A few Fridays back, Stefje and I arrived in Switzerland just after midnight. At the airport we were greeted by two of her cousins, who whisked us away to Winterthur and their beautiful home. Exhausted, we plopped on the sofa bed and were soon fast asleep.
Surrounded by a boisterous crowd of Stefje's aunt, uncles, and cousins, we began the day on Saturday with a decadent breakfast in their sunny garden. The meal featured no less than six kinds of cheese and fresh artisan breads. Under the strict instructions of Aunt Helma, we all packed up sandwiches for lunch and set off for a hiking trip into the Swiss mountains.
For anyone who hasn't been to Holland, I don't think I can accurately convey just how monotonous the topography is. So just the first few rolling green hillsides dotted with typical Swiss farm houses piqued my interest.
But this was just to whet my appetite, because after just a half hour of driving we turned a corner and found ourselves staring down a behemoth of a mountain range. Shrouded by cloud cover and adorned with year-round glaciers towards the summit, these stone edifices were vertical monstrosities with death-defying inclines towards the summit.
Our group of eight took a Gondola up to the trailhead. From our new vantage point, the postcard perfect farmhouses and connecting roads evaporated into the horizon. Yet more importantly, the smell of cow manure quickly disintegrated as well.
To cap things off, we were now graced by a backdrop of impressive peaks, complemented by bright green grasses and dotted with intermittent farmhouses that spilled out into the verdant valley below.
Only a half hour of hiking had passed before we found the perfect overlook for lunch. Facing towards a semi-circle of mountains and basking in the height of the midday summer heat, the meal's taste was heightened five-fold by the atmosphere.
From here we began a slow and steady descent through continuously gorgeous scenery. First, we traversed a forest where towering pines provided shade for us and homes for a variety of different birds. The forest floor crunched beneath our feet and the intoxicating smell of pine needles refreshed my soul after months in the cityscape of Amsterdam.
As soon as we escaped from the cover of low-hanging branches, another majestic view captured my imagination. We emerged into a thin valley flanked on two sides by vertical cliffs, the path leading towards a calming turqouise lake.
All around us on the valley floor was a stunning diversity of flowers: orange, yellow, purple and blue combined to turn the grassy hillsides into their own spectrum of the rainbow.
At the lake two of Stefje's cousins proved their mettle by stripping down and dipping into the water, unencumbered by the prospect of freezing when the sun passed beneath a series of clouds.
Meanwhile I was content to merely lay back on the grass with my eyes tilted skyward, wondering what I had done to deserve such lovely surroundings.
The rest of the weekend passed in a haze of nature-induced bliss. We went for long walks in the forest, explored the gorgeous surroundings by bicycle, and made sure to spend long evenings enjoying homemade foods with Stefje's constantly entertaining family members.