13 January - 22 February 2012. Filed under category Personal.
My welcome to Switzerland gift!

My welcome to Switzerland gift!

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 farmers are milking the alcohol.

The Swiss farmers are milking the alcohol.

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

Xavier, Josep and I

Xavier, Josep and I

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

Sassa and Ueli

Sassa and 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 (I have no photo of Gaby)

Peter (I have no photo of 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.

TMN voted ‘Best Travel Blog’!

As you may know (since I pestered you about it), I was nominated for the Best Travel Blog and Blog of the Year over at the Bloggies. Well, guess what? With your support, I won the Best Travel Blog award for 2012!

I am both proud and humbled to have won this award, and I’d like to thank all of you readers, especially those who voted for me, for your ongoing interest and support! I could not do this without you.

Travel Updates

I flew from Switzerland to London, where I am now. It is only a short visit, and on 1 March, I will go to Los Angeles/Long Beach for two weeks before I continue to Buenos Aires. I plan to stay in Buenos Aires for a few months.


Do you have any fun Swiss facts or fabulations?

Skip to bottom
  1. Jamie says:

    Gorgeous photos – nearly every shot was breathtaking (and you look handsome in your modeling shots). You had truly lovely hosts – how wonderful to find such hospitable, kind people. I think nomadic life and long-term travel open one up to belief-in-humanity affirming experiences that are hard to find when passing a “normal” existence in the same place day after day. And how cool that the sofas in your host’s home centered around the fireplace, not the television. Perhaps that is the norm in Europe, but not so in the US or even in South America.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Thank you! The panoramas are all made using Microsoft Image Composite Editor. It is a fantastic way to stitch multiple photos together for a good panorama.

      And yes, meeting all of these generous and wonderful people is a sure way to boost your faith in humanity. Most people are good, no matter which country you visit.

      1. Jamie says:

        I definitely agree that most people are good, but I think that the goodness is easier to recognize once you escape the humdrum of the everyday. I say this because I clicked over to your site after spending some time on a social networking site where a cynical, classist “e-card” that was posted by a burned out social worker got a lot of positive feedback and “likes.” I don’t really blame anyone with a 9-5 social service job for developing a healthy dose of cynicism. Heck, I live as an expat but have an office job and it is amazing how quickly I’ve found (and worn) my asshole goggles since spending 50-hour weeks with the same people.

        What I am trying to say is that your nomadic life is special. I aspire to something similar in the near future so I can shed those pessimistic goggles and see everyone’s beauty again. Dangit, I’m inspired to try harder to see the beauty now. Thanks for that.

        And ps, now Switzerland has moved up the life list. Gorgeous!

        1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

          Thank you for those kind words. They really warm the soul!

          One thing to remember is that media always focuses on the bad stuff. So, if you are someone who doesn’t travel much, then you run the risk of thinking that you and your friends are the only sane and kind people in a world of rapists and suicide bombers. Once you get out a little, you realize that there is a large and beautiful world out there populated with awesome people.

          When I went to Iran, for example, I realized that the Iranians were the most kind and generous people I’ve ever met, which rhymed badly with the preconceptions I’d built up through media.

  2. Peter R. Geiser says:

    This post is beautiful and full of great memories. You will not only get the award of the best travel blog but also the gold medal of the Swiss Tourist Office.
    Thank you for the great time we had together. Hope our nomadic ways will cross soon again.

  3. Imogen says:

    I’m only doing this because you asked me to so so. Instead of ‘My welcome gift to Switzerland’ you mean, ‘My welcome to Switzerland gift’ unless you intended to convey that you graced the entire nation by presenting it with a trinket purchased from its own tourist industry. It’s ‘in the countryside’ not ‘on the countryside’ (although you could make a good argument to the contrary.) And finally, you are ‘proud and humbled’ not ‘proud and humbles’ unless you’ve decided to start experimenting with words to sound cute, which I doubt somehow.
    Are you sure you want these comments? Happy nomading! xxx

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      Thank you for that! I am even more convinced now that I want you and everybody else to let me know if they see mistakes like that. It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read the posts before publishing them; some little mistakes always slip through and it’s good that someone catches them!

  4. WEST says:


  5. Roger Allen says:

    Happy Birthday Gustav. Hope it is memorable.

  6. trevor says:

    hello… i am a Brit working in the hotel trade for 10 years… the longer u stay in one place u get to find out their faults and irritations…. after so long here i am now finding that not all runs like a swiss clock….where i work no one wants to pay for the rebuilding of the foot path.. owned by the military and hydro electric people. i wrote to my bank to ask how much it would cost to send money to UK…. took 2 emails to get an answer..we have Krankenkasseverschicherung… was told that i would not have to pay for the 5 days i worked at the end of May. yet they send me the bill for all of the month. 3 emails and 3 calls and am still waiting for a good answer !!!!! the swiss do what they like… hotels are smoke free. yet after all guests have left, the boss and workers can smoke inside…. they do not understand that the non smoking rules are for the protecting of non smokers…….. BUT its better than most/all places i have been to….LOL stick around in any one place and u discover all the faults…..

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I loved it when my readers disagree with me. It makes me feel smug about being such a benevolent dictator of this blog such that I don’t just delete the comment. 🙂 Just kidding.

      Interesting thought that if you stay long in a place, then you’ll find all their faults and irritations. I agree, to some degree. You might just as well flip it around and say that the longer you stay in a place, the more of the awesome wonderful things of the place you uncover. I think it depends on 1) What kind of stuff (pos/neg) that you are quick to see and 2) What kind of stuff (pos/neg) that you are prone to remember.

      Then again, stuff like the Krankenkasseverschicherung I guess you won’t experience until you’ve been in a place for a long time.

  7. Hello Gustav
    So nice to read through your blog. And you Switzerland Story.
    And I am honoured that some of my pics of you made it into the blog.
    Wish you a nice 2013 and beyond!
    Warmest greetings from Zurich

    Your “photographer”


    1. Had I not sent you this link before?! So sorry! Glad you liked it though, and I love the photos. In fact, I used one of them as the site logo!

      Site Logo

  8. No. You kept that link secret until today. 😉
    Now I am even more honoured!
    Will update my homepage over the weekend.
    Pictures of my Trip to India, a photosession in a Michelin starred kitchen at a Grand Hotel in Zurich and much more.
    Keep looking.

Do you have any fun Swiss facts or fabulations?

Click to see allowed HTML.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> <ol> <ul> <li>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.