Switzerland part 4: Weekend break

Second family in Switzerland 

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Switzerland feels like home, the mountains make my heart happy.

After spending a summer in Switzerland, Vera (my host) became my adopted Swiss mother and the goats felt like my own. A 2 hour flight from Manchester to Basel is a great excuse for returning to my happy place for a long weekend. 

It was like I had never been away. Arriving at 12AM, I was greeted by Vera at the door and followed my Heidi signs to this: 

This is a reinforcement of everything happening for a reason. The mutual love of goats brought us together, but I never expected to feel like family.  

I will always endeavour to stay with locals on my future travels, to be immersed into the different cultures, and to avoid the tourist traps.
Hotel tourists sometimes miss out on the authentic experiences, often the most interesting experiences. (Although I can appreciate that this is not everyone’s cup of tea).

Time will pass and seasons will come and go

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Experiencing Interlaken in the Autumn is a whole new experience. You no longer have to play “the floor is lava”. The blanket of fallen leaves on pathways is a new hiking challenge, not the intense sun rays. (Time is also running out for the important branch collections for the goats!)

2 ladies jogging beside the river with goats is something you do not see every day!

Every mountaintop is within reach if you just keep climbing

Unlike England, escaping from the grey weather requires a simple excursion. Hop onto a bus up into the mountains, just 6 franks from Interlaken to Beatenberg. Fog sea, or fog soup (Nebelsuppe), depending on how you perhaps perceive this phenomenon. 

England could take a leaf out of Switzerland’s book when it comes to public transport. Always on time. Even if there is a period of time between connections, I am either captivated by the surrounding nature or amused by the locals’ animals. 

I gained a new perspective of Niederhorn. Instead of gliding above it during a 2 hour tandem paraglide, I took a cablecar and hiked back to the tourist centre of Beatenberg. The Swiss mountains never fail to take my breath away. 

Awe-inspiring. 

Feeling overwhelmed by the mountains, I sat and cried. It was a cathartic moment. In these moments, “being” is enough. Any extra is a bonus. I am trying to go forward without expecting anything from the world, no longer feeling like a victim. I can be miserable feeling constantly unproductive and unfulfilled OR I can embrace my journey for what it is because life is not a race. No expectations = no failures, just great effort to achieve great things (whatever they may be). Switzerland feels like home, I feel content in the mountains. An unpaved path brought me here, it was not part of a strategic life plan.

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Lessons from goats

Welcome to the wonderful world of goat keeping. 

Members of “goaty friends” have shared their main lessons from their caprine companions.

Step 1 to goat keeping? Before searching for the ideal goat?

1. THINK FORT KNOX

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“How to build secure fencing.”
“Fencing is never high enough or strong enough.”
“Fence well before the goats arrive so when they check out the fence they feel trapped right from the start.”
“Can’t go over it, go under, can’t go under, go through… teleport.”
“I’m pretty sure we somehow managed to buy flying goats.”
“If the boundary is safe you can relax.”
“No gate is low enough to the ground.”
“My goats have taught me how to slide through a gate without barely opening it at all.”
“No fence is high enough.”

What about the “goats eat everything” statement?

2. GOATS LOVE FOOD

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“Everything is edible.”
“Food is temporary.”
“A goat can spot a food bucket at about half a mile.”
“That they can love each other so very much, or hate each other with a passion, especially around food.”

They certainly keep you occupied

3. ATTENTION

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“What you think is sufficient pats/cuddles is never enough & that it’s fun for them to jump on your back”

4. BRAINY GOATS

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“That they are very intelligent especially for their own ends.”
“They watch humans and mimic them to learn how to use stiles.”

5. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

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“Learn to think 5 steps ahead of them!”
“Don’t plan anything!”
“To have eyes in the back of my head.”

BUT it isn’t all fun and games…

6. GOATS KNOW HOW TO PUSH YOUR BUTTONS

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“Patience!”
“Never underestimate their ability to come up with a new way to cause you agro all with an innocent look on their faces.”
“Never trust them when they look innocent, the amount of tops I have with holes in as the goats had a nibble before I realised!”
“Trust your instincts!”
“They’ve taught me Swear words!! I didn’t know I knew so many till i started milking goats.”
“How extremely intelligent and utterly stupid they can be at the same time.”

7. PREPARE FOR MESS… they are kids after all

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“Always have a spare set of overalls. And wellies. And socks.”

…Especially when it comes to kidding time

8. YOU HAVE GOAT TO BE KIDDING

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“Kidding will occur at the least appropriate or convenient moment. You’re screwed.”
“Queens of the herd are forever (or at least until kidding season).”
“You can wait and watch a goat kidding for hours and nothing but the two seconds you nip for a wee it’s all over!”
“The “Go and make us a coffee, she will be ages yet!”” 
“Deep snow on the ground? No water? Power out? Congratulations! You have a 100% guarantee at least one goat will have quads today.”

