big thank you also goes to all the interesting people I met on the road and who shared the enthusiasm for my project.

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Reanimating my feet with Christine at Kneipp’s in Fluehli LU

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Nicolas, Paulo and Dominique hiking with me in Engadin GR

 

Highlights

 

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Chateau Chillon, Montreux VD

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Pays d’Enhaut VD

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Storeggpass NW, looking towards Engelberg. Wow!

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Surenenpass UR

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Old mule track at San Gottardo TI

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Romanesque church in Leontica TI

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I kept being amazed about the clean mountain rivers (Brenno TI)

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View from Capanna Motterascio TI

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Hochebene Greina GR

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Rheinschlucht also known as Swiss Grand Canyon

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View from Val Minger GR, Swiss National Park

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Convent of St John, Muestair GR (Unesco World Heritage)

 

There are so many more things I have to tell about this trip but rather than bore you with my blog I am looking forward to giving you the full story personally.

Cheers

Adrian

Mission accomplished!

August 9, 2009

Dear friends,

After 30 days of hiking I reached the final destination of Muestair in the South Eastern corner of Switzerland on Friday Aug 7. Its been an incredible experience and I am thankful for all the beautiful corners of Switzerland I discovered, for the many interesting people I met on the road, for all the things I learnt about my body while I was pushing the limit (650km and 27,000m  altitude gain) and for the support of friends and family while I was out there. I am back home in Amden now and shall be posting a detailed report in the coming days.

Cheers,

Adrian

PS – it feels great to make use of public transport again…

Am Ziel

16 Days and still walking…!

July 23, 2009

Hi!

Just a quick note to let you all know that I am still hiking! After 16 days I have arrived in Ticino (Airolo) today. I have come here from Spiez (from where I sent the last update) via Innereriz BE-Marbach LU-Flühli LU-Giswil-Melchtal-Engelberg-Altdorf-Andermatt-St.Gotthard. Fair to say that my legs are not super fresh anymore but I am still having fun out here. Particularly the last 4-5 days have been exciting since I have been hiking in the heart of the alps. What has been less exciting is the weather. Fortunately, it has been mostly dry but there are always dark clouds hanging around the mountains and you never know when they will take a leek. Somehow it makes you walk faster because you want to get to your destination dry… Also, still lots of snow out there. I have been walking across more snowfields than expected…

Anyway, I will be on the hiking trails for another 2 weeks (in Ticino and Graubünden) and shall give you the full details after completing this project.

Hasta la vista

Adrian

Holy Guacamole!!

July 13, 2009

It has been 6 days since I set off for the big hike across Switzerland. In that time I have made it from St-Gingolphe (Lake Geneva) via Montreux, Montbovon, Saanen (Gstaad), Jaun, Oberwil to Spiez at Lake Thun. So far everything has been going well, I mean no blisters, no overly sore muscles, no scratches, no other injuries. Nevertheless, it has been tough, actually much tougher than expected.  No matter whether you are in good shape, no matter whether you are using some of the best gear possible, after a couple of hours walking, the soles of your feet start burning and your legs get heavier. Also, there are no easy days. Even on “short” days with relatively flat terrain, 6 hours of walking are still 6 hours of walking… Interestingly, during any given day you feel like you are making very little progress because you keep seeing the same valley or the same mountains. However, if you sit down at night and have a look at the map (the big picture) it makes you incredibly proud to see how far you have come. In a way this is very similar to our every day life, isnt it? How do I make sure I can keep going? 8-10 hours of sleep every night (after my hiking days usually all I want is a shower and a bed), lots of stretching every evening, no or little alcohol and yes after day 3 I went straight to a pharmacy to get a magic gel that keeps my legs young and fresh… Every morning I get out of bed really slowly and then test all body parts to make sure they still function. Ah, and there has been a change in my diet. Basically I drink and eat like a cow… (to give you an idea, one of the farmers I met told me that a cow drinks 50-100 liter water per day and eats 70kg grass)… and it is very necessary! With regard to the weather, I have been very lucky. The first week was almost completly dry (many paths are still wet from all the rain we had early summer though) and the temperature was great for hiking, basically ranging from 10-20°. This week the forecast is for lots of sunshine with temperatures >30° and thunderstorms. We’ll see…

But after a little bitching and moaning I have to admit… it’s also a great experience, one that I will never forget. I get to see corners of Switzerland I never knew they existed, never would have travelled there if it was not for this crazy hiking plan. And there really are some beautiful spots outside the principal tourist resorts. I am actually amazed how tourists are more and more drawn to the brand names (Gstaad, Montreux, Zermatt etc) and willing to pay almost any price while other villages half an hour away are “dying” because there are no jobs and the young population is moving away because of this. Always thought that modern technology would make it easier to work from anywhere but in reality people still migrate towards cities (probably a global phenomenon).

