And so begins my time in Europe. After a hectic connection in Toronto, I made it to Zurich devoid of both injury and sleep. All was quickly forgotten as I landed, however, when hilarious Swiss welcome signs, including a wheat field cut in the shape of a Victorinox Swiss Army Knife (a concept I originally found fairly ironic, given the Swiss' peace loving neutrality, but came to learn that it perfectly represents their compact resourcefulness) and both 40 Euro buckets and weekly pill-like mini containers of Nutella threw my spirits soaring. I was met at the airport by Hugo Faas, an old Bohm family friend and our host for the week. Hugo is a respectful, genial, and impressive man who enjoys good food, great wine, a daily bike ride or swim, and music of all kinds, as he still works and tours as a music promoter. He lives in a co-op style house with Martin "Tino", a sports reporter, avid outdoorsman, aficionado of many cultures, most interesting man in the world, and Hugo's main partner in adventures involving exercise, food, and travel, and Christophe, a teacher who lives with his son David. The men share in the cooking, cleaning, and maintenance of the house, and their system seemed to work very smoothly.
A hike around the dual municipalities of Rorbas and Freidenburg, separated by a river, yielded quiet, idyllic villages and some Roman ruins situated atop a bluff overlooking the valley. The weather was warm and I felt completely at ease. I was struck by the compactness of life, illustrated by the minuteness of roads, cars, and egos.
Hugo and Tino are Leslie Bohm doppelgangers, and their ease with life is great to share. Traditional Swiss meals of bread with Gruyere and an outstanding "mountain cheese", muesli with fresh orange and apple juices, fruit, granola, seeds, and nuts, salad with fresh tomatoes and basil,and veal wurst with rosti (cheesy hashbrowns - amazing) topped with onion gravy and seedy, spicy mustard, accompanied by both Swiss wine and chocolate were eaten outdoors, slowly, in the company of friends. Our first night concluded with a trip to the picturesque, medieval Rhine Falls to watch the fireworks celebrating Swiss independence day. Under amazing, booming sparklers replete with cannon blasts, it struck me that there is plenty to learn from the Swiss, a hard-working, relaxed, pleasant collection of diversity. My first 24 hours abroad certainly provided a full experience.
Independence Day provided no less excitement, although the celebration was muted in a sense, an understated way of ringing in a democracy that this year turns 722 years old. We spent the day floating and swimming in the Rhine River, drifting lazily through a swath of forest separating Germany and Switzerland. The warm water and strong current made for an awesome couple hours on the river. We finished the swim with a 20 foot leap off a bridge into the river. Following our swim, we took a tour of the Rhein Falls, a massive cascade of thundering water over which we had watched fireworks the previous evening. We took a ferry to an island that jutted out in the middle of the falls, and it was a fun, hot summer day that concluded with an easy dinner and another Independence Day fireworks show, on top of a hill. Each Swiss canton lights a massive bonfire in the tradition of the old citizen militia, where fires would warn others of oncoming enemies. The combination of the plume of smoky haze rising into the sunset coupled with a panorama of fireworks around the countryside made for an elegant, festive, exciting celebration. After a quick trip to the biergarten, we drove home, pleasantly full and contentedly serene.
Independence Day was followed by another simple day in the life, which started with a 65km bike ride through a picturesque countryside dotted with barn houses, fields of corn, wheat, and sunflowers, cute old alpine towns, livestock grazing on the side of the bike path (similar to the crazed yoga moms of Boulder), and ominous dense forests that provided a reminder of the region's proximity to Germany. Midway through the ride we stopped at a favorite lake of Hugo's tucked away amidst the forest for a swim. A few old couples and young children meandered around the waterside, soaking in the sun on a day where temperatures were over 90 degrees. Seeing as Hugo is the Swiss version of Leslie Bohm and his beast of a son Miro rides 200km a week, I should have known that our "little ride" would turn out to be more than just a casual jaunt. However, there is no other way I would have rather spent the day, as the sights, sounds, and smells of pastoral Switzerland coupled with great company made for an awesome day under the sun. Following a shower and another heaping bowl of Swiss muesli, we ran some errands to help prepare for yet another extravagant meal. Hugo's sister and her sons, a sound engineer and a cellist from France were in for the week, and this called for a celebration: cantaloupe and prosciutto, spaghetti with an Italian tricolor of sauces including melted Gorgonzola (unreal), fresh pesto, and tomato, all with fresh herbs from the garden, lemon vodka sorbet, and last but certainly not least, copious amounts of Toblerone. The great food and wine made the multilingual dinner a great experience, as different cultures and ways of life were explored in English, French, German, a little Spanish, and Swissdeuche, the local dialect. Hugo is a phenomenal cook and an unbelievably gracious host, and I was pleasantly and irrevocably full of both calories and contentment. After a night in Zurich with Miro, Griff, and Coop, I have to rank the day taken as a whole as one of the best I've ever had. The boys are back in town.
Our last day in Switzerland involved a day trip to Zurich, an impeccably clean, neat, gorgeous, and elegant city. We walked along the glitzy shops and made our way to Lake Zurich, surrounded by residential hills and literally shimmering aquamarine blue in the midsummer heat. We had a supermarket lunch of rye bread, a wedge of Gruyere, and some peaches, and caught the train back to Rorbas. Dinner with the Frenchies started with fresh Caprese salad, continued through pork chops and potatoes, and ended with a favorite Swiss dessert of fruit salad and freshly whipped cream. We were fed so well and so much during our time at Hugos, and it was obviously a favorite aspect of our stay for me. Following dinner we took a sunset walk up to the Roman ruin overlooking the valley, where the three of us made our peace with the country, our present company, and the difficult times of the past year. I am too glad to be reunited with my Bohms in a place that ranked among their father's favorites.
In all, Switzerland is the most simple, understated, yet elegant place I have ever visited. While known for the high alpine lifestyle lived in St. Moritz and Zermatt, (which we didn't experience and is certainly on the agenda for next time) the country has a vibe that is very pleasant and down to earth. People are nice but not to a fault, and they enjoy the pleasures of life, including family, good company, the allures of nature, and various tasty dairy-based products. This approach to living, one focused on sustainability, adequate stimulation, and a passion for joy and contentment is an honorable one worth emulating. The tranquil kindness and pace of life will always serve as a personal reminder to retain some perspective on the privileges in life that should always be celebrated and embraced in moderation, rather than viewed with guilt and treated cautiously and with fear. It is apparent that in medium, healthy doses, treats such as chocolate, cheese, and breaks from work should not be revered but instead enjoyed plainly, and that if possible, a life devoid of unnecessary stressors produces the best results in the long run. The Swiss understand this inherently, and they take pride in their gorgeous cities, stunning landscape, and irresistible cuisine. They know how good they have it but are not embarrassed or snobby in this recognition, and their humility is admirable. Their resourcefulness and ingenuity adds to this sense of contentment, and In the words of Leslie, everything just works here. I feel like I haven't slept in four days, and as I whiz across the continent towards my next destination, gazing at lakes, mountains, castles, cows, and sunflowers galore, I am confident that Switzerland certainly is a small slice of heaven on Earth.
Until next time,