Swiss Dreams & French Adventures

 

13 Hours of Traveling

…was completely worth it. We left our “home” in Limerick (it officially feels like home after travelling so often) at 5:30 am this Wednesday to hop on a bus to get to the Dublin airport. From there we flew to the France-Switzerland border. Then we got on a bus to get to the train station so we could get to our AirBnB which was in Geneva on the far west region of Switzerland. After the train, we took a tram to get to the bus that would take us to the address of our AirBnB.

If you ever travel around the central part of Europe, invest in a train pass. Our travel party bought a ticket that took us anywhere around France and Switzerland for four days, however many times we needed to take the train in a day within a two-month period, plus a fifth day “free” (the entire package was close to $200). The views you can see from the train’s large windows are worth it.

My First AirBnB

One of our travel buddies who is from Pennsylvania found a really great deal on an AirBnB right in Geneva. It was really cheap considering how expensive everything else is in Switzerland. We stayed with a lady and her husband in a very cute and modern home with lots of levels. I shared a room with my housemate and then our other two travel buddies took the other room.

Our first night there, our host made the most delicious dinner. We weren’t expecting dinner from her, but, in her beautiful French accent, she insisted. They served the chicken quinoa meal in a ginormous silver bowl to share. She told us her husband was from Africa and it was tradition to serve food all together in a bowl like the one they had. In Africa, it would be the woman’s job to make sure everyone had equal amounts of food, especially chicken since there wouldn’t normally be as much chicken in African dinners as ours did.

We also enjoyed the company of a very cute wiry-haired white dog named Plume. Our host said it was old, nearly deaf and blind. It was hard to live in the house with their dog without missing my own dog. The first night there, I got to bed fairly late because I had homework to work on. The dog stayed downstairs with me until I finished my work, and then it followed me upstairs and into my bedroom, but I didn’t let it in. So cute, though!

Day One of Five in This Beautiful Country

Lausanne

Our morning started off perfect—weather was cool enough to be comfortable, and we hopped on a bus, then a tram, and later a train to start our journey to Lausanne.

After a few hours on the train, we got off and took a walk to the shoreline. There was a beautiful view of the mountains and the lake. It was very hazy out so it was hard to see the mountains clearly, but it felt surreal to be there looking at them. It looked like the earth just ended in a hazy bliss past the lake with mountain peaks floating above blue nothingness. The sun was out and we enjoyed just looking. There were lots of people running or walking dogs or eating lunch—I couldn’t imagine living there and just casually taking my lunch break with those mountains in view. We walked farther around the lake and found the Olympic Museum. We found out that the mountain we planned to ski on Saturday (Chamonix) is where the first winter Olympics took place!

Later, we stopped to grab some postcards at a tour shop and then booked it up the long hill we walked down earlier to catch the train that left sooner than we realized (definitely burned off the muffin I ate on the go for breakfast earlier). We made it, and headed over to Luzerne.

Luzerne

If you ever travel to Switzerland, visiting Luzerne is a must! Here is where you can get a postcard-worthy view of the mountains with a historical city in the foreground.

We spent the evening looking at the beautifully painted buildings and shops. There were men fishing off the bridge and it made me want to grab their pole and fish. I’ve missed interacting with nature like that. Later, we stopped for Swiss chocolate downtown and enjoyed eating it as we walked past street performers and passersby.

Luzerne is known as the “City of Lights” so we stayed until dark to see it light up. It was gorgeous with the lights reflecting off the river, but I missed seeing the majestic mountains peeking behind the pretty buildings. We also saw the famous lion monument that sits in the side of a rock. It was much bigger than we expected after seeing a picture of it on a postcard—pictures really don’t do it justice.

I wish we could have stayed for a little longer, but we had to run to catch our train that left for the night, a 3 hour ride back to Geneva.

Day Two – We Didn’t Do Much Though

Interlaken

On Friday, we got up really early to take a train to Interlaken. Again, we got on the bus to get to the tram and then the train station.

The train ride to Interlaken was the best ride—a little rainy, but with the rain, a misty fog lay upon the tall pine trees on the sides of the hills and the lake was a beautiful blue. There were lots of tunnels we went through and at the end of each tunnel, the view got more and more gorgeous.

Finally, we arrived in Interlaken. We wandered around the train station trying to figure out what we should do and then we saw advertisements for taking a train to the top of one of the highest mountains in Europe, which was right above us. Jungfrau it was called, and we quickly queued up to find out how much the ticket was.

160-some euro. Sigh.

We left the ticket booth a little less excited, and we debated whether or not that was worth the money. The highest mountain in Europe that can be reached by train? We were right underneath it! We walked away from the train station, figuring we wouldn’t buy the tickets since our parents wouldn’t be happy with us throwing that kind of money around in one day, but then one of our travel buddies said, “It’s better to beg for forgiveness later than beg for permission now”. We laughed a little and said, “Crud, let’s just do it,” and walked back to the ticket station.

Then we took into account the weather. Once we got up the mountain, it was likely that we wouldn’t be able to see anything because of the rainy fog. So we ditched that idea completely, though still a little disappointed.

