I had never thought about Switzerland as a possibility nor a probability for visiting, but after making another workaway connection, I was headed there for August, to stay with another family. Landing in Zurich on 3 hours of sleep, I was excited; happy at the thought of seeing a familiar face.
The previous year my flatmate had her travelling Swedish friend from Switzerland, come and live in our lounge for a week. He was this ultra-cool Einstein-moustached Nord on a surfing and golfing world tour, who stuffed us with carbohydrate laden dishes and shared random conversations over vino, that made us laugh. As soon as I knew that I was to become a Swiss Miss, he reciprocated the hospitality lent. My timing was apparently nothing short of perfection, coinciding with Zurich’s most raucous weekend.
The airport ushered me through a maze of blinding fluorescent lights, wielded briefcase missions, and lengthy Germanic names. Reading the train timetable, I thought someone had coughed up a bunch of consonants onto the screen. It was too much for my untrained, exhausted eyes. I think I had bought the right ticket, and followed given instructions to the main station.
This is the part that I still wasn’t entirely au fait with, getting from A to B, when you’ve never been to the A or the B before. I still widened my eyes at the new surroundings and information, and stooped my shoulders in a form of protection. Even though I had been issued the simplest of directions, it had induced a mini mind-fart of paralysis… I was actually getting much better at this. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure as heck enables you to hone your skills.
My first impressions of Switzerland were highlighted by contrasts from whence I’d been. The streets were bountiful with lush greens and commuting bicycles, calmed by a silence and a soundtrack of an electric tram whirring. The ticket machine had made me reassess my strict budget. Interestingly, lying within this stillness of nature, was my introduction to what felt like the highest European population of smokers that I had encountered.
My stay was to kick off with a bang. Nord had taken the day off to organise his retro circus themed party. I helped sort, tidy, and decorate this fete; one of the coolest parties I had been to in my life. A hipster riverside venue with faded Addams Family styled furniture, dusty nooks, and beer smattered crannies. Beyond the coat rack and smoke furled din, our homemade big-top photo booth was jacked up on cinder blocks. Guests included an old-timey strongman, ringmaster, acrobat, and burlesque dancer unzipped from a gorilla hide; swirling around in a haze of stage performances and DJ decked sounds. I was envious of the costumes, for I love to dress up; instead I attended as the visitor who’d especially flown in for the occasion.
From under the safety of a Lego print duvet on the couch, I meekly tallied my sleep total for two days, barely enough to survive Switzerland’s national day with the cloudiness of a hangover. The evening was contradictory of the previous; a barbeque with young Swiss elites at a lakeside house. As the red and white cross flags flittered and sausages sizzled, I chatted to the higher society of life, concluding that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, there’s always an interesting story to be heard.
As you can imagine I was quite fatigued by then, so I left Nord to smoke cigars and imbibe 20 year old French red. The following morning his hangover didn’t really have time to sink in; he was off to a golf tournament and I, to immerse myself in the infamous Zurich Street Parade.
I was not prepared for this. Walking down to the lake the streets had become closed off to autos and made way for the groups, outfits, and stumblers cradling beer. A giant penis picked up something it’d dropped on the footpath.
The parade is an annual event where the usual silence is forayed by deafening costumes and noise, a weekend in Las Vegas mashed with the Hong Kong Sevens. It is essentially a convoy of ‘love mobiles’, trucks blasting beats and boasting dancers, cruising through crowds of revellers.
From midday it was a squish of drunken colour and dilated pupils. The doof doof vibrated my nostrils. Feeling a little awkward being on my own, I took some solace beyond the bridge jumpers, with a quiet beer. A young German couple took pity on the lone body occupying a bench seat, and shared their snacks with me. They told me about how they’d trained down for the event and that they’d bought their own food because Switzerland was too expensive.
Back in the pit of pumped up people, I was asked to take a picture of a guy to email to him, so he could send it to his friends. I was groped by some crazy eyes that wouldn’t let my hand go, and I was hit on by a topless 21 year old who slurred all of his English on me “I think….. you are…. the…. beautiful…. girl…. in…. world.” I became thankful for the crowd that slurped me up and spat me out, elsewhere.
I talked to a sensible German doctor, wearing earplugs. She appeared to be the only other sober one amid the mob. She explained that her friend had already gone home, as we watched a shopping trolley full of occupants keel over into a sea of plastic bottles. After seven hours of dancing, I was done, tucked up on the couch, fast asleep.
It was midnight when Nord arrived home. Our plan was to hit the after parties, but as we took sips of whiskey, he fell asleep. And I was thankful, because I didn’t know how much there was left of Party NJ, to give.
Sunday was our day of rest, which is hard to succumb to when you want to discover a new place. My eyelids kept slipping down like broken elastic socks. However, we met up with Nord’s friends at a café for ‘the breakfast club’, a chance to catch up on the retro circus party events. Through the window we could see a car with rousing occupants, parked in the piazza. Police with pencils scribbling on notepads, questioned the sleepy heads, who I suspected were still too incapacitated to drive; the aftermath of a street party night.
The rain fell out of the sky in big, sorry drops. Nord drove me out to my first taste of a Swiss village, the kind you picture in a children’s storybook with tall wood trimmed houses and bright floral window boxes. He’d taken his surfboard to ride the waves of the river rapids. It was a popular spot with wetsuits standing on a middle rock, taking turns to coast along the undulating current. I marvelled at this as an actual opportunity.
That evening we were to host a dinner, an amicable wrap-up of my time in Zurich. Being a Sunday only two supermarkets were open, so we wrestled our way around the bustling produce aisles, collecting ingredients and wine. Our family-style dinner with friends, followed by the guys pulling off a frivolous fashion parade, had me in fits. I admired their camaraderie; their pursuit to maintain contact often, amid their busy lives.
My weekend in Zurich was full of surprises and I was grateful to catch up with my new friend. At times we’d look at each other and marvel “I can’t believe that you’re actually here!” And that to me is the beauty of travel, making long-lasting connections here and there.
I left to the countryside, anticipating adventure but happened upon some self-discoveries, a most interesting turn of events. Until then, X