Summer in Switzerland



I’m going to Europe–vicariously.

Our son and his wife (who married, as you may remember, last October) are flying off for their belated honeymoon in France and Italy.

I’ve packed myself in Christopher’s suitcase–never you mind that his suitcase is halfway across the country in San Diego–and I’m going to visit Paris, Florence, Nice and Rome.  I’ll be so quiet they won’t even know that the mother-in-law is ooohing and ahhhing up that Eiffel Tower.

I promise not to speak.  In fact, they won’t even know I’m there.

My "brother" Patrick, "sister" Silvia and yours truly in the Swiss Alps, no kidding.

My “brother” Patrick, “sister” Silvia and yours truly in the Swiss Alps, no kidding.

If I were truly going, this would be my fourth trip to Europe.  For someone without oodles of cash, this is nothing short of miraculous!  The first trip happened at age 17.865.  (Eighteenth birthday was celebrated with a MOST delicious beer in Switzerland.  Best beer I ever drank.  Last beer I ever drank until discovering fancy brews here in the states a few years ago.  And haven’t yet sipped an entire beer in its entirety.)

Would you like to hear more about that first real trip?  I saved and scrimped and scrimped and saved for over two years, working in my dad’s drugstore, attempting to accumulate the $1,000 needed to travel to Switzerland with Experiment in International Living.  The year was 1975.  I finally scraped together the last penny and graduated from high school.  My parents then gifted me with $1,000 for graduation.   I broke down and cried.

My Swiss mom and Suzanne in the Black Forest

My Swiss mom and Suzanne in the Black Forest

The summer was golden and scary and wonderful and negative and positive and, yes, one of the best memories of this life.  First, some of us attended a language camp somewhere in northern Massachusetts where we spoke immersion German 24/7 for ten days.  I remember being so scared and uncomfortable that I got up and–excuse me–vomited every morning before breakfast.  That’s how shy this one was.

As soon as we started dreaming in German we were bussed to New York City to meet the rest of the group and flew over that there big ocean to Grand Paree.  We arrived sleepless, exhausted, not speaking French and proceeded to sight-see.

No wonder I can’t remember anything except impossible toilets on the street corner, no in-room bathrooms in the dingy hotel, endless steps upward to cathedrals.

Friends in the group, Eric and Terry

Friends in the group, Eric and Terry

Two days ago, pondering our son’s honeymoon, and their possible trip to the Eiffel Tower, I wondered if possibly–yes possibly–I had climbed the Eiffel Tower.  Searched faulty memory banks.  A dim dusty memory exists of nervous knees, crowded overlook, city lights twinkling down below.

But, as memories go, could this simply be a scene from a movie?

How to find out…?  Of course, ask the one person from the group I still know on Facebook–Terry–if this auspicious event actually occurred.  She claims it did.  She said we couldn’t climb all the way to the top of the tower–it was closed–but we enjoyed a view from the observation deck.

Terry and Suzanne.  It was a rainbow of a summer...

Terry and Suzanne. It was a rainbow of a summer…

Members of our group, aptly chaperoned by a fellow named Tom, boarded a train for Basel, Switzerland, where we spent the next month living with a host family, bless their souls for a) being very nice to a painfully shy girl from Michigan and b) speaking mostly English.

My “sister” Suzanne and I became very close.  That was the summer everyone wore too-tight jeans and she taught me how to lie flat on the bed and zip them up.  Then you were permitted to stand and walk around and suffer for the rest of the day, but, gosh you looked hot! At least that’s what Suzanne promised, although I silently doubted it possible to look hot except when sweating.

Beautiful "sister" Suzanne

Beautiful “sister” Suzanne

Silvia was the sweet younger sister and baby brother, Patrick, played a mean game of ping-pong.  A Welsh Corgi named Kerry barked and the parents taught this American how to eat yogurt (we didn’t have yogurt back then in the US of A, honest, can you imagine?) and sparkly mineral water and bibb lettuce.  Imagine!  Green lettuce which was not iceberg.

Oh, and real bread.  REAL bread!  I gained ten pounds that summer because the bread tasted so darn delicious.  Not a bit like white Wonder Bread from back home.

