Back From the Land of Dick-wiltingly High Prices!
Switzerland was great, in no small measure due to the fact that Girlygirl's aunt lives there and not only put us up for the week, but also plied us most heavily with very fine wine and delicious food.*
I may yet write something more extensive about the trip--in fact I'm sure I will, but I'm not sure I'll post it here--but in the meantime, some observations will have to serve. Note that CH stands for something akin to Helvetic Confederation, and it's apparently the official name for Switzerland. It is also much, much shorter, and has fewer z's in it, which makes my left pinkie happy, so I'll be using it a lot.
Switzerland is amazingly beautiful. It's just like the pictures, or even the intro to The Sound of Music
**. Everywhere you look there's some stereotypically cute house or chalet or rustic shack, green fields, aspen and beech forest, wintergreen-lifesaver colored lake or snow-capped Alps, all accompanied by the gentle (and occasionally not-so-gentle) clonk-clonk of the ubiquitous cow bells. CH meets pretty much every expectation you're likely to have of it, unless you're expecting something more like Hawaii. While you can't get anything approaching the experience from a postcard or picture-book, you could easily get the idea of the beauty of CH that way--it looks like that everywhere.
Switzerland is spotlessly clean. Not only were all the bathrooms I visited practically clean-room sterile***, the rest of the place is tidy and picked-up. I'm a total anti-litter type--I was constantly filling my own pockets and my mom's purse with my trash, even as a small child, so it was refreshing to see a country where people take not littering seriously. They have people who work to keep things clean, but I didn't see one person purposely throw trash where it didn't belong, which was amazing. It was quite disappointing to come back to the amount of litter here, and see more than one person throw their trash on the ground in just my five-minute walk to work today. The Swiss know where it's at when it comes to keeping things clean, no doubt.
Switzerland is amazingly expensive. Our usual thing on trips is to just assume there's a one-to-one correlation between local money and Silver Spring dollars. Given that DC is a pretty high-ticket place to live, it usually works out fine, and in the US it even seems amazingly cheap to go on vacation. But in CH, even though the franc is only good for about 83 cents US, things are really
spendy. Like 40-francs-for-a-fucking-t-shirt spendy. Since we were saved from the really crushing cost of putting a roof over our heads, I could live with it, and figured I was probably just paying for the scenery and cleaning crews.
Switzerland is clever. Because the country has had so many people living all over it for thousands of years, the place has got things pretty well worked out. Every spot has a purpose, and is carefully groomed to serve that purpose. All very tidy and precise. You know how in the US we plant things like alfalfa in the spring to put away to feed horses and cows over the winter? In Switzerland, they have fields of regular old grass for this purpose. They let it get tall and go to seed, then they cut it down and bale it for later use. With alfalfa, you get one harvest a year. With grass, which the cows like just fine, I assure you, you get something like five harvests a year, more if you have a nice spring or fall. With land at a premium, I guess you think of things like that so you can get your winter's worth of fodder out of an acre or two of land instead of 5 or 10. This is just one example. Too bad we don't think like that around here, if you ask me.
Switzerland is participation sport mad. You name it, folks are doing it--we watched something like 100 skydivers in a single day from Audrey's patio, saw people hiking on pretty much every trail within eyeshot, saw dozens of professional-looking cyclists every day, and could have availed ourselves of pretty much every outdoor activity you can think of any day of the week. Needless to say, a diet of sausages, cheese fondue, raclette and croute au fromage**** is OK when your populace must log something like 10 hours a week exercising.
Switzerland is just a little bit smelly, but in a good way. In a land where the national dishes all heavily feature cheese that smells a bit like a diseased foot or sweaty ass, there's a major funk in many restaurants. Some places even banish these dishes to their own dining room, so mighty is their nasal assault. But let me tell you, this cheese is something else. If you like cheese, this is a great place to be. Unfortunately, because it's springtime, some parts of the country also smell like a slurry of cowshit and water, since that's what they spray on their fields for fertilizer. The stench doesn't last, but it's got quite the impact.
Switzerland is great, if you can afford it. You should go. Save up first, and find someone to stay with if you can, but do go.
Speaking French with a proper accent makes me feel totally effeminate. Granted, I haven't had any French classes. I'm good with languages, though, and can approximate the accent and picked up a few phrases. But I hardly ever said anything because I felt like a total ponce saying anything in that accent. I can't put my finger on it--there's nothing inherently unmanly about the French or even the Swiss Romande (the French-speakers in the area where we stayed)--it just didn't do it for me. I felt like a total sissy saying those things. I'm lazy about accents when I speak Spanish too, but if I take the trouble to say things in a good accent, I feel cool and manly, not like I'm inviting every man within earshot to find me a skirt to put on, and be quick about it! Perhaps I'll get over this, but I don't know--I've got to tighten up the ol' Espanol or learn some Italian before our next big vacation. Perhaps I'll leave French to the girls (or Girlygirls, in this case).
*In fact, she laid on the wine so heavily that even though she sent us home packing something like six fine bottles out of her extensive cellar, I'm probably off the stuff for a while. I like wine, and will happily drink it with meals, but starting in at 5 pm and going until 11 every night is a bit much for my inner (and frequently outer) beer-swiller.
**Is that Austria, actually? No matter--it looks like the beginning to that movie anyway.
***The Swiss seem to share the British respect for dump-taking privacy. In almost all instances, you get to make your humble offerings in your own little private room, with tiled walls and a proper door that completely fills the opening. I'll take clean over private any day, but it's really nice to crap somewhere that doesn't feel like a Marine Corps barracks latrine. I understand that for the military, the lack of privacy is about breaking recruits down to build them up or something, but I can't figure out why the rest of the US's bathroom facilities are equally humiliating. Especially when we're such assholes about showing tits on TV--the British and Swiss may be squeamish or even repressed about back-end emissions, but they're not shy about tits, and good on 'em, I say. For me, this is a win-win--tits on TV and private shitters. In the US you don't get either. Perhaps this is part of why CH is so expensive. Did we in the US trade televised tits (without all the fucking hoopla of the Janet Jackson flopper) and excretory dignity for cheap gas in some kind of Faustian bargain somewhere along the way?
****Raclette is a typically Swiss dish--it's basically a big block of white cheese under a heater--you scrape off a lovely gooey buttery knife-full, and spread it on a piece of crusty bread, maybe with some dried meat or sausage, and a pickle or something (if you've never eaten a cornichon or baby dill with strong cheese, go do it now. Really. I'll wait. Wasn't that delicious?) Croute Au Fromage is also very common. It's a piece of crusty bread with a little white wine poured on it, perhaps a slice of ham on top, and it's put under a broiler with approximately five pounds of Gruyere on top of it. It's a festival of fat, but oh, so delicious. Along with the cheese fondue, these three food items make up the "tourist menu" at every single sit-down restaurant in CH, so it's probably a dead giveaway that you're an auslander to order them at anything but the very best places that only locals know about, but they're popular with good reason, if you ask me.