Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

My Holiday – part two

You may have heard me say once or twice, or maybe one or two hundred times, how much I love Switzerland. I came to my placement here immediately after spending a semester at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at the Chateau de Bossey, on the shores of Lake Geneva. During those months I made some very good friends, learned a lot, and fell deeply in love with the beauty of the Swiss Alps. There’s absolutely no way of explaining how beautiful those mountains are; you’ll just have to go and see them for yourselves.

My companion on the Swiss part of my holiday was Chris. I met him when he was 18 and beginning his first year at the University of Melbourne. There was a group of people who were first-year students at Janet Clarke Hall that year, when I was a first-year tutor, with whom I very reprehensibly became friends. Eight years later, now that those students are grown-up and in responsible jobs we remain friends – and now that we’re no longer tutor and students it’s okay. Chris is now living and working in London with his English girlfriend, Jenny, and when he heard that I was coming over he decided to take a week’s holiday and let me introduce him to Switzerland.

We began, of course, by staying two nights at Bossey. I had tried to book us accommodation in Petit Bossey, which houses the student dorms, but that was full with a church group. So instead Chris and I had to put up with rooms in the Chateau itself. I didn’t get to relive my student days, but I instead managed to enjoy myself in the lap of luxury. It was lovely to be there again and to catch up with Anu, who ran the Graduate School Program. She and a few of the other staff remembered my particular Graduate School as one of the best they’ve ever had, which makes me a bit nervous. I’ve been telling people in Australia that they must study at Bossey, that it will be an amazing and life-changing experience and they’ll make wonderful friends. It sounds as though I was lucky enough to be there at a particularly special time as part of an especially magnificent group of people – not that I ever doubted that. Any Australians following in my footsteps might not have a similarly fabulous time.

While there I attended a Morning Prayer service in the Chapel led by the six sisters from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant orders who now live at Bossey to provide worship and spiritual leadership. The service was deeply moving, and I wish the sisters had been around when I was studying there. We took it in turns to plan Morning Prayer and since most of us were not morning people, and anyway were very busy studying, the quality of the liturgy was pretty hit and miss.

In Geneva I did things that I hadn’t been able to do over a winter semester, like taking a boat trip on the Lake and visiting the United Nations (which closes over Christmas, when I’d finally had some free time). The weather was hot, and Chris and I swam at the tiny (stony) beach near Bossey’s local village, Celigny. We students had walked down there all the time when we lived at Bossey, but the Swiss autumn and winter hadn’t encouraged swimming.

After Bossey, Chris and I spent three nights at Interlaken, the town between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz at the base of the Jungfrau. I’d visited Interlaken before, but I hadn’t had a chance to go up the Jungfrau, a journey that demands fine weather. This time Chris and I took a train early one morning to the Jungfraujoch railway station, the highest in Europe. We then walked along the glacier as the weather got colder and snow started to fall – and I regretted the Swiss snow boots and enormous coat that I’d left safely back in a cupboard in Romsey. Despite the cold it was wonderful. I love those mountains with a passion, and feel closer to God there than almost anywhere else. Yes, there is a reason that the Bible is full of stories of people encountering God on mountains.

On our second day in Interlaken Chris and I split up and I took the train to Meiringen. Meiringen not only claims to be the birthplace of the meringue, it is also the village closest to the Reichenbach Falls. And it was at the Reichenbach Falls that the evil Professor Moriarty tried (and failed) to kill Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle got it exactly right. In “The Adventure of the Final Problem” Dr Watson writes of the Falls:

It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring for ever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing for ever upwards, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.

By the time I made it to the top of the Falls I was soaked, but it was worth it. I looked over the edge, appreciated exactly why Conan Doyle had decided that this was a good place in which to kill Holmes off (even if he later had to resurrect him due to popular demand) and then went back down to Meiringen to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum and eat an enormous meringue.

(After this lovely day it was a pity that I was greeted upon my return to the hotel with the news that ‘my son’ had just got in. Since Chris is only a decade younger than me there is no way that I could be his mother! When I complained to him about this he told me that at breakfast that morning he’d been advised that ‘his wife’ had already left the dining room. That made me feel slightly less decrepit.)

Our week in Switzerland ended with a night at Zurich, from where Chris was flying back to London. Zurich is the only place in which I’ve stayed in Switzerland that didn’t make me immediately want to emigrate. (If any church in Geneva or Interlaken had been looking for an English-speaking pastor you would never have seen me again.) Zurich was nice, but it’s a big city just like other big cities. Possibly I’m biased against it because of its reputation as one of the world’s largest financial centres and as the wealthiest city in Europe. This might have been why Chris and I had a heated argument while walking beside Lake Zurich about whether company CEOs could ever be worth their multi-million dollar salaries. (He said yes; I said no.)

Zurich was also the origin of the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland, led by Ulrich Zwingli (French-speaking Switzerland had John Calvin in Geneva) and the Fraumunster (Church of Our Lady) has some amazing twentieth-century stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. So it was a good place to visit but, as I said, I didn’t feel any urge to instantly pack up and move there.

On our final day in Switzerland Chris and I ate possibly the world’s largest brunch, visited the Zurich Museum of Art, and then separated – Chris to fly back to London, me to take a train to Innsbruck in Austria for the final few days of my holiday.

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October 24, 2010 - Posted by | Life, etc. | ,

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