Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ski trip to the Swiss Alps turned into rain season

Quite tired from a very active salsa weekend in Zurich, I took the train to Engelberg this past Monday to spend the rest of the week skiing. The train ride took about two hours with a change in beautiful Luzern. There was hardly any snow in sight along the way. Weird leaving a snow-clad Sweden with chaos due to all the snowing in many parts of the country (not to mention Stockholm where big, fluffy snow-flakes were falling) for quite unexpected spring weather in the Alps... I was sadly disappointed since I had expected there to be a lot of snow this time of year in the Alps! It must be an effect of global warming – how sad.

Engelberg ( is situated at 1050 meters above sea level in the Swiss Alps and has 24 different cable-ways and 82 km of ski slopes. My friends Anneli & Bosse own an apartment in Engelberg and had been good enough to let me borrow it this week. It’s quite conveniently located about 5 min from the ski lift (and after ski!) and 10 min from the train station. I have been in Engelberg before over New Year’s 2005/06 and the skiing was excellent, including some great off-pist skiing in knee-deep, fresh powder snow.

Pouring rain in Engelberg
Upon arrival to Engelberg this time, though, the birds were chirping quite like in spring-time, the little snow there was on the ground was melting and water was streaming in the creek. Nonetheless, the ski lifts were running and people were indeed skiing, so I figured that it can’t be that bad (check out the webcam from the ski resort: The second day, I realized it can be that bad, because the rain was pouring down! Not exactly ideal for skiing. Quite depressing actually.

I had to resort to a good book by the Swedish author Jan Guillou and TV programs in incomprehensible Swiss German or familiar American shows dubbed into somewhat understandable German instead – well, I don’t speak German either, but at least it’s similar enough to Swedish that I could pick out a word here and there…After zapping through some 30 channels I finally found a couple of Swiss TV channels in Italian, tsi (televisione Svizzera italiana) 1 and 2 as well as the Italian Rai Uno, and felt more comfortable when I could understand the language, although what they were broadcasting was quite silly.

The restaurant/bar Yucatán in the ground-floor of Hotel Bellevue was quite happening, nonetheless. It was filled with happy, beer-drinking people when I went there for dinner and to write the postcards from Zurich I hadn’t gotten to yet. So after some good pasta and a couple of Swiss beers I went back to the apartment with my groceries, including my favorite coffee confect Raffaello-Kugeln (crispy cocoanut covered confects with creamy almond filling), less bothered by the rain than before.

The third day I woke up at 8:00 am to have breakfast and get ready for what I hoped would be at least one day of skiing, but the Titlis Glacier, Laubersgrat, Rindertitlis and Jochstock were closed “due to strong wind” and all ski-lifts and slopes were closed but the cable-car to Ristis, perhaps to be able to look at “the view” because skiing must have been impossible… My God, it was raining! I’m not talking about some gentle drizzle here, but a steady and heavy pouring rain washing away all remaining evidence of snow. The temperature in Engelberg was +4° Celsius. The below Live Cam pictures from local TV yesterday morning show you just how depressing it was.

So what does a girl do when alone in the Swiss Alps in winter-time with no possibility of skiing? She goes in monastery…

Engelberg Kloster
Given all the raining I thought I’d enjoy some ‘history and culture’ instead of skiing. Engelberg has a large Benedictine monastery ( founded in year 1120 which made for an interesting visit. Apparently the singing voices of angels in some revelation on the monastery grounds influenced the name of the village here in the mountains, hence ‘Engelberg’. Due to a fire in the 18th century, the monastery had to be rebuilt and it has subsequently been restored into its current state and is quite modern. The latest restoration started in 2005 and is expected to be finished in 2009.

The monks are supposed to spend their life in prayer and labor. One of the monks (Colomban, I think his name was) was famous for his exquisite wooden work, and spent ten years finishing the Room of Virtues in the monastery, depicting 24 female virtues in wooden panels on the wall.

The monastery also has a school with 250 pupils (roughly one third living in boarding houses) divided into ten different classes.
The Great Baroque Hall, used mainly for various musical events

Hallway on third floor

Guest Hall – guests are not allowed to have meals together with the monks

Monastery garden

The beautiful monastery church in its bright colors is currently under restoration and will be opened again to the public at the end of March.

Walks in Engelberg
Today is the forth day of steady raining and now I’m seriously getting bored beyond belief. Only a couple of ski lifts were open, but all the top ones where the snow was likely to be found were closed again today due to strong winds. I didn’t even bother going to the ski-rental shop or buying a day pass for the lift with the outlook of skiing in mud.

After walking round Engelberg ten times (doesn’t take that long), snapping a few rain-saddened photos and visiting just about every café there is, I am now on the verge of giving up on the idea of skiing on this trip. There are only two things I can do now: party like crazy at one of the local bars or leave this rain-pit. If nothing drastic happens to the weather and it starts snowing heavily tomorrow, I will have to do something else over the weekend.

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