It’s beautiful to be outside all day long and observe the changing landscapes, weather, architeqture, languages etc. Walking is one of the slowest forms of moving around, so it really gives you lots of time to record your impressions and it also gives you lots of time for thinking. It also gives you real life experiences. For example in finance we always talk about herd mentality. Believe me, I have talked about it many times but there is no such thing as actually experiencing it. One morning I passed some cows and looked one of them straight in the eye. She did not seem to appreciate that and for some reason started to charge after me. Well guess what, the other 19 followed promptly. After I caught my breath again, I told the farmer to name his cow Warren Buffet but he probably thought I was on crack. Also actually saw a snake in the mountains (they always tell you we have snakes in school but I never believed it) and some other wildlife like fox and deer. The only species I did not find a lot was other hikers. I know I am not walking in brand name territory and probably no one else is doing this crazy hike but come on this is summer time, the main hiking season. Thankfully, the trail is taking me through several villages so I get to catch up there or often I stay at small hotels and lovely B&Bs where the owners are very interested to listen to my stories. Oh, and my favorite real life experiences are the bloody electroshocks from the cow fences and getting lost on the hiking trail (an extra 45min loop really hurts when you have an 8 hour hiking day anyway).

Almost forgot to mention that it is not all just about hiking. I was very lucky to cross the Montreux Jazz Festival and got to see a performance by Alice Cooper (whats the connection to Jazz here?). His face is a little wrinkly now and his belly has grown but his shows are still quite bloody… Also when I stopped in Saanen (Gstaad) they had a major Beach Volley Tournament there. No wonder I felt like the smallest kid in town but luckily I still managed to order some beer. In Gstaad I also spotted former UBS CEO Ospel and his wife. The were dining in an alfresco place and seemed to enjoy themselves. And finally tonight I took a dive in Lake Thun. The water temperature was a refreshing 19°, just perfect after a day of hiking…

Anyway, despite all the ups and downs that you naturally go through on such a hike, it has been really fun and unique and I have learn a lot about my country, nature and about my body. Will keep you posted when I have a chance but unfortunately there are not too many internet cafes in Switzerland. For the same reason I will upload the pictures when I am back home.

So long

Adrian

A summer in Switzerland

July 5, 2009

After spending a couple of months in new territories and meeting new people, it was nice to take a break and go back to familiar areas and faces. So I spent the last 5 weeks catching up with people in Singapore, Switzerland and the US. It was great talking about my travel experiences and getting first hand information from the real world…

Over the last 10 years I had almost forgotten how beautiful Switzerland is in summer and I keep joking to my friends that the whole country really comes across as one big national park. Summer days are very long around here (daylight from 5.30am to almost 10pm) and the Swiss are surprisingly relaxed during this period. There is a strong desire to soak up the sun and spend as much time as possible outside (preferably at a lake or in the mountains), beer gardens and outdoor cafes are popping up like mushrooms and for a short time we may rival Argentina and Australia as BBQ champions. Thanks to the financial crisis, the Swiss are rediscovering their own country and many are planning to spend the summer vacations around here.

Over the last 5 weeks or so I have been fortunate to discover many beautiful corners of my country with some simple one day hikes. It has nurtured my appetite for more and I have decided to go it all the way. Hence, from July 8 I will be hiking all across Switzerland on the Alpine Culture Trail, from Lake Geneva all the way to Val Mustair at the Eastern end. The total distance is 650km divided into roughly 30 stages. The trail crosses the four language areas of Switzerland as well as ten different Kantons and 15 alpine passes. Lowest point is 372m above sea level (Lake Geneva) and the highest is at 2585m (Vereina). Apart from the physical challenge, the trail is really all about learning more about history, culture, customs, craftsmanship of the different areas. After travelling all over the world, this is well overdue.

Anyway, depending on the infrastructure I will keep you updated during my trip. Also would like to invite anyone interested to join me for a couple of hours or a couple of days. The fresh Alpine air, stunning scenery and healthy lifestyle will give you a new perspective – guaranteed! Just take a look at the pictures below…

So long,

Adrian

 

Amden

View from my parents house (!) in Amden

Altschen

Alpine pasture around my hometown Amden

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Scenery on Murgsee Trail

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Toggenburger Hoehenweg

Alphuette

Lovely Alpine hut…

Aelpler Koni

…and the friendly locals

Seealp See

Seealp See, Appenzell

Love Cows

…and yes, you will find them everywhere!