Appenzell is picture postcard Switzerland. Rolling green hills dotted with cows are juxtaposed against rugged grey cliffs reaching up to a blue Spring sky. It’s enough to distract you from the fact you’re hiking up a million steps. Almost. The walk from Wasserauen to Berggasthaus Meglisalp is about 2.5 hours up and 1.5 down (if, like me, you strategically pretend to take pictures when you’re tired), but it is striking. And there’s lunch at the top.
This winter, I learned to ski. Well, I learned to slide from side to side down a slope on skis and stop at the end. Just about.
Learning anything new as an adult is hard. But add in lack of control and a healthy dose of terror and it seems near-impossible. Day one seemed to go well. We started on a basically flat section. I could stop! I could turn! Yippee. We then went onto a slight slope. Turned out I could fall as well…
It’s Bärlauch, or wild garlic, season and I am beyond excited. You can pick it up in the supermarkets, but it’s much more fun to don the wellies and head out into the woods to pick your own. Much like in the UK, the season runs from March to May, with the middle period yielding the best leaves.
You have to be careful that it’s wild garlic you are picking and not the poisonous and similar-looking Lily of the Valley, but if you can identify it, you can have a foragers field day. It grows everywhere here. We drove five minutes from Basel and were greeted by green carpets of the stuff. Restaurants pretty much serve nothing else at the moment, and everyone has a recipe or two they can recommend. It doesn’t keep that long, so follow the foragers rule of only taking what you need, give it a good wash and whip it up into a quick pesto (with parsley and parmesan), or fry it and serve it with olive oil over pasta.
Or the lack of them.
I genuinely like vegetables. And here you can get some lovely vegetables. Humorously shaped squash that would never make it onto the shelves in the UK. Beautiful tomatoes, fresh lettuce, juicy fruits, all proudly grown here and labelled Swiss. Just don’t try to eat them with your meal.
The side salad is officially NFI in Switzerland. Order a salad and it comes first. Order it at the same time as your meal and people look at you as if you asked to wear it as a hat. I ordered a salad alongside a pizza. The pizza arrived. I could see the salad. Sitting there. Waiting. And everyone ignored it.
I spent two years at school not learning German. I had two lessons a week in which I expressly tried my hardest not to remember a single word.
I didn’t like it (or I didn’t like the teacher); I preferred the romance and gallic sentimentality of French, where you could simply shrug a bit and put on an accent. German was all hard letters and aggressive punctuation. Who needs that anyway?
Me, it turns out. I’m pretty good at nodding and smiling – even laughing – at the right moments. But then the inevitable happens. Someone addresses something to you. It is immediately apparent that you have just been pretending for the last fifteen minutes. It’s awkward.
If you had told me five years ago that I would own hiking boots before I owned a house I would have laughed you out of the room. I did the Duke of Edinburgh award, an overnight orienteering challenge, and I hated it. The idea of me doing adventure sports or serious outdoor activities has people in hysterics (it’s kind of offensive. But true). I love to walk. I love certain sports. I love being outside. But I like pretty things. I like meandering, I like riding a horse gently through a forest, or playing in the park, or walking by the river. I don’t like walking uphill for a 500 metre elevation.
That’s why it took several trips to several shops to find the right boots. That matched the jacket. That matched the wind shell jacket. But now I have them. And more to the point, I have used them.
I will have been in Switzerland for six months tomorrow. This time last year I had no idea that this is where I would end up. It is an adventure. And like most adventures, it has its up and downs. Most days I love it, but there are times when I also hate it (sometimes simultaneously). I’m lonely, I’m bored, I miss MY life and the things I did that made me ME. Because whatever those seemingly seamless expats tell you, at first, it’s HARD. But, you know what? I think that’s ok.
It isn’t the speed, but the sound which is most surprising. The slapping, whirring, whoosing sound that dominates the air as they fly past you, like brightly coloured insects with odd giant feet and long stick-like arms digging into and pushing away from the snow.
The Engadin Skimarathon is an annual cross-country ski race held between Maloja and S-chanf in the Upper Engadin in early March. It is one of the biggest cross-country skiing events in the world and attracts well over 10,000 participants every year, from professionals to first-timers.
We are surrounded by fur and the thundering of hooves. It must be St Moritz Polo on Ice. The only polo event in the world to take place on a frozen lake, the game pits two teams of world class players against one another in a three-day tournament. It was cold, my feet basically froze to the lake, but we saw some excellent polo action (and some spectacular fur outfits). This year’s champions were Cartier, which was a pretty obvious outcome from a few minutes into the first game of the final.
I’ve seen polo on grass and it’s fun, but nothing really beats the glamour and surreality of watching it across a frozen lake, the Swiss Alps in the background, a glass of champagne in one (numb) hand and a hot chocolate in the other.
Weirdly, I have spent quite a lot of time in the company of penguins – swimming with them in the Galapagos, hiking with them in Antarctica, and now taking a morning stroll with them in Basel.
No matter how much time you spend with these birds, they are never boring. They are the personalities of the ornithological world. Slightly off-balance, slightly funnily-shaped, noisy and belligerent – they are the best-dressed, worst-mannered diners at the birds’ dinner party. But they are undeniably hilarious. I could, and have, watched them for hours. And it turns out that I didn’t have to travel to the ends of the Earth to do so.