Monday, 23 July 2012

Lugano, Lauterbrunnen & Geneva


Arrived in Milan, had a couple of hours to kill before George was arriving to pick Scotty and me up. Scotty was flying in from Oz after I arrived to I went to his gate to wait for him, I has never met or spoken to Scotty before and had no idea what he looked like.
Was a little bit obvious when he walked through the gate with a wing suiting t-shit on, I yelled out ‘Scotty!’ as he walked past, he stopped, looked at me sideways and then told him who I was.
George eventually turned up and we started heading north towards Lauterbrunnen, we were meant to go past Geneva to pick Mavs up who was flying in that evening, but the boys decided that it was too far out of the way so we left a message for him to catch the train the Lauterbrunnen and we continued on.
We stopped at a massive dam on the way, the Luggazo Dam, where the boys had heard of it being a good place to jump. The guys did a couple of jumps off it that evening, then it started to pour down with thunderstorms so we backed the van into a cave that we found, had dinner and crashed out.
The next morning, Scotty was determined to do a jump he had been practising heaps back in Oz, a cat-pass gainer, however the railing was too high and tricky to get a good run up to so we improvised and he did it off the passenger door of the van and it worked a treat.

Now I’m not going to make much comment on the next part, however I will just start with George lying on the ground at the bottom of the dam wall with excruciating pain coming from his middle back – George and Scotty told me that he fell off the ladder there that takes you to the start of the climbing holds that go all the way up the wall, I wasn’t there at that moment to witness it…
Anyway, so George is in a heap of pain and I’m trying to get him to stay as still as possible while Scotty is on the phone to the ambulance trying to give them our location, eventually they figured it out and about 45mins later the ambulance rocks up and they decide to call a chopper.
They chuck a drip in his arm and slide him onto a sheet of plastic stuff filled with tiny beads, which then they hook up to a machine which sucks all the air out of it and it completely wrapped around him not letting him move a bit.
The chopper arrived and I was able to go with him in it, meanwhile Scotty had to drive the van, about an hour to the hospital.
Was an awesome chopper ride through the mountains of Switzerland, I was taking photos and videos the whole time on Georges iPhone, and I got some funny looks from one of the medics.

We get to the hospital and they take all our details and I handed all his insurance etc over to the doctors, they then took him through to get an x-ray and it showed that there was damage to 2 vertebrae but they needed more information.
They next took him in for a CT scan, which showed 2 fractures through his T8 and the anterior part of the vertebrae had been crushed slightly.
At this point they thought that he might only have to wear a corset thing for the next 6 weeks till it heals cause there was no danger at all to his spinal cord, but they wanted to do an MRI to be certain and to see if he might need surgery.
Meanwhile Scotty and I are trying to figure out what we were going to do that evening, we needed to try and find a campground or somewhere free to park the van for that night but also Scotty really needed to get to Lauterbrunnen and it was going to be an absolute mission for him to get there by train from Bellizona. So we decided we would go in the van that night to Lauterbrunnen, stay there, and then I would drive back the next day.
George went in for his MRI, and it wasn’t good news, they decided that he would need surgery and would be transferred the next day to Lugano hospital.
So once George was taken to the ward for the night, Scotty and I headed off in the dark to Lauterbrunnen, 3 hours away through the mountains.

We were both completely destroyed by the time we got there, Scotty drove the whole way thank god cause I reckon I would have fallen asleep at the wheel.
The drive was super windy through the Sussen Pass, all we could see in the pitch black were outlines of huge mountains and big patches of bright white snow.
We snuck into where the other boys were staying and had a shower, then crashed out, I woke the next morning stepped outside the van and it was a pretty epic sight in front of me.
This huge valley with cliffs either side, snow on the big mountains and huge waterfalls thundering over the cliffs, rather magnificent, was a little bummed to be leaving.
We and grabbed brekkie then got on the road en route to Lugano to see what state George was in and what the plan was with him.
It was the first time that I had driven a massive distance on the right hand side of the road, it took a little bit to get used to but it seemed pretty normal after a while.
It wasn’t long into my drive that I realised what we had obliviously driven past the night before, Switzerland is a wonderful country and quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I have been so far.
The mountains are just huge, with heaps of snow still on them in the middle of summer, there are ginormous glaciers on the sides of the mountain ranges and huge waterfalls everywhere from the snow still melting.
I took a lot longer to drive the road than what it took for us to get there, I was stopping after nearly every tunnel cause I was presented with a new picture postcard view around every bend.
Found my way to Lugano fairly easily, thanks to Tom-tom, took me right to the hospital.

