A summer in Switzerland may sound like sweet splendor to anyone from a cold or wet country, but not to someone who has become accustomed to spending it at the Amalfi Coast. I must admit I was a little disappointed when my boyfriend announced that he had been offered a position which would keep him in Lugano for the summer. It meant no rolling out of bed directly into the clear blue sea, no delighting of my taste buds with my favorite pasta al Nerano, no sailing to Capri to swim during the day nor to dance the night away and certainly no snorkeling exploration. Before depression could set in, I inquired about all the interesting things we could do and that is when we became excited.
I began by occupying my days with a morning run and an afternoon swim, while my boyfriend was at work. I would usually run about an hour or two, which is how I discovered the lakeside walking trail. I had been running for thirty minutes when I found its cobblestones under my feet as its olive groves welcomed me in. During the weekend, we would drive into the Alps or to Lago Maggiore and stop at any interesting point we liked. It was not the Amalfi coast, but it was glorious in a different way. The air was clean and clear, making the colors of the trees more vibrant. We would take the scenic routes and follow beauty, it never deludes and continued to impress.
We found the food in Ticino, the Italian canton of Switzerland, to be mediocre in most cases. The cuisine may be Italian and so may the chefs, but the ingredients are Swiss and therefor tend to lack the flavour which Italy’s volcanic soil and extended summer sun produces. For this reason and the fact that prices are halved in Italy, we would cross the border for dinner as frequently as we could. There was something we found in Switzerland where Italy vanished in comparison. The chocolate in Switzerland was beyond superb.
Although chocolate is a food from the ‘New World’, the reason it is so much better in certain European countries is due to the milk. European cows provide creamier milk. When I tasted a famous chocolatier’s stracciatella ice-cream, whose combination of decadent chocolate chips and creamy vanilla was simply delectable, I practically swooned.
My boyfriend is always in search of adventurous exploration. Being in Switzerland made it easy to travel to surrounding countries, therefore, we chose to vacation in France. We went during peak season without any reservations, map nor GPS. It was just us, our self-mounting tent, inflatable air-mattress and Fiat 600. We merely had an idea of where we wanted to go and that changed with our varying moods. Allowing yourself to go where you please gives you a divine sense of freedom, which is addictive and demands a repeat performance every weekend.
After exploring in the distant villages around Lugano, I encouraged him to visit the beautiful lakeside walking path where I would enjoy my morning run. We walked the entire length of it, which leads to Gandria and passes several picturesque little clumps of houses. While searching for an ideal spot to slip into the lake, my boyfriend noticed a makeshift staircase that lead down the steep hillside.
“It seems to go all the way down.”, he said.
“It’s gated off, there’s probably a good reason for it. It might be dangerous…c’mon, we can go where the old man was swimming.”, I insisted.
“No, it looks strong, c’mon!”
“Well, you go and if you fall, scream and I’ll call for help.”, I joked, giving in to his whim.
He climbed the short gate and just before he disappeared into the foliage of the dense trees, I followed under the concerned eye of a passerby. The steps had been made with logs and kept into place with packed dirt and wooden wedges. Odd branches and spare pieces of wood nailed to the trees became the banister. Its natural-looking structure had made it difficult to know whether it was old or new, but as I descended further and further, I began to feel safe of its support.
We started to hear the unmistakable sounds of drums that could only mean one thing, which is when I saw my boyfriend walking towards me. “What’s wrong? Why are you heading back?”, I asked while continuing further on towards him. The rhythm was getting louder and we could hear voices coming from beyond the trees. I wondered what had made him turn around and why he was not responding. He was in front of me know but looking back over his shoulder.
“What is it? Why did you turn around?”, I whispered thinking that perhaps we had stumbled onto something dangerous after all.
“There’s a step missing and I’m not sure if the last few will hold us.”, he sadly explained.
Imbibed with the courage that had fallen upon me from a source which is unknown, I proceeded to bypass him. Seeing this, however, motivated him onward as he blocked my passing perhaps in a gentlemanly act of protection. As we carefully headed down the last steps, I scanned to inspect what we were so eagerly walking into.
The techno beats came from someone’s boom box and we could now count about a dozen teens with joints in hand. I did not wish to be the only female in such a secluded environment. I relaxed when I saw a girl amongst them, but only a bit since there was just that one. I could feel their worried eyes on me. I suppose they wondered if we would bring them trouble since marijuana is no longer tolerated in Switzerland. Their suspicion quickly dissipated as we set our beach towels on the grass, underneath an olive tree.
The area was a bi-level stone foundation, which was currently under construction. The lower level was covered in over-grown soft grass, had three young olive trees as well as steps which lead to the lake. We imagined this area could become a lovely garden or a Lido whereas the upper level, where the group was smoking, seemed to be a foundation for a lakeside house or restaurant. Just as I headed toward the steps to go for a swim, one of the guys came out with a bloody foot. “Aya, I cut myself on the rocks!”
The steps did not go far enough for one to get into the water without jumping onto the sharp rocks, but someone had leaned a rickety old work-ladder and with a little trust and some help from one of the teens in the water, I was able to make it in.
The water was perfect. It soothed my sore muscles and the gentle waves would have easily lulled me into sweet slumber had it not been for the helicopter-like dragonflies which swooped over our heads. “I love our adventures! You always manage to find some out-of-the-way place that no one knows exists…well except a few teens and construction workers anyway.”, I said as I floated with utter joy.
I only regretted not bringing our snorkeling gear. I swim so much better with it. The waves were becoming stronger and swimming was making me tired so I rested my feet on the smooth side of the sharp rocks below and watched the guys put on a show as they attempted various acrobatic dives off of the highest level. Just then, one of the guys heaved a large plank of wood over to the edge. I wondered what he planned to do with it. I imagined he might use it to dive, but as I considered the danger of such a thing, he dropped it in the lake. They had been using the wooden planks from the construction as a slide to get down from the upper level. Now the guys were throwing several of them into the lake and I could not fathom the reason why.
“Why didn’t I think of that! That looks like so much fun! I want one!”, I said. “Let’s just wait until they’re done, then we’ll use one too.”, my boyfriend said as we watched the guys and the girl float and surf with the wooden planks. I finally got a hold of one and I did not let it loose until it was time to go and explore a new town, where we might find some good food. We returned the wooden boards to their previous leaning position against the wall. They would dry by the end of the day and began to change into our clothes. We had noticed that many teens in Lugano would hide behind trees to smoke their weed or drink beer. We had begun to hear tales of the lengths that teenage girls would go to just for one beer. We waved good-bye to the teens and were relieved to see they were leaving as well.We had worried that had they stayed all night, things could have gotten out of control. They had not seemed too rowdy but one never knows what could happen under the wrong circumstances.
As we drove off we saw them awaiting the bus. We waved and headed for Italy to eat. We crossed the border and found a lovely little town on the Italian side of the lake. I could go on, but then I would not have time left for my morning run. Besides, the point that I would like to make is that there are interesting places to explore wherever you go, but if you do not get out there and do it, they will remain forever a mystery to you and that would indeed be a shame.