12 July 2008

I am sitting in the airplane, as we fly home.  We upgraded to Economy Plus, which doesn’t sound very appealing but makes a large difference as we enjoy individual video screens allowing us to select from one of several films and a few sitcoms.  It’s a long flight; I am settling in for movies.  Married Life looks pretty good.  Well, actually the married life in this film seems rather grim and phoney.  Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson provide excellent performance, as usual.

I think my husband secretly thinks Patricia Clarkson is hot.

We had an early start this morning.   After falling asleep at 2 am, the alarm woke us 4 hours later.  By 7 am, we were bathed, dressed and packed.  A light breakfast at the hotel – including plenty of strong coffee – was followed by a quick walk to the bus stop and on to the train station.  We were very brisk and organized; we caught the 8:45 am to Biel, then transferred there to a train bound for Zurich Flughafen.  The trains were both filled with young Swiss soldiers, who appeared to be returning to their individual bases after some sort of joint exercise.

We have become accustomed to the legendary Swiss efficiency; still, we we most pleased and slightly surprised to discover that only a short escalator ride separated the Zurich Flughafen train station from the Flughafen itself.  Another short walk across a mezzanine brought us to the baggage center where we claimed our luggage.

We wheeled over to check in, which again was done with much courtesy and speed.  But when I mentioned to the young woman handling our arrangements that we were sad to be leaving her beautiful country, she only shrugged, and said, It’s an OK place to live with a decided lack of conviction.

We paid an outrageous sum for a mediocre coffee and a half-frozen bagel, de rigeur for an airport.

I found a smoking room, and it didn’t stink as one might expect in a smoking room.

All went well in Switzerland – we made our Lufthansa flight with no problems, and it departed on time.

The only trouble was in Frankfurt, where we were to transfer to a United Airlines flight.  Thinking we had plenty of time, we lingered over a cheap lunch and then barely had enough time.  We had forgotten that when flying to the US we would need to go through a TSA checkpoint, and that went fine (though I beeped – again), but then in the boarding line we were told that for international flights leaving from a non-US airport United doesn’t accept the preprinted boarding pass – so we had to wait in another line.  A very friendly UA employee stood with us and complained a bit about having to be a hardass over every little thing, and sympathized that UA ought to place a prominent notice on their website, or disable the online checkin, for flights not originating from domestic soil.

But we made it.

A smart young man sits next to us, listening to his iPod and reading a French book.  He turned out to be a teenager from the Peninsula who had spent some weeks in Paris, studying the language.  I shared with him that my sisters had, while in college, participated in a similar program of study, though they didn’t stay in dorms but with families who did not speak English well.  I think I bored the young fellow, but all the same he seemed pleased to be speaking to someone – probably a little bit lonely after being away from family and friends for so long.

Looking back at this trip, I have a favorable impression of the two countries we visited.  If the opportunity arises again, I would take advantage of it and return.

My favorite part of the few days in Paris was walking around looking at the neighborhoods, admiring the architecture and listening to people talk.  I enjoyed the simple act of observing the culture.

What surprised me was that I did not especially like the food.  I liked the salads and the vegetarian dishes, but the meats were not particularly enticing to me.

My least favorite part of Paris was visiting the monuments of Versailles and the Eiffel Tower.  Neither interested me, and in retrospect I ought to have excused myself from participating.

My favorite part of Switzerland was the magical beauty of Lauterbrunnen, and the peace of the area around the big Alps.  If we return, I would like to stay there longer, and enjoy some extended hikes.

I was surprised by the friendliness of the Swiss people we encountered.  It is not enough to say that they are courteous; they are very helpful, in fact, despite the frequent language barriers.  This was a big change from Paris where the people we encountered were nice but quite reserved.

My least favorite thing about Switzerland was the disappointingly laissez-faire attitude we observed concerning the teenagers at the train stations last night.  Like France, Switzerland has trouble with teens vandalizing things, and it is unfortunate that the Swiss have not found an effective means to eliminate the problem.  The same problems exist in the US, but on a lesser scale and certainly not to an appreciable degree at all in affluent areas comparable to those we visited in Switzerland.

If I were to return, I would pack my bags differently.  I’d bring a black skirt, leave the flaps and mary-janes at home and instead stick with the Keens and some dressy black comfort sandals.  For Switzerland I would pack a fleece hooded sweatshirt.  For this type of trip, I ought to have done something I had thought about but had concluded was overly-fussy:  packed two sets of clothes, and shipped the sportier things to Switzerland while bringing a few fancies to France, then ship the fancies back home from Switzerland.  I will also be better prepared financially next time so I have the pocket money to shop and buy all sorts of nice clothes in Paris!

I also should have remembered that Amber recommended bringing a small backpack for day trips, as my purse became uncomfortably heavy filled with train tickets, passports, umbrella and water bottles.

Well, now it is back to the real world.  I will never forget these two weeks, which even now seem rather like a dream.


3 responses

  1. Was going to ask you if you found any nice dainty shoes but didn’t want to bring it up in case you didn’t… I am fascinated though that there are still planes without individual video screens? That is odd!

    Sounds like you had the time of your life filled with happy memories that will last a life time.

  2. French women apparently have tiny feet, as I was unable to find the pretty styles in my size. Argh!

    Yeah, flying Economy class over there was hell as I had to look at a too-small screen to see the movie and had no choice. Argh!

    I am ready to go back.

  3. Next time we organise better planes for you because that just sounds like pure torture – who knows perhaps one of my contacts can wangle a deal for one of the coolest Americans I know… we can hope 😀

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