Just Learn the Important Words

  
Rain has been my constant companion so far in the tiny powerhouse that is Switzerland. This morning I had planned to rise early, get myself together, stop for some coffee and get to the train station for my full day in Luzern or Lucerne, as it is translated. Why does it have to be translated? Anyway, I did all that, just much later.

Let me begin by saying I slept an unprecedented 10 hours – interrupted marginally, but miraculous nonetheless. My queen sized bed is just this side of sleeping on the floor and the pillows are foam, leaden with age. No problem. The secret cocktail? Exhaustion + dry red medicine + open window with rain pounding the ground and cool air caressing my forehead. Even after ten hours it was difficult to get going. But I did. It probably helped that there was no coffee here. Motivation. 

I began making friends at the train station. “Excuse me but how do I get a ticket to the flughafen?” It took a little finesse but the 30 something man with round glasses and a waxed bag holding a pastry just procured at the well-placed gluten kiosk behind me, got me straightened out just in time for his train. Confident that I knew where I was going I found the secret passageway to the other track, just to be informed by a nice Swiss lady who works for the transit system that I should indeed go back where I came from. Meaning the other track of course. 

Finally in my seat, I still had the airport train station to master. Here a billette operator escorted me to a kiosk where he encouraged me, like a young child learning times tables, through selecting and purchasing my own ticket to the beautiful little lake town of Luzern. 

 New friends are everywhere. 

On the train I chose to perch myself on the upper level for a better view. About the third of five stops in a woman in her sixties or older hawked up a few words of something that sounded German and ended with a question mark. I nodded and smiled politely not entirely certain what I was agreeing to but it seemed the seat across from me was her request. We stared out the window in polite silence until I asked her if she spoke English. We’re now best friends. Not really but we did have a lovely conversation. 

Her parents lived in Arizona for a while but she was born in Luzern and lives there now. It’s beautiful, she says, except now the Chinese are moving in and people from India. Wait, what? They come in big groups apparently and if they like it they let everyone they know, know. 

Redirect.

“I just love the water and all the photos I’ve seen are beautiful.” She took the cue and pointed out a small town just before Luzern that has a lovely long lake that people walk around, and in the summer there are ‘rowing races’. 

“Do you like your American president?” This is the starter gun shot to a little game I like to call “defending your passport” that I don’t much like playing. In all honesty I’d much rather hear her thoughts so I play it semi-safe by saying, “the US is pretty divided right now.” That’s enough of an opening for her to walk through with both barrels loaded. And it doesn’t stop with him, apparently the leader of Switzerland is no good either, and there are others. She mercifully wraps it up with, “the good people just don’t run for office.” A universal truth perhaps.

It’s our stop. She tells me she will show me where to start my self-guided walking tour. She takes me to the large arches that welcome travelers to both the train station and the city, and points diagonally left. Thank you, says I, have a nice time, says she and we part.

Once alone, I am pulled by architecture, water, green hills rising from the lake and disappearing into the clouds. Swans swim nearby and people are plentiful but it’s not yet crowded. Rain is helpful that way. I wander aimlessly. Truly. I pass stores and restaurants, somehow end up in a mostly modern office building hive. I meander past a huge church where I am stopped by a British Indian family seeking directions. My mutt ancestry allows me to take on the persona of any cold weather European. I am surprisingly able to help them find their way to the train station. Onward I go. I notice the other side of the river (that is actually the lake) has intriguing buildings high in the hills dotted with what appear chimneys but are really low hanging clouds, and I wonder how I might get there. Try as I might I can’t seem to crack the code. I walk up what feels like hundreds of time worn, uneven stone steps, follow narrow alleyways and well-trod paths only to end up walking down a hill back to the water. Whatever mysteries are hidden in the turreted buildings on the hill will have to remain that way for now. 

I’m hungry. I mean really hungry and I have to pee. Time to find some lunch. There are many restaurants along the banks of the lake and their prices reflect their location. And some of the offerings frighten me. I may be able to muster courage for many things, but foodie I am not. I find the perfect restaurant in a hotel but they are closed until six. It’s three. I will not succumb to American fast food. Instead I pay way too much to eat Italian food on the Swiss riviera. I did sample some dry red Swiss wine though, so I’m not a total food loser. 

I’m done. It’s time to meander back to Zurich. The rain has picked up and I’m wet. 

I find my train. This is getting easier. I don’t have to know all the words, just the important ones. This train does not go all the way back to the airport, it goes to Zurich’s version of grand central. That was a fun segue. Art, fancy shops, grocery stores, thousands of fresh off work for the weekend folks and lots of soldiers in fatigues. It took everything I could  NOT to ask them if they were carrying knives. Get it? Swiss. Army. Knives. 

