Life is so absolutely incredible! Already so much has happened since we last wrote! The weekend of “silence” turned into one of the most beautiful weekends so far. We lived the rhythm of the lives of the Benedictine monks, who live in a stunning age old monastery at the end of the Swiss rail line – in a tiny town called Disentis. We woke up at 5:00 AM to attend the morning prayers (all sung in Gregorian chant) of the monks, which finished just as dawn started to illuminate the fairy tale view. All day there were non-obligatory programs to attend: meditations, prayers, meals, etc – or you could hike! It was warm enough to go hiking in just a t-Shirt, but the snow was in some places knee deep – a typical symptom of the high Alps in spring. It was incredible in itself to be disconnected from all electronic gadgets for a weekend, to have no work that had to be done. The only goal of the weekend was to find a deeper sense of inner tranquility – to regain equilibrium. We came back to Zurich refreshed and ready to take on all the challenges the semester would bring!
The monastery we stayed at in Disentis
The weekend after that we went to visit some family friends in Geneva where Hanna spent the night while I (Lea), went to visit a friend I had met in Brussels almost 2 years ago. I spent another incredible weekend skiing in the French Alps – across the valley from Mont Blanc, in a ski area called St. Gervais. I am running out of superlatives to use, but words are hard pressed to describe the absolute beauty and thrill of that weekend!
St. Gervais, across from Mt. Blanc
It seems this blog post will mostly be about skiing. I (Lea) spent the weekend after that in the mountains as well, this time at a ski hill called Andermatt. There is an incredible skiing culture here in Switzerland! Every Saturday morning at the Hauptbahnhoff, the main train station in Zurich, guaranteed every second person will be carrying a pair of skiis with them as they head out to the plethora of ski hills all within an hour train ride. There is a Ski and Rail program with which you can buy a combined day ski and day rail ticket for quite discounted prices. Once again we were soaring above the clouds at crazy heights and crazy speeds! We wanted to beat our ski speed record, and so using a speedometer on our friend’s iPhone, our max speed was… wait for it… 140.0 km/h! I’m not sure if the app was fully functional, but we had chosen the steepest, straightest, iciest slope to tuck down, and considering the world record is 251.4 km/h, set in 2006 by Simone Origon, it could potentially be possible, if not probable.
I (Hanna) also had an incredible weekend: I returned to Budapest for 3 events. The first one was the Fokolare Mariapoli, where over 1000 people (mostly big families) gathered for 4 days to discuss how to bring morality into business, and how to save the world through love. In a country like Hungary, where most of the population is quite depressed about the future, conferences like these are crucial, and it was very uplifting. I actually arrived in Budapest on Wednesday, but for 2 days there was such a massive blizzard that all the railways and highways in and out of the city were shut down, and several hundred people were buried in snow drifts on the highways and had to spend the whole night in their cars. 2 mothers even gave birth in the middle of the snowstorm while they were trapped on the highway! Hungary rarely has much snow, so the blizzard brought quite a state of emergency. However, after 3 days the highways were reopened, and my boyfriend and I were able to get to the conference.
Focolare camp fires
After the Mariapoli, Tony and I went to Visnyeszeplak, which is a tiny eco-village 3 hours away from Budapest. Although my life is pretty interesting, I must say that these were perhaps the most interesting few days I’ve spent since moving to Zurich! The village consisted of only ~150 people, and it began with several families who wanted to move away from the city to start a family commune type farming community. They found the ruins of a village that had been demolished (i.e. many of the houses had been literally bulldozed down) by the Communists, and were therefore able to buy the land very cheaply. Each family has a responsibility. One family planted many fruit trees, another family has 250 families of bees, another has 20 cows and horses, another 30 goats, etc. There is barely any money used in the village; people barter their skills and products – a day of hoeing will get you a jar of honey etc. Tony and I were really lucky; we were in the right place at the right to help a mother goat give birth to her first baby!
It is a complete paradise for children: although they all have to go to school, they spend much of the day playing outside. The village is deliberately old fashioned; life is quite tough for newcomers. If a young family wants to join the community, they buy one of the remaining free ramshackle huts with the surrounding piece of land, and often live without electricity or running water for 2 or 3 years before they bank up enough work hours with the other farmers to enable them to start construction on a new house with a well etc. We visited some of these families with 3 or 4 kids who lived in one of these 3 room huts with a kitchen, living room, and one bedroom. Although today’s sophisticated society would look at such squalor with great contempt, it was fascinating to experience the deep peace and joy with which these people live their lives! Since many of them came from middle income families in cities, they knew exactly what they were leaving behind, and chose to come to Visnyeszeplak precisely to live in a tight community close to nature. And despite the hardships, no one we spoke with wanted to ever move back to a city! Although I don’t think I could give up travelling, an intellectual work life and social life anytime soon, I would love to have some chickens and rabbits, and maybe a goat or two in the future!
Pictures to come soon
Hanna and Lea