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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Woke up to a gorgeous day today, and it looks like all of Switzerland is taking full advantage of it.

We decided that the best use of our time would be a tour of the castle in Chillon, a stroll through Montreaux, and an enjoyment of the sunset over the Alps in Rivaz.

First things first: the Château Chillon.

Could there be a more beautiful setting for a castle?  While wandering the corridors reminded me of my meandering around the castle in Carcassonne, this Swiss setting was indescribably beautiful.  According to the plaques posted on the walls, Lord Byron himself was held in this castle’s prison quarters for a time.  But what a place to be held in prison!  The view out the prison window?

In the words of the inimitable Byron,

There by none of Beauty’s daughters

With a magic like Thee;

And like music on the waters

Is thy sweet voice to me:

When, as if its sound were causing

The charmed ocean’s pausing,

The waves lie still and gleaming,

And the lull’d winds seem dreaming:

And the midnight moon is weaving

Her bright chain o’er the deep,

Whose breast is gently heaving

As an infant’s asleep:

So the spirit bows before thee

To listen and adore thee;

With a full but soft emotion,

Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.

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 have now split off from our larger group, and I am traveling with two friends– an engaged couple who I adore.  The only thing that is proving difficult is that, after almost three weeks of travel, I am really missing my husband, and their love is making me lovesick.  But I suppose that it is actually a blessing, to love and be loved… and to miss it.

Fortunately, we have landed ourselves along the Swiss Riviera, which is, without doubt, the most breathtakingly spectacular place I have ever been.  Behold:

Yes, THIS is the view out the window of the home I am staying in for the next few days in the little village of Rivaz, a village rich with vineyards and water sports.  I’ve been to the French Riviera, and I’ve gotta say that, as of now, it is way overrated in the realm of Riviera-ness.

The Swiss Alps are graced by the gentle embrace of clouds, and the sparkling Lake Geneva reflects the purity of the sky with perfection.  It’s the kind of water that I imagine even I could walk on.

Knowing that a place like this exists makes me re-evaluate the reasons I choose to live in the places I do.  There are people who live and move and have their being in places like this.  And, once I’ve seen it, I can hardly imagine living in a place that doesn’t have this sort of beauty inspiring my daily life.

And yet, I can’t escape my knowledge that Switzerland has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.  How can this be?  How can people be surrounded by this kind of glory and lose hope in life?

Perhaps I’m too quick to judge.  I still have a few days in this country before heading back to the States.  I have a feeling that a place like this has much to teach me, not only about the beauty of this earth, but also about the humans who indwell it.

I’ll keep you posted…

 

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…