Places In Europe That Felt Like Portals to New Universes

Written by Swati

I am fully in the thrall of finals, but I wanted to get a quick light hearted post up about some of the highlights of my travels. This is a highly condensed list, but they’re the ones that’ll hold the brightest lights in my heart.

  1. Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s anything you’ve learned about me the past few months, it’s that I r e a d. And when I have the time and mental energy for it, I write. Going to the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh was a particularly special experience for me because it felt like I had stepped back into time, and walked alongside some of Scotland’s most notable writers. Literary giants like Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Jekyll and Hyde, Sir Walter Scott, author of Waverley, and Robert Burns, a Scottish poet. Each of them had a floor dedicated to their lives and work, and personally, I connected the most to Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a sickly child, but learned the importance of travel and widening your perspective from a young age. Much of his life’s memorabilia centered around a love of travel and desire to see more and experience more. Edinburgh as a whole is a beautiful literary city paying homage to Sir Walter Scott through their train station and the Scott monument. And I’ve never found a place that settled so quickly into my bones.

  1. Venezia, Italy

When I was a child, my mom would say the only way to keep me put in a single place was a body of water. I was a pretty tireless child, switching hobbies like changing outfits and belting songs on my bed that could be heard from a floor away. The only magic that kept my attention long enough to stay still was moving water. And Venice was pure magic. I wrote in a previous blog post that Venice must be God’s favorite place. I still feel that way, the whole city feels like a dream sequence. I went the day after Carnival ended, so I got the added effect of empty cobblestone streets and uncrowded ferries. Bonus points go to the two nearby islands, Murano and Burano, chock full of colorful houses and beautiful craftsmanship in the form of molten glass and lace. 

  1. The First Floor of the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris

I’m not sure if I gave Paris the real love it deserved this semester. My weekend there was very fragmented and in the hustle-bustle of group travel, I didn’t have a chance to sit and enjoy the atmosphere as much as I would’ve liked. Paris is an acquired taste, but the Shakespeare and Company bookstore saved the trip. Everything about the store is the living heart of a writer. The shopkeepers are very strict with photography and demand respect, but I burned every moment into my brain. Gentle piano strokes dance in through the doorway of the first floor. I felt myself at every age. 7 and digging through the “big-kid shelves” at my local libraries, 12 and leafing through ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway, 17 and cozying up in a corner with my journal in hand, 21 and gingerly tracing the antique typewriter in the side room. If there’s anywhere in Paris that’s pure magic it’s the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. 

  1. Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy

This might be cheating because 2 separate cities in Italy are on the list, but what can I say? It’s a country worth making movies about. Every inch has its charm. But Menaggio was a quiet lakeside town, tucked away north of Lake Como. The people have the brightest smiles and shopkeepers tuck sprigs of lavender in the corners of windows and spritz perfume by the entrances. In Menaggio I skipped rocks, collected seashells, went perfume shopping, and skipped through the streets with a gelato in hand. Menaggio is summer “city-fied.” If there’s one feeling I hope everyone feels, it’s complete and total peace and contentment the way I felt it in Menaggio. I also ran into a group of teachers on a reunion for their study abroad a few years prior who encouraged me to adventure far and wide. It’s the only way the heart stays young and the soul grows old. 

  1. Interlaken, Switzerland

I stand by my judgment that Switzerland is a fake country. The water is fake, the Alps are fake, the cheese is fake, the chocolate is fake, everything about it feels straight out of a simulation. Straight dream life, too perfect to be real. But Interlaken is a treasure. Look up and see the Alps, look down and see the emerald water of Lake Thun. The flowers are otherworldly, the water is diamonds on ice, the trees silk leaves, the pages of books coated in gold, the whole country effervesces. 

Special Mention: London, United Kingdom

You know I had to do it. The different entities within the United Kingdom have just stolen my heart whole, but London is in a league of its own. Scotland, Wales, and England each have their own unique charm, but something about London will stay with me for the rest of my life. The city felt like something I’ve always known, somewhere I’ve always been ready to be, I sent messages back to friends telling them I’d finally found somewhere I’d never leave. Not many loved London the way I did, but that’s the beauty of travel, you run into the things you need the very most right when you need them and you find the things you never knew you were looking for.

A Weekend Full of Adventure in Interlaken

 Written by Lillian

October 17, 2022

Since applying to GTL, the one country that I have been the most excited to explore was Switzerland. The beautiful alpine hikes, extreme adventures around every corner, and a close proximity to Metz makes Switzerland a great destination for weekend travels. After weekends of exploring historical downtown cities, I was excited to finally get out into the European outdoors! 