We took a train up into the Black Forest and visited the mother’s parents over east of Zurich and rode a cable car up into the white snowy Alps and…it was magnificent.

Once I decided, bad guest from America, to visit my friends Terry and Eric one evening on the other side of town and my host mother fretted and fussed and wanted to refuse me, but maybe I was obstinate, and went anyway.

The culmination of our Swiss experience was a splendid circular tour of the beautiful country with our original group and our new Swiss brothers and sisters–we paused at Leysin and sang, “Smoke on the Water” in memory of Montreaux and Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir which delighted our teenage hormones because of course it invited sex in a language few of us could speak.

Horse Barn

Horse Barn

The horseback riding camp brought us to a rustic back-country farm where dead flies hung in droves on sticky paper over the kitchen table and we bounced through endless fields on hot horses.  Sometimes the horses got bored and galloped wildly and this Michigander held on for dear life and prayed to all the Horse Gods for salvation.

Horse camp

Horse camp

Two months after we learned to dream in German–even though most of us couldn’t even understand six words of Swiss German–we flew back home via Paris.

What a summer!  Years later it still shines bright in this foggy memory, days of innocence and awakening.  I realized the smallness of my former world view and saw how it might take a lifetime to begin realizing how to allow and encompass differences and similarities.

My last night in Switzerland...for many years...

My last night in Switzerland…for many years…

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in May 2013 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Summer in Switzerland

  1. I love that you included the good as well as the more unpleasant things of your trip — made it more real

  2. Brenda Hardie says:

    Delightful memories, Kathy! I wish the newlyweds safe travels and wonderful times too ♥

  3. jeffstroud says:

    Good for you! You were determined! I wanted to go to Rome with high school but my parents couldn’t afford such a trip for me… Hmmm?

    Sounds like fond memories, it is funny all those food Items we now take for grated were not even in our consciousness at the time!

  4. Thanks for sharing the story! I couldn’t image having to zip those pants up after all the yummy bread, lol.

  5. lisaspiral says:

    Isn’t it fun to go back over those old trips years later? I’m always surprised at what I remember and what I’ve forgotten. I don’t know why you haven’t sent flat Kathy to join the newlyweds on that trip. If you’re going to go vicariously, you should really GO vicariously. 🙂

  6. What a sweet story! Thanks for sharing the memories! I remember well the pain of being so very shy.

  7. Kiah says:

    I love this post, Mum! Why haven’t I ever seen these pictures before??

  8. Kathy you are so good at sharing your experiences so we can travel to Europe vicariously as well. Say, that’s one fancy schmancy looking Swiss horse barn!.

  9. Carol says:

    What a great experience! They didn’t do those things when I was in high school, but I am happy I was able to enjoy Switzerland through you. Would that we had the cameras then that we have now, yes?

  10. Oh what a FUN stroll down Memory Lane – filled with smile inducing photographs! Kathy, just LOOK at you in the horse camp photo – you haven’t changed a single bit!

  11. Heather says:

    For someone as shy as you were (I don’t really believe you still are), this was an incredibly brave trip to take! My high school self might have ventured afar for that long, but this current self is far too comfortable methinks. Perhaps not. But definitely too poor 😉
    I think you should send a Flat Kathy version of yourself with Christopher!

  12. Lori D says:

    Great story, Kathy. I’ve been to Europe once. My parents gave me a trip to Italy for my high school graduation. We spent a day and a night in Switzerland. And, I know what you mean about that fading, foggy memory. Sigh. The story of my trip to Italy is written in my book anthology. I went with a bunch of my Italian-American female relatives (and mom), and we had some crazy things happen. Thanks for sharing your lovely experience, you shy girl you. Oh, and I’m sure your son and his wife will have fantastic fun.

  13. Terri Truesdell says:

    Dear, dear Kathy. Thank you for the stroll down memory lane. How often I find myself sitting on the swiss mountainside in July , still with pure white snow and little red mountain flowers popping through. I have to pinch myselfas to see if the memory is real or of a middle-aged woman’s dreams. Fortunately, there are pictures! Real ones, with real people! I, too have been back to Europe several times, but have never recaptured the free spirit of our summer of ’75. Thank you for the memories and the very precious freindship of a lifetime. Terri.

