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…

Geneva consistently rates as one of the best cities to live in the world, but it tends to fare a bit worse on travel destination lists.  After spending a few days here, I would have to agree with those who say it’s a great place to breeze through, but there is no need to stay very long.  Sure, it’s clean and has some natural beauty with its city centre lake and the mountains surrounding it.  But, on the whole, most of the places I’ve been– other than Calvin’s church– have been rather disappointing.

I took a tram over to the UN headquarters and waited for a tour after going through a rather rigorous security check.  The tour began, and a snooty English-speaking man led us from room to room, walking briskly and getting upset with people translating for the other persons in their group.  “You signed up for the English language tour,” he said, “so, you’ll just have to listen as best you can as translate after the tour.”  I couldn’t help but find the irony in being shown around this building by a man who seemingly had disdain for the sort of inter-cultural dialogue that the UN was designed to foster.

Ultimately, the visit amounted to little more than a stroll through a large office building, so I decided to skip the opportunity to visit other such offices.  Lord knows I’ve seen enough of them in the States.

Geneva is also very proud of its “fountain,” the Jet d’Eau, which is a large stream of water that shoots 140m into the air from the middle of the lake.  And, sure, it made for some interesting photos, but that’s about it– it’s just a large spout!

What I think will really remain in my mind as quality experiences in Geneva all have to do with food, and as I continue my mission of eating my way around the world, perhaps Geneva has been a worthwhile stop after all.  I’m sure it might be a different story had I been the one footing the bill for these meals, but dinners of fondue and raclette and crepes and dessert– not to mention the hilariously fun dinner at Hotel Edelweiss– have been experiences I will surely not forget any time soon…

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…