Right when we got into Switzerland, the first thing we did was hike to Harder Kulm, a 1,320-meter viewpoint of Interlaken. The weather was forecasted to rain later in the day, so we quickly hiked up the 800-meter (about 2,500 ft) trail to the viewpoint. By the time that we were hiking down, the sun set, the rain started, and we used our phones to navigate down the now dark slippery slopes. It was an adventure to say the least. 

View of Interlaken from the Harder Kulm hike. 

The next day, we went canyoneering near the Jungfrau Mountain. Canyoneering involves traveling through canyons by jumping off cliffs, swimming through gorges, and abseiling (or repelling) down the canyon walls. There was even a rope swing! My favorite part was the camaraderie that was built between the members of my group: we cheered each other on as we jumped off the rocks into the water and trudged through the swiftly moving water. 

Abseiling! The drop was 10m (about 30 feet)! 

To round out my trip to Switzerland, there was one activity at the top of my European bucket list: hiking the Mürren Via Ferrata. The Mürren Via Ferrata is a 2.2 km “via ferrata” which is Italian for “iron path.” On these types of hikes, you cling to cliff faces, using iron rungs cemented into the rocks for foot support. Additionally, you traverse over suspension bridges and hiking paths right on the edge of cliffs. This Via Ferrata takes you from the alpine village of Mürren to Gimmelwald. To get to Mürren, you must ride on a train, bus, and cable car from Interlaken. Even though the journey is long, it was worth being able to get a bird-eye view of the Alps and walk on iron rungs over a 1000 m (about 3,300 ft) drop. The days before my hike were filled with rain, so I am thankful that the weather cleared, and I got to do the Via Ferrata with almost no clouds in the sky! 

Left: One of the suspension bridges on the Mürren Via Ferrata; the town in the background is Stechelberg. Right: a view of the iron rungs and 1000-meter cliff face; part of the hike, called the ”Cliff Walk” involved walking on just these iron rungs with nothing underneath! 

Even though I had a great, adventure filled time in Interlaken, one of the biggest downfalls of Switzerland is the cost; the trip is notoriously expensive. Most other students spend, on average, 20-30 Euros on one meal alone! My group decided to move in a different direction where we attempted to save as much money on food as possible. We ate Kebab almost every meal that we had there which clocked in at 10 Euros a piece. Another money saving tip was that we cooked chicken rice bowls with vegetables one night that cost 2,11 Euros each. We used all the money we saved to do more of the more expensive one-of-a-kind activities. 

Overall, I loved my time in Switzerland, and the weekend was my most adventure-filled one yet! It was super nice to escape the city and head outdoors, even if it was just for a weekend. Interlaken itself was very touristy and expensive, but because of that, it has a ton of different activities to do in one central location. Even though I only participated in three, Interlaken also has parasailing, skydiving, and large canyon rope swings. It also has a ton of other hikes right outside its doorstep! 

Hiking in Switzerland: Life Lesson

Thursday, April 7, 2022 | Written by Claire

Every semester, most GTL students flock to Switzerland to enjoy the hiking, paragliding, and skiing, during the colder months. I could not miss seeing this beautiful country so my travel group and I decided to conquer the hike from Interlaken, a beautiful, quaint, Switzerland town, to Augstmatthorn, a grueling 10 hour hike that ends in Hardergrat where a shuttle bus would take us back to where we started. The elevation gain was around 1500m over a 24.8km journey. Our plan was simple: start at 4 am and then reach the mountain top to see the sunrise, continue our journey and finish around 2-3 pm. 

At first, our journey was smooth, we were able to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise as it shimmered across the lake and reflected off the snow-covered mountains across from us. Preparation wise: we really loaded up on food. With 3L of water for each of us, a dozen or so ham sandwiches, 12 granola bars, a pack of Biscoff, 2 fruit squeezies, and a pack of Dutch Nutella cookies, we were set. However, in terms of gear, only one of us had hiking sticks and the rest of us managed to get around using regular school backpacks, tennis shoes, and our overall balance. That was where we made a grave mistake. 

The hike to Augstmatthorn itself isn’t necessarily a challenging one, for us at least. Physically, the overall terrain wasn’t too rugged, it was just very steep and death defying in many places. However, hiking in March, the trail didn’t reveal itself to be dangerous until we completed 7 hours of hiking. As we reached further into the ridge-line, snow began to coat the ground. Some of it was packed and slippery, a menace for those with tennis shoes that had poor grip. Some of it was on the verge of melting, which was extremely dangerous as one wrong step could send the entire snow pile rolling down the ledge only a few inches away from our feet. On the other hand, the snow was cold and wet, numbing our feet perpetually and making it even more slippery. 

