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Story Time: One Does Not Simply Walk to Germany

In Altenburg, a cow statue decorated with the Swiss flag, and the German flag waving in the background. (???)

After a quiet month in Paris in our own Airbnb apartment, it was time for Andrew and I to start shaking things up a bit. As you may have guessed, we had a phenomenal time being lazy, exploring the city, and ingesting as much bread, cheese, and wine as our bodies could handle, but there is more to life. (I know, hard to believe.) We waved goodbye to our little home across the world--it is amazing how quickly a place that felt so new and strange can feel like home--and caught the Metro to the bus station where a Flixbus carried us all the way to Zürich.

Side note already: Flixbus seems to be a company comparable to Greyhound in their service, but from the two data points we've collected so far (a 14 hour Greyhound from North Carolina to New York, and a 10 hour Flixbus from Paris to Zürich), Flixbus is far superior. It was half the price to take the bus than a train, it was a direct journey, and in the grand scheme of a year, losing a day to bus travel isn't really a big deal. The seats were comfortable enough for lots of easy naps, the bathroom wasn't terrible, and we had as many electrical outlets by our seats as we could ever need. 

The look I get when I take another picture of
our meal. #basic
We rolled into Zürich around 7:00pm, and were met by our Couchsurfing host, Arindam. Arindam moved to Switzerland about 6 months ago, lived for several years in the Bay Area before that, and is originally from India, so he was fantastic to talk to about life goals, travel, careers, food, natural wonders, and Trump. (He's also very funny.) Really, we could not have asked for a friendlier, warmer, more accommodating host. We really scored and he gave us our own bedroom, and we used his kitchen to cook a group dinner each night as a thank you for the hospitality.

Arindam had work on our first full day, but sent us to the Rheinfelder Bierhalle not far from Grossmünster for a lunch of "jumbo jumbo" cordon bleu; this turned out to be, by Zürich standards, a very cost effective way to enjoy a classic Swiss dish. The portion of one order was ENORMOUS, plenty of food for the both of us, while still being cheaper than two individual meals. We also went up in the Grossmünster tower to see the snowy city from up high, and got a glass of wine at the Jules Verne, a panoramic bar, later in the evening.

The view from Jules Verne <3

At the top of Grossmünster

Day two however, Arindam had the idea that we take the train out to see Rhine Falls (or Rheinfall if we want to be more accurate), the largest waterfall in Europe. He wasn't kidding when he said the
Getting sprayed by the Falls.
Swiss rail system can get you just about anywhere; our stop was literally beside the entrance to view the Falls. Unlike Yosemite, we didn't have to hike a million miles up to see it, and it was by no means dry; despite being at half the water level it can reach in the summer, it was roaring thunderously. Five francs got us to some spots right beside the water, and entrance at the "historama" museum. 

We crossed the bridge from the main park entrance, across the Rhine, and viewed the Falls from all angles. It really is spectacular, especially with the little Laufen Castle on the rock above it. Our walk took us a good ways along the opposite bank, and we decided to just walk another 30 minutes to a different train platform than where we'd arrived. 

Rhine Falls.

Shortly into this pursuit, squinting at Google Maps' walking directions, Arindam suddenly says, "Do you want to go to Germany?"

"What? Obviously yes, but what do you mean?" we ask. He shows us the map on his phone screen, and sure enough, there's an odd little piece of Germany (like a weird finger) that jutted out to literally 10 minutes--walking--from where we were at that moment. 

When the opportunity arises to walk from Europe's largest waterfall to Germany, a brand-new country for Andrew and I, you don't pass it up. So off we went. We only had to go up the hill in front of us, following a street just wide enough for one car, before we reached the (frankly arbitrary) border. Along the way, we made friends with some goats and chickens. We followed some street signs and passed an anticlimactic "Deutschland" sign ("I was kind of hoping for a wall," Andrew muttered) and just like that, we can technically check off another country visited from our list. 

Germany-bound!

We continued along the road for a few more kilometers, because the grassy farmland in Germany looks suspiciously like the grassy farmland in Switzerland, and eventually came to a town: Altenburg. Our bellies growled with hunger, but alas, being a Sunday, there was nothing open. However, we were still thrilled by the quiet and pristinely kept residential streets, and the adorable
The streets of Altenburg.
old-fashioned, very German houses. There was a church next to the main square of course, painted a pale pink. Children were out playing, and and old, white-haired couple were hanging out of their window above the street, smoking side-by-side. 

I was honestly a little bit blown away by the surrealness of the whole thing; walking along one random single-car road between violently green fields, with our new friend who yesterday had been a total stranger we found online, literally stepping between two countries that speak different languages and have different governments, as if it all were nothing. 

The Altenburg church.

And then just like that, after maybe 30 minutes, we were back in Switzerland, on our way to the train. 

Overlooking the Rhine River.

You can see Andrew in the distance, looking for the camp spot.
Our third day in Zürich was also our last. We knew early on that it was an expensive city, but it was an important one on my must-see list, so we made our stay short and sweet. Arindam had to go into the office that day, but invited us there for lunch--an invite we couldn't turn down because he works for Google--so we were treated to the fanciest cafeteria meal of our lives, courtesy of the company that owns pretty much all of our favorite products and services. After lunch, Andrew very much wanted to find the spot where he and his good friend Melodi had camped in hammocks beside the river about five and a half years ago, the only other time he's been in Zürich. And find it we did, and photos we took! By this point it was getting dark and cold, so we set off in search of a good Swiss beer.

The next morning we were up to catch our train to Thun already. Our stay in Zürich wasn't long, but I think we can say it was jam-packed. We are in the midst of changing gears in our travel style yet again; from car camping to Airbnb to true budget-travel style: Couchsurfing and Workaway

Our first view of the Swiss mountains as we near Thun, from our train.

We said goodbye to Arindam, with the genuine hope that we cross paths again sometime. Our train ride took only an hour and a half, but brought us to our first Workaway of this trip--my first ever--with a lovely, large Swiss family on a beautiful sustainable farm beside the stunning mountains. With the simultaneous desires to experience real cultural exchange and also stretch our little bundle of savings for the duration of a year, we are truly having to rely on other people to make it. Arindam joked that it was like having "slave labor" as we prepared meals every night, but that undervalues the significance of having a safe place to stay and friendly companionship; the kind of heart it takes to open your home to strange travelers is worth so much more (emotionally and monetarily) than the whatever we are able to give back.

- J
Andrew and Arindam at Laufen Castle that overlooks Rhine Falls.

Day 1 at our workaway, we spent the morning cracking nuts for bread.

The view from our window at our workaway near Thun.

Comments

  1. Cracking nuts for bread? I bet that was FANTASTIC bread! Who knew you could get room and board for cracking nuts! I can't wait to hear more. Zurich and your host sound like an amazing time and the largest waterfall in Europe? Walking across the border? FUN!

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    1. Well that was only day 1! Since then we've sliced and peeled a lot of apples, made dinner, moved a lot of firewood, cleaned out the pony pen, helped make candles, and moved some furniture. Every day us new. But we are enjoying it :) And we haven't had the bread with the walnuts yet! Hopefully tonight! - J

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