As I start this entry, It’s about 1pm Finland time. I’m sitting in a lounge in the Helsinki airport, done with the first leg of my journey home and relaxing comfortably with free coffee, snacks, and easy access to an electrical outlet. Gotta love that.
They fed me on the first leg of the flight which was desperately needed. I’d been up 6 hours at this point and hadn’t eaten a thing. It was a nice lunch (it was like 11:30am local time at this point) of chicken, mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts, perfectly cooked carrots, some fresh fish I couldn’t identify but was good, and a cookie.
I got into the Aspire Lounge since Ash added me to this Priority Pass membership. Thanks, Ash! It was pretty crowded as you can see.
The source of free coffee. I love the coffee in Europe, I said to Ash the day before I’m going to miss it. I took advantage of it for the hour or so I was here.
I took my spot at a seat overlooking the rest of the airport.
As Ash and I were walking around Zurich Thursday afternoon, I started making notes on my phone about what I wanted to include in this, my traditional final entry of every trip. I was surprised how the thoughts kept coming as the day went on so this could be pretty long! I’ll go by how they come to me so in no particular order:
This was my first time to Switzerland and it was interesting to experience what an impressive country they’ve built. Things just seem to work well here. A couple of things really stood out:
Tunnels: They are literally a part of the Swiss identity. They take a lot of pride in the fact that that have the most in the world – 1300 – and most of the longest (China has the actual longest). We first encountered them on the Glacier Express – the train ride through the Alps – 91 of them of in fact. Never batted an eye about it because, well, it doesn’t seem all that unusual to tunnel through mountains. But I was surprised at how many we went through just driving to/from Zurich and Interlaken. Some are short and some are miles long.
Cell phone connection: it didn’t seem to matter where we were, we were always connected, even at 11,500 feet, or riding in a gondola.
Two impressive (at least to me) examples of these 2 things colliding:
While on the Glacier Express, I received an email from American Airlines about a change in my itinerary and I needed to call them to discuss. I mentioned this in an earlier entry – having to leave Friday instead of Saturday because my flight out of Zurich on Saturday had been cancelled and there didn’t seem to be another way to get me to Heathrow to catch the other ones. At any rate, I called them while I was on the train using the train’s WiFi I assume. And just as the person put me on hold we went through a tunnel and I thought “damn it.” Both the hold time and the tunnel kept going – we were in that tunnel for 15-20 minutes, I was on hold the entire time and never lost the connection. Pretty impressive as far as I’m concerned.
Sitting on a train in a tunnel at Jungfraujoch and we get a text from Art. There’s no WiFi here, we’re deep in a tunnel at something like 10k feet and we get a text. Those are some powerful cell phone towers.
Never have I taken a trip this long with so little planned. Three days in Puerto Vallarta is one thing, but 2 weeks in Europe? Who does that? We do, and it was Awesome. My day-to-day life is so scheduled, especially during the week, that I crave unstructured time on the weekends. When I go back to work on Monday and think “wow, Friday afternoon seems like a long time ago” I know I’ve had a good weekend, and that only happens when it was pretty unstructured. This has been like that on steroids. I barely remember I have a job. Although I’m sure that will all come back to me Sunday evening. If we missed doing something because we didn’t research things or book stuff in advance well enough I’m not aware of it, and more to the point don’t care. I loved everything we did and that it was all so spontaneous, never thinking more than a day or two in advance, and often not more than an hour or two. Bliss.
Different but related, this was only possible because Ash appreciates the unstructured time as much as I do. I paid him the highest compliment I could pay anyone, as people who know me well can attest to: Traveling with Ash is at least as enjoyable as traveling alone, and probably more. Good thing. We see lots of it in our future.
A friend of mine asked me once how I manage to get around so easily when I travel. I was a little baffled at the question because the answer was so simple I assumed everyone knew: Google knows where you are and how to get you where you want to be, whether on foot, by car or by public transportation. And often in surprising ways, especially if you’re walking. I lost count of the number of times on this trip where I was following the map and Ash would go “this can’t be right, it doesn’t lead anywhere!” But you keep walking and come across some random hallway through a hotel or apartment building – this just happened to us again Thursday in Zurich while in search of a cheese shop – and you’re like “how does it know this?” I don’t know, but it does. Google knows. We must’ve said it a hundred times on this trip. (Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration…but we said it a bunch and it became a thing…)
The Swiss are obsessed with ice cream. We didn’t eat that much of it for some reason, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of opportunity. There are little freezers of ice cream everywhere – more prevalent than vending machines for sodas and water. Even in the hallway at JungFrauJoch – where the average temperature outside is 20F – from the gondola to the outside where you can start your hikes if you like.
The rest of the way home
With the exception of the final entry, that was as far as I got in Helsinki before I had to board my flight for the 9 hour leg to Chicago.
This was my little hideaway for 9 hours.
Ash had found me a business class ticket using just 57,500 of my American Airlines miles so I only paid like $64 for this seat. Not bad, huh? They brought blueberry juice as soon as I sat down.
I was surprised I was hungry already but I was. Literally all I ate on this day was airline food. This was rainbow trout with potatoes and Brussel sprouts, a yummy sauce, some cold shrimp and cheese.