The trails became narrower and the ridge even steeper, with two sharp drops on both sides. We were ill-prepared to take on the trail any longer. When we were almost about the clear the trees, several experienced hikers had turned back, warning us that the ridgeline would be too snowy to continue, but we were determined to check out the scene for ourselves. Long story short- we turned back. The sharp drop was covered in packed, melting snow, the most dangerous combination. With our lack of equipment and expertise, we had to give up the hike. It was just too early in the year to reach Augstmatthorn. 

On the way back, we sighed a breath of slight heartbreak as we mentally prepared ourselves for the 7-hour journey back. We would reach Interlaken much after the sun goes down, but luckily three of us had flashlights that would hopefully last us a few hours. As we squeezed through a maze of logs, we spotted a sign: Ringgenberg, a 1.5-hour hike down to the nearby town where we could take the next train back to Interlaken. That turned out to be the worst decision of our lives. This trail took us on a steep, strenuous route that had an elevation loss of 1060m in a climb that was a fourth of the original trail length from Interlaken. The route was steep, winding, and extremely muddy. My shoes, once black, had turned brown, and dirt accumulated under my fingernails as we had to get on our hands and knees to stay balanced. Halfway down the mountain, the trail disappeared. The red and white markers vanished into a maze of fallen pines that completely blocked the path further down. There was no way past the tangle of spiny branches. Even the ground, once made of hardened dirt, had become a slush of mud and accumulated snow. We were stuck. As we sat there, covered in mud and becoming increasingly cold, we felt a wave of panic as the sun began to dip over the ridge and we were no where near the town that was thousands of feet below us… until we thought of another way to reach there: slide. The trail had opened to a grassy slope of long weeds and small tree saplings. The slope was long, but not extremely steep, and near the bottom, we could see the opening to the road leading to the town. Fighting against the time and desperate to get back home, we decided to go for it and slide down the slope. 

Slowly inching our way down, we were able to scoot slowly over the grass, with one of two terrifying moments when we would lose control over patches of slippery grass, grabbing desperately onto the weeds for some stability. In the end, after 40 miserable minutes of sliding, slipping, and sprawling on the ground to slow our descent, we made it to a flatter ledge on the side. Just getting to the ledge was difficult enough, spreading into a sea star and grabbing the small tree saplings to pull us over to safety. Finally, we had made it. Miraculously, just several meters away was flat ground that looked relatively clear of snow and mud. The trail. Somehow, we had made it to the same trail just further down the mountain, saving us a hundred meters or so of downhill hiking. From there, we hustled down the mountain, almost running as we heard strange animal sounds and breaking branches coming from deep within the forest. After another hour, we collapsed onto the pavement, relieved, exhausted, and elated to be one step closer to home… sike.

The pavement we landed on had no direct route down to the town of Ringgenberg. Instead, it weaved back and forth on the mountain as it descended from the slopes. The walk would take at least 45 more minutes and the sun was almost completely gone. We were losing hope. There was not a single light in sight and just more and more rolling hills. We were thinking of cutting across but our muddied shoes would not have made it up those hills to begin with. Then we walked, further and further down the pavement road towards the town, losing hope and spirit. Until yet another miracle, a duo of Swiss guys were coming up the road. Parked to the right was a caravan, big enough to hold at least 10 people. They were our saving grace. They had offered us a ride down to the town, and we willingly said yes, crowding into their van looking tired and hungry. After a short 10-minute ride, we were outside the Ringgenberg train station. We made it to safety. 

On the same night, after we reached our hotel in Geneva on the French border, someone set our hotel on fire, and we escaped out of the burning building just as black smoke began to fill the room. More on this in another blog. 

 As a lesson, this trip was by far one of the most adrenaline-inducing, death-defying, and life-changing experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Hiking in Switzerland is no easy task, and you need to be prepared with the right gear to conquer the terrain. Our journey is just an example of what you SHOULDN’T do when hiking dangerous trails anywhere in the world. And I hope that whoever goes hiking on that same trail won’t have the same experience as us. 

To find out more details about what happened on the hike: check out my vlog on my YouTube channel

Selfies in Interlaken

Join Kaitlyn on her trip through the Jungfrau region in Switzerland in her latest blog post!

Monday, March 22, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

image of sheep from the train
The train ride to Interlaken gave us lots to see!

“Hold on, let’s take a selfie really quickly,” one of my friends exclaimed mid boarding our final train of the weekend. After it was uttered nearly three dozen times this weekend, I came to the conclusion this phrase was quickly becoming my friends’ favorite sentence. I can’t blame them, though; nearly every point in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps was absolutely breathtaking and more than deserving of a snapshot. 

coffees at the hostel
Hostel provided hot chocolate, lattes, and coffee!

