Saturday, May 31, 2008

CNN travel article on walking in Switzerland

Here is an article for those who love walking. The original link is here.



Lesson from Switzerland: Get up, get out and hike

* Story Highlights
* Walking is the No. 1 sport in Switzerland
* Every Swiss village, city and mountain is crisscrossed with paths
* The Swiss also ride bikes to get around
* Next Article in Travel »

By Sheila Norman-Culp
Associated Press


FTAN, Switzerland (AP) -- Limbs and lungs aching after a 5 1/2-hour, above-the-treeline hike in the Swiss Alps, I plopped down with pride upon the roughhewn log that served as a bus stop bench.
art.switzerland.ap.jpg

Hikers take in the view in Chur, Switzerland.

"That was a monster!" I said to my husband, reliving the trek across unstable slate fields and rugged mountain meadows, along trails carved by rushing streams, meandering cows and burrowing marmots.

Then the Bachman family from Basel walked by. They had done the same hike with 5-year-old twins, a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old.

"At least you beat the twins," my husband smirked.

Only the twins and their mother, Damia, waited with us for the bus. The older kids and their father continued down a grueling 1 1/2-hour switchback trail to the resort of Scoul. In a further blow to my ego, I learned that the Bachmans were on a three-week summer vacation and had gone on similar hikes nearly every day.

"The hardest thing is stopping every hour to feed them," Damia Bachman said. "They are always hungry."

There are times in life when something that has been abundantly obvious to others for so long finally becomes obvious to you. Like most Americans, I honestly had no idea how sedentary I had become.
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It's not just our fast-food culture that's making us the oversized laughingstocks of the world. It's also that we sit too much -- at work, in the car, at school, at home.

We spend weekends and evenings as passive observers, watching sports or movies, playing video games, surfing the Internet -- all sitting down.

In most of America, virtually every activity requires a hop in the car. Even when parents do walk, they often keep toddlers in strollers months too long because it's faster that way.

Plenty of American families are involved in sports, but that can mean nothing more strenuous than sitting in the bleachers watching a child's tournament. While exercise walking is by far America's most popular sport -- practiced by nearly 90 million people in 2007, according to a survey by the National Sporting Goods Association -- that survey includes anyone who did it at least once that year.

In Switzerland, walking is also No. 1, but here it's a daily commitment practiced at distances that would leave most Americans panting.

Lorenz Ursprung, head of sports promotion at the Swiss Office of Sport, said it's easy to see walking's appeal.

"You can do it as a family, a couple, by yourself. You don't need any expensive equipment. You don't even have to go anywhere -- you can walk out your back door," he said.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that every single Swiss village, city and mountain is crisscrossed with paths, ranging from flat sidewalks by the lake to heart-stopping alpine trails.

The Swiss walk for pleasure: to breathe fresh air, talk with friends, give the dog a romp, head to a cafe for lunch. They walk to do errands, pick up groceries, go to work. On Sundays, when most stores are closed, paths are filled with three-generation families, all out for a walk.

"Every single weekend, we went hiking with the family," reminisced Sandro Della Rossa, a 27-year-old language teacher in Zurich. "Sometimes when I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was stay home and hang out with my friends. But no, I had to go hiking with the family.

"I didn't appreciate it then -- but I do now."

On weekends, morning trains are filled with elderly hikers heading into the mountains with walking poles. Packs of 10- to 13-year-olds gather for overnight mountain treks led by 16- and 17-year-olds, with nary a parent in sight. Young couples lug infants and toddlers on their backs as they trek up to see glaciers.

I've even seen a father hike up to the Matterhorn base camp, his prepubescent sons following eagerly, on a trail where one slip could mean an early death.

In the cities, Swiss toddlers zip along on tiny wooden balance bikes, expected to keep up with their parents.

And every day, hundreds of students, professors and office workers march up the hill to the University of Zurich along a slope so steep it also has a funicular train. Those 218 steps leave me gasping.

"It's the most direct route and I don't have to buy a monthly tram pass," explained student Lukas Schneider. "It's jammed during rush hour, but it's quite dramatic, don't you think?"

The Swiss penchant for movement is not limited to walking. All types of people -- the old, the fat, bankers in suits, women in skirts -- regularly ride bikes to get around, despite the many steep streets. Some Zurich postmen pick up the mail using little wagons attached to bicycles.

Part of our problem in America may be fear: Kids rarely walk or bike to school because parents are afraid of bad drivers and pedophiles. Part may be our speeded-up culture: Parents often feel too rushed in the morning to walk their children to school.

Jonathan Dorn, editor-in-chief of Backpacker magazine, in Boulder, Colorado, says many U.S. towns also lack the infrastructure the Swiss have -- sidewalks, safe street crossings, schools that are close to students' homes.

But he also thinks more American children could turn into lifelong walkers if parents broke some bad habits.

"Maybe it's not practical to walk your kids to school," he said. "But instead of letting them watch videos Saturday morning, take them out to your local park and walk. They will whine for about 10 minutes, then find a frog or climb a tree."

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