It is very important to know how to be alone.

I was almost flat broke, determined to spend the last of my money on a ticket to Zurich. I was, after all, meant to celebrate my own birthday, yes, and 20 is big deal! And seeing as I didn’t want to be around humans, it would be better to be around art. Calculating that there was indeed enough money for a museum ticket and a train ticket, the decision was made.

I packed a large bag with two cameras, a book, some snacks, and walked to the train station to catch the train to Zurich. Due to Swiss geography, one does not get to stay on the train from Lugano the whole way to Zurich. After going through Bellinzona, then the steep Gotthard Pass, which is quite an engineering feat, the train stops at windy, lonely, tiny Arth-Goldau, a transit station where you have about 2 minutes to scramble and find the train that will take you to your final destination. Arth-Goldau is freezing cold in the winter, smack dab in the middle of Switzerland, and when you stop there it feels deserted and almost surreal.

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That is Arth-Goldau as I walked across the way to my train. I know, such a crisp photograph! (Please forgive the thin lines on many of the photographs- something with my camera, probably the backing plate, scratched thin lines onto several rolls!)

From there, I settled onto the final train. Rolling into Zurich, through graffiti-filled tunnels, the train parked and I got off. I had earlier researched which tram to get on and found the #3 with little effort. Paying for my ticket, I headed straight to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the city’s fantastic museum. Museums have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time solo.

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I spent the morning and early afternoon there, looking at everything from Piet Mondrian to medieval Madonnas. If my faulty, human memory serves me, it wasn’t crowded. I was allowed to have entire rooms to myself. In one room, a spider descended from the ceiling right in front of me, as though to have a better picture of the bright blue and white Fernand Leger painting we were both admiring. This is the only living, breathing thing I shared my experience with willingly.

Living abroad, one discovers the importance of being able to be alone. How to be alone, not lonely, and if you are lonely, to corral the loneliness somewhere else so that your living hours are not spent in sorrow. As I walked around the Altstadt (Old Town), past buildings that had lived through 500+ years of events, I passed art galleries and fashion boutiques. Carts of beautiful books for sale sat outside large, sunny shop windows. I thumbed through a few, unable to even think of buying anything. Languages from every corner of the earth were heard, mixed with the local Schweizerdeutsch, echoed from wood-beamed buildings. I will never not be bored of being in old places. This walls of these buildings had so many stories to tell, and the people who lived in them and worked in them surely could echo my sentiments. Wandering, listening, watching, are all wonderful things to do alone.

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It was a beautiful day- sunny but not too bright, a spring morning full of that omnipresent optimism that Primavera brings. Being able to wander with no time limits, no need to do anything, was perfect. I stopped outside churches, walked by the river, people-watched, and spent the whole day going wherever felt right. It was marvelous to do so.

Although this was over 5 years ago that broke girl and I are still very much alike. Being alone has become more and more normal. My friends, scattered across the globe like seeds, exist often on the fringes of my life, and my beloved partner is also geographically quite distant. Museums are still a place I go to escape reality and to embrace it, and I have been saving a weekend just so I can go to the museum here on a rainy, awful day.

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Although the formula isn’t perfect, I do know how to be alone quite well, and it is very important to know how to do so. Especially in our lives, where it is so easy to feel despair and embrace negativity, knowing how to fortify yourself with books, Skype dates, plenty of sleep, and spontaneous adventures will keep you going for longer than you think.

Also, fair warning, but this might be one of a few escapist-like pieces. The world right now is a vicious thing, and the teeth and claws normally hidden behind lips and under fur are gleaming everywhere I look.

The kind of place you want somebody.