Our stay in the town of Interlaken was an extremely unique one; it was my first time staying in a hostel. It wasn’t just any hostel, though. Somehow, we had managed to book a room in what was proclaimed as the “Ninth best large hostel in the world”. How did I feel about this? Well, as it was my first hostel experience, I don’t think I’m the best person to judge, but objectively, it was phenomenal. We were given free bus passes, breakfast, coffee, cooking utensils, and discounts on train tickets. We cooked dinner and ate alongside other young adults that came from different corners of the world but were able to communicate using English as a common language. 

We started our Saturday with a train ride that snaked us through the valley and up to the village of Lauterbrunnen. We were probably the only non-Europeans on that train, and we made it very clear by taking selfies hanging out of the windows!

selfie on the train

As our train approached the village, the mountains grew taller and the air simply felt cleaner. I know I say this a lot, but Lauterbrunnen was truly something out of a fairytale. We absorbed the scene in complete awe as waterfalls cascaded down the sides of mountain faces and church bells rang in the distance.We boarded a cable car that took us directly up to the top of the mountain. It climbed higher and higher, until the homes below us grew to the size of ants and we were eye-level with the mountain peaks.

cable car photoThe hike that our hostel recommended would take us directly to the alpine village of Mürren via a trail along the mountain ridge. We traversed through what can only be best described as a winter wonderland.  There were so many times I had to remind myself that the panoramic views weren’t just quickly fading scenes on green screens, but one-hundred percent my real surroundings. My friends and I were just absolutely floored by the landscape. One of the best parts was that the hike was extremely easy! Since we were already so high in elevation, all we had to do was walk on a mostly flat trail. It was incredibly low effort, high reward.

We made it to the end of the trail, the traditional mountain town of Murren that sits at 5450 feet. Though the hike wasn’t particularly taxing, we still figured we deserved a reward of Swiss chocolate, so we plopped down on a bench and tucked in. 


Kaitlyn staring at the views of mountains
Here’s a photo of me having trouble comprehending that the view wasn’t a painting!

We spent the next day much closer to sea level trading the towering mountains for the crystal blue waters of Lake Thunersee.

Eating pizza on the docks was definitely a highlight of the day!

After getting off the train at Spiez, we heard a strange but familiar sound: long, melodic, trumpet-like notes were echoing throughout the town. It turns out a man was playing the alphorn, a several-meter-long wooden horn used by mountain dwellers in the Alps. It used to be a communication device for those living far apart in the mountains, but is a musical instrument today. We had learned about it in a Rick Steves video, so it was crazy to actually see and hear it in person! It really was the quintessential Swiss experience.


Summits above Switzerland

Join Kaitlyn as she visits a place she’s dreamt of – Switzerland. Read her story– one filled with chocolate, chess, and snow capped mountains– in her latest blog post!


Thursday, January 28, 2021 | Written by Kaitlyn

From the Appalachians to the Sierra Nevadas, my favorite family trips growing up were always the ones we took to visit the great mountains of the United States. As I spent my time staring at and summiting peaks, I’ve always dreamt of being surrounded by the majesty of the alps. This weekend my travel companions and I journeyed to Luzern and Zurich, Switzerland to make what was once a distant dream, reality. 

Day 1

My group and I left Thursday morning to start our multi-train journey towards Luzern. Our travel went relatively smoothly… except for one of our transfers in Basel. We only had a few minutes to change trains and ended up sprinting to catch our next one before it departed. The nine of us running at full speed through a small train station must have been quite a sight to the other travelers.  While I was sprinting, I looked to my right to see a small Swiss boy take one glance at us, then start sprinting in the same direction. I was so focused on catching my train, I never glanced back to see if he realized there was no reason for him to run.

swan in a lake Once we caught our breath (safely on our train) we were able to fully take in the scenery as we rode closer to Luzern. In the span of just four hours, we had gone from viewing the lush green countryside of France to staring, awestruck, at the snow capped mountains of the Alps. We arrived in Luzern in the mid-afternoon, and had a few hours to kill before we could check into our Airbnb. So, we did as one would do upon arriving in a foreign city: we explored. It was a beautiful, partly sunny day (something that is hard to come by this time of year in Metz) and we took full advantage of it. We came across an urban park where two old men were playing giant chess. I’ve never played a game of chess, but I watched Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, so that must count for something right? Lack of chess knowledge notwithstanding, it was enjoyable to observe the men amicably argue back and forth in German. Our last activity for the day was hiking up to the top of a very tall hill. Standing on the top, I came to the conclusion Luzern has a sort of indescribable charm I could never aptly write about as I took in the view of the lights of the city.

