Two weeks ago, we were medieval princesses for a day. Last weekend, we played Heidi. My friend Kaitlyn, whom I’ve known for 15-16 years, was singing in a series of concerts at the KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland. The KKL is renowned worldwide for its acoustics. I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland. How many times in my life will I get the chance to meet up with my best friend in Europe and see her perform?
Kate and I met at the train station with a spirit of spontaneity, not even realizing how clueless we were. The train ride from Montpellier to Zurich (our first stop) lasted all day. The day was well spent though, because the scenery of the train was beautiful. I call Switzerland “storybook” land because we passed snow covered mountains, frozen lakes, and little towns nestled into the mountains where the chalets are painted different colors and have pretty little shutters. We passed quiet farms as the snow gently fell.
We decided that day to spend the night in Zurich, so while on a train layover in Geneva, we called and reserved a hostel.
As we rolled into Zurich, we realized how ill-prepared we were for this trip. Between the 2 of us, “Happy Birthday” the carol “Silent Night” and “Can I sharpen my pencil?” is all the German we can communicate. We have no Swiss francs on us. All that we have is the address and phone # of the hostel we booked scribbled on our hands.
I have no idea what came over us. We were just excited to be in Switzerland and looking for adventure. In a rush of excitement that probably came from being on the train all day, we decided not to go to our hostel and just stay up all night instead. Last week, we had met some kids in Montpellier who are from Zurich. They told us that it is a really big party city. We really wanted a fun night, so we stowed our bags in the train station lockers, got some francs, and headed out into the dark rainy Zurich evening.
Wandering around the empty streets of Zurich, we eventually found a bar. It looked like a house, but it was a real hipster hang out. You’d think that spending Swiss franc instead of Euro would help a girl out. False. Everything in Switz is so expensive. It costs at least the equivalent in euro. Anyway, we weren’t even sure we’d be able to order our expensive cocktails due to our lack of German knowledge. Luckily the waiter spoke Spanish, so I could work it out. We almost friended to Cuban cutie, but then he found out we’re from the States and he had ish with that.
After getting the picture that the somewhat swanky place wasn’t our scene, we moved on. A quick walk down the street and Kate spots an Irish pub. English. Beer. What luck! The mix in the pub made the night really fun. Swiss bankers kicking back on a Friday night mingled with indie rocker types, travelers and randos. The drinks might have been expensive, but we didn’t end up spending too much money because 2 obviously clueless American lady travelers don’t have to buy their own drinks for long.
At about 2:30 am, we were ready to move on from Paddy O’Reilly’s. Wandering again brought us nothing. Nothing was open! The bars we found were either closing or closed. We tried texting my new friend from Paddy’s, but couldn’t find the place he was talking about. This was NOT the party mecca in the mountains we had anticipated. Not knowing what to do, we headed back to the train station. The Swiss are outdoorsy people. They love the outdoors so much that the train station in Zurich is basically outside. There is not a part of the station that could be considered “indoors”. In February, this does not function as shelter. We fast food restaurant hopped from 3am to 6 am. McDonalds at 5am is apparently the Zurich hotspot. We sipped our coffees and were approached by crazy Frenchmen. There was a large crowd of non-hobo looking people that even slept there too. I just stayed up, sipping my coffee, wand watching the crowd.
In the morning hours after dawn, we explored Zurich in the daylight. We grabbed fresh donuts in an open air market as we viewed clocktower after clocktower. All in all, Zurich was an interesting experience. We ended up spending more money peeing than on place to stay. (While the Swiss have the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve ever been in, it costs 2 franc to use ‘em). I’ve also never been homeless before. First time for everything.
After our little adventure, we were a little delirious, but still up for fun. Arriving in Lucerne, we stashed all but our handbags in the train station so we would not look like the squatters that we were when rolling into Kaitlyn’s super nice hotel. Finding her hotel was easy because it was located on prime real estate right on the lake.