Anyway.

The rest of the rail hopping is a confusing blur of misreads, double-checks and finally landing at the right station. Which, it turns out is a lot closer if I don’t swing by Starbucks first. 

Oh, did I mention self check-out at the grocery store? In the big scary train station? In Switzerland? For some reason I thought, well I didn’t think, I just operated on a time crunch and instinct. I mean a barcode is a barcode in any language right? You’d think. There was an English language option so I chose it to pay for my coconut water and chocolate (balance, don’t judge). Everything was going just fine until it got to the end. I inserted my credit card, agreed to the amount and the conversion and probably sneaky conversion fees. Then I was met with a split screen. On the left side of the screen some important question or action appeared in Swiss in red with another button resembling “no” in red beneath it. On the right, a giant green exclamation point with a button that I assumed said “yes” beneath it. No matter how many times I hammered the EN button, the Swiss or German refused to budge. I switched to French. I could decipher the word receipt on the left which gave me confidence to press oui on the right. A receipt was spat out and I was on my way.

Wonder where I will be led tomorrow? Feeling a boat trip and an embarrassing run through the Lindt chocolate factory outlet store maybe in order. 

I repeat: Lindt. Chocolate. Factory. Outlet.

Lone Wanderer

  
Today after a 12 hour journey or so I landed in the gray and rainy Swiss metropolis of Zurich.  During those long hours on a couple of flights I somehow relaxed enough for all the stress I had been so valiantly suppressing to  gush forward in the form of a perpetually running faucet of a nose. No matter.
Upon arriving at the airport I was to find my way to the Stadelhofen train station. Ok, was my response, I’ll figure it out. And I did. I have come to learn that the bonus side of my sometimes troublesome curiosity is awareness.

I. Notice. Everything. 

I dutifully followed signs to train/bahn, then found the info lady and finally the ticket man. I guessed at the right track 4, asked a woman who only spoke Portuguese a question she did not understand, therefor couldn’t answer about the train currently idling on the track and took my chances hopping through the open door, while swiping at my nose. I confirmed with a suspected heroin addict that this particular train went in the direction I intended and took a seat. 

Four stops later I was spat out into the wet, cool air. My Airbnb host was there awaiting me and even took my bag. A carry-on only if I may boast. For two weeks. We walked a few blocks, took an elevator better suited for one small child with a chihuahua to the fourth floor and entered the apartment.

Spacious, comfortable, on a park and a fraction of even the least expensive hostel. Switzerland is pricey. He showed me around then left. 

I arranged a few things, poked around the kitchen then fell into bed with the windows open and the rain pounding away outside. An hour later I was refreshed enough to cross the street to the grocery store. I wanted to explore more but the rain and this annoying sieve of a nose caused me to pump the brakes. For an hour or so. 

As I was getting ready to leave again, I heard the familiar sound of pedals striking strings. Piano music was seeping through the walls giving me that delicious feeling of being part of something. Life was happening here. Cities have always been my comfort zone, I like the idea of knowing there are stories happening all around me simultaneously and maybe even intertwined. We are all connected after all.

As I made my way down the wide concrete stairs that belonged more to a 1930’s office building than a 5 story apartment building, I noticed other bits of stories. The occupant directly below me had two umbrellas leaning again the wall next to their door, a little further down one occupant had placed a big lace heart on their door and finally at the bottom, a chiropractic office.

Outside more than a dozen bikes sat in a row unlocked and unconcerned. The park was glistening bright green and a mother stood by while her child rode a hobby horse even in the rain.

I wandered to Starbucks. I know, but it’s a little bit of grounding that feels like a permission slip to explore freely. After that I took any side street that interested me with the intention of making my way to the water. I watched the good citizens of Zurich for traffic and street crossing clues, wished I had an umbrella and took note of stores and restaurants to explore later. 

The waterfront was beautiful and mystical shrouded in low hanging clouds. Solitary joggers and residents on bikes passed me by on the walkway arcaded with these magical trees. Occasionally a pair of friends would stroll by peeking outfrom under  their umbrellas to be sure the other understood the point they were trying to make.

There was a bridge in the near distance that was pulling me but I had to resist. I had to get into dry clothes and blow my nose. I had to check my powers of observation and recall to see if I could find my way back without soaking my phone to check Google maps. I did. No problem. Even managed to duck into a different grocery store for a medicinal bottle of wine.

Day 1 in the books. Tomorrow promises the same weather but I think I may find my way to Lake Lucerne. Back to the train platform to the train station to navigate farther south then hoof it around the sweet lake town. But we’ll see.