Day 2

church in luzern Luzern still had plenty more to offer, so we spent our second day continuing to explore the city. A friend and I split off from our group and wandered around with no specific destination in mind. We walked into a stunning cathedral which reminded me more of a Disney princess’ castle than the typical gothic European cathedral. The ornate details of the architecture took my breath away upon our arrival. Instead of being made of stone and stained glass, it was covered in white and pink plaster and embellished with perfectly placed gold accents. chocolates, yum!After our time in the cathedral, we checked off a Swiss must-do: eating delicious Swiss chocolate. It might have been expensive, as everything in Switzerland is, but I can say with confidence that it was worth every Franc.

Day 3

zurich street photo Luzern treated us well, but we wanted to see more of what Switzerland has to offer, so we took a day trip to Zurich (only a 50 minute train ride from Luzern). One of our first stops was to grab lunch from a kebab restaurant. I have a feeling that this might be a recurring destination throughout my time traveling in Europe, as we also ate kebabs the previous day. It’s filling, delicious, and relatively cheap which is all a college student could ever ask for. After exploring the streets of the city, we hopped on a bus to Uetliberg, which is affectionately nicknamed the top of Zurich. To anyone who visits Zurich, I highly recommend you visit Uetliberg. We climbed the mountain to the summit, where we saw the entirety of Zurich below us, and the Alps above us in the distance. It was a fantastic way to end our last day in Switzerland and a truly breathtaking experience, mostly from the beautiful views, but partially from the steep uphill of zurich picture

Interloping through Interlaken

Join Kaela for her adventures in Interlaken, Switzerland – a weekend filled with mountains, canyons, and chocolate of course – in her latest blog post!

Monday, October 26, 2020 | Written by Kaela


As our train made its way through Switzerland, I felt more like a tourist than I ever had before. My phone was glued to the window trying to capture the scene true to life as we sped by snow capped mountains, dense forests, and turquoise water. I could barely contain my awe at such a breathtaking country, so much so I was taken aback by the people surrounding me on their electronics and asleep. How could they take their eyes off the window? Graced with good weather upon our arrival, we quickly dropped off our belongings at our airbnb and made our way to a popular hiking trail, Harder Kulm. 

cityI underestimated this hike. As we started the hike I was singing, running, and taking treacherous shortcuts, but soon enough, my singing became only the rhythm of my heavy breathing. As we made our way up the mountain, we took periodic stops to take in the view, catch our breath, and eat some snacks. I, naively, trusted google map’s 1.5 hour estimate for our hike. To compensate for the steep incline the trail goes up, the path zigzags, making the hike more manageable. There is a tram that takes people straight to the top of the mountain, we used it as a reference for how far we were from the top. As we neared the 1.5 hour mark we wondered why it seemed to go on for much longer, but we were convinced our multiple breaks and slow pace were the reason for this. As we neared the 2 hour mark, we started to get worried. We needed enough time to come back down the mountain before the sun set. After asking a fellow hiker, we came to find out that the hike actually takes about 2.5 hours: much longer than we had anticipated. 

mountainsOur main concern was our misunderstanding that you can only pay for the tram with cash, and neither of us had francs. We debated cutting the hike short and heading down prematurely, but we had worked hard to get to that point. We were so close to the top and despite the beautiful views on the way up, nothing could compare to the one waiting for us at the top. We made a call to some friends who intended to meet us and worked out a plan: they would take the tram up to meet us at the top, francs in hand, and we could use that cash to pay for a tram back down, allowing us to watch the sunset from the summit. (We found out later you can pay for the tram in cash, but I’m grateful this dilemma helped to motivate us to the summit.) 

We powered through the last of the hike and surely enough, we made it to the top. The mountain no longer blocking the wind, the sun setting in the distance, and the high altitude, made the temperature difference almost shocking. Nonetheless, the view overlooking Interlaken was more than worth the steep winding journey. No camera, on matter how good the technology, can accurately capture the magnificence my eye could see from the summit. Our friends ended up joining us soon after we got to the top and we spent hours taking photos, talking, and appreciating the landscape. After the sunset, we took the tram back down the mountain and headed to our airbnb. Needless to say, after all of the twists and turns of our day I had a great night of sleep. 

