A Travellerspoint blog



sunny 28 °F

JUMP DAY! Saturday morning Allie and I hesitantly got up and prepared for the big day. It was a 1 hour train ride from Bern to Interlaken. Once in Interlaken we found our hostel and tried to mentally prepare for the adventure we had ahead of us. The company we jumped had its main office right next door to our hostel, but of course we were late (our 20 minute nap and stretch session turned into an hour). They drove us up towards Stockhorn (practically the center of Switzerland) where we bordered a gondola that took us up to the top of the mountain. When I thought we were already at the top of the world, I saw that we pulled into a different cabin where the second gondola would take us to the jump spot. Before loading us up for the jump, they took each of our weights and strapped on our gear. The only thing attaching me to the rope was padding around our ankles that attached to a harness around our hips! Of course, Allie and I were the only stupid Americans there who didn’t bring ski jackets and snow shoes, so were standing there in a sweater and slip on shoes. There were about 20 of us who signed up to jump, so we piled into the gondola and rode over the belly of the mountain from which our jump was to take place.

From the top of the gondola, we had views of the entire Swiss Alps, including Jungfrau (the tallest mountain in Europe) and Matterhorn (another tall one, but famous for being a ride in Disneyland). It was without question, the most beautiful view I have ever seen in the world. Being surrounded by white topped mountains stacked on top of each other. For a moment the earth stood still and silence overwhelmed the gondola. I wish I had brought my camera with me just to capture the moment. Except of course my heart was pounding out of my chest and I could feel the viscous adrenaline begin to flow through my body. The gondola descended back towards the lake and stopped midway through just above the center of the deep blue sea beneath us.

The guys start blasting music to help pump us up and keep that adrenaline flowing and swing open the gondola doors. Down below a man is in a teeny row boat, ready to paddle in the direction of the first victim. They begin strapping up the first guy to jump. Attached to our ankles are these heavy, red padded straps that cover almost my entire calf. Around our hips and back is a second harness that will attach to the cord in case the ankle straps become loose towards the end. When strapped to the cord, your ankles become joined by a 2 foot cord and this cord is attached to the harness at your hips. It doesn’t sound like a lot of security, but trust me, it was.

Allie was one of the first people to jump. I kinda hoped to go before her because I didn’t want to see her panic, but I was glad no one seemed to be having second thoughts. I watched as everyone else went before me. Out of the maybe 20 people packed in the gondola, I was the 3rd last to jump. When my jump came, however...

(those of you who don’t want to hear about Bungee Jump mishaps probably shouldn’t read on.. but its still an interesting story)

I stepped forward when the guy instructed me to. He took one look at me and then realized there was obviously a big mistake. Before loading into the second gondola, each of us were weighed and placed into a colored weight category. Your weight was then written on your palm in the color that corresponds with the weight category (red being the heaviest, yellow as the middle weight, and green as the skinniest little Swiss girls possible). I didn’t know this however, so when the guy wrote my weight down in a green marker, I didn’t think anything of it. I did realize this was a mistake when up in the gondola and the man setting up my jump is swearing in German to his coworker and pulling out charts and a calculator. I didn’t hear or understand much of what they’re saying to each other because I’m listing in my head all the dates of bungee accidents and replaying all the YouTube videos I (stupidly) watched the day before coming on this trip. I did hear him say that I should have jumped on a 2.5 meter cord and they were about to send me out on a 5 meter cord. I shook my head and my body and said: “Just give me my money back, I won’t say anything, we can just pretend I chickened out... 5 meters is 2 and a half meters longer than I should have gotten... I don’t wana die... I don’t wana jump.. 2 and a half meters stretches to (pause) a lot more than 2 and a half meters... I don’t wana die.. I don’t wana jump!” The photographer was a really sweet Australian woman who tried to console me (even though she kept taking pictures of me bursting into tears and my white knuckles gripping the safety bar). They tried to tell me that I would be fine, but I would hit the water and have to be prepared. My next muttered phrases were: “I don’t wana hit the water.. I don’t wana die.. I don’t wana jump! I can’t hit the water... the waters too cold.. frozen water.. I don’t wana die.” Maybe I was being a little melodramatic, but I wanted to make sure my fears were expressed.

