If you’ve followed my writing here and, before, at my Tumblr page (which is dead and buried, though I have the archives) you should know that mountains move me. I grew up in flat Florida and constantly read books set in big mountains. I love looking at pictures of mountains. I love being on the Blue Ridge Parkway and staring at the mountains. Beaches are nice. Lakes are cool. Mountains are my thing. They just move me.
Several years ago, I kept seeing photos from the Alps that just blew my mind. I thought that, one day, I would like to see them with my wife. Then, after some thought and some inspiration, I decided to stop just wishing that could happen. I decided that it was important to me to have memories with my wife, both mundane and special, at the end of my life. I decided that I valued this specific thing and really wanted to make it happen. One big trip with my wife to see the Alps. So I started saving. Every month, I’d put cash in a plastic bag. I’m not a good saver, so I figured the money would be safer in cash form than in our bank account. And after a few years, my bag was full enough. We went to Switzerland.
I have lots of thoughts about various things from the trip, so I’m just going to bullet point them. They are a mixed bag. You can ignore this post, skim it, or reading it top to bottom. Your choice.
-Switzerland is beautiful.
This is not a controversial opinion. You can Google image search the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland and feast on the photos. They’re real and the place is real. The beauty is towering and relentless and absolutely breathtaking. I cannot post enough pictures to make you feel what it feels like to stand underneath the Eiger and the Jungfrau. It’s vibrantly green and large and sharp angles and tranquility. It’s incredible.
-Switzerland is expensive.
Specifically, the food in Switzerland is stupid, stupid, stupid expensive. I was warned about this, but there’s really nothing that can prepare you to pay more than $25 a person for a nothing-special dinner at a restaurant or $3.50 for a bottle of Coke. I was warned repeatedly of this phenomenon, which is why we stayed at AirBnb places where we could save money by cooking many of our meals. But good gracious. Everything is so stinking expensive in that country.
-I do not feel cheated.
After saying how expensive everything is, I feel that I got value for my money. Because of point one. I don’t regret it.
-Swiss public transportation is amazing.
I really like train travel. I wish we had it all over the place in the US because I would absolutely use it. Swiss train travel is… the best. The trains would leave exactly when they were supposed to. Like to the minute. All the time. Every time. Well, ONE TIME in 9 days, the train was late. But only once. And I think it really annoyed the operators. I loved their public transport system.
-There are a lot of Asian tourists in Switzerland.
This is a weird thing to comment on, I grant. But it was just something I was quietly surprised by. I heard so many different Asian languages being spoken. There were so many Asian faces. I liked it. Well, except the large tour groups that were loud and bullrushed every line, but I don’t like ANY tour group that does that, no matter their country or region of origin. Anyway, A LOT of the world’s population lives in Asia and we rarely get to experience that where I live. Asian-Americans are a very small minority in my country. It was cool to be somewhere where that wasn’t true. I remark on it only because I was surprised by it.
-Drinking a cold beer at a hut after a couple hours of hiking is great.
I know why we don’t have more intrusion into American trail systems. We want to maintain total wilderness experiences. But that’s not possible in Europe, where every inch of space is getting used up. And there are perks to that. Including cold Swiss beer immediately after you’ve finished hiking. It’s wonderful.
-Running through airports to make connecting flights is really lame.
We did it going and coming. I almost had a heart attack or stress-puked or both. We barely made both of our flights. I can’t write any more about this because I’m going to stress-puke some more if I do. We made the flights, though.
-Related point: French passport control is stupid.
But seriously, all of Europe was filing through precisely two passport gates out of the available 10. And the guy doing the stamps seriously deadpanned his sarcastic answer to a simple question from my deaf wife and I wanted to throttle him as she was totally confused. Since, you know, she couldn’t HEAR the sarcasm. His awfulness was balanced out by the nice lady at the airport that pulled us out of the giant line and brought us to the front because she saw my wife was pregnant. She redeemed the entire nation of France for me. That guy needs a beer mentioned above, I think. Or maybe just the beer stein to the head.
-It’s fun to be married and not to have to take care of your kids.
Married and dating people who don’t have kids: Your relationship struggles are real and they are hard. But you are living the life. It was cool to be adults together and even put ourselves down for a nap whenever we wanted.
-We missed our kids.
Not paralyzingly so. We just were reminded that we really love our kids’ personalities and they add a lot to our lives. Did I wish we went on this trip with them? No. Not at all. Did I wish I could teleport them over every other day and then send them back? Maybe that would have been ok. I definitely would love to be able to do this kind of thing with them in the future. They are cool people and I like them.
-Swiss wildflowers are gorgeous.
The mountains are great (see point 1). But an underrated slice of delight was the wildflowers that peppered the entire landscape. I really like flowers, so seeing this little gems everywhere was truly magical. Considering how cold it gets there, it’s really amazing how prevalent these beautiful, vibrant flowers are.
-Swiss chocolate is legit.
Like, for real. It’s really good.
-Culture shock is a thing.
We changed towns after a few days because the first town we stayed in was too expensive to spend all nine days. So I found a town that served as a good travel base that nobody really goes to. It was bigger than the village we were in and they don’t really expect tourists. Nothing was really translated. It was so jarring to go there and be reminded what it feels like to be the outsider. I hadn’t felt it so strongly since the first trip to the grocery store when we moved to Cape Town. It took a day to swallow that feeling down. It’s fine. It’s even good for you. It’s way harder when you’re living it and not just vacationing in it. But it was a reminder of how real and tough that can be. It made me think of the neighbors that I ignore because they don’t speak English. They’re not suspicious or stupid. They’re functioning in a world that is flowing past in another language. They need a smile and a greeting, not another cold shoulder.
-My wife is a champion.
Erin has just entered into her fourth third trimester (if you understand what I mean). We thought there wouldn’t be a fourth. We felt sure we were done with three. She flew across the Atlantic Ocean with me. She hiked twice a day with me. She adventured with me. All with another human growing inside of her. Traveling isn’t really her thing. Mountains aren’t her thing like they are mine. This trip was all me. I didn’t take her prisoner or anything, but she never would have done something like this. In many ways, she did this for me.
In two weeks, we’ll celebrate a decade of marriage. This trip was to celebrate the fact that we have not murdered each other in 10 years and the fact that we are excited about 65 more years of this trip together. I had so much fun with my wife. Yes, she pisses me off sometimes. We are very different in so many ways. But I don’t have fun with anyone like I have fun with her. We were friends before we were lovers and I am so glad that I get to spend so much of my life with my friend. We just had fun together. And she was so tough, so strong for this whole thing. I mean, yes, she would instantly sleep on every single train we got on (like, seriously, she could not keep her eyes open. They drugged her.). But she would blast up hills and run off to hug cows by the trail and Instagram the bejeezus of it all. I’m so impressed by my wife. So amazed by her. And I’m so glad that we put this in our memory bank together. At the end of my life, I want to have a million memories with this woman. And there will be more important memories than this trip. But I’m glad this is in our tableau. She’s more important than Switzerland or that dream that we crossed off the list. We’ll do a whole lot more together and she’ll always be more beautiful than that place. Her smile outshines the Alps.
But those mountains sure do make a nice frame for it all.