Switzerland with Friends

(Langenthal, Heerbrugg, Geneva – 14 June 2014) The high cost of Switzerland was kicking our butts. I didn’t really talk about it in the previous Switzerland post, but the cost of everything in Switzerland is next to insane. A small and simple sandwich will take the equivalent of 10 dollars from your pocket. Want a soda with your sandwich? Don’t do it, friend. That’ll be another $5.

Finding affordable places to stay in Switzerland was a challenge. We could generally expect to find the best nightly rates at hostels, but even those were well over $100/night. We applied all of our research skills and tricks to never pay quite that much for a night’s stay, but it was still wreaking havoc on our budget. We were in definite need of some relief.

Fortunately, we know people, really good people, that provided us with a generous stretch of free lodging. First, it was Beat (pronounced bay-ott), that we caught up with in an out of the way town called, Langenthal. Next, we reunited with the man, the myth, the legend, that has become, Boris, meeting him in his highly improbably new place of residence, Heerbrugg, Switzerland. Finally, we ventured to a more well-known Swiss locale- Geneva -and crashed with Hannah and Elliott, a couple of friends known to us from the Ultimate community back in Austin.

Fellow Traveler

We knew Beat only slightly before imposing ourselves on him quite heavily, though we had every sense that he was a truly kind and generous soul. He’s tall and thin, speaks English imperfectly with a soft Swiss-German accent, and delivers almost every line with a dollop of sly humor.

Our first encounter with Beat was at one of the lodges in Torres del Paine, back in November of last year. He was just a random fellow traveler we struck up a conversation with at the last refugio we stayed in before leaving that beautiful National Park. One day later, we saw him a second time at a restaurant in Puerto Natales. That is the town closest to Torres del Paine and where nearly everyone pauses on their way to or from it. The town has many restaurants, but by queer chance the three of us ended up eating at the same one. It seemed extra coincidental, too, because we were the only three people in the whole restaurant.

Still not done running into Beat, (not by a long shot, as it would turn out), we saw him a third time at the tiny regional airport that services the area. Through our three encounters, we learned that Beat was from Switzerland and just at the tail end of a vacation in South America. We told him our story of traveling the world and that we would be in Switzerland the coming spring. Unprompted, he volunteered his contact information to me and suggested we email him once we arrive to Switzerland.

I clearly warned him that he should not give us his info casually….because we will be contacting him. We are not shy for such things.

Fast Forward Eight Months

A full eight months time had passed since Beat (foolishly?) gave us his email address. Imagine him opening his email and seeing, “Hey Beat! Remember us? We are in Switzerland,” and photo of us was attached. Being the good guy that he is, he seemed genuinely excited to hear from us. There was, however, a slight complication. As we already knew, Beat loves to travel….he was in Morocco on another vacation when we contacted him.

Fortunately for us his return to Switzerland was near and we would still have a chance to meet up.

Beat lives in a small community called Langenthal, part of a cluster of townships far away from where any right-minded tourist would ever venture. Not to say there is nothing to see in Langenthal; to the contrary. All of Switzerland is beautiful and, almost by default, so is Langenthal. Don’t look for the tourist office here, however. There are no tourist highlights, per se. Langenthal is where ordinary people live and work and raise their kids. It’s Normal Rockwell’s America, done in Swiss colors.

Beat picked us up from the Langenthal train station late on a Tuesday afternoon. It was great to see him and on his home turf, too. We dropped our things off at his flat, met his interesting cat, Layla, and then ventured out for drinks and dinner.
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Layla had just been to the salon. What a lion-heart!
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Check out those totally 80’s furr-covered boots.
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Our visit with Beat was far too short. But, my guess is that we will see him again one day. He loves to travel and we think he can be convinced to visit Texas one day.

The lesson from our story of Beat is that the world is full of good-hearted people. While one cannot possibly meet them all, they are often within reach of meeting if one simply makes a small outward gesture to do so.

Boris in Switzerland

Members of the Boris fan club have to stay on their toes. He’s in Antarctica. No, he’s in Italy. Wait, he’s in Perth, Australia. “There he is. I see him! He’s in New Zealand!” Hang on, that’s all old news. Here’s the latest: Boris recently took on a new job IN SWITZERLAND! I know, right?! How did he pull that off? (He applied.)

To his friends, Boris is a smiley, fun-loving, happy-go-lucky man of adventure. His career path makes it clear he has a more serious side. He is smart, focused, and incredibly driven to learn and grow professionally. Within his field of orbital logistics, he is part of an exclusive club of highly trained engineers and scientists. On one of the job message boards used within his field, Boris spotted an open position with a Swiss company that manufactures GPS-enabled surveying equipment. After months of interviews and waiting, and second and third interviews and more waiting, Boris was hired.

