Travel

The Switzerland Diaries: The Last Few Days

After we left Chillon we drove back to Coppet and arrived at Alistair’s sister’s house in the early evening.

Two chefs were in her kitchen preparing us dinner and greeted us. Alistair went for a swim with his nephew and I had a glass of rosé. The table was set outside and we all had cheese soufflé, grilled fish with lentils and spicy sauce, and a cheese plate, salad and chocolate pudding dessert. Alistair’s sister’s puggle ran from person to person at the table, pleading for scraps. We told everyone about our trip. Then the sun set on the lake. A team of rowers were practicing, and whenever they passed, we heard a coxswain yelling in French.

The Jeep that we squeezed down narrow Italian streets was still in our possession. We'd have to return it to the airport in the morning, and the plan was: Alistair would drive his brothers car and I would follow in the rental. I was nervous the next day as I turned through Geneva’s roundabouts, SUV's don't suit me. But I laughed a little--what the hell was I doing driving in Switzerland. 

After dropping off the car Alistair and I headed to Carouse (Geneva's "little Italy") so he could attend a business meeting. I would have an hour or two to walk around the neighborhood by myself. When I waved goodbye to Alistair and set off through a small park, I felt like I did many years ago in Paris. Most of the shops in Carouge were not yet open. I just turned down whatever street looked friendly, then the next one, after that. When I got to a dead end I would turn around and go back. A bakery or cafe was my first inclination, though we would be having lunch soon. 

I saw art galleries, salons, architecture firms. I was feeling a little unconfident in all the doorways I peeked in so eventually I arrived back at the park. I sat in the sun and waited. 

After Alistair's meeting we went to see his childhood home. Graffiti he’d drawn in a light pole box when was in his teens was still there, undisturbed.  We visited his international high school and walked the quiet campus.

He and his classmates used to have lunch at Roadrunner, a burger joint a cross the street, so we got burgers and fries and then went back to Old Town. We had time to waste before our next event, so we went to the Art and History Museum. It's a very beautiful stone building, with grand staircases and windows. The two things I noticed immediately: it was nearly empty and there was no A/C, just a single fan per room. There many security guards sweating in their suits.

thumb_IMG_1034_1024.jpg
thumb_IMG_1035_1024.jpg


One of Alistair's oldest friends invited us by. He lived in a high rise building not far from the museum. He bought us an apple galette that we ate on the balcony while his three-year-old watched Peppa Pig. Two of his other friends joined later on, and went to the back garden of the building. His son rode his bike in circles around a shallow fountain. 

We had dinner reservations with Alistair’s friend about ten minutes north of Coppet, at a place called Le Buffet de la Gare Celigny. Once we drove past the city center we entered vast farmland. We took a left into what looked like cornfields or wheat and another turn, and we arrived at the restaurant in the middle of nowhere. 

There were string lights, and a little outdoor garden. We sat ornate dining room decorated with vintage posters, oak walls, and captain hats hanging from a coat tree. We had a glass of wine, a rich amuse-bouche of espresso and melted cheese and cream with chives. I ordered duck roasted with vegetables. Dinner conversation was a mixture of toilet humor (our favorite type), and a rehash of our journey.

Alistair's friend asked me what I thought of Switzerland.

"It is so beautiful," I said. "my goal to get more people to know about how beautiful it is and put it on their list of places to see.”

“You were in what we call ‘Postcard Switerzland,’” he said. He told me of his work travels to northern Switzerland, an area I researched before.

“Is that near Maienfeld?” I asked. “Where Heidi is from?” He said that it was. I sighed happily. “I've always loved 'Heidi.' I've always wanted to be 'Heidi' when I was a kid."

We then ordered profiteroles and I ordered an espresso in French, and Alistair's friend rose his eyebrows. 

"You speak French!" he said.

"No," I laughed. I was only comfortable enough ordering coffee, nothing else. I've written it a thousand times but if I ever had a lifelong rival, the French language would be it. Alistair's friends were so nice to oblige and speak English, but it makes me so privately mournful that after two years of one-on-one lessons and two years of French in college, I was still not past learning passé composé, and my accent was awful. 

The boys had whiskey, so I drove Alistair home. I needed the bright lights on to see through the darkness; we were the only car the whole ride home.

#

The next morning it started to rain in Geneva. It was the last full day of our vacation and we'd only planned lunch with Alistair's friends downtown. We met them at a little cafe that Alistair's late father loved. Afterwards, we went to the Natural History Museum. In silence we walked past stuffed birds, sea animals, a whole pride of lions. Monday loomed over us. Pretty soon we'd be in New York again. Alistair sighed heavily: “The vacation is almost over.”

thumb_IMG_1037_1024.jpg

We decided we'd cook dinner instead of going out. We bought a melon from Migros and ingredients for fresh pesto. Back at Alistair's sister's house, a double rainbow had formed over Lake Geneva. We opened the two pre-made bottles of Aperol Spritz from Italy and had them over ice. 

#

The next morning we dressed and met Alistair's mother so she could drive us to the airport. We found a little seat in the busy terminal, and his mother gave me a gift, a frame from Globus and a Native American charm. 

"I hope it will bring you luck," she said. A gesture so sweet I thought I could cry. We hugged her goodbye and joined a long security line that folded itself around the room. Eventually we couldn’t see her among the crowd. When our plane ascended into clouds and Geneva, too, disappeared from sight. We arrived in New York many hours later.

Day Six: Lake Como (continued), Zermatt, and Chillon

The next morning I woke up to the sound of birds on our balcony. I opened the door to look at Lake Como. It was quiet on the lake, no speedboats. I couldn’t spot the ferry. The sun was hiding behind the clouds.

A floor below, hotel guests were served breakfast on a patio. Alistair and I dressed to join them. When we finished--full, caffeinated, and eager to walk through Bellagio--we passed the American couple from the night before on the stairs. We didn't even have to say hello, we all just smirked, laughed, and kept going.

We started by seeing the town church, then did a little shopping. Functional blue and red bags hung from the homemade leather shops, wooden trinkets in another --cutting boards, ornaments, chess sets. We stepped into a candy store still dressed as it was in the 1950s. In a grocery we decided we'd have a picnic in Zermatt so we bought two bottles of pre-mixed Aperol spritz, a loaf of bread, pecorino cheese with a ribbon of truffle in the middle, and a pound of prosciutto de parma. I peered over a glass case into a vats of gelato. A shopkeeper spun them ‘round on a lazy-susan to give me two scoops of my flavor. 

At the bottom of one of the hilly streets, I ate my gelato and watched the sun come out, and wished we could stay a little longer, maybe even swim, but we were expected in Zermatt.  We got the car and waited in line for the ferry. A guard came and told us to turn off the engine so we rolled down the windows. Everyone passing us was on their way to a very beautiful, flower-lined avenue and could hear us speaking in English. At least four or five American people stopped by the car to ask for directions, or when the Ferry left. A very amicable man, tall, tan, in his late 60s, in a polo shirt and a baseball cap stopped by the car for directions. We told him, and then later on the ferry to Menaggio, he introduced himself as Jim. 

thumb_IMG_0952_1024.jpg



"I'm traveling alone, and it's been a long time since I've gotten to talk to anyone nice," he said. We learned he was from San Diego, a professor on summer vacation. He goes everywhere, a month in Spain, a month in France.

"Well, there's only one thing to do..." he said after we exchanged pleasantries. "I have to get a photo of the nice couple I met." He took our photo and laughed. 

"A tip..." he said. "I've had my phone stolen three times in Europe, once a bunch of guys approached me as if they were going to ask a question. Now I just tell everyone, 'Stay back, I have a cold.' It's a good trick," he said. 

We said goodbye and the ferry arrived at the port of Menaggio. We went south. Alistair wanted to take a very specific road to Zermatt, not the highways and certainly not the death-trap Italian roads, but the Nufenen Pass.  We climbed The Alps by way of the small towns dotted with chalet-style homes. You could hear the cowbells from the cows eating grass among the trees. It was such a pleasant sound.

thumb_IMG_0956_1024.jpg


The higher we got the mountain peaks were more abundant. So many that their tops looked like the crests of gray waves. Once we even passed an ice-blue glacier. There was a restaurant at the highest point of the pass, and three flags marked the spot. We got out and stretched in the cold. 

thumb_IMG_0967_1024.jpg


After an hour or so of driving, we arrived in Zermatt, but one doesn’t simply drive into Zermatt. Only a few vehicles are allowed near the city and almost all transportation is through tiny three wheel electric cars. Alistair has been a few times so he knew this, but there was just the matter of parking. We decided to call our hotel and a concierge said very sternly, “Do NOT drive to Zermatt!” He suggested a parking lot with a taxi service so we went back, parked, and greeted a woman at the front desk. 

She got our information, then put two shot glasses on the table. 

“Now would you both be interested in a Swiss treat?” She asked.

"I know Alistair would," I laughed. I'm always projecting my need for a drink onto Alistair by asking him if he wants a drink when I really want one. 

She poured us both a shot of Kirsch, a special Swiss liquor. We toasted, turned up our glasses and laughed. It was warm and strong, like all drinks made by people in cold temperatures. It could have knocked me off my feet. The woman smiled back at us. "You don't get one on the way back, only on the way there." 

We boarded a bus to the city and then another small electric car to the hotel. The back seats were covered in fur. 

Zermatt is a collection of luxury stores, restaurants, and Chalet-style hotels and apartments. An river runs through it. It's extremely quaint, the absence of cars makes it even more attractive. I kept sneaking glances at the Matterhorn. 

"Planes, trains, automobiles," sighed Alistair. We'd travelled a lot for one day. 

We arrived at the Hotel Matthiol, which was beautifully appointed with modern furniture but wooden walls, like being in a cabin. The concierge told us we could have a complimentary welcome drink. Again, Alistair and I gave each other a look as if to say, "Oh really!?" and eased into two seats at the bar. The sit-back, do-nothing part of our vacation had arrived. 

When we finished our drinks the concierge walked us to the sauna and then up to our room. It was especially luxurious. Out the window I could see the mountains and a tiny gondola ascending. We had our cheese and meats from Italy and put on bathing suits and robes for the sauna's and hot tubs.

We made a late dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant and after dinner fell into bed early. 

The next day we had breakfast at the hotel, then walked to the train that would take us to Gornergrat, one of the many peaks surrounding the Matterhorn. We got to walk through the town which required passing the famous graveyard, with tombstones for every climber who has died attempting to climb the Matterhorn. To date it is estimated that 500 people have died attempting to climb it.  

thumb_IMG_0981_1024.jpg

We were late for the train, very late. We bought a ticket and and got on as the doors were closing. The train was $117 Swiss Francs for me, a non-citizen. We couldn't believe it. 

thumb_IMG_0986_1024.jpg

The train would make several stops along the way, and allow for many views of the Matterhorn. I had read online the night before about how many groups of people attempted to conquer the Matterhorn, mostly resulting in deaths. Just seeing it covered in snow, so angular, so majestic, made me want to attempt it. The more I looked at it, the more it seemed like it looked back at me. Not necessarily a face, but a feeling. I wanted to personify it in every way I could.

thumb_IMG_0990_1024.jpg

At Gornergrat there was a visitors center, viewing point and a little lodge where you could eat fondue and listen to yodeling. it was freezing up there, and the mountains were covered in snow. It was spectacular to see the snow, the ranges, a little pond in the middle with blue water, and beyond all of that the big watchman, the Matterhorn, in the distance. 

thumb_IMG_1004_1024.jpg



We took the train back down, met our luggage at the station, then took another train back to the outskirts of Zermatt to retrieve the car. 

We had a three hour drive ahead of us through the highways of Valais. Bad drivers—too fast, switching lanes without looking—sped around us. I let off a string of terrible expletives. 

We arrived back on the other side of Lake Geneva, and finally, Montreaux. Alistair wanted the last and final stop on the trip to be Chillon Castle. As the story goes, he once went to Chillon as a small child, and seeing that the top of the castle hadn’t been maintained in its true form (a roof had been added) he threw a tantrum. We climbed all the way to the top of the castle (there were many narrow staircases). We saw the dungeon referenced in Byron's "The Prisoner of Chillon." 

thumb_IMG_1026_1024.jpg


Before sunset we hit the road again, due back to Geneva. There were only a few more days left in our trip. 

The Switzerland Diaries: Day Five (Lucerne, Lugano, Lake Como)

The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”

— Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880

The next day, after breakfast at the hotel, we walked up a hill where there was a pool shaded by trees, the surface completely still.  A few feet above the water, in the natural rock face, was the Lion Monument, depicted by a wounded lion, resting on his front paws, a thorn in his back. It was built in dedication to the Swiss soldiers who fought to protect the French during the revolution.

Mark Twain, by some weird coincidence, did the same tour as Alistair and I, and made most of the same stops. Twain's quote about the monument is completely true. Even without the statue it'd be a pretty romantic spot, and in the morning the light falls upon it peacefully.

thumb_IMG_0857_1024.jpg


 Just up the hill is the Glacier Garden (another stop Twain took, and also wrote about in a much better fashion). As Alistair explained, Lucerne was one covered with ice and glaciers, and the deep caves in the Glacier Garden were the holes those glaciers left behind. The whole thing is viewed from up above. By following a path you can stop along and look down into the dark holes. As part of the exhibit, after seeing the Glacier's we were led to a Alhambra House-of-Mirrors, a maze.

"We shouldn't do this," Alistair said, minding the time that we had left to go to the Transport Museum and catch a boat. We could be lost for hours, I kept bumping into the glass thinking it was a way out.

thumb_IMG_0861_1024.jpg

"My mother would kill me if she knew I was in a mirror maze!" I shouted to him from afar. 

Eventually we resurfaced in another garden, with a lookout point over Lucerne.

Of all the attractions on our trip, Alistair talked about the Transit Museum the most. He went once on a school trip and was eager to return as an adult. We kept meeting Swiss people who raved about it. 

The Swiss take pride in their very punctual, very well-made boats, trains and airplanes. The museum was divided up into three buildings, one for each mode of transportation. We visited the trains first, they had a car from every time period and even a track that ran through the building. In the airplane exhibit we toured a 1970s Swiss Air plane (back when there was a smoking section!) and did a helicopter simulation. We used wind to direct real live sails in the boat exhibit. I saw my first real satellite.  

There was so much to do but, we had a 1 pm boat to catch for a ride through Lake Lucerne. We gathered our luggage and rolled through a waterside park. People were having picnics and sunbathing. We stood on a pier and watched our massive white steamboat approach. 

Alistair bought us First Class tickets and reserved us a table at the restaurant on the upper deck. They gave us one with the best view: mountains on one side, Lucerne on the other. The weather was perfect. I ordered a Swiss soda and a sausage made of pork and beef and served with potatoes and gravy. Alistair had salmon. For desert: pear and chocolate mousse. 

thumb_IMG_0880_1024.jpg
thumb_IMG_0889_1024.jpg


With a boat so big the ride was steady and peaceful. The little towns outside of Lucerne became more spread out and rural the further we rode. There were houses high in the mountains on very steep hills; I marveled to Alistair "how can anyone live there without falling down the hill everyday?" I was happy to read that when Twain did this exact same boat ride, he wondered the same thing. After lunch we moved to the benches on the deck, the sun bore down on us, but the wind off the water kept us cool. The boat turned and we arrived at the very location where Switzerland was founded, the Rütli, marked by a very old and beautiful Swiss crest.

At our stop we arrived in a tiny town and climbed a hill to the train station. We had one more transfer before arriving in Lugano. There was a man on our train who kept loudly making comments every time Alistair spoke in English. He got off at the same stop as us during a transfer, and said something cutting in Swiss-German to Alistair while he was talking on the phone. He was dressed very normally but seemed a bit...off. Being that I know no Swiss German I worried about having an altercation with him. We went to another platform and waited for him to leave. Then we got our last train to Lugano. We specifically picked a regional train, not the express, so we could see the Alps up close. We were the only people in the first class car the entire ride so we snuggled up close and kept our eyes to the mountaintops. The Alps were impressive. At one point the train horn went off and we could hear it echoing back at us. 

Slowly we noticed the buildings lose their Swiss efficiency and become more colorful, Italian-like, with yellow and pink paint. We were inching towards Italian-speaking Switzerland. We arrived in Lugano around 6 pm, and Alistair's friend met us at the train station. 

Lugano, as everyone kept telling me, is a little like Rio, a big city with palm trees around a big lake. Architecturally it was a little like Italy in the 80s, but in a cool, retro way. Alistair's friend drove us to his place where he promised us a big dinner. He liked cooking for guests. 

On his patio we had a bottle of champagne and snacks and for dinner he made for us a pesto pasta and branzino, calamari, and shrimp from Lake Lugano that he roasted in the oven with tomatoes and onions. Despite being in Switzerland it felt like we were in L.A. Palm trees hung over the table. It wasn't incredibly hot but slightly humid. A storm rolled through, but as Alistair's friend explained, his home sat in a microclimate around Lake Lugano, the rain would never fall there. A few drops hit us, and he was right. The storm swept past, up the mountains. 

Alistair's friend moved to Lugano from Geneva and told us the local gossip -- my favorite thing to learn when I travel. The juiciest: Most people in Lugano hate people from the Swiss-German speaking part of Switzerland -- "They come here on the weekends like it is Miami then they go home during the week, they clog up the roads," they say. According to local gossip, everyone from Valais is a bad driver. 

Around midnight we shared ice cream from a local shop, and were in bed by 1 am. 

The next morning we said goodbye to our host took a cab to the airport in Lugano to pick up our rental car. The cab dropped us off in a tiny parking lot and pointed to a building that looked like a beach club. 

"This is the airport?" I asked when we walked past an outdoor bar covered in a canopy. It was a small terminal, only two flights leave a day, and a collection of rental car buildings, coffee shops and outdoor restaurants. It was almost like we were the only people there. 

There was a rental car desk there was a telephone and instructions. Alistair lifted up the phone and told them that we were there to pick up a car. 

"You were late, so the guy...he left," said the woman on the line with an Italian accent. "I will tell him to come back." 

Ten minutes later he returned.

Parla inglese” Alistair asked him.

“No,” the man said. “Italiano?”

“No, Francais?” Alistair asked back. The man shrugged. They had to speak in a mishmash of both. Alistair asked him, “So the car is a Polo, right?” we wanted the tiniest car available for the Italian roads to Lake Como.

Si, a Polo,” he said and walked us to the lot. He pointed at a gray Jeep. “Here it is.”

A massive SUV was the only thing left. I could feel it in my stomach already, I was nervous. 

"I don't want it to be like that episode of 'Master of None!'" I said to Alistair, in reference to the  episode where the main character's car gets stuck on a narrow road in Tuscany. 

To get to Bellagio we had to drive around Lake Como and back up to the center of the lake. What started out as a highway suddenly changed to a two-laned road, and eventually we were driving parallel to Lake Como on a two-way road only fit for one tiny car, hitting curves blindly and almost crashing into cars on the other side. A few times we had to squeeze by cars on the opposite side, which required pulling in the side-view mirrors, craning our necks out of the window, "Do I have room?" working with the other drivers, usually Italian, usually annoyed at the Americans in their big cars taking up all the room. I had my hand gripping the door, my knuckles turning white. We stopped at a viewing point and took photos.

thumb_IMG_0897_1024.jpg


Google Maps led us to Bellagio, and then instructed us to drive down the narrow, cobblestone streets filled with tourists just to get to a parking lot.

“I don’t think we’re meant to be driving through the center of town like this!” Alistair said.

We parked right near the water and took a deep breath.

"I need a drink." 

"Me too."

It was my first time in Italy. Bellagio exceeded our expectations. We checked into our hotel room (we had a view of the lake) then went downstairs to one of the outdoor restaurants for lunch. We went for a walk through the town, which required climbing up the stairs of small stone streets lined with shops and buildings in pink, blue and yellow. Bellagio is the main tourist hub of Lake Como, the streets were crowded but small enough that you kept seeing the same people twice over.

thumb_IMG_0901_1024.jpg

Back at the room we dressed for dinner and planned to take the ferry to Varenna. I'll never forget the voice on the loudspeaker announcing the destination in Italian, the walk on the boat and up to our seats, the feeling of being somewhere that I have only dreamed about.

 Varenna

Varenna


Varenna was far more beautiful than Bellagio because it's streets were empty and quiet. It felt more authentic in that way. I told Alistair I wanted to see the Villa Monastero gardens, so we walked in that direction. 

thumb_IMG_0913_1024.jpg

Our mouths hung open, there was so much to see. A path along the water led us past a beach, and through the quiet city streets. Varenna was extremely beautiful. I struggle, even now, to convey it properly. 

Villa Monastero is a house and garden on the water built in the 12th Century. We walked the gardens stopping to read about the a variety of trees and flowers all marked with their names on little plaques. It offered a view of the lake and of Varenna, there were several spots with little balconies where one could feel like they stepped out of life into a paradise. 

thumb_IMG_0925_1024.jpg
thumb_IMG_0930_1024.jpg

We wanted to have dinner but the restaurant rated number one in Varenna, Il Cavatappi, but it was packed. The host, a soft spoken Italian man in his 60s told us we could hang around, so we went to the next door bar for an Aperol Spritz and cheese. About forty minutes later, the man waved to us from the restaurant and we sat down at a table on the street. The food was delicious.

thumb_IMG_5034_1024.jpg

When I think about Italy, I think about very relaxed meals, wine, and all-around sense of leisure. Alistair and I held hands on our walk back to the ferry. Fireworks were blowing over Bellagio and everyone had their cameras up. When we reached our port we saw the city still vibrant even as it was growing late. At the waterside restaurants bands played, people danced, everyone strolled with gelato. We got on the elevator at the hotel with another American couple we saw at drinks and dinner. 

"Did you enjoy Varenna?" I asked. They smiled and said that they did. 

We went to bed late. The next morning we would drive back to Switzerland to Zermatt.

The Switzerland Diaries: Day Four

Before I went to Switzerland I found myself asking “well, what are the things to see?” Even when I told people about my vacation a few of them gave me a quizzical look. At the start of our tour I felt like those people, and at the end of it I told Alistair’s friend that it was my goal to “get everyone to go to Switzerland because it's worth it.” 

Our tour would start with Gruyère and Lucerne, then Lugano (in Italian speaking Switzerland), a night in Lake Como, Italy, and finally a night in Zermatt. Alistair had planned everything with hand drawn maps and efficient train transfer flowcharts. Like most of Switzerland, Alistair runs like a well-made clock. He counts minutes and seconds under his breath, he knows exactly how many meters and how long a walk from point A to B. Whenever I doubted a piece of the plan he would smile as if I’d forgotten: he loves logistics, there wouldn’t be a problem. I was, and still am, so grateful to Alistair for putting it together so flawlessly. I was so grand a trip that on day three I woke up to messages from friends who were following along on Instagram stories. They thought this trip was a big lead up to a finale of another kind: a proposal. I told Alistair about this and we laughed.

At 9 am on day one we raced down the sidewalk of Coppet dragging our suitcases behind us to catch a train. Our first train ride was comical, a loud Australian girl told the story of her romantically challenged sister who turned up pregnant (“she called me and asked me if I was ‘sitting down preferably with a drink’”) and two elderly woman talked about the price of fruit at the supermarket in French. Alistair was annoyed that the noise detracted us from the scenic ride through the little towns on Lake Geneva. After an hour we transferred to the next train to take us to Gruyère, home of the famous cheese, the Gruyère castle, the Giger museum, and as Alistair kept reminding me, “the ground zero of fondue.”

The train arrived at a crowded station; everyone was going to Gruyère. A bus climbed up the hills to the valley and in that valley was the town. There was one cobblestone main street and on either side cute little yellow buildings with shops, restaurants and chocolatiers. It seemed that everyone was a tourist, but the mix was pretty exotic: a gurus going to the Tibetan museum, goths going the Giger Museum, and everyone else was just there for the cheese.

thumb_IMG_0813_1024.jpg



We did a little shopping and then went to the restaurant for my very first fondue. The restaurant was split into two halves over the cobblestone street, one outdoor porch and the original indoor restaurant. This required the waitresses—while head to toe in native garb—to carry heavy trays of fondue and meats down the hill to the tables. Alistair ordered us the typical potatoes, bread and fondue plate. We got two glasses of white wine. During my fondue lesson I learned later that ice water is a no-no, eventually it turns into a ball of cheese. The waitress returned with a red pot full of hot bubbling pure Gruyère cheese. It was delicious and heavy. For dessert we had two espresso's that they served with little pots filled with chocolate and heavy cream. 

We went from there to the castle which had the best views of green lush mountains surrounding the town.

image1.jpeg


Then we went to the Giger museum. (I was against it from the start, but I learned a lesson on how to embrace the darkness and took copious mental notes.) Right before our 4 pm train, we managed to stuff ourselves with another specialty—creme de Gruyère—a heavy cream that we ate spread over a belgian waffle. 

Around four o'clock we caught a train to Lucerne. I say "caught a train" so casually, but truly all our train rides in Switzerland were gorgeous. We moved through hills of green grass, little houses and chapels. Right before arriving in Bern we crossed a river and Alistair said, "We just crossed the border into German-speaking Switzerland." I had him give me a lesson in Swiss-German. 

Ah, Lucerne. It's such a charming town and I was instantly impressed with it. Around 5 pm we alighted at Lucerne's busy station and rolled ourselves and our luggage to our hotel. The light was beautiful coming off the lake, squeezing between the buildings. In that way, it reminded me of an understated Paris.

We checked in, took a glass elevator up to our floor and opened the door to our room. The hotel was a boutique hotel, so everything was millennial pink and designed within an inch of its life. Alistair turned on the light to reveal our millennial pink bathroom, except, it didn't have a wall. A white curtain separated the bathroom from the room. Alistair marched to the phone, picked it up and asked for another room. We were at the end of our rope concerning this issue, the last five hotels we’ve stayed in all had sliding glass pocket doors that echoed bathroom sounds, you get the idea.

"There are some things that you shouldn’t see," Alistair said comically to the concierge. She told us to come back to the front desk and she would get us a new room (for a price). On our way up to room number too, Alistair threw up his hands. 

"It's a tue-l'amour!" he said. We laughed about it the whole trip. And yes, the new room had a nice big bathroom with four walls. 

That night before sundown we walked through downtown Lucerne. It was August, and a weeknight, so we had the old cobblestone streets to ourselves, everything was so charming and clean.

thumb_IMG_0839_1024.jpg

We had grilled fish and wine at a Greek restaurant right on the lake. The sun set behind the buildings on the opposite side and the sky turned pink. I asked myself: Ariel, did you ever imagine having sunset dinner on Lake Lucerne? The answer, no

thumb_IMG_0840_1024.jpg

We decided to walk more and crossed a bridge to the other side. The embankment was lined with restaurants beautiful lights and romantic candles. We stopped by fountains and passed churches and Medieval hotels.

thumb_IMG_0847_1024.jpg

There were little places where steps were built leading right into the lake and people sat with their feet in, whispering together in the dark. We walked over the Chapel Bridge on the way back, the oldest bridge in Europe, built in 1333.

thumb_IMG_0851_1024.jpg


I really fell in love with Lucerne that night. 

The next day we'd spend the morning in the city and then travel to Lugano by boat and train, but that, dear friends, is for the next post.  

The Switzerland Travel Diaries: Days One, Two and Three

Alistair and I arrived to Geneva in the morning. Both of us barely slept during our flight, my makeup had worn off, my clothes starting to smell. His mother would be picking us up from the airport and I was nervous. I wanted her to like me. I went to the bathroom to slather lotion on my face. As much as I love meeting new people, I consistently feel like I'm not enough. I considered make up but it felt like a lost cause and besides, Geneva was waiting on the other side of the arrivals terminal doors. Alistair was going to show me where he grew up. I was about to have the best vacation but I didn't know it yet.

We exited the hall and his mother was standing right by the door, smiling enthusiastically. She was the same height as Alistair, with the same nose and mouth and smile. She was so warm and inviting. 

My first views of Geneva were of the cute stucco homes and green trees in the towns twenty minutes outside of the city proper. His mother took us to her house for coffee, in Coppet, then we went to his sisters house where we would stay the remainder of the trip. His sister's house was gorgeous and right on Lake Geneva. I could see the boats passing and the famous Jet d'Eau from her backyard. We dropped our things, napped and Alistair looked at his phone. 

"Sammy wants to meet us for a drink on Lake Geneva," he said. Sammy was his old friend who lived with her husband and kids in Barcelona but was in Geneva visiting family. We hopped in the car and drove towards downtown. 

"Do you mind if we make a stop?" Alistair asked. I told him no, and we drove into one of the little neighborhoods, arriving at a small graveyard. Alistair's grandmother died a few years back and they were extremely close. She was buried there with a very elegant gravestone. Alistair took my hand and said in French, "I'd like you to meet Ariel, grandmother." I didn't think it would be possible to love Alistair more deeply than I loved him before then, but seeing him clean her grave and speak to her made me love him even more. It was my favorite moment from the entire trip. I get a little teary eyed when I remember it. 

We continued on. Alistair pointed out all the places from his past. Traveling makes my find feel less dense and more elastic. Passing advertisements for companies I've never heard of, street signs in French, and cars I'd never seen before. Its like opening a slow door that never gets closed. I learn, and I do it happily.

We parked a car in the garage and walked to the edge of the lake where a beach club had been set up. We took a seat with a glass of white wine each and watched swimmers jump from diving boards in the middle of the lake. It was perfect weather, a perfect spot. It was exactly what I wanted. 

thumb_IMG_0752_1024.jpg

 

Sammy's friends were all gathered at an outdoor bar within walking distance. So we crossed the bridge at the end of the lake, and arrived at a public park.

thumb_IMG_0754_1024.jpg

It was packed with the after-work crowd. Sammy's friends were drinking a magnum of rose. Everyone was wearing Rolex watches. Sammy warned me not to leave my bag out of sight, though it was full of fashionable people, there were always purse thieves about in Geneva snatching bags from restaurant chairs. It was kind of funny that people were doing something that had long since died in New York, since no woman was crazy enough to put their bags on their chairs in the city. 

thumb_IMG_0756_1024.jpg

 

We laughed and talked for an hour there, then decided to go grab dinner at Entrecôte, the steak frites restaurant where everyone gets the same meal: endless steak, fries and salad. Sammy and I have only met a few times, but it was nice to get to know her better. 

The next day we had plans to swim in the pool with Alistair's brother and three-year-old son. Then that evening, Alistair took me to  a restaurant on the water for the Geneva speciality: filets de perche, little fish cooked in butter. 

Saturday Alistair took me to the Old Town, a neighborhood of Geneva known for it's medieval architecture, adjacent to lots of good shopping spots. We had lunch at Brasserie Lipp, sitting in the back garden. I tried to order coffee in French, but the waiter corrected me.

"In Geneva you do not say noisette, you say machiatto." 

I was served toast to go with my tuna tartare, but suddenly a waiter came by and scooped up the toast. 

"But she needs it for the tartare," Alistair said to him in French. 

"This is Lipp! She can't have cold toast, I'll bring back warm toast," said the waiter with a flourish. 

Old Town was so cute. We went to the oldest house in Geneva, now a museum, and toured it. I saw a diorama of Geneva's fortification system when it was threatened by the Savoy. We walked to the top of the Cathedral and looked down on the city's terra cotta rooftops. 

thumb_IMG_0787_1024.jpg
thumb_IMG_0783_1024.jpg

 

That night Alistair's mom had us over for dinner (she mad a burrata, tomato and basil salad that I have daydreams about still) and showed us photos of Alistair as a baby. She has a pet parrot who sat on her shoulder through the evening doing imitations of her "oh la la!" and the like. 

