On Friday afternoon, I walked to the train station and handed over a large percentage of my savings for two immensely useful documents- an after-7 pass and a half pass. These wonderful new acquisitions now allow me to travel anywhere in Switzerland after 19.00 for free, and discount all other transportation costs by 50%! It was an expensive purchase, but will pay itself off. The verb “to after-seven” (as in I’m after-sevening to Bern, or she can only go if we after-seven) has been officially added to my vocabulary. I have also received my Swiss residence permit, and instead of awkwardly fumbling for my passport to prove my identity, can simply show my beautiful Swiss ID card. I feel both legitimate and ready for travel.
So began my first solo after-seven experience. The mountains had been calling my name for far too long, and when presented with the options, I saw no better alternative than the heart of the Swiss Alps. I packed light (camera, one set of clothes, barely enough food), booked the cheapest hostel in Interlaken, and was on a train headed north by 19.04. My destination was not that far away, but at night, traversing the country was necessary. Three trains took me from Lugano to Lucerne, from Lucerne to Bern, and from Bern to Interlaken itself. Layovers were brief but surreal. There’s something magical about train stations at night – the departure and arrival, the light and dark, hurry and wait, hello and goodbye, all mesh together in a kaleidoscope of transfer before the train doors close and the world is only a blur, moving by.
The train rolled in to Interlaken Ost at 23.59, and I was on my own, digging through my pockets for my crumpled directions. Through the garden, across the bridge, along the river. Nothing stirred but the occasional shadow of a cyclist gliding by. No longer in the comforting company of traveling strangers, a mild paranoia began to rise in the back of my mind as I set out in search of my hostel. The garden and the bridge were easy to find, but for far too long I wandered the riverside alone, unsettled by the eerie way the current snaked silently through the dark. I stopped one cyclist for directions, one hand clenching the knife in my pocket, but the man didn’t speak English. After forty-five minutes of backtracking and trying again, I found it. I had a room to myself, but they only supplied a thin sheet, and I spent most of the night awake, shivering in the cold.
I awoke half-frozen and exhausted, but decided not to waste time. The sinister path I had wandered the night before was beautiful in the foggy morning light, the river a murky glacial blue and lined with identical trees. I surveyed the waterfront for a while, observing the fishing strategies of old Swiss men and enjoying the refreshing coolness of the air. Autumn in Ticino, with temperatures still in the 80s, had awakened a nostalgic longing for the scent of dead leaves and crisp, fresh air. Interlaken smelled like fall.
As sad as it sounds, I failed to find more of Interlaken than the train station. The location of the actual town remains a mystery, partially due to my fatigue and restlessness to immerse myself in nature. I bought breakfast at a grocery store and, encouraged by the distant mountain silhouettes, boarded a train to Grindelwald. I didn’t know much about it, just that there were mountains and it was beautiful. Nothing could have prepared me.
I stepped off the train into alpine air. Cold, with a hint of cedar and a suggestion of snow – just breathing was heaven. I was surrounded, however, in massive mountain peaks dotted with trails, gondolas, and charming Swiss chalets with shutters and flowering window boxes. For an Alaskan in nature withdrawal, Grindelwald was paradise. I embarked into the complex trail system with no real destination in mind, and was blown away by everything I saw.
I wandered for hours, through fields and forests, past grazing cows and ancient wooden farmhouses. Swiss families picnicked in the shade, chattering away in French and Swiss German, and aged couples waded in mountain streams. Exhausted from sleep deprivation, I took a nap in an alpine field, and stopped in another later, for a picnic lunch and the chance to sketch the Alps. It was unbelievably pristine.
A storm rolled in later in the afternoon, and I fled to the train station – a perfect opportunity to catch up on my Academic Travel readings. On the verge of collapse from fatigue, I after-sevened out of Interlaken at the first possible opportunity and instantly fell deeply asleep with my backpack in my arms. Some hours later, the silence of the suddenly empty train woke me, stopped at an unrecognizable platform. One lone passenger was in the process of leaving. Scusi, dove siamo!? I shouted in panicked beginner’s Italian. What if I had missed my stop? A midnight trip to Italy was not what I had had in mind. Lugano, the man responded on his way out the door. Oh no. I scrambled for my shoes, then for my backpack, jacket, and threw myself out the door seconds before it closed. The train hurtled out of sight moments later.