Our flights were mostly uncomfortable, the day felt twice as long, and we were running on the fumes of the few hours of sleep that we had gotten in the prior two nights, but nothing could dampen the excitement of flying over new terrain that you know to be a world that would be new to the both of you. We landed in Zurich, Switzerland sometime around 8 AM on Friday. Our task now was to find the train that would take us to Bern, then to keep ourselves occupied until we would meet up with the Johnsons who were on their way from Germany. What we thought would be a minimum two hour train ride only turned out to be a half hour one. For about $100 Swiss Francs ($113 US) you would think that we would have been traveling a much farther distance, but this initial cost would hint at the high costs that everything in Switzerland would entail.
The were several highlights of Bern that day. One was the beach volleyball tournament that handed out the body wash and shampoo that I would use the rest of the trip. The train station had a very prominent Coke Zero promotion going on that whole day so anytime we needed a zero calorie, but tasty, pick-me-up all we had to do was walk through there. A public pool provided us with some shaded area and grass to perch ourselves, and a lovely lesson in how comfortable Europeans are with their bodies. Nicer still were the cobblestone streets, the gigantic cuckoo clock, local farmer's market, and the general taste of Swiss-European culture.
The arrival of the Johnsons was a nice boost to our travel-weary bodies. A family of 8 is always a spectacle in Europe as I would come to find out, but was an especially welcome sight when Amy and I had walked just about as far as we could walk while also not wanting to dish out more money just yet. With everyone together, we explored Bern with the help of Rick Steves. We went to the local cathedral and checked out the sights from up high. The warm weather left us desirous to jump in the river running right through the middle of the city, which was about when we realized that the locals commonly float the river as we saw some guys jumping off a bridge, the first one doing a backflip.
We left the city that evening to travel to what would be home for the next several nights. We had a lot of trouble before coming out finding a place that would not only accommodate 10 people, but also for a reasonable price. Given all of that, it shouldn't have been so surprising to find that our housing was everything that it was advertised as: a 400 year old farmhouse in a Swiss village not really close to anything. The ceilings were low. There would be no locking the front door at night, not just because the place was so safe, but because there was no lock anyway. But the place had its own charm and although we'd laugh about it for the rest of the weekend, it very adequately filled our needs.
The next day we visited Lauterbrunnen and took a gondola up to Mannlichen which is located up in the Swiss Alps. Before heading up we picked up lunch from a local Swiss grocery store. This place was so novel to me with all of its foreign (to me) products that I couldn't help but get excited about every item that I looked at. We eventually settled on salami and cheese sandwiches and a bunch of snacks that we had brought with us.
When I look back now on the pictures I'm still blown away at how amazing all of it is. From the peak we were on you could see down to some little Swiss villages, hear the clang of cowbells hanging from the necks of actual cows, and see the vast expanse of green lands and majestic peaks. It was really cool. What was supposed to be a 30 minute or so hike turned into a hike that lasted somewhere between one and two hours. I guess we were just enjoying the countryside from our perch on the side of the mountain.
Our last day in Switzerland was on the Shabbat. We made our way out to Church that day, I forget where, but on the way we found a perfect spot to get some pictures of the cows that we could hear off in the distance from our rustic farmhouse. (Church was in Lausanne). Finding our lady photographers a curious sight, the cars pulled over and the cows wandered right up to the fence and Lisa and Amy were able to get some really great close-ups. They both lamented having to get back in the car for Church, but somehow pulled themselves away.
Church may have been my favorite part of the day. We happened to be in the French speaking part of Switzerland and without any hesitation or prompting, one of the young men who had blessed the sacrament was translating all of sacrament meeting for us. I was just so impressed by him and touched that he would serve us so unflinchingly. During the meeting I heard an American name I recognized mentioned in a French accent. Not thinking I would ever randomly run into someone I know on the other side of the world, I didn't think anything of it, that is, until the end of the meeting when I looked back and it was my freshman high school English teacher whose father was in my home ward growing up. I couldn't believe it. We had some fun catching up, and then I started talking to one of the missionaries in the ward. He impressed me so much. His family is Chilean so we had a connection there, and then he was also from Southern California, so he and I both had a good little conversation.
Turns out vacation church is some of my favorite kind of church. It's just so cool making connections with people, new and old, and seeing how easy it is to connect with other people in spite of cultural and language barriers when we all have a common gospel connection. It's inspiring and fortifying.
Lunch ended up being hosted by a local gas station in Montreaux on our way to the Chateau de Chillon that sits perched on the side of Lake Geneva. The gas station food turned out to be some of the best we had in Switzerland. The Chateau was just gorgeous and fun to tour through. I loved hearing (or was it reading?) the stories about famous writers from previous centuries visiting that same castle. Lord Byron was so inspired by a prisoner's story that he wrote a ballad about him, The Prisoner of Chillon. I'm pretty sure I heard Victor Hugo's name at every place we went. That guy seemed to get around.
And we ended that night playing Dominion. Always Dominion. I love that game. Loved Switzerland. For Amy's pics in Switzerland and blogposts, go here, here, and here.