09100004 09100007 09100013Even though people never think of it that way, I always felt like Zurich was a place for quiet romance. When I went there I wanted to be bundled up with a scarf over my face holding a gloved hand, dodging the crowds in the narrow Altstadt streets. I wanted to share a bretzel and walk by the Limmat and then be in the Kunsthaus for hours with somebody who wanted to see Mondrian and Leger as much as I. Feel the crisp air redden our cheeks and duck into my favorite Chinese noodle haus for dinner or sample Luxemburgerli on a bench while the blue and white tram slowly goes by. I would drag them in to admire the gorgeous agate windows in the Grossmunster and we would duck into alleys and toss .10 CHF coins in a fountain somewhere.

There’s also something about riding on a train alone that makes one want a lover there- a quiet sort of security. They wouldn’t need to talk or be gestural, just be present. Maybe we’d share a Kagi Fret on the way back or bring a small bottle of wine to drink on the 3 hour train ride back to Lugano.

I think I ponder these things because I want Switzerland as a whole to be my lover. It leads me around to new places and shows me new things in a gentle, caring manner that is so eloquent. It writes poems for me and swallows me in lakes, streams and mountains, humming the whole way a slightly wild tune. Switzerland wears sturdy shoes and knows itself, making me all the more infatuated.

A city I dearly truly miss: Zurich, Switzerland

It’s a place for day trips, for wandering, for cobblestone streets, good noodles, Luxemburgerli, and gorgeous views. Trams in admiral blue whiz efficiently, the people wander, couples relax on benches, and the Limmat river cuts the city neatly into pieces.

The Kunsthaus stole my heart, and I fell in love with the Grössmunster. Seeing Mondrian on a bare wall and being able to wander in an early morning haze made me feel ethereal and weightless. Regardless of the fact that I couldn’t afford to shop or stop in any of the boutiques, not to mention that my Deutsch is of the most rudimentary sort (I can order food, curse, and ask for things like tickets for the train or how to get to the cemetery), Zurich is still a city that I find myself loving.

The multi-lingual book stores beckoned me, the crowded energy in the Sprüngli cafes, and the quiet walk near the Bahnhofstraße all managed to spin me into a sort of fantasy world. When I miss Switzerland, I miss the crisp spring air of Zurich and the knowledge that I didn’t need to be anywhere, that I could go anywhere at all.

What a place.

My first trip to Zürich, in 2009.

The very first time I went to Zurich was September, 2009. I had just gotten semi-used to the humid hell that was Lugano, when our professor told us we’d be spending a Wednesday in Zurich for our Freshman Seminar class. Luckily, my friends Katerina and Laura came with me.

Zurich to my immature eyes was perfection. I haven’t changed that opinion much, now, but I can tell you that everything was amazing. The streets, the Altstadt, the trams, the train itself which was so quiet and smooth! Katerina and I went and saw an American movie, ate a great lunch near the Ferris wheel, and we spent the evening eating a traditional Zurich dinner in a dining hall that was over 500 years old.

Touristy? Yes. Magnificent? Definitely. I didn’t even know what the Grössmunster was, or how wonderful a Luxemburgerli tastes! And yet, I feel in foolish, uneducated love with this gorgeous Swiss city.

Note: All these photographs were taken by a teenager obsessed with contrast and saturation, and armed with a terrible Nikon Coolpix digital camera. I do not claim that these are quality photographs, only a medium to see through!

Zurigo, how I miss thee!

On my birthday, I was miserable. I was far away from home and I was turning 20. I felt as though I had accomplished nothing, and my self esteem was non existent. I had barely any money, but I knew what I wanted to do anyway: go to Zürich. Something about getting away from Lugano, getting away from the people I loved, and getting away from the fact that at that point my future was so tremulous I got myself on a 7:00 am train and got to Zürich at early lunch.

I first went to the Kunsthaus, the art museum in Zurich with stupendous art from Mondrian to van der Weyden. They had a magnificent room devoted to Ferdinand Hodler, one of my favorite Swiss artists. I went from room to room, absorbing the energy from each work and wondering what the artists’ lives were like. I wandered around the gift shop and got some postcards with my favorite paintings on them- I do this and I collect these postcards so that I have a little miniature art collection of my own that is portable.

