This is a long one, be warned
I've found paradise.... and its name is Switzerland.
After Barcelona, I'd couldn't go any further north in Spain, and there's nowhere in France I really want to go to (I don't get the attraction, doesn't anyone realise the place is full of French people). I decided to just find anywhere I hadn't been to yet that had a cheap flight from Barcelona. Switzerland was the first (closest) choice and bingo, twenty euro flights to Zurich or Bern (thankyou sidestep.com).
I checked out my trusty purple bible and decided that I'd base myself in the Jungfrau area since it's known as a good base to do some things I've been missing since I started travelling, being walking up mountains, riding down hills and jumping off things into water. After a month and a half of plus 30 temperatures and a lot of dust, a stint in the mountains was looking to be just what the doctor ordered.
You hear people raving about the beauty of the Alps, but nothing could prepare me for what was coming. This place is the first I've seen that is described as jaw-dropping that actually caused my lower jaw to descend - seriously, I think I said to someone every day how the place was just too beautiful to be real, the green grass, perfectly maintained chalet villages & white peaks in the distance.
As all accommodation was booked in Interlaken due to the Jungfrau marathon (which I plan on doing next year) I headed to a hostel in a place called Gimmelwald, a 45 minute train/bus/cable car ride away that's meant to have views to die for and a hostel that gets rave reviews (and has a hot tub). From there I climbed to the peak of Schilthorn, a 2970m peak where the climax to one of the Bond movies was filmed (I'm thinking about compiling a list of Bond locations I've visited, or maybe becoming a location scout - now that's a profession worth having). It was the hardest walk I've ever done, absolutely kicked my arse. I felt like a bit of a loser doing the walk in my shorts and Mizunos, passing all these walkers in hiking boots and those fancy walking sticks they all like to use (I don't care what you call them or where you buy them from, they're walking sticks). The last 300m was pretty scary as I hit the ice and the trail got narrow in places with steep drops and no rail. Then I realised I was Australian and when you have to live with the constant threat of crocodiles, snakes and drop bears, I got over it and passed 2 Swedes p**** footing their way to the top. That was sweet, for that matter, so were the views (that's how you do a segue Anna Corin). Check out the photos - they don't do it justice, so you should think about going there yourself and doing it. It was sorta crap there is a cable car all the way to the top so the peak was crawling with Japanese and Indian families throwing food and rubbish on the ground and taking up all the railing space to take photos (guess which culture goes with which heinous act).
Just before I move onto the next part I have to give a big shout out to Mountain Hostel - my experience there is exactly the reason why I love staying in hostels. The place was pretty small, with 2 dorms, a kitchen, dining area and a bar (and of course, a hot tub). It was good because it was small and had the only bar in the village, so all the locals came there at night. There was a piano in the corner and eventually the guitars come out, the requests start and everyone's singing, talking and all mixing - even the families, who usually keep away from everyone else.
After that I headed into Interlaken to do some adventuring. First off the rank was to do some canyoning, which was as good as I hoped it would be. Lots of jumping off waterfalls, sliding down cliffs and a couple of rappels for good measure. The water was clean, cold and clear, there were no wusses holding the group up and the guides still seemed to enjoy doing the tour even though it was their 3-400th time doing it. And for anyone who thought I was nuts for some of the jumps I do, you need to see these guys in action, the heights they would jump from and the stunts they would pull off caused my jaw to dislocate for the 2nd time. I was almost ready to find out how to become a guide myself..... almost.
Next day I hired a mountain bike with the intention to ride to Grindlewald and get a cable car to the top of a mountain and ride down. What I didn't take into account was I'd forgotten what a muppet at downhills I am at the best of times, the general shoddy state of hired bikes and how long it takes to ride 20km uphill. It wasn't a waste of a day by far; there was bike path the whole way there that went through small villages, spooky pine forests and farm trails, complete with cows, sheep & goats with the standard massive bells. I never worked out why all the farm animals need these massive bells - lets not even mention what the Swiss think they're worth, tell 'em they're dreamin'.
Grindlewald itself was pretty ordinary - it looks awesome from afar, nestled below the Eiger but the place has been totally touristified. The streets are lined with expensive shops, restaurants and hotels and the streets crawl with oldies with lots of money and not much sense (and crocks - need I say more).
So that was about it, I was told that Bern was worth a visit, so I planned to leave the next day and spend the night there before flying out of Geneva (more cheap flighty goodness). Unfortunately at the hostel bar (Balmer's, another great hostel), I met an American couple of which the guy had ridden to Switzerland on his motorbike through Russia from Beijing, his wife/girlfriend/whatever met him in Istanbul and they were heading west as far as possible by land. They'd stopped there so the female half couple do a bungy jump the guy had done years earlier. The other guys who were with us decided to ditch the ice climb they'd planned the next day and cause everyone was doing it, I got jealous I decided to do it as well, it had nothing to do with the fact we were in the late stages of the 2nd happy hour, seriously, well, maybe for the guy who chickened out the next day.
As I had nothing planned and the jump wasn't till 6pm, I spent the next day walking round town and being nervous. The jump is 134m (the highest in Europe) and I remember how scary it was to climb over the railing when I abseiled the Gordon Dam (which is a similar height). At 6pm, 11 fairly quiet people climbed in the cable car and began the ascent - I'd have to say in one of the most amazing parts of the Alps I'd seen so far. It was weird, I went for quietly s***ting myself to being really amped to be up there. I can't describe the jump, I can still feel the sensation of flying through the air - no fear (to coin a phrase), just a massive rush - probably the one of the best things I've ever done. Even at $50AU for a CD of about 40 photos, there was no way I wasn't going to be leaving without them.
The next day I left for good. Although I was sad to go, I've never left a place so totally satisfied with the experience. I will be back, mark my words.