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Switzerland and the Call to Europe

Summertime in Zürich

As a teenager, I could never have imagined that I would spend more than half a decade living on the other side of the world. But in the summer of 2000 my father would take us on our first-ever trip to Europe, traversing the breadth of Switzerland before heading onto Vienna and Prague.

Just recently I discovered my photo albums from that trip, hidden away in the back of a bedside cupboard. Flipping open the pages triggered a sudden flood of vivid, half-forgotten memories.

I remember Luzern’s Kapellbrücke and my first bite of rösti, the crispy Swiss potato cake and national dish. I remember the road trip to the Valais, via the northern shore of Lake Geneva and the medieval town of Gruyères. In that region we saw the dogs at Great St. Bernard Pass, rode the cable car to Rothorn, and hiked through alpine meadows brimming with wildflowers. I’ll never forget the sensation of dipping my fingers into ice-cold meltwater, tinged a subtle shade of pastel blue.

Our visit was made even more special by a handful of my father’s old friends; with open arms they welcomed us into their homes, packed with no shortage of good food and laughter. On such an occasion we were introduced to three of our favourite things: tomato and mozzarella salad, seasoned with olive oil and fresh basil; the Lebanese dish of ruz wi dejaj; and the competitive, fast-moving game of Ligretto.

Looking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder if that European summer would influence my eventual decision to pack up and move to that part of the world.

Luzern’s Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke)

Clock tower, Luzern

Inside Luzern’s historic centre

Gruyères, the town that gave the cheese its name

A mountain stream in the Valais

The Matterhorn, a.k.a. “Mt. Toblerone”

The view from Rothorn, near Zermatt

40 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sounds like an awesome family vacation! I love old photos- they have a completely different look to them… it’s also how I end up spending hours reminiscing instead of being productive 🙂

    April 21, 2012
    • It was one of the best family vacations – the only contenders were two to Japan (Kyushu and Kansai, both during Cherry Blossom season) when my entire family on my mom’s side rented its own tour bus!

      I know, right? And now we have Instagram to make photos appear as they once did…

      April 21, 2012
      • That sounds amazing- I still haven’t been able to make it outside of Tokyo during cherry blossom time! (those two are also my favorite areas of Japan)

        do you remember what kind of camera you used on your Switzerland trip?

        April 21, 2012
      • I used either a Nikon or an Olympus… but I have no idea what model it was!

        April 21, 2012
      • SLR? I really love the color, especially on the mountain photos.

        April 21, 2012
      • Oh no, it was most definitely a point-and-shoot!

        April 21, 2012
  2. Heather Wied #

    Reading this post was so bittersweet. I made the booming metropolis of Wislikofen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wislikofen) my home for a year. Seeing those pictures stings a little because I miss it so much, but it also makes me so thankful for my time there. Oh pristine, efficient Switzerland…

    Uni ha Heimweh nach de Bärge
    Nach dä Schoggi und äm Wii
    Nach de Wälder
    Nach de Seeä
    U nachem Schnee

    April 21, 2012
    • I love how you described Wislikofen as a “booming metropolis”, it must have been difficult to get a good night’s sleep there! 😉

      April 21, 2012
  3. Switzerland is beautiful! My husband´s sister is married to a Swiss and they live there – for us to visit occasionally.

    Beautiful photos and words – reminding of those days. Thinking of you finding those photos – isn´t it just wonderful to be so surprised and to be able to open up what´s been locked inside for so long? Discovering memories you almost thought forgotten…Pictures are indeed mind openers.

    April 21, 2012
    • My sister lives in Germany so I had the chance to visit a few months back – however I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as Switzerland, the people were not nearly as friendly!

      I completely agree – a photo can remind us of so much: a place, a particular event or time period, a memorable conversation… I’m still trying to track down my old pictures of Italy and Japan; there is so much I could write about on my experiences in both countries.

      April 21, 2012
  4. You definitely had a wonderful trip. 🙂

    April 21, 2012
    • Yes, I did – it was one of the most memorable summers I ever had!

      April 21, 2012
  5. usually our travel sighting to Europe include Switzerland. That’s amazing reading of someone on the other side, Thanks for your thoughts! I will think a bit before visiting small villages myself!

    April 21, 2012
    • You’re welcome! Switzerland is dotted with so many gorgeous towns and villages, I would love to go back one day!

      April 21, 2012
  6. Sounds like an incredible vacation!
    I hope to travel to that side of the world one day!!

    April 21, 2012
    • I’m sure you will. 😉

      April 21, 2012
  7. These pictures are so lovely! I originally come from north-west Italy and it seems like that stunning blue sky belongs to the Alps areas!

