Friday, January 25, 2008

Board on Sweet Chariot


After New Year's in Paris, I took a train to Zürick, Switzerland to meet Fr. Avram. Unfortunately, his traveling plans were foiled by booked Italian trains, and I spent the night in Zürick. My camera was still in the possession of a raving band of rogues, who were most likely too concerned with flashing lights and moving pictures to realize what it was. But don't worry, the French police force assured me that they would do everything in their power once they started to care about Americans.

I was excited though to arrive in Switzerland, knowing that the US dollar was stronger than the Swiss Franc. My hopes were dashed when I found that Switzerland, despite its weak currency is still one of the most expensive countries in Europe. Everybody who travels Europe has their standard product by which they gauge how expensive the country is. For some it's a can of coke. For others its a newspaper. For me it's a Big Mac Meal. The Big Mac in Rome is 6 euros, in the States it's 4 dollars, in Britain it's 4 pounds, in Paris it's 5 euros and in Switzerland it's 11 FRANCS! I paid 18 francs for a pizza that was 3 times worse than the pizza I buy in Rome for 6 euros. Ridiculous.

The next day, Padre and I met in Luzern and took the train to Engelberg. After passing the quaint city of Wolfschlitzenheimerstraussen, the train began the steepest climb I've ever seen a train make. It must have been a 30 degree climb. We arrived in the small resort town of Engelberg around 10 pm. Carrying our bags over the iced roads, we began our search for the Benedictan monastery that we would be staying in (Fr. Avram is plugged into the divine network of priestly connections. Sounds like the Matrix. He even looks the part.).

The monastery is the tallest building in the town, and is surrounded on all sides by snow-capped Alps. We had quite the view out of our rooms... My room came fully equipped with a throne. Not bad accomodations. The monks were extremely hospitable, as they allowed us to eat, celebrate mass and pray with them each morning and evening. The days began around 6:00 for morning prayer (this was there Christmas break, so they were waking up late!), followed by mass at 7:30 and breakfast afterwards. I tell you, a shower before 5:00 am is the most heavenly shower you will ever take. After breakfast the first morning, we walked out to the slopes only to find that there were 100 km/h winds on the hills! They shutdown all the slopes except for the bunny hill. We discussed whether we should pay 50 francs for a day on the bunny hill, and decided that since my skill was hardly competent we would spend the day on mechanics.

Unfortunately, the Swiss defied their congenial stereotype and we spent the day vying for position in line, or more properly put, the swarming masses. It was vicious! I had middle-aged Swedish women planting their ski poles in front of my board and pulling ahead of me! Avram and I considered at one point just making an 8-foot barrier with our snowboards. Since the lines started really wide and trickled down to a single file, we had people cutting in at our sides at every opportunity. At one point I even took sympathy on an 8 year old girl and let her pass, and the cut the line off by putting my arm on the fence. Another little girl snuck under my arm! And all this mass hysteria for a 45 second run down the bunny hill. I felt like I was training for World War III.

The second day we nearly got a full day on the hill, but towards the end of the day, Avram took a mean crash and hurt his arm. It put him out of commission and we called it a day. Unfortunately, the runs were closed the next day too, because of massive rainfall. We were able, however, to snap some killer pics before.

As you can see, we tried to remain as somber as possible, knowing that the scenery was second rate at best. The libations I poured the night before, however, didn't work, because we spent a weekend in Switzerland, surrounded by Alps, and only snowboarded once. It did allow us, however, to spend the rest of the day in the spa, although the European concept of modesty had escaped us...

The monks were great to us, and allowed us to take part in the monastic life. One evening, we even got to see Beethoven's 3rd and Strauss' Metamorpheses from the organ loft, because we had the Benedictan press pass. Also, on Epiphany we had a big feast with the priests and brothers, and they served a dish that was called "Kangaru" in the German. Neither Avram nor my German can be considered spot-on, but it did bear a striking resemblance to some English word... Neither of us having seen any kangaroos obstructing the hills in the Alps, we were slightly skeptical. We asked one of the priests what type of meat it was, and he told us, "You know, the animal...hoppity hoppity. So I can now say that my first experience with kangaroo was while staying in a Benedictan monastery on a weekend snowboarding trip.

That wrapped up our weekend in Switzerland, and we took the early morning train back to Rome with hopes that there would be redemptive snowboarding effort in the near future. There are murmurs of a trip in northern Italy, but nothing is set in stone. I know it's been a while since my last post, but I will make sure to keep everyone updated these next few weeks. Right now I'm in the midst of finals week (yes, in February), so keep me in your prayers. I'm on the pass/fail system, so a C- is just as good as an A! So prayer for an A, and maybe God will meet you halfway.

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