I wanted to see more of the outdoors in Switzerland, so I Googled things to do. The Weissenau Nature Reserve sounded interesting to me, but when we got on the bus, the rain picked up. We go off the bus and started walking, but my GPS wasn’t taking me in a direction that looked promising. Basically, we got lost and had to turn back around because we couldn’t find the reserve and we were cold and wet.

We split up because one of our travel buddies had friends from home in town and wanted to hang with them for the night. So us girls started to make the trek back to Geneva.

Day Three – Time to Ski!

Chamonix

This was the day we got to ski on the mountain that held the first ever winter Olympics in the French Alps! We were bussed from Geneva to France, about an hour bus ride. There was a bit of a hassle because one of our travel buddies forgot her passport and was nervous about getting into France, but everything worked out.

The bus ride to France was beautiful. There were gorgeous hills with a few cliffs that reached great heights with low valleys that held villages. And then we started climbing and getting past the hills and the mountains came into view. They were extreme! Much more breath-taking than the mountains I saw and skied in Colorado.

The village had cute buildings with wooden framing. Lots of people were done up in their ski suits and were wobbling around town with their ski boots on.

I felt so small walking out of the ski rental shop and looking up at the peaks that surrounded the village. I couldn’t believe we were about to take a gondola up to the top and ski.

We took a bus to the gondola that would take us to runs that were beginner to hard, some of the easier slopes. The gondola was much steeper than the one I took in Vail, CO. The view from the top was gorgeous! We got off and took a few pictures at the entrance and then began our skiing adventure.

After a few runs, we took one that didn’t seem too bad. But toward the end we realized how steep it really was and we all took a really hard, long fall. I remember sliding about twenty yards on my back with my legs in the air, skis still attached (because they weren’t working the way other skis I’ve used have worked), and thinking, ‘This is the end. I’m going to either be hospitalized for a long time or die on the French Alps. Both of my legs are going to break’. I kept tumbling and tumbling down and eventually skidded to a stop. I laid there for a second and took account of my consciousness and my limbs. All ok! I got up slowly and looked to my right and my friend was holding her knee and nearly crying. I popped my skis off and hobbled over to her, almost screaming to ask if she was ok.

I helped her sit up properly and she kept her hands over her knee. She is a figure skater and I was scared that something had been torn that would prevent her from skiing again.

After a few minutes, she started to get up and I helped her. She stood up ok, and she told me she would be ok. We got her skis back on and went on with the day.

We skied for probably another two hours, I wiped out one more time after going too fast at the end of a run. I had picked up a really bad sore throat the night before and felt really dehydrated on the slopes. My body was tired from being sick and I suggested we go back.

After saying goodbye to the incredible French Alps slopes, we hopped on the gondola and made our descent. Going down, I felt painful pressure in my ears. They weren’t adjusting as we went down and my throat was too sore to swallow. I was a little concerned when we got to the bottom – my right ear was a little worse than my left, and my hearing was muffled.

I figured after a few hours my ears would neutralize, and so didn’t worry about it.

After returning our ski gear, we walked around the village and bought some souvenirs and tea. We enjoyed watching the sun lower in the sky and feel the breezy mountain air on our faces.

The bus took us back around 6pm and we had enough time to walk around Geneva a bit before heading back to the AirBnB. We walked along the shoreline and enjoyed seeing the city lit up.

We were starving and weren’t expecting our AirBnB hostess to make us another delicious African dinner, so we searched for a restaurant in town. We ended up at a pizzeria where an Italian man guided us to a table, excited he had customers. We all ordered the same thing – a margherita pizza and water. The cheapest thing we could find, still for a whopping 17 euro.

We headed back to the hostel, still in our snow gear, but tired and sore and ready for bed.

Day Four – More of France

Grenoble

Our travel group split up for the day since two of us wanted to go to France and two wanted to go to Zurich in Switzerland.

My buddy and I grabbed food at the train station and then had to run through the French security to get to our platform because our bus was leaving soon. Right as we got up the stairs, the train was pulling away.

We had to wait a while for the next train, but we still made it to Grenoble, a really beautiful city with views of the Alps and a river running through the middle. There were huge cliffs that dominated the left side of the river, opposite the side we were walking, and we marveled at the old buildings that sat up top. A gondola with three round cabs were gliding up on their cables from the right to the left side of the river, where people got off and walked around those old buildings on the cliff.

We crossed the bridge to the left side and walked along the river and enjoyed looking at all the pizza places that were busy with people. There was a staircase leading to the riverbank near the main bridge and we took them down to see what we could find. There was a little hole made in the side of the wall along the river that had clothes and blankets and shoes – the homeless must have found their way to that nook.

Afterwards, we walked up to the old building that was now a museum, then through a little park where you could see the peaks of the alps through the trees and past the city. Gorgeous. It was another warm and sunny day, almost too warm to stay in the sun for too long, and we kept walking along the tram tracks to see a little bit of the city. It was quieter along those streets than near the river.

