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.

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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.

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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.”

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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. 

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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.