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Monte Generoso

Switzerland is home to the beauty of the Swiss Alps — a site that mesmerizes many and captures the attention of those in its presence.

Living in the Steger Center in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland provides an unforgettable opportunity to stare out of any window and adore a picturesque background that almost seems unreal.

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The mountains are positioned in authority, demanding the attention of everyone who can see them. This naturally evokes the curiosity of viewers who wonder what the view from the top looks like.

Fortunately, interested parties can journey up Monte Generoso, a mountain of the Lugano prealps that divides Switzerland and Italy, via train from the Capolago-Riva San Vitale station.

During my stay, I traveled with my study abroad group and had the experience of a lifetime. As travelers board the train, they will sit in a car and ascend up the mountain with the view of Riva and the surrounding areas shrinking below them. The once large buildings that towered over people at the foothills of the mountain will appear to mesh in with the villages and become indistinguishable.

Once the train stops at Fiore di Pietra, “the new landmark of Monte Generoso,” travelers can disembark and choose to take a break before hiking the rest of the mountain.

Those who choose to make the trip up Monte Generoso should take time to plan out their departure and return before their trip via the timetable. It is also best to purchase your ticket, bring a bottle of water, and a jacket. Those small steps to prepare for the experience will save you time, headache, and discomfort on your adventure.

Our journey to the top of Monte Generoso from Fiore di Pietra was at least an hour. The trail to the top is challenging and steep. My experience was different from my peers as it was my first time climbing a mountain.

Shortly after leaving Fiore di Pietra, we ran into cows who were grazing the land and enjoying their time on the side of the mountain. It almost appeared as if the cows were not paying us any mind as some of us took pictures, others touched them, and everyone stared in amazement. I’ve never seen a cow so unbothered and uninterested in someone who was invading their space.

As the peak of the mountain became clearer and closer with each step forward, I began to lose sight of the bottom. The weather was extremely cloudy that day and did not permit a clear view of Lake Como or Lake Lugano.

Fear sat into my heart less than 5 minutes from the peak when I realized that the only way to the top required me to walk a thin trail on the edge of the mountain. Every time I got up to trust myself and push past fear, I sat down. I thought to myself, “there is no way I’m going to walk on this little trail and fall to my death on this mountain while I’m thirsty and cold.”

Just in case you did not know, the air gets thinner, and the temperature falls the higher you travel. It also rained periodically as we approached an elevation of 5,581 feet. This is why a water bottle and a jacket will save you on your adventure.

I eventually overcame my fear with the help of two friends who were battling the same trepidation. We traveled the remaining distance together and conquered a feat that allowed me to view the world in a totally different way.

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Although we were not able to see the beautiful view from the top as we had hoped, we made memories, enjoyed each others’ company, and met other travelers at the top.

Johann Kempfle, a native of Germany, traveled up Monte Generoso hoping to see the beautiful views of the two countries. When we unexpectedly met at the top, we took a few moments to chat via an interview.

Kempfle described his time up the mountain as “good, it was a great ride up.” He rode his bike most of the way up the mountain during one of his many adventures that took place during his first week-long stay in Switzerland.

Monte Generoso is a challenge for anyone, especially those who choose to bring a bike along. Kempfle had to exert extra effort; “On the stony and steep parts of the mountain, I had to push the bike.” However, this wasn’t his first time climbing a mountain with a bike. He’s climbed a mountain at Lake Como and has plans to climb many more.

As an individual who enjoys increasing the challenge of climbing with his bike, “one of the goals [he] want[s] to achieve is the downhill.” Kempfle’s determination inspired me to travel to new places and always look for an unfamiliar adventure. I hope you do the same.

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¿Habla usted Inglés?

Two weeks in Switzerland led to an immersive experience in Italian, French, and German. As a citizen of the United States, I am used to everyone around me speaking English, a language that I understand and can speak fluently.

During this trip, I’ve been forced to explore the depths of Google Translate to communicate food orders, departures, and arrivals. This opportunity allowed me to view language from the perspective of a non-native communicator and empathize with immigrants. The challenge became even more interesting as I left Switzerland to begin my journey on my week-long tour of Italy.

A study abroad friend, Melissa Cisneros, and I decided to make the trip together. Our first stop was Milan, after an hour and a half train ride through the mountains and landscape.

