Travel Flashback: Mockingbird on Ice


I almost chickened out when I saw the ice rink.

Not because it had been a good 10 years since I last put on ice skates, and not because most of the people zooming around the rink were under the age of 7. No, what really caused me alarm was the fact that there was no protective wall around the edge of the ice.

Technically I know how to ice skate. I learned when I was 9 and my family lived in rural Wisconsin, on a lake that was frozen solid from October to April. I was never particularly good at it, but I was familiar with the fundamentals. Even so, the only method of ice skating I know involves hanging onto the wall around the rink – or, absent a wall, another person – until my feet figure out how to correct for their sudden loss of balance.

The only wall here was at the far end of the rink. I was going to have to launch myself onto the ice hands-free. Comforting myself with the knowledge that I would never see any of these people ever again, I went for it.

And I managed to stay upright. There was plenty of wobbling and arm-waving, but I made it all the way down to the wall at the far end. Once there, I went back and forth along the wall until the rhythm of skating came back to me. After a while, I was able to leave the wall and skate the full length of the rink. And eventually, I was able to enjoy the skating and appreciate where I was.

And where I was was far from home. It had taken me 4 hours and 4 trains to travel from Geneva to Wengen, a charmingly-stereotypical Swiss town tucked high in the Alps. By the third train my ears had started to pop. The last train was a tiny cog rail car that crawled slowly up the mountain to this car-free skiers’ mecca at 4,180 feet.

The mountain views from every angle in the town were breathtaking, including the view from my ice rink. I had to keep reminding myself to look up, in part because looking down when you’re ice skating really does you absolutely no good at all, and in part because every time I looked up I was stunned by the gorgeous scenery around me.

By 5:00, long after the sun had dipped behind the mountains, the kids cleared off the ice and for a while I had the entire rink to myself. I went around the ice in steady circles, smoother with each turn, and breathed in the crisp, clean air tinged with wood smoke. I savored the peacefulness and the satisfaction of having some rudimentary mastery of this particular winter sport (or actually, any sport). I knew that the next day would not be so gratifying. The next day I was going to try skiing.

If you’re curious to know what happened when I tried skiing…you’re going to want to read this.


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