Switzerland is smack bang in the geo-political centre of Europe, and although (ironically) it's not technically part of the EU, it really is where everything Europe collides together. No less than four languages (only one of them not borrowed from a neighbour) are the official tongue here. State-of-the-art transport, dazzling alpine peaks and lakes, high-class wealth, big business, and rich history — all can be found here. Plus, Switzerland is home to 1,001 unique and charming national symbols, from watches to cheese, and from army knives to chocolate. Switzerland was my introduction to German-speaking Europe, and I found it to be worlds away from its chaotic and emotional neighbour to the south (Italy).
After six weeks of backpacking around Europe, this afternoon I arrived in the lovely Swiss city of Zürich (on the Cisalpino express train), to have a small "holiday from the holiday", and to spend some time with my family here. I got a lovely warm welcome: I stepped off the train, and there was my uncle Mark, standing right there on the platform, and wearing an unmissable Akubra hat so I could spot him! Mark drove me over to his plush dental practice, where he showed me around the establishment; then we were joined by Susi, and the three of us returned to their apartment, for a delicious home-cooked welcome dinner, and a long (and long-overdue) catch-up chat. Looks like I'm going to get very spoilt here, and that I'm going to have a fun and relaxing time in Zürich as well.
Although he grew up just like me, in Sydney Australia, my mum's brother Mark hasn't lived there for more than 25 years, since he wandered off around the world, met his Swiss-dwelling wife Susi, and became a qualified dentist. My uncle Mark and auntie Susi have now lived in Zürich for over 10 years. This is the first time I've been to visit them, and also the first time I've seen them, since they last visited Sydney about 7 years ago. It was very nice to see them again, after all these years, and to enjoy their hospitality while here in Switzerland.
On the train to Zürich today, it wasn't until I was less than an hour from my destination (and hence well inside the German part of Switzerland), that I noticed that the overwhelming majority of my fellow passengers were speaking in German. And it was only then that a scary realisation dawned on me, and hit me rather unexpectedly: this is my first time in the German-speaking world! And guess what: my German absolutely sucks! The last time I studied German, it was nearly 10 years ago, and I was too busy throwing paper aeroplanes around the room to have paid attention to the teacher. So apart from counting to 100 and saying a few basic words, I basically can't speak a word of the language. This is the first time on this trip (and in my life), that I've been in a country where I can't even begin to guess what people are saying around me, in the official language of their land. And it's really quite scary. Ach shizer!