They teach us some serious stuff too.

9. LIVE IN THE NOW

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“They have taught me you are never prepared for the worst.”
“…whenever I get caught up in the past I go to the goat shed and remind myself to live in the now and take care of what I can take care of now and let the rest go.”

The finale…

10. MAN’S BEST FRIEND? GOATS.

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“That life was incomplete without them.”
“That you can never have too many goats.” 
“They are very understanding and patient with people who have disabilities.”
“I have had mine since May and am totally in love.I didn’t know they play as much as they do.So beautiful.I am in love with them both.”
“My love for them & what they give back! can’t imagine my life without them! I have a 6 year old gg I’m her fifth owner what I was told about her I thought what have I done purchasing her but they tell you the truth! I wouldn’t be without her!”
“No two goats are same, all have their own quirks and traits. Can be testing at times but 100% worth it.”
“How loving and funny and clever goats are.”
“They have taught me how much an animal can love both each other and the humans around them”
“They’ve taught me how to be a crazy goat lady.”

Switzerland part 3: Life lessons

Summer 2017

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Last year, I shared my top 9 lessons from a summer working with 200 working dogs in Lapland.
I had only envisioned gaining great husky handling and farm fixing skills. I was oblivious to the general necessary life lessons that I would be boarding my return flight with.
You can read the truly life-changing lessons
here

Summer 2018

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Fast forward to spending my Summer of 2018 in Switzerland.

2 weeks in England has given me time to reflect, continue to explore spirituality, apply the teachings.

Enough time to collect my thoughts.

1. “The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd.” – Albert Einstein 

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Meet my incredible host:

Vera

Living in a farmhouse with goats is my dream, for Vera it is reality.

Of course, living with 2 goats is not the social norm but Vera taught me that if you do not fit in then you are doing the right thing as you have a high level of determination and mental strength to proceed despite facing conflicting views.

From laughing until our sides hurt from our inside jokes, to having enlightening conversations, I have learned so much from such a wonderful woman. 


“Go with the flo”

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Embracing spontaneity adds colour to an otherwise black and white monotonous life.

Aspiring to live a life in which fulfilment is not achieved by a rigorous daily schedule. The only thing that can go to plan is the here and now, the moment we do have control over. 

The ultimate paragliding experience cannot be planned weeks in advance, NOW is the only time I knew we were going to run off the mountainside and glide through the air, the single moment of appropriate wind to take-off.

Kiko body, kiko mind

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You may even make your own language during a work placement abroad!
Whether I was going on a kiko hike, that Bruno is a kiko goat, that Vera makes a kiko bike tour. Kiko means strong.

Be kiko. 

In Interlaken, I truly appreciated the strength of mind required to be content with life during moments of peacefulness and nothingness. The backdrop of the Alps constantly offered a sense of tranquility despite moments of hustle and bustle on Höheweg.

What I mean by that is having the constant drive and need to be productive, be active, learn, alone does not constitute the strength of an individual. Being alone with your own thoughts requires great strength that should not be undermined.

Whilst house-sitting, I could spend time sat in the sun with the goats. I pushed aside the compelling need to be reaching 30k, 40k, even 50k steps a day, and simply embraced the only thing in my control – the present. 

Home is where the mountains are

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As a goat-keeper named Heidi, Switzerland was calling me. I did not know what to expect, but I was adamant that Switzerland would be my next adventure destination.

From the challenges set by the steep mountainside ascents, to forming the perfect background for appreciating the serenity of the “now”, I learned that being located in a mountainous region made me feel genuine happiness.  

Just add a traditional Swiss dress, and I am the real life Heidi doing cartwheels in the mountains.

You never travel alone

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“Hey, please could you take a photo for me?”.

“Sure, please could you take my photo too?”.

There.
When travelling, that is how a friendship can start.  


Get lost on a hike? Kind people will lead the way, join the group and have a laugh.

I lost any apprehension to start conversations with “strangers”, I said hello to every passing hiker, I talked to dog owners about their dogs. Realistically, with the extreme reactions being statistical outliers, being ignored was the worst thing that could happen. A chance I took, I conversed with interesting people with interesting stories.

Even when I reached Basel airport to travel home, whilst waiting for the plane, I heard about a man’s life in India and his grandchildren in Switzerland, a lengthy talk meant that neither of us were alone waiting for our flight. 

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Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

 

Switzerland part 2 : Happy hiking Heidi

Situated between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, my first week in Interlaken consisted of many breathtaking hikes. From peaceful strolls along the Aare River to the painful steep incline of reaching Harder Kulm – a summer to improve my navigational skills!

