Over the years, I’ve come to learn that I am an emotionally nostalgic person who feels too much. Trust me, I’ve tried desperately hard to suppress it; it’s just a ‘phase’ I’ll grow out of – I would tell myself. But alas, the soppiness continued and I just couldn’t resist the notion of digging deep into ‘the feels’. The end of each year is particularly exhausting – there’s simply too much to reflect on and so much to speculate. What lessons did I learn? What were my peaks of the decade? What resolutions shall I set for the new year? ( I don’t necessarily believe in these, but I will certainly still make them.)
It was nearing towards the end of December when I visited Beth’s new apartment to drink goblets of red wine and eat M&S pie. Together, we sat on her grey melange sofa, our warm dinner plates balancing on our knees as a makeshift kitchen table. “What did you learn this year?” I asked. I swirled my vegetables around my plate before slowly lifting it to my mouth as an after-thought. She gave me a perfectly tailored, emotionally-balanced answer, and then returned the question. I popped a broccoli stem in my mouth and thought for a few moments. What comes next is by far the most explicitly profound and truthful thing I’ve ever spoken: “I learnt that life is shit, but if you have good people around you, it makes it less shit.” Well, give me the Nobel Prize because I had finally cracked life’s enigma. And so I spent the last five days of 2019 putting my theory to the test – not the life is shit part, but the one about good people. I reunited with my brother Jordan, invited along my best friend Beth, and together we all said goodbye to the worst and best decades of our lives in the enchantingly snowy and extortionately expensive peaks of Switzerland. Here we go…
It’s no exaggeration when I say that I have never been more unorganised for a holiday in my entire travelling life. A slightly spontaneous and whimsical trip, it felt awfully like the blind, leading the blinder, leading the blindest. We began in Zurich, using the city centre as our stopover point for the night before continuing onto the Swiss Alps. Unbeknownst to us, Zurich on a Sunday felt more like a post-apocalyptical ghost town as opposed to Switzerland’s most-populated city. Quiet and desolated, we walked the winding Limmatquai lake and cobblestoned promenades in complete leisure with no agenda and no crowds. What once used to be recognised as a global financial hotspot, Zurich’s metropolis has now evolved into an artsy, post-industrial city. Bathing in the Swiss sunshine with our coats still well and truly zipped up to our noses, we trailed the grounds of Lindenhof, where the autumnal leaves decided to linger a little longer on their stems, offering an illuminating sight of orange.
We soon directed ourselves to Zurich West – also called Kreis 5 – which features a modern stretch of shops, restaurants and bars built into the old arches of an abandoned railway viaduct. As our hunger peaked, we ventured into the historic streets of Altstadt (Old Town), settling into a boucherie-style-brasserie (AuGust) for some traditional Swiss cuisine. We then spent the next four hours laughing so hard that tears were streaming into our decanter of red wine. It was the kind of laugh where you genuinely don’t ever think you’ll stop because it’s just too damn hilarious, and it won’t ever not be funny. We made these peculiar character arcs for all our fellow diners and spun our lives into these wild, fictional narratives that made absolutely no sense. Over the course of that one simple meal, it made me realise just how special and rare it is to have people in your life who you can be completely weird with. As we walked back to our hotel pointing out the shiniest stars in the sky, I felt so overcome with happiness that I didn’t know where to put it. I wanted the world to promise me that I’d never forget this feeling, so, I pointed West to the brightest star in the night, and wished it upon that.
Welcome to the country where the brave paraglide the peaks, the rich toast to you from their private chalets, and the skiers in their salopettes look like a raving 80s troupe. South of Bern and Luzern, and east of Lake Geneva lies the grand Alpine heart of Switzerland. Possessing one of the most dramatic sceneries in the world, the Swiss Alps is highly regarded for its glacial-blue skies, still lakes, sheer valleys and gargantuan cliffs. The land of chocolate, cheese and cuckoo clocks, the Swiss culture is heavily influenced by its neighbouring countries. Declaring four national languages: French (20.4%), German (64%), Italian (6.5%), and Romansh (just a little over 1%) – it’s common to get danke, merci, grazie all-in-one as your everyday ‘thank you’.
