The royal palaces built into Portugal’s Sintra Mountains are evidence of the Catholic country’s Islamic past. Although today, less than one percent of the population practices, the country was under Muslim control until the 13th century.
December 6th marked the end of my study abroad program and, consequently, the end of my Swiss Pass validity (provided by SIT). Knowing that I would never have the opportunity to travel around Switzerland for free again, I tried to fit in a whole rush of trips towards the end of my program. Below are some of the last spots I was able to hit before leaving CH for France.
Living in a home-stay has allowed me to see, and love, parts of Switzerland that I would never have encountered on a typical visit.
Rick Steves has some pretty extensive travel books, but he’ll never talk about that one forest service road that ends abruptly in a hillside cow pasture about 20 minutes outside Nyon or the nice old buildings covered in ivy that neighbor Azier’s commune office. And why would he? If you’re only in a country, in this case Switzerland, for a short bit, why would you spend a good chunk of a day and almost 40 CHFs in transportation from Geneva to see an old ‘trail’ and mostly typical group of buildings when you could be floating the Aare in Bern, eating fondue under the Matterhorn, or visiting some of the world’s finest watch shops in Zurich. Arzier just wouldn’t make sense.
It didn’t even make sense to the kids living there. “Why would you come to some random mountain town from America?” The answer is I didn’t really choose to come to Arzier, I chose to study in Nyon/Geneva and my housing just happened to be in Arzier. But thats the thing about home-stays, you don’t choose where you live, and as they are typically located in suburban or rural areas (at least in Switzerland), they are pretty much guaranteed to be places you would never visit on a normal trip. I definitely never would have ended up in Arzier–never run the old hiking paths and logging roads and never passed the old ivy covered buildings on my way to the train–but now that I’ve spent the past couple months here, I couldn’t imagine Switzerland without it.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,But I have promises to keep,And miles to go before I sleep,And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
It begins in the hills of Arzier, looking out over Nyon and Lac Leman. I start in the evening so if its clear I catch the first minutes of golden hour. The road leads me through corn fields, along the train track–winding up from Nyon, passing through Arzier, and moving onto France–and then sends me into the forest.
I pick up speed as the trail dips down and then quickly lose it as it connects with a forest service road and v’s back up. Depending on when I started and how fast I’m going, after about 20 minutes in the forest dusk begins to set in. The quiet is exaggerated by the rhythmic crunch of my feet, breathing, and the distant chime of cowbells. Sometimes I stop and its still; once a group of chamois stepped out in front of me.
My imagination runs. I’ve churned through all the happenings of the day in a venting process over the last 45 minutes. It’s bordering on dark now and I pick up my speed as twig-snaps begin to echo and the forest begins to feel foreign. I cut out above my homestay and the sound of the road picks up quickly, snapping me out of that feeling which the forest gives me but I cannot yet describe. Robert Frost does it well. I can feel it in my chest and sometimes it overwhelms me, flooding into my throat.
Two Matterhorn-s, two me-s.