Switzerland: First Impressions

After 3 months cruising around Indonesia on a scooter, it was time to say ‘terima kasih’ and ‘sampai jumpa tahun depan’ (thank you, see you next time). Uluwatu in Bali feels like a home to me but I was ready to begin a new adventure in the old continent. I’d never been to Europe but had been meaning to visit my extended family and see the land of my ancestors for some time. And of course, explore Europe’s beautiful coastline.

My first impression of Spain wasn’t so welcoming. I was interrogated by the immigration agent and it seemed as though he didn’t want to let me in the country. He asked how much money I had in my bank account, what my parents jobs were, and some other personal questions. Maybe he was just surprised I wasn’t wearing a suit and holding a briefcase like most people in line. After around 10 minutes of questioning and looking down on me he finally said “vale, pasa” and I was officially in Spanish territory.

After 3 long haul flights and a 6 hour bus ride, I got to my final destination Bilbao, in Pais Vasco (Basque Country), where my sister and aunty picked me up. I hadn’t seen them for almost 2 years so the reunion was emotional and I felt like I was home. For the first time in my life I suffered a bit of jet lag and got sick so wasn’t able to do much during the first few days, although what I saw through the car window was pretty cool. Luli (my sister) had booked us tickets to Geneva, Switzerland, so after resting for a few days I was fully recovered and there we went, to stay with my uncle, aunt and cousins.

I knew little about Switzerland before going, only that everything is super organised and the population is really cosmopolitan. I was not surprised when I arrived.

Not a single piece of litter on the ground, people of different ethnicities, bags for dog poo in every park (mostly little indoor doggies), and everyone seemed quite content with the lives they lead. What impressed me most, and I think even more so after coming back from Bali, was how organised the traffic was, how everyone used pedestrian crossings (even if they were 100m away), and how ‘organised’ can sometimes make us look like robots. It was the first western city I’d been to in a long time and honestly, that was what impressed me the most: how if you look at societies from a different perspective it could look as we are all doing the same in our monotonous routines, and maybe sometimes forget how diverse our options could be. I think living in a western city for a long time can sometimes make you forget about where we come from and make you live in “automatic mode” without really thinking. (This is quite interesting because if I had been living in a place like this my whole life I probably wouldn’t realise it)

We used public transport to get from the airport to my cousins’ house. On the way I noticed how there’s a lot of green areas and parks along the city, not many tall structures and most of the buildings are important international organisations. Just around the corner from where we stayed is the Palais des Nations, where one of the major United Nations offices is. The place is pretty neat, an old building constructed in 1928 with all the flags from the member countries in front of it. It was cool to spot the Uruguayan flag there.

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On the esplanade there’s a monument of a huge chair with a broken leg which symbolises opposition to the mines and bombs, and acts as a reminder for the politicians that visit. In 2008 cluster bombs were officially banned. On the second day we walked to town alongside the lake shared between Switzerland and France, which is one of the  largest lakes in western Europe. We saw the Jet d’Eau which is a huge fountain, visible from everywhere in the city. I even spotted it from the plane when flying into the airport. It projects 500 litres of water per second to the height of 140 metres at 200 km/h, so at any given moment there’s around 7000 litres of water in the air. That’s a lot of water. And if there’s a bit of wind you get soaked.

I spent a day up in the Saleve mountain with Luli, which overlooks the entire town of Geneva and some of France. (the mountain is actually in France). Crossing borders in Europe is so buzzy, there’s no controls at all in most of them and sometimes you don’t even realise you’re in a different country. So this was my first time in France!

The highlight of this trip was when we went with my cousin Belen and her boyfriend to this little French town called Annecy. People call it the Venice of France. Such a scenic place. Surrounded by water channels and picturesque narrow streets, filled with old buildings and little castles. The streets have so much charm, really touristic now, but so beautiful anyway. After walking around for a while we sat down at a classic french crepe cafe and had a yummy crepe with caramel and vanilla ice cream on top which was perfect to wrap up the day.

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Before going to Switzerland I had never been so inland in my life. This trip was a different experience for me, having lived my whole life next to the ocean, there were some moments when I felt the “need” for it because of the feeling of freedom it gives me. However I loved the experience which helped me appreciate different things, and would love to explore more of Switzerland next time. Hopefully sometime soon!

 

 

 

 

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