There was no way in hell that I was going to spend a month away from home and you guys would not hear a single word about it. In fact, 3 weeks from now you’ll most likely be begging me to stop talking about it.
This trip changed me in more ways than I could possibly describe or convey to another person. It feels like a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I can see the world in more ways than I could have ever dreamed. Although this was not my first time travelling outside my home country of Zimbabwe, this was the first time I got to do it alone. With my parents sitting comfortably (or should I say anxiously) at home more than 10,000 km away, I was left without the usual cosy nest we call ‘parental guidance’. It was up to me to evaluate the options and make careful decisions. It was up to me to make sure that I booked the right train and arrived at the station on time and descended the train at the right station AND remembered all my belongings. Spoiler alert: I failed dismally at these 4 things.
It was a glimpse of what my future college life is going to be. Some parts of it look glorious: walking along the pier at sunset, chattering away with new friends in the park and discovering new parks and restaurants to visit. Other parts of it are unglamorous: scrubbing away at messes you’ve made, miscalculating your transport time and having to sprint for a train (I have calculated that you only make the train 4,87% of the time #alternativemaths), and the absolute killer: the persistent feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing. Much to my relief, I discovered that this a sentiment shared by several adults, the aim of the game is to be confident in yourself and believe that what you’re doing is right.
I could write for hours on end about my experiences, my mishaps and the lessons I’ve learned but I’ll be breaking those down in a series of posts on the subject of this particular trip. Today, I’d just like to give you a quick synopsis of the places I visited, the things I saw and the activities I did there. Are we ready? Let’s dive in.
1. Geneva, Switzerland
This metropolitan city remains my favourite in Switzerland. There is no shortage of things to do here. Most of my time was spent here, as I was staying with my aunt when in the city, and in hostels when in other cities. This was my third time visiting Geneva and it never fails to disappoint.
Lac Léman is stunning from all angles, but it is truly breathtaking when the Jet d’Eau is spurting water to a height of 140 metres (460 feet!).
Geneva is beautifully modern but also dedicated to sustainability. You’ll find several recycling bins, electric cars and bike stations around town.
Geneva is also the headquarters of the United Nations. The Swiss people are generally placid i.e. cool, calm and collected. They abstained from both world wars which is why they are notorious for being peaceful.
2. Montreux, Switzerland
Montreux is a resort town, known for it’s iconic Jazz festival in July (happening this week and I’m back at home!), the gorgeous views it provides of the Alps and Lac Léman, and the iconic Chateaux Chillon, the pinnacle of Swiss middle aged architecture.
3. Rome, Italy
Let’s take a break from Switzerland to talk about Italy for a second. Although the journey to the Swiss-Italian border is less than 2 hours from Geneva by car, the difference in the 2 countries is stark. I found Italy to be more fast paced, much noisier and more crowded than Switzerland. It all comes down to the culture and the people that live there, and one has to be able to appreciate diversity in order to truly enjoy the uniqueness and beauty of different cultures.
It was at this point that I was joined by my travel buddy Ruva; we were at school together for a year before she left to spend a year on exchange in the dairy state, Wisconsin, USA.
We only had a day in Rome so we visited all the typical tourist sites, the Colosseum, Gianicolo Hill & Torre Argentina. Torre Argentina is he place where Caesar is believed to have been stabbed 23 times by his closest friends, and is now home to a horde of stray cats- because birds of a feather stick together.
4. Venice, Italy
Upon arrival in Venice, we were greatly surprised to discover that there was not a single canal in sight.
‘But what about all the photos we’ve seen? Are we in the wrong place?’, we lamented. It was only later that evening during a frantic Google search at our hostel that we discovered that the canals are on the island of Venice, whilst we were staying on mainland Venice- known as Venezia-Mestre. Fortunately, the island was only 20 minutes away by bus, hip hip hooray!
Venice is all about getting lost, and get lost we did. Turning down side streets, dead-ends and walking into large open squares, I logged about 13km in my step counter that day. The island of Venice is wonderfully iconic with it’s flowing canals and traditional gondolas, but this is not a city for those of us on a budget. Trust that I will be writing a more in-depth review about Rome & Venice in particular, I think it’s important to present both the good and the bad to potential tourists.
5. Annecy, France
After a week in Italy (and over 50km covered by foot) we were knackered upon our return to Geneva. It was to be 3 more days before we hungrily set off for Annecy in France.
This city is picture-perfect, just like a postcard. With breathtaking views of Lac Léman and the French alps, this town is resort-like in its charm. We only spent a couple of hours here, but it’s bookmarked for my next trip to Europe, this town is like a magnet and something about is pulling me back.
6. Interlaken, Switzerland
La retour à la Suisse! This is where Ruva and I parted ways, her to Slovakia and me to Interlaken. That was incredibly disastrous for me as I fell asleep on the train, missed a connection and found myself in Zurich- more than 100km away! Although I am not one to shy away from adventure, the CHF66 (about USD68) dent that it left in my pocket was enough to frighten me away from exploring this particular city.
When I finally arrived in Interlaken, 3 hours after I was originally expected to arrive, I instantly fell in love with this city. The gentle looming mountains, the crystal blue waters of the lakes Brienz & Thun and the tranquil atmosphere of the city were all persuading me to stay. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was meeting my mother in Basel in 2 days time, I would still be there right now.
Interlaken is a city of adventure but with my budget cut short by the stern (yet friendly and helpful) train conductrice, I could only afford to ascend Schynige Platte and spend the day hiking the various trails there.
7. Basel, Switzerland
This sleepy little town didn’t give me much to see, but it was here that I was reunited with my mother after having been away for 3 weeks. We spent the afternoon bonding doing some much needed retail therapy before settling down to enjoy the sunset.
Fun fact: Switzerland is no man’s land on Sundays. Whether you’re in Basel, Geneva or Bern, everything shuts down on Sunday. Unfortunately for me, I was in Basel on Sunday. I don’t have much to report about this city aside from the interesting architecture and fascinating statues.
8. Lausanne, Switzerland
Lausanne is beautiful. I know this not from my visit but from photos. ‘But Andrea, why would you write about this city if you didn’t visit it?’ you ponder. The answer: I visited Lausanne on a rainy day when my camera battery had died (I left my charger in Geneva, how clever). Even under the dreary storm clouds, I could still remark on the stunning landscapes, rolling hills littered with neat rows of grapevines leading down to the omnipresent Lac Léman. Lausanne, I will be back for you, one day.
As we are approaching the 1500 word mark, this is where I shall end off for today. Fear not dear readers, I will be posting more detailed versions of my excursions to the various cities, this is merely a summary and a glimpse into what will come next. As always, I invite you to comment your own European experiences, travel stories from anywhere in the globe or opinions about these particular cities. Challenge me to a duel on the subject of the beauty of the Italian countryside (trust that I’ve been battling this out on Facebook already), lament to me about the misfortunes of travelling by train (seriously, it is not as easy as you think it is), or chatter away to me about the wonders of globe trotting! Question of the day: how does one deal with the millions of mementos that you inevitably end up with at the end of a holiday?
Sending you warm summery vibes,