The view over Interlaken

canyoningThe weather the next day was rainy and cold, but we took advantage of this by doing an activity that ended up with us being cold and wet anyway: going canyoning. At least this way we would be rappelling, exploring, jumping, and sliding distracting us from how cold and wet we were. I felt so daring as I rappelled and swung around Interlaken. The final slide made me feel exhilarated but sad the day was almost over. We ended this experience the best way possible: with a warm cup of hot chocolate. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city, souvenir shopping, and of course, eating lots and lots of Swiss chocolate! (And I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with a picture of some delicious ice cream with Swiss chocolate in the background, one of my traveling staples.)

A Hike to Switzerland, Part 2

Some places are so beautiful that you have to go back – but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a boring trip. Karsten hiked with friends in Interlaken again, but there were different surprises this time around!

Sunday, October 6, 2019 | Written by Karsten

A week ago, I had no plans to travel anywhere this weekend. On Monday, Alek mentioned that a group was going to hike near Interlaken, Switzerland. Though I had already done a hike in Interlaken, I said that I’d be down to go again if they had space. Sure enough, on Friday morning, we left for Switzerland. The weather app all week had predicted rain and highs of about sixty every day.

The plan was to make it to Interlaken at about 1:00 PM, go from Interlaken to Grindewald, and immediately hike up to First and then on to Faulhorn. While I packed some warm clothes, I didn’t expect to need them, especially not on the way up. I started the hike with only a long-sleeve t-shirt and shorts. I decided not to make this hike in my slip-on Vans after how many times I slipped last time. Luckily, the rain held off for most of the way up. Because I played soccer the night before, knew I probably wouldn’t be able to fill up my water bottle, and sweated a decent amount on the way up, I was quite a bit dehydrated once we neared First. As we were climbing the last few stairs on the way to the First Cliff Walk, I had the worst cramp of my life (I don’t think I’ve had a cramp I’ve had since high school football) and both of my legs essentially locked up and I couldn’t move them. Needless to say, after this, I was much slower and actually drank some of my water.

On the Cliff Walk, we waited our turn for pictures and the wind gusts were shaking the overlook a little. Luckily, there was a rail to hold on to. Once we hit this point, I swear the temperature dropped like twenty degrees, so I put my rain jacket and hoodie back on. We continued up from First to Faulhorn. This is where we realized the second surprise of the weekend—the Berghotel Faulhorn, where we were staying, was on a snow-capped peak. Being near the lakes in the valley and seeing the peaks was absolutely crazy. After a couple of pictures, we headed up, and it got extremely cold with the wind gusts. With a surprisingly limited number of slips on the way up, we made it at about 6:15 PM (the hike should’ve taken about 6 hours, and we took like 45 minutes worth of breaks on the way up). I got some crazy looks when I walked in with our group in shorts. We changed and had a soup and macaroni dinner, played some cards, and turned in early (read: before 10:00 PM). 

The third surprise of the weekend came when we woke up—it snowed about five inches overnight. We were advised to go back down in a very similar way that we came up, as the cliffs we had intended to hike by were snow-covered with low visibility. While hiking down with snow-covered paths (the only visible path markers were posts) seems pretty dangerous, the fresh-fallen snow had a much larger amount of grip and it was cold enough that any snow that stuck to you didn’t melt and the wind blew it off, so we managed to stay pretty dry. We made it back to the lake, which had much whiter surroundings from the new snow. From there, we went a different route as we had successfully made it down from the line where the snow fell. We took the long path to Bussalp, then Berglauenen, then took the train back to Interlaken. We found our Airbnb, had dinner (where I had fondue for the second time this semester), and explored the city a little. We again turned in pretty early—I think I managed 9 hours of sleep in back-to-back nights.

This morning, we went to Bern, Switzerland. There, we saw the Rose Garden overlooking the city, went to see some bears, and then had lunch. It was a very cool city, and I’m glad we made the stop there on the way back home. I’m writing this as we’re heading back to Metz. We have about a half of a mile of walking left today, which adds to the forty miles I’ve walked so far this weekend. I never would’ve expected that the first time I saw snow was in the first week of October, and I would’ve thought you were crazy if you told me I would’ve seen it and hiked through it, but it was an all around great experience and I’m happy that I was spontaneous enough to decide to tag along on this unique weekend.

A Hike to Switzerland

Interlaken is a favorite destination of Georgia Tech-Lorraine students, and Karsten has some advice for those thinking about going: “Be prepared with outdoor gear, because you’ll want be outside the entire time.”

Monday, September 9, 2019 | Written by Karsten

This weekend a group of us went to Interlaken, Switzerland. When I say a group, I mean essentially all of GTL—there were forty-nine of us in the GroupMe, and although everyone didn’t come, there are only just under ninety undergraduate students here. Interlaken literally translates from German to “between lakes,” and as you might imagine, it’s between to lakes—Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. It is a wildly popular tourist location as it is absolutely stunning, and there are many different, generally extreme, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be had, including hang-gliding and paragliding, running a mountainous marathon, and ridged hikes.



