“May you eat an unfamiliar dessert in a strange land at least once every three years” – Rob Brezsny
Well chocolate is not unfamiliar, and I wouldn’t call Switzerland strange, but I still say the Chocolate tasting at Cailler makes this the perfect quote for today! Wednesday was a quieter day. We started the day with breakfast at home, and a tour of the Cailler Chocolate factory. What I loved: the extravagant chocolate art, the history of chocolate and the original chocolatiers, and the fantastic, cheesy mechanized displays on the tour. What I didn’t love: the chocolate. Brace yourselves because those of you who know me will be shocked: not only did I not try all of the chocolate, I took tiny bites of the ones I did try, and threw the rest away. They were REALLY not my taste, but I really enjoyed the tour.
The highlight of the day was our hike! After going home for lunch, we set off for a trail very near my friends’ house. So, that whole thing about Switzerland feeling like home? If I thought I felt at home before, simply being surrounded by mountains, then walking under the green canopy, past waterfalls and rivers scattered with large rocks, and through tunnels… that was heaven on earth.
We hiked the first few kilometres together with Sam, J-M, and the kids. We climbed up steep stairs and along narrow trails. We made it to a massive dam, and just beyond to take in a view of the lake above the dam.
Then J-M and the kids headed home and Sam and I continued on. It was so great to have the time together to talk and catch up. As dinner time neared, we came to a small suspension bridge and decided it was time to turn back. We walked back out the way we had come, then through the village to get home, crossing a beautiful old bridge that crossed one of the most clear, pristine rivers I’ve ever seen. Sam explained that it could move quite quickly and become cloudy with snow run off, but in late August it was clear and calm. And look at those surroundings!
Back at the house, I had to find some way to thank Sam for her hospitality, so I made her dinner. It was relatively simple: salmon with lemon and dill, oven roasted peppers, pan-fried mushrooms, onions, and garlic… but it was a bit of a full-circle moment for us. When Sam and I first me, it was when she and J-M bought their first home in Maple Ridge. It had been my first home as well, and Sam came by my office a few times to bring me mail that hadn’t been rerouted. From there, a friendship developed and one night, Sam invited me for dinner. I was thrilled that she felt that the colours I had painted felt to her like she had custom chosen them herself (except one room.. I can’t remember which!). I sat in my old kitchen as she made us a beautiful dinner which included pork chops. I stupidly had forgotten to mention my pork allergy, and she graciously accommodated me. We talked about how impressed I was at her ease in the kitchen, because at that point in my life I was still burning tomato soup on a regular basis. Fast forward more than ten years, and here I was in her kitchen making her dinner. The kids are fussier eaters so they had something else, but for Sam and I it was a special meal together. This is one of the reasons I love to cook. Food, whether you cook together or eat together or both, connects people. After such a soul-restoring hike, the dinner was the perfect follow up. And the day wasn’t even over!
I had promised Sam’s daughter some girl time, and she patiently showed me how to make one of the beautiful friendship bracelets that she had designed (she is SUCH a talented and crafty kid- we have knitted and sewn together, and shared lots of crafting moments over the years). It was lovely to have quiet time together for the two of us to talk and connect. Oh my gosh- I am tearing up as I write this, because I love those kids. I am SO blessed to have amazing kids in my life, and amazing grown ups who share their kids with me and bless me with these beautiful relationships. Sometimes, these relationships are crushingly difficult and make me ache deeply for Jessica; mostly, they enrich my life in the most beautiful ways. As I am playing catch up and writing about this experience from August as we near the end of October, writing this reminds me of how much I miss all of them and how hard it was to say goodbye. But I’m getting ahead of myself; I still had two more days in Switzerland.
On to Thursday: mmmmmm Thursday was the day of the thermal baths in Charmey (pronounced Shar-may).
I could have stayed all day long, but you get a set time from your entry. That said, we made the most of it. When we arrived, there was an aquafit class going on in the inside pool, and I joined in. I moved outside, and then did the water aerobics class out there. It started raining but the class carried on until it turned into an all out downpour, at which point it moved to the inside pool. The class ended with each of us getting two pool noodles: one to go behind the head, and one for under the knees, so that each of us could close our eyes and float around the pool. Once I had enough floating time, I went poolside to enjoy a beverage, poured for me by the teacher of the class. It was a mini health/spa experience and such a treat!
Inside, we went to check out the steam rooms. If you haven’t had an experience like this: let me just tell you that there is nothing quite like aromatherapy steam rooms with variable humidity and temperature, where you can choose the room that is perfect for you. The saunas were the same, but with a difference from Canada as you were required to bring and sit or lay on a dry towel.