When other people jumped, they were instructed to do a light leap out of the gondola. This is so that they could pick up a little air, get a great photograph of them jumping, gracefully coast through the air, have a soft landing, then rebound for an awesome photo. With me, they wanted me to make a BIG LEAP. A big leap is usually discouraged because it causes the jumper to create too much momentum in the jump and swing the body too far forward, commonly resulting in mild whip lash. With me however, they wanted me to make a bigger leap so that I could pick up that momentum and swing my body and the rope away from the water. How do I do this? Take 4 running steps and hurl my body upwards and out of the gondola. Sounds easy right? Not when the ankle weights weight a good 10 lbs each and you have a 15” cord connecting your ankles (plus the 5 meter long cord that’s been tossed out of the gondola and will soon drag you to your death). I did my little "left, right, left right, run, jump, leap, swing body, you are as light as a bird and birds can fly.. you will not fly out of this gondola and into safety..” or so I had hoped.

The jump itself was the most exhilarating feeling I think anyone can ever experience. My eyes locked with the sun setting over the snow tipped mountains and I almost forget that gravity will soon take its course. For what seemed like an hour, the scenery didn’t change and I seriously thought that I had somehow sprouted wings that were going to help me keep flight. Oh how quick this feeling left. Gravity decides you’ve pretended to be a bird long enough and drags your body down, quickly connecting the space between self and earth. For a fleeting second I forget I have a cord attached to my ankles and hips and I wonder if this is what suicide is supposed to feel like. The last half of the jump is the greatest blur. By the time my body was a couple hundred feet down, I lost all sign of daylight and all I could see was the dark grey mass of water. I wish I could say I prepared myself for the impact by peaking my arms above my head and closing my eyes, but I honestly didn’t know I had make contact with the lake until I was being pulled out and swallowing loads of crystallized water. Of course my initial reaction was to overreact. I yelled, I cussed, I screamed, I cried; but once I realized that I was okay and in no immediate pain, I took in the rest of the sights. Above me was the tiny speck of a red gondola, below me a sea of glistening water. I could hear the funny Swiss man in the boat beneath me trying to instruct me onto the landing pad. Up above I could hear the cable wire lowering me towards the boat. I was to reach out, find a long metal pole that I would use to pull my body towards the boat, grab the hand of the Swiss mountain man, and swing myself onto the launching pad. Once on the boat, I realized I was soaking wet head to hips and freezing cold.

Afterwards, we hiked for a good 20 minutes in the snow back to the second gondola spot where I was given my consolation price of men’s underwear, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. It when I was drying off that I noticed the swelling under my eye and the bright red patch of blood in my cornea. Luckily, one of the girls on the jump came with her mom, who happens to be a nurse at John Hopkins hospital back in the states. She looked at my eye, checked everything, and said I was okay. The swelling was just from the impact and the bleeding was a subconjunctival hemorrhage and would heal within a few weeks. After a few celebratory beers, we all piled back into the car and drove back to Interlaken.

Although Allie and I had planned on celebrating after our jump, neither of us felt like doing much but taking hot showers and curling up by the fireplace with hot toddy’s at the hostel. We had planned on staying a extra day in Interlaken, but realized we didn’t change our train tickets in time.

A few hours later, also known as the next morning, Allie and I packed in the dark and hiked the 30 minute walk to the train terminal to catch the 6:45am train from Interlaken to Berne (where our train was departing). The ride lasted just under an hour, giving us enough time to buy a few souvenirs in the Berne train station before catching the next train to Paris.

No matter how tired and tore up we looked, of course Allie and I meet some of the most interesting people. We met Chris because it was the first time in a while we heard a New Yorker accent and felt a little cry for home. Chris works in the LA music industry but was in Switzerland working with an alternative funk group (think de la soul meets Andree 3000?). He and I spent a good hour of the 4 hour train ride arguing over the future of dub step beats in pop and hip-hop (I think I argued my case better though). Then the three of us went on a hunt for the least noisy train car where we could spread out an nap. A few hours later, I’m woken by two women whose seat I was apparently sitting in. Lena and Jen got on the train in Dijon, France to head to Paris for a quick weekend trip. Lena is au pairing for a family in Dijon but her best friend Jen is visiting for a few weeks. Both girls met at Oregon State in Portland, but I later found out they grew up in Southern Oregon. What part of Southern Oregon? Well Ashland of course! We immediately bonded over having been bit by swans in Lithia Park, riding Honey the horse in big hippy farm of a preschool we all went to. And the icing on the cake, they both remember Theresa’s Cantina. After talking for a little over an hour, Lena tells me that her au pair contract ends in December and her family is looking for someone to fill the job in late January. The offer is still tempting me...


