July 17-21, 2005

Zurich, Switzerland Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich alleyway Zurich alleyway
As we started our travels in Switzerland, Paul - my travel companion du jour - and I immediately became concerned that we would blow our budgets with outlandish Swiss prices. Basic amenities like food carried highly inflated costs, and finding ourselves unable to make hostel reservations online, we were worried that we might have to dish out some major cash to stay at a hotel. But thanks to a little bit of luck and the overwhelming generosity of friends, old and new, we rarely had an opportunity to pay for anything during our visit despite our insistence.

Arriving in Zurich on an overnight train from Barcelona, Paul and I raced to check in at the City Backpacker Hostel where we claimed, quite literally, the last two hostel beds in the city. Having secured affordable housing, we were able to ease our concerns a little as we got our bearings in Zurich by climbing a small mountain that is easily accessible via public transportation. Mt. Uetliburg, which rises some 1400 feet above the city is topped with a watchtower and offers panoramic views in every direction. Zurich is nestled among green rolling hills with views of the towering Alps to the south on clear days.

Later that evening, we were given the city tour by Matthias and his wife Nadina. Matthias and I met at MIT and have worked together for about five years developing terrain simulation software that is marketed and sold in Switzerland and Japan. Despite working for a Swiss company for several years, this was my first - and long overdue - visit to the country.

Matthias and Nadina took us through the old parts of the city, pointing out Roman artifacts that date back more than 1000 years. The city is beautiful, safe, and modern. High-end fashion stores dominate many of the downtown streets. Dozens of fountains spill clean water that can be safely sipped straight from the spout. Adjacent to the city is Lake Zurich, which has equally clean, remarkably clear blue waters thanks to decades of strict environmental regulations.

Following the tour, the four of us were treated to an extravagant dinner on the lake by Werner, my boss at Optobyte, whom I had never met in person. In a way, Werner seemed a little saddened by the event, referring to it as "the end of an era." Prior to our meeting, when anyone has asked how many employees work in his small home-grown company, he's been able to honestly reply, "I haven't even met all of them."

Later in the evening, we were joined by Matthias' brother Christoph who became my local guide for the remainder of my stay in Switzerland. As gay men with conservative, religious families, we found that we share a lot of common history and immediately became friends. Furthermore, as a fellow hiker and traveler, Christoph was able to offer excellent advice about outdoor activities in the area.

For our second day in Zurich, Paul and I spent most of our time with Christoph, basking in the sun on the shore of Lake Zurich. As the day drew to a close, we retreated to Christoph's high-rise apartment with a view of the Alps for a cookout with a small group of friends. Paul and I managed to bring a couple bottles of wine, but were otherwise rebuffed in our attempts to help pay for the meal.

Hoping to get closer to the Alps, Paul and I spent the following two days in Lucerne, which sits on a cross-shaped lake, surrounded by brilliant green foothills that rise to tall, rocky crags. As in Zurich, our experiences were highlighted by the generosity and hospitality of the people we met, including a bus driver who, noticing our heavy backpacks, got off the bus to point us toward the youth hostel where we had made our reservations.

From the nearby village of Alpnachstad, we launched an expedition on the 7000-foot Mt. Pilatus, which is infrequently climbed but heavily populated thanks to a cog railway and a tramway that take visitors directly to the summit. Throughout the 5500-foot ascent, we were treated to encounters with long-horned mountain goats and a choir of distant cowbells, carried to our ears by the cool mountain breezes. Our ascent mirrored that of the cog railway - the steepest in the world with a 48% grade. From the crowded summit, we gazed north into the city of Lucerne and south into the snowcapped Alps.

After more than a week of traveling together, Paul and I finally parted ways on July 21 with Paul heading south to Italy and me returning to Zurich to catch a late train to Slovakia. He was a great travel companion - always up for adventure - so it was sad to see him go.

For my last night in Zurich, I was once again invited to join Christoph and Matthias for dinner with their parents and Matthias' gregarious wife Nadina. At first, I was hesitant to accept an invitation to a family event, but I soon realized that my attendance was designed, in part, to allow Christoph's parents - who have refused to see any of his boyfriends - to meet another responsible, educated gay man.

Consistent with all of my other experiences in Switzerland, the dinner was characterized by warmth and hospitality and I was treated like a member of the family. It was sad to leave the dinner early, but I didn't want to risk missing my evening train to Bratislava. It's comforting to know that I'll always feel welcome in Switzerland.

Bumble bee on Mt. Uetliburg Bumble bee on Mt. Uetliburg
Butterfly on Mt. Uetliburg Butterfly on Mt. Uetliburg
Swan in Lucerne Swan in Lucerne
Lake Lucerne Lake Lucerne
View on the hike up Mt. Pilatus from Alpnachstad View on the hike up Mt. Pilatus from Alpnachstad
Mountain goats on Mt. Pilatus Mountain goats on Mt. Pilatus
Crow on Mt. Pilatus Crow on Mt. Pilatus
Mt. Pilatus hiking trail Mt. Pilatus hiking trail

© Copyright 2005-2006 by Rob Jagnow.