While writing a blog post on solo travel that’s coming soon, I began reminiscing about my first time traveling alone. It was to Switzerland. I was in Italy and had a few days when the family I was staying with would be away, so I planned a trip with a girlfriend, or was in the process of doing so. After not hearing from her for a few days, DAYS before we were supposed to meet, most likely in the Italian Riviera, she flaked, so I was confronted with the prospect of exploring a new area by myself, and could have gone anywhere. Thank God for Gmail because while fact checking something about this trip for the aforementioned blog post I stumbled upon a treasure trove of gems. So here’s my first solo travel experience, in my own words from EIGHT years ago. Pardon the free prose, just keeping it real and how I wrote emails!
Why did I chose Switzerland?
June 16, 2009
me: haha is it lame that i’m traveling in switz because they are known to be non violent lol
Halley: no way
My First Day In Geneva – email sent on June 19, 2009
Lesson learned: You kiss 3 times on the cheek here!
Well after being completely overwhelmed with the exchange rate, and how to get to the apartment where I was couch surfing, it being pouring rain and me having a hunger headache, not being able to open the door and begging little swiss girls to help me, I finally made it to Agnes’s place (spending 7 francs on a map, which has come in pretty handy for me mapping out today). I don’t really use it during the day but it’s nice to see the general direction I am heading in. So I looked up this walking tour online and wrote out the directions in my writing notebook so my plan was to generally follow these directions. I actually kind of did for ½ of it, then got bored and started to do my own thing as I meandered down the Quays (streets along the river). I meandered primarily because I had to dry off. Why, you might ask, well because I’m a fool. So Geneva has this famous man made fountain, show you pics later, that’s just like a big giant water fountain spewing water off a dock in the lack and it pumps like hundreds of thousands of gallons a day really high etc. It’s like the man made Falls off the Brooklyn Bridge I told you about– people like to design water structure on already gorgeous God-made water structures as to “enhance” their beauty. I think it’s a load of crap, but far be it for me to argue with the Swiss. So I went to see this fountain, and walked along the rocks until I was up quite close to it. Just me and some Japanese tourists…. All of a sudden the wind shifted and I was like caught in a downpour tsunami style! So I started my day, SOAKED. It was kind of hilarious. One of those moments in romantic comedies where you like kiss, maybe a quickie after. So after this, I walked around even more. Saw the sights according to my guide, but then happened upon one on the other side of Mont Blanc, the “Brunswick” memorial I think? It was beautiful, like a Gaudi style cathedral that was awesome.
Love the Hungarian I’m staying with she’s like fluent but in that awesome quirky way.
So I wandered some more and saw this tour trolley and just hopped on without paying! I tried to ask how much but I didn’t have time to! It was lovely, took me through all the gardens of Geneva, and the Woodrow Wilson palace etc. An Indian family was in front of me and an absolutely adorable little boy kept on turning around and poking me. I wanted to tell them how much I loved Bollywood movies, but maybe that’s inappropriate?…. Haha if someone came up to me to tell me they earnestly loved fried chicken I’d be confused and bewildered, but totally would find it amusing. So I took this trolley and then decided I had to do some shopping. I really wanted to check out the Matthew Williamson line at H&M because when it came out in NY I just dropped close to a g to me on clothes the day before (haha “a G” who am I!?) so I couldn’t afford to buy anything then and I saw a few pieces in the mall next to my village in Italy. So I went on the main shopping street to look for H&M but could only find Rolex, Chanel, Gucci etc. I stopped for a gelato and like a ghost of Christmas past, across the street I see a Max Azria & Herve Leger store. I stop in and saw really cute stuff that I really wanted to buy but couldn’t help myself! I told the store ladies that I used to work there and they were soo sweet and nice to me and told me not to compare the prices to the US. I couldn’t even figure it out because of the Swiss Franc system, but so much was on sale! But I decided that no matter how much sale I simply can’t afford a 500 skirt. Aren’t you proud of me!!? So after shopping and wandering with a subpar Gelato, I wandered to the grocery store where I had my first gypsy encounter of Switzerland (I survived) and bought some pasta and what may or may not be pesto, I felt like a crazy Italian because I was so irritated by the lack of good pasta and pesto options in this Swiss supermarket– but there was an abundance of escargot. The city is truly extremely cosmopolitan, even like NY dear I say, of course I