notes from a train ride: there are a lot of lakes in switzerland. all calm, the ones we've passed by. idyllic, distributed among the mountains. arth-goldau, we roll on through. the sun's still up, the sky blue, and half of the evergreen-quilted mountains are above shadow-level. i feel quite safe on this train despite its earlier technical difficulties. zermat, i have found out, is the border town where the matterhorn is. it's a long ways away. a long ways, anyway, when you're measuring miniscule states like CH and DK. stuttgart, i've been told, is nice. too bad we won't get to see it at all. johan is sleeping facing the sun with his glasses on. we live a charmed life. the train is singing on the rails. it occurs to me that i am traversing the land of yodeling and heidi, daydreams i forgot with the advent of my teens. the houses increase in number, the snow decreases; we are winding down and nearing civilization. next stop: zug.
the video is from the trip down, from when we were leaving one of the last stations in germany and eagerly anticipating our arrival in switzerland. i think it's around 6 p.m., and still so sunny! johan comments on the mærsk (danish shipping company) car on the train we're passing as well as on how long the train is.
switzerland was really great (if a country can be personified). laura, excellent hostess that she is, met us at the station in zurich, where we spent the first two days of our trip exploring the city while she was busy with school and hanging out in the afternoons and evenings. zurich is a really nice city: clean, calm, organized, quaint and modern at the same time. they have a good tram system, not that much traffic, and are really pedestrian-friendly. also, everyone there seemed really polite, but maybe that was just because they wanted our francs.
on friday evening we hopped on a train to lugano, in the italian part of switzerland, where laura's family lives and where we spent the rest of the weekend. the trip took about three hours and wound through the mountains - the alps! surreal like seeing a celebrity - eventually dropping us in a hamlet by a lake that is lugano. and what a pretty city lugano is. i was charmed upon first seeing it at night, all lights on mountainsides and glowing around this big, craning lake. in daylight it was even better because you could see all the colors of the buildings as well as the mountaintops. lugano is small, with tiny winding streets that you can easily slip down if you don't watch your step. the city is literally at the junction of mountains, and it is steep. the people who bike there are athletes, hardly casual.
lake lugano, ringed by the city and mountains.
it was really a great trip. i think we spent just the right amount of time in each city, and we got to do everything we wanted to do: see zurich, meet laura's friends, try the swiss apéro tradition, go to italy for a morning (for breakfast and an outdoor market), climb a mountain (just a little one, but on the most beautiful sunny day), see lugano, and celebrate easter with laura's family (which was so fun!). plus there were all those little details that really make a trip: drinking espresso after espresso (morning, afternoon, and night), trying the easter "dove" cake, ordering real italian pizza (with olive crust, yum!) in italian, and very nearly getting told off by a relative on easter for not being catholic but going to the beautiful service anyway. yes, visiting friends, particularly over holidays, is the way to travel.
i am racking up a trend of spending easter outside of the united states, which i think is great, as it means getting to experience different ways of celebrating a mostly silly holiday. as a kid easter was all about dying hardboiled eggs, easter egg hunts, pastel chocolates, family potlucks, and lots of garden time. when i was thirteen i was in a small town in chile with my family; we went surfing. when i was seventeen and living in sweden, my host mom decorated the house with branches and feathers and we had easter eggs. this year at laura's, we went to church in the morning to see her sing in the choir. the service was fascinating to me: the whole thing went on in italian, and because i am neither catholic nor an italian-speaker, i couldn't understand much at all. but i could understand that the bishop was really emphatic about wishing everyone a good easter in this tumultuous world and wishing peace on the people. actually, the most beautiful part of the service was when each person turned to their neighbors, shook hands, and whispered pace to one another. the singing was also really lovely and i tried to follow along in the italian psalm book. too bad i mostly forgot how to read music when i was twelve.
after the service, it was raining and everyone stood around outside in a forest of umbrellas and long coats, kissing each other on the cheeks and shaking hands. then we went back to laura's and soon it was time for easter dinner. what a gorgeous and decadent experience that was! i love how they start the meal with an aperetif, just some appetizers and a few glasses of prosecco to make you really want to eat. guido, laura's dad, was doling out the sparkling white wine until we'd finished two bottles, and then it was time to perch ourselves at the table, with laura's grandma, suzi, at one end and her mom, anna, at the other. in between were guido, laura, her brother davide, johan, and i. that table witnessed a lot of wine- and water-pouring, soup-scooping, salad-eating, meat-gouging, strawberry ice cream-spooning, chocolate bunny-cracking, cake-slicing, and espresso-sipping. it was a good long meal in excellent company. we had five languages at the dinner table, and somehow we all communicated fantastically.
johan (il danese), anna, laura, me, guido, and suzi. davide was nice enough to take the picture. buona pasqua!
leaving switzerland (and laura's house) has left me really inspired to cook. i only just learned about caprese salad - slices of mozerella on sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and oregano - and am now practically salivating just at the thought of it. oh, to spend more time in the italian kitchen...