One of my habits when I visit a new country, be it good or bad, is to picture what my life would be like if I lived in that country; what I would eat, what my workout routine would be, where I would go in the evenings for dinner or drinks, my wardrobe, my social circle, and fun activities. Our trip to Switzerland was no different.
We decided to visit Switzerland because Humpty was in Switzerland, outside of Zurich in a town called Weinfelden, for an
exchange program in high school, and the family that she lived with had invited us to visit and stay with them in Switzerland. I had not been to Switzerland since I was a one year old, so practically speaking I have never been to Switzerland. In my head, I pictured sleepy towns, towering mountains, fresh produce, lots of cows, friendly if not elderly people (I just have this image in my mind of great grandparents walking around everywhere), and great cheese and chocolate.
But I have to admit, I was not as excited to visit Switzerland as I was to spend time with Humpty’s host family – for me, visiting Switzerland was more about the experience of sharing time with the Swiss family rather than snap another photo of the churches or statues that have been digitally captured millions of times already. Also, since we were staying with a Swiss family, I felt I would get a chance to more realistically imagine what life here would be like. We would go to real places our family frequents as opposed to the standard touristy destinations. Besides, breaking the back-to-back hotel routine would be a nice change of pace.
As we rode the train from Zurich Airport to Weinfelden, my slightly flight exhausted yet still wide eyed gaze drank in the Swiss countryside. We saw the sleepy towns, the towering mountains, the fields of fresh produce, the pockets of cows with their familiar Swiss bells dangling around their necks, the potentially friendly but certainly elderly people, and I had to assume within the sleepy towns, there were chocolate stores ready to supply me endless quantities of sweetness. Everything fit perfectly into my mental picture. Even the weather was perfect – a little warm by Swiss standards but amazingly perfect following the scorching heat in southern Turkey.
We were in for a treat during our visit as well. August 1st is the Swiss National Day, officially since 1994 but largely due to the early August time frame of the Federal Charter of 1291. Now, I do not know how things were celebrated in 1291, but our host family celebrates today on the farm of one of the uncles for a large, extended family gathering complete with healthy doses of barbeque, fireworks, and general good times. In that part of Switerzerland at least, individuals were allowed to set-off their own fireworks from their backyards as opposed to only having town sponsored firework shows. The young kids of their family were running back and forth to light up fireworks and we all stood around comparing which neighbor had the best firework display.
As I spoke with the host father, he pointed out from our perch the town where his grandfather was from. Fully six generations have grown up (or are in the process of growing up) within well under a hundred kilometers, give or take. It got me thinking about my own family history – I can easily go back two generations, but each of those lived in different countries. And beyond that, I can only vaguely guess as to where the two sides of my family tree come. I guess having a nomadic family history is appropriate given the current travels we are on but I could not help but wonder what it is like to point to where an entire century of family members have lived.
Our family could not have been more gracious and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment we spent with them. We hiked through the mountains in Appenzell, had a day trip to Konstanz in Germany (we went to and from Germany without showing our passports!), walked around Zurich, walked around Bern, learned to play Kubb, taught our host family our version of dominoes which is a variant of Muggins, learned and subsequently forgot how to play Jass, and ate fresh food.
While I certainly enjoyed the sightseeing in Zurich and Bern, it was probably the least interesting part of the trip. I do have to caveat the Bern commentary though – walking through the city was nice and splashing our feet in the river Aare was very cool (given the strength of the river, some people put their clothes in a knapsack and float down from one end of town to another, which is pretty cool), the highlight was visiting the live bears in the middle of the city. The Bärengraben or the neighboring BarenPark are home to four little to not so little bears. When I eventually become emperor of my own territory, I must have a live animal area in the city center.
Pictures from Bern
Hiking in Appenzell and swimming in the Bodensee were also fun but probably midway on my list of things I enjoyed in Switzerland. Appenzell itself was interesting, learning about the nude hikers (the canton of Appenzell has banned nude hiking now, but it was an issue for the town) to the relatively recent suffrage movement for women in 1990 (women were not allowed to vote before 1990). We took the Ebenalp cable car up for a few hour hike and picnic. I won’t lie, it was not easy. But it was not too hard either. Swimming in the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, was a nice break as well, particularly following a nice meal in the town of Konstanz. I tend to enjoy the little things in life a lot and being able to hop over the border from Switzerland to Germany, have lunch, and then walk back to Switzerland while never having to produce my passport was one of those little things. It was particularly appealing given the increasingly cumbersome movement across the US borders these days.
Pictures from our Appenzell hike
But the top of my list were playing Kubb – and incidentally winning more often than I lost – eating the fresh salads from the backyard garden, and sitting around in the evening with Austrian wine and playing card games. For me, getting the opportunity to spend time with Humpty’s host family and bonding with them was easily the highlight of my trip. I was finding it very easy to picture myself living in Switzerland.
However, there was one thing about Switzerland that was making it somewhat hard to picture myself living there—its perfection. Everywhere else we have been or lived, there is the easy to identify dark underbelly, the parts of the city that the mayor wished he could do something about but for a whole host of reasons it continued to be a sore spot. Some places have a growing belly while some unfortunately are pretty much all underbelly. The towns in Switzerland too have an underbelly, its just a lot harder to find it. I guess my slowly expanding waistline was searching for its metaphorical partner..