As much as I love traveling to new places, I also find great enjoyment traveling back to countries I've fallen in love with. While it may sound cliche, it was the crisp mountain air and sweeping, mountainous landscapes that drew me back to Switzerland. On this visit, I stayed in Vitznau, a small, beautiful, lakeside village nestled at the base of Mt. Rigi. Some consider warm water and palm trees paradise, but Vitznau is nothing short of an outdoorsman's utopia. On this trip I brought along my road bike, as biking through the mountain passes of Europe has always been on my bucket list. Vitznau provides easy access to some of the best climbs in Switzerland.
My friend, Claudia - both a great photographer and local guide - was eager to show me a few places I'd missed on my last trip. We drove to Appenzell, a canton about an hour and a half away from Vitznau. After a cable car ride and a short hike, we arrived at Ascher, possibly one of the most picturesque restaurants I've ever seen. Tucked away at the base of the limestone Swiss Alps, Aescher is a charming restaurant known for its rosti, a typical Swiss dish. I was excited to experience this place, as it has been featured on the cover of National Geographic and has been named a "Top Dream Destination." Although it was a somewhat crowded day, I felt deep contentment watching birds glide in the steep canyon below me. After enjoying a sparkling water and some people-watching, I was off on my next adventure.
Landscape photographers tend to feel uneasy around big crowds; for the most part, we're simple, solitary types. For this reason, I consider Alp Weid to be one of my all-time favorite places to visit....EVER! Once again, we began with a short cable car ride. After a few minutes, we were greeted with unobstructed views of the southern part of Lake Lucerne. As I gazed in awe at the landscape before me, I was reminded of a quote by Ansel Adams: "When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence." This was easy to do on Alp Weid. I only needed two hands to count how many people were up there with us. After sipping an espresso, I made my way farther up the mountain. It took about forty-five minutes and I relished every minute of it. Once at the top, I let the cool alpine air dry my sweat from the steep ascent, made a few exposures, then began my descent.
As I noted earlier, I'd brought my road bike on this trip. In-between the adventures Claudia had arranged, I biked and ran miles on end. With the goal in mind to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France, the Swiss countryside was a perfect place to train. One of my more notable rides demanded climbing seven thousand feet in elevation over thirty miles. I worked my way through enchanting villages and steep mountain passes and gripped my handlebars with excitement as I rode over cobblestones for the first time.
Eventually my time is Switzerland came to an end and while Lake Como (in Italy) was my ultimate destination, I decided to take a quick detour to Venice. It's always good to get out of your comfort zone, which is what I told myself about stopping in Venice. This section of the trip was an incentive package for my father's business. We were both treated to some of the best food Venice had to offer and stayed in a luxurious hotel next to Piazza San Marco. During our stay, we visited the islands of Murano and Burano; Burano proved to be my favorite stop. The vibrant houses and colorful hanging laundry made this stand out as one of the most alluring locations in the city. After three days in Venice, I was ready for our last stop: Lake Como.
I intentionally placed Lake Como at the tail end of my trip, as it was an ideal spot to relax and prepare for the journey back to the U.S. After three days without riding, I was eager to assemble my bike and get back on the road. Italy is not flat, which makes it great for someone who enjoys cycling sharp ascents, and my first ride was a dream. One of the steepest climbs consisted of an average grade of 17%, with pitches up to 25% for a little over a mile. This segment features split-times, and quotes from 1960's-era riders of the climb, stenciled on the road. After four hours in the saddle, I had climbed almost 10,000 feet over fifty-five miles!
As this vacation came to a close, it was difficult not to reflect on how lucky I am to have the means to travel. It's been said that you can learn so much about the culture you travel to, but I think you can also learn just as much about yourself each time you travel. I always seem to return back to the United States feeling more cultivated and well-rounded.