Adam Bradshaw, the lone University of Colorado-Boulder student this semester, and I took the train after class to St. Louis (not the one in Missouri) and met up with four other study abroad students in Basel, Switzerland. To get from St. Louis, France to Basel, Switzerland, we just walked across the border, so that was a pretty cool experience in and of itself. We ended up at a Swiss bar to watch the Switzerland-Ireland soccer game, and there were a couple Irishmen there who talked to us for the entirety of the game.


The six of us left from Basel and went on to meet up with the rest of the group in Interlaken. From the train, we could all see just how insanely blue the water of the lakes was. It was the color of the Glacier Freeze Gatorades. Once we got off of the train, we went on to the hostel that most people were staying at. I think every traveler there was either from GTL or running the marathon that was this weekend. Once we dropped off all of our stuff, a group went kayaking while the rest of us decided to go for a swim in the lake. The water was absolutely frigid, as it was a very cloudy, fifty-five-degree day. Regardless, it was a good time and made for some funny pictures.


The main goal of going to Interlaken was to be able to hike up Augstmatthorn, an insane ridge ending in a peak overlooking the lakes. If you’ve seen pictures from a high altitude in Interlaken, they were likely taken here. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it, as it’s deemed an “expert” hike and the weather was very uncertain. We made it up Harderkulm without much of a struggle, but then the rain started and made going rather treacherous. We got to the point where we could turn and head down the mountain or continue all the way. As I hiked in some slip-on Vans (not my brightest idea but funny nonetheless) and the weather seemed like it was getting worse, I was in the group that went down there. All in all, I fell about five times and slipped many, many more, but it was a good time anyway, particularly when I slipped and fell from the path on the way down and somersaulted (but quickly caught myself) and scared the group badly. Once back and changed, we went out for dinner at a fondue place. I was particularly excited for this, as my dad has made fondue at home, and I love it. Needless to say, it exceeded my expectations.



On Sunday, we headed back to Metz. It was a pretty uneventful trip, but we played Spicy Uno for the entirety of one train ride, so that was a very good time. Once we were back, I edited my pictures from the weekend and reflected, and man, Interlaken is stunning. I highly recommend it to anyone reading this who hasn’t been before, but also be prepared with outdoor gear, because you’ll want be outside the entire time.

This Is What “Peak” Performance Looks Like

Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishing something you’ve dreamed about for a long time, and Maddie captures that in her latest blog posts, in which she describes her trek up a Swiss mountain.

This was the trip that is undoubtedly the high point (literally) of my European travels: Interlaken, Switzerland. Not only was it one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, but I climbed my first mountain there, something that I’ve always dreamed of accomplishing!

I could barely take my eyes off of the beautiful, grassy hills and the spectacular mountains, which was somewhat problematic for my stubbed toes.

Interlaken is a lovely town situated between two lakes (hence the name), which looked stunning with a beautiful mountain backdrop as we rode the train into the city. Walking down the main boulevard, we saw many quintessentially Swiss things, from watch stores to chocolatiers to a fondue restaurant, all the while marveling at the soaring mountains that framed the sky. One of the most exciting parts of this walk was seeing hang gliders and paragliders soaring and swooping through the sky! They floated down from the mountains and we sat and watched, fascinated, as they all landed on a huge green lawn in the center of the city.

We stopped to take scenic pictures and have a nutritious lunch of brioche, Nutella, bananas, nuts, and other snacks.

The next day, we were ready to hike! The woman at the tourism office recommended that we walk through the valley of waterfalls, as it was very beautiful and suitable for beginners. We decided not to follow her advice, however—we wanted to see the sights from high up, so we decided to attempt a hike to the summit of the Schilthorn from a little mountain town called Mürren.

After stocking up on food and taking two trains and a gondola from Interlaken to reach Mürren, we were ready to begin. It was 11 am when we started, so our goal was to get as far as we could by 3 pm and then turn around to allow us enough time to catch the trains back to Interlaken. The beginning of the hike took us through rolling hills and many pastures, punctuated by the constant clinking of cowbells and the occasional moo. Sadly, the cows did not really want to be pet.

I found a nice branch early on the hike that I used for a walking stick the rest of the way up. It proved very helpful, especially in the slippery snow!

