Home Sweet Home
The rising July sun crawled up my back, warming the hairs on my neck as I lounged on my parent’s reclining patio furniture. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee intertwined with the floral scent of my Mother’s garden (that I once used to kick soccer balls through) as I admired the beautiful array of foliage, designed and cared for by her loving hands. The birds that teamed about in search for daily bread served as my companions, as my family and neighbors had ventured off like ants marching one by one to their respective cubicles, classrooms, corner offices and construction sites.
The caffeine coursing through my veins took affect as my mind awakened from its morning haze. Since returning from my inaugural trip to Haiti I had been able to enjoy a few days at my childhood home before entering further into the unknown – jet setting to Europe for a two-week, solo excursion. I felt an overwhelming desire to express the internal release of planning and control that was taking place in my heart and mind. To live one day at a time, moment to moment, minute to minute. My chosen outlet was a spontaneous trip across the pond with the fixed variables being my flights into Switzerland and out of London. Everything else; my itinerary, lodging and trans-European transportation was a blank canvas.
The Comfort of Fine Chocolate and Familiar Faces
With the decadent, rich milk chocolate from the polite Swiss flight attendant still dissolving on my tongue, the wheels of the Airbus A340-300 touched down at the Zürich Flughafen. I slung my inconspicuous, green L.L. Bean duffle bag over my shoulder as I walked through the pristine, showroom-like Zürich Kloten Airport. Low clouds hung over the lush and undulating landscape, the color of my luggage matched the rich sea of green vegetation seen through the spotless glass terminal walls.
The Swiss Federal Railway provided a swift, truncated tour of the north-central countryside as the train arrived on schedule in Zürich, a city known for its rich quality of life as well as being one of the world’s largest financial centers. I sauntered up the stairs to the main concourse of the Zürich HB, or Zürich Main Station, to meet a close friend from New York who was also trekking throughout Europe during her summer months.
Our eyes connected from a distance near our prearranged meeting point – a large clock, an apt locale in a country known for Rolex and other fine watch manufacturers. A grin broke across my face as I walked toward the single aspect of familiarity in the current scene. The flurry of European travelers in the terminal faded into a background of anonymity, contrasting with the confident, strong and joyful presence of this Texas native. After a warm embrace we grabbed a few snacks at a local market to satiate our hunger while we caught up.
Although I was looking forward to this unstructured adventure traveling abroad, a slight uneasiness had been present in my gut. The comforting connection and conversation offered by this Southern belle drowned out the nagging voice of fear whispering in the back of my mind, resulting in a newfound peace to continue stepping forward into obscurity.
Hospitality and a Home-Cooked Meal in the Federal City
A sudden, unrelenting rain storm ended our impromptu picnic along the Limmat River, dictating an earlier than planned departure from Zürich to Bern, the Bundesstadt, or Federal City. My fellow Manhattanite had arranged our lodging for the night in the modern, yet welcoming home of the family she had been residing with. The modest apartment melded cutting edge architecture and IKEA-esque interior design with the organic beauty of sprawling vegetation and flowering plants both inside and outside the home. The windows provided a delicate natural light, illuminating the dwelling’s vibrant color pallet that reminded me of a box of Crayola Crayons with its blue, green, yellow, orange and red hues.
Much like the residence, the Federal City had its own charming contrast. The Old City of Bern was embraced by the River Aare on its northern, eastern and southern borders, creating a natural protective barrier from its more modern 19th century expanded footprint. The background noise faded from the relentless rapid rushing sound of the Aare to the occasional whirring of electrical trams as we walked from the running path along the river to the cobble stone streets of Bern. The Swiss capital was quaint and alluring, with medieval covered shopping promenades, cafes and historical architecture. My favorite sight was the Zytglogge, a medieval tower built in the early 13th century, boasting a unique astronomical clock that could stand alone as a piece of art.
A hot cappuccino sealed a successful day of sightseeing and provided my feet and achy legs with a brief respite before returning back to the Swiss abode where I found my friend cooking dinner. As my nutritional sustenance was provided via Seamless and enjoyed at my desk over the prior three years, it was gracious of her to prepare our meal as my culinary skills fell more on the side of “cooking-to-survive” than executive chef.
While the final touches were being made to our feast, I arranged the table with three settings and uncorked a bottle of Pinot noir. My friend has a knack for making acquaintances wherever she goes, a trait which held true even in Switzerland – the third seat at the dining table was reserved for one of her climbing companions.
Discovering Similarity in Difference
The warm, home-cooked meal was made even more enjoyable with the engaging conversation and exquisite Swiss chocolate provided by our guest. Her generous heart, trusting openness and passion for adventure were intriguing, creating a magnetic aura that pulled us into deeper connection and unity. As we uncovered each other’s unique backgrounds, customs and dreams I was struck by the powerful affinity being formed through the genuine acceptance and authentic interest taking place over the clinking of plates, forks and knives, and the sharing of fine wine.
We capped off the night feeling like old friends as we joined in a few laughter-filled games of Heads Up!, made even more entertaining by the unintentional humor from the language barrier. My travels were already beginning to take an impromptu turn. Much like Albert Einstein formulating his theory of relativity while living in Bern, I expected my time in Europe to result in calculating the perfect equation yielding the most effective path forward for my life. Thus far my exploits were directed by and filled with relationships rather than individualistic mental mathematics, resulting in deep satisfaction and fulfillment despite the ambiguity of the future. Little did I know this unforeseen trend would continue the following morning as I departed from Switzerland.