The mountains rise before you on the trip from Zurich. At first they are green hills behind the industry paralleling the railway lines that pull you farther and farther from your old reality. But by the time you’ve changed trains in Bern and hopped a bus to Adelboden in Frutigen, they are giants–towers of rock and trees and meadow that soar overhead. At that moment, the planes, trains and automobiles it takes to get here become worth it.
“It’s so beautiful it looks fake,” one of our American Girl Scouts exclaimed as she swiveled around in Our Chalet’s yard, gazing at the mountains on all sides.
No matter how many times I bring girls to Our Chalet, the reaction is always the same. I first made the trip in 1987, with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. The girls had decided when they were Junior Scouts that they wanted to travel to England and Switzerland, and they spent years planning their adventure. I returned in 1997 with another troop, and again in October 2014 with a group of adult Scouts.
Now I’m back, this time with my granddaughter–following in her mother’s footsteps–and 11 other girls, and four other adults who are having those familiar reactions to the scenery, the activities, and the adventure of a lifetime. Everyday has been “the best day ever.”
After gazing at the mountains and the valley around Our Chalet for a few minutes, we were greeted by the warm staff and taken to our rooms. The girls settled into “the attic”–the same room my daughter’s troop had stayed in almost 30 years ago–and the adults divided into comfortable spaces among the guest floors. The dinner bell called us to a spaghetti dinner and we eased into our new home.
The next day found us learning campfire and orienteering skills on the Chalet grounds, as well as tips and challenges for living sustainably. The day also included a session on the WAGGGS “Free to Be Me” initiative. A barbecue lunch introduced us to local sausages and chocolate, and in the evening we learned how small our world truly is: as each group staying at Our Chalet presented itself through skits and songs, we realized every corner of our home state was represented by other guests. But we learned how big it is too, as we shared laughs with Girl Guides from Denmark and Canada, and Scouts from other states in the U.S., trading swaps and extra “knickers,” the colorful scarves Girl Guides wear when traveling abroad. The Chalet is truly a place to make new friends.
We ventured off the Chalet grounds the next day with a trip to the local adventure park, where both girls and adults were pushed out of their comfort zones by zip lines and ropes courses and a sky-high rock wall that tested their climbing skills. Their faces could hardly contain their wide smiles, and they bounced their way down the trail to home, overcome by excitement. It was another best day ever.
The town of Thun waited for us the next day, after a funicular ride up the face of Niessen Mountain and a boat trip across Lake Thun. Most of the girls toured medieval Oberhofen Castle and had fun in the dress-up room there, trying on hats and emailing pictures of themselves back home.
The only disappointment of the week came that night, when the overnight hike to Bunderspitz was cancelled due to weather.
But maybe it was for the best. We were tired! Free day couldn’t have come at a better point in the program. So the next day we headed to Adelboden for a leisurely lunch and some shopping. By the time we climbed the hill to the town’s Main Street, Dorfstrasse, we were ready to eat–so much for rest.
More shopping awaited the next day, after a hike to the Trummer Holzschnitzere woodcarver, on which we learned the term “Swiss flat.” In Switzerland, even the flat road is never flat. At his shop, we filled our packs with the hand-carved Girl Scout and Girl Guide souvenirs in which he specializes. Next door, we rejuvenated for the climb back with lemon cake and chocolate milk.
On the way home we put those packs down to try our hand at abseiling. As we lowered ourselves 30 meters into the Cholern Gorge above a crystal green-blue river that thundered through the rock, the beauty of this place again took hold. Another best day ever.
By now those packs were pretty full, but we managed to make some room in them the following day, when we headed to Interlaken to watch how that delicious Swiss chocolate is made. There might not be much left in Switzerland, because so much is going home with us. But that afternoon we burned off some of that sugar with a trip down the Lutschine River in a rubber raft. Our guide bellowed commands: “paddle forward!!” while we strained to keep the boat moving in the right direction among the rocks and rapids. “Get down!!” our guide called. We obeyed, as we bumped and splashed our way into Lake Brienz, where we jumped in and played in the blue abyss. There we met up with the group that headed to Trummelbach Falls, to see the inspiration for “Lord of the Rings.”
More adventure awaited the our last full day when we hiked to Elsiegenalp. Some took the high road, and some took the low road, but we all arrived in the same place. Bathing suits in our packs, we looked forward to a refreshing swim in a real alpine lake, but Mother Nature, who had been treating us to 90-degree weather all week, had other plans. Our alpine lake had evaporated to an alpine puddle. We settled for a dip in a man-made lake. And those of us who went on to the peak of Elsighorn were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment in the 1,000-meter gain in altitude as well as views of snow covered peaks and the surrounding towns.
That night the tears mingled with songs at the closing campfire as the last best day ever — and the best week ever — came to a close. More trains, planes and automobiles would take us back to our old reality the next day, but memories of Our Chalet will be with us for at least the next 30 years.