Switzerland and Slovakia

London T12

My grant from the MPW Travel Fund enabled me to make a horizon-expanding walking and mountaineering trip. My adventures began with a flight to Geneva before taking the train to Lausanne, where my friend and I went swimming in Lake Geneva. We continued to Aigle and took the bus up to Villars-sur-Ollon. The next day, we planned on going on a two-day hike but we needed canisters and thus went searching for some. None, however, were to be found in the entire village. You see, the French Swiss hate campers; in fact, when I asked one shop owner whether he sold camping gas, he responded by sternly saying, “Absolutely not!” and then stared at me as if I had offended him. It was very surreal. We had to make do with a campfire instead. 

We hiked to Col de Sud and then Bretaye before arriving at Lac des Chavonnes, where we made our fire and ate our food before going into hiding in the forests nearby for the night, sleeping in camouflaged bivvy bags and under camouflaged tarpaulins in order to avoid detection by French-Swiss farmers. After returning to Villar-Sur-Ollon, we went on a day hike to Solalex and then running along the valley near Villar. 

On our second overnight expedition we travelled to Derborence, where we again camped in the forests. The following day, we set off to climb the Grand Muveran (3051m). As our altitude increased, the snow and ice got thicker and I soon had to put my crampons on. One snowy slope was particularly challenging and at one point one of our party was hanging on using an ice axe, with a fleece wrapped around his head (he didn’t bring sun glasses and needed protection against snow blindness). By the time we reached Cabane CAS Rambert (2580m), we decided to head back, as there was more snow and ice on the Muveran than expected, making the rest of the climb rather dangerous without the right equipment. We hitchhiked to Leytron and then got the train to Villars, where, unfortunately, further outdoor adventures were curtailed due to bad weather. 

My trip to Slovakia began with a 26-and-a-half hour coach journey from London to Bratislava on a coach where nobody spoke English. Our first day started off with a walking tour, where I learned much about the history of Bratislava and  Slovakia, such as the fact that the Prague Spring started in Bratislava and not Prague. The following day, I visited St Martin’s Cathedral and the beautiful Bratislava Castle before trying (and failing!) to wakeboard on Zlaté Piesky lake. During my stay I also had the privilege of visiting Vienna, where I had a tour of the Austrian Parliament, built in the Hellenic style. There, I learned much about the Austro-Hungarian Empire and visited the Hofburg Palace, the Rathaus, the Freud Museum and the Opera House. On my last day in Bratislava, I visited Devín Castle where I learned much about Slovakia’s early history, particularly in the period of the Great Moravian Empire. I finished the day by paying my respects at the Soviet War Cemetery at Slavín and walking through Petržalka to see the surprisingly colourful housing blocks of the Soviet era.

Next, I headed to Žilina and then to Poprad, at the foot of the mountains. There, I climbed Mount Rysy (2499m) in the High Tatras on the Slovak border with Poland. The views were spectacular. At one point I found myself sliding uncontrollably down a snow field, heading for what appeared to be a rock that acted as a natural ski jump leading to jagged rocks. I dug my hands into the snow – trying to slow myself down – and aimed for a part of the rock that had a small face angled towards me. I managed to crash into the rock and let out a sigh of relief. I then heard my friend, Marcel, shouting and looked back to see him sliding towards me at an astonishing speed (and apparently making no effort to slow down). Lucky for him, he crashed into me instead of flying onto the rocks below. It was an exhilarating experience that was both frightening and, after the event, oddly amusing. That concluded my travels in Slovakia. 

I would like to thank MPW for their generous travel fund that helped me buy the equipment I needed for Switzerland and made the journeys possible. I have learned and achieved a lot in my travels and I look forward to my next adventure.

Ashwin Dharmasingham