  14. sonali says:

    So joyful! I love the old snaps. Such beautiful memories you’ve got, dear Kathy. Will I ever get a chance to visit Switzerland?

  15. Robin says:

    Such wonderful memories, Kathy. Thank you for sharing them. I enjoyed your words, your images, and well, all of it. 🙂

  16. penpusherpen says:

    You had me laughing at the start Kathy, picturing you in that suitcase… and your memories were wonderful to share… That’s precisely what I mean about WordPress, so many people sharing their stories, and pictures, giving life to other peoples dreams, … we can travel the World, in fact I just went with you to Switzerland, free of charge… How good is that?… .What a summer indeed. .. hugs aplenty… xPenx.

  17. Dawn says:

    wow. What wonderful memories. I wanted to go to Paris with my high school french class in 1974…but we couldn’t afford it. I love that you got to go for the summer! How amazing! I got to go to Paris for a week years later when I was on the board for Little Brothers. Was a great trip. But it would have been way more educational when I was in high school! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Gosh how fun. My school sent me to a conference in Berlin for my first and so far only excursion to Europe.

  19. Kathy, your mail reached me just in time, husband and I are leaving very soon for a vacation abroad (pictures will follow later;)

    What wonderful memories of my country you shared ! I was smiling all along about the experiences you had in small Switzerland. Brown bread and yogurts are still on the table every day. Swiss German language (a dialect) is as unknown to me as it was to you (I come from the French speaking part) but we have to learn German (from Germany) at school.

    It must have been a cultural shock for you and your friends, one that opens your eyes to differences and tolerance. Same as it happened for me when I went as an au-pair in Scotland when I was eighteen. A sea apart but a totally different world. Not to speak of the language !

    Thank you for this beautiful post, great pictures that warm my heart and makes me happy that you were happily welcomed in Swiss families.

  20. bonnie says:

    Wonderful memories.How great to have an adventure like that, at such a young age. You were very fortunate.

  21. P.j. grath says:

    I was almost 40 before my first trip to Paris (dream come true), and every day before I left the apartment where I rented a room I would deck myself out in and with all the little gifts my friends had given me as Bon Voyage presents: a scarf, a pin, a money holder, etc. They were my talismans as I, a stranger, ventured out into a scary new world. It worked!

    Yogurt, yes! Even the drinkable kind! And did you have any of that wonderful, sinful, decadent black forest cake?

  22. Wonderful post that I enjoyed. Real bread, etc. What a surprise for you. I hope that you are still eating/buying the good kind of bread. Loved reading Isa’s comments. She is a lovely person. But so are you. 🙂

  23. Kathy says:

    Thank you all for reading–and for your thoughtful and interesting comments. I appreciate each and every one of you AND hope you all get to go to Switzerland or Europe or wherever your heart desires.

  24. dorannrule says:

    Your memories are so sweet Kathy, and I love the photos where you look so sweet as well. A delightful post.

  25. sybil says:

    How can you breathe in that suitcase ?

  26. Stacy says:

    What a great story, Kathy. The innocence and awakening are evident in your words. ❤

  27. msmcword says:

    I have never been to Europe but I have a family member who lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his family (he is a jouranlist for the Wall Street Journal).

    I wish your son & daughter-in-law a safe trip.


  28. Colleen says:

    I enjoyed reading this Kathy, so many memories. I was 17 in the late 60’s and wanted to travel more than anything else I can remember wanting at that age. Two friends were getting ready to go backpacking in Europe and I so wanted to go but allowed myself to be talked? out of it by worried parents. The consolation prize was going to Quebec and Expo that summer with school friends. I love the photo of 17 year old you with the Alps in the background.
    The best of all travel wishes to Chris and your daughter-in-law. And to you, in your travels down state.

  29. Reggie says:

    I loved reading all about your adventures in Switzerland, Kathy. What wonderful memories.

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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