Posted by AshleyOlmos 19:48 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

The Weekend of my Life in Switzerland

sunny 55 °F

The Weekend of My Life in Switzerland

My trip to Switzerland was a last minute vacation with one of the girls in the program. After prepping for intensive midterms, she casually joked about bungee jumping in the Swiss alps in between two of our major tests. Allie has a friend from California who spent last summer working with an extreme sports company in Interlaken, Switzerland who recommended we go there for our jump. Allie worked out all the details and had us scheduled for the sunset jump at half the price.

Thursday afternoon Allie and I took the last train from Paris to Bern, Switzerland. The train ride was gorgeous! I hadn’t traveled through the French countryside yet so this was my chance to see the expansive farms, vineyards, and quaint towns outside of the city. I tried taking pictures but the glare on the window and the speed of the train made the ride a little blurry. Instead I spent my time working on homework for my classes and preparing for our following midterm. Four hours later we arrived in Bern, Switzerland.

As a way to save money, Allie and I decided to CouchSurf while in Bern since we would be there for 2 nights. CouchSurfing is a website created by and designed for young travelers who can’t afford to travel without free accommodations. People create profiles with their information and pictures and then offer couches/beds for others to sleep on while visiting their city. I hadn’t officially CouchSurfed (except for our trip to Munich earlier this month) so I needed to create a profile page. Wednesday afternoon I put together my info and sent out 3 requests to women offering their couch in Bern. By Wednesday night, all 3 women responded saying their place was available for the weekend I was in town. I accepted the invitation from the women I felt we had the most in common with and that had the nicest accommodations.

Now I’m sure everyone’s first concern is how safe is CouchSurfing. Anyone can post their information and offer a couch, but not every one has to offer their place for visitors. When a person joins CouchSurfers, the company sends you paperwork so you have to send back your drivers license and proof of residency. It does cost $20 to be verified like this, but usually those who are verified are more sought after since there’s a greater sense of security. And of course I exchanged info with my host before leaving and left all this info with my roommate, just in case of anything. And through the website people can leave reviews and references when they stay with someone, and everyone is really honest with their responses and up front with admitting that their host/guest was really weird. Lea had great reviews and was willing to take 2 girls so it worked out great.

Thursday night we arrived in Bern, the capital city of Switzerland. From the train station, we bused to Lea’s job as a bartender in a beautiful restaurant near the river that surrounds old town Bern. We sat and had a beer and talked to her a little bit (just in case) but she quickly gave us the keys to her house and a map. Bern is a small city and everything is within walking distance. The walk from her bar to the house took less than 20 minutes and the view was spectacular. We settled down and got ourselves situated. Lea got home from work a couple hours later and we stayed up talking for hours. She’s amazing! She was born and raised in Bern and studied fashion design at the local university. She’s working on her masters now in fashion design teaching but she also dabbles in textile production and printmaking. She works at the bar we went to and during the day at a center teaching figure drawing and French conversation.

Friday morning Allie and I got up early and explored downtown Berne while Lea ran errands. We trekked down the same hill we walked up the night before and were immediately lost in the beauty of the city. Old town Berne is a medieval town that occupies an entire island, surrounded by a blue river, and architecturally stunning bridges that connect the island to the surrounding hills that are occupied by the majority of Bernese residents. Because Switzerland remained neutral during World War II, and the treacherous mountains that surround the city, the architecture is miraculously preserved as if the buildings were vacuum sealed a century ago. And the river that flows around is the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen (we later found out that crystal mining is big in the mountains, so the water has microscopic crystal particles from snow runoff that reflect the sky more than clear water) We explored the old town and walked through shops, gothic style cathedrals, and watched the cuckoo clock in the town center at noon. The weather was brisk (about 35 degrees) so Allie and I ducked into a cafe for lunch. We ordered tomato soup and coffee, but the soup came with whipped milk/butter topping (it looked just like whipped cream, just without the sugar). Delicious!

