People Profiles – Switzerland

Lidia, Technically France on Her Way to Zurich

We meet Lidia in France, but after we have published our People Profiles. Luckily, she is originally from Zurich and on her way there on a single gear bike (with braking power). She has never partaken in long distance cycling before, but as a joke she told her friend, a professional cyclist, that she would bike home from Paris to Zurich. He did not believe she would, but I can testify that here she is, pedaling beside me with backpack and bike. She currently lives in Paris and works in fashion, specifically with shoes. When we tell her we are headed to Switzerland, she gives us advice for our route and sends me her email address so that we can contact her if needed during our trip. In no time flat we are at a parting of ways – goodbye Lidia and safe journey!

Andrea, Georg, and Flurina, Munchenstein, Switzerland

Our saviors from our crazy day up Blattepass (and back down again), Andrea, Georg, and their daughter Flurina make our impromptu visit a memorable one. Andrea is on her cellphone when we arrive at her gate requesting space in her field for her tent. She lets us in and shows us spaces in her yard where she thinks we can put up our tent if we choose not to just come inside and sleep in an empty room, telling us “we have bees” (I happen to have a bee/wasp phobia). Thinking she means an infestation, I am inclined to choose the room, but then she shows us her five colonies. “Don’t worry, they’re asleep,” she says, “You are more likely to hear the horses.” One colony has finally produced some honey this year, but the rest are too young. “I tend to acquire more bees than honey,” Andrea jokes. Andrea herself once lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student, in Los Angeles. Just recently she saw her host family again for the first time in 32 years when they decided to take a family vacation to Europe. Inside, she is preparing for a Kindergarten class. Her husband, Georg, works as a teacher for youth ages 13-16, teaching German, among other subjects. He offers us food, drinks, and whatever else we need as Andrea fixes us up a room upstairs. We are stowed in Flurina’s room, their fifteen year old daughter who is at rehearsal for the youth circus. Andrea has things to prepare for her classroom, so I type the rest of my Blattepass story upstairs while Kyle emails more hosts across Switzerland. In the morning, we wake up to find the breakfast table set for us. As we eat, Flurina, their daughter comes downstairs and eats with us. We are impressed with her knowledge of US geography; she seems to know more than most Europeans we’ve met on our tour. Andrea comes downstairs and we talk over breakfast, discussing our blog and our interest in urban planning. When I tell her I am especially interested in social and community planning, she tells me a little bit about housing for the elderly in Switzerland. Typically the elderly retire to a nursing home in Switzerland rather than living in planned communities like she saw in the US, but there is currently a new movement by younger architects and planners to recreate multigenerational households by having young families with children move into the homes of older people (not necessarily related, as many families are much more fragmented nowadays). As our conversation winds down, I take my breakfast plates over to the sink and Flurina instantly gets up to load them in the dishwasher, impressing Kyle and I with the level of hospitality from someone her age (we’ve witnessed this in many countries in Europe – children are trained to be hosts very young; even seven year old Flo in Belgium was serving us snacks as we watched Le Tour de France with her father). Kyle and I pack our things and we exchange information. It is a warm goodbye all around as we leave.  Thank you to this wonderful family for taking us in.

