First of all, let me say thank you to every person, place, thing, circumstance, happening, and bit of money that allowed me to go skiing not once but twice in the Alps. This is the first year that I’ve made multiple trips to big mountains, as well as probably my first 10-ski-day year. If everyone were able to achieve their goals and dreams so easily, we would all be pretty lucky.
Pompousness aside, let me give you a short narrative on how those 3 days skiing actually went.
First, Carnival ended Tuesday night. I was sad to see it go. The closing ceremony was really kind of bittersweet. The prince gave a little speech, they sang some sad songs, the Mooswief came down, the oliebollen stands closed up, and that was that. I mean, people still partied all night, but that was sort of that.
Wednesday was train day! And I’m not kidding. Let me trace out my route for you:
Koln-Freiburg (the Aachen-Koln ran late, so we missed the train from Koln-Mannheim. But this train from Koln-Basel was running late, so we got on it. Since it was running late, however, it didn’t go all the way to Basel; it stopped in Freiburg.)
Freiburg-Basel SBB (not to be confused with “Basel Bad.")
Basel-Biel (of course we were off schedule, so we were going to go via Morges per the train station people’s advice, but then the conductor said we should get off in Biel. Fair enough.)
Martigny-Le Chable (on the “St. Bernard Express”)
Le Chable-Verbier (bus)
Total: 9 vehicles, over 12 hours. Anyone who tells you train travel is easy is not correct. Well, that’s not true; train travel is easy for certain things. If you’re going from big city to big city, it’s no problem. But if you’re going from small Dutch city to small Swiss city, it’s a bit of a trip.
Something about train travel, though: why is route planning hard? When I get off schedule because one train is running 10 minutes late so I miss my next connection, I go and talk to the Train Station People, and they give me a route with all the connections and times mapped out. But a couple times, I’ve gotten suboptimal routes- like they go an indirect way, or they start an hour in the future, or something. First of all, why don’t they have their magic computer out at a terminal somewhere, so I can use it? Second of all, why don’t they give me the best route? It can’t be an algorithmic problem, because hell, I could make that program. There must be some hidden variables (maybe they’re trying to load-balance on their trains, or maybe they’re trying to find me the fewest connections instead of the shortest route, or something), but I’d like to know what they are, and how I can just ask for the fastest path.
Okay, so about Verbier. I wasn’t so enchanted with it as I was St. Anton. Something about it just seemed more exclusive, less fun, and more resorty. In retrospect, I think it was mostly the prices: 68Sfr for a lift ticket, 45 or something for rentals, and every place except the Bunker was really expensive to sleep. We found a pizza place for about 20 francs each, and a crappy burger joint for 10-15, but other than that, everywhere cost 35-40 euros (edit: whoops, I mean 35-40 francs) for a main dish. Of course, a franc is about 80 cents US, but there’s still some sticker-shock there, all the time. It’s mostly psychological, I’m sure… those 35 franc meals wouldn’t have seemed like so much if they had been 21 euros. All the same, it was enough to make us live subsistence-style, buying bread and peanut butter, stocking up at the free breakfast, etc. I don’t think I got the sense that I was in Switzerland, magical Switzerland, land of snow-capped Alps and Toblerone and fondue and watches and neutrality and the good life that everyone else is missing out on. I felt like I was in a ski resort. Which was true.
Speaking of bare-bones living in a rich town, did I mention the Bunker? That’s where we stayed. Check out my pictures (link on the right) to see more about it. It was pretty minimal. 30 bunks in a room, concrete floors, etc. But it did have a hot tub and a restaurant, a fun atmosphere, and it cost 25Sfr per night. Graffiti on the walls, etc. Most of the inhabitants were ski bums. I liked it a lot, and I’m glad we didn’t stay there any longer.
Speaking of ski bums, let me tell you about my traveling companions:
4 guys who came to Verbier a few days before us and skied for a week; 2 Coloradoans, 1 Aussie, and 1 Pole. The Coloradoans skied like 30-some days a year. One of them raced. Of course they were pretty much Too Cool for School. But they didn’t act like it.
2 Indianans, former football players and so on, the kind of guys who think it’s funny to buy a Jack and Coke, because they sell it in a can, at 10AM on our first train.
1 economist who liked to start conversations like “To you, what is it that adds value when you buy a product?”
1 girl from Toronto who, first of all, had to have a lime in her beer, and second of all, was afraid that she’d get some disease when she cut said lime on the floor and then put it into her beer, and therefore never drank the rest of said beer.
Guess who I liked traveling with the most? Well, the 2 Indianans, really. Goes to show, I don’t know what the hell I like in travel companions. The 4 guys were pretty cool too, but they were pretty much ski bums, and I can’t deal with that whole lifestyle.
For those of you who haven’t met any, a ski bum is an interesting breed. He/she (although almost always he, although there are a few girls) loves skiing, obviously, and skis as much as possible. Sometimes he gets a job at a ski resort for the winter, just to be there to ski. And here’s the paradox: he’s usually young and sort of poor. At least he plays up the “poor” angle a lot (by, say, buying bread and eating sandwiches 3 meals a day). But he wears nice ski equipment, has his own skis, and, well, skis so many days per year. You can’t do that if you’re poor! So, probably, the average ski bum is a guy like me, in or out of college, who decided to spend all his money on the slopes. He also likes to party a lot, and drink, especially beer. Somehow he’s able to ski a lot without sleeping a lot. And when he skis, he’s pretty amazing, going backcountry a lot and so on, and also spending a lot of time in the terrain park.
