Switzerland, Day 4: Mountains, Marmots & Excessive Train Travel

Pack up all my stuff, quickly eat breakfast, race to the train station to begin my day: I was certainly getting into a routine in Switzerland.

I used a locker at the train station in Montreux to store my backpack and took a tiny day pack with me up to Rochers de Naye. I could try to use my words to explain the beauty I saw up in the mountains on this day, but I think it might be easier to just show you. Suffice it to say, I actually gasped wow out loud on the train as we went up, up, up…the landscape thrilled me and I felt more excited about a day hike than I have since before I attempted the Pacific Crest Trail.

Cowbells served as the soundtrack for the day, as I tromped around the hiking paths on my own and marveled at our Earth. Everything was excessively green, excessively grand, and totally fucking gorgeous. The site got busier as the day went on, but I miraculously managed to hike almost entirely solo for the whole day. I did encounter a sweet family having a picnic at one of the highest peaks (the parents had two toddlers with them and it was super inspirational) and a marmot hut, which was very weird. The site billed it as a “marmot exhibit” but I couldn’t figure out if the lil’ babes were free or caged and mostly it made me kind of nervous and sad. The marmots were super cute though, as they always are.

The day felt perfect and I was in a very good mood by the end of it, but I also felt very tired and worn out and worried that I was probably getting sick. I took the train back down to Montreux, collected my bag from the locker, and started on the long trek to Lauterbrunnen. I had to take three separate trains there and by the end I no longer felt so enchanted by Switzerland’s landscape, though it remained beautiful — I was just way too tired and honestly starting to feel quite ill.

Unfortunately for me, I sat with a Swiss woman on the longest of the three train rides who was very chatty. It figures, the one time I’m not looking to make friends with my train companion, she wants to be besties. The woman’s name was Vensa and she had a lot of thoughts about travelers from the United States. Everyone I encounter here wants to tell me Donald Trump is awful (I know) and wants to ask if Americans are as bad at geography as they’ve heard (I mean…I don’t know?). Vensa wanted to know why I wasn’t couchsurfing, why I chose to travel in Switzerland, and what I thought of tourists in general. No matter what I said I felt as though it was the wrong answer, and by the time I had to get off the train I was very grateful indeed.

Staubbach Waterfall greeted me when the train finally pulled into Lauterbrunnen. I’d heard that some of the town’s 72 (!!) waterfalls were very visible directly from the train station, and that was accurate. I think as someone who has lived both in cities and in the country and who seeks out “nature” as a respite from city life, it caught me off guard to see “city life” and “nature” melded so seamlessly in Switzerland. I almost didn’t know what to make of it.

Everyone I spoke to about visiting Switzerland absolutely raved about Lauterbrunnen, but my first impression of the town wasn’t great. I didn’t like my hostel very much and was put off by the intense Tourist Bro vibes I felt emanating from almost everyone in town.

The grocery store closed before I was able to pick up anything for dinner, so I took myself on a short walk to a restaurant tucked away by a little campsite, feeling quite sorry for myself. I ended up having the MOST delicious meal called Rosti — it’s a typical Swiss dish that is basically a potato fritter with a whole huge slice of melted cheese on top. I got mine with eggs and bacon too. It was perfection.

I seemed to be surrounded by couples at the restaurant, and as I ate I eavesdropped on some of their conversations. It made me feel kind of lonely; I missed Alley and I didn’t feel good.

I don’t know if it was the grey weather, the bro vibes, the fact that I felt sick, or all of the above, but I did not feel very well disposed to Lauterbrunnen by the time it was time for bed, delicious dinner notwithstanding. I put myself to bed at 9pm, hoping that a lot of sleep would heal my body and my attitude.

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Switzerland, Day 3: Dairy Adventures in Gruyères 

I woke up as soon as my alarm went off at 7am – anyone who has ever slept next to me would’ve been shocked and impressed with how quickly I shut that shit off and popped out of bed. I’m a notorious snoozer, for those who haven’t shared a bed with me, but you can’t do that when you’re staying in a 6 person room in a hostel – it’s way too rude. So I was up and out of bed super early, ready to begin my exciting dairy-filled day.

After a free hostel breakfast (that was noticeably better than the free hostel breakfast I had in Geneva) I set off to catch three separate trains: one to the main Montreux station, one to Montbovon, and a final one to Gruyeres. I was worried about all sorts of things – what if I couldn’t find the station near my hostel, what if my Swiss Travel Pass didn’t actually cover the journey, what if I’d misread the train schedules, what if I missed my connecting train…etc. Alley’s aunt Norma told her I’m the only person who worries more than she does, and she may have a point (hi, Norma!). I wish my brain didn’t behave that way…I want to work on changing it.

