Touchdown in Zurich. Recorded sounds of rural alpine life fill the audio of the airport tram that carries us from the concourse to baggage claim. Bird calls, pleasant folk greetings, traditional singing, and the evocative sounds of mooing and cowbells.
We pick up our four backpacks and re-arrange belongings that will keep us as snug as turtles for five weeks. The folks in customs barely take note of us as we walk past them into our first European day.
Here a more human-scale version of the world we came from, utterly different in some ways. We exit the airport building, walk across a couple of lanes of small-car traffic, and stroll directly into a train station. What would have been a giant parking garage adjacent to any American airport is a lively mall comprised of small boutiques surrounding a network of trains that appear to go everywhere. Instead of a massive storage facility for cars there are people walking, talking, and mingling.
Our foursome clings together, not because we’re the least bit afraid of our environment, but because we don’t want to become separated in a place that is unfamiliar. At some point I realize I’m clutching my felt jacket in a way that reminds me of how my grandmother and great aunt held onto their purses when they came to my college graduation in Boulder, Colorado from the hills of Tennessee.
We got good airfare into Zurich, but chose not to stay overnight there because lodgings and food are more expensive. We enjoy a few hours walking around the town before boarding a high-speed train to Paris.
The views outside the train windows during the four-hour trip, especially as we move into France, reaffirms the other-worldliness of our new environs. Beautiful countryside as far as the eye can see, with small villages clustered around the spires of churches here and there.
Occasionally we spot ruins of some sort on hills and ridges that are otherwise covered with green. I see no errant subdivisions; the words “suburb” and “sprawl” seem totally out of place here. Commercial development along the highways is concisely located. This goes on and on and doesn’t change much until we are about 20 minutes outside Paris. It feels like we are progressing back in time to a more settled, earth-friendly place.