always encountered the few people that speak no English, but there is a mix of different nationalities and ethnic groups and so a lot of kids here that I’m seeing are these gorgeous mixed races kids. (Did I mention to you the crazy Kenyan friend I’ve also made who wants me to visit Kenya?!) OK, so because the supermarket got me thinking of escargot, I decided to stop at a small café down the street from where I’m staying. I figured it couldn’t be too expensive, even given that I don’t know the conversions. Of course, the bar keep speaks no English and is confused by me just wanted the escargot appetizer and not a full lunch, so he asks a guy at the bar next to me if he speaks English. The guy asks me in broken English if I don’t want the fish like he is having. I said, I’m small, I’m sure I don’t want a full meal (when I bring up my size in food issues, it usually settles it). So we eat, he is amused that I’m able to order wine expertly (pinot noir) and then starts talking to me, asking me if I’m on holiday, etc. etc. Then he buys me a coffee and pays for my lunch! I didn’t understand when this was going on because non parlez vous francez. We keep talking and I mention that I’m staying near there. I feel safe because he’s kind of wirey and looks a lot like Chris Martin from Cold Play… I.e. I could take him. He’s an architect that was born in France near Geneva and loves NYC, etc. etc. He asks if I wanted to take a drink at a different bar (I don’t know what was wrong with the bar we were at) but I said sure why not. I actually did like the wine at the 2nd place better. He made fun of me for speaking English, Italian style with my hands. I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea so while he was asking me how much I shopped that day I casually slipped in, not so much, I’m trying to find a watch for my boyfriend. My boyfriend likes watches. And I thought that would be sufficient. In any case, I got buzzed from 4 glasses of wine, and he finally went back to the office after they called him 3 times. He said he would hang out with me after work, which is cool, considering I spent a day in my own head. There’s a music festival tonight that the Hungarian and the girl from Minneapolis are going to. Maybe I’ll go to that. I’m pretty wiped out, so who knows. I mean at least I’m talking to you. Also, I got so desperate to hear a language I know, spoken well, that while I was shopping, I heard these crazy Italian tourists wandering about behind me, kind of lost and I offered to assist them, with my map. Not because I know the city or anything, but because now hearing Italian is as welcome to me as hearing English.
Another email sent to a different friend on June 19, 2009 later in the evening I’m guessing…
I just returned from the evening with Yann. He’s soo swiss it’s funny. First we went for aperitif when he contacted his friend to ask if I could come to dinner with them. It was cancelled so he asked me to fondue because I was talking about fondue and how much I wanted to have true swiss fondue before I left Switzerland. So madly, he cancelled his dinner plans to take me to fondue. It was absolutely delicious and in the mountains, which made me comfortable. I think we’ll hang out tomorrow. But sometimes he was so Swiss and crazy saying things like Cuckoo, cuckoo, did you know that cuckoo means hello?! In Swiss dutch! Yup, I just found out. Finally he asked if I had a boyfriend and I said yes, so that’s great. And I took it as a license to mention Logan at any turn.
Tomorrow we’re going around in his Porsche, should be fun!
June 22, 2009
The next day was fun, we went around in his Porsche in the morning and he even let me try to drive and then abruptly goes, Ahh! I have so much work. So I went back to my host’s place and we walked around the city drinking and eating at the music festival.
Another email on June 22, 2009 (I’m guessing I compiled my journal entries)
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I love love love Lausanne. Today was my last day in Geneva, my first day in Lausanne. And it’s just amazing. Once again, I’m telling you, Switzerland has the secret to race relations. I mean the groups of friends and the couples are straight out of a Benetton ad. There‘s a beautiful Swiss apartment building across from me on Avenue Floreal. It’s facades and windows are decorated in very ornate old school baroque and the building looks like it would have been a mini chataeux for an 18th century VIP. Even though it is late in one window, I see the light on and it‘s illuminating what looks like a boudoir sort of room. A rose blush couch is in one corner, and the wallpaper is of an ornate gold foil that‘s shining with the street light. One floor down and one room over, I can‘t see directly in the window but I see what appears to be a candle light flickering which is so fittingly romantic!
My host talks a lot she’s a great host and so eager to show me all of Lausanne.
My last day in Geneva was great, Evi took me out to a cute café in the morning, but I was definitely ready for Lausanne. My feet definitely were not.
