Switzerland’s public transportation services are spectacularly efficient, convenient, ubiquitous and comfortable. Our specially discounted, eight-day, all-inclusive, family transportation pass cost $700; which was a good deal given the number of trains, buses, trams, cable cars, and ferries we boarded over the next week. Our guide for the week was Suzanne’s cousin AnneMarie. AnneMarie’s fluency with multiple languages; extensive knowledge of the geography, culture and history of Switzerland; and her willingness to share with us made our time together fun and educational.
After touching down in Zürich, we hooked up with AnneMarie, purchased our 8 day Swiss Pass as mentioned above, and jumped on the train for Wetzikon. Wetzikon is the location of AnneMarie’s home and bed & breakfast business. Dinner was a wonderful home-made tomato soup and then we all gratefully hit the sack.
A small family reunion was organized for us the next day in a small town near Geneva called Versoix. Suzanne’s grandfather emigrated from Switzerland to the USA in the 1920’s and we took the opportunity to meet some of the extended family. The next morning found us hustling to catch an early train to meet up with another relative (Elizabeth) who traveled with us from Zürich to Geneva. As we stepped onto the train platform that morning AnneMarie explained to Patrick the series of trains and the precise connection times. I was to learn that precision is the watch word (pardon the poor pun) for Swiss transportation. I glanced at the station clock and said aloud “The train should be here in about 4 minutes.” AnneMarie turned around and said, “No. Precisely 4 minutes.” She was correct.
She went on to point out a feature of train station clocks in Switzerland. You see, the train schedule is not rounded to the nearest minute – when the schedule indicates a train leaves at 13:22 – it leaves at the top of the minute, not 15 seconds into the minute. So, to make it clear that the top of the minute has been reached, the second-hand stops for beat when it reaches 12; during that pause the minute hand moves ahead one tick. Once there is no doubt that the top of the minute has been reached, the second-hand begins its sweep to measure the next minute. Very precise. The kids watched the clock for a few minutes just to make sure it happened every time. Apparently it is a feature of many Swiss made clocks and watches.
The sun had come out and I was able to snap a few shots as we sped through the countryside. Every now and again AnneMarie would alert us to a great view as we turned a corner or exited a tunnel.
We arrived in Geneva around 11AM, having traversed almost the entire country of Switzerland that morning. (I’m sure we actually arrived at a more precise time than 11AM, but I didn’t write it down in my notes.) We were met at the Geneva train station by more family, Nathalie and Patrick (for clarity I’ll differentiate the two Patricks as Patrick S. and Cousin Patrick), Andre and Christiane. They greeted us warmly with handshakes, a traditional 3-cheek-kiss, and gifts of chocolate for the kids. The three-cheek-kiss was a particularly difficult tradition for the kids to navigate. It was the first time they had encountered it and weren’t sure what to do. Later we discussed the tradition with AnneMarie and learned that it is a greeting/farewell reserved for good friends and family. It involves a light kiss (or “air kiss”) on right, left, then right cheek. I observed it done mainly with women – men tended to shake each other’s hand. The bro-hugs that have become popular in the USA were not in evidence. For road-schooling purposes I asked the kids to begin to note the different manners we encounter around the world and be prepared to write a compare and contrast essay as we near the end of the trip.
Cousin Patrick and Natalie led us on a guided tour of Geneva. It was Sunday so the city was quiet except for a scattering of locals enjoying the wonderful weather. We started with the Protestant Cathedral, St. Pierre where John Calvin worked for a while during the Reformation. Geneva played a huge part in the Reformation of the christian church in the 1500s. After getting a little more educated on some of the church reformers of the 1500’s we hiked up the tight spiral stairs to the top of the church towers. We all lingered at the top of the towers to take in the sights and catch our breath.
Our relatives in Geneva work in what I think of as stereotypical Genevan industries. Cousin Patrick works for a private Swiss Bank. When I asked him if the industry is as secretive and clandestine as in the spy novels, he gave me a polite smile and said “hmmmmm”. Then he pointed out the many impressive bank buildings in downtown Geneva and we were on to the next topic. Nathalie works for a company that mounts diamonds into expensive watches. I guess someone needs to handle all the money and diamonds…
We were treated to a wonderful lunch at a very nice restaurant called the Armory right in the center of town. The lake perch were particularly tasty. One of the restaurant’s claims to fame is a handful of snap shots of a young Clinton family (Bill, Hillary, Chelsea) on the bulletin board behind a suit of armor. We also had a diversity of languages around the table. Some of us only spoke English, some spoke only French, and others only German. We really put AnneMarie, Nathalie, and Cousin Patrick’s translation skills to the test as we chatted away over our meal.
For our final night in Versoix the family hosted us for a dinner of traditional Swiss dishes which included five types of cheese, plates of cold cuts and vegetables, wine, and a chocolate souffle for dessert. Each cheese was labeled and Cousin Patrick gave us a description of each.