Anyway, all my worry was for naught (as it usually is) because the Swiss have got train travel down to a science and they make it so easy for the passengers. There are clear schedules on screens in every station, extremely obvious numbers on the platforms, and if your train is running late – THEY HOLD THE CONNECTING TRAIN A FEW MINUTES SO THAT YOU DON’T MISS IT. I’ve literally never experienced such smooth train travel in my life. Bless the Swiss, amen. And as an added bonus, they’ve got these cool old school trains that run on something called the Golden Pass line, and my longest train today was one of those! I don’t quite understand how you know when these trains are running, but I just felt lucky to get to ride in one.

The seats on the antique train are set up in groups of four, and two older Swiss women sat with me. I would guess they were in their sixties, and I wanted so badly to be their friend – I got the vibe that they might be a lesbian couple, and they were so awesome. Both were wearing plaid and the one had the best messy butch haircut and the sexiest salt and pepper hair and ugh, why don’t I speak fluent French?! We all smiled at each other but that was all – they spent most of the time leaning very close to each other to chatter excitedly about the landscape rolling by. If anything gets me to learn French properly y’all, it’ll be old Swiss (probably) dykes on trains who feel as excited about cows and mountains as I do – mark my words.

My Swiss Pass did cover the entire train ride, as the rational part of my brain knew it would, and the entire journey took about an hour and forty five minutes. I didn’t mind though, because in a country as beautiful as Switzerland train travel is just another activity on a tourist’s itinerary. The time spent staring out the window as Lake Geneva got smaller and smaller until she eventually disappeared and was replaced by mountains, hills, tiny farmhouses, and vineyards was just as interesting as the cheese factory would be.

The factory, or La Maison du Gruyere, is right next to the train stop. It’s pretty small and less industrial than I expected. With admission fee you receive a sample of three cheeses – aged 6 months, 8 months, and 10 months – and an audio device for the self-guided tours. I usually hate museum tours, but this one was geared toward kids, super cheesey, and incredibly engaging! I loved it. The narrative was told from the perspective of a dairy cow (!) named Cherry, and she had me rapt as she explained how she works her “magic” to create cheese. During the tour you get a chance to watch the actual cheese factory and the workers as they create actual real Gruyere cheese! I learned that the factory makes 48 wheels of cheese a day!

After I got my fill of cheese I walked up (and up and up and up – the whole 20 minute walk was on a fairly steep incline) to the medieval town of Gruyeres, where there is another castle! Two castles in two days!! I never thought I’d be in a position to rank castles, but I will say that I much preferred the castle today, in Gruyere, than I did the castle yesterday, in Montreux. This one was smaller but the rooms themselves were filled with much more elaborate things, there was a beautifully landscaped garden, and there was a mini modern art exhibit in one of the rooms. I spent a while there exploring and ate a small snack in the courtyard, feeling proud of myself for packing some of my spoils from my “grocery store” run last night instead of paying $25+ for a meal at a restaurant. Then I refilled my water bottle and carefully made my way down the steep slope to the train station, where I waited for a train to Broc, aka The Place Where There Is A Chocolate Factory!

The chocolate factory, or Maison Cailler, was extremely busy by the time I arrived, and I wondered if I should’ve planned my day differently and if it was worth it to wait an hour for a tour. What else are you doing with your day, I ruefully asked myself, and that settled that. I bought my ticket and waited for my tour to start. In that time I worked on my blog a little bit and meandered the huge gift shop. I found one hilarious postcard in particular that is allegedly “a boy feeding a girl chocolate” but is clearly two dykes having a nice time. I bought two copies of that postcard – one is going on my wall when I finally move back into my bedroom.

I was extremely impressed with the tour itself and very glad I decided to wait to go on it. It was interactive, detailed, and theatrical – maybe my favorite museums are the ones that are geared toward kids? I dunno but the ones I experienced today were awesome. After the tour we were able to become “professional taste testers,” aka try as much chocolate as we could stomach – needless to say, I made myself slightly ill.

The journey home was long but enjoyable. I spent some time making plans for the next day; I would wake up very early again, I decided, so I could take the train up to Les Rochers-de-Naye before departing this area to head north, to Lauterbrunnen. From what I’ve read and heard, Les Rochers-de-Naye is supposed to be an alpine wonderland, with hiking trails, wild flowers, and a marmot museum!

I fell asleep hoping I would see so many marmots the next day.

