The rest of my time in Switzerland was a little of everything. Cédric’s family and I drove across the country (a 3 hour drive with traffic) to their hometown of Gebenstorf near Baden in the German part. The first thing I walked into was South Park in German. It was strange to hear a dub of Cartmann.
My visit fell on the Baden festival, the biggest festival in Switzerland which happens once every five years (cinquennially?). Every five years they alternate between the small and big versions of the festival. This year it was the small one.
Every street in Baden was packed with stands, stalls, and stages. The bus there was full. It was a Monday night; I heard on Saturday people had been rubbing elbows in the streets. The entirety of Switzerland shows up for this.
If there’s one word for it, it’s freaky. There were a few concert halls with stages set up; some sort of bondage-themed sex display doused in red light with silhouettes of women dancing projected on the walls. Everyone was wearing leather. There was a pink, absurdly decorated princess toilet where you could get your picture taken while on the toilet and, I think, actually use the toilet if you wanted. There was food.
We met up with Cédric’s friends, a group of 19-20 year-old German speakers celebrating one of their friend’s birthdays, and paraded around town. I confess I was at a loss here since I couldn’t understand anything they were saying, but outside of a hotel I suddenly heard Russian being spoken and followed it to a group of six Russian guys in their late twenties sitting around having beers on the patio. I must have stumbled upon the only Russian speakers in the city. They claimed to be engineers working in Baden for a few months and a couple of them joined us in wandering around, so I had someone to talk to the entire time.
Baden was a surprisingly storybook, hilly town that was just what I’d expect a dark, olden medieval town to be like, possibly because we were walking around in the dark. It had this heavy feel of a heady drink with German influences unmistakable for the lighter, more delicate flavors of the French south. There was a beautiful overlook with a view of sloping roofs of rows of houses cascading down the hill, then the castle rising up on the next hill at the horizon. How I need to get a camera that takes good nighttime photos…. Cédric told me the castle was one of their favorite hangout spots, which sounded pretty wonderful.
I’m eternally grateful to him and his family for taking me in. They were some of the nicest, funniest, and most hospitable people I met, going out of their way to show me what the country had to offer. Experiences like this are, in my opinion, the epitome of traveling.
After we parted, I crossed off one of the few must-do’s on my Europe list and shelled out the 70 Euros for a ride on the Glacier Express, one of the most scenic train rides of Europe. Maybe because I’d been in this scenery for the past week, but it was underwhelming. Sure there were stunning views but… eh… maybe it was me. Plus, you can’t take great photos through the windows. I think in winter it would look just magical, or around sunrise or sunset. There’s a very expensive lunch option if you want to make your ride really comfortable, but I just brought croissants with me.
The good thing about Switzerland is that you can just spend a day riding trains and traverse the whole country, whose diverse parts are threaded together by their very high standard of living. This was one of the few times when my Eurail pass came through for me, because trains are very expensive in Switzerland, and I just took a day to ride around as much as I pleased. A Swiss-pass would have been helpful had I not had the Eurail, and in the future I would buy country passes in the more expensive places I wanted to travel extensively in this way. I would not buy the Eurail again.
There are so many cities and towns in close proximity to each other I didn’t know where to go. Geneva was all business, but Lucerne was really beautiful, I was told, so I spent my final day in Lucerne. I wish I’d stayed another day; it really was one of the more beautiful towns I visited, with a gorgeous lake and a beach along it, views of mountains on one side and the sparkling old town across on the other. Plus, they had a nice, relatively cheap kebab place.