Sep 4, 2010

Bikes, Bocci, and Beer in Geneva, Switzerland

It was 2:00am in Cleveland when my plane landed in Switzerland. Exhausted from the flight, I knew I would have a long day ahead of me. After collecting my suitcases and bike box, I found a quiet corner and started putting my bike together. Arriving in a new country, building a bike in the airport, and riding out the front door is an interesting experience to say the least. Someone from the training center in Premanon was kind enough to meet me at the airport to get my bike box and suitcases. He didn’t speak English, but knew I was grateful for his help. By the time I was ready to roll out, the anxiety started to kick in. If I spoke any French at all, the first few hours would have been MUCH easier.

I needed to find downtown Geneva, find the train station, book a ticket to Spain, find a place to stay and situate my belongings. Sounds easy enough, but when no one in Switzerland seemed to speak English, the task became much harder.

My plan was to use my cell phone to find the train station. But the address was on my dead laptop and my phone was too dead to open the navigation. Great… After an hour of attempting to not get hit by traffic, I finally made it to the station. This was a success, but I found out that I could not bring my bike to Spain without packing it in a box. I guess I am going to the south of France instead. I booked the ticket for the next day, and made my way down the street to the Youth Hostel. It was 1pm in Geneva and I couldn’t check in until 2pm. I was hungry anyways, so I found a pub on the corner and had a sandwich and beer.

After checking into an insanely expensive dorm room with 9 other people, **seriously, it was like 30 euros for this bed** I locked my belongings in a locker and headed out for a run. After a quarter mile, I was on a path that circled Lake Geneva. Although crowded, it was a gorgeous place to run. The exhilaration of running in a new city had me floating through sub 6 minute miles. I knew I should slow down, but it was the best I’ve felt in months. I was healthy, in a new city, and finally running well. I said “screw it” and continued to hammer down the road. I felt my pace waver momentarily, but that changed as I ran by a group of topless women lying on the rocks. I quickly decided that my turn around should be here. I doubled back, slowed wayyyyyyy down, took a long look (it was free nudity), said bonjour in my crappy American accent, and then continued on my way. I thought to myself “Geneva isn’t all that bad.”

After a shower and short nap, I figured it would be a good time to take the bike out and really see the city. I tossed on some jeans, tied my shoes to the bike rack, and headed out. After cruising around the city for awhile, I found the “Old City.” It sat a few hundred feet above downtown, surrounded by large stone walls. My bike wobbled as I tore through the cobble stone streets. This city was definitely a site to see. I sat down at a small cafĂ©, ordered something in French, and ended up with a dish that resembled a cross between a thin crust pizza and a pancake. **It was a crepe, but at the time, I thought all crepes were sweet** After dinner/breakfast, I cruised through a few of the parks that surrounded the old city. When I finally headed away from the old city, I was attracted to the skate park I saw in the distance. Across from the skate park was a large stone bocci ball court. The court was filled with younger guys and girls drinking 1664 and playing bocci ball. After watching for a moment, I rode up to the fence.

“Par-lay voo ong-lay?” Asking someone if they spoke English was the only phrase that I had mastered so far.
“Yeah, we do,” they responded.
“Thank god. Ummm, can I play?”
“I guess so. You’ll make four so we can play teams”
“Sounds good to me,” I said as I forced my way into their game (this is how I make friends).
“You want a beer?”
“Hells yeah!” I shouted. These guys seem alright to me.

After an hour of playing bocci and a victory that I had earned, they invited me to roll with them for the rest of the night. With no other plans, I gladly accepted. We all hopped on our bikes, slightly buzzed, and began ripping through the city as the sun set. By the time we got to the festival on the lake it was dark. After locking our bikes to a fence that had been erected for the festival, we grabbed some burgers and beers and found a place in the grass. With thousands and thousands of people gathering for this summer event, it was the biggest festival I had ever been to. **Until two weeks later when I attended La Feria in Beziers, France** After a few beers, we went to jump back on the bikes but ran into a small problem. The festival workers had continued to put up fences and our bikes had become fenced in. After a good laugh, I considered climbing it, but quickly remembered that I don’t climb fences anymore. No worries though, the fences were zip tied together and I had my pocket knife on me. After tearing down their fence, we quickly got on the bikes and headed into the park for a late night concert. The music wasn’t my style but the beer and large amounts of women were my style. As our blood alcohol levels grew, our group had begun to grow as well. We now had around 12 people rolling through town on bikes. We headed back to a bar near the festival and picked up right were we left off. By 2am, these guys had become old friends. We laughed and drank late into the night. We joked about our differences in culture and I actually learned quite a bit from them about French culture. I even had the awkward pleasure of kissing a female acquaintances three times on the cheek. **It was only awkward the first time, I got used to this part of French culture very quickly**

We finally called it a night when it began to rain. After a short, wet and semi-drunken cycle back to the youth hostel, I stumbled up to my 10 person dorm room. I woke everyone up as I slammed my locker shut (several times) by accident. As I lay on the stiff mattress, I thought back on the evening. “This is exactly why I wanted to travel by myself.” By forcing myself to be social with strangers, I had an amazing time in a brand new city. If this is the pattern for the next 4 weeks, it is going to be a long month! **It was indeed a VERY long month**

Cheers from Switzerland!

1 comment:

  1. Damn, your first day in Switzerland was WAAAAY better than my first few weeks in Belgium! Kickass!