Cameras weren’t allowed (as you may have noticed, I got the above images by scanning through the 360 tour and screen capturing the images), but luckily they have a website so you can get a visual of the oasis that is Les Bains de la Gruyere. See that picture at the bottom right in the “oriental” section? That room is one of several that are all connected to a little entry way (bottom left photo with the tree). You can sit around it with your feet in the small, warm pool as you stare at your hand behind the fountain.
Feeling at once energized and relaxed, we had some downtime at the house before dinner. It was J-M’s dad’s birthday so we took the hour or so drive from Gruyères to Neuchâtel. It was the least-touristy travel experience I have ever had in a foreign country, and thus one of my fave evenings. I was welcomed into the home of a Swiss family, surrounded by French-speakers, and invited in for dinner (pizza and wine). Sam’s sister-in-law doesn’t speak English, and while Sam and the rest of the family spoke lots of English to me and were so gracious in including me in conversation, I surprised myself at how much French I understood! Sam and her s-i-l had a conversation and I understood most of it; so that was a neat experience. J-M’s dad is so knowledgeable about the area, having grown up there, and so he was able to tell me fascinating stories about the architecture and community that a typical tourist might never hear. His family was even involved in building one of the beautiful churches that I had admired as we drove past it.
Suddenly, Friday was upon me. Where did the week go, seriously? I was really stoked for Friday. Sam generously lent me her car and so I had my first driving experience in Europe! So much less stressful than thinking about driving on the left side of the rode in England. The Swiss are pretty awesome drivers. People follow the “pass on the left, drive on the right” rule, I wasn’t tailgated, the speed limit was respected. I highly recommend Switzerland for a European driving experience. The reason I was driving on Friday is because I drove to Lac Leman to meet up with Caroline! Caroline was an exchange student a couple of years ago, and lived with two of my best friends in Mission, and so I became one of Caroline’s Canadian Aunties and she, my honourary niece. We had chosen Vevey as a central meeting place; I drove to Vevey and picked Caroline up from the train station.
We parked near the lake and went for a walk, and then decided on a total whim that we needed to be out on the water, rather than simply going for a swim. We found a rental booth by the water, and the guy working there was less than interested in having customers even though we looked to be the only ones. It was a bit comical as Caroline is Swiss-German, and Vevey is in a French part of Switzerland, but between his broken English and her broken French, we got things sorted. We hummed and hawed for a bit between the boat and a paddleboat, but decided to splurge on the boat. Less work, more relaxation in the sun. 🙂
I wish I had my boating license with me so we could have rented one of the full powered boats, but our cruising speed was alright. It was the perfect day to be out on the water, enjoy the view along the shoreline as a few white and wispy clouds kept it from being unbearably hot. We cruised down the lake, and then as we made our way back to return the boat, we cut the engine and jumped into the lake. It was refreshing but not too cold, and the perfect way to wrap up our boating adventure.
After safely docking the boat (the rental guy seemed pretty impressed at us two young ladies bringing it in so smoothly. Not sure if this was sexist, or based on what he’s come to expect from tourists). We walked up to the mall and bought a selection of fruit and snacks for lunch, which we ate at a lakeside bench. Just a few feet to our right was a little man-made outcropping for jumping into the lake, from which kids were fishing and jumping in.
It was a peaceful spot, and gave us an opportunity to have a great chat about life, and school, and what it’s like to travel and suddenly have a family that you will never live with, and friends that you may not see again. Living in another country really means that you are forever missing a part of your life. For Caroline and I, it is our Canadian friends and family right now. But when we are there, we will always have another part of our family, more treasured friends that we will be away from. It’s so paradoxical, to live abroad somewhere, and then to return home as she has done and yet feel that home is somewhere else. But, optimists that we are, we didn’t dwell long on that sombre fact. Instead, we spoke of our adventures and our plans, and about good food and the people we love. The afternoon disappeared far too quickly, and soon it was time to say goodbye.
I said goodbye to Caroline near the train station, and then drove back to Sam’s house to say my goodbyes, pack my things, and head for the airport. Sam, her daughter, and I spent some time shopping at the outlet mall en route between their house and the airport and had a quick dinner at IKEA before saying our teary goodbyes. Another country, another set of memories and places imprinted in my heart, and another flight home to England. As difficult as the goodbyes may be, I keep reminding myself how very lucky I am to be living this adventure! I spent my whole life dreaming of living abroad, and at 35, here I am. There will be so many more hellos and goodbyes to come, and I will cherish them all.