George was pretty sore and only allowed to lie flat on his back and not move too much, which drove him a little crazy to start with.
The doctors had booked him in for Monday for surgery, and it was Thursday at this point so he had the whole weekend to just lie there. The doctors were to have a meeting and try and decide what they were going to do, basically there were two options, fuse 3 or 5 vertebrae together with titanium rods.
The next thing to do was to find somewhere that I could stay while he waited for surgery and then for the week or so he would have to stay in hospital for post-op. The nurses were so lovely and pointed me in the direction of a campground called EuroCampo, about 10-15mins away from the hospital.
So that night Tom-tom took me there and I parked up the van, I first asked the man who ran the place how much it would cost and he was very flippant and tried to make a joke I think in German and pointed to the sign next to reception that outlined the costs.
From what I figured out it was 14CHF per night cause I had a van, so thought that would do.

Over the next few days I would go in to the hospital after lunch and hang out with George for the day to keep him company, I thought it must suck real bad to have to just lie there so I spent a lot of time there not doing much but just so he had someone to chew the cud with.
The doctors eventually decided that they would fuse 5 vertebrae together, T6, 7, 8, 9 & 10, and that he would have to stay in hospital for a week after surgery, I didn’t have any plans for traveling and was just taking it as it comes which meant I could stay for however long it took.
Having a massage therapist on hand was pretty handy, I was able to do some work on his legs while being so immobile and that helped with the restlessness.
I said goodbye to him on the Sunday night, he told to give his wing suit to Mavs & the van to Luca if he didn’t wake up from surgery ha. We took some before photos of his back and I left my camera with him to ask the nurses if they could take a photo of his surgery.
The nurses told me to be back at the hospital around 3pm the next day, his surgery was expected to take 4 hours.

Had been talking to Kelly McGarry leading up to all this drama and he was in Switzerland for some mountain biking competitions and wasn’t far from Lauterbrunnen, was meaning to catch up with him when we got here but when this happened that was off the cards.
Luckily though, Kelly had a couple of free days before heading to France for his last competition in Europe, so he missioned on the train on Monday and was due to get in in the early evening.

