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
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
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
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
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
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.