Iseltwald: Find the goats

After a short walk to the Interlaken Ost station with my visitors card in hand, I simply hopped onto a free bus to Mühle, Iseltwald. Gazing out of the window across Lake Brienz made the 20 minute bus journey fly by. Winding around narrow roads on the mountain-side, I was amused by the bus horn that ensured no head-on collisions with oncoming traffic. 

“Don’t walk onto the highway!!!” – words of warning from Vera, my host in Interlaken.
The journey up the mountain required walking on a busy roadside before a steep hike to the animal sanctuary . Imagine my sense of relief when I heard a goat bell!
It became a running joke to survive traffic on my ventures out of Interlaken.

A dream- the animal sanctuary overlooked the lake of tranquil emerald water.

My legs certainly appreciated the smooth descent into the picturesque village of Iseltwalt. I find goats wherever I go and I had a great selfie opportunity with the ibex (wild goat) statue. I plan to return to Iseltwalt to visit the Giessbach Falls along the Riverside path.

However, I did not anticipate the blazing heat exceeding 30 ºC, I returned with unforgettable memories along with a lovely sunburn. 

Interlaken walking tour

Joining The Interlaken Free Walking Tour one evening was a no brainer! 2 hours with a local expert guide to learn about the history and culture of Interlaken with travellers from around the world. Thunderstorms could not stop us having an educational entertaining exploration of the town.

I was introduced to the ibex, the wild goat with majestic horns to outcompete any Golden Guernsey goat.

Lake Thun: multiple days

Having explored Lake Brienz, Lake Thun was next to tick off the ‘to hike to’ list.

A top tip: walk alongside the meandering Aare River so even incompetent place-finders like myself can never get lost en route to the lakes. Again, I enjoyed spotting some of the local livestock and feeling like Doctor Dolittle. I returned on a few occasions to visit the cattle and sheep.

Maybe I did get a little lost… but you never know what is around the corner.

I stumbled upon Weissenau Castle in Unterseen. Following the gloomy staircase up the ruins was a brilliant decision, I was surprised to find a hidden platform to capture the most incredible view of Lake Thun surrounded by mountains.

Another unexpected moment was when I reached the edge of Lake Thun a tourist was perched taking photographs of the impressive landscape, a photo opportunity for a solo hiker.

Spot the Pyramid of Niesen in the distance. 

Harder Kulm

“Hard” for sure.  The 8 minute funicular ride is often opted by tourists to reach the 1,322m high viewing platform over the 2 hour steep ascent.

Competitive and determined, the 2 things an amateur hiker needs to be to reach the top during a heatwave. A lesson from working on a husky farm in Finland – never underestimate mental strength in comparison to physical strength. I knew that my face would be the colour of my T-shirt by the time I had reached the top.

No surprise that I misunderstood the signs along the trail and hiked too far up the mountain than the viewing point. Always creating additional challenges for myself!

Everything happens for a reason.

After asking hikers for directions we ended up talking about England, our travels, goats, university… we reached the viewing point together. A group photo, drink in the sun, and taking the funicular down the mountain was the ultimate reward. 

 

Lake Thun hike in storm

Thunderstorm! Another hike to Lake Thun. 
Note to self: avoid all trees during lightning.

 After a few days of intense heat, the rapid release of rain was a relief – typical Northern England weather anyway. Walking during the storm was relaxing even with the funny looks from tourists for wearing shorts.

St. Beatus Caves

Another hike to appreciate the wonders of Lake Thun.

I took a more scenic route on the 8km hike to St. Beatus Caves, avoiding the busy traffic and sharp bends of the roads. After following the river to Neuhaus I hiked a section of the picturesque Pilgrims’ Path (Pilgerweg) which was clearly signposted.

An impressive guided tour, a not so impressive 5 CHF coke zero. I will never forget to take my water bottle with me around Switzerland again.

Mürren

Interlaken Ost – Wilderswil – Lauterbrunnen – Grütschalp – Mürren – Gimmelwald – Stechelberg – Interlaken

Whilst the cable car to Grütschalp was not the idyllic mode of transport I envisioned, the hike to Mürren was an incredible day of walking. An alternative to the expensive ticket for Jungfrau is viewing Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau from Mürren.

Shout out to Sarah from New Zealand… after asking Sarah to take a photo of me in Grütschalp,  we hiked to Mürren together and had the best time!

“Find life experiences and swallow them whole. Travel. Meet many people. Go down some dead ends and explore dark alleys. Try everything. Exhaust yourself in the glorious pursuit of life.” – LAWRENCE K. FISH

I advise other solo travellers to speak to strangers to make new friends even if you are a fellow introvert.

LIFE BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE!