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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.  

 

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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.

The Weeklies: July 22 - 28

There is little to report on this week. I was busy with work and ticking things off my long pre-vacation to-do list (read: logistics and lots of self-loathing while trying on bathing suits). I spent a lot of time wondering if and when I'll be able to write The Weeklies while I'm on several back-to-back mini vacations before one big trip. Ideally, I'd send rough notes from the field with beautiful pictures and then after I return, flesh out everything for you in a series. I'm not sure if it'll work, but I'll try. Then the week of September 1 we'll be back to our regularly scheduled posts. 

Not to plug in such a boorish way, but of course they'll always be lots of nearly-real-time video over on Instagram (both stories and posts) in less than a week: @arieldavis

Till then. 

The Weeklies: July 14 - 21

Back in 2010, while working as a receptionist, I met a girl named Susan. She came right off the elevator to my desk and introduced herself. She was there for an interview but instead of sitting on the couch she stood by my desk and chatted with me. I learned she'd just been laid off of a previous job. 

"Oh my gosh that's awful," I said. 

"It's OK," she said. "I just called everyone I knew and started going out to coffee with people and now I'm here." 

A few weeks later she appeared again at nine am.

"Did you get the job!?" I said, feeling fully invested in her journey

"I got the job!" she exclaimed and did a little dance. I was promoted and became her counterpart on the corporate side, which meant we worked closely together for the next three years. We learned to help each other out, picking up tasks for each other where we could. 

In the winter of 2012 I was having a tough time in my personal life and work was stressful. One evening the office emptied early for the company Christmas party so I hid in a bathroom stall, crying. I heard the door swing open and peeked out, it was Susan, she could see I had been crying so we talked for almost an hour. She was so nurturing and kind. Her advice made me feel better. 

"But I'm not going to go to the Christmas party," I said. 

"I'll go with you, we can walk in together," she said. "Come on, you deserve it! You worked so hard, please come." 

So we went. 

Eventually, Susan got a job at another publication. A year later I saw her at a birthday party. We started talking about our passions vs. our day jobs. She was writing a pilot for a TV show. I told her about how silly I felt about my blog.

"It's really nothing at all," I said. 

"But it's your art," Susan said. "don't ever feel bad about your art." 

I remember that conversation every time I sit down to write, and at cocktail parties where people ask me if I consider myself a writer, whenever I feel bad about sharing my posts on social media. It's the one thing that's kept me going. 

Last Tuesday I found out that Susan died of cancer. She was in her thirties. 

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I was up and down this week, obviously. I had happiness: laughing with my friends, walking down the street holding Alistairs hand. I also had the opposite: a death of a former coworker, crying during a spa facial, lots of tears.

Earlier in the week I did a Google hangout with my two friends Philippa and Suni (who both now live in different cities) -- always a treat and always too short. I spent Tuesday night seeing "Sorry to Bother You" with Alistair. I don't want to say too much because half the brilliance of the film is in the surprise, but it was amazing. It was so refreshing to see all my worries about society reflected in an entertaining way. I still can't stop thinking about it. 

On Wednesday I booked a facial at a spa. At 6:30 pm nervously fumbled my way from work to midtown. I don't feel completely safe being half clothed and poked and prodded. In two separate countries two separate masseuses told me: "you shouldn't get massages, you don't know how to let go and relax." 

A receptionist at the spa led me to the changing rooms. There was a fresh robe and slippers for me, and she handed me a towel for my facial. I looked at the robe and wrinkled my brow and the attendant assured me I didn't need it. She led me down the hall, of a common area and we passed four sets of blonde girls in their robes who looked at me in disapproval. I felt naked and ran back to the changing room to get my robe. When I rounded the corner to the locker room, I heard them laughing. 

"Did you see that girl without a robe?" 

It grew quiet when they saw me, I opened my locker and grabbed mine, and heard them snickering as I left. I was mortified.

I sat in a chair in the waiting room before my appointment and started to cry. I felt like I did in elementary school, and middle school, and high school. I couldn't manage to do the socially acceptable thing. I was always misstepping innocently but with much consequence. 

The masseuses were right: I don't know how to let go. 

After my treatment I shuffled slowly through midtown with a frown on my face. I passed two women in Times Square. They looked to be in their 60s.

"That's the thing about being in New York. I can't even remember what was going on at home..." said one woman. 

"You know, I can't even recall what was going on at home," said the other. 

I imagine that they were just like me, distracted? Hypnotized? When I descended into the subway station I too had forgotten the girls at the spa. All it took was a walk with new faces and big buildings. I sat down on the train and quickly jotted down what they were saying in my Evernote app. 

Philippa was coming for a weekend stay and arrived Thursday evening. On Friday after work I met up with her and Kennedy for drinks on the roof of the Arlo Hotel Hudson. We arrived right before sundown and everyone wanted a photo of the sky turning pink. We ordered a pitcher of froze and gabbed excitedly about the rest of summer. That night Philippa and I watched bad reality TV and ate cookies and chocolate. I woke up Saturday with a hangover. I spent the day at home. 

The Weeklies: July 6 - 14

Remember that week I had in spring? The week when New York was exactly the way I imagined? Last week, was much of the same in all the best ways. 

Wednesday Alistair and I planned drinks with a friend. 

"Where should we meet her?" he texted. 

"Top of the Standard?" I wrote back.

"That's a good one," he wrote. 

I took him there for the first time last year, on a whim (we needed to kill time before dinner and it was on the way). He loved it. If you've never been just imagine an indoor rooftop with glass windows looking downtown, and gold, jazz age inspired decor. 

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We met our friend, ordered a round and laughed for a few hours. It was just so nice to be somewhere I know. Our friend asked us what we had planned for the rest of summer, and I realized that my July and August were going to be packed: a few trips out to the North Fork and Montauk (my favorite spot), my Australian pen-pal from high school was visiting and we would meet for the first time, Philippa was coming to stay, and a trip to Switzerland, among other things.

The following day Alistair and I had dinner at Hanjan with his friends from out of town. After another night of laughter, Alistair walked me to my train through Chelsea. As always, when we parted and said goodnight, I didn't want to leave him. 

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For Friday night, Alistair bought tickets to a Bastille Day Ball hosted by the French Consulate. After work Friday we went to Times Square and met a line wrapped nearly around the block. There an hour long wait just to get in and I started to melt through my new white cotton dress. We complained with the people in front of us in line and decided that maybe it wasn't worth it, but suddenly, finally, we were inside. After checking in we were given French flag ribbons to wear on our wrists and guided to a basement room with a small stage and dance floor. There was a live jazz band and free champagne. We sang the French and American national anthems and everyone danced. We left after an hour to grab burgers nearby. 

 

After dinner we walked hand in hand down Eighth Avenue toward 42nd Street to wait for a cab. The whole week felt very romantic, very alive. For the first time in awhile I was looking forward.

The Weeklies: June 30 - July 7

Last week a New York heat wave continued. I stayed in my apartment all of last weekend, and on Wednesday had the day off for the Fourth of July. I watched TV all day and went to bed wearing ear plugs. Kids and families blew off fireworks until around 4 am. 

On Thursday morning I boarded a 1 train bound downtown. As I expected, it was empty. Everyone was still on holiday. There was a man pacing the train, yelling in monologue style to himself. He was angry at the world, his life situation. He was unemployed, recently released from prison, homeless. A woman switched cars and he lunged at her angrily. A man bumped him getting on another stop and he yelled at him.

"Look at me one more time and I'll kill you," he said, kicking in the air close to his face. A woman sitting down shook her head and he yelled at her, too. "Why do you look at me like that instead of trying to help me?"

"Because you have so much anger in you, you have to learn to control some of that anger to get where you want to be," she said. 

"No one here wants to help me!"

"I want to help you," she said, "if you'll calm down." 

"Get me a job!" he screamed. 

"You are a smart man," she said. "I'm sure if you go out and look you'll find one. We're all going through something. We're all worried about our jobs and our lives. We're all trying to make money." 

"How! How!" he screamed. 

"You should help me find a job," she said. "I'm too old, that's what they tell me." 

"I don't have skills!"

The argument escalated. He said that woman should hire men to do sexual favors (he actually said something worse than that but I'm feeling conservative today). I got out at 96 street to transfer, and a wave of people all went with me. On the other train, without him, everyone shook their heads. We all looked at each other as if we had escaped unscathed. 

I've had a much easier life than he does, but a lot of the time I write because I need to have that emotional outpouring that he was having on the train. I felt bad for him. He has needs that fall on deaf ears, and makes appeals to faces that are interested in their cell phones. 

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Thursday Alistair returned to town. We ordered in dinner and he told me about his trip to Switzerland. We had a lovely Saturday wandering around and having a long brunch at a peaceful restaurant (Otway). 

I have spent the last month resting and the month before that complaining about not resting. Things are picking up again.