Today is the other day that I knew would eventually come, but I didn’t expect to feel quite the way I do as I sit in my window seat and look at the Swiss countryside fading beneath me.

This is the end of the first of three trips I will make to Europe over the next year.  But this is the only one that I have done largely on my own, without my husband or a particular traveling partner beside me.  I have chosen where to go when and with whom.  I have figured out train schedules and fares, restaurant menus and tips, and places to sleep and visit.  I have made friends with Germans and French people, Spaniards and Swiss.  And I leave this Continent with more of a sense of self than I had when I first stepped foot here back in that warm April day in Barcelona.

I learned, for starters, about the sorts of things that irritate me, both about myself and about others.  Traveling brings out people’s rough edges, those things we can safely set to the side when we’re at home.  I learned that my edges revolve around my fears and loneliness.  If I feel lonely or isolated, I tend to get more quickly annoyed with others than I ordinarily would.  And if I feel afraid or threatened in any way, I have a hard time admitting it to others or dealing with the war that wages in my head over shoulds and shouldn’ts.

I went for a long walk last night by myself through the vineyards and paths of Rivaz and the surrounding Swiss villages.  I was indeed alone, but I felt like I was on a walk with the Creator of it all.  I took my time strolling around, watching the incredible sunset over the Alps reflecting its colors on the surface of the water.  I could feel my tired body getting more tired by the minute, but I pushed myself further and further.  If there’s anything that I have learned about myself, it’s that I can indeed be pushed to limits that I never would have approached before– I can survive narrowly being pick-pocketed, I can figure out how to get from one place to another (even in a language I don’t speak!), I can power hike up a mountain to enjoy a quick but life-giving view, I can not let a rainy day ruin my enjoyment of beauty.

After this flight lands in Newark, I’ll be greeted by my husband who has been busy packing the belongings we’ve accumulated over the past three years of marriage.  In three days, we will both graduate as Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.  And in a week, we’ll be turning over the keys to our apartment– the only home we’ve known together– as we embark on the next adventures laid out before us.  Peter will be traveling to Israel and Palestine.  He’ll then travel to Germany, where, in one month, I will meet him for another month of travel.  I am eager to return to the U.S., where my husband and family call home, but I know that I leave a piece of my heart behind in Europe.  I hope that I can find it when I return.

Until then…

Adventure seeker on an empty street

Just an alley creeper, light on his feet

A young fighter screaming, with no time for doubt

With the pain and anger can’t see a way out

It ain’t much I’m asking, I heard him say

Gotta find me a future move out of my way

I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now…

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I woke up this morning, and Rivaz still insists on sparkling under dark and foreboding clouds.  But nothing could keep us from our plans to visit Lausanne, one of the most famously beautiful cities in western Switzerland.  And sure, the beauty is important.  But what was our first stop in this Swiss city?  Why, a chocolate shop, of course!  Durig Chocolatier, to be precise.

My obsession with chocolate has known no limits, and this past November, I even paid the $50 admission charge to attend New York City’s Annual Chocolate Show in one of the enormous pavilions on the Hudson.  (Trembling from all the caffeinated truffle samples, I made the incalculable mistake of grabbing a sushi dinner with a stomach full of chocolate!)  But I had it on good authority that Durig was Switzerland’s most amazing chocolate shop, so I took hearty advantage of this opportunity to sample, savor, and devour.  The kind chocolatier, whom I affectionately called Willie Wonka, even allowed us to have a glimpse into the world of his chocolate-making factory, demonstrating how the truffles are made and packaged.  Had I not been married already, I might have proposed…

We walked through the wind and rain, hiking our way toward the stunning cathedral on the hill.  By now, I’ve seen so many cathedrals that it can be difficult to arouse much awe.  But what this particular church has going for it, in my opinion, is the incredible view that worshippers can enjoy on their way in and out of the church.  It is as though there is a continuation of the presence of holiness, from the internal space to the external creation.  It says a lot about a city when it can be perfectly cold and wet outside, and yet, the city still resonates with one’s idea of what constitutes beauty.  While I may not have seen the city sparkling under the sun, I certainly agree that Lausanne deserves its reputation.  It is one of those places that I’d be intrigued to visit again.  And again.

I had to catch a bus from Avignon to Orange and then from Orange to Vaison la Romaine.  The first bus ride was relatively uneventful.  I asked two ladies in front of me at the station which bus was the right one for me to board, and they took it upon themselves to make sure that I was safe and settled and knew where I was going.  Never underestimate the potential kindness in a stranger.

In Orange, the bus driver spoke no English, and so I stood at the front of the bus trying again and again to pronounce Vaison la Romaine correctly—or at least correctly enough so that he could understand me.  Instead, he kept giving me an irritated, “Eh?”

“Vi-zohn la Ro-mahn?”

“Eh?”

“Vi-zohn la Ro-main?

“Eh?”

“Vay-zohn la Ro-mahn?

“Eh?”

Vay-zahn la Ro-main?”

“Eh?”

Finally, I dug through my daypack until I found my guidebook pages with the name of the town printed on them.  “Ici,” I said.  “Here.”

I decided that I think the reason I find buses so intimidating is that you generally have to deal with a person up front, and, if you look foolish, you then have to ride in this small space with the witnesses to your humiliation for the duration of your journey.  It’s a little much, to be honest.  I sat on the second row, tried not to look behind me, and examined every road and stop to try to decode the schedule.  Fortunately, miraculously, I got off at the right stop, walked down the main road of the town, and found my hotel with no problem.

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The hotel was great—funky, urban-feeling, but small and intimate.  Hôtel Burrhus, it is called, and it seemed oddly out-of-place in this slow and ancient Provençal town.  After checking in, I asked the hotelier where I could get a good meal, and she recommended a restaurant two doors down from the hotel.  Though the service was great, the food was mediocre, a first for me in France.  But my waiter was extremely kind, and when he saw me wrapping my scarf around my neck, he said, “Oh, please, madam.  Come inside.  Warm up with your coffee.”  Then he brought me a small dessert—“from me to you, a gift”—and tried to impress me with his electronic waiter’s pad that allowed him to print my bill from a distance.  I played along.  Why not?  I love these people…

When I woke up this morning, I walked for about an hour trying to find the bus station and get information about my bus out of town.  I resorted to stopping people on the street and asking for directions, and, while everyone tried their best to tell me (complete with “et voila!” every time), I had a hard time finding it because it was in a strangely modern building.  Considering the surroundings—a gas station, a market, ancient Roman ruins—I just couldn’t recognize it for what it was.  When I finally got the information I needed, it turned out that I only had two hours to explore the town before my bus arrived.  I considered just sitting around and waiting, but I knew that this town had some incredible hikes surrounding it, so I set off—a coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other.

I crossed the ancient Roman bridge and set to walking toward the chateau at the top of the hill, where, I was told, I could see for kilometers and kilometers.

And indeed, this was my reward:
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