Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pick a Place, Any Place

Conveniently, a close friend from high school is studying in southern England this term, so naturally we had to meet up. But not in England, strange as it seems. Instead, we picked a random spot on the map, closing our eyes and pointing our finger down on any old European city!

Our destination: Geneva, Switzerland.

I knew almost nothing about the city before flying over, except that it's surrounded by the snowy Swiss Alps that may or may not be visible depending on the weather. Surprisingly, I didn't even know Geneva was linked to John Calvin, the major reformer my college in Michigan is named after. It was quite an exciting find. Therefore, because my knowledge of the city was little, my expectations were low, and because my expectations were low, my reaction towards the city was out of controlI squealed and jumped like a child. 

Flying into Geneva, the sky was perfectly clear with a few wispy clouds, and the rolling hills alongside Lake Geneva were speckled with little villages and large castles. As a backdrop, miles of high peaks covered in thick layers of snow stretched into the horizonno matter which way the plane turned, the Alps were always in sight, surrounding Geneva on every side. Upon landing, the sunny sky proved to be honest with a heat wave of 60 degrees Fahrenheitthat's about the warmest England gets all year—so I quickly stripped off my coat, realizing that 5 layers was overkill, as Switzerland is not nearly as cold as the skiing advertisements make it look. I should have thought that through.

Tired from traveling, lethargic from the sun, and deprived of lounging, we (KJ, KJ's friend, Layla, and I) walked to a nearby park where we found a solitary stone beach covered with sea glassa wonderful resting haven. Just across the lake sat luxurious chateaus with large mowed lawns on the much-too-green-to-be-true hill, and towering behind were the snowy peaks, including Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in the Alps). The homes, we learned later, were owned by authors such as Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein, and today a few are owned by Arabian and Indian princes. To our right, hundreds of boat masts and tall French-style buildings lined the lake, wrapping around the end of the lake like a U, and shooting high into the sky was the Jet d'Eau fountain, famous for reaching a height of 460 feet into the skythough high, it doesn't quite compare to the 15,000 foot Mont Blanc towering behind. 

Being in Switzerland felt quite similar to France, as they speak French and use francs as their currency (France doesn't even do that anymore!) Even the buildings looked French with their delicate stone carvings and rod iron railings. But there were differences between the two countries: every other block there was an authentic Swiss chalet with elegant wood carvings, and sharp wooden roofs; the water was clear and fresh, and it wasn't uncommon to drink tap water--in fact, there were fancy drinking fountains on every street; and the chocolate was pure heaven, the aroma filling the streets from the surplus of chocolate shops. 

Chocolate is to Switzerland as wine is to France, as waffles are to Belgium, and as pannekoekens are to the Netherlands. 

In the three days that we lived and breathed the fresh Swiss air, we became quite familiar with the streetsthough a large city, it's not impossible to master by foot. But my favorite Geneva adventure took place on the  edge of the city limits (and outside the country, as we found out afterwards). Early Friday morning, we hopped on a bus that dropped us off in, what felt like, small town Geneva where the streets were empty and the houses had lawns and fences. Only locals were around. We set out along a deserted road following the rail road tracks where signs, written in French, pointed us towards "Telepherique du Saleve." We only hopped that meant Cable Car to Mountain Saleve, otherwise, we were hopelessly lostthe giant cables up the mountain ahead was a fairly obvious clue, though. At last, we arrived at the station where we rode way up high to Mount Saleve, just the 3 of us and the conductor, stepping out on top where the sun was hot and views were breathtaking.

We spent hours on the mountain, hiking along unmarked paths where donkeys roamed in the open grass and abandoned houses sat forgotten, and when the sun sat directly above us, we picnicked in the woods with a beautiful view of what we thought might be France. With a baguette, an orange, and a box of strawberries, we basked in the beauty of the Swiss mountains. Hours later, on our ride back down the mountain, my phone buzzed, and I noticed a serious of missed texts. The newest read, "Welcome to Switzerland. -T Mobil." A bit puzzled, I flipped down through the messages to the first missed text. It read, "Welcome to France."

So, as we sat with our bread and fruit earlier that day, gazing out at the France Alps, we were sitting on French turf all along, canopied by French trees as clueless picnickers. Life doesn't get much better than that. 

Geneva was beautiful: the city, the mountains, the lake, and even our hostel which felt like a mini hotel. If only we could afford it, we might have moved right in. 

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