Not so Snowy Switzerland

I just got back from the Switzerland portion of my trip, a place which really is another world altogether. I mostly stayed with my brother and his wife in Zürich. They live in a very beautiful part of it, full of nature and historical buildings. It’s an impressively well-organised city, where you can always get a seat on the immaculate public transport- an advantage somewhat offset by the overly formal politeness on offer from the locals. I found people were very kind to me, especially when I was by myself, but they seemed to definitely keep a certain distance from foreigners, being sure to ‘dine with a long spoon’, even staring in bouts of intense curiosity. With all the mountains, formality, pacifism, along with the extreme cleanliness and quirky spirit, I wondered if Switzerland is the Japan of Europe.

The only bad luck I had was the unseasonably rainy, overcast weather. In the case of a day in a spa, which I had a free ticket for, this didn’t matter as it was all inside and often very hot (and being a mixed spa with lots of beautiful girls in bikinis, not just the temperature!), yet the urge to take some photos ended up pushing me towards a trip Southwards into the ‘Cantons’ of Italian-Switzerland. A very nice girl in the Zürich travel office helped me book the perfect trip, along the scenic Berniner express into Italy itself and then back into Switzerland, with a night in the lovely town of Pontresina.

I found the Italian part to be a much more open place, with a night street market in which I met some of the local kids, who had gone to high-School together and were selling cakes to save money for traveling (a Swiss obsession). They were really friendly, giving me a tea that they refused to let me pay for and teaching me about the mixture of languages that they commonly speak there. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere without meeting the people, so this was a Godsend. One guy there with good English was actually half-Kenyan and had come to live in Switzerland rather than Kenya to study to be a pilot. It’s not often you meet someone fluent in 5 languages. They also were cooking delicious, fresh waffles with apple inside and frosted with icing-sugar, which seem more like what a waffle should be than any I’ve had before. When I heard that this market is only once every 2 weeks, I knew I’d made the right choice in coming.

I also found the beautiful Alpine scenery that I had sought- blue skies, fresh clear streams and gorgeous mountains swimming in the mists. An evening walk in a forest, breathing in the amazingly good-tasting air made me resolve to have a more positive life, in a cleaner reality. I was surprised by all the plant life, much of which I had never seen before. Then the next morning gave me a clear sky to walk to nearby St. Moritz under, past huge lakes and ever more-impressive mountains. Despite being a small country, I don’t ever remember experiencing such broad expanses, like natural cathedrals stretching over Earth and sky. It’s quite lucky that the Swiss economy is based more around banking than industry, as it means that all this great nature has been immaculately preserved.

All in all, Switzerland is all I expected it to be. If you’re in tune with the ‘Swiss Spirit’, you can be sure of a very warm welcome from a friendly people. Bus drivers and waiters always remembered me when they saw me again and gave a warm smile- open up a little even around shy people and you may be surprised how many friends you can make. The international language of the smile works wonders, saying much more than words ever could. Still, don’t get too enthusiastic about becoming a national- apparently not only do you need to live there for 12 years first, but the inhabitants of the town you live in actually get to vote on whether they approve of you or not! I suppose this all goes back to their historically small population and a very ‘ancient Greece’ style of citizen’s democracy. Having such a safe and organised country probably makes them worry that outsiders will spoil it- yet now, like everywhere else, the international world has arrived and they are dealing with it in their own, distinctly ‘Swiss’, way.

Note- Edited on 01/10/2007

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