Our time in the Swiss Alps was short, but in the brief days we had, we journeyed across five different villages. We decided to use Interlaken as our base, staying at the homely grounds of Swiss Inn Hotel & Apartments (would highly recommend). A little too obsessed with our sweet, elderly receptionist Veronica, we were advised to visit the neighbouring town of Grindelwald. Taking a train from Interlaken West (transport in Switzerland is ace btw) we arrived into the idyllic village up north just as the sun began to fall. Casting a bewitching purple filter over the town, each cabin on the hill warmed up like vivid colours in an oil painting. Most of the skiers pack it in by 4 pm and head to the local tepees and bars for mulled cider and beers, so we followed suit and joined in. With over 120 million people visiting the Swiss Alps each year, it’s no surprise that beyond the noise of clinking glasses, the street sounds you hear is an assortment of varying accents and languages. These roads are the definition of “cheery”, where the Irish drink with the Aussies and the Americans befriend the Brits. When we finally decided on a restaurant, we ate the thing you’re supposed to eat when one is in Switzerland and ordered a large fondue with potatoes, bread and red wine. Slowly eating our way into a cheese-induced coma, we indulged in homemade hot chocolates by the fire, and then rolled ourselves home.
If it wasn’t throwing snowballs (with brutal force) at each other, then it was shamelessly singing Queen or Urban Cookie Collective (don’t ask) in the streets. We crammed as much as we could possibly fit into a 3-day itinerary – walking everywhere, yodelling at any given opportunity, and making too many stupid jokes that by the end of it, we didn’t even understand ourselves. When I asked Jordan and Beth at the end of the trip what their favourite part was, we all agreed it was a spontaneous lunch we shared in Wengen. After taking three wrong trains and being delayed by two hours, we finally managed to reach the halfway point to Jungfraujoch. For the next hour, we drank chilled beers, ate 10/10 gnocchi and celebrity-spotted Gollum (Andy Serkis) whilst having the sunny Swiss Alps for a view. When we finally reached our way to the Top of Europe (Jungfraujoch) via the cogwheel train, every annoyance evaporated and our impatience dissolved. Connecting the two four-thousand peaks Jungfrau and Mönch, Jungfraujoch is an alpine attraction that sits at an elevation of 3,466 metres above sea level. Fitted with open viewing point, restaurant, panoramic observatory and ice palace/cave, it is well worth the time and money. If you play blind to the tourists, Jungfrau feels like the most isolated spot in the world; almost as if it was put there just for you.
Our second day in the Alps also happened to be NYE, and because we’re complete fools, we hadn’t booked anything in advance. When people tell you that Switzerland is expensive, take their word for it. New Year’s Eve reservations were looking like they were going to cost us our souls, so we made the collective decision to make it ourselves. In absolute gluttony, we ended up buying our own fondue set and making a truffle fondue and a milk chocolate fondue, accompanied by a meats board, strawberries, potatoes, bread, sparklers, and a large consumption of champagne and tequila. Coaxing our hangovers the next morning, we spent the first day of the new year in the storybook district of Leuk. Situated in the south of Switzerland in the canton of Valais, we climbed higher into the spruce trees and up the winding roads to Leukerbad – the largest wellness resort town in the Alpine region. Overlooking the deep-cloven valleys, we visited the outdoor thermal spring baths, where you can actually float against a headrest whilst super-jets massage your ass. A strangely odd but beautiful moment, the three of us stood there, together with 60-year-old men in see-through speedos and sensual European lovers, collectively watching the sun go down as we all wrinkled like prunes.
As we descended from the alps, the blankets of snow began to sparse and the fog replaced the mountains’ many faces. Jordan was plugged into his headphones, Beth was reading her book, and I was writing this. We had a bag of crisps between us and occasionally we’d look up at one another, exchange a few words, smile, and resume our positions. It was such a delightfully ‘average’ moment. Someone once told me that how you start your year is a good indication of how you will spend the rest of it. I think this bullocks, but if it was to be true, then I’m pretty okay with how this one will go. And to every single one of you reading this now, I wish you good health, humour and happiness for 2020, and for all the years to come. Happy new year, everyone.