Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
Trip End Nov 25, 2007

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Flag of Switzerland  ,
Monday, September 3, 2007

I met Eva in Australia in late 2005 when she was working there for several months. We met at tango and I made it my duty to introduce her to some of the finer aspects of Melbourne life - oysters, champagne, sake, Japanese food, etc.
Once again, the fatal mistake was made of inviting me to visit, so here I am arriving in Zurich for the first time, looking forward to catching up with what's happened in our lives. She picks me up at the airport in her Mini and we pick up a bottle of Vintage Italian sparking wine and an aged Italian red wine (both excellent), on the way back to her apartment, where her partner, Viktor cooks us spaghetti with a rich tomato sauce, then they take me to a milonga run by a colourful and manic Argentinian called Oscar, and I work off the cobwebs from my travel.
I spend the next day wandering around Zurich - it's the largest city and financial centre of Switzerland, with a population of 370,000. It exudes a feeling of prosperity, order, and efficiency, although I do stumble on a shop selling plastic dresses and raincoats and extremely high heeled women's shoes and boots and other, shall we say, kinky underwear, and later I'm told by Eva and Viktor, there are houses where women display themselves in the window - no streetwalking here.
I buy a traditional Swiss Army Knife, to replace the one that was confiscated at an airport early in my travels, and eat a couple of Swiss pastries at a Konditorei, have a look around the Co-op supermarket (always interesting seeing how supermarkets differ in various countries), and stroll around the historic centre by the river. There is an extremely efficient tram system and you have to keep a lookout so as not to be run down as they creep up on you very quietly. They are also enormous - I saw up to 6 carriages connected so they were always uncrowded.
Friday evening Eva meets me at an Internet Point (about $15 an hour - ouch), then we head off for a drink to the Jules Verne Bar at the top of a tower in the city, from which you get a great view. Then we head off to the so-called 'red-light' district, a bohemian quarter where we have a nice meal and catch up on things. Finally we go to a sophisticated bar in a huge old warehouse building, which also contains a nightclub which young people dressed up to the nines (for non-Australians this means dressed up glamorously) are flocking in to.
We decide to have a grappa as a nightcap and Eva has a Berta Roccaniva and I have some other very aged grappa. This is my first one in a couple of months (actually, since I left Italy) and it's a revelation (although very costly). We taste each other's grappa and Eva's is just fantastic - after she has drunk it all we continue passing the glass between us and sniffing it - it must have looked very funny to any onlookers. Although I have greatly enjoyed whisky in Scotland and Schnapps in the Scandinavian countries, this grappa is fantastic.
Eva and Viktor have a beautiful, spacious, light-filled apartment and next morning they make me a feast for breakfast (fruit juice, salami & prosciutto, boiled egg, home made quince paste and raspberry jam made by Viktor, rye bread, caffe coretto), washed down with a nice Prosecco. I'm starting to like Zurich a lot :)
They are looking for furniture so they take me shopping at a type of up-market Swiss version of Ikea - I am happy sitting in the back of Viktor's soft-top Saab with the wind in my hair reminiscing on my experiences as we go back to their apartment. In the afternoon they take me to a lookout on some hills out of town from which there are fantastic views of Zurich and the surrounding countryside.
That night we drive to a small country town looking for a restaurant that serves a typical local dish of diced veal and mushrooms, with roesti (fried, grated potatoes) on the side. Swiss towns are just like the pictures - picturesque countryside, cute little cottages, etc - everything looks calm and ordered. We order a bottle of the special wine of the day, and it ends up being a Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir), although in this area it's called another name, which fools us, because Eva doesn't like Blauburgunder - nevertheless this is quite a nice wine.
Next day we drive around 60kms into the mountains and we walk a 5 hour circuit on mountain tracks. It's pointless trying to describe it to you (see the pictures), but we had excellent weather and I was able to take lots of pictures. We had a meal at dusk in a cottage in the mountains then walked back to our starting point in the dark - a really beautiful day out.
My time in Zurich ended all too quickly - I had a really enjoyable time due to the hospitality of Eva and Viktor. I went to a couple of milongas organised by Oscar - he is from Cordoba in Argentina and as I mentioned previously he is very extrovert and manic - he kept giving me big hugs and slobbery kisses. I also danced with a lady called Marie Antoinette - it's such fun asking someone their name and it's Marie Antoinette, an experience it would be difficult to have in Australia.
On Tuesday when I'm leaving I wake at 8am and just make it for the 9.09 Cisalpine Express - except it leaves around 9.20 - whatever happened to Swiss punctuality :) - maybe it's the fact it's going to Italy. The day is cloudy and rainy and the train travels through closely settled valleys with villages made up of cute little houses sprinkled about. Some of the valleys are very steep-sided and there are landslides and rockfalls, and waterfalls cascading down everywhere, forests, numerous tunnels, etc and you can just make out snow-capped mountains through the clouds. I am sitting in the compartment with gentle clean-cut man of around 35 from Stuttgart who's going to Locarno for 10 days to hike. Four women in their 60/70s join us and we all soon start talking. One of the ladies speaks English and is also learning Italian, so we have a nice chat in both languages - her daughter married a Kiwi (New Zealander) and is living on a farm in the South Island.
Everybody is speaking German but I pick up little snippets - they talk about chestnuts in October and a truffle festival somewhere - how come I can pick up on talk of food, even when it's in a foreign language?
I walk along the corridor and in most other carriages people are asleep or silent, whereas our compartment is an oasis of bonhomie. It's fun travelling with these old ladies - they are very relaxed and friendly and chatty - I guess they are at a stage of life where they are doing what pleases them. The Italian speaking lady brings out a big block of chocolate and shares it all with us - I protest when it comes to me that she will hardly get any but she says take it, take it, with a big smile (grazie mille, la cioccolatta era buonissima, I say, helping her practice Italian).
We pass through the Gotthard Tunnel into the Ticino, and miraculously on the other side there's sun and blue sky. The Ticino is the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. What a strange thing to have areas speaking 4 different languages in such a small country? The feeling in the Ticino is palpably different , even though I only see it through the train window - houses are plastered and painted in pastel colours, Romanesque arches, vineyards, etc. There is alo a big temperature difference - Zurich was 13 and raining, Locarno is 25 and sunny.
The man from Stuttgart gets off at Bellinzona, and the ladies get off at Lugano, almost at the Italian border, and I'm alone for the rest of the trip to Milano. I jump out there, get a prosciutto and cheese roll, have a coffee and jump back on for the rest of the trip to Verona. Back in Italy again after a bit more than 2 months.
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