We walked back to the house around sunset and spent the evening with Lea and her friends. We had a sampler of traditional Swiss cheeses (raclette, gruyere, a brie variation, and emmenthal) and Swiss wines. Afterward we went to a shack/bar underneath a freeway (just wait, I promise it was totally safe).. It began as a structure that students and youth would meet at to prepare for protests & rallies, but was later picked up by some family and turned into a bar. The décor is very eclectic, since there’s no actual bar or liquor licensing for the place, beers are served from coolers in a corner and the whole room is full of mismatched kitchen tables and chairs. The police apparently have no jurisdiction on the land, but the property is self governed by the people who upkeep it. We had an amazing night and met tons of wonderful people, all friends of our host.

Maybe we had too much fun because the next morning, the morning of our big jump.. neither of us were ready to come out of hiding from under the covers. However, we had an early morning train to catch and a 4pm appointment with a bungee cord.


Posted by AshleyOlmos 20:03 Archived in Switzerland Tagged landscapes mountains bridges churches buildings trees animals trains Comments (0)

Ma Nouvelle Vie Parisienne

My neighborhood. My building. My room. My roommates.

sunny 71 °F

The neighborhood I live in is fabulous. I'm centrally located to everything and everyone with a 2 block walk to Gare du Lyon. From this station, I can literally take a train and be anywhere in Paris within 30 minutes, outer Paris within an hour, or hop on the TGV and be in another country in under an hour. The metro is really easy to use here, but is really hot and stuffy when the weathers warm.. and the French still aren't fans of using deodorant (you can draw your own conclusions). I've been trying my best to utilize the bus systems here since they're surprisingly fast and much newer than the metros. The trick is figuring out which of the many bus hubs on a corner are the right one to take. Luckily I'm willing to get lost a few times in the process. Besides, that's always when you find the hidden gems of a city.

The name of my street is Daumesnil (pronounced Doh-man-neel). Its one of the longest streets in Paris, but thats mostly because along it runs a 18th century viaduct that once brought water in to the inner city from the suburbs. The structure no longer serves as a water transport, but has recently been converted into a 4.5km (2.8 mile) long garden walkway, suspended above the city. The Promenade Plantée (Plant Walk) is about 10 feet in width but is lined with trees, bamboo, flowers, benches and the occasional water fountain and pond. A 20 minute walk from my building along the Promenade is a large park beneath a suspension bridge that is regularly packed with families and young adults picnicking or playing sports. The last time I was here it was a garden festival so little kids were given native plants to plant anywhere along the perimeter while a DJ played animal sounds so kids could guess the source. French babies are ADORABLE!

This viaduct and Promenade Plantée is located directly in front of my building complex. At the base of the viaduct is the gate that I enter and then walk through one courtyard to reach my building door. I have to enter two codes (one at the gate, one at the exterior door) before I use a swipe card to enter the second door, and then my personal key to enter my unit. Its very secure here. I was initially worried about forgetting the codes, but then I realized that the building I'm in is primarily Americans, so they set the digits to 1776 in hopes that Americans would recognize the date and therefore easily memorize it. I haven't found that to be the case with many of the UC students.

I live on the septième étage (7th floor) but in American terms I'm on the 8th story of the building. In France, the floor that is at street level is called the rez-de-chaussée, while the floor above that is the premier étage. From my septième étage floor, I have views of the courtyard of our complex and if I crawl to the edge of my bunk bed, I can see the upper portion of the Eiffel Tower just over the edge of our neighbors roof. C'est chouette!

Dans ma chambre, il y a... My room is equipped with three beds, one normal twin and one set of bunks. Since I got here last, I was stuck with the top bunk but it also gave me the right to stake claim to the best desk with window sill shelving (the other girls can share the other desk). We have a small kitchenette with mini fridge, 2 electric burners, small sink with drying rack, 2 cabinets and a microwave. Its not much but its so much nicer than even the nicest dorm I had while in NYC. Our kitchen is in the same space as the bedrooms, but its the largest room in the building and sufficient for three girls. We have our own bathroom with a shower stall and private water heater (its scary though since its place right above the toilet and as a native San Franciscan I'm always weary of earthquake safety). But the best part - our towel heater. One should never get out of the shower and dry themselves with a cold towel ever again.

