This Provincial Life

All right, I lied. One more post about Switzerland : ) Chandler and I were talking about stress today. And Leysin came up. How, despite the fact that Chandler was in grad school for the month we were there, it was quite possibly the most relaxed we’ve been since we met.

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And I know I had quite a few more reasons to be relaxed: I wasn’t in grad school. But somehow it was more than that. It was Leysin.

To be honest, we don’t spend a lot of time in small towns. Even in Ethiopia, my city had a population of three hundred thousand. My home town (population thirteen thousand) is probably the smallest place we’ve spent any real amount of time. And that isn’t exactly a fresh start – it’s tinged with all of my memories.

I don’t know if it was the size of Leysin, the remoteness of it, and most likely the lack of responsibilities, but it was a place we could truly relax.

I also got to do something I hadn’t done on the reg since I was a child: be around horses.

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Skip the Matterhorn and go to Sierre instead

After last week’s hiatus on writing about our European summer (but seriously, have you read Lindy West’s Shrill already???), I’m back and ready for one final post about Switzerland.

For our last full weekend in Leysin, we decided to get out of town for a day. We still had one more “free” day left on our Eurail passes and we were trying to decide what to do. We had heard of a wine trail that led from Sierre to Salgesch and thought a walk through vineyards would be a lovely way to spend some time.

Pretty soon there was a whole group of us from Chandler’s grad program and our casual wine tasting turned into an action packed day – complete with a trip to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn.

We were told that on Saturdays, many of the wine tasting caves close by 12:00 or 2:00 pm (not even open for dinner? Disappointing) so we decided to start the day in Sierre, hike up to Salgesch, and then take the train to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn in the evening.

Now, I do have to admit, these wine caves are fickle. Because we arrived in Sierre around 8:30, had a light breakfast, and then learned that the caves in town didn’t open until 10:00. Meaning some were only open for two to four hours.

We didn’t want to wait around for an hour, so we decided to start on our hike – there had to be plenty of wine along the way, right?

The hike got off to an incredibly breathtaking start:

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You could just imagine how good that wine was going to taste! Unfortunately, a quick stop in the Sierre tourist office informed us that while there are drinking caves on both sides of the hike, most of the vineyards along the trail don’t offer tastings.

That was ok, the hike was estimated at an hour’s time and then we’d be tasting away. And once again, the stunning views were plenty distracting:

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The thing was, one hour was slowly turning into two and there was still nothing other than grapes in sight. At one point, we were fairly certain they were even taunting us. Then, amazingly, around the next bend we saw winery with a sign advertising tastings.

The ten of us broke into cheers and made our way off the trail and over to it. Somewhere along the trail we had switched over from the French-speaking part of Switzerland into the German-speaking part. Luckily, one of our international teachers had taught in Germany a few years back.

She rang the buzzer and through the intercom was informed that yes, the owner was here, and yes, according to the hours listed the winery was open. However, as it was, he was upstairs and didn’t want to make his way downstairs. The winery would not be open today.

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On How to be Swiss in Zurich

I can’t believe how far behind I’ve gotten on these summer posts! It seems like once again school starts and everything else falls to the wayside. Perhaps my next few posts should be less chatty and more photo-filled. We all know a picture’s worth…

A few weeks into our time in Leysin we popped up to Zurich for a fast weekend. We didn’t have much time…Chandler had classes until early evening on Friday and had to be back by 8:30 am Monday morning.

But we already had our Eurail passes and I had a friend from high school living there whom I hadn’t seen in four years – our last sighting being happenstance when we were both vacationing in Rome, summer of 2013.

We made it to Zurich shortly before sunset and my friend’s incredibly kind husband met us at the train station and took us up to a viewpoint:

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It was a great introduction to the surprisingly small city and then we went for drinks, walking through Old Town along the way.

Instead of an up at ’em Saturday morning, we did something we hadn’t done since we started our European adventure: we slept in. And it was glorious.

My friend offered to walk us around the city, and after a quick train ride, our tour began. We saw more viewpoints (these ones filled with ingenuitive pigeons):

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And wandered along the banks of the river:

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Past churches with amusement parks set up right outside their front doors:

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And all the way down to the lake:

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We picked up some especially good chocolate along the way and ate it while soaking up the view (and the fresh air that we still couldn’t get enough of).

The whole day we had been contemplating a swim. The day was a bit warm by Swiss standards (though not nearly as hot as it had been in Paris), but we also had a time limit. Krystle had to get back for a performance that evening and Chandler and I had dinner plans at Hitl, supposedly the oldest vegetarian restaurant, open since 1898.

But, when you’re in Switzerland…

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Vegetarians eat ham, right?

Moving on from Paris, we made our way to Leysin via train. Now I have to say, trains are my favorite way to travel…to most places. We did take a pretty terrifying sleeper train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi back in 2014 on our way to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. I’m pretty sure I shared a bunk with a rat – a top bunk that I somehow got placed in even after paying the upgrade for the bottom bunk. So that train sucked.

But European trains are incredible. Especially when traveling first class, something we were forced to do when purchasing our Eurail passes. At the time, we thought the train passes were a little pricey – $812 for both of us to take trains on 5 separate days anywhere in France, Switzerland, and Italy (next year it will be $900, because I’ll be 28 and no longer considered a European “youth”).

After that initial fee, anytime you travel between countries you have to pay a reservation fee of $20-$50, it was starting to feel ridiculous. Until we traveled round-trip from Leysin to Zurich and learned that those tickets alone would have cost almost $800. That was when we realized that Eurail is actually quite reasonable! But more on that in my next post.

First things first, we settled into life in Leysin. Chandler had grad school classes Monday-Friday, usually from 8:30-5:00, with homework half the nights during the week. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of each other.

While he was gone, I was in my Swiss paradise. An Airbnb that was nice & cozy with a great view of the mountains.

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But as lovely as the apartment was, I didn’t want to spend all of my time there. Our first full weekend in Leysin (after Chandler’s first week of classes), a colleague from our school in Accra was in town on her way to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Another colleague from Accra was also in the program with Chandler and so the four of us set off on a morning hike.

Lazy things that we are, we took the cable car to the mountain peak and planned a hike that wound around and back down. I should also probably admit that the route was chosen very specifically because it passed a fromagerie that we had every intention of stopping in when we came across it.

The views from the top were stunning, but a bit limited due to the fog/clouds that surrounded us during our hike. That said, it made the temperature quite enjoyable for the four hours we spent strolling along.

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We finally made it to the fromagerie about two hours in and were pretty hungry. We looked at their chalkboard menu and one thing stood out: Fondue. But no matter what we said, they wouldn’t serve it to us.

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