Switzerland!  Whatta place!  I can feel the neutrality seeping into my bones, and the clock-shops and Swiss banks serve as an ever-present reminder that this is a place protective of its time and money.  No wonder they stay out of the warpath.

Rick Steves says that Geneva is worth skipping on a trip through Switzerland, and I’m trying to figure out why.  Rick probably doesn’t have the interest in Reformation history that a group like ours does, but he does tend to have his finger on the pulse of what makes a European excursion worthwhile.  Still, it’s 2009, and this year marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (Jean, as he would have preferred).  We celebrated with a trip to his church in the center of the old town.

It was eerie, walking around a place that was so central not only to history, but also to an entire way of thinking and of believing that has trickled down through the centuries and landed itself in my own mind and heart.  I’m no expert, but I would guess that Calvin is an incredibly misunderstood figure in history.  What passes for “Calvinism” might not actually be reflective of his own theology.  My favorite story we learned about him was that this very church used to have an exquisite pipe organ, but during Calvin’s time, as people were fleeing persecution because of the violence brought about by the Reformation and were flocking to Geneva, Pastor John Calvin made the decision to melt down the pipes of the organ in order to use the metal for bowls and utensils so that the people might be suitably fed.  This certainly presents a different picture of the man so often associated with systems of severe doctrines.

When I think of the connection that Switzerland has had with so many influential thinkers in the Christian tradition– Calvin, Brother Roger, Karl Barth– I can’t help but wonder if there is something in the alpine air here that inspires people to think beyond themselves.

Whatever it is, I hope I get a whiff of it…

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–  Buildings should be beautiful.  No matter how uniform the raw materials, each one should have its own personality.  Windows are like the eyes of a construction.  You can tell a lot about a building by its windows.

–  Don’t trust a hostel or hotel by its website.  Trust a good guidebook or a good friend.  If it says it’s “ideal,” it probably isn’t.  And it’s important to stay in a cool part of town.  Next time in Barcelona, look for a place in Barceloneta or the Barri Gotic!

– Drink more wine.  Drink more, period.  Eat better food in smaller portions.

–  Don’t hold a steaming hot glass of coffee in your hands for very long.  You will burn the crap out of yourself and have traveling blisters to boot!

–  The Pyrenees are beautiful– and surprisingly so.  Lush and splotched with yellow flower bushes.

–  Take a siesta each and every day.  Otherwise, you will be busy hiking all around town, and everything else will be closed.  Don’t beat ’em: join ’em.

–  How to outsmart thieves: wear a jacket with inside pockets only, secure your pack to your person, and watch the suspicious people in touristy areas.  They give themselves away.  Communication is only 10% language.  Make eye contact with intrepid approachers.  Say hello.  Or “Boo!”

–  Lying topless on a beach isn’t really as big of a deal as it sounds.  Just boob-bumps drooping to the side a bit.  Meh.

–  Don’t meander around town looking for a restaurant while your stomach is growling.  Just be bold, dammit!  Go in!

–  When you hear an American, pretend not to understand them.  It’s much more fun to go incognito this way.  😉

–  Don’t go into non-(insert country of current location) restaurants when you’re in (insert aforementioned location).  Except, I hear, for Italian restaurants in Germany, which are supposed to be pretty good.  But, avoid Indian food in Barcelona, for sure.

–  Spanish guitar might be the prettiest kind of guitar.  Get lessons someday.  Or get your man some lessons (it is much nicer to be serenaded).

–  Dogs are generally better behaved in Spain than in the U.S.  They just trot alongside their masters, even without a leash or lead.  Thus: teach your dog Spanish.  I think that’s the key.  “Sientete, perro.  Muy bien.”

–  Develop your own style and be ye not ashamed.  Gaudi did it.  So did Picasso (eventually).  And Dali.  Also, you should probably get more into art.

–  If a map isn’t being helpful, get a new map.  I think this can probably apply to all sorts of situations.