We had an early night, since we would be leaving the next morning for a five day tour of Switzerland and one night in Lake Como. There would be a lot of trains and cars and hotel rooms. Alistair had planned it so perfectly there were homemade diagrams for every train transfer. He knew the places well, and he was equally as excited. 

"Are we going to see something that looks like it's from Heidi?" I asked. 

"It's all Heidi," he laughed. 

The Weeklies: August 4 - 12

The Monday after our trip to Orient, Alistair and I had dinner with friends at Pongal. Like most of our party conversation in the last two weeks, we spent most of it selfishly answering the question: "So what are you going to see in Switzerland?"

Alistair was born in Geneva and almost all of his immediate family still lives there. I had met most of his relatives at a wedding in Whistler last year except Alistair's mom, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to travel to Switzerland in the summer, meet his mom, and make a vacation out of it. Alistair had planned a full tour of his favorite places (which on the trip we would call “The Grand Tour” and much later start calling it “The Lake Tour”). At dinner we excitedly described every stop, and I almost forgot that I'd be spending Wednesday morning seeing an old friend, and later in the week going to Montauk.

#

On Wednesday, August 8 my alarm clock went off an hour early. I rolled out of bed, threw on clothes, made it to the subway at 7:30 am. I had very important plans.

Some backstory: In high school I decided to join an online pen pal finder website. I started emailing with a girl named Noelle in Sydney. Every morning I excitedly powered up the PC to read an email from her. In college and adulthood we connected on social media but stopped our weekly emails. Early in summer my iPhone buzzed with a message from her: "She's coming to New York and she wants to meet up!" Alistair listened to me chirp about it for weeks.

Our schedules were both busy and she would only be in the city two days. An early morning coffee at Grand Central Station was the best option. I took my favorite walk through Times Square nervously tapping my fingers against my legs at the crosswalks on the way, starting to sweat. Meeting people in real life confirms the great fear that our online selves and our real selves are different. Knowing this, I worried that she would be disappointed in the real me.

When I approached our meeting place I spotted her instantly. She and her boyfriend were two of the tallest people on the block. She had light brown hair and tan skin with delicate freckles, looking like the photos I had of her from back-when. We greeted each other with a hug. Her boyfriend had a generous beard and shook my hand, saying: "When she told me about you I thought 'you have to meet her, this is so cool!'"

We walked to the underground food hall at Grand Central where we got iced coffees and found a table. We had so many questions for each other that the conversation flowed easily. I learned that she and her boyfriend had been traveling for almost a year by car through the US, making stops for two days before moving to the next place. They both worked for the Australian government in Canberra (with very nice vacation packages, obviously). She was surprised I remembered so much from her letters like her daily trips through the drive-in coffee shop, Gloria Jeans, or her fear of spiders.

“You remember that!” She exclaimed.

“Oh yes, you used to spray them with hairspray and run away.” We both laughed. After chatting for thirty minutes I glanced at my watch. it was almost 9 am and I would need to head to the office. I pouted, it was a shame that our meeting was so short.

"Skip work and come to the METs game with us!" joked her boyfriend. Oh, how I wished I could.

"We should get a photo!" Noelle said. We went upstairs to the main hall. It was rush hour, big crowds of people passed over us like waves, and in a clearing we took a photo. Then I walked them to their train uptown, they planned to see Central Park and take in a METs game. We said goodbye in the most New York waymy unlimited Metrocard swipped me through but her's needed a refill. We would have to hug over the turnstiles.

#

On Friday afternoon I left work and caught the LIRR to Montauk. I would be the last person to arrive among my group of friends, who were already at the beach drinking rosé and on their way to dinner. I felt like I was missing out on our typical routine: check in, Gossman’s Deck for lunch (sitting outside, even when it’s overcast), swimming at the hotel pool or Ditch Plains, dinner at Crowe’s Nest.

I got to the station near 10 pm. It was the first time I’d ever arrived alone, I got a cab driver (actually a duo of drivers, a husband drove while his wife yelled directions from the front seat). This time Kennedy booked us at a downtown hotel, “it’s close to everything!” she said. Part of me missed my usual hotel, The Montauk Manor, and feared what this new hotel might bring to a very regimented trip.

The girls left me a key at the front desk so I dropped my bags and lounged in the room. Around 11 everyone returned from dinner and we sat in the motel courtyard catching up. The main topic of conversation was the weather. On our last two trips it rained nonstop and a cold front blew in, we had to cancel our boat charter (the horror!) and relegate all fun to the indoor pool and rental DVDs.

There was some rain on Saturday. We had brunch and came back soaked from a downpour. Everyone began researching rainy-day options. We made a few phone calls but everything was booked. I made an uncharacteristic, executive decision: “we just need to start drinking,” I said and walked with Kennedy to the wine store to buy two bottles of Hamptons Gatorade, aka, rosé .

I realize that everything I’ve just written makes me sound like an asshole. But living an ethical, moral life all of the year can get tiring. Always worrying if you’re supporting the right causes and businesses and tipping well, and calling your legislators, and making the right decisions 24/7 feels like fucking work. Sometimes I want to forget the man and be the man. That’s why I go to Montauk. To forget the disparity and live like the ignorant.

