“Bilbo had escaped … but he did not know where he was. He had lost hood, cloak, food, pony, his buttons and his friends. He wandered on and on…” Tolkien, The Hobbit
“I meant to go back. Wander the paths of Mirkwood, visit Laketown, see the Lonely Mountain again.” Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings.
During the book of the Hobbit Bilbo gets lost, almost killed, has to bury the king of the dwarves and it’s not exactly fun. But in Lord of the Rings Bilbo tells Frodo that he always meant to go back. I think that no matter what happens when you travel, you learn so much and no matter how murky things might seem in the moment we probably always mean to go back to the places we traveled to.
At 3a.m. I was on my way to the new Al Maktoum Airport in Dubai. I had a very nice taxi driver, but it happened to be the first time I heard anybody in Dubai swear. It was a very quiet road to the airport and suddenly an unpainted speed bump popped up “Ooooh, s*#t!” the driver exclaimed and then looked embarrassed, he was a dark skinned Indian man who would have blushed if he could. I started laughing and that helped everything. The airport was almost deserted, it felt like the first few minutes of Die Hard. So quiet, after I had checked in my bad I heard my footsteps echoing as I walked to passport control.
I followed Google Maps directions instead of the directions that where sent to me by the people from Switzerland (not recommended). Google maps guided me perfectly to the wrong address, and I suddenly realized that I could speak some French. I had practiced French on my computer with a CD in South Africa for a few years, but I thought it didn’t matter or that I had forgotten everything, but while a light drizzle rained down on me and it was essential that I get home I found that I could speak broken French and finally found my way.
The next morning I woke, warm, dry and comfortable. It was Easter weekend and all the stores were closed. There was nowhere to buy food. We were in a neighborhood where nobody seemed to know any English, but I had a few French survival phrases. We took the train to Montreux for the day. A beautiful little town (village?) next to the lake with mountains all around. There was some gathering there, almost like a mini comic-con, but with bad outfits. My favorite outfit was a guy in a panda costume holding a “Free Hugs” sign and wearing wings. A flying, hugging panda – I couldn’t stop giggling.
I saw Freddie Mercury’s statue. He apparently had a holiday home in Montreux. I dashed into an H&M store to buy an extra jersey, it was chillier than I had expected. Since it was a holiday many places where closed and that meant that going up into the Old Town wasn’t as interesting as it could have been. We located one open café, a real little French place in my opinion, up the hill with a fantastic view. I ordered the food and managed to send back my “meat pie” for a “quiche” in French. I was so surprised the first day with my ability to recall all those French words from years back. After our walk around the town and lunch we found an open supermarket, Migros (don’t pronounce the “S”). Here we found food for the next few days until everything opened up again.
On the third day we went to Geneva. Oh, we were living in Lausanne, so we did many trips from there. We went to the Geneva Cathedral which is the Reformation Church where Martin Luther and Jean Calvin preached and changed a big part of church history. I went to see the beautiful view at the top by climbing 157 narrow, winding steps (13 stories). Totally worth it when you get to the top. There you have a panoramic view of the red roofs, the shocking blue lake, the dark blue mountains covered with white snow and the puffy white clouds on the pale blue sky. It took my breath away.
The wind was exceptionally strong, but we decided to try and walk around the promenade. I slipped on some stairs, due to the wind. It was so strong and cold that we went back to the bus stop and took the train home. That evening Mum read on Accuweather that there had been a Yellow Warning for wind that day. This is a warning when wind is exceptionally strong and may be dangerous to individuals, but I will never forget that wind. It wasn’t nice or fun or enjoyable, but it was an experience.
On Monday morning we expected the shops to open their doors and thus headed out to Lausanne old town to do some shopping. Here we found that most places where still on Holiday and the only people in the streets where beggars. Deciding that it was a train day, we went to Bern. The landscape flashed passed the train window and I was reminded of Laura Ingles Wilder writing that she had found trains to fast even riding a horse drawn carriage had been too quick for her, but at least I got to see many part of Switzerland and meet a pleasant guy who was also tiding the train.
