Published: April 16th 2006April 2nd 2006
Ah, the land of chocolat and snow. Rolling green fields with jagged black and white mountains in the distance. Little wooden chalets and ultra-modern apartment buildings. Switzerland is a place of contrast- a stubbornly neutral country where everyone serves in the army and keeps their guns at home.
I spent the weekend in Switzerland, because it was one of the places I really wanted to get to and I needed to finish up my Eurrail pass- a winning combination. After class on Wednesday I hit the road, traveling from the Aix TGV station to Lyon, from Lyon to Geneva and from Geneva I finally arrived in the Swiss capital of Bern, where I spent two nights. On my first day in Bern I woke up at a leisurely time of 7h30 and got some swiss francs and breakfast supplies at the local supermarket Migros. I had a lovely meal in the hostel's common room (Bern Backpackers) and then set out to see the town. It was a gray and rainy day, but that didn't stop me from admiring the city's UNESCO protected architecture and the miles of arch-covered sidewalks. I saw the cathedral and then walked down to the bear
pits, where they keep some bears... in a pit. But they have rocks and trees to climb on, so I think they're happy.
The tourist center had a little multimedia presentation about Bern's history so I watched that. Highly entertaining- there's a talking chair and Napolean's uniform makes an appearance. After this mind-expanding education experience I walked up the the Rosegarten, where the roses were not in bloom yet. Oh well- it had a great view of Bern on a bend in the Aare River. Very picturesque and it definitely doesn't look like the seat of national government. The Swiss are tricky like that.
I meandered over to the Botanical Gardens to warm up a bit and enjoyed the foliage. I also saw a garbage can burning- just sitting there, smoking away. No one was making a big fuss, perhaps because no one noticed it, so I just moved on. I headed back to the hostel when my batteries died and just chilled out for the rest of the evening as it turned out. I met some really cool people in the hostel, including two Irish girls, a Hawaiian organic farmer and a 19 yr old kid who
is traveling around the world. We drank some Chilean wine, had real live Swiss cheese and just talked. I made pasta for dinner after a trip to Migros and we watched "Air Force One". I forgot how bad that movie was.
So the next day the sun came out! I wondered around Bern a bit before my train at noon, and even climbed up to the top of the cathedral. All those stairs made me dizzy, but I got to see the bells and all the little details of the church as I climbed up. My next stop in Switzerland was Luzern. It is a gorgeous place. Bern didn't really have mountains as a part of the background, but in Luzern they are all over the place. Luzern is on a lake and there are mountains on every side. The sun was shining when I got into the train station, so I walked along the waterfront to my hostel-Lucern Backpackers. There's was no one around and the sign said check-in wasn't until 4pm, so I stashed my stuff in the common room behind some chairs, covered it with my (unnecessary) winter coat and set out to see the town.
I grabbed an overpriced sandwich in the train station and some pasta in the old town and just kind of wandered here and there. There's a beautiful wooden bridge that spans the place where the lake becomes a river and a great old church up on a hill that I walked up to and sat in for awhile to rest my feet.
I went back, checked in and put my stuff in my room, then I got food at another Migros a few streets back from the hostel and heated up a pizza in the oven for dinner. It was very good. Then I took my new book, Walden by Thoreau, and sat on a bench and read until it was dark. I went out later on to look at the lights on the water. It was so peaceful and lovely. I could hear some ducks quacking in the darkness and the water on the shore. One could just barely make out the outline of the mountain across the waters.
Next morning I wandered around the middle of town, then at noon I took the ferry across the lake to the town of Vitznau. On the boat I
met two people my age from Simsbury CT who know people at Fairfield- it's a very small world. Most people on the boat were going to take the cog railroad up the mountain, but I didn't really feel like it and I was really hungry. So I had an authentic Swiss meal at a restaurant in this very small town and then struck out in one direction along the road. I walked that way until I got to a beach and an avalanche barrier made of tires. Then I turned around, intending to go in the opposite direction for awhile, as a means of passing the time until the ferry back to Luzern.
However, I found a hiking trail and, feeling curious, decided to follow it. It ran alongside a stream, so that was the chief attraction. I wandered up and up, mostly passing by people's houses- all the while thinking this was kind of strange. Every time I thought about I giving up because I couldn't find another sign, I would see the next path to follow. So in this way I ended up climbing a good ways above the town and lake, above a waterfall that had
been my primary goal. It was hard going the last little way and I hope that it was the altitude and not me being out of shape. When I came back down I sat by the lake and read, and wandered about the town until the boat returned. I had been able to watch a rainstorm slowly approach from the direction of Luzern this whole time, and as the boat came alongside the dock it started to rain. But by then we were on board and off.
Back in Luzern I trudge to the hostel and rested for awhile, before attempting to eat at a restaurant nearby. However, the cook wasn't ready yet or something- even though it was 18h30 when I went, so I got pasta and sauce and wine as part of an emergency kit at the hostel and cooked some pasta, which I shared with Diana, a girl from North Chicago who was staying in my room- it's an even smaller world then I thought! We sat for an hour and just talked and talked with the other two women in our dorm- Vilma from Goa, India and Maura from Brazil. They are all such interesting people!
Finally, Sunday arrived and I had to go. I was sad to leave Luzern, I really liked it. Maura had to get back the Spain, where she is studying, so we took the same train to Geneva, where I had to get off and catch a TGV to Marseille. I had an hour between trains, so I walked down to the lake in Geneva and saw the big water jet and had an overpriced croque-monsieur. Geneva reminded me of a cleaner Marseille.
It was interesting to watch the scenery change on the ride back south, as things when from cool blues and greens in the Alps to more intense and dry yellows and olive-greens as we approached the Sea. I finished Thoreau on the train and was glad to finally get back to Aix on the shuttle. The walk back to the apartment was hot, but it was a chance to rediscover Aix. Some trees seemed to have sprouted leaves and everywhere was something familar and welcome to remark on. There's nothing like going away to make coming back seem so wonderful.