We had a wonderful weekend in Switzerland at the home of old family friends. Last week, my mom and aunt were visiting us and had planned to visit these friends next at their home southeast of Zurich, near the Liechtenstein border. But, because of the ongoing strikes in France, it looked like mom and Diana would have difficulty getting a train. But Switzerland is less than a two hour drive away and the trains there are running as scheduled. Greg was also leaving town, going to Texas (luckily, via Geneva), and the thought of being alone for the weekend was not appealing. So discussions were had and a plan was hatched to drive everyone (except Greg, sadly) across Switzerland by car. We left on Friday morning.
The schools are very strict here about attendance. For Kadin’s school, where the teachers have taken several days off to strike, I just thanked them for their understanding that Kadin would not be in school on Friday. For Rees’s school, I told them that the ongoing strike had made it necessary for us to take my mother to Zurich by car. (You’re supposed to give at least 15 days notice for planned absences, but that is not how the political situation works here.)
The drive was super easy. The roads were smooth and clear. Not unlike driving in the US. In France you pay at tollbooths, in Switzerland you buy a sticker. Figuring out what this highway sticker was and where to buy it caused some concern, but turns out you can get them at any gas station. And Swiss roads are wonderful, the fee obviously used well. Viaducts fill the valleys and tunnels lower the mountains. It was smooth sailing.
The kids were shockingly in love with Switzerland. Not that it isn’t great, but it is just not all that hugely different from France. When we try to do road trips with them on weekends from Grenoble they whine and complain and act like we are torturing them and “wasting” their weekend. Everything is somehow dull and unimpressive. In Switzerland, they were eager and loved everything---even old playgrounds at rest areas. The only significant variable that changed, as far as I could tell, is that they got to get out of school to go to Switzerland.
A little before Bern we go through a long tunnel and instead of SORTIE it's AUSFAHRT. The language has changed, just like that! After that hill it was all Swiss German until we headed back through that same tunnel on Sunday. (Hard for me to put my German head on, but people in Switzerland are more multilingual and likely speak English.)
We spent Saturday touring Liechtenstein (just across the road/Rhine and it really does look like a fairy tale kingdom) and a more traditional region of Switzerland called Appenzeller where they are known for their Appenzeller cheese, embroidery, widely spaced houses, and being the last Swiss Canton to allow women to vote. I enjoy this slow kind of travel where you do one small area more in depth.
I felt so well cared for by these generous family friends that I really let my guard down. At the Appenzeller cheese factory, Kadin left his sweatshirt. Then, when I came back to buy souveniers later with the boys, the waitress pointed out that we had left Kadin’s gloves at the table. Then, after paying for the souveniers, another clerk came running after me to return my bank card that I had left in the machine. Sigh. I’ve been so vigilant this whole time I've been abroad---up to that moment!
The next day we headed out to the local castle in Werdenberg and then through Leichtenstein again to Austria where we had lunch and found another geocache at another castle. Two castles and three countries before noon.Wild game for lunch.
Mom and Diana stopped at the small border crossing to get their passports stamped each time. Sadly, Liechtenstein does not stamp passports. While they wanted more stamps, I did not feel like explaining why my kids have French passports and a different last name while I have an American passport. I also have yet to complete my long stay visa process so am happy this was purely voluntary.
Then, while they headed on to Zurich, the boys and I headed back to Grenoble. The only slight flaw in the trip was the weather, which was foggy and rainy much of the time. We did get some nice hints of the mountains the last day, but my kids will have happy, if mostly mountainless, memories of Switzerland.
All was easy and uneventful on the drive back. We stopped at the last rest area in Switzerland to fill up on gas (since there are petrol depot blockades in France and there might be shortages) and clean out the car. We would be arriving late and wanted to have everything packed and organized before it got dark. The rain had stopped and so we took a few moments to put everything in our bags, brush everything off, and dispose of the garbage we had accumulated, etc.
To cap off our day of 5 border crossings, 4 countries, and 2 castles, at around 9:30pm, we pulled into the parking garage in Grenoble where we were supposed to return the car-share car. Just a short tram ride between us and our beds. Then we discover that Kadin has somehow lost his transit card during the drive. Outside of Zurich I had asked him if he knew where it was, and he showed it to me in the car. I told him to put it in his pocket, and that was the last we saw of it.
It wasn’t in his pockets, it wasn’t in any of our bags (which we methodically searched). Rees did an excellent job of checking every nook and cranny of the car (found a water bottle---ours---and a comb---not ours) to no avail. Kadin could not remember for the life of him what he might have done with it. It just wasn’t anywhere. We searched through every book and sheet of paper, every box of crackers. The boys were very patient and indulged my obsession about this. "Mom, it's not in the car," Rees truthfully pointed out. It might have fallen out of Kadin's pocket at a playground at a rest area or, more likely, it had fallen onto the garbage bag on the floor of the car and been inadvertently thrown away.
Well, it was a long walk home, so we figured we'd take our chances on the tram anyway. It was Sunday night, about 10pm. The trams don’t run that often at that hour, so we walked to the next stop while we waited. The tram finally came and, just as we were about to board, I could see that while there were not that many passengers on the tram, there were about a dozen controllers. Just our luck! So we let the tram pass and hiked it home with our bags. Kadin really couldn’t complain since Rees and I did have our passes at the ready!
This morning I again walked Kadin to school and later went out to get the card replaced. This was another successful, if not beautiful, conversation all in French. I told her my son had lost his card (so glad that I am now feeling comfortable with the past tense!). The woman asked me when and where it was lost, so I told her yesterday, in Switzerland. She laughed at this and agreed it probably was good and gone, but she said they would put a block on the card so it couldn’t be used and if it hadn’t turned up in 5 days they would issue a new one for a 7 euro fee. In the meantime, she gave me a ticket good for 5 days of tram riding. Standard procedure. Live and learn.
Meanwhile Rees came home for lunch today and said he was soooo glad he did not go to school on Friday. Apparently in 8th grade geography class (includes all of the 8th graders at the small American School), things had gotten out of control while they were painting their paper maché globes. Two people had apparently put blue hand prints on the walls with the paint. One fessed up, but the other didn’t, so as punishment, the whole 8th grade will have detention until the guilty party comes forward. Everyone, that is, except Rees and another 8th grade student who was away in Paris on Friday. Phew! Fascinating enforcement....(and is it any wonder that the French high school students are now the ones out marching in the streets?)
You win some, you lose some, but it's not dull.