We had lunch in Bern and visited Einstein’s house. It was fascinating for me to see that he had lived in a place decorated with flowery wallpaper and curtains. In that room on that round table he had written his theory on general relativity. I’m not sure what I think about him as a man, but as an academic he achieved so much that I guess he deserves respect in that field if not necessarily in all others.
It was still early in the afternoon when we got a train to Spiez. It was probably the most beautiful place we visited. We went for coffee at a pub type place where some locals where watching the ice hockey semi-finals. The lake in the bottom of the valley was surrounded by mountains. And some people where skateboarding next to the camping site.
Shopping day arrived. We don’t usually use a day for shopping but this time it seemed like the thing to do. Mum and I both got the few things we wanted. Lausanne cathedral was on the tourist to-do list and we climbed up the many stairs towards it. Everything seems to be located on a hill. The Brothers Grimm weren’t being romantic in their stories. It was a lovely church. Ancient and beautiful and light. It felt as if the Gospel was still being preached there, as though the church hadn’t fallen into disrepair and become only a tourist attraction.
After lunch mum went home. I had read about how healthy it is to Hula Hoop and hadn’t found a hula in Dubai yet. I spent some time asking directions to a sport store in broken French and English. My favorite part was when a rather large window washer gave me directions in French, after enquiring if I speak Portuguese of Spanish. He kept pointing and explained that I had to “tip, tip, tip” across the road to the store. It ended up being a waste of time and I found the hula at a store in Dubai in the end.
I debated between the Olympic museum and doing the sensible thing of going to buy food. In the end I decided that it was “shopping day” and headed to the store. The only meat that made sense to me and which I recognized was mince. In Migros I heard somebody speaking Arabic and only understood the word “Khalas” which means “enough” or “finished”. I thought it suited my feelings towards Lausanne and the day.
The next morning Mum and I were waiting for the ferry to Evian. A picturesque town, apparently, but very quiet when we arrived there over lunch. Almost all the stores close for lunch. The view from the ferry was entirely unobscured. When we then arrived on the train station the Golden Pass train was standing there and we hopped on to I don’t know where any more. But it was pretty.
On the way home I got off at Montreux. I wasn’t really hungry but went to have some soup next to the lake and watched the sunset. It looked as if somebody had sprinkled a hand full of fairy dust over the sky. Everything seemed to be pastel colors and the sun set was beautiful. I have no pictures of that evening, because my phone wouldn’t charge.
The next morning we again took the Golden Pass train to Rocher-de-Naye. Up, up, up into the mountains. I experienced a minor fear of heights but managed to enjoy it in the end. Up on the mountain we walked in snow. Looking down into the valley at the blue-green lake. It was totally worth it.
A few hours later we look the train back down the mountain and got off at a stop in the middle of seemingly nowhere. All there was, was a small wooden restaurant. Here we ordered fondue for the first time. It was served with dry white wine. The very rich cheese and bread with the dry wine taste worked really well. Later on a group of backpackers also got off the train there, it seemed we weren’t in the middle of nowhere; there were some trails up the mountain that I just didn’t know about.
We got off at Vevey and walked along the promenade the last evening. I just remember the sun being really bright. Had some gelato. Put a plaster on my blistered toe and walked on.
The last morning I unwisely decided to hurry and try to spend some time in Geneva before going to the airport. I wanted to go back and re-climb that church tower and see that view again. I ended up feeling so rushed that I almost sprinted up the 157 narrow, winding steps. Even though I told myself I had time I was still in a hurry and didn’t drink it in as I had done before.
Then it was all over, I was at the airport buying a huge Toblerone bar and no longer felt as though I was in Switzerland. My heart was still racing from the church stairs I had run down. I got onto the plane and almost instantly fell asleep. Next time I think I should have a vacation, not a tourist experience – next time…