I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’ve forgotten something since leaving Pearson International Airport. My neurosis intensified because of an unconventional route taken through Iceland on my way to the UK. The ‘zag’ North instead of the usual ‘zig’ straight to London combined with a six hour layover in Gatwick, prior to my departure for Switzerland, has given me excessive time to ruminate. Now, as I float through the Zurich airport, on an express tram piping in the sound of mooing cows, the feeling grows. As I descend underground to the train station and the myriad of languages I’ve been hearing over the last twelve hours narrow into one, Swiss German, dialect, I figure it out. My sense of negligence is being stoked by something much larger than a power adapter left on the kitchen table, or a book forgotten on a seat at the airport. My youngest daughter was born in Zurich and my eldest was a year-old when we moved here. I’ve now returned, for the first time, without them. Sure, there have been visits when I’ve accompanied them and bid them farewell, upon arrival, as they head off to spend time with their father. But, whatever I’ve ended up doing on my own, I’ve always known they are somewhere out there, on the streets, eating schoggi Gipfeli (chocolate croissant) from Sprungli; also letting memories of a place we had called home meld into the life we’ve now made for ourselves in Canada. I haven’t forgotten anything, I’ve just left behind all that really gave me purpose during the ten years we lived here. My kids.
Here, to begin testing my new cultural travel app, my intention is to not only reacquaint myself with the culture of Switzerland but to look at it with fresh eyes. I may have said to the customs official that this is a business trip but there’s more to it. I never wanted to leave this country. It was my home. I left for a reason that is far too complicated to get into in a blog about travel and culture.
On my first morning, I exit the apartment where I’m staying, in a neighborhood overlooking the city, and breathe in the abnormally cold air. I’ve forgotten what tram goes where so I decide to walk to the city center. I’m giving myself a day to settle in, to kick jetlag and see how Zürich ‘fits’ after so much time away. I walk past the Schauspielhuase, a Playhouse that experienced a revival during the war years for its explicit anti-fascist direction. Crossing the street, I’m met by the Kunsthaus, a museum that houses major works by some of the greatest European artists, including Swiss artists such a Alberto Giacometti, Johann Heinrich Füssli and Ferdinand Hodler. Turning onto a narrow path, I soon drop into the ‘Old Town’, where I find myself walking on the cobbles of Neiderdorfstrasse. My eyes are wide open and my curiosity piqued in a way that I don’t experience at home as I emerge into Munsterhof Square, where crowds gathered in 1946 as they anticipated Churchill’s ‘United States of Europe’ speech, at the university. Just down the road, I pass the Cabaret Voltaire, where the Dada art movement was birthed by international artists and intellectuals during WWl. Looking to my left, I take in the address where Lenin lived in exile for a year before the Russian revolution. Amidst these landmarks, the intangible weaves through my experience bringing with it a sense of culture that is alive and fluid. Little tots run by me with a bratwurst in hand, friends greet with a kiss to the cheek, three times; flames are lit beneath Fondue ‘Caquelon’ in preparation for kirsch dipped bread.
This fixation on the novel, and what it has to teach me, immediately connects me to a place through the simple transformative power of wonder. Switzerland is ‘fitting’ me surprisingly well. I’m here for the purpose of cross-cultural understanding; it’s what my business is about, but as I walk the streets of Zurich I feel the full force of what it is I’m hoping to accomplish. I’m once again connected to a culture I love and miss and I’ve reignited my own passion for discovery. It was important for me to remember the bond I have with Switzerland that isn’t based solely on the fact that I raised children here and adopted certain customs and traditions because of this. It’s far more profound. Switzerland taught me, through its idiosyncrasies and it’s ironies, as much about myself as about its own people. This trip was made to honor, and relish in, all that I love about this country. It’s reminded me of that feeling I get, not just here, but everywhere I travel — that sweet-spot just outside of my comfort zone where, cradled in my own curiosity, I could roam forever and I can be at home wherever I land in the world.