So Sybil met me at the train station and her apt was a short walk to it. Lausanne is kind of like the San Fran of Europe except the hills are because all the streets are on different levels. Like a cool layered cake, unless you’re lost and you didn’t realize you should have taken that bridge because the street you’re looking for is on top of you. We walked and walked for hours around all of Lausanne once I dropped off my stuff at her apartment. It’s huge and she shares it with a Brit, it’s pretty gorgeous and like minimalist chic in a great part of town. We walked for a while and Lausanne was having it’s own music festival, so we hung out and listened to music, ate and drank some one on the top hill overlooking the lake. After we walked to meet her friend Laurance at her house. This girl is as kooky swiss as they come and was in the middle of making a table for her new apt. They’re all architects and interior designers so their apts are amazing. Laurence’s was minimalist but like very colorful. She’s pretty much the Ikea inspiration. Haha I awkwardly took pictures of her bathroom while I was using it, but felt it was too awkward to ask her to take pictures of anywhere else although she probably would have let me. She gave me ice cream and made me some ice tea. And then showed me some floor plans for projects she was working on with the apartment. When she got changed we went out and met up with Sybil’s Swiss German friend she grew up with. We went to a café in another concert area and I tried to order white wine but the waiter didn’t hear me and brought me a light beer. I hate beer, so I chugged it…. Leading the Swiss German to order me another. after we walked to the Lake and watched a Celtic concert and I had one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had while sitting watching the sunset on Lac Leman. Pretty perfect.
The Swiss German guy pretty much drank the whoooole time as did my host. I really like her, she’s fun but after a while I started refusing drinks. I was pretty exhausted and wanted to go home but didn’t want to be a party pooper. Laurance bowed out at this point and we went to one bar, it was empty so we went to another where Sybil said there would definitely be a concert. I’m a pretty easy person when it comes to music, I really do like all kinds and the only exception I’ve found to this rule is Heavy metal. Of course, it was a Heavy Metal concert at the bar. I smiled and pretended to bop to what semblance of a beat I could find as a kid with a Mohawk tried to mosh with himself, and then an unsuspecting friend. I never understood moshing, it looks pretty miserable to me. So I’m just standing there watching the intense Mohawk guy when someone whispers in my ear. I thought it was the Swiss German (I was wearing ear plugs). But when I turned around it was this super tall blonde guy in army camouflage. I took out my ear plugs and he goes, do you want to leave and smoke a joint? Of course I was shocked and confused. But he then explained that I looked miserable and he hated heavy metal too but his friends were all here drinking celebrating the end of training. Turns out he was in his mandatory 10 months of the Swiss army and your first 2 weeks is training and then you serve as a guard in different places, he was at an embassy. Truth is I was hating the music so I said sure why not, and we went right outside the bar. He told me I could hold is knife if I felt threatened (it was pretty cool an intense Swiss Army knife. And I learned a fun tidbit from him, He was stationed at an embassy but the American embassy didn’t want the Swiss guard anymore because they found one smoking pot on the job and another peeing in the bushes, creating a diplomatic problem. In any case he spoke perfect English because his step mother was English and he went to secondary school in England and he was going to University at Lausanne (you could pay a fee every year for a few years instead of enlisting) but then his girlfriend committed suicide, so he decided to enlist. He was pretty cool, kind of distractingly beautiful so we’re going to hang out this evening, and go out with the other army guys, me and Sybil and Laurance, should be interesting. Got back at 2. Lausanne is definitely really cool, it’s beautiful and so young, love it here. So I’ve decided it’s pretty easy to meet people traveling alone, maybe not girls at first though. Miss you! xx
June 29, 2009
Monday June 29th, 2009
My birthday was great, it was totally cool to spend it with people I have never met before. So Sybil surprised me when I woke up with a strawberry tart, which is very cool because the tradition on my birthday is for my mother to get me a cake from this bakery, Maxwell’s in Brooklyn, which is a strawberry shortcake with the best strawberry filling in the world and a delicious whipped cream frosting with fresh strawberries on top. So It was great that Sybil unknowingly stuck with the strawberry theme. She even put a candle in it and lit it. I don’t think I could have had a better birthday surprise in Switzerland, unless maybe she wheeled Logan or Shia Labeouf in in a giant strawberry tart. All in all it was bitter sweet because I had to say bye to Sybil. I stayed with Amanda my last night in Switzerland as I mentioned before, and I’m happy I extended my stay with Sybil because I forgot how students live… so staying with Amanda was alright, but not as comfortable as I would like. Never the less she was an amazingly gracious host.
