LESSONS FROM SWITZERLAND
When they say the hills are alive, they are definitely alive in Switzerland. My husband and I travelled to Zurich in the middle of May. I knew my husband's passion for the European country was very strong, for as long as we've been together. After University, he backpacked there with his two friends but as a budgeted traveller, you're forced to see one country alone in a couple to a few days. This time he had dedicated a whole 8 days to just one country and I'm so glad we did as it turned out the be the best trip in my entire life. And that's saying a lot because I thought nothing could top Paris. But I realized why Switzerland became the best trip of a lifetime and that's because it taught me some really important life lessons that I wanted to share with you.
Lesson #1: Get out of the house and be with nature
Switzerland was the perfect place for us to visit, it had a bit of city and whole lot of nature. From the grand white alps to the rolling green hills to the fresh blue lakes, I never felt more connected to nature than I ever had. I remember the ride up to Mount Rigi-Klum, we took this little train made of two old carts up a massive mountain. During the ride I witnessed so much nature - little waterfalls falling from cliffs, sky high pine trees, clean streams of water feeding the luscious grass and woods. The waterfalls and streams kept the plantation hydrated and as such, the trees would replenish the grass with nutrients symbiotically. That 30 minute train ride made me see that we have an amazing earth that is fully functional of running itself like a well-oiled machine without any human intervention. However it showed me, that we need to respect this earth even more than we think and what we are doing now is not enough. As we finally reached the top of the mountain and there sat the most phenomenal view. It was the view of all the alps. As I took in a breath of the most cleanest and coolest air, I felt so fortunate to be able to see these magnificent rocks stand before me.
Within that moment, I was punched with the cold hard truth: if everyone carried on eating, living, consuming the way they do, the snow off the white alps will turn to grey from global warming. The rolling green hills may dehydrate from the heat and turn to brown. Nothing would look the same. I asked myself how do I keep pushing myself and others to treat this planet better and though it's everything I write about already: eating less meat, less consumption of material goods, waste reduction, taking public transportation and choosing to support companies that care about the environment. I knew it can't be on one person alone. It requires the help of everyone to pitch in so we never have to see the words "Climate Change" in the news ever again.
So if this tugs your heart, I challenge you to first get out of the house and hang out in a forest. I'm serious. Go on a hike. Take the family to a nature park. Walk to the nearby lake and watch the tides. Absorb the nature and teach your little ones about it. We are constantly surrounded by walls, buildings, sky scrapers where concrete is everywhere that we are forgetting what grass looks like. We are so far detached from nature, it's unnatural. In order to change our perspective of our planet, you have to go out and appreciate what it has to offer. Trust me, it's way better than a weekend at the mall.
Lesson #2: Stop running in the rat race
In Zurich, which is one of the busier cities of Switzerland, even on weekdays after work people take the time to enjoy a meal by the river. They spend hours sitting, talking and laughing as the waters flow through the canal. My husband and I decided to do the same instead of eating inside our hotel room. We grabbed our takeaway food from Migros and ate it by the river. We saw ducks swim by. We saw two large pigeons bully two weak ones from stealing their prized potato chip. We talked about what we loved in Switzerland. It was so simple but so enjoyable. I stopped to think, "Why don't we do this more back where we live? How did we get so stuck in this rat race where we rush to work, leave work to rush home, drink our food down and hop into bed without enjoying each moment?" It was then when I told myself when I go home, I am not going to adhere to my regular routine. I am going to break habits and change things up. Instead or walking through the downtown Toronto path, I am going walk outside. Instead of doing the same old yoga workout video, I'm going to do another one that challenges my body. Instead of looking at my phone for entertainment, I'm going to spend more time watching my husband wrestle with my dog. It is the little changes we can make to our lives to quit the rat race. There's no excuse, you have the choice to make the extra time and effort to do so or life will pass before your eyes.
Lesson #3: If you want something in life, go get it
When we were planning our trip, I was certain I wanted to go paragliding in Interlaken. I remembered walking into my friend's office exclaiming to her, "I'm going to do it! It's the chance of a lifetime." Closer to our trip and being the risk-adverse person that I am, I panicked about the idea of being suspended 800 metres up in the air by a parachute. Thoughts of me crashing into the side of the mountain and not being able to see my dog again entered my mind. I bailed on the idea and I opted for the safe mountain coaster ride, where you sit in a toboggan and slide down a mountain. It looked much safer than paragliding.
On the day we arrived in Interlaken, I looked up at the mountains and into the sky seeing paragliders fall like snowflakes. I felt envious of their bravery to take the risk and jump off a hill into the air, trusting that a parachute would catch them. My husband sensed that I wanted to do it and even told me, "You better just do it because I don't want you to live in regret" but I declined the idea again because it was costly (about 170 CHF per person + 40 CHF for pictures and videos). So we carried on in our day by renting some bikes to cycle through the beautiful town of Interlaken. We cycled through farm land, saw cows and goats, rode up hills (more like I walked my bike up), peddled around the town, took pictures by the lake, saw a cute family of ducklings pass by. It all felt so magical.
Near the afternoon, I became quickly tired after our 3 hour bike ride and I decided to return the bike where as my husband went off on his own to ride some more. How he has the leg strength, I don't know because my legs were about to give out. I spent some time by myself absorbing the close view of the mountains and saw more paragliders descend. That feeling of envy came over me again and I asked myself, "Christie, what are you so afraid of? These are trained paragliders who are taking kids up into the air. Kids! You're an adult." That's the amazing thing about children. They don't have a single worry in the world because they don't know any better. They go after what they want and more importantly, they don't live in regret like adults do. So I decided, "I'm going to do it. I'm going to face my worries and just do it!" I obviously didn't say this out loud in the park by myself or I would look like a crazy person.
