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Friday, August 3, 2012

First Sight


It was about 27 hours since we slept and the wheels touched down in Geneva.  It had been 42 years since I last touched this tarmac.  I couldn't believe it...it didn't look any different...I saw the big neon letters of G E N E V E on the outside of the building.  The same letters that I saw every day back in 1970 when taking the bus from the apartment into the city center.

My mind was swimming...would I be able to do this again?  How different will this trip be?  Have I idealized the experience over the 42 years?  All these questions would now be answered.  We had about another 2 hours hours by train to go to Gruyeres where we would spend our first 4 nights.   I was plunged into French immediately!  I am thinking....this is not going to work...I can't understand the Swiss French and speaking in the real world is so different than a pristine classroom environment.  Stick with it...I told myself...it will become familiar again.

First time out of the U.S. for my wife Karen...she was awestruck by the difference of it all.  Growing up, she had not traveled much at all.  For her family, a true adventure was to stray more than 2 or 3 hours from home.  Now she is in a different world with feelings of uneasiness and thoughts of maybe having made a mistake by attempting this for 6 weeks.

We picked up our luggage and headed for customs.  I was asked for my passport for the first time...struggling to get it out of my moneybelt..."things have to change" I told myself.  Once we get through this, I have to rethink where to keep my passport...security versus convenience.  Convenience is winning out.  28 hours and counting....we headed to the train station.  Eurailpass validated, train schedule consulted, on the platform waiting for the train to Palezieux...first connection to Gruyeres.  Everyone told me to pack light...but how could we for 6 weeks?  Now I wished I had listened to them. I can remember from the trip in 1970....my backpack seemed light before I left but after wearing it for a while and hitchhiking....it became way to heavy...had to leaves some things behind.  The european trains are fabulous but unlike the airlines....you have to deal with your own luggage.  Loading it onto the train...on and off again at connections...finding space for the large pullbags and often only 5 minutes to get it done before the train departs.  I am not complaining about the trains at all...on time, quiet, clean....wonderful way to see the countryside....I am mad at myself for not packing light.

The train pulls out, we are seated and for an hour we watch the city scape of Geneva transform into the classic green manicured hills of Switzerland.  Normally so many stops would be an aggravation....stopping at every little village we passed through but this time for us each stop provided a glimpse into the lives of the Swiss.  Schoolchildren hopping on and off leaving school and heading home, teenagers hopping the train to travel 5 kilometers to the next village to visit a friend, business people traveling by train.  So many stories behind people...each experiencing a world so different than mine.

29 hours and arrival at Pa;ezieux.  5 minutes to make the connection to the next train...off with the luggage, orienting myself to which platform now and I see we have to go down and under the tracks to get to the next platform.  Tired and a bit foggy minded now...we grab our luggage and head to the next connection.  We clear the steps and emerge onto the platform where I see a golden train with the words "Le Gruyere" painted on the side.  We made it to our last connection.  On board now a train much smaller than the one out of Geneva.  This was an small inter-village train for locals.  One more hour and we will have arrived!

The landscape again changed.  More foothills now rather than rolling hills.  The snow covered peaks of the Alps popped into view off in the near distant horizons.  Cows and sheep grazing on the green slopes...slopes that looked as if they had just been mowed...beautiful sites...so... Switzerland.

30 hours without sleep but we arrive at the one room train depot of Gruyere.  Only one more load and unload of luggage now.....a bus from Gruyere to the original walled village of 1100 A.D. Gruyeres....our final destination.  After a 10 minute bus ride, we unload the luggage, the buss pulls off and we stand alone looking at a final uphill luggage pull to the ancient village.

I knew that just over the peak of the hill, the one street village of Old Gruyere waited.  Again I remember that once before I topped that crest and saw the old village.  Would it be the same?  With the last pull on the handle of the roller bags we looked up ahead and we stood there speechless to each other...."WOW" was the only word that came to mind!