Switzerland, Day 2: Finding Freddie Mercury in Montreux

The train was blessedly easy. I gather that buying a ticket works on the honor system – you don’t have to show it to anyone to board the train, and I thought the conductor would eventually come around to check, but he did not. Maybe on longer trains eventually they would? I don’t know. I kind of love not knowing things – it’s one of the only ways I know to soothe my anxiety. That sounds counter-intuitive but at home, where things feel “knowable,” I stress myself out trying to find the answers, even if they’re not really necessary. Being “somewhere else” allows me to turn that part of my brain off, just exist, just accept that I don’t know. It’s nice.

Forty five minutes and a million picturesque mountain and lake views later, I was in Montreux. I walked from the train station to my hostel along the lake and was blown away by the beauty. The vibe is such of a seaside town, even though of course we’re on the lake, not the ocean.

I dropped my bag in a locker at the hostel – this one only had reception and check in starting at 5pm, which is vaguely irritating but not uncommon – and headed directly to the castle! (Pro tip: If you’re planning to use a locker in a hostel or at a train station in Switzerland, make sure you have anywhere from 2-9 CHF in coins on you! Otherwise you will find yourself putting your pack back on and walking an extra 10 minutes to a little convenient store to break your 50 CHF bill by buying a Coke Light. Maybe that’s obvious to everyone else, but uh…well, that Coke Light was refreshing after that extra walking!)

The castle is a big part of the reason I chose to visit Montreaux. I wanted to visit a “typical” lakeside Swiss town, something less urban than Geneva, but couldn’t decide which one would be best. Then I stumbled upon my friend Allison’s amazing travel blog, Eternal Arrival (thanks, Facebook algorithms, for being useful for one thing in your life), and she had just written a post about off the beaten path scenic spots in Switzerland! Montreux and the castle were on her list, and just like that, my choice was made. I love when life works like that. (By digital forces of questionable morality influencing our every decision? Ugh, but yeah, I guess.)

I was disappointed about the harsh 5pm sunlight – it didn’t lend itself so well to photos. But I got over myself and had an excellent two hours at the castle. I know that castles and the ideas behind them – classism, wealth inequality, etc – are actually not good, obviously, but I couldn’t help being impressed with the architecture and the historical value of the building.

When I was done at the castle I walked back to the hostel and checked in. I got a bottom bunk this time, which I was super thankful for, especially as I’ll be in Montreux for two nights. I used the free wifi at the hostel and texted with some friends from home and learned that Frida has always wanted to visit Montreux and especially wanted to see the Freddie Mercury statue here! The woman at the front desk of the hostel – Christine, who I adored – had just pointed out the statue on my map, so I promised Frids I would go find it. I also really wanted to get to a grocery store so I could buy some not-outrageously-priced snacks and avoid eating at super-overpriced restaurants and cafes, but unfortunately 95% of the grocery shops in town had closed by 7pm and most would not be open the next day as it was Sunday and I guess these folks are good god-fearing people. I searched online and found one grocery store that was going to be open until 10pm, right near the Freddie Mercury statue. Perfect.

I decided to walk again, as opposed to taking the bus, because it really is so luxurious to have the time to go everywhere on my feet instead of worrying about schedules and appointments and deadlines. My only goal was to get to the store before it closed, and I had plenty of time.

Walking by the lake at sunset again gave me the vibe of the ocean. I saw a lot of families, a lot of beautiful art, and finally, Freddie Mercury! I excitedly texted Frida to let her know. I got a text back soon after: “I’m weeping.” Success!

After hanging out with Freddie I made it to the grocery store which…well, it is generous of Google Maps to call it a grocery store. Gas station shop might be more accurate? Place to buy some provisions if you are in desperate need at 9pm on a Saturday night? I fell into that category, though, so I made do. I felt a bit like I was doing a resupply shop for the PCT – everything I bought was shelf stable and vaguely unappetizing but would do in a pinch: dried apples, raisins, salami, chocolate. Well, the chocolate wasn’t unappetizing – it was delicious.

I did take the bus back to the hostel, seeing as it was dark and I had big plans for the next day. I had agonized over how to best logistically plan my short time in Montreux, but ultimately decided that I would take a day trip to Gruyeres. It was far for just a day – a few hours on several trains, roundtrip – but Gruyeres is home to both a cheese factory and a chocolate factory, plus a castle, which is basically my dream scenario, so I decided it would be worth it.

And with that, armed with many screenshots of the train schedule, my inexpensive food options, and a weird numbness in my big toe (I don’t know when it started or why, but it was noticeable and bizarre), I happily fell asleep.

