Switzerland, as you have probably heard, is a beautiful country. They are famous for chocolate, cheese, mountains, and money. All of those things they have and of which they are proud. There is no place on earth where you can ride a train while sipping fine wine, overlook fine vineyards, and find time to enjoy the outstanding scenery. New Zealand is the only place that rivals Switzerland for beauty, but to go there is quite a trip. My last time in Switzerland was but brief. We drove through on a marathon passport stamp run in an attempt to cross 4 countries in one day and collect stamps from each. Successful as we were we missed the finer points of this fantastic land such as the food and ladies. No matter how fast you ride, drive, fly, or train you cannot miss the landscape. It will not escape you.
The Swiss are proud people: proud of what they have, proud of their place in the world, and most of all proud of themselves. And you would be too if you were raised there. It is worthy of all that pride.
On this recent trip I flew into Geneva on recommendation from a website that said the lake and mountains there made for a wonderful landing, and for that I am appreciative. Most people fly to Zurich, which is a nice town in itself, but there is little to see there except the rumbling metropolis of a modern European city. Trains run everywhere, people walking, dogs on leashes, and little police cars with tinny sirens. Geneva has those qualities too, but it is a much smaller city, more quiet and peacefuller. I think the people there may be nicer too. They speak French in Geneva, much to my dismay. I’ve always known that there are 4 official languages in CH: German, French, Italian, and Romanish, of which the first three dominate. English is an unofficial language, and most people there, except the foriegners applying for Swiss citizenship, speak quite well. My French is less than un peu, and I had to get by on English. That was fine except when I wanted to order Turkish food or ask for directions. Mostly though I kept to myself while observing the sights.
Geneva may be the most beautiful city on earth, may be, but I plan to seek cities more beautiful. Hopefully it will be a long and arduous task that requires a long lifetime of searching. Flying into Geneva is a treat that everyone should enjoy. Besides the perfectly clear, calm, blue lake the city itself is nice to see from above, and the crown jewel, Mt Blanc, is there majestically in the distance. Mont Blanc is of course named for the year round white cap that covers the highest peak in Europe and can be seen for hundreds of miles. The combination of beauty in one vista there can trump most we’ll ever see in our daily lives, and yet people live there. That brings me to another point. The Swiss take their lot in life for granted. In fact they’re not satisfied living in a beautiful place where everything is taken care of for them. They don’t find the happiness in a life that rises them above the daily struggle most people in the world experience. There are few wants that aren’t met, and boredom reigns supreme. Odd isn’t it, that a country that seems so perfect from the outside can be so boring to those within? My impression from personal observations and conversations with others is that the Swiss want out. They look for excuses to go to the big city. Meanwhile the entire rest of the world wants that picture perfect cottage overlooking the garden and lake just beneath the mountains.
So Geneva, as beautiful as it is, may be as slow a city as exists on earth. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a town that quits selling beer at 9PM, even before dark that far north, and has fewer night clubs than my hometown of 300 people, cannot ever be exciting. Excitement for locals and tourists alike is taking the ferry across the lake and watching the sailboats lazily blow along. If you’ve got a good pair of walking shoes 2 days is plenty to see all of Geneva and even be ready to leave. So from there I took the train towards Bern. Some trains go straight through, but the one I took stopped in Lausanne for a connection, and I’m glad it did. Lausanne is another town that’s bursting with beauty. I didn’t stay long enough to gauge the night life, but I imagine it’s not much better. A smaller college town that looks directly at the mountains across the same lake as Geneva, Lausanne is the picture perfect place to live. No one would ever deny that. A friend of mine is moving there, and I can’t wait to visit.
Something to note about CH is that it is expensive. And that goes for anyone visiting. One night in Bern our group dropped over 1200 USD on a meal. Yep, more than one thousand two hundred dollars on dinner. Sure it was a nice restaurant with good food, expensive wine, and a great view. Sure we were in Switzerland and our meal was paid for by the institute hosting the workshop/conference. Sure. But seriously! Life ain’t quite that good for me yet. I am quite happy with where things are going and what I’m doing, but the money isn’t there yet. That’s just one example of how expensive things are. The 7 dollar half pint beers and 15 dollar glasses of bourbon are another indication.
Lausanne was a quick stop. I met a nice couple there that showed me around a little. We talked and saw some sights. Before long I was back on the rail again headed to Bern. Now this may surprise you, it sure surprised me: for all the beauty that a place can have, Geneva was lacking in the lady department. The girls were nice there, but I wasn’t exactly jumping out of my pants to meet them. Bern was a different story; even before leaving the train station I noticed the number of attractive females. This was going to be a great place! While there I did meet a nice girl that accepted my offer of a drink. She had a boyfriend but was waiting for him and decided one wouldn’t hurt. She was very nice and spoke in her best German for me, (Swiss German is quite incomprehensible, even to Germans). We talked as long as she could before exchanging emails. I imagine I’ll never hear from her again, but it was a nice conversation nonetheless. Bern, beyond the feminine beauties, was a nice town itself. Situated not far from the mountains, the main city lies on a penninsula in a bend in the Aare river. The river is hundreds of feet below city level, and only brave hikers can make the long staircases down to the water. We did, but it was to find the perfect restaurant you read about earlier.
Bern, named after the bears which no longer inhabit that region, is the small capital city of Switzerland located somewhere near the center of the country. It has a long history and nice architecture even if most of the buildings are the same color. Parliament and soccer keep the people happy there while good chocolate, great wine, and French food keep them well fed. One thing to note is that the people there are all in good shape. If you see a heavy person you should probably address them with an American accent because that’s probably where they come from. So all in all it’s a nice place, and the people are friendly. We enjoyed 3 nights there perusing the town and local eateries with great views, pictures from some of which are posted below. Our conference went amazingly well, and I learned so much from the other scientists. It was a great trip and experience, and hopefully I’ll get to do it again. Thanks for reading.