Maja, Reto, Loretta, and Silas, Beinwil, Switzerland

We are happy to discover upon tapping into WiFi at the City of Arrau that we have accommodation that night on a lake, about an hour’s bike ride. Earlier that day we had climbed some monster mountain passes, steeper and higher than Blattepass by quite a lot (silly us for thinking that mishap would make everything else easy), so I was a little unhappy to discover that our slight detour would mean another decent hill climb. Our hosts suggest that we stop and take a dip in the lake; it is warm at 26 degrees Celsius. We take their suggestion, and enjoy the exhilarating ride down to the lake, abet on loose gravel and stone. The lake is beautiful, and up close it is crystal clear and very still. We are starving from our climb so Kyle starts dinner as I change into my bathing suit. Many other people are also enjoying the lake access point, equipped with restrooms, showers, and stairs down into the water. We take a dip, going in for a minute before getting back out to finish dinner. Just a minute later, strong wind gusts are bending the trees sideways and wreaking havoc at the site. Many people are huddling under the shelter as Kyle frantically tries to pick up our food stuff before it blows away and I cover fragile belongings from a potential torrential downpour. Kyle wants to leave, but the path is up and the wind is strong so instead we also huddle under the shelter to eat dinner, hoping the wind dies down. It doesn’t. Kyle asks around, hoping to hitch a ride, but all he achieves is knowledge of a footpath following the lake, taking us to another path up. We try it, and it works out…until a large steep hill looms into view. I get about halfway up before indigestion from dinner sets in – the hill is too intense for me right after dinner. Kyle, the hero he is, takes over, riding our both our bikes up the hill in stages. We finally get to the top, only to discover that we have another steep hill to climb and then another. Our hosts live at the top of the hill looking out over the lake! Wishing we had skipped the swim, we finally get up the last hill and see an incredible full view of the lake. It is pretty dark at this point, but the view is still spectacular. Maja and Reto come out to greet us, surprised to see us so late but still very welcoming. We chat over drinks on their deck overlooking the lake until yawns drive us to bed. Maja and Reto tell us that ten years ago, they toured Central America, Mexico, US and Canada by camper, but are now excited for their children to get a little older so they might take some bike touring trips. At first they were surprised by the gigantic Walmarts found in North America and a little put off by them, but soon realized that they were perfect for parking their camper and a good morning shave. From these two we learn that people in Switzerland speak many languages, often not being able to communicate with their own countrymen! There is Italian, French, Swiss-German, a mountain dialect, and now the children are being taught English in school, making it difficult for them to communicate fully with their own parents. Over breakfast the next morning with Maja and Silas, I ask about their home – Maya is a gardener and Reto, an engineer, so how do they afford to live in a home with a million dollar view (it is truly incredible) when housing prices are rising? In their case, they bought just in time before the housing prices went up, but in many cases it is common for the parents in Switzerland to give their children their homes once they have a family. After breakfast, Maja generously offers us vegetables fresh from her garden and some homemade bread to take with us, all of which is delicious, but I especially enjoy the cabbage turnip. Hugging Maja goodbye (Reto is at work), Kyle and I head out to Lucerne, hoping to get there before the impending rain.  Thank you Maja and Reto, the climb was worth it!

Julia and Roger, Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne is lovely and the sun has come out for a bit when Kyle and I arrive. We picnic at the lake, enjoying the view of city meets breathtaking nature. After lunch we make our way over to Julia and Roger’s flat, right in the city center. Julia meets us at the door, welcoming us into her home and showing us to the guest room. On the wall is a map of Australia. “Have you been to Australia?” I ask. “We’ve cycled across it,” she replies. In her living room is a world map surrounded by photos of scenery and people from all over the world. As it turns out, Julia and Roger have cycled down the west coast of the USA from Alaska, from the tip of South America to the top, across Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia, including the Middle East. Their longest trip was 22 months! Right now Julia works as a medical assistant and Roger as an outdoor sports salesman; they live their lives saving up money for the next trip.  Julia tells us that when she was young, she knew she wanted to travel, but once she took her first tour she found that one trip just didn’t do it!  When I ask if they’ve ever had an incident in all their traveling, Julia tells me “not one.” “Cyclists aren’t really targets,” she says, “We aren’t exactly flashing around all the money we have or partying all night in bars located in a rough part of town.”  Of course, Julia and Roger have several advantages in living this type of lifestyle due to being citizens of Switzerland.  First of all, they pretty much live in one of the most expensive countries in the world, making everywhere else seem cheap.  Second, Switzerland has a three percent unemployment rate, making it easy for them to find a job upon return.  Finally, Switzerland’s welcoming policy towards immigrants gives her citizens a reciprocal warm welcome in most other parts of the world – for instance, while Kyle and I would spend $500-$750 on visas for certain countries in South America if we chose to visit, Julia and Roger get through borders without paying a dime.  Perhaps this is why Julia tells us that you can find the Swiss in all parts of the world; her citizens are well used to international travel.  Aside from being flat out inspiring, Julia and Roger are wonderful hosts, even letting us stay for an extra day just to rest from our travels.

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