Switzerland, Day 1: Fondue and Flea Markets in Geneva

It took me less than an hour to get to Geneva. I hopped on the bus in France, battled motion sickness for a solid 45 minute, and then suddenly I was in a new country.

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New city, new street art

I had an easy time getting my Swiss Travel Pass – it’s such a relief that everyone in a customer service position in Switzerland speaks a bit of English. (That’s definitely not the case in France – shoutout to the dude at the Orange phone store who looked at me disdainfully when I asked, “Parlez-vous anglaise?” and simply said, “Non!” before turning to speak with another customer!) The pass will allow me to travel on as many trains as I want/need to for the next 8 days, and also grants me free admission to museums and castles and such. It was super expensive – almost $400 – but I’m hoping it will be worth it. Switzerland is, in general, incredibly expensive. That’s part of why I hesitated to visit – a full week in Switzerland is costing me ten times as much as two weeks WWOOFing in France. But I’m so glad nonetheless that I chose to adventure here – as I’m writing this post it’s only been 48 hours in this country, and I’m already deeply in love. And I haven’t even gotten to the mountains yet!

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Thunder storm on the horizon

I’d been warned that Geneva is not the prettiest or the sexiest of cities, and that is true. I arrived in thick humidity, with a thunderstorm on the horizon. My hostel was fine; it was so expensive you’d think it would be a five star hotel, but no, it was just a regular bunk bed in a regular all-women dorm room. And the top bunk no less. Welcome to Switzerland!

The exciting thing about the room is that shortly after I arrived, three other girls showed up – a pair of friends from the UK, Khilna and Kate, and another solo traveler from Canada, Leslie – and they all spoke English! It sounds sort of dumb when I write it out, but y’all, I was lonely for two weeks being the only native English speaker! Elsa made such a huge effort to speak English in groups when I was around, and the other WWOOFers tried their best, especially Anne, but ultimately I just wasn’t able to communicate with most people at the farm to the best of my ability, and so it never really felt as though anyone knew the true me. That’s totally on me – it’s super arrogant to show up in another country and expect everyone else to speak your language! – but it remains true no matter whose fault it was. Being around English speakers felt so comfortable. We all introduced ourselves and then set about doing our own things, but I hoped I would get to see them all more later (spoiler: I did!).

My main goal in Geneva was to have a pot of fondue. It’s one of the local specialities and it’s a pot of melted cheese in which you dip hunks of bread – I’m not sure any further explanation is necessary as to why that was my major goal! I was sort of bummed that the weather was so rainy right upon my arrival, but I tried to look on the bright side: fondue is way better in the chilly rain than in the smothering heat. I’d looked up “the best fondue in Geneva” on the internet because I’ve heard that all restaurants in Switzerland are very expensive, and the price points between “mediocre” and “omg that’s so good I could die” apparently are not much – so I figured I may as well treat myself to the best! I’d already read good things about Les Armures, and then while browsing the brochure the hostel gave us, I discovered an Extremely Important Fact: allegedly, Les Armures is where Bill and HILLARY CLINTON like to go eat fondue when they’re in Geneva!!!!!! That settled it, obviously. I had my evening plan.

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Why yes I did doodle on this photo and send it to my girlfriend, guilty as charged no regrets

It seemed like kind of a fancy place so I called in advance to make a reservation and felt very grown up. I showered and prayed for the rain to stop for a bit and then it did so I took myself on my merry way. I decided to walk because it was only a mile away and I wanted to see the city. I hoped it wouldn’t start raining again.

I got super lucky and the rain held off for two hours while I explored and killed time before my solo dinner date. I visited the flower clock (kind of anticlimactic) and saw Jet D’Eau from afar (also pretty anticlimactic – what’s up with Geneva’s weird tourist attractions?!). I got a bit lost in the old city but eventually made my way to the restaurant – conveniently located right next to St Pierre Cathedral, the church I had been looking for the whole time I was lost.

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Not so impressed with this flower clock?

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Sweet tunes

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Will the rain hold off?

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Yes, or at least until after dinner

The host sat me right away, at a small table with a “reserved” sign on it. My server was super sweet and I felt amazingly comfortable. I ordered a pot of fondue and a glass of white wine, and when both came I was just so happy. I didn’t feel weird sitting alone; I made myself leave my phone in my bag and I only took it out to take some photos of my food, like the basic bitch that I am. I think (no, I know) there was a time when eating alone at a restaurant sounded horrifying to me – I wouldn’t have wanted to do it and I’m not sure I would’ve been able to. Yet my solo fondue date at Les Armures was calm, easy, pleasant…it was perfect. I felt really proud of myself for how far I’ve come. I thought of Hillary Clinton eating the same fondue I was eating. It was really, really good.

