A few of our group members decided to go skiing in the Swiss Alps on Saturday, March 8. The rest of us spent the day exploring Lucerne or hiking the mountains. That morning, two of my friends and I went searching for Lucerne’s famous Lion Monument. Armed with a map (a very, very bad map), we got incredibly lost and ended up walking two miles past it. We never made it to the monument, but on our way back into the city, we did run into Mamapacha, Urs’ wife’s free trade goods store.
We caught her right as she was opening, actually a little bit before, but she welcomed us in anyway. The store was adorable and so was she and little sleeping baby Luis, of course. Every product and piece of merchandise in the shop had its own unique story. It was a little bit pricy, but that is the trade off when you are shopping fair trade. The point is that the people that make these goods actually get paid enough to survive. I’ve noticed that in Europe, I can find fair trade, organic, and bio-friendly products in almost convenient and grocery store. In America, on the other hand, finding fair trade anything is much more of a challenge. Americans like their stuff, a lot of it, and they like it cheap. If there’s one lesson that has really hit home from my time in Europe, it’s that less is more, and people can have a high standard of living while still doing their part for the environment and for a sustainable world, even while not having a whole bunch of “stuff.” I bought a pair of hand-woven alpaca wool leg warmers and a glass ring, hand painted and blown in Hungary. And it felt good to help out Urs and his family.
We had to practically sprint back to the hostel to drop off our stuff and sprint to the harbor to catch the boat we were taking to Mount Rigi for a hike, but we did make it with a few minutes to spare. The boat ride to the base of the mountain was about an hour long, but it was beautiful. It was like we were in a soup bowl, surrounded on all sides by perfect porcelain peaks covered in snow.
Once we got off the boat, we bought tickets for the train ride halfway up the mountain (it would have taken an entire day to hike the whole thing, and we didn’t have that much time). When we got off the train, we were knee deep in snow. Mount Rigi is 1797.5 meters tall. Its tallest peak is Rigi-Kulm, and we conquered it. Rigi is known as “Queen of the Mountains,” and she wasn’t an easy hike. Plus, I was wearing my running shoes which have crevices in the bottom to allow air in to cool my feet during hard workouts. I didn’t think through my hiking attire very well because within minutes my socks and feet were soaked through with cold, melted snow.
Getting to the top of Rigi was a sort of parallel to my study abroad experience. It was uncomfortable, even though everyone thinks it’s just fun and games. It was a test of my strength. It was long, but at the same time, it wasn’t long enough, because the whole long, hard journey up I was surrounded by beauty. And when I finally accomplished what I set out to do, when I finally made it to the top, I had a perspective of the world I could have never hoped to gain through any other experience.
The view from the top of Mount Rigi cannot be described through mere words. I like to think that I am a decent writer, but I cannot come up with an accurate depiction. Suffice it to say that the three of us spent an hour on the peak sitting on a bench, journals and cameras in hand, trying to do the scene justice. Looking out over one side of the peak, we could see only countless other peaks staring back sharing in Rigi’s glory. Over the other side, way, way down below, we could see the distant Lake Lauerz and little toy boats making tiny streams behind their engines in the crystal waters. And above us, there was only perfect blue sky, the same color as the lake below.
One of my classmates who was with me described the experience perfectly. She said it made her sad that she could not take that beauty and share it with everyone. There are people in her life, in all of our lives, people that we love, that will never get to experience this feeling of being on top of the world, of seeing our planet in one of its purest, most beautiful forms. The only way, she said, that it is possible to share the kinds of things we experienced these past two days, the peace, the serenity, the purity, and the excitement, is to make them a part of ourselves and live through them every day, so that people know that these experiences made us who we are. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and she is truly brilliant for having been able to put it into words.
We woke up the next morning and boarded our train for home, realizing that our love story with Switzerland came and went faster than we could have ever imagined. We experienced life on the edge, and we stood on top of the world. But, for now, it was back to that caring comfort and charm of our Austria.