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Report 236: Our Italian Sabbatical

By Trishmael from Louisiana, Fall 2003

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Page 2 of 10: Planes, Trains, No Automobiles, and Zurich on Jetlag

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Making Swiss Gumbo

Choosing precisely where to go was difficult at first, since there were so many places on both our lists. But we are slower-than-average travelers, so narrowing was necessary. After much ado and wanting to try weekly rentals, we settled on a week each in Florence, Proceno, Cortona, and Rome, with bookends in Zurich. We'd fly in and out of Switzerland and take the train to and from Italy.

We also decided not to rent a car. Part of that decision was the slower-than-average deal, and the fact that we are comfortable on trains and buses and walking, and not so comfortable driving. Anyway, who wants to be encumbered with a car in the city? Moreover, while it would be almost impossible to get around in the US using trains, it feels like part of the fabric of European life to us to use them.

For the most part, our transportation decisions were good, but next time we go we will rent a car for the weeks away from the city, just to give us more freedom and to get to some more remote places. I'm actually a little sad about this--I like not having a car, a cell phone, a computer while we're away, as much as I rely upon them at home.

At any rate, we flew from the small Baton Rouge airport (so much easier to negotiate than New Orleans) to Atlanta, then on to Zurich. The flights were on time and uneventful, and we both took Benadryl and managed to get a little sleep on the long flight.

My husband's best friend from childhood, Wyndham, lives in Zurich with his wife, Eva, and 2 children, Julian and Cayleen, so we went to see them. We were also able to use frequent flyer miles (finally!) for Zurich, but there was no availability for any flights in and out of Italy.

In the Zurich airport, we picked up our one checked bag and walked through customs without a hitch. This is always a little nerve-wracking for me, since I have insulin-dependent, Type I diabetes, and I wear an insulin pump and carry all kinds of druggie looking paraphernalia. Don't even ask me how flying was after 9/11. I was prepared with a letter from my doctor, but I didn't need it once the whole trip. By the way, the insulin pump, which I've worn for over 5 years now, makes traveling with diabetes so much easier. It allows me to be in control no matter what the circumstance.

After customs, it hit me that I had prepared so much for Italy but I didn't even know what the Swiss currency was! I guess I'd been thinking we'd have an English-speaking pal to tell us what's what. I forgot how tired we'd be upon arrival, and since Gary had made the arrangements with Wyndham, I assumed he'd figured out all we had to do to meet him. I assumed he'd pick us up, but he had work responsibilities so we had to get the train and meet him in town. We spent an hour stumbling around phoning, getting some money, figuring out the train--all without a word of German, no phrase book, nothing. It was no big deal, but next time I'll be better prepared.

We were instructed to meet Wyndham under the big clock in the Zurich train station, and I was relieved to find big clock and tall him easily. We sat down for an entirely necessary cup of coffee and despite the fact that I could hardly keep my eyes open, we launched right into discussing how Wyndham's ex-pat life was going and from that directly into national and international politics.

I had met Wyndham once before when he was in Baton Rouge for his father's funeral, but I did not know him well. He and Gary go all the way back to elementary school, and they have a way of always picking up just where they left off, taking the passage of 50 years and the thousands of miles separating them in stride. I wound up loving Wyndham's family, and Zurich was lovely if expensive (although I still couldn't tell you what a franc is worth in USDs).

It was raining and cold, and we walked to Wyndham's graphic design office which is in the center, and I was grateful for having packed light this time. Then we drove out to their new house, which is set in a suburb in the woods. They've only been in it 6 months.

A wake-up shower for me, plus repeated trips to their automatic espresso machine (which I grew to envy deeply) then Eva and Cayleen appeared (the son, Julian, was in France visiting relatives). Eva is from Sweden originally. They lived in Boston for several years, but moved back and settled in Zurich for work a year or so ago.

Cayleen, who is only 7, flips in and out of German and English with ease. While we were there, Cayleen had a series of playmates around, each of whom spoke at least 2, often 3 or 4 languages. When neighbors or friends came by, the mix of tongues spoken was dizzying.

Eva and Wyndham talked about how different it was to raise children in Zurich vs. Boston. In Zurich their 13-year-old son could get on a tram and go to the movies, hang around downtown; Cayleen could roam their neighborhood playing with her friends, all quite safely. Eva said that in Boston people kept telling her she had to monitor her children 24 hours a day. Part of their decision to move back to Europe was to have a place where the children could grow up to be independent young people without the culture of worry.

We went to a restaurant up in the hills somewhere--I don't know the name. It was in a park-like setting with giant black Swiss cows, a mill, and rabbit cages. I had a huge pile of autumn vegetables and nearly fell asleep into my plate. At 3 AM I was wide awake and spent a few hours out on a balcony inhaling Swiss air and moonlight and reading about Florence by flashlight.

The next morning Gary and I spent roaming the hilly cobblestoned center, which was pretty. We got lost and argued about it, both too jet-lagged to be able to read our map full of strasses and hauses and such.

We met Wyndham and had lunch at a lovely little place in the center. I'm afraid I'm not going to be much help on restaurant reviewing here. We weren't as "foodie" as usual on this entire trip, and unless it's stunning or bizarre I can't remember what I ate in most places.

We hung out in a park and talked a lot, went to a museum that had installation art on the theme of spirituality and nature--I'm afraid it wasn't very good--and stopped at the train station and bought our tickets for Florence the next day--around 300 USD or 384 Swiss francs. We sprung for first class and seat reservations on the Eurostar, since it would be a fairly long trip.

While I sucked lots of espresso down, that night Gary made a Swiss version of good old Louisiana gumbo (no okra or filet or tasso to be found, of course, so he improvised with some sort of Swiss sausage) for Wyndham especially who misses down home LA cooking. I was asleep by 9, up again at 3, and did more flashlight reading, wondering how long it would take my body to obey the local clock.

We left overcast Zurich the next morning, with sweet Wyndham running to the newsstand to get us the International Herald Tribune, and nearly failing to disembark before the train started moving. I think he really wanted to come with us.

My dear sweet husband slept through the Alps, but I was like a puppy with my nose to the window. We changed in Milan easily within the 20 minutes we had and were on our way to SMN Fierenze, where we had ended our last trip to Italy 3 years before and promised each other we'd be back.

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