It pays to have friends in the biz who’ve got the hook up. Kaitlyn had a sweet suite with a king size bed, down comforters, a balcony with an awesome view, a rain shower, and a huge bathtub. Major upgrade from where we spent the night before (disregarding the fact that anything would have been an upgrade). Kaitlyn gave us a quick tour of Lucerne before it was time to prep for the night.
Kaitlyn told us that our tickets would be available for us to pick up at will call. She scurried off backstage to warm up and we went to the reserve ticket desk. The Swiss worker at the desk searched for our tickets, but could not find them. In a situation like this in any country, I would normally expect the ticket guy to say in effect “I can’t find your tickets, looks like you’re shit out of luck.” and then expect me to be the one to do something about it. Mostly just because I am young. Not in Switzerland. Mr. Superhelpful tried calling some guy higher up. He must have called about 20x in 10 minutes. I tried to stops him, reassuring him that we’d be there the next day and could catch the show then. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers and have it come back looking bad on Kaitlyn. It’s not like we paid for these tix. But Herr Superhelpful was super insistent and very intent on getting us our tix. Seriously though. I’ve never experienced this kind of urgency for me. Who the hell am I? I just strolled in off the street! I may have been wearing a pretty dress, but a cloud of cig smoke from Paddy’s and train station musk still lingered over my head.
The sitch wasn’t getting solved and countdown to show time dwindled down. Superhelpful jotted the name of the man he had been trying to call on a piece of paper and sent us to the girls handing out programs to check if they’d seen him.
We rushed over and showed them the name. At least 3 people got on the case and man-hunted him down. For us rando nobodies. The ladies brought the man for whom we searched, Pirmin Zängerle (who I later found out was one of the designers of the theater) over. He had 2 tickets in his hand. He said “Well these wouldn’t have been your seats, but I’m not sure where those tickets would be, so just takes these.” We protested saying we didn’t want to take anyone’s seats. He responded, “The show is about to start. These are really good seats. Take them! Go go go!” So we flew to our seats right as the show was about to start. Pirmin did not lie when he said they were good seats. They were in fact the best seats in the house. The theater had a ground, front center part and then seats on the side that were still on lower level, not mezzanine. We were on the side in front. Kate and I joked that we stole Howard Shore’s seats. To top it all off, the show was amazing. A full orchestra, choir, and children’s choir performed while the 3rd Lord of the Rings screened in the background. Kaitlyn is the only performer who travels with the show and she has various solos throughout the movie/show. Her big number is “Into the West” which comes at the end.
The Swiss love Gollum. They laugh at him even when he is not doing anything funny. We did see some crazies who dressed in LOTR garb for the show. Some things, like geeks, are universal.
After the show, we hung out with Kaitlyn and people she works with at the bar in the theater. All of the people who work on the show are incredibly nice, funny, and generous.
The next day, Kaitlyn had 2 performances, so Kate and I wandered Lucerne. Unfortunately, it was too overcast to take a gondola up the nearby mountain in order to really appreciate the view, but we spent a lovely day groundbound eating hotdogs and apple streusel, admiring the buildings and bridges, and playing with Swiss army knives. We even randomly decided to go to Mass (delirium had not worn off). It turned out to be a really cool experience. Bonus: It was Saint Blaise day! The Swiss way intensify throat blessin’ by taking 2 lit candles and holding the wax ends to your throat. The priest’s mumbled German blessing sounded like a bizarre mythical incantation. Who knows what he said… But… probs was really lucky to have a throat blessing after calling a train station home…
Switzerland was just so lovely. The people are delightful. Even though we could not communicate in German, in 4 days we received no hostility/rudeness. The Swiss blow my mind. Traffic stops for peds. Peds wait at red lights even if no cars are coming. Everything runs on time. You’d think after being so well cared for, even as a hobo that I wouldn’t want to go back to ape shit bananas France, but actually I was refreshed. The clouds cleared on the way home revealing stunning views of the Alps making me realize just how lucky I am to be where I am, with the people I’m with, doing what I’m doing.