So after saying goodbye to amazing Sybil, I went to meet Amanda, we were supposed to meet at 11:30, she arrived at 12:15, which was annoying, but whatever, I could be waiting on a corner in the Bronx, ahaha. She arrived on a bike, so we used the bike to carry my duffle bag. She lived a 15 minute walk from Sybil, in a pretty residential looking area, a little farther from the city area, but she described her street as , a lot of students and gays. She made me a delicious salad and kept promising me that her friend Nadia who spoke perfect English would be coming over soon. Amanda is Brazilian and comes from a family of 10 children so she’s very sweet and nurturing. On a scale of 1-10 her English is probably a 3, 4 at best, so there were a lot of miscommunications, and we used Spanish mostly. Which was fine, but I missed the ease at communicating with Sybil and how she got sarcasm and everything. Amanda had 3 roommates, two boys and 1 girl and the apartment was pretty… studenty… Amanda’s room was clean though. So the other girl roommate, Anna Sophia, was a real Swiss Franco weirdo, who chain smoked and had a deep voice and ate a lot of artificial crab meat from those plastic packets that they put in supermarket sushi…. Marc was really nice, pretty cool, and then there was Olivier. He looked like a Swiss French Brandon, brooding eyes, long dark hair. Kind of gorgeous but there was something repulsive about him at the same time. He was really sweet, and talked about my interests, his gf is a stylist. He’s an architect (are all Swiss into some kind of design?!) but I saw his book and his designs are actually pretty sweet. It was a relief when he was a around because he lived in the US at one point so his English was great. He said we had to come to this beach party outside of the city that night, and I wanted to go buy some more macaroons so he asked me to pick him up some preservatives for the glow sticks…. Lost in translation… until we go to the supermarket when Amanda picked up condoms and I said, what are those for and she said Olivier. Huge WTF moment….. We go back home I nap, and then her friend Nadia comes over with her boyfriend. Nadia is Brazilian and Moroccan and one of the most stunning girls I’ve ever seen. Her boyfriend looks like a less attractive version of Steven from Laguna Beach and also dresses like a 14 year old boy. But they’re in love, so it’s cute. They’ve only been dating for a month Nadia tells me after a few drinks. They met at a party last month, spoke the whole night (he lives in a town outside of Lausanne, she lives in a girls dormitory in Lausanne, shes 25 and getting her masters in international business) and he came to see her the next day, they spent the whole day together but at the end of the day, he told her he had a girlfriend that he was living with for the past 3 years, they‘d been together for 5, she flipped out and I guess ended things. Two days later he called Nadia and said ___ was moving out, he ended things with her. Nadia goes “It was all like a soap opera, she threatened to kill herself, all very dramatic.” And I’m like “Yea, I’d be pretty pissed…” Nadia: “Yea, but what can you say, we were in love” In my opinion there were a lot of things that could be said, but I really took a liking to Nadia, and her sheepish boyfriend, so they were all wisely left unsaid. Nadia didn’t want to go to the beach party and see the blown up condoms with glowsticks floating in the water so we went to the “posh” club in Lausanne, where there was an electro funk band playing. We met this boy Yanni, that Amanda liked and his friend. One our way there, we crossed a capoiera dancing troupe in an alley having a serious jam session that I video taped. I found out (from Nadia and socially) Swiss guys are ridiculously shy and if they like you, they’ll smile at you but you’re expected to go up and talk to them. Yanni’s friend (the next Chris Martin, except he’s Swiss Asian) bought me shots for my birthday and was very nice and spoke to me only in English. We then went to a discotecque, which it was fun but I was exhausted and just wanted to be on the train back to Milan. Yanni’s friend forced me to salsa with him but was really bothered by my refusal to dance with him towards the end of the night when I just wanted to go home and Amanda was making out with Yanni and a group of Swiss guys no more then 19 in Yankees caps and I love NY t shirts were ogling me. PS. I was carded going into the discotheque. My first time ever being carded in Europe and on my birthday no less.
The next few hours in Switz were a blur, all I know is I was thrilled to be on a train back to Milan, where I ate macaroons the whole time and was next to a 70 year old with a Palm Beach leathery tan and an Anna Wintour style rust colored bob– with a tank top and distressed jeans on her withered body. She was sassy, I liked it. When she joined me ½ way through the ride, at the Swiss Italian border, I thanked god for the entertainment. I also passed cute little Swiss villages. A lot of the houses had Swiss Flags on top and I also saw 2 American ones! Then I saw one Confederate one… how bizarre!
Have any fun stories from your first solo trip? Share them below!