Sunday, July 28, 2013

Switzerland

Beat and I flew to Zurich on Friday to attend a large family gathering for his brother's and sister-in-law's 25th wedding anniversary. The past 36 hours have been fun but exhausting, a whirlwind combination of jet lag, meeting uncles and cousins and Beat's father for the first time, excessive heat that we could not escape, and language barriers. People asked me how my German was and I'd reply, in English, "I can count." I can also sing a few songs and recite a personal introduction that I learned in eighth grade. Beat's sister-in-law actually held me to counting and we made it to funf (5) together before she accidentally skipped over to sieben (7), which is just as well, because I can never remember the German word for 11.

The heat here has extended beyond family meetings and being on the hot seat for my sad lack of language diversity. When we arrived in Zurich on Friday afternoon the temperature was 38 C — 100 degrees, with much higher humidity than I'm accustomed to. I get the sense that most buildings in Switzerland do not have air conditioning, and this included our third-floor hotel room in Langenthal. After marinating for a few hours we decided it's better to sweat on the move and went out for a 90-minute run through the woods and farm fields near our hotel. I thought I was heat acclimated, but it's impressive how strenuous a run can feel in humid triple digits. The draining effect of the run on top of sleep deprivation (I never sleep on planes) and jet lag left me feeling almost drunk with fatigue by the time the party began in the late afternoon. I guess I'm lucky there was a language barrier because intelligent conversations became challenging. The party was a beautiful and elaborate affair, with an organ concert in a cathedral and a delicious four-course Swiss meal in a ballroom. It remained so hot that I had to stand with my knees together to prevent visible droplets of sweat from running down my legs. But it was an enjoyable gathering, even if social events in stagnant heat leave me feeling more drained than long runs.

We woke up "early" (still feels like 10 p.m. California time) on Sunday to join Beat's uncle for a hike in the Jura Mountains, a sub-Alpine range that divides the Rhine and Rhone river valleys. As we approached his uncle's flat near the Aar River, we passed an enormous castle perched on the cliffs above the village. No one mentioned this castle to me before; I supposed in Switzerland these things are no big deal, but it's really not every day you pass a 300-year-old castle on your way to your Sunday morning stroll (I did not take a picture of the castle, unfortunately.)


We climbed a narrow gravel road that had been hammered into the rocky slopes by the Swiss military in 1915 to fortify a barrier against German invasion from the north. Each unit that worked on the road carved their coat of arms into the rock. Although the Alpine regions lack in wilderness, the depth of history is fascinating and the extensive infrastructure is useful. A network of trails across these ranges make it possible to hike from Spain to Germany on an established mountain route, with regular stops at trailside cafes if you so desire.

After brunch, a large thunderstorm with heavy rain and hail moved in, and we decided to run our same dirt route in Langenthal in the afternoon. The effort was markedly easier in the warm drenching shower than it had been in the hot drenching heat. We ran fast (for me), cranking out 10 kilometers with 703 feet of climbing (like how I mash up imperial and metric measurements?) in 55 minutes. Although we did an extra 2K spur during the run yesterday, it really did take nearly a half hour longer. Interesting how oppressive heat can be. I'm going to remind myself of this experience next week in Iceland, when it's 5C and raining and I can't stop shivering.