Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday: Chocolate and Cheese Tour

And here's Chris again, talking about his experiences on the Chocolate and Cheese Tour.

The Chocolate and Cheese tour was quite a relaxing way to see Switzerland. The Youmans, Robert, and I got on a chartered coach with a troop from Portugal and a troop from England, neither of which we knew. We had about an hour or so drive to the chocolate factory, past some of the most beautiful scenery in Switzerland. Unfortunately, it had been so warm the night before that we hadn't gotten much sleep, so most of us had a hard time staying awake to look at the mountains.

The chocolate factory produces Nestlé chocolate, which we were surprised to learn is Swiss. It also produces signature Caville chocolate, which contains condensed milk, all from local cows. The first thing we saw, after of course the inevitable chocolate gift shop, was a movie theater, where they showed us old black and white French commercials for the Caville chocolate (the factory is in the French-speaking area of Switzerland). A factory employee told us about the entire chocolate-making process, which is fairly simple and takes about 4 days from bean to bar. They even let us try a raw cacao bean, which was very strong, but not bad tasting. They would make for a decent snack.

We walked past glimpses of the factory floor on the way to the room where we got to taste the final product. This was a room where we could spend as long a time as possible in. They laid out tray after tray of chocolate squares in all of the flavours and designs that the factory made, which was an amazing variety. The line moved slowly past the trays, which made you feel really guilty when you had to stop to try to sample them all. Robert and I had trouble with this, but Bryan figured out an ingenious coping method - he made a stash of chocolate he carried with him through the room! In the end, he tried two of each type. The chocolate was heavenly tasting, of course, in a way that cannot be described in this blog without making you all feel very bad that you missed out.

The next part of the tour was a glance through the old chocolate making machines, one of which was hilariously named "The Clipper". The tour shot us back out into the gift shop, where we all bought armfuls of chocolate for our friends and family - more than making up for what we ate in the factory's eyes.

We had two hours for lunch, which we had in the Swiss town of Gruyére near the chocolate factory. We ate our sandwiches in the rain (naturally it was raining; it is Switzerland) and then decided to check out the H.R. Giger museum. Well, I say decided, but I really mean that I talked everyone else into seeing the museum with me so that I could save money on the ticket. If you are not familiar with Giger, he was the chief designer for the movie Alien. His artwork can be described as shiver-inducing blends of the human body and technology that mess with your internal concepts of body integrity. They also had a guest exhibit from Anne Bertram, who portrayed traditional fairy tales in new, almost horrific visions. All in all, it was quite shocking to see those skulls and gas masks in the middle of a charming Swiss village. The scouts seemed to be deeply disturbed by the museum, but I cheerily purchased postcards for my family. We strolled through a nearby castle briefly, but did not pay for admission as it was time for the cheese factory, which was just down the road.

The cheese factory had us holding a small speaker to our ears, listening to the narrator cow, Cherry, tell us about the luxurious life of milk cows. Sleep and eat, sleep and eat is all they do. Cherry led us through the entire cheese making process, from milking the cows to when they leave the cheese in a barn for five months. We got to see the actual vats where they mix the cheese, as well as the auto-salt bath machine they use to age the cheese properly. After the tour was over, we purchased a small plate of cheese for an exorbitant price from the in-house cheese restaurant. We received about three slices of three different kinds of cheese, which we shared four ways. The cheese was enjoyed in this order, from most to least: Mr. Youmans, Chris, Robert, Bryan.

Apparently we took too long trying the cheese, because a member of the English troop appeared and told us we were holding up the bus. We grabbed the remaining cheese and high-tailed it back to the coach, thus completing our chocolate and cheese tour. All in all, I'd say that it was rewarding, if scarce on the cheese. Four out of Five stars for a most enjoyable day.

Tuesday: High Ropes Park

We woke up today for the final full day in Switzerland. After getting breakfast, we figured out which of us got which activity patches. There are six different patches one can earn while over here for doing different requirements. It ended up being that of our contingent of fourteen people, all but one of us got five patches, while the one exception still got four. (You couldn't really get all six, seeing as it's kind of hard to get the "Snow and Ice Adventure" patch in the middle of July.) We also went over the plan for tomorrow, and then we all headed out to the High Ropes Course.

Unlike last time, in which we spent about an hour on a chartered bus to get the place, we only had to walk about 10 minutes this time around, as they opened up a new place right by the scout centre. We waited for about 15 minutes for it to open, and after that we got about 20 minutes or so of instruction before we went out on the actual ropes. It was divided into four separate courses based on difficulty. Bear in mind that this being Switzerland we're talking about, so what they consider to be easy is typically rather advanced for us in the States.

I ended up going on all four of the courses. The segments ranged from walking across a rope ladder, to 30-metre zip lines, to monkey bars, to one bit where you had to slide across while sitting on a disk which would swing up into a net. The latter one was particularly difficult, as you needed to grab onto the net without letting go (as you end up swinging back and getting stuck in the middle) and without falling off the seat (as it becomes extremely hard to unhook your carabiners from the rope and you have the heavy seat pulling you back). Most of us took about three or four tries before we finally made it across.

After about three hours or so of being several metres in the air, we put away our harnesses and our helmets and we headed to the town, all aching and exhausted. Everyone split up and did their own things -- most people went somewhere to lunch (I ordered a nice Hawaiian pizza at a restaurant) and shopped for souvenirs and Swiss chocolate. We headed back to camp to relax a little and to start packing for our way home.

Since we have to leave at 9 AM, this will probably be the last post I make here. I'll post something on Thursday, most likely (seeing as how we don't arrive at National until midnight, which translates to 6 AM Swiss time). So until then, have fun wherever you are, and while it has been a good time here, I can't wait to get back to a regular American keyboard.

Thursday/Friday: Lötschenpasshütte

Here's Robert with a guest post about his hike up to Lötschenpass.

While everyone else was climbing up to Petersgrat, the Youmans and I went up to Lötschenpass, which was opposite of the mountain everyone else was climbing. We took the van to a nearby valley to a hotel with the oldest German Bible in existence. Our group then started our ascent. The hike went well but started to slow down once we passed the the point at which the vegatation stopped growing. We crossed a small glacier and had lunch near a signpost. The rest of the hike was difficult but we ended up at the hut around 1 PM. Then we hung out and slept for a couple of hours until dinner, and then watched the weather outside go from rain, to hail, to a mix of both, and were glad we got there before that.

The next morning we started our ascent up to Hockenhorn, which was the top of the nearby mountain. The last uphill part basically turned into rock climbing. It was absolutely amazing at the top, and after 10 minutes, Brian and I were scared out of our minds and we all went down. We didn't take the same way down as we did going up, and the other side was a lot nicer. The other side had more fields and endless amounts of flowers. We eventually hiked to a town called Ferden, took the bus to the next town over, and took the train back to Kandersteg. It was a very nice hike we all had a great time.

Some Pictures

EDIT: Blogger is acting weird, so click on the images to view them.