As the hours passed and we continued to ascend, the trail turned from sharp, steep switchbacks up grassy hills to a flatter, rocky path towards the final summit, and then to no path at all as we approached the most difficult part of the journey. At this point we had truly transitioned from hiking to climbing: we carefully pulled ourselves up rocky ledges, following spray painted arrows through the otherwise confusing landscape, and we gingerly made our way up steep, snowy inclines, testing our weight with every step and hoping that the powder wouldn’t give way

On the way down, I was often prone to sprinting down the mountainside, both because it was fun but also because the steep slope made it hard to stop, so you can see my traveling buddies in the distance behind me along with the foggy mountain peak.

beneath our feet. Near the top, thankfully, there were ropes to pull ourselves up the more treacherous inclines, and railings to hold as we crossed narrow rock bridges towards our goal.

With our tired lungs and aching legs, we finally reached the peak of the mountain—at precisely 3:00 pm! I can’t describe the feeling I had when I reached the top; after 4 hours and after scaling 4,366 feet of vertical elevation, I was so exhilarated, so full of endorphins from the strenuous hike up, and so proud of our achievement that all I could think was “When can I do this again?” I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain at some point in my life, and after actually doing it that desire has only gotten stronger. This amazing trip really opened my eyes to the wonders of hiking and climbing, and I can’t wait until my next opportunity to test my limits and scale taller summits!

On the way down the mountainside, after the rain had stopped, we were treated with an absolutely gorgeous double rainbow!!

Did You Know Interlaken Means Between Two Lakes?

Switzerland is beautiful this time of year… and really any other time of year, but Quinnell and friends were on a quest to do all of the adventurous activities and to see all the breathtaking views offered in this little town.

I was rushing after my Thursday classes to go to the grocery store and make sure I had everything packed for my trip to Interlaken. Making it the train station in time, some students and I began our five-hour journey to one of the most peaceful and sweetest places I have ever been to: Interlaken, Switzerland. Traveling to Switzerland during the night made waking up the next morning jaw-dropping. We woke up to the sunlight beaming through the windows, and I walked outside with a dewy mist in the air to see lush green and rocky mountains, a crystal blue river, and a quaint city with houses decorated by little red and pink flowers.

Woke up to this view of the Interlaken Mountains!

My first day of adventure in Interlaken consisted of me sitting in a wobbly kayak as I paddled in Lake Brien. When I stepped into the kayak, I did not expect it to sway so much or be so difficult to paddle quickly. This was not my first water excursion, as I have para-sailed, jet skied, and white water rafted before; however, kayaking was something that truly tested my strength and endurance because if I wanted to move to go anywhere, I had to paddle myself. This experience was so much fun, tiring, and hilarious as I struggled to paddle for the first twenty minutes because my paddle was backward!

Kayaking in Lake Brien.

mass of turquoise water that stretched beyond eyesight, beautiful mountains, and the small towns in the mountains surrounded me. While racing other GTL students in kayaking competitions, wading in the water, and soaking in the sun, I was able to think about all the things I was able to do since studying abroad. After making it safely back to shore, we ate a traditional Swiss dinner at the restaurant next to the kayaking place; there I ordered fried eggs and ham for the first time.

Fried eggs and ham dinner.

At the top of Harderkulm!

During this trip, I truly stepped out of my comfort zone! The next day I went hiking in Grindelwald, Switzerland. I was glad that I came ready with hiking shoes, snacks, water, and a light jacket. The scenery was breathtaking – quite literally, as my lungs and legs were challenged hiking up the mountain. About halfway through the hike, we realized that the hike was a medium skill level and a lot longer than we thought it would be. With my overdramatic self, I made my way up the mountain and was greeted with a much-earned view. When I say Interlaken is beautiful, it truly is as no picture could ever capture its full beauty! After lunch, I was able to check something off my Interlaken bucket list as I slid down the mountains on the Alpine Slide. Later that afternoon, I also took the daring, steep eight minute ride to the top of Harderkulm, the tallest mountain in Interlaken, to see the most beautiful view of the city and watch the sunset. If you ever go to Interlaken, Harderkulm and hiking are a must! Interlaken had a lot of adventure to offer, with skydiving, zip lining, paragliding, hang gliding, and kayaking all offered.

A traditional Swiss performance in the middle of the streets of Interlaken.

While leaving Interlaken, I realized that since starting my study abroad experience I was able to travel to three countries and a handful of cities within a span of less than a month. Studying abroad has not only changed my outlook on what other places look like and the history of them but also how people are so different culturally everywhere you go. Interlaken was nothing short of breathtaking, relaxing, adventure-filled, and culturally educational. I would highly recommend anyone to visit here as the opportunities of fun and adventure are limitless!