Switzerland began with another train journey, a long one. I farewelled Julian and left Auch on the 7.30 train and pulled into the station in Lucerne three changes and almost fourteen hours later, just after nine pm. It was a pleasant enough ride, lots to see through France, particularly tripping over a flooded landscape where fields were submerged, fiery autumnal trees spiked up from brown water, and isolated cottages rose like ghost ships out of apparent lakes. It was dark by the time I was cruising through Switzerland but it was also apparent I was in a different place, a long way from the placid south of France. The view from the train showed lights arrayed on slopes and around lakes, and there seemed to be a lot of people working late at the office buildings we were passing. The stereotype of the Swiss-German work ethic is very true; and sure enough, the trains did run on time.
Through the journey I read from cover to cover Herman Hesse’s 1920s work ‘Siddartha’, a distillation of Eastern philosophy into the form of a novella, along with explanatory notes from some bloke who prepared the Picador edition I was reading. It was a great read, and I must make due shout-out to Aaron Andrews who made the trade – I think I got the better part of the exchange, coming away with Mo Yan’s satire of Chinese culture ‘The Republic of Wine’ and ‘Siddartha’ while he had to walk off with Edward Rutherfurd’s history lesson/potboiler ‘London’. Sorry about that.
(Now’s as good a chance as any to mention the way reading is so huge in backpacker culture. Everyone reads and talks about what they read and trades old books or simply gives them away – a finished book is just dead weight, after all. I have been consistently surprised by the kinds of books getting read. They don’t tend to be the ones on the bestseller shelves of your local bookstore. Instead you see a lot of classics – I’ve seen Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald… and a lot of more modern works, but ones off the beaten path are fairly common. Lord of the Rings has finally disappeared from the circuit, apparently, I’m told it was what everyone was reading nine months ago. Harry Potter still turns up now and then. Anyway, there’s no real point to this aside, except to say that everyone reads, and they read interesting stuff, and it’s all good.)
Right, where was I. Oh yeah, Hesse. Well, he was German, but he ended up in Switzerland. So there you go. It was even relevant.
I was met at the platform by Craig Duncan. He’s another old friend, one I met on the same first-day-of-intermediate-school that provided my first meeting with Leon, travel buddy on the first part of this mission and again through Portugal, and Adrian, kind host on that first anxious night in the northern hemisphere two and a half months back – a fateful day indeed. Craig is now living with his partner Marcel, who is Swiss, here in Lucern He’s currently teaching hotel management law at a hotel management school but as I understand it other opportunities are appearing all the time so I don’t know how long that will last. He and Marcel live in an enormous, beautiful apartment in Stansstad (I think that’s the spelling), a short car journey from the Lucerne train station. To my eyes they seem pretty well set up. I’m told they have a great view of the mountains but it has been foggy, but still scenic with the nearby craggy hills, and the lakeside just a short walk away – this is very nice indeed, especially with the fog drifting over its surface and obscuring its far side.
I’ve been here a full day now, and apart from a bit of walking about the neighbourhood I haven’t done much – most of today was spent in intense catch-up/discuss Switzerland mode with Craig. Nevertheless I can pass on some things I have noticed about this country that differentiate it from all the others I have been in since leaving New Zealand:
* no dog-gifts in the streets
* no-one asking me for money
* some evidence of driving laws
All of these are changes for the better.
Right now I am stupendously full after eating an enormous plate of food prepared by Marcel. I will sleep this off in the room I have all to myself in a comfortable bed with a fogged-out view of the mountains, and the only unnerving thing will be the full military kit, rifle included, sitting next to my bed – Marcel is off to military service on Monday.
I’ve never shared a room with a rifle before.
Shout outs to Luke and Sam, who got married on Saturday, and Dan and Chrissy, who did the same thing on Sunday. Hope the days were, respectively, a blast and a blast.
And to Julian, my kind and generous host in Auch, who for some reason walked me to the train station at 7 in the morning. Cheers.
And to Tintin.