Sunday, April 29, 2012

100 Things I Learned in Switzerland: Sights and Sounds

2) The sights and sounds of Europe ~ living, touring, hiking and eating through a good slice of it.
3) Europe, like the USA, is a very big, diverse place.

After graduating college, during those years when we worked any job while trying to find our way in the world, a few girlfriends of mine decided to date their passports.  Every time things didn't work out with a man of interest, they took off for Edinburgh, Paris, Cinque Terre, and put another stamp in their little books. 

They talked of Euro rail passes and hostels, and came home with stories of sleeping on trains and the guys who hit on them during siesta in Rome.

Meanwhile, I was nannying during the week and touring the US interstates from church service to youth coffeehouse on the weekends.  It was exciting, but let's just say doing a show in Auburn, Indiana didn't have the same mystique as playing for tips on the streets of Prague.

I had the dream of European travel, but circumstances and the contents of my bank account never added up to a plane ticket.  At 26, when Doug proposed, it was my only regret…I never got to backpack through Europe.  A year after the wedding bells, pregnant with our little surprise blessing, I thought it was all over.  Life of adventure, done.  But...

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,
this God has prepared for those who love him.
~ Paul's first letter to the Corinthians 2:9

Only a few months later, Doug accepted a position at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.  The little guy was four and a half months old when we moved across the ocean.

"You're taking a baby to live in a foreign country?" so many people probed, surprised that we would even consider this adventure, let alone do it.

For me, the answer was simple.  I wanted to see Europe.  This was my chance.  I wanted to kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower and hike the Cinque Terre.  I wanted to sit in a street-side cafe, eat croissants and sip espresso.   I wanted to people-watch, and listen to them laugh in foreign languages.  I wanted to study the beautiful architecture of any random street  with no need to rush for a tour bus, no hurry for a travel schedule.

Before the landing gear hit the tarmac, Doug and I made an agreement: we would see one new place every month.  We didn't want to settle down and forget the beautiful places around us. 

Now four years later, we've surpassed our goal.  Sometimes we planned a major trip, other times we just took an afternoon to see a little town outside the city.  All counted, we've seen 68 cities and towns, and we've still got a month to go...a hiking trip near St. Moritz, Switzerland. 

We haven't so much "backpacked" through Europe, as much as we've "stroller-ed" through it.  Our Baby Jogger City Classic, loaded up with kid(s), diaper bag, and travel gear, has strolled from the trails of the Black Forests all the way to the halls of the Vatican Museum. 

Though only 4 years old, Abe has enough stamps in his passport to make any of my old girlfriends jealous.  Ella Grace is just 15 months, and she could swap some stories, too.

So, dream come true, right?  These places, the sights and sounds of these 68 cities and towns are the backdrop for 100 Things Learned.

*    *   *

Here's where I must enter a small caveat for #3.

Europe, like the USA, is a big place.  Most things/people/places look simple from far away.  You hear folks on both sides of the Atlantic say, "Oh, in America, it's like this....and in Europe, it's like that."  But all this become more complicated as one gets closer.  

As an example…and most people don't know this…Doug is an expert in his field concerning the immune defenses of amphibians.  He is interviewed and quoted, his research sited.  He recently published a chapter in a textbook on the subject.  Still, he'll be the first to tell you there is so much he doesn't know about how the little critters fight disease.  Days and weeks and years of study turn up some answers and a lot more mystery. 

It's the same with travel, the same with Europe.  London, Prague, Paris, Rome, Edinburgh, Zurich...these are all very different places, with their own languages, their own cultures...not to mention all towns and countrysides in between.     

Same goes for the USA.  I ask my American readers, would my Swiss friend have a complete understanding of America by visiting only 68 places?  She might have a good overview if she saw NYC, Miami, LA, and Dallas, but what about Boston, Nashville, Austin, and Seattle, and all the places in between?  Sure, she saw Detroit, but Holland, Michigan is way different from Detroit.  And what about Mackinac Island?  Sure, she saw Washington, DC and the Shenandoah National Park, but did she walk the rest of the Appalachian Trail, or see the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee? 

Get my point?  Anyone could spend years traveling these vast areas, even write 100 things she learned, and still not have a complete understanding.  There's always more to see, always more shades of a place and it's people to discover.    

In case you're wondering…the 68 cities and towns include:
The 26 Cantons of Switzerland
Paris & the Alsace region of France
London, England
Prague & Bohemia, Czech Republic
The Highlights of Italy as far south as Naples
Western Austria
Southern Germany
Abe & I also traveled to Oban & Edinburgh, Scotland.
Doug also did some research outside of Madrid, Spain.

Still looking forward to/hoping for:
Amsterdam and The Netherlands
The rest of France
Spain and Portugal
Vienna, Austria
More of Eastern Europe

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