Visiting Friends at the Very End
When I tell people I studied abroad, usually someone says that it’s so cool that I’ll be able to couch surf around the world and visit all of the friends I’ve made. Free accommodation is definitely a perk of visiting international friends, but I’ve realized that visiting a friend and traveling with them is such a different experience than visiting a country and touring on your own. Even though you might miss out on some of the historical facts and trivia provided by the youth hostels’ free tours, you get to go to the really interesting places that may not be included on those tours. Having a friend as your tour guide gives you the chance to live like a local, which is an incredibly unique experience, no matter how short the trip may be. During my last week abroad, I visited my friend Leor at her home in Switzerland and those four days were some of my favorites of the semester.
During a normal semester at UVM, I go home about once a month for family events, holidays, or just to get a break from college life. Needless to say, this semester was the longest time I have ever been away from home. That’s what made this trip to Switzerland extra special. I wasn’t flying back to my home, but I was going to a home, and it was a treat! Leor lives in Switzerland with her family and was back home after school ended. My friends Jackie and Carissa were also visiting for two weeks and after my final ended, I hopped on a plane (well first a bus, then the plane and then a train) and spent a few days with them during their trip. So not only was I able to explore the beautiful country of Switzerland, I was welcomed into Leor’s wonderful family, and I got to see some of my friends from the U.S.! It was a win-win-win situation!
After being greeted by the welcoming crew at the train station, getting a tour of Leor’s house, petting her lovely dog Stewie, and gawking at the views of Lake Geneva from her deck, we went out for the first of two fondue experiences I had during the four days. Swiss fondue is nothing like the fondue I had at the Melting Pot in Syracuse. We dipped little onions, pickles, and bread into the warm cheese and devoured the pot in front of us. The restaurant made it into a whole dining experience when the waiters dressed up, played music, waved the Swiss flag, and ground pepper into each pot from a giant pepper mill every time someone ordered fondue. It kind of reminded me of the spectacle the waiters would put on at Rainforest Café when serving the volcano cake dessert.
The next day began at a chocolate factory, like all days should. Not only were we educated on the history and production of Cailler chocolate, but we got to taste a whole bunch of delicious samples too! After the factory tour we made our way to Gruyères, a local medieval town. I’m still in awe of the fact that people still live in quaint villages surrounding castles. Houses, shops, and restaurants lined the cobblestone streets, and on the edges of the town were most spectacular views of the mountains in the distance. Oh, and throughout the day we continued to eat cheese and chocolate.
One of the coolest things about this trip (besides visiting my friends, of course!) was that over the span of 4 days, I went to 4 countries. How, you ask? I started and ended the trip in Northern Ireland, went to the Dublin airport in the Republic of Ireland, visited Leor and co. in Switzerland, and took a boat over to France for the day! The day before I arrived, Jackie, Carissa, and Leor visited Milan, so when I got there, we took the boat over to St. Gingolph in France. Before we crossed the border, we walked along the lake in Montreux and visited another castle, Chateau Chillon because when in Europe, you visit castles.
In France, we enjoyed a tasty lunch after Leor ordered for us in French. I thought my 8 years of taking French in middle school, high school, and one semester at UVM would help me communicate with locals while abroad, but every time I had the chance to I panicked and spoke in English. Now that I think of it, when I actually visited France in 10th grade I’m pretty sure I ordered only one meal in French, and that was only after my teacher told us we needed to practice. The more I listened to Leor and her family speak in French, the more words I began to remember and more things started to make sense!
We crossed the “border” between France and Switzerland (it was a small bridge over a river) and didn’t even need to show our passports! We were approached by the border guards, but only because they wanted to pose for a picture with us. After picking up some popsicles, we sat by the water and waited for the ferry to take us back to Switzerland.
On the last day of my visit, we walked from Leor’s house to the old village of Chardonne where a wine festival was taking place. The village was bustling with activities and smelled strongly of delicious cheese as we passed the food vendors. As we walked through the crowd, Leor shared her memories of attending the same festival as a little kid. Stories like hers are ones you don’t always get to hear on the touristy tours, which made this event extra special. This whole visit was special!
I had such a lovely time visiting Carissa, Jackie, Leor and Leor’s family. They are such wonderful hosts and friends! Heading back to the airport was so bittersweet because I definitely did not want to leave, but after living with another family for four days, I was itching to be back with mine. And I was flying back home in 3 days! So much to do, so little time.