So why is that not me? Maybe it’s a bit too bohemian, maybe it’s a bit too party-oriented. I like my 8 hours of sleep, especially when I’m skiing. Drinking comes later. Clubbing comes last. Especially in ski resort towns, where the ratio of guys to girls is about 10 to 1.
Speaking of the ratio of guys to girls, we met this ridiculous dude. He was staying in the Bunker too, and he asked us if any of us had any fudge. “You know, it’s a hair care product.” Turns out, he’s right. We couldn’t help but think it was a code phrase for something. He did tell us about “Le Pub”, though, or the “Pub Mont Fort” where we all spent an enjoyable evening. Cool place. A big beer and I had a nice moment together. What does that have to do with the ratio of guys to girls? He made a comment about it, and also referred to some of us as “good looking.” He must have been hinting at something.
And, as a final note about skiing: It was not an easy trip. Well, first of all, the Bunker didn’t allow for ideal sleep. But besides that: my left ankle was killing me, my whole legs hurt after a day, my boots didn’t fit, and I couldn’t turn well at all. Snow was icy or hard, visibility was poor on the last day, and to top it all off, I feel like I’m losing my yen for skiing. Or at least my jonesing for skiing. It used to be the one thing I always wanted to do, and now, if you said I could go this weekend, I’m not sure if I would. I think I just need to take a lesson, get my own skis on again, have a couple nice days, go with friends, etc… but all in all, it’s another reason the ski bum lifestyle isn’t so appealing as it used to be. It’s disillusioning. But it’s like anything else I guess: after your initial euphoria subsides, there’ll be a down period, and eventually, if you really like it, you’ll grow to appreciate it again, and then you’ll truly enjoy it. My initial euphoria for skiing just so happened to be about 10 years.
But anyway. It’s now a few days later, and life is flying by. I should schedule some trips. I should work on my project. Did I tell you about it? It’s a robot programming thing: get a robot to go through a maze. Bleargh. But that’s life, and people do that sometimes, and maybe the only reason I don’t like robots is that I haven’t done anything with them, and if that’s the case, I am in the right class for sure.
As for trips, I’m adding some more ideas for destinations:
1. Utrecht, or Delft, or somewhere Dutch this weekend. Hopefully something a little bit authentic, at least. (I keep searching for this vague “authenticity”, as if some places that I go are somehow not real. I guess what I mean is I want somewhere without souvenir stores and bus tours. But why do I, with my big ol' American coat and camera on my belt, deserve that any more than the next tourist?)
2. Berlin next weekend?
3. Krakow, or Budapest, or Prague, or all three
4. Somewhere in Italy where they have great food (i.e. everywhere, but you know, somewhere particularly great)
5. Somewhere in France where they have great food (i.e. everywhere, but you know, somewhere particularly great)
6. Iceland! I would love to go there.
So the list is getting huge. And I feel like I’m just collecting capital cities, and I’d be better off just getting to know the Netherlands, maybe, or taking a trip to the lesser-known destinations in a particular country.
Or maybe that’s just my handful of worrying that I do all the time, and I should stop it right now. (surprise!)
And on the Dutch front, I have been meeting some non-American people, and it’s fun! Monday I had my acting class again, which seems full of people who are pretty neat. Tuesday, the ESN (Erasmus Student Network), who puts together a lot of events for us, invited like 80 of us for a typical Dutch dinner, and so of course 3 of us showed up, and we had typical French quiche. The girl who cooked for us, and her housemates, very nice though! They just hung out with us all weekend and talked about whatever, (although The Economist who also happened to be in Verbier tended to steer the conversation towards nonsense about the EU and so on…) fed us great quiche and lots of wine, and acted like there’s nothing they’d rather do than hang out with a bunch of naive Americans. And then, I even had a positive club experience, as this bar played pretty good music downstairs. (It didn’t hurt that I was with two beautiful ladies, one French and one Greek)
If I write anything more I will get nothing done today. Check my photos if you want more detail. (Please do; some of them are very pretty!) Rock over London, rock on Maastricht, Rauch fruchtensaefte: “Ich brauch mein rauch!”
(Rauch = “smoke”, and also the brand name of the fruit juice company. The slogan means something like “I need my Smoke!” which is funny when it’s an Austrian Olympic skier telling you that.)
“For those of you who haven’t met any, a ski bum is an interesting breed. He/she (although almost always he, although there are a few girls) loves skiing, obviously, and skis as much as possible. Sometimes he gets a job at a ski resort for the winter, just to be there to ski. And here’s the paradox: he’s usually young and sort of poor. At least he plays up the “poor” angle a lot (by, say, buying bread and eating sandwiches 3 meals a day). But he wears nice ski equipment, has his own skis, and, well, skis so many days per year. You can’t do that if you’re poor! So, probably, the average ski bum is a guy like me, in or out of college, who decided to spend all his money on the slopes. He also likes to party a lot, and drink, especially beer. Somehow he’s able to ski a lot without sleeping a lot. And when he skis, he’s pretty amazing, going backcountry a lot and so on, and also spending a lot of time in the terrain park."
And smokes a lot of weed.
And are those euro values correct? Because then I am never going to Europe. Holy CRAP that’s expensive.
I’ve been told Scandanvia’s even worse. Damn socialists.
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