Swiss Alps; December 28, 2019 - January 5, 2020
The two halves of our vacation couldn't have been more different, with the only common feature being tiny countries. We left sweltering Djibouti with our usual developing-country dive-trip array of marine stings, insect bites, and stomach problems, arriving to recover in sterile, wintery, insect-free Switzerland. In Africa when things get unfathomably dirty or chaotic, travelers shrug it off as "TIA" (This Is Africa); on the second half of our trip we coined "TIS" (This Is Switzerland), for when things are unfathomably clean or organized.
We benefited from TIS soon after we arrived. Despite four separate air tickets, and only Alex and Jennifer having frequent flier status, inexplicably all four of us were moved to business class on our Istanbul-Zurich flight. The upgrades were especially appreciated by Tim & Emily, but in all the excitement Jennifer managed to leave her laptop on the plane (a first). Luckily, TIS: with an online form and automated updates, the laptop was recovered and cleared by the Swiss police for pickup the following day.
For the rest of the week we were based in Chur -- reputed to be the oldest town in Switzerland, a short train ride from Zurich and conveniently located within striking distance of several different ski areas. All of the ski resorts we visited have hyphenated names and link together formerly separate areas: Arosa-Lenzerheide, Flims-Laax, and Davos-Klosters-Parsenn. We were extremely lucky with the weather overall, with mostly sunny days hovering around freezing, although to break the monotony, one day in Davos served up white-out blizzard conditions on the upper parts of the mountain.
We've done a bit of skiing in the Alps some years ago, but this visit was the most extensive by far. The European ski experience differs considerably from the USA (or at least Switzerland differs considerably from California):
We took one day off from skiing to go sledding instead. Make no mistake, this isn't a matter of towing a plastic sled up a snowy knoll and sliding down. The whole enterprise is highly organized (TIS!) with top-end sled rentals and groomed runs of different difficulties accessed by a variety of lifts. We sledded out of Berguen, a charming village teeming with people pulling their sleds and a unique ice bar for the apres-sledding scene:Back to Aiken/Widom Family Travel List
The steepest route is the Darlux-Berguen run, apparently quite well known. Jennifer never got up the guts to hurtle down at full terminal velocity although the rest of the family did, with only a few bruises from the inevitable crashes that, in contrast to skiing, seem to be an accepted part of the sledding culture.