I am thawing. Finally. After weeks of below-freezing temperatures, Switzerland is warming up. Afternoons are flirting with 50 degrees. (Having lived in Florida for eight years, I’m still not used to being excited about 50 degrees weather. But following 0 degrees, I will rejoice!)
(Click on the photo for a better look at the Alps in the background. I accidentally added a mountain to the range while making this panorama. But you get the idea.)
It is finally time to get outside again and walk.
Walking is one of my favorite activities. Whether cruising the subdivision to get some exercise and fresh air, or strapping on a 40 pound backpack for three weeks in the Sierra Nevada back country, I can’t get enough of using my feet.
You can walk to relieve stress. To work off a few pounds (if you get your heart rate up enough). To appreciate nature. Even if you’re just milling about your neighborhood, it’s amazing what you will see when you’re not just “getting somewhere.”
I have been lucky enough to live in a lot of different places with great walking trails.
I grew up in Michigan with a convenient network of paved walking, biking and rollerblading paths in the Huron-Clinton Metroparks.
It was beaches in Naples, Fla. or a stroll around the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
In California, I joined the Kern River Valley Hiking Club and met a bunch of wild and fun folks who carpooled all around central and southern California to hit the trails.
Now I call Bern, Switzerland my home. There are some 39,000 miles (62,500 kilometers) of walking trails here, according to the Lonely Planet guide book. That’s like 14 trips from New York to Los Angeles.
I wanted to write about walking this week because, like I said, the weather is great for it. But also, to challenge myself, and any readers out there, to explore, to look a little deeper.
It’s easy to be so busy getting from point A to B that you miss the world in between. Going for walks is a great way to slow down and take a closer look.
Whether you want to wander a bit more in your own backyard or plan for upcoming vacations, just thinking about places to walk can motivate you to get out the door.
Here’s a little about walking in Switzerland.
The yellow posts mark easy trails, or Wanderweg. Many of these trails are paved, making it quite accessible for all levels, and the ever important stroller. They run through villages, farms, along streets, between houses and to train stations. Just follow the yellow diamonds. They are plastered on street posts and painted on trees and buildings.
If you want to hike higher in the Alps, you’ll see signs like this yellow flag with white and red stripes, or the white/red/white flag painted on rocks.
They indicate mountain trails. I’ve heard there are also white and blue striped trails for higher up where you may traverse glaciers and other high elevation fun. I haven’t seen these yet.
The trick is to have a general idea of where you want to go. Some signs are marked with estimated walking times to various locations. But not all. You may find yourself at an intersection of trails with yellow diamonds in all directions.
If you have all the time in the world, by all means, wander. Getting lost and finding your way back is a lot of fun if you’re prepared for that.
Or, if you’re a little more structured, just do a little preplanning, especially when entering new territory.
There are also iPhone apps and other GPS tools you can use to keep tabs on your whereabouts while you walkabout.
Be sure to check the elevation gains and topographical maps for regions you’re unfamiliar with. Sometimes it’s fun to go steeper than you planned. But it can get dangerous with the wrong kind of shoes.
So if you’re in the neighborhood, walking in Switzerland is a beautiful experience. But anywhere, really, can be the perfect place for a walk.