For Jessica and me, the timing of Boris’ relocation from Perth, Australia to (the miniature town of) Heerbrugg, Switzerland, could not have been much better. We had to wiggle our schedule around by a day or two, but just three days after Boris arrived to his new (temporary) flat in Heerbrugg, we were knocking on his door.

Same ol’ Boris. Such a ham!
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We hung out with Boris at a fun little Mexican restaurant in Heerbrugg. Mexican food? Who knew?!
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Of course, Boris just had to show off his tiny-kitchen skills.
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After harassing Boris for a few days, we continued westward on our journey…to Geneva.

Geneva and More Friends

As I mentioned right at the top of this post, Switzerland is crazy-expensive. To figure out ways to cut costs, I queried Uncle Google with phrases like, “Switzerland on a budget” or “Switzerland on a shoestring”. The first piece of advice is always, find a friend to stay with. In Geneva, Jessica and I were at it again.

This time it was two Ultimate-friends from Austin that had relocated to Switzerland in 2013. Hannah and Elliott were not particularly close friends of ours, however, within the Ultimate community there is a feeling of family that often surpasses what is found in many actual families; they welcomed us into their flat with generosity and enthusiasm.

Crouching with Hannah and Elliott for the self-timer pic.
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Equally welcoming was Hannah and Elliott’s sweet dog, Roy. A rescue dog, Roy has a deeply expressive face that can melt a heart with just one glance. Just look at that face!!! Roy, we love you.
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Geneva vs. Ultimate

For anyone eager to hear about our intensive exploration of Geneva, I’ve got some disappointing news. As it worked out, there was a three-day Ultimate tournament going on in Geneva while we were there. For an Ultimate player like myself, I was powerless to resist the call of the disc. I joined a team from Paris, France named Ah Ouh Puc (I never figured out what that meant) and played my heart out.

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Jessica came with me to the fields on the first day of the tournament, but spent the other days re-charging herself in Hannah and Elliott’s apartment or taking their dog Roy out for walks in the neighborhood.

We did make it out for a pleasant stroll alongside Lake Geneva, but otherwise saw relatively little of Geneva’s top touristy sights. (And therefore have very few photos of it.) We didn’t take a city-tour or go on a bike ride, and we only visited one old church. Frankly, I was fine with it since I was playing Ultimate. Besides, Geneva didn’t strike me as vastly different from Zurich, Lucerne or Bern, three of the Swiss cities we’d already visited and enjoyed very much. There is, however, one very significant difference between Geneva and those others fine cities….French!

Geneva is located on the western edge of Switzerland (next to France). Consequently, French is the city’s primary language and dominates the city from a cultural perspective. It was in Geneva that we began to see baguettes rising from brown paper sacks and carried in the arms of every citizen strolling the sidewalks.

Did you know there are actually 3 major languages spoken in Switzerland? Most of the Swiss population speaks the language known as Swiss-German. Italian is the primary language in the far south, and as I mentioned, it’s nothing but French in Geneva. I remember our one brief attempt to watch TV in Switzerland. So ridiculous! Having three dominate languages in the country means the 3X number of channels….and none in English. Oh well.

Black Cats On Patrol

Before wrapping up this post I want to share with you one of the most curious observations of our entire trip. The first time the scene I will describe caught my attention, it was not actually clear what I was seeing. I was on the train going from Bern to Heerbrugg. As we approached one of several stops along the route, I witnessed my first black cat alone in the middle of a small field. Hmmm. What an odd place for a cat to plant himself. It looked like perhaps the cat was patrolling the field for critters.

An isolated incident? Nope. By the time our tour through Switzerland was over, I’d counted at least 10 different black cats in fields. Jessica saw them, too. She even tried to one-up me by spotting one cat that was half-white, half-black.

One of my cats-on-patrol sightings in particular made it crystal clear that what it looked like I was seeing was in fact, the reality. On a different day and a different train ride (still in Switzerland), I observed a somewhat larger field and three black cats in it, each guarding its own parcel of land.

Obviously, cats have been policing fields for eons (and in many more places than just Switzerland), I had just never witnessed the phenomenon live and in person. It was way cool and totally unexpected.

Switzerland is most definitely a country we would like to return to again. What would really be awesome is if I had more experience paragliding so I could fly through those huge canyons between the snowy and majestic mountains of the Swiss Alps. Maybe Boris will get his pilots certification, too, and we can soar the Alps together.

Dreams of flying aside, Switzerland is simply a remarkable country. Yes, it is super expensive, but at least one has the sense that you get what you pay for. If this isn’t a utopian society…..well, it sure is darn close.

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