We drank rose until 5 pm, when we dressed and headed by car to the Crowe's Nest. As always, it was beautiful, decadent. I wait all year long for that one moment where we pass the dining room and jog down the steep, grass-covered hill behind the restaurant down to the water and the sand. I wait forever for the sunset, that sunset. I always wish I could take my family there so they can see it. It's really a special place.

We had a drink by the waters edge followed by a long meal in the dining room. The plan was to return to the hotel, then go out for drinks.

"If we go home then we're never going out," I said. "I know this from past relevant experience."

And of course, we were in bed by 11 pm. We never made it to location number two.

The next day the sun came out. We all went to the pool for a few hours and then walked to the beach. I burned myself in the sun but generally enjoyed the feeling of heat on my hair and shoulders. We shared another bottle of rosé .

We walked to Sloppy Tuna for lunch, a local staple that turns into a raging nightclub in the evenings. We always avoided it on past trips because the local, year-round Montauker's told us it was gauche. Let's be honest, we all wanted nothing more than the favor of the local, year-round Montauker's. Kennedy had gone earlier in the month and liked it and convinced us to try it. I had a margarita and fish and chips on the upstairs patio. Near five o'clock we gathered our things and took a quiet ride to the train station. 

After a three hour ride home I went straight to Alistair's apartment. We had dinner and nailed down the last few details before our Switzerland departure. He already had a suitcase open and ready on his bedroom floor. I could hardly believe it was time. 

The Weeklies: July 28 - August 3

My first week of August was reserved for two things: parties and real estate envy. Early in the week Alistair invited me to the going-away party for an ambassador. We had raclette on the roof of an art institute in East Village, and ramen afterwards. I knew we were walking into a few busy weeks -- North Fork, Montauk then capped by a week and a half in Switzerland. I wasn't a good dinner partner that night, I was ticking off my errands and whining that everything would not be done. 

I was right to worry. I ended up in a Duane Reade at 11:30 pm that same night buying stuff for the weekend away. I packed my weekender with a few outfits and fell into bed at 2 am. 

The next day after work Alistair picked me up in a rental car and we headed east to the North Fork. A friend was celebrating her fortieth birthday at her beautiful beachfront home in Orient (where we stayed Easter weekend). But first, we would be seeing other friends on Shelter Island. As we pulled into the lawn of the twelve bedroom, two-winged house, real estate envy, which normally feels like a hot steam, escaped from my ears. (This would continue to happen for at least a few more weeks.)

That night our hosts cooked us dinner on the grill and we talked till midnight about current events and culture. The next morning after breakfast we swam in the heated pool while it drizzled. I took a shower outdoors, then we had lunch at the yacht club. 

In the afternoon we took the ferry back to Greenport and checked into the hotel the birthday girl booked for us. My confidence plummeted that night when I changed clothes for the party. I disliked everything I packed and felt quite ugly in the mirror. Alistair had to put up with my grumbles and nerves as we arrived. For me the worst part of parties is the arrival—getting a chair at a table, remembering the names. I was as underdressed as I feared but after the first hour and a drink later, I felt more easy and relaxed. When I grew anxious, I looked to the horizon line and made a comment about the view.  

 

IMG_0703.jpg

A chef made lobster and corn on the cob on a gigantic grill on the beach. The birthday girl gave a speech and then everyone was handed ice cream cones, and danced on the deck till midnight. I offered to take two of the party guests home, and on our walk to the car, we pointed up at the moon sitting low in the trees. 

The next day Alistair and I returned to the city around 4 pm and had dim sum at Tim Ho Wan. That night at my apartment I dropped my overnight bag from the weekend on the bedroom floor. I decided to barely unpack it; I would be going to Montauk the very next weekend. 

A palette cleanser, if you will allow...

So the weeklies these next few weeks are very un-weekly, so while you wait patiently, I thought I'd remind you of all the thrilling posts in my archives. Take your pick, they're carefully curated by what you're in the mood for: 

 

I want to read about travel and adventure!  (Or, I just want to see pretty pictures.) 

  1. That time I randomly went to Shelter Island with a boy I hardly knew. (Spoiler: I didn't get murdered.)
  2. Seven Nights in Hong Kong -- hiking, eating, exploring. (Part one, two, and three.)
  3. My trip to Las Vegas. Strippers, nightclubs, canyons, Hunter S. Thompson. (Part one, part two, part three and part four.)
  4. Living out my "Vertigo" dreams in San Francisco (Part one and part two)
  5. Hot Springs, and Mountains and Bears in Colorado.
  6. My first trip to Montauk and the one trip that made me fall in love with it.
  7. Paris and London the second time around
  8. Coronado, California and Boston, Mass., briefly.
  9. Newport, RI

 

You're annoying. Here's further proof: 

  1. My love triangle. (Yeah, you read that right.) 
  2. Ye old bucket list

 

I'm going on too many first dates. Honey, you ain't got nothing on me. These posts are one-tenth of one percent of first dates I've been on...

  1. My date with a prominent New York birder
  2. My MET Museum date.
  3. Dating men with cars and men with dogs
  4. A sad, "I was ghosted," post.
  5. That date with the famous photographer at my favorite bar. 
  6. How (most of them) take their drinks. 

 

I want to read about Mobile or, at least see some good photos.

  1. A frustrated take here
  2. An essay from my high school days when I used to ride horses
  3. A Christmas trip.