On our way back to the train station, we noticed a group of about four military people walking the streets with their rifles in the ready position. My buddy and I were a little nervous when we passed them on the street, but nothing suspicious happened.

I later found out that one of my Irish friends had studied in Grenoble for a semester and had lived up on those cliffs. She told me she would sit up on the ledge and enjoy a few cans with her schoolmates on the weekends, looking out at the river and peaks of the Alps.

Lyon

Our next stop was Lyon, a city not far from Grenoble. We didn’t have much time, but wanted to see the main ‘parc’ that was popular among tourists.

The walk to the park was much farther than we expected and we had to walk on this uneven side road that was between the busy main road and a high stone wall that surrounded the park. There was a lot of traffic and cars were jumping the curb to get to the side road and get a parking spot to walk to the park. We had to weave between cars tightly wedged in the parking spaces and people with kids and strollers and dogs. Half an hour later, we arrived at the entrance that was crowded with more people huddled around booths with balloons and food.

We walked into the park and gawked at how big it actually was. There was a big map of the place and we scoped out the sights we figured we could see before we had to leave. The sun was low in the sky and it was humid, but we trekked over a bridge and down to a lake where people sat and conversed or ate food on the benches. There were people rollerblading and kids playing with dogs and lovers holding hands. In my opinion, France is too romantic for its own good.

There were lots of food stands in the park, but we stopped at a stand that had crepes. We were nervous to order because we didn’t speak French. We wanted Nutella filled crepes but they had run out of Nutella, so we ordered a crepe with strawberry jam. It was fun to watch the lady make the crepes – they pour a thin batter on a round griddle and smooth it into a circular shape with a small wet squeegee-looking tool. The lady was very quick and perfect with her strokes and soon the crepe was ready to flip. She spread the jam on it, folded it up and handed them to us with napkins. I ended up spilling jam on my white Converse while we booked it out of the park and back to the train station.

Day Five – Certainly the Worst Day of My Life

We woke up early so that we could catch our bus, tram, and train to the airport. Another 13 hours of travelling and I was feeling the worst I’d felt the whole trip. My throat was swollen and I still couldn’t swallow and my ears were still plugged. I had tried taking Sudafed the night before thinking it would help drain my ears because I could hear fluid in my ears, but it didn’t help my hearing.

Finally, we made it to the airplane. We ascended, and the pain I felt from the air pressure was unbearable. I had taken two Tylenol but was still cringing as we got higher and higher. The couple sitting next to me probably thought I was just being emotional about leaving Switzerland, but my hearing was slowly and painfully disappearing in my right ear. When we got near the middle of our flight, I felt a harsh, sharp pop in my right ear. My inner ear began to bleed.

I freaked out at this point. We landed in Dublin, but we still had two more hours to Limerick where I would have to find my way to a doctor. The bus that was to take us to Limerick was late of course. Nearly an hour and a half later, because of traffic holding the bus up, we got on and headed home. I texted my parents on the bus (you never miss your parents as much as you think you would until you are in a crisis) and they helped me find an emergency room on Google that could take me in right away. The bleeding was getting worse.

The bus ride lasted forever. I ordered a taxi on an app to take me from campus to the hospital, and when we got back to Limerick the rain picked up. I had my travel buddies take my suitcase home and I walked with my heavy backpack to the library to wait for the taxi that was coming forty minutes later.

I looked on the map and realized just ten minutes before the taxi arrived that I was in the wrong location. The driver was picking me up closer to my on-campus accommodation, so I walked that way in the rain alone and found the taxi waiting for me. I got in and could barely hear the taxi driver when he tried to double-check that I was the one going to the hospital.

I got to the hospital and walked in. Nearly thirty or forty people were sitting in the waiting room, babies crying, people speaking in harsh tones to each other, people coughing or hacking or spitting. I was appalled, but I still walked up to reception and asked if I could see a doctor.

‘It’ll be a six hour wait.’

If you could see my face when I was told that… I stood there with a bloody Kleenex to my ear about to cry as the receptionist still took my information. Eventually he told me I should just walk down the street to a walk-in clinic.

So I walked out in the rain again, phone nearly dead, my backpack heavy and my hearing basically gone. I found the clinic, walked in, and was shown to the doctor there.

He said, ‘You are a strong girl. You’ve lasted a long time with a double ear infection and a ruptured ear drum.’

He gave me two antibiotics to take for my infection and throat and I headed back out in the rain to find the pharmacy. The first pharmacy he suggested was closed of course, so I walked back to the clinic to ask where the other pharmacy nearby was since my phone was nearly dead and I couldn’t Google it.

It was farther down the street on the right. I walked and walked in the rain for farther than I thought he said, and started crying until I finally saw the bright green pharmacy sign lit up on my right.

I got my prescription filled, bought a bottle of water, and headed back out into the rain to get to the nearest bus stop to get back to campus.

After another half an hour, I walked back to my accommodation and was so grateful to see that my housemate who had been travelling with me all week had made me a warm meal. I took my antibiotics and a sleep aid and attempted to sleep.

A week later my throat was healed and my ears were better.

After that whole rig amoral, I feel like I can survive anything.

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