Switzerland and Italy

The Land of the Switzer

August 26th, 2012

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It seems as though my wanderlust (and this travel blog) will never die. This year I find myself pecking out another blog post on my iPhone in Bern Switzerland. I am still not entirely sure why I spend the time and effort to cobble together my random thoughts and pictures. I certainly love staying in touch with you fine people. And I hope that some morsel of what I share can spark a trip idea of your own. But I think I mostly do it to freeze my brain in a specific place and time. For me, re-reading these blogs is almost like re-living the actual adventures. The sounds and smells and emotions all come flooding back and it always brings a smile to my face. Ok, Philosophical Introduction, officially over.

So why Switzerland? Why not the African Congo or something? After all, I am supposed to be “Brad of the Jungle” right?! It is true that Switzerland has less Baboon’s and armed check points along the road than I am used to, but there is plenty of adventure planned nonetheless. One of the main reasons in visiting Switzerland was to attend a “Poi spinning” retreat in the Swiss Alps. Poi spinning is that thing you see sometimes in island/tribal/rave settings where people are spinning fire or LED lights around themselves in pretty patterns. Kristi and i were introduced to this activity a few years ago in Thailand and Burningman. Since then we have met and spun fire with lots of awesome people and even went to some fire festivals in the U.S. Now we are taking it to the next level!

We will spend the next week sleeping in Yurts among the lush green mountains of Switzerland practicing poi and yoga. Then my rock star mom will join and we will tackle some of the classic sites south through Italy. Yeehaw!

In our 1st days here, Kristi and I have wandered around the lovely town of Bern. It is definitely in competition with Japan for safest and cleanest (and most expensive!) place I have ever been. Also lots of fashionable sophisticated Europeans sipping wine and hustling to catch the next zero emission tram. Salud!


The Geometry of Relaxation

September 6th, 2012

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I have just returned from a relaxing and inspiring week of poi spinning and yoga in the Swiss Alps. It took place in the beautiful rural village of Balmeggberg that sits along the edge of some giant mountains. The actual place we stayed consisted of a large farmhouse full of musical instruments (including multiple Hang drums), a large organic farm (where all the food that we ate came from) and some magical Yurts (large circular circus tent/TP-esque places to sleep). The overall vibe was homey and peaceful and creative. A pretty strong contrast to the hustle and bustle of LA life.

Our fellow poi spinners came mostly from nearby European countries….Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Italy and 1 other couple from the US. They were a spectacular mix of backgrounds like mathematician, teacher, computer scientist, therapist, acrobatic paraglider and of course us video game makers. Our common bond was this strange desire to spin objects around our bodies in circles. Perhaps it is a bit hard to understand what the allure is of spending time and money and limited vacation days on such an activity. I will try to explain.

Spinning Poi feels like a unique blend of dancing, exercise, martial arts, meditation, math and creativity. Each person tends to emphasize one of these components more than another. For example, if you love dancing you may enjoy moving your whole body around and grooving to the music. If you are more technically minded, you may focus on inventing impossible patterns and illusions with the poi. And meditation/relaxation finds its way into this activity by spending long periods of time focusing on a particular motion until you get into a hypnotic flow. Many times it can feel like a hybrid of all these things at once. Delicious!

So that’s all well and good, but can’t I just do this crazy spinning math dance at home? What lured me all the way over to Europe? Because I love learning. And some of the best teachers of poi are at this unique retreat/workshop in Switzerland every August. They also have retreats in Bali, Costa Rica, etc but this made sense for me right now.

Although poi spinning was invented long ago in places like Fiji and New Zealand and has been around for maybe 15-20 years in various modern dancing contexts, only in the last 5-10 years has it really exploded into a more complex and fully featured art form. People are still regularly inventing new movements and choreography and ways of lighting and igniting the poi. There is something exciting about the possibility of pioneering something new and getting your body to achieve and refine these unique patterns while in a relaxing and creative environment

One surprisingly great part of the retreat was the yoga and meditation sessions. I have done a fair amount of yoga and some meditation but never really felt connected to these activities. It always felt either too new-age and abstract or just boring awkward exercise. But our yoga instructor was able to find the right balance of rational thinking/challenges with exhilarating physical challenges. The bottom line is that I can now control space and time. So watch out!

A week that I will definitely remember. And now on to Interlaken for some adventure! (thanks to everyone for taking these great photos!)


Glacial Playground

September 7th, 2013

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Greetings blogophiles,

Our week of poi and yoga madness in the mountains has come to an end. Kristi and I feel relaxed and rejuvenated and ready to explore more of Switzerland. A short beautiful train ride brings us to the adrenaline addicted town of Interlaken. We find ourselves wedged between 2 massive glacier lakes and surrounded by tall green and white mountains. These natural features provide plenty of opportunity for travelers and locals alike to do semi-dangerous activities while gazing out at scenic beauty. The daytime sky always has 5 – 10 multi-colored para-gliders drifting and twisting their way down from the mountain tops. The lakes were full of aquatic adventures of all sorts. And the roads were twisty race tracks for leather clad motorcycle junkies. Perhaps Interlaken was not the most obvious choice for our post-Zen decompression, but limited travel time and a friends recommendation (thanks Sam!) lured us in.

Although all of the aforementioned adventures sounded like fun, we decided on Canyoning. This activity consists of repelling deep into a slot canyon, jumping off of water fall cliffs, sliding down naturally smooth rock watersides, zip-lining through rock arches and just generally sloshing through a river at the bottom of a canyon. Although this may sound suspiciously close to the movie 127 Hours, we were with a professional tour group that equipped us with helmets, wetsuits and skilled guides to keep us safe. Kristi and I’s rock climbing experience came in handy when traversing and ascending tricky wet rock surfaces. And it was a hoot to find ways of using my water proof camera. Although the water was quite cold (recently un-frozen glacier water!), it was great fun and a unique experience.

We spent our next day exploring the slower side of Interlaken. We rented some bicycles and pedaled around the beautiful lush countryside. Getting lost on these tiny back roads to emerge on an apple farm or a cow pasture was a scenic and relaxing mini-adventure. We even stumbled upon a cheese and beer festival. The red and white tents holding these delicious treats in the war m mountain sun almost seemed like we were on the set of a movie. We sampled many cheeses and bought our favorites. Kristi chose a soft Mozzarella type cheese and I selected a potent greasy cheese from 2011. We bought our items from a humble sweet women who spoke no English. She seemed amused at my pondering contemplations after each bite. Our mini-adventure got upgraded when we rode up to one of the giant lakes and found some kayaks to rent. Kristi and I shared a double and we paddled out to the center. The water is a deep blue-green color that invites a refreshing plunge. Overall a great self-organized day of pedaling and paddling.

We took another short train to Zurich. It is nice to be able to cross Switzerland so quickly on such comfortable a frequent transportation. We did a bit of wandering around and decided we needed to eat some cheese fondue for dinner. We scarfed down bread and potatoes and mushrooms and lot and lots of cheese. Sadly, this was Kristi’s last night of her trip. She has to return home to finish up some work. But now my Mom has arrived! So we are off to the French part of Switzerland in the south.