A lovely currant mousse and coffee for dessert, with come chocolates.
Like the plane to Copenhagen on the way out, this plane had outside cameras, too, but this one also had a “down” option, where the prior one was just “forward.” Since the sun was out the entire leg this provided some really nice images to meditate to which I took advantage of quite a bit.
About an hour before landing in Chicago we got pasta and fruit.
The rest of the trip was uneventful like you want it to be. Chicago customs was pretty easy – no line – just had to take bus to catch my Sacramento flight because International is a completely different one maybe a mile down the road. You sort of had to figure that out on your own so some additional signage would have been helpful, but I made it.
I’m usually pretty wired at the end of the long trip – that was a 33 hour day for me when you add in the time I picked up – and last night was no exception. I unpacked completely and, starving again, ate a hearty pastry I’d gotten at the cheese place in Zurich which I’d forgotten about completely. Was very happy it was there. I was in bed after midnight. (And very happy to discover when I weighed myself for the first time this morning since I left that I weighed exactly the same – to the ounce – that I weighed then. Thrilled about that considering what I managed to eat on this trip! All the walking helps.)
I woke up around 5:30am which is pretty normal for me. I’m tired but, beyond a haircut at 10am, have nothing on the calendar today or tomorrow so of course I’m thrilled about that. I have a lot to do and am feeling like I’ll get it all done in a very relaxed way. It’s now approaching 8am, I’m finishing this entry on my balcony with some coffee. All is right with the world.
Gay Marriage Referendum
Everywhere we went, even remote villages in the Alps which we passed by train, we saw posters and flags with “Ja!” and the gay rainbow flag on them. Turns out there’s a national vote coming up on gay marriage at the end of the month. The Swiss legislature had made gay marriage legal in December, but a conservative group got enough signatures to get it on the ballot for a national vote. According to polls we found, over 80% of the people are in favor of it so as long as they get out and vote it should be fine.
Still all these years after coming out in 1998, when you’re out and about there’s always a question of “where am I, am I safe?” We don’t worry about it too much at home – Ash lives in the gayest neighborhood on the planet, the Castro, and I live next to “Lavender Heights” in Sacramento. So it was nice to see such a public display of support everywhere we went. (In Paris, we were the the Marais which is also their gayborhood so never a problem there or anywhere in the city.)
Listening to our music while driving
Both of the cars we rented – an Audi for Giverny and a Fiat for Switzerland – had CarPlay, Apple’s app for autos. This made travel so easy and like at home – we got to listen to our music from my phone and plug in the navigation tool to move around. There was something oddly comforting and enjoyable about this little detail so many miles from home.
I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on how it was different, but all of you interacted with us differently on this trip, in ways that are of course very much welcomed. Maybe it was just y’all were as hungry for pandemic travel, even if just virtually, as we were.
When people have asked “isn’t it weird to travel alone?” I always say 1. No, my high introvert needs get satisfied and 2. I’m never really alone. I take all of you with me everywhere I go. I really felt this on this trip and it was nice. I think Ash got into it a little bit, too. As I say every time, I can no longer imagine traveling without the blog because it shapes how I experience the day as I go through it, paying attention to things in ways I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t coming back to you each day to share it. So for that I thank you.
Speaking of pandemic travel, this certainly added a layer of complexity and stress to coming and going, but once we were there it was hardly a thing at all. There was also this underlying feeling of safety that set in because we knew that, everywhere we went, most everyone was vaccinated probably and everyone wore masks at all times. You knew that because you couldn’t get on the plane without a vaccine record and recent negative COVID test, and because, at least in Paris, we “got carded” everywhere we went – including restaurants where outside dining was the only option. Switzerland’s vaccination rate is over 90% and they didn’t seem to care as much. We never got carded anywhere, we guess because they just presume at this point that everyone is, knowing you couldn’t get into the country otherwise, so it was all very relaxing on that point – with 100% of the people still wearing masks indoors of course. it made all the fights we see back in the US on these topics look stupid and petty. (Which they are.)
My Favorite Day / Traveling with Ash
This was actually the 2nd thing on my list when I was jotting notes but I decided to hold it to the end.
When we met Art for dinner that one evening he asked me what my favorite day of the trip had been so far. I had to think about it for a moment and when it came to me the answer surprised me: it was that Wednesday in Paris when we shopped and went to the opera. Why? There was nothing about anything we did that day that I would have done on my own. I’m not a shopper and have very strategically always travelled light to avoid having to check bags (something I was vividly reminded of Friday morning at the airport, but I’ll leave all that out for now…). But I got some shirts and shoes that I’ll enjoy and, as Ash kept saying, I’ll have memories about them when I wear them. And of course the Paris opera is never something in a million years I would have thought to do on my own, yet it was quite an experience that I would do again. The next week, we did Jungfraujoch. Similar to the shopping, I was hesitant to do it because of the cost, but when we got to the top of the mountain and looked out I said to Ash “this would have been worth it even if we don’t come back tomorrow.” It was tremendous and worth every penny.
Between those experiences and the endless conversations Ash and I had about future travel possibilities, it’s clear to me there are a Lot of new adventures waiting. I hope you will all continue to come along for the ride, it’s been a joyous experience having you along.
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