Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Adventures in Switzerland

"More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace
mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost,
if you can conceive of such a combination."
-Wilbur Wright

I couldn't have said it better had I invented the airplane myself.

The most common reaction I've received from my family and friends upon seeing the pictures of me soaring through the air attached to a piece of metal and cloth is: "you don't look scared at all!" or, "you look so calm." My response to that is this: how can you not be at peace when you feel lighter than air and are experiencing the most unique and tranquil sensation of your life?

I can't even come up with the words to describe the feeling of being lifted off the ground by the wind. It was nothing short of magic. If I knew even the first thing about physics, maybe I wouldn't be so amazed by it, but getting swooped up off the earth by an invisible hand was probably the most fascinating part of the entire experience. I was expecting to have to jump off a cliff of some sort and hopefully be caught by the wind. I was not anticipating just being swept into the air mid-run.

Once in the air, it was quiet, pleasant, clear. The opposite of what I assume sky diving would be like. The guy I was flying with pointed out the air pockets we were being carried on, especially when we started to trail a bird. "Look up ahead, see how that bird is being lifted up?" As soon as this sentence left his mouth, I found myself also being lifted up on that same burst of air. Incredible.

A few minutes of simple coasting later, we start with the tricks. Imagine being on a roller-coaster without the roller-coaster actually being there. He would pull us up to the point where we were almost stopped, then point us straight down and we'd dive for a few second before being evened out again.

Landing was an adventure in itself. I realized as we were getting closer and closer to the ground that my instructor hadn't mentioned anything about what to do during the landing as he had for the takeoff and during the flight. Right as I began to panic, we just touched down on our extremely padded stomachs and slid a few hundred feet to a stop. Painless!

So, the whole reason I was able to have this awesome adventure was because I have a friend, Lauren, studying in Geneva, and we spent a day there before we headed to Interlaken. Three words to describe Geneva: beautiful, French, expensive. I had been prepared for English to be widely spoken in this city, but alas, it was all French. Interestingly enough, in Interlaken, it was all German. Good thing I don't speak a word of either of those languages.

View of Geneva from the World Health Organization

Lauren is interning at the World Health Organization, so she gave me a tour of the headquarters (awesome!) then we went over to the United Nations. That night for dinner we treated ourselves to a Swiss specialty, fondue.

Lauren and I at the UN

Fondue dinner :)

The next day, Lauren, her friend Caitlin and I took a three hour train ride to Interlaken for our day of extreme sports. Here's some of my other favorite pics from hang gliding, and some from our hike afterwards:

Photo by Lauren

View from our take-off point

Train tracks going straight up the mountain

Caitlin, Lauren and I

In the town of Interlaken

The train ride from Milan to Geneva on my way there was also never lacking in beautiful views:

Lake Maggiore outside of Milan

Train yard in Switzerland

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