Melissa, her aunt, and cousins would meet for the first time during our trip to Milan. Her aunt was gracious enough to host us for a night before we caught the train to Florence.

As natives of Peru, her family speaks Spanish fluently and I do not. I successfully passed three years of Spanish in high school and know enough to communicate the basics such as greetings and salutations. However, communicating well enough to tell someone where I’m from and what I love to do in a complete sentence is a struggle.

I felt like an outsider. I was not able to enjoy the conversation or laugh on time because Melissa had to translate each moment to me. I can only imagine how she felt switching between the two to accommodate our needs.

 

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A man-made body of water that divides the restaurant strip in Milan.

 

As I spent the next day and a half with Melissa and her family, touring the terraces of the Duomo in Milan, walking the streets, and comparing buffet dinner options, I realized that I should learn to speak another language fluently.

In Europe, speaking three different languages is not astounding to other Europeans. I have met several people who take pride in speaking at least five languages and sometimes more. It’s a custom since there are so many cultures spread across the continent.

My goal is to learn how to speak Spanish fluently in the next two years. I’m going to start by subscribing to the Babbel app and changing a few preferences on my devices so I can immerse myself in the language. Maybe the next time I visit another country, I will be able to say, “¿Hablas español? and hold a conversation.

 

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Melissa taking a photo of street art on the way to dinner on Saturday, June 2, 2018 in Milan.

 

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Steger Center & More

There are many activities in Riva, but this image sideshow highlights my favorite eight as a student studying abroad.

1. Virginia Tech Steger Center: This massive home host Hokies who come during the year to study abroad.
2. Mountain Views: Admire the mountains and the architecture of Riva San Vitale, Switzerland from the garden of the Steger Center.
3. Basketball: Shoot some hoops at the local elementary school across the street from the Steger Center to take a break from studying or working.
4. Grocery Store: Sweet treats, chips, and delicious snacks can be found at the grocery store within a five-minute walk from the Center.
5. Lake Lugano: Admire the beauty of Lake Lugano by taking a five-minute bike ride or walk from the Steger Center.
6. Gelato: Caffe Chicco D’oro is located in front of the train station and has gelato, chips, refreshing drinks, and more.
7. Train: Capolago-Riva San Vitale train station can be the start of your adventures around Europe. Catch a 15-minute train ride to see Lake Lugano from a different perspective in the city of Lugano.
8. Alberto: Locals of Riva San Vitale will make this temporary home more comfortable. Meet Alberto at Bar Ticino and have a drink. It’ll be one of the best decisions you make.

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A Day with a Stranger

The beginning of my three day weekend, after four days of classes in Switzerland, marked a period of serenity and exploration. At the start of the weekend, my plans were not concrete, but I knew I wanted to use my Eurail pass to travel to either Bern, Como or Luzerne.

After doing some research and exploring my options, I settled on Grindelwald-First an all-day extravaganza near Bern. With the help of the Steger Center manager, Daniella, I arranged my travel for the day and prepared to wake up at 5 a.m. to catch my train at 6:09 a.m.

While seated on the train and watching the beautiful Swiss mountains pass before me, I thought about my friends and fellow Hokies who were traveling to Cinque Terre, Paris, and Rome. I took naps on the trains as the cars filled up and the morning turned into the afternoon.

I stepped on my last train before Grindelwald in Interlaken Ost and saw a young man who was in his early twenties. We noticed each other, but we didn’t speak. As the train began to pull out of the station, he asked if anyone was sitting in the seat across from me. I told him, “No” and he took the seat.

For a few minutes, the energy felt like we both wanted to speak but chose to remain silent. I initiated the conversation by offering him a piece of gum which he politely turned down. Moments after we were getting to know each other and talking about our backgrounds.

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Nicky is from Thailand and has a degree in hotel management. He’s currently interning at a hotel in Paris this summer and was traveling to Grindelwald-First for the weekend.

At that moment, we both decided that we would spend the day together since we had originally planned to go there alone.

We disembarked from the train in Grindelwald to begin our adventure together and stopped at a restaurant for lunch while walking through the village. During our journey, we rode the gondola together up the mountain, took flight through the Swiss Alps on a zip line-like activity, and used mountain carts to travel around the mountain.

Nicky and I spent the day together enjoying each others company as if we had known each other all of our lives. He taught me to be open to the idea of starting a friendship with a stranger in a foreign country.