I am on a shiny, fast train heading toward shiny, efficient Geneva. As we ride the rails, we go through woods ablaze with fall colors-bright yellows, flaming reds, and pumpkin oranges. The undulating green French countryside has given way to granite rocky hills signaling we are entering Alp country. There is something about the Alpine country that I love – the crispness in the air, the clean oxygen in my lungs, and the cute flower-box adorned homes clinging to the green hillsides.
But what was I doing in Geneva? I hadn’t planned on a visit to Switzerland – one of the most expensive countries on the planet where a Starbucks cappuccino literally costs $7. I was actually just here for a few hours to be picked up by new friends working at the UN Headquarters here. You may be sick of me talking about new friends, but I can not stress enough how this is the most amazing and wonderful part about travel.
I met Leyla through my website when she emailed a comment about my post of the reverse culture shock some travelers feel when they return home after a long journey. She, too, has her own travel website, called Women on the Road and we kept in touch over the months through emails and she even interviewed me for her site. She lives in France not too far from the Swiss border and told me if I ever was in France I should stop by. Well, you know me… so that’s just what I did.
Leyla and her partner, Anne, live in an amazing, renovated (work in progress) farmhouse near Seyssel, a small town about an hour southwest of Geneva. I was excited to meet them. And I had no idea how old they were or what they looked like. I kind of like that. It’s great developing relationships just through words/thoughts (in emails) and not having any preconceived notions or judgments because of how a person looks – their age, sex, race… whatever.
I spent a lovely week at their home. We drove around the beautiful surrounding areas all under the amazing back drop of the Alps and Mont Blanc.
They took me to Chamonix where I ascended the incredible, Aiguille du Midi at 12,600 feet. The views were fantastic. Jagged snow-capped peaks pierce the cobalt sky and in wintertime the place is mobbed with skiers schussing down the mountain side. After my short time at the frozen summit, my altitude-challenged lungs were ready for sea level and my stomach was ready for lunch. Luckily back down in town Anne and Leyla were waiting to take me for the local specialty-raclette (from French: to scrape). You are basically served a mini charcoal grill sitting on its side like a birdcage of briquettes with a tasty hunk of cheese positioned in front of it. As it melts, you scrape the gooey goodness onto to the accompanying bread or potatoes. And enjoy with the plate of charcuterie of salamis and similar. Yummy.
We also took in Annecy, an absolutely charming medieval town (and one of the most appealing I’d been to in France)…with the quintessential cobblestone pedestrian lanes filled chock-a-block with shops, cafes, and strolling inhabitants.
Some other local musts I partook in: chowing down on garlic and butter soaked frogs legs and enjoying Seyssel’s annual town fair – with bric-a-brac to buy, foods to sample…and the odd cow or chicken for sale. Moo.
And to top it all off, Leyla took me to the local Sunday Bingo game. It doesn’t get less touristy than this. You can picture it – the local community center with a high pitched ceiling supported by sturdy wood beams, long tables at which random locals sat averaging the age of 75, and a table against a wall with locally baked goodies to buy – the proceeds going to some local charity. After several hours, Leyla and her lucky cards brought her good fortune in the name of a frying pan, a gift basket filled with edible goodies, and even a vacuum cleaner. Like Charlie Brown, all I got was rocks. I got nothing. Actually, I did benefit from the three-hour lesson of French numbers. Now I can count to 100 in French. Well, more accurately, 99-Bingo cards only have one or two digits.