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I have been told this is food porn so I guess #NSFW

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Why is that man ruining the photo of Hillary on the wall of this restaurant?!

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The brief moment before the sky opened up as I left the restaurant

After dinner I set off back to the hostel, feeling tipsy and pleased. As soon as I left the restaurant a light sprinkling of rain began to fall from the sky, and within minutes it was a torrential downpour. I had my raincoats but it was zero help. I eventually ducked under an awning and waited out the worst – there was a lot of lightning and thunder! I felt grateful that this part of the storm hadn’t happened while I was meandering before dinner.

I got back to the hostel and thought I’d be the only one in the room, assuming the other girls had gone out on the town for Friday night…but much to my delight, all three of my new friends were sitting on their respective beds, chatting and getting to know each other. I climbed up to my bed and proceeded to join them.

“I hate small talk,” Kate explained, and I know exactly what she means because I, too, hate small talk. I often say, if I can’t connect on a real level with a person, what are we even doing? We’re all gonna die soon and I refuse to go out while chit chatting about the fucking weather, ya know? If I die while talking please let me be learning something valuable about our world, or another soul, or lesbian culture, or even just someone else’s favorite type of cheese – ya know?

Anyway Khilna was teasing Kate and saying she always wants to ask people super deep questions immediately, like “what are your views on abortion?”, so then we all talked about abortion for a long time. We also talked about Donald Trump, white supremacy, Brexit, Charlottesville, marriage, kids, gay bars, WWOOFing, tarot, and traveling. It was the best conversation I’ve had in a long time.

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New friends in our hostel room

Reluctantly we decided we should go to bed at midnight, but we all agreed to go to breakfast together at 8:30am. I fell asleep very full of cheese and had wild dreams.

After breakfast the next morning I said goodbye to Kate, Khilna, and Leslie and set out for the Saturday flea market at Plaine de Plainpalais. Ron, a friend of mine from high school who lived in Geneva for a few years and kindly gave me many recommendations when I reached out, even though we hadn’t spoken in years, had told me about it and I love a good European flea market. On my way there I stopped and took some photos of an interesting looking synagogue. I also reflected on how well I’ve gotten to know myself when it comes to traveling. I love walking around a city if time permits because it allows me to get my bearings and understand the city better than if I just take public transport. I love outdoor things that don’t require I focus on a tour guide or an audio tour – flea markers, for example, and also parks, rivers, lakes, mountains, and self guided walking tours aka just walking everywhere at my own pace. I don’t necessarily love visiting museums when I visit a new place – one has to be really exceptional to make me want to go see it, especially if I have limited time in a place – but if I do go to a museum I’d like it to be a modern art one. Again, this sounds so basic when written out, but it’s just really neat to reflect and realize you know yourself well, or at least better than you knew yourself ten years ago! I am becoming a grown up and I am learning and honoring what I like! And what I dislike! I can travel successfully and happily alone! I can choose cool things for myself to do, things I will enjoy and value. It just felt really nice to acknowledge all that.

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This is the synagogue I found en route to the flea market

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I mostly took these photos for my dad

The flea market was great, as I anticipated, and afterward I decided to walk toward the junction in the city where two rivers meet. I got there easily and it was interesting – one river seemed very clear and turquoise and the other was a muddy grey. Watching them mix together was cool but weird; I wonder why the two rivers are so different. I do not know.

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Flea Market, Part I

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Flea Market, Part II

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Flea Market, Part Gay

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The two rivers meeting at this junction!

I walked back to the hostel, stopping on the way to get some good pictures of the Jet D’Eau and popping into a Laduree branch for an almond croissant and a rose petal macaron. And then I was off – to the train station, to Montreux!

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Geneva is beautiful when the sun shines

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This sign was on a random apartment building and it literally says “I came to Geneva to be gay” and I’m wondering who will make me one for my house in Portland?

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Bye Geneva, you were way cuter than I thought you were gonna be!

Four Days in Paris: The Beginning of our Euro Trip

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See ya, #pdxcarpet

We landed at 10am on Thursday morning and I couldn’t actually believe we were in Paris. I think partially because I planned so little for this trip (credit to Alley, she got most things in logistical order and I just decided to tag along, essentially) and partially because I’ve been so all over the place both mentally and physically this summer, it didn’t quite hit me that when we got on the plane in Portland we would end up…in France! And then there we were! I was surprised, even though that’s how air travel works.

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