After the Kunsthaus left me full of artistic thoughts, I spent some time in Starbucks, listening to five or six languages being spoken simultaneously, then wandered through the Old Town, or Altstadt, walking to the Grössmunster, the two-tiered church right in the middle of the Altstadt.

The church has agate windows and draws many tourists, but I didn’t stop walking. I wandered around the Grössmunster, admiring the copper doors and the height of it all. I walked across the bridge where the Limmat River meets Lake Zurich, and saw the Ferris wheel and walked down Bahnhofstrasse, past the shop of Luxemburgerli’s. Of course, I couldn’t resist going in, fighting the crowded space and getting a box of them for the ride home.

Right off the Bahnhofstrasse on the right side as I was headed to the Bahnhof (train station) was an English book store- thank goodness! I had been craving literature and bought 3 or 4 reasonably priced books, deciding that even if I was going to broke I should have some words to salve the wounds.

On the train home I made friends with a Turkish girl studying in Milan, got off the train at about 11 at night in the dark, took the bus home, and collapsed in my bed. I didn’t feel so insignificant anymore, and it was a day well spent.

I just looked outside to the cold, familiar world outside my window and now I’m back in my seat instead of curled up in the SBB train waiting to get off and go to my apartment. It seems like a whole other world.

I celebrated my birthday a day early because tomorrow will be one giant blob of things my mind will attempt to care about but probably won’t.
Today, I got on the 11:12 train to Zurich, then took the RIGHT tram.
And guess what?
Did all of this on my own. Small victories = warm fuzzy feelings.
I went to the Kunsthaus, and saw Twombly, Mondrian, Hodler, Leger, Picasso, and a bunch of new artists I really want to learn more about.
Afterwards, I went on a hunt for a Zurich gem: The brezel.
Well, actually, brezels are sold all over Switzerland, but there is one stand that sells really really good, fresh, buttered brezels. (Brezels = pretzel. Nothing fancy).
Then, I went and got Luxembourgerlis and stashed them in my broken handbag for later.
I stumbled upon an English book store, and inside was the oddest group of English speakers ever. Some Turkish people, a couple women in hijabs, lots of British people, some flustered men, and then me. I found Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, which I’ve always wanted to read, and Vanity Fair, which is quite the brick of a book.
Then, I don’t mean to sound super “ohhhh! ahhhh!” but my guilty pleasure is a glossy magazine, and they had reasonably priced Elle magazines.
This one had Katy Perry, whom I despise, splashed across the cover, but I didn’t even bother looking at the interview with her. She stands for…ridiculousness. That’s another post.
Then, I went to the Starbucks, and listened to students jabber in Spanish, Switzerdeutsch, French, English, and Italian, silently witnessing globalization and the global city that Zurich is blending all around me. I got the cheapest thing, a plain latte, and I blended in and silently devoured my literature while witnessing everything.
Getting to the train station, I moaned internally as the hideous Train Italia engine pulled up. Train Italia is the worst.

The chairs are little quicksand pits. At one point they were comfy and soft and squishy, but whatever they are stuffed with has spread to the edges, so the victims who must sit there are SUCKED IN- it’s quite awkward, and not flattering. Everybody has double chins or bent posture, and the leg room is worse than most airplanes- it’s good for couples who want to play footsie, but not with perfect strangers rubbing boots.

Luckily, the girl I sat across from immediately began a conversation with me in accented English. We talked and talked, about history, traveling, English, love, trains, being sleepy, and we both gawked as a man with a rat tail (a living time capsule from 1995 or so) with a full length leather trench coat leered at a sleeping British couple who had taken up part of his seat. He could have greased a pan with his hair…shudder…

Anyway, so I made a friend on the train, she lives only 20 minutes away in Como, so I think we’re going to meet up for lunch! Yay random stranger bonding!