04.04.2008 - 16.04.2008 10 °C
Friday 04.04.08 (Continued)
Despite the fine weather the remainder of western Europe seemed to be enjoying, Switzerland's capital Zurich was overcast, that shade of formless grey that does nothing but promise large helpings of dreariness. This time I'd memorised the overland route to the hostel but seemed to be progressing straight from the bahnhof (train station) into an industrial district. I engaged two men having a chuckle at my expense (a bewildered backpacker is an amusing thing to behold), and queried regarding directions. The African one of the pair spoke English, and when I enquired about the safety of strolling in these parts, he replied heartily, "Don't worry man, you are in Switzerland!" With confirmed directions from a friend on the opposite end of the cellular, I was gone, all waves and danke schöns.
I encountered an Australian couple on the way, and when they escorted me behind some large stacks of scrap metal, the hostel materialised like I'd just pushed a trolley onto Kings Cross platform 9¾. I was hustled into one of four beige barracks and introduced to the owner, Tina. Naturally my first question for her was regarding the nature of the place. Nestled between the Autobahn and the railway, a schrebergarten (gnome-infested public garden plot) and an industrial park, Biker's Home is not your average hostel. At once a home for immigrants awaiting papers and accommodation for East German workers, we were about as far from the Swiss ideal as humanly possible. I soon became part of the family, which meant drinking large quantities of the local beer, Feldschlosschen with brave backpacker and German alike. The high wages offered keep foreign workers arriving; especially the East Germans who still don't enjoy equality in their homeland nearly twenty years after the Wall came down. There were no such barriers in Tina's, just a night of beer and laughs punctuated by some frankly bizarre attempts to make oneself understood.
On Saturday morning I climbed aboard a sleek locomotive and caught the fast rail for Solothurn. For just a one-hour journey, the price was thirty francs (over AUS$30), but was as soothing as a warm bath on rails. Once there, I was re-united with Susanna, who I'd met previously in Mexico in 2005, and we caught a bus toward her village of Halten. She lives in one of the oldest dwellings of the village, a 300-year old ex-farmhouse comprising four storeys and a basement. Although presently partitioned into three apartments, the tenants are more like a big family and there's always a fair bit of traffic between, whether to swap beers, dinners or the day's news.
We made our way back to Solothurn in the morning to meet Susi's good friend Joceline for drinks. As we sheltered from the cold inside a groovy cafe on a river bank, it became apparent it was perfectly acceptable to drink beer at any hour of the day, but after buying a round realised a fistful of Francs really doesn't go too far in this tiny nation, even if food, shelter and the household Lindt chocolate stash are already accounted for.
On Thursday I took Bobby to Bern, just an hour distant by train and Switerland's capital city. Nestled within a hairpin bend of the river Aare, Bern's gorgeous historic town is dressed in green sandstone - a UNESCO world heritage site built up in layers around the steep banks of the fast-flowing and green-hued waterway. Not long after the city was founded, its mayor shot and killed a bear, which became the town's icon, and ever since, its most controversial attraction. Just on the other side of the Nydeggbrücke Bridge, a pair of spartan concrete pits are home to two frustrated brown bears, pacing up and down like they could use a change of scenery.
As the weekend pulled into the station, I was reminded of my holiday's imminent ending. We made the most of the occasion with a carriageload of Feldschlossschen, horse, schnapps and wine, and a traditional Racklett of cheese melted with whatever else you'd choose to load on top. Before I knew it, nine great days had elapsed and I was departing midday on Monday. I rode first a bus, then train to Zurich, and soon was airborne, bound for Heathrow Airport. From there, I caught a ten hour flight to Bangkok, followed by another ten hour journey to Sydney. There was just one more flight, a Qantas into Melbourne, and I was back on solid ground, exhausted after 30 hours in controlled environments; into the waiting arms of my parents after eleven months abroad.