On Monday, I got to the hospital around 3pm but he wasn’t back in his room yet, it got to half past and still no sign of him, he was meant to be out of surgery at about 12.30pm.
Eventually he got wheeled in at around 3.45pm, drugged up to the eyeballs but doing ok.
I stayed with him for a couple of hours and then let him rest for the night and I went and picked Kelly up from the train station, hadn’t seen him in a few years so it was so wicked to catch up.
It has been a stinking hot day and still was hot in the evening so we went back to EuroCampo and jumped in the lake there, the water was luke warm (gross) and it was really slimy in the area in front of the camp but we waded through it and swam over to a neighbouring campground that had cleaner water J
There was a carnival in town and had set up right next to the campground, so we jumped on a few rides there, had a few beers then went to bed.
Kelly & George know each other from back home, so we went in to the hospital the next morning to see how he was going.
He had been up and walking, even if only for a few minutes at a time and was doing good considering he had his back stretched open the day before.
Kelly was catching the train at 3pm that day, so after the quick visit we headed out to grab some lunch and find a decent swimming spot before dropping him off at the station.
We found a little marina of which we had to climb around a fence to get into, but the water was a bit deeper and cooler here, and also cleaner so it was awesome.
After I dropped Kelly off at the station I headed back up to the hospital to hang out with George to keep him company, knowing what I was like a few years earlier after surgery it’s just nice to have someone there even if you’re not doing much.
Over the next few days he just got better and better, could walk for longer and the pain was starting to settle down a bit.
It was mainly just muscular pain that he felt due to them moving his erectors out of the way to screw the rods into his vertebrae.
It was so hot during the day to go do much around Lugano while he was recovering, although one cloudy day I got up early and walked to the top of Monte St Salvatore which was a hard slog but well worth it once at the top.
Another one of the days I decided to try and find somewhere nice to have lunch, however parking by the lake was hard to find and found myself driving along the lake front where the road narrowed quite a lot and started to get pretty windy.
I kept driving cause I had nothing else to do anyway and eventually found a car park and made myself what I had been craving for a little while, peanut butter sandwiches, yummo.
Now to get out of the car park, I wasn’t able to turn left to get back to Lugano, I was only able to turn right, so I did, and found that I couldn’t find anywhere to turn around. Figuring that there must be a little town up ahead somewhere, I just keep tootling along and the views were awesome.
But then my view included men in uniforms and a big sign that said Italia…the border… and I had no choice but to drive through it.
About 5 mins down the road I found somewhere to turn around and began heading back to Lugano, and back through the border again, I just knew they were going to stop me after seeing me drive through there before and they did.
I pulled over and they asked me what I was doing, it was pretty hard to explain that I was trying to find somewhere to turn around when they didn’t speak much English! They then asked to search the van and tried to ask me some questions about it, of which I turned on my ditsy ‘I don’t know’ for every answer when really I’m thinking ‘Please don’t check the number plate, this thing isn’t registered!!’.
They eventually let me go, but about 200m down the road is customs and they stopped me too! Asked me if I had anything to declare and also asked about the van, but they let me go too and I could breathe a sigh of relief.
Eventually Monday rolled around and George was released from hospital, amazing how you wouldn’t even tell looking at him what had happened in the past couple of weeks.
I left the campground in a state of shock after receiving the bill for my time there, turns out it wasn’t just 14CHF per night, but an extra 9CHF per night for me to stay there, plus tourist tax, so a hefty 273CHF bill was put in front of me and I nearly had a heart attack. Man this country is expensive!!
We were now en route to Lauterbrunnen to see the boys, George couldn’t drive cause it was too much on his back, but I was an old hand at that road by that stage J
That afternoon, we watched the guys do some jumps off High Ultimate, and then went back into the town to have some celebratory drinks for George’s release.
Just above the pub are a few big cliffs that the locals have managed to stop people doing BASE off cause there were two guys killed on those cliffs in the past and they didn’t want any more in their backyards. However that evening, a bunch of guys went up to the cliffs and we all watched from the pub as they each jumped off, apparently the locals who live underneath were pretty pissed off at them.
We all went out to a few different places, it was a great night and I was really enjoying being in Lauterbrunnen, I was looking forward to the next week or so of getting up into the mountains around the area.
Now I won’t go into what happened for the rest of that night, doesn’t need to be said, but the next day, very disappointed, I caught a train to Geneva.

I was a bit hung-over, travelling when you are hungover isn’t the greatest and I had to change trains 2 times to get there so I couldn’t fall asleep to try and shake it off.
There is a wonderful part of the train journey though where you are in normal country side, you go through a few tunnels, then all of a sudden one tunnel brings you out onto the hills above Lake Geneva and it is so stunning.
I arrived in Geneva, it was a last minute arrangement so I had to wait in Geneva for Noemie to finish work for her to be able to pick me up. Unfortunately she had an emergency at work, and with her work, an emergency means that some lawyers associated with the human rights company she works for were arrested in the Middle East, so waiting for her turned from 1 hour, to about 5, but hey there could have been worse places to be stuck.
I walked down to the lake and hung out there for a bit, so glad my pack is now heaps lighter!
I did go into the McDonalds at one point to try and access their Wi-Fi, I was going to get something to warrant me stealing their Wi-Fi until I saw the price. Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it really hit home how expensive when I saw the menu. I thought I was seeing things, a McChicken, just the burger, on its own nearly 12CHF, not surprisingly I walked back out the door pretty quick smart.
Found out later that Geneva is famous for having the most expensive Big Mac in the world.
Eventually Noemie was able to get out of work and come meet me and it was so wonderful to see her, it had only been about 10 years!
We did work out that we briefly saw each other back in 2005, but it was only fleeting.
Yves her boyfriend came to meet me too and we all walked back to their apartment, only about 10mins walk from the station.
We had dinner and caught up on old times, was so great to see her, she hadn’t changed much at all and is probably one of the nicest people that I have been around in a long time.
After dinner, we went out for a walk along the waterfront and I think it was then that I fell in love with this city.
On the edge of the lake they have these huge old estates that are now owned by the city and used for different administrational stuff, but in front of these huge places there are huge lawns to go with them. In the early evening, people take picnics and bbq’s to these lawns by the lake side and have dinner and have some drinks. One thing I have noticed about the people of Geneva is that they all seem really happy all the time, everyone seems to have a great energy about them and it’s a feel good place to be.
On the way home we walked past a hotel and all the incredible cars parked outside stopped me in my tracks, so I have a little bogan in me, it’s all good J A chrome Bugatti Veyron was parked outside, with windows that you couldn’t see into, I did have to wonder whether there was someone inside watching me ogle over their car.
Noemie & I are going to go there this weekend and have a drink at the hotel, see if we can mix it with the mega rich.