So as soon as my husband returned, I expressed my decision. We headed back to the paragliding office to book the next available ride and the last time slot they had was at 6 pm but our last train back to Zurich was at 8 pm. It was really tight. The paragliding process takes about 1.5 hours if there are no delays. But in the end, I realized if I didn't go I would have major regrets. So we went up to the office, booked my ticket and to my surprise my husband also decided to come along too (previously he said he "didn't see a reason to para glide and it wasn't worth the money" 😒).
6 pm slowly rolled around and the van drove us the passengers and pilots up the very tall wooded mountain. My pilot was named Jero. He moved from Spain 2 years ago to pursue his dream here where he could glide among the mountains. I told him we were in a bit of a rush to catch our train and he kindly coordinated with my husband's pilot to ensure that we were the first two to take off. While my husband and his pilot were gearing up on one hill, Jero had me run down a different and much steeper hill, so steep that if I had tripped and rolled down l'd probably be dead. I slowly walked down the hill while Jero skipped down it to setup. Next to us, randomly, were some cows peacefully eating grass. As I waited for him, I saw one passenger take off screaming for dear life; she had previously mentioned she was afraid of heights. I thought oh dear God, I hope I'll be okay. Soon enough, I saw my husband take off into the air thinking if anything happened to us, then I didn't have a chance to kiss or hug him goodbye. I quickly snapped out of it, put on my backpack and Jero clipped me to make sure I was secured to the parachute. He stood behind me and asked me, "Are you ready?" and I confidently said, "Yes!" And he said, "Okay, let's run!"
We took two steps forward and instantly we were pulled back by the resisting parachute. He said, "Keep running!" and I took one more step and just like that, we were in the air! The cool breeze rushed through my body while the parachute loudly ruffled sailing into the wind. I looked down and the rooftops were as tiny as postage stamps. My ears were muffled by the high altitude and wind making my thoughts sound louder and clearer: I was paragliding and I never felt more alive than ever! Jero flew me above the tall pine trees where it seemed like my feet could almost graze them. He let me steer and it was shockingly so easy. I saw my husband waving in the distance while clutching his Go-Pro camera because it was attached to his wrist by a measly thread. We slowly made our descent and I was relieved as our feet hit the ground. I was more relieved I didn't fall on my butt or trip over in front of all the spectators waiting on the landing field.
Jero quickly detached me from the parachute, folding it back into the backpack while giving me his phone to view all pictures and videos he took in the air. Shortly after, my husband who finished his descent sooner than me, ran over with the biggest smile ever. He asked me how it was and said he would run back to the office to grab our things so we could catch our train (he's always so on top of it all even after falling hundreds of feet in the air haha). It was 7:35 pm and we still had to run to the station (11 minutes), pickup dinner (10 minutes) and hop on the train at 8 pm. I high-five'd Jero goodbye (that was his thing) and wished him well. We ran as fast as we could to the Interlaken OST train station, grabbing a cold salad and sandwich at Coop. With 5 minutes to spare, we had time to use the washroom and caught the last train back to Zurich. We plopped into our seats taking a huge sigh of relief that we made it.
This whole experience taught me exactly this: if you want something in life, go and get it. We had obstacles preventing us from paragliding in one of the most beautiful places on earth: the train schedule, the cost of paragliding, safety concerns but life is too short not to take risks and go after what you want. I remember when I first started this blog, my husband warned me of all the risks of putting myself out there in the public realm, how people would judge me, the nasty hater comments I could possibly receive from trolls, the high risk of identity theft and most importantly what the feedback could do to my own self-esteem. But I heard that small voice similar to the one in Interlaken, telling me, "You know you want to do it Christie. Stop living in regret and just do it. What have you got to lose?" And so I did, I started my blog and I paraglided off a mountain in Switzerland. As I age, that voice becomes stronger and clearer guiding me in what I should and should not do. I'm very thankful for it as it keeps me true to who I am and what I want in this life. It's important that we listen to our hearts, follow our dreams and never let a train schedule stop us from doing what feels right.
So as I'm now back at home writing this post, remembering each spectacular moment I had in Switzerland, I can't help but feel so thankful for my trip. It's truly a privilege to travel and not a human right. Thank you Switzerland for all that you taught me. That morning as we packed up our things and left our hotel (by the way, it was #8 on the Green Hotel list in Switzerland, click here if you plan on making a visit to Zurich), my eyes teared up. I knew it was time to go back to reality but for some reason, it was more difficult to do than any other trip I've taken. It was because I was the happiest I've ever been in a long time, which felt foreign to me in the past 4 years. I guess that's the thing about travelling, it puts you on this magical high of being able to wander a new city, see and taste new things. And then you think to yourself, "Could I move here?" and escape my life at home. But that's not life is it? That's a day dream. Life is not about constantly escaping your problems, it's about confronting them head on. Life is about knowing what you want, going after it and not letting anything stop you even if it's uncomfortable. I know you've heard these statements before elsewhere but they are said repeatedly because they possess deep truth. This journey is about jumping off high cliffs to chase your dreams with the wind trusting that you will land on your two feet again. Most importantly, it is about appreciating each day, what we have and living it to the fullest wherever we are.
Thanks for reading.