The first time I took a flight by myself I was 12. My sister was living in Toronto and I was living in Ottawa with my parents. Twenty-two years my senior, she foot the bill, sent me a ticket and had my parents put me on an Air Canada flight to the big city. I thought I was super cool. Amazing even. Like the best and coolest and most super person ever. That was even with the giant plastic folder I had to wear around my neck indicating to any and all that I was a minor travelling alone. The following year I would start smoking.
The scariest flight I ever took — where fear had nothing to do with the safety of the aircraft, but where I felt my personal safety would be potentially compromised — was when I travelled to Venezuela with my family. I was 13 and we were moving our lives to South America. Before boarding the plane my mother insisted that I take off my Star of David. It was 1986 and the whole world was being hijacked.
The most entertaining flight I ever took was a few years ago from Toronto to Paris with my wife. Our flight attendant, clearly happy to see people from his tribe, gave us all the perks of first class without having to pay the fare and regaled us with stories about his recent sojourn to Montreal for a little R’n’R and the other things that might come with that on a weekend of debauchery in a town that is not your own.
The next few months for me are all about flying. It turns out that the more you do it, the easier it gets. Italy, Greece, France, Spain. But first? Switzerland.
The land of yodelling, international investment banking, global development and dubious art collections had not been high on my must-see list before we left Canada. Sure, I wanted to see Stockholm and Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Dublin, but Switzerland wasn’t really on the radar. As it turns out having friends somewhere certainly makes a difference and when ours called from Geneva and invited us to visit we couldn’t say no. And after a weekend of breathing the cleanest alpine air of my life, I’m truly glad we didn’t.
Situated on Lac Leman (which we foreigners call Lake Geneva) are several cities, big and small, including Geneva, the small town of Nyon where we spent most of our time, the famous Evian in France and a handful of other glorious towns that live in the shadow of the Alps. Everything is short (no skyscrapers) and manicured (no riffraff) and French (since it’s the part of the country that borders France). From the right vantage point you can even see Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in all of Europe and namesake of the pen and watch people.
In the short time that I’ve spent here (only five days since we’re moving on to Barcleona at the end of this week and then on to Greece for the beginning of our whirlwind summer tour) I’ve learned a few things about Geneva that might be surprising/helpful to you, should you decide to come here for some international do-gooder work or just for a holiday on a yacht.
Fondue: Switzerland is not the movies and people don’t walk around in lederhosen and will not yodel on command no matter how nicely you ask. They also are highly unlikely to serve you fondue in the spring and summer. Obviously much more of a winter thing, fondue is no longer readily available in June. If you are fortunate enough to find it on the menu, do not order it with water as it is only to be consumed with wine. The experts say that water makes all of the delicious cheese stick together in your stomach, which is obviously terrible for your digestion. People will also laugh at you.
Money: It’s big. It’s colourful. It’s Francs. Having not yet adopted the Euro, the country’s currency remains the Swiss Franc — aka Confederatio Helvetica Franc (CHF) — and is made up of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 notes and coins five to 0.5 CHF and less. Since it’s currently on par with the Canadian dollar it makes the exchange rate really easy to figure out so when you’re buying that 50CHF litre of house wine at a pizza bar there’s no confusion that you’re paying $50 CDN. Certainly not for the budget traveller, despite the money’s aesthetic beauty you won’t have that much of an opportunity to spend time with it before having to buy a 5CHF croissant and a 3CHF espresso.
Gaydar: Forget about it. In Geneva, it seems every man has a small dog and is with a woman with short hair and sensible shoes. The boy in the Fire Island T-shirt suddenly materializes a lanky French woman on his arm, while the woman who seems more like Ellen, less like Portia gets in the passenger side of a Maserati with a man young enough to be her son or old enough to be her father, neither of which is likely.
However we did get a great gay surprise this past weekend. The son of a friend of ours has been here doing an internship. Our hosts arranged for us to see each other socially since he’s always been a smart young man whose company we enjoy. After taking the first sip of champagne he came out. I don’t know whether it was the mountain air or the booze, but I felt lucky to be one of the first he told and pleased that by chance, I could be there to raise a glass and welcome him into the club.
I might have even yodelled. But just a little.