Of course, travel doesn't really begin on day one, but far, far in advance of that, with the purchase of tickets, the reading of travel guides, the purchase and preparation and anticipation. So day one, September 22, really wasn't day one at all, even though it's the day that I left the US for Europe.
I was very lucky to get such a cheap ticket from Nashville to Zurich, via Newark. I've watched the prices of tickets since before I bought mine, and nothing has been within $100 as cheap as the one I bought. Lesson: It pays to start looking early, being flexible with regard to dates and destinations (I would have flown into Milan or Rome, probably -- but the ticket to Zurich was not only cheaper, but allowed me to go to Einsiedeln and see one of the famous black madonnas there). It also allowed me to ride the train through the Alps, both to and from my destinations in Italy. There were multiple gifts in that simple decision. One of my hopes for this trip was that I would remain open to the gifts that same to me every day of the trip.
I had shopped for clothes to take with me, and had five things to wear "on the bottom:" 3 light skirts, a pair of well-worn and much-loved black cotton knit gauchos, and one pair of fairly new, LLBean black cotton knit slacks, and also six nylon t-shirt tops that I knew (from experience in California in July) could be washed out and dried overnight in most situations. I had only a little underwear that I would also wash out overnight. I left with one large rolling backpack (the best $25 I ever spent in my life), and one lovely leather bag that could either be a knapsack or large shoulder bag. I also had a small nylon duffel crushed into the bottom of the not-completely-full rolling bag. It was all very portable and carry-on, eliminating the question or problem with checked luggage on the trip over. There was plenty of room to expand as I went along, and then to check a bag on the return trip, as I had done in 2005 when I made this trip). I also knew that less is better where jumping on and off trains and other transportation is concerned. Hauling lots of heavy luggage makes any trip more difficult than it needs to be, with a little thought.
I shouldn't have taken my large, telescoping tripod or my mini-notebook computer. That would have cut down on bulk and weight, and I didn't/couldn't really use them much, anyway. I took a swimsuit which I didn't use, but that was a good idea anyway. A parishioner friend, a very gallant retired pilot, used to say, "Never leave home without your passport or swimsuit." I like that attitude; it's quite romantic, really. There were beaches, and on another trip, I might have made excellent use of that swim suit.
So, a parishioner/friend drove me to Nashville. All flights left on time and seamlessly. I sat beside a sweet young German couple who sneezed, coughed, and blew their noses for the entire 7-hour flight over the ocean. I swore. I prayed that I would not get sick, too. Yes, I did get sick, but not immediately, so who knows if it was their germs or some other that caught up with me, 5 days or so after arriving.
I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland sometime on Wednesday morning. At the airport I bought my ticket into Zurich and also to Milan in the late afternoon. Then I found the tourist information center in the Zurich train station, as I expected, and received great advice (and a map) about how to walk down either side of the river (the upscale shopping side, and then the charming, infinitely more interesting, "old city" side. After that long walk, I would take the train to Milan, Italy, riding through the Alps.
Here's a little of what I saw:
This is the station where I arrived in Zurich. It's a lovely old structure, and very few of our US cities have retained this sort of train depot. Of course, the pigeons fly in, especially from the back end, where the trains come in. It's a lovely combination of outdoors and indoors, and the air never gets close and stale, because there is always the part that is open to the trains.
Around the perimeter of the interior, there are lots of shops and cafes, and in the front part, the entry you are seeing and to the right of that, there is a lovely market -- not simply tourist trinkets and other "gift items" such as flowers or candy, but a full-fledged market with stalls that sold meat, breads, cheese, and other household supplies that could be easily picked up after work and taken home.
Switzerland uses the franc, not the Euro, so I had to visit the bank machine to retrieve some Swiss currency. I thought I withdrew an exorbitant amount, but things are so expensive in Switzerland that I really didn't.
Zurich is also a very gracious city, however. There was charming old architecture to observe at every step. There were lots of parks and benches to sit on and relax. Unlike Italy, where there are often not places for a weary traveler to relax (though I say the monuments of Rome are highly polished by the butts of locals and tourists), Zurich offered lots of benches along the way.
I walked down to Lake Zurich on this street, mostly past very high-end stores. When I stopped for lunch, I found a middle eastern place that offered "kebaps," which I'd never had before. I fully expected them to be some sort of "kabob," as we say in English, some sort of meat skewered, roasted, and eaten from a stick. On the other hand, what a "kebap" really turned out to be was meat that we in the US would call "gyro," meaning a large chunk of meat roasted n a spit and turned, turned, turned. It was put into a soft tortilla with a whole bunch of vegetables as well as a sauce that moistened it -- and it was eaten like a soft-shell taco or a burrito. It was cheap, fast, and tasty, but in no way local to Swiss cuisine. Still -- when you're on the run during the day, it was an easy meal. When I got to the lake (maybe a mile?) this is what I saw:
Ignore those cranes in the distance. It was a charming sight, with many swans. It was a popular local lunch site. I know these pictures look like cloudy black and white, and am not sure why; but the sun was shining, and people really flooded out of the businesses and came to walk on the many docks, or to sit on the many benches to eat their lunch. I also saw lots of tourists lining up for ferry tours of the lake.
The walk down the other side of the river, for this was the great crossing point for traffic, was through a very medieval-Europe-type area, with winding roads, beautiful churches, and lots of charming shops. I stopped into the church where Zwingli preached some of the more radical Protestant doctrine of the time (which actually sounds very moderate, compared to the radical evangelical preachings and teachings I hear daily here in Tennessee). I bought myself another journal, which I had decided would be my own souvenirs of a place.
After some time spend lingering in a park close to the station, I caught my late-afternoon train through the Alps to Milan. Lessons and reflections for that first day: Try to have a little German, or at least familiarity with a phrasebook, when traveling in what is essentially a German-speaking country. It's a bit arrogant and rude to do otherwise. I was careful to have a tiny bit of Italian and some facility with my phrasebook for Italy -- but completely, thoughtlessly ignorant, where Zurich was concerned. I'll do better next time.