    It’s also great that this trip influenced your decision to travel later on, it’s such a great and beautiful way to learn! 🙂

    April 21, 2012
    • Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ve noticed the same trait in pictures of Nepal and other high mountain regions!

      April 21, 2012
  8. James, Switzerland has always been one of the countries that I want to visit the most. Every time I take a look at pictures of serene Swiss villages, majestic Swiss Alps, the lakes, the old town quarters, I always feel the ‘urge’ to go there. Did you also happen to take the Glacier Express?

    April 21, 2012
    • Switzerland can be expensive, but it is such a beautiful country! Both my parents spent some time living and working there in their 20s so I guess it was an appropriate introduction to Europe. I didn’t take the Glacier Express that time – we drove to the next town from Zermatt and then took the train from there.

      April 21, 2012
  9. Terrific photos and good memories. I think that’s a big part of the importance of photos when you travel. Without them we would forget so much more! Sounds like a great family holiday alright. Terri

    April 21, 2012
    • I agree, Terri – a photographic record seems to be one of the best ways to jog a memory. Truth be told, I don’t think I could ever travel anywhere without taking my camera along!

      April 21, 2012
      • When I travel, I hate to even put my camera away. Seems as soon as I get it tucked into the case, I need to pull it out again!

        April 22, 2012
  10. Your pictures are beautiful! There are so many more places around the world that I want to visit…..I will have to add Switzerland to the list. When I was in high school choir, our choir director was arranging a trip for us to go to Switzerland and sing, but then we had the 9/11 tragedy and we cancelled our trip for fear of getting on a plane. Maybe I’ll make it there, someday!

    And I LOVE the game Ligretto! My friend made a trip to Germany and she came back with a stack of Ligretto cards and taught all her friends how to play. It is so much fun! My husband and I bought our own Ligretto cards and brought them with us to China and taught some of the students to play. It’s all numbers and colors, so it easily transcends any language gap. 😀

    April 21, 2012
    • Thanks Rachel! I had a similar situation with Greece – I was supposed to go there in October 2001 on a school trip but it didn’t seem like the best idea after what happened. Even after all these years I’m still waiting to visit!

      Whoever invented Ligretto is a genius! It really deserves to be as popular as Uno. What a story – it’s great that you two are passing it onto your Chinese students! 😀

      April 21, 2012
  11. You took a great photo back then. Caprese salad is one of my all time favourites. I ate it for the first time nearly 40 years ago when I lived on the Amalfi Coast. I can also still remember my first blood orange. I was hooked immediately.

    April 22, 2012
    • I knew there had to be a name for that dish – thank you for the reminder!

      April 22, 2012
  12. Sometimes it is so amazing how photos can bring back the memories(things we thought we had forgotten) as fresh as in yesterday. Gorgous photos, James. I can’t pull me eyes out of the blue.Remind me of the Chinese phrase, “水天一色”. Impressive experiences packed with visual,hearing,touch and taste.

    April 23, 2012
    • I doubt most digital cameras these days can capture the sky with the same intensity. Thank you for such a lovely comment!

      April 24, 2012
  13. Lovely images James! I can see why this trip might have influenced your decision to move to Europe! We whizzed past Switzerland oh so long ago in an escorted tour in which we went to a lot of places but did not have enough time to SEE any of them, if you know what I mean. That trip spurred us to start traveling independently.

    April 23, 2012
    • Absolutely – someday you’ll have to return to experience Switzerland as it really is! I’m not at all a fan of those group tours which advertise “5 countries in 7 days”… it completely misses the point of travelling!

      April 24, 2012
  14. My parents brought me to Europe for the first time when I was 13. They started in Paris and that was it. I fell in love and promised myself I’d learn French and live there someday. That I did 8 years later during my junior year of college. there is something so utterly beautiful and romantic about Europe. I wish it wasn’t so expensive now but I’ll always love it and hope to go back.

    April 28, 2012
    • What a coincidence – I was also 13 when I had my first experience of the continent! A similar thing happened to me when I visited Spain in 2009; I just knew I had to learn Spanish after that trip. That eventually opened some doors and a year later I had the amazing opportunity to live there for 9 months. I get the feeling that you’ll bring your kids over there someday!

      April 28, 2012
  15. Thivany McAllister #

    happy to see that you made it to the beautiful country which I can call my home 🙂

    January 8, 2014
    • That was a long time ago though – I would love to come back sometime. 🙂

      January 8, 2014
      • Thivany McAllister #

        You definitely should. It’s unique, such a small country and I love living here. But nonetheless my biggest desire is to move all across the ocean and start a entirely new life. 🙂

        January 8, 2014

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  1. Bern: Switzerland’s picturesque capital | Plus Ultra
  2. GOOD LUCK

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