The last time I was in Switzerland, Switzerland had won.
On my last visit to the land of chocolate and fondue, I was romping through Western Europe with my close friends and, as one traveling on a budget does, we had decided to visit the second most expensive country in the world where we planned to enjoy the scenery, eat some Swiss delicacies, relax and recover from the school year we had just finished in the states. We arrived in the Basel airport where we soon learned that the train tickets to our hostel would be replacing the dinner we had planned to have that night. While our wallets were considerably lighter, our spirit was no less diminished, so we embarked on a short hike up the side of a cliff where our labor was rewarded with breathtaking views. The following day we awoke at the crack of dawn hiked along a precipitous ridge-line connecting Interlaken to nearby Brienz and stumbled down the mountain after a 26.2 mile hike to realize that we had missed the last train to Interlaken for the night. After hitchhiking back to our hostel, we caught a few hours of sleep before departing again for Luzern, a beautiful city that perfectly blended its history with modern flare.
Though we were thrilled to take a break from activity and relax for a few beats, upon checking into our hostel, we quickly came to understand that the company’s IT platform had been down for a few days and the room we had booked months in advance was no longer available. Scrambling to avoid the rain we searched for a place to stay and came upon a website called couchsurfing.com where we contacted Jean, a french national with an affinity for peanut butter and American heavy metal. After arriving safely at Jean’s flat, we collapsed on his living room floor — tired, wet, cold, and hungry. We had challenged Switzerland and it proved to be a stout competitor.
Now, almost a year later, I am returning to Switzerland to redeem myself (and learn quite a few new things in the process). Careful planning and preparation for this semester abroad is the only means to a trip where I have a chance to gain some footing on the fine ledge between living abroad and surviving abroad. Hopefully, a year’s time will have been sufficient to plan for success in this remarkable country, and as the final hours to my departure tick away, I wait in anticipation for my chance to even the score.