After Christmas, I was at a loose end. I didn’t know where I should go next and certainly had nothing planned. So when Xavier, one of my readers, suggested that I stay with him for a few weeks, I said yes. I had never spoken to him before and only knew that he lived somewhere in Switzerland, but that was all I needed to know to book my flight.
Random Facts and Fabulations about Switzerland
Switzerland is a strange country. It is right in the middle of Europe, the continent famous for a history so deeply steeped in war that peace seems like a strange state of affairs. Despite being right in the middle of this nest of vipers, Switzerland has managed to adopt a total neutrality policy. (Ignoring the Vatican, Switzerland was the last state to join the United Nations as late as 2002.)
Being located in the middle of Europe with no allies would make any country paranoid, and so also Switzerland. They conscript all men between 19 and 34 years of age into one of Europe’s largest armies. These conscripts keep their weapons at home, just in case a trigger-happy neighbour suddenly invades them. And until recently, a federal law required all homeowners to build a nuclear bomb shelter or rent a space in the communal one, again, just in case.
Perhaps it is due to this pervasive military training, but the Swiss are obsessed with rules and order. Think of Switzerland as Europe’s answer to Japan. They dress smartly and groom themselves to a uniform image of respectability. The streets are similarly spotless and there is no litter anywhere. The trains and busses are always on time, so much that on board the busses, there are screens showing which connecting busses are coming up at the next stop. The whole country is like a perfectly constructed Swiss clock. I even heard opera playing in a parking house and classical music at a public toilet. All this perfection can be a bit much after a while, leaving you with an aftertaste of disinfectant. Or maybe it is envy.
A visit to Switzerland is not complete without some time in the countryside. The Swiss nature is absolutely breath taking. Rolling hills and quaint lakes are unspoiled by modern housing. The Swiss have taken care of their old houses with rustic thick wooden beams and large slanted roofs. And wherever you stand, there is a snow-capped mountain on the horizon.
The Swiss countryside is protected and maintained by a large and politically powerful farming community. As a testament to just how powerful the farmers are in Swiss politics, you only need to consider the following law. A Swiss farmer may distil up to three litres of pure alcohol per cow and per year. Why? Officially, the reason is that cows get upset when giving birth, and booze calms their nerves. This is obviously utter bullshit. I’m a farmer’s boy and you do not booze up your cows to treat some form of bovine post-natal depression.
I tasted some of this alcohol. I guess the cow didn’t want it, which was fortunate because it was the most delicious absinthe I’ve ever had, perhaps because it still contained wormwood! Seriously, what farmer would distil absinthe for his cow?
Lostorf — Xavier & Josep
I came to Switzerland because one of my readers, Xavier, invited me to stay with him and his husband, Josep, for a few weeks. Free accommodation is always something of a blessing for a poor nomad, but I was also excited to meet one of my readers. Nothing brings you closer to your readers than living with them!
Xavier and Josep lives in Lostorf, a little Swiss village on the foot of the Jura mountain range. They live in a luxurious house, big enough to offer me not just a guest room but an entire guest floor!
My days in Lostorf looked like this. Xavier and Josep leaves for work in the morning. I get up and enjoy a Nespresso coffee standing by the empty swimming pool on the terrace and look out over the snowy village and the nuclear power plant in the distance. Having ensured that the power plant is stable, I return to the house where I work on my website design projects. At around mid-day, I take Toby the dog out for a walk, sometimes to a castle located on a nearby hill. Xavier and Josep return home late and we make dinner. After dinner, we sit around the live fire chatting, watching a movie or playing games.
On the weekends, Xavier and Josep would take me out to see the neighbouring cities or once to a thermo-heated hot baths.
Zurich — Sassa & Ueli
A great thing about being a nomad is that you can visit old friends that moved away and who you haven’t seen for years. Sassa is one such friend, from school, who now lives in Zurich with her tall and handsome husband, Ueli. Since I was in the country, I swung by and lived with them for ten days.
I had a rocky start when, having let myself in with a key left under the mat, I was mistaken for a burglar by Ueli’s parents and daughter who had no idea that I was coming. The rest, however, was smooth sailing.
Zurich is a lovely city, with lots of old and beautiful houses. It is a good thing that it isn’t too big, because the cold snap that ravaged the city while I was there made it impossible to walk more than a few hours without risking hypothermia.
I met a photographer in Zurich who suggested that we spend a day walking around the industrious part of Zurich and take some photos with me as the model. I agreed, after checking my travel insurance for assault. The result was a beautiful day walking around some lesser-known parts of Zurich with its own beauty, as well as getting a few good shots for my portfolio.
Crans-Montana — Peter & Gaby
Peter was a friend of a friend (now he’s just ‘friend’), and when he found out I was in Switzerland, he kindly invited me to a week of skiing in Crans-Montana. Crans-Montana used to be the hot spot for the rich and famous, but that crowd has since drifted off elsewhere. The mountains aren’t quite as fickle, and Crans-Montana still offers some superb skiing and truly stunning views of the Alps.
Peter and his wife, Gaby, own a flat five minutes’ walk from the lifts. After the skiing, we spent the evenings eating, drinking, chatting and playing Yatzy. Peter and Gaby are exceptionally good cooks and I was treated to the most delicious home-cooked meals every day.
Peter only skies for a couple of hours a day and Gaby doesn’t ski at all anymore, so I had to entertain myself on the slopes. I listened to an entire audio book (Before I go to sleep – 14 hours) while riding the lifts. I also indulged in some random off-the-cuff low-budget amateur video recording for a travel guide to skiing and Crans-Montana. You can see it at the end of this post, but be warned: it is absolutely cringe-worthy.
I want to round off this post with a big thank you and a hug to all my amazing hosts! Xavier, Josep, Sassa, Ueli, Peter and Gaby, I am so thankful to you all for inviting me into your home and taking such perfect care of me. I could not have dreamt of better hosts than you. It is these meetings that make the nomadic journey such an adventure and a pleasure.