A SWISS ROADTRIP
JUNE 19, 2021
NOT my car on Flüela Pass
This is a difficult post to write. How do you condense two and a half weeks of the most intense living I've done since the pandemic started into one blogpost? How do you connect images taken in very different regions, altitudes, weathers, and scenes into one coherent story? Well, I'll try. Don't judge me if this is above my abilities.
I guess the best starting point for this story is Niko. Niko and I met through making coffee and became good friends. He pushed it further than I did and went to work in a high-end coffeeshop in Zurich. After a while, the work environment became too toxic to bear and he quit - just as I was finishing up the van. I was looking for a partner, he was in dire need of vacation, so ironically it all fit pretty well. I picked him up and off we went.
An unintentional Patagonia ad
Basically, we did a 16-day clockwise tour of Switzerland. We drove 2000km, over many mountain passes and down small gravel roads. We only stayed at a campsite once, and only in two places did we sleep for more than one night. It's a pointless enterprise to try and describe the entire trip. Instead, I'll try and highlight a few notable things.
It took a few nights until we found our groove. The first couple days we were consumed by everyday necessities like where we sleep, how we cook, do the dishes, go to the bathroom, organize the car. Very quickly though, it became a routine. Brushing your teeth on a public parking space is less weird when you have accepted that that's where you live. Morning van prep got quicker as we learned the moves. Creeks and lakes became our dish rinsing and showering friends.
I'd say after about a week, I felt comfortable. Everything worked well, I felt reasonably hygienic, we slept and ate well, had an okay amount of power and had gotten experience in where we felt comfortable sleeping at night. To my dismay, the experience fulfilled every cliché about it - life slows down, you care less about the rest of the world, and in the material reduction there is no real discomfort. Less water, less power, less internet, no fridge - we didn't mind.
Rain changes things
Snow in June
Naturally, when you visit Switzerland, your activities are mainly going to be outside. With the cold April and May here in Central Europe this year, this made for some peculiar situations. On a hike near St. Antönien, we found ourselves in 26 degree weather, sporting shorts and t-shirts through deep snow that hadn't melted yet. After an hour not seeing the path and lacking snowshoes, we turned around and slid down the steep flank we just arduously made our way up. I also had forgotten my sunglasses, and boy, did I get a headache from staring into the snow. Never going to make that mistake again.
Our way up
Hiking in fog or towards cheese
After that one failed hike, we did more research on our routes and had some nice hikes where we could reach summits or at least find the path. We did a recreational walk that ended in a goat's cheese fest (for me) and a deer sausage fest (for Niko). We went up Augstmatthorn, which apparently is one of the Instagram hotspots in the Swiss Alps - and the view was indeed incredible. The most memorable hike was Fürstein, a smaller peak in Entlebuch. The fog up there was so alive, changing from 10m of eyeshot to giving free sight towards the next massif in a matter of seconds. Slightly scary, super special, crazy hard to capture on photos.
Descent into the fog
Don't worry, this has not become erotica. Magic Wood is the name of a forest near the Italian border. It's truly magical with a wild creek and a dense forest - but what makes it extra special are the boatloads of boulders that attract climbers from all over Europe. Niko used to climb on quite a high level and went there with his club at age 14 - so for him, it was a reunion. For me, it was amazing to see his childlike joy in rediscovering the places and touching rock for the first time in ages; also, climbers make for fantastic photographic subjects. Probably the best image of the trip came out of a blue hour walk through Magic Wood.
Climbers at night in Magic Wood
There are many more microstories to tell. Our dreamy weekend in Zurich, a visit to our friend's summer house where we put our sleeping bags down next to a lake, Niko cutting my hair in the middle of nowhere and me dunking into a shallow but super cold creek to wash the hairs off, cutting my finger and going to the emergency room, getting scared by a creepy guy, not finding any running routes that don't go straight up a mountain, eating too many chickpeas and cans of tomatoes, trying to skate in Lausanne and noticing it's all super steep... it goes on and on.
Slightly more intentional Highland Park ad
What about photography?
This is a photography blog after all! Photographically, I'm not perfectly satisfied. I took some good pictures, but the output is more scattered and way less mountain focused than I thought. The two things I think I need to change to have a better photographic experience is to set more destinations and to catch more sunrises - should be easy enough. There is a big positive takeaway, however: my setup fulfils its role perfectly. My trusty DSLR is with me in all kinds of rough terrain, where speed and durability are important. My little Fuji comes with me everywhere and takes pictures of nice people and random scenes I come across. And the big Mamiya comes out to play when I feel like shooting film. This happened twice on this trip, once in Zurich, once in the summer house - hopefully I'll have two more blogposts coming there if I didn't fuck stuff up.
This image would be much better at sunrise for example
There is something lacking from this as well
This trip was pretty much a perfect start. I learned to feel comfortable with everything about living in a car (which is way easier when you're with a friend). I spent some lovely time with nice people and in breathtaking places. Most importantly, I learned that I have the urge to do stuff while being on the road, write, pursue certain shots, run, work out, have as rich of an experience as possible. Of course this trip represents unbelievable freedom, but I don't want it to feel like a three month vacation. Essentially, this is what my life looks like at the moment - and I tend to feel very shit when I take vacations from nothing.
On our last couple days, we were in the French speaking part of Switzerland. It really feels different, like I remember being in France. When we drove down to Lausanne and the view over Lake Geneva opened up away from the mountains, I was so touched by the sheer width of land I could see. In that moment, I just wanted to go to the sea. Lucky bastard that I am, I can do that. Bretagne is next - I can smell the ocean from here.
Front row seats