My roommates are both really great. Justine is Vietnamese American from Orange County but has lived in San Francisco for the last year. Shes my age, studying environmental studies and worked in Golden Gate Park as an organic composter before coming to Paris. Maya is just a year younger but shes born and raised in the Oakland/Berkeley area and goes to a community college in Albany (on a side note: the first day here we talked about foods we'll miss most... her's will be Zacharys pizza, I love her already). Maya spent her first year of college in a writing studies program at a small private school back east but came home to Cali for the same reasons as I did. We like to reminise on the days we had seasons and how we look forward to watching the leaves change color here as they did in Ny and Mass. Were a very eclectic group of girls - Justine's a vegan, me as a vegetarian, and Maya as a total carnivore (plus shes Jewish and loves pork salami), but so far we all get along.

Viaduct Daumesnil

Viaduct Daumesnil


Posted by AshleyOlmos 14:44 Archived in France Comments (0)

Bienvenue á Paris!

the first week of sightseeing

74 °F

Although the journey to get here was a little rough (having our flight canceled, a 12 hour layover in Philly, and arriving a day later than planned).. the first days here were dedicated to resting and adjusting to the new time difference. My mom and I moved into her studio in the Latin Quarters and explored the many alleys and streets in her area, remembering the great sights we saw last year on Rue Mouffetard. This first week was dedicated to seeing all the sights we missed out on last year and getting me situated in my new home.

On the top of the list, we had to see the Musée d'Orsay - known for its modern art collection and home of all impressionist and post impressionist art (Cézanne, Gaugin, Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Seurat, etc..) We got there late and had to rush through, but the works we did see were amazing. And the best part was that my admission was free with my school id card.

To get to the museum we took the Batobus (waterboat) along the Seine and enjoyed Paris from another angle. Along the riverside are patches of green grass and picnicking families; park benches where students gather to study, and plazas cut into the side of the river where Tango lessons are hosted every evening. The boat stops along all major destinations along the river like the Louvre, Eiffel Tour, Musée d'Orsay, Palais Royal, and takes a little over an hour to make a full loop around. We didn't get off the boat except to stop at the d'Orsay since it was getting late and we had to rush to make it to the museum on time.

That night we went on a hunt to find the magical Lebanese food we feasted on last year. In 2010 the three of us sweated through the crowds of the Musée du Louvre and went on a hunt to find cold drinks and cheap food away from the beaten track. Of course all of the restaurants served the same rich cuisine that is typical for the area, but we craved something less French and more Mediterranean. It was just during sunset when we were about to give up on our quest for food and settle for the last restaurant on a street, when my mom turned the corner and walked up a few steps by a church. When she turned around, she found the holy mecca of fabulous restaurants. We sat at a Lebanese restaurant and drank regional wine and ordered huge sampler platters. It was a great night almost one year ago exactly so we had to repeat the experience for this trip. My mom and I originally got really lost trying to find it, but after a couple hours of retracing our steps, we ended up right back at that restaurant and ordered almost the exact same meal. One year later and it was still everything I remembered it being.

Other nights we strolled the city and followed the lights. On the 2nd to last night of my moms vacation we found ourselves at the base of the Eiffel Tour and once again in search of dinner. Instead of following the path of tourists through the maze of restaurants near by, we crossed the Trocadero Plaza and found a great plaza of restaurants, each with a breathtaking view of the tower from their sidewalk dining. After a bottle of bordeaux wine and a fabulous salad with potato croquette, we lost track of time and realized the subway was already closed. Luckily Paris is very taxi friendly and we were home within a few minutes.

My mom left a few days later which of course was a bittersweet good-bye. I was excited to begin my new life in Paris but also sad that she had to go home and wouldn't be a part of it. (it also meant I'd have to return to a student budget and a diet of baguettes and spaghetti). Luckily I had a full day of classes ahead of me that kept me focused. Within a day I felt right at home.


Posted by AshleyOlmos 15:34 Archived in France Comments (0)

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