Wednesday brought a beautiful day in Geneva, so I set out after a much needed sleep in to go explore this beautiful city.
I walked around the edge of the lake and found a beach type area where I instantly regretted not bringing my togs, cause I was roasting at this point and nearly jumped in with my clothes on.

Of course in Geneva is the famous Jet d’eau, shooting water straight up 130m into the air. You can get up real close to it, but they have put a very ineffective fence around it to stop people killing themselves on it. Apparently, there were a couple of occasions where people would jump into the jet and it would completely rip them apart in seconds, killing them instantly, so they put up a waist high fence with a couple of barbs on it. Although when I was there, a father watched while his 6-7 year old climbed over the fence and was running around the jet, made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Just waiting for the little kid to put his hand in it and it get ripped off, thankfully such a thing didn’t happen, but yea would be totally easy to get to if you wanted to.
Funny thing did happen though, the jet is located out off a walkway that’s in the middle of the harbour, and you can keep walking past the jet on this walkway for another 30m or so.
This group of people walked past the jet and were taking photos of it when the wind changed and completely drenched them, one lady was wearing white pants and I felt bad for her although I had to giggle.
I headed back to the apartment in an attempt to sort my life out and figure out my next move.
I scouted around for jobs in Geneva but with only 2% unemployment and my French limited to ‘bonjour’ there wasn’t much around.
Then Pia got in touch with me and we started to talk more about the possibility of an epic road trip from Hamburg to the South of France to go to a surf camp, with not wanting to miss out on this I set to trying to figure out how I make this happen with the money I have left.

That evening Noemie and I caught the bus to the big park in the city where they have started having concerts there most nights during the summer, we felt very ill prepared when we got there with everyone else with their picnics and bbqs all set up and we had nothing, total fail on that one.
But there was a little stand selling crepes and drinks so we weren’t too bad in the end.
The music was jazzy type stuff that we both weren’t really into but it was so great to spend time with Noemie, and one of her friends came to join us too and she was super nice too.

Thursday I woke with a mission, I had a limited supply of cash and a big road trip with Pia that I did not want to miss out on, I needed to make it work somehow and to make it work I needed to be able to work straight away after the road trip.
I was going to do this road trip with Pia, then fly to the UK somewhere (just wherever I could find to stay for cheap or free for a while), find a job and then begin to figure out where to go from there, which I am starting to lean towards my original plan that I had before leaving NZ of heading West to the states or Canada for the winter, but will see what happens.

I am feeling really grateful for the opportunities that have come my way and the experiences I have had so far and that are still to come, it’s been the best plan ever not to have any plans cause that’s when the best opportunities have arisen.
It’s been a really crazy year for me this 2012, gone from extreme lows to extreme highs and everything in between, its tested me in more ways than I have before and I have proven to myself what I really can do and how strong I am.
I started this trip with no plans, no expectations and not much money and it has been the ride of my life to say the least. I also feel like this is all happening at exactly the right time in my life, that maybe if I had done this earlier that I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for what I have done and where I have gone.
It is so true that you only live once, or YOLO as Kelly says, it’s so wonderful to feel like I really am living.

My last couple of days in Geneva were really lovely, went went out to an amazing Ethiopian restaurant where were absolutely stuffed ourselves with a huge platter of food that you dig into with your hands, couldn't help but feel a little guilty at gorging myself at an ethiopian restaurant that also have pictures of not so fortunate kids on the walls....
We then went to the best ice-cream parlour I have been to so far, Manu Ice-Cream, and yes it was better than anything I had in Italy believe it or not! The flavours I has were Speculos (a type of biscuit) and Canelle (cinnamon), so so so delicious!

Noemie and Yves drove me around the region and I went to France for the first time!! That’s country number 7.
Basically the hills surrounding Geneva are all French, so we went to the top of one of them where the paragliders take off from and it has an amazing view across Geneva. Was cool to see the paragliders take off, looks like it could be a bit of fun but I’m still happy with flying my canopy after a minute of freefall to boot as I reckon it could get a little boring under a canopy for so long.
Although there was a bit of excitement, one guys parachute inflated, he went to run off the edge and then the wind caught it a bit and it looked like it was about to deflate but he got control of it again and off he went.
Also way down the valley we  caught sight of an orange canopy spinning out of control really close to the ground, everyone just stopped and watched hoping he would get control of it again, which he did and then proceeded to fly the canopy directly towards then above a heap of glasshouses! Eventually he landed right next to the glasshouses, although there were paddocks galore around him.
The next day we went to Montreux, where Freddie Mercury had a recording studio and there is a memorial statue there on the lakeside, and being one of my favourite people in the world, I had to go and check out this place he loved so much.
It’s a beautiful lake side town, with a huge stunning hotel where Freddie stayed, markets on the waterfront selling cheese, food stalls and nougat of which we bought a slice of cranberry and almond, so delicious!
Next we were heading to Gruyere, where they are famous for their cheese, but the idea of cheese was thrown out the window when we realised that also in this area is the Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory and we immediately made a beeline for that.
It was only 10CHF to get in which surprised me, however there was a wait of 1.5hrs which is a bit of a trick I think cause you end up spending at the café and the massive chocolate shop they have there.
The tour started with being taken through many different themed rooms while a voice tells you the history of chocolate and the factory, slight taint on the tour though was a 6 year old kid that was terrified the whole way and kept screaming at the top of his lungs that he wanted to get out of there.
The next section is a room that shows you all the different cocoa beans and the roasted almonds and hazelnuts they use, and a small production line showing how they make one kind of their chocolates.
The big room of chocolate making wasn’t in operation cause it was towards the end of the day and on a Sunday but the following room was where we were looking forward to the most – the tasting room!
It was a room where by single file you move around trays of all their different chocolates, however you don’t have heaps of time as you have the pressure from everyone behind you. By the end of the line, Noemie and I had about 6 unfinished chocolates on our hands cause you didn’t have a chance to finish one before you were pushed onto the next tray and it was too much to scoff them all so fast.
We were standing at the exit trying to taste the last of the chocolates then all of a sudden this short man pops up out of nowhere and starts shaking his head at us and tutting looking at the chocolate in our hands. He then said ‘You can’t leave this room with any chocolate, you have to eat all that you have’, I turned and looked at Noemie then looked back and he was gone! I guess Maison Coiller also has umpa lumpas working for him!
I just dropped the remaining chocolates in my bag and walked out, I was feeling a little ill at this stage and there was no way I could eat what I had so I threw it in the bin when I got out.
I slowly slipped into a chocolate coma on the way home, I’m not a huge chocolate eater so it gave me a bit of a headache and was craving something salty when we got home.
Yves cooked up a storm like usual, a traditional Swiss dish of which I cannot pronounce or repeat the name, but it was like a stroganoff I suppose with a giant hashbrown, totally yummo.
So one day left in Switzerland before I head North to Hamburg, Germany. Going to go check out the United Nations which is just down the road, might jump in the lake and possibly get to CERN if I have time.
My stay with Noemie has been so awesome, I can’t fault her one little bit, such a wonderful human being and I’m really glad to have seen and connected with her again cause I’m sure we will be in touch from now on and I hope to see her again real soon.

Tomorrow I’m catching the train at 8.14am and I arrive in Hamburg at 5.35pm, it’s gonna be a big trip but I have transferred a TV show called Breaking Bad onto my laptop and will be watching the entire first series.
Then Wednesday begins Pia & I’s road trip, cannot wait.

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