Bernadette’s Take #15

Rae and enigmatic Swiss women

An UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to retired teacher Rae Ellingham, Roberts Creek, B.C.

218Canadian Rae Ellingham in the Swiss capital Berne, Zytglogge-Turm (clock tower) in the background (Photo Rae Ellingham)

You cannot blame Rae Ellingham for dreaming of Switzerland because he was brainwashed about the country at the tender age of seven.

His teacher who had just come back from a trip to Switzerland made him and his fellow pupils cut out tiny Swiss cows with bells around their necks. And she also made the kids cut out little grey rocks.

She drew an alpine landscape on a piece of paper and the kids had to stick the cows on the meadows and the rocks on the roofs of the chalets so that the roofs would not be blown away.

Rae, the seven-year-old, found this odd but then he saw a TV series called “Heidi” and had an eureka moment: There were chalets on TV with rocks on the roof and cows with bells! The teacher was not lying!

IMG_7291 - CopySwiss chalets: no rocks – but socks!
Picture taken in Beckenried, canton of Nidwalden (Photo B. Calonego)

But it was only when Rae met me (he lives on my street) that he decided to solve the mystery of the Swiss women (I am mysterious! I like that!).

He did not tell me then but he thought that I was so slightly uptight and very formal. Or how he says it: “Eight o’clock is eight o’clock.” (It is true, I like people – and trains – being punctual.)

He also thought that I was very black-and-white, no grey areas (I contest this but it gave me material for my book “Oh, wie schön ist Kanada!” – my readers will recognise the situation.)

Rae – ever the great explorer – wanted to know what makes a typical Swiss woman tick.

And the men. But the women especially.

He bought a book about Switzerland but it gave him only a glimpse into the political system in Switzerland. “I learned how each town has a big say in the running of the nation”, he tells me. “My impression is that Switzerland is a no-nonsense country.” No kidding.

“But I could not find how to deal with a Swiss woman, the do’s and don’t’s.”

(I could have told him: Don’t ever try to analyze a Swiss woman!)

Anyway, Rae eventually made the trip to Switzerland late in life. In the end it was not the women who made a lasting impression on him. It was salad – or rather the restriction thereof.

Rae, why on earth would a 68-year-old Canadian sleep in Swiss youth hostels?

Why not? I am young enough! And previously, I had stayed in hostels in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Copenhagen and was impressed with their high standards and reasonable rates. I assumed that Swiss hostels would be even better as the country has a reputation for cleanliness and value for money.

211Rae’s room at the youth hostel in Berne. In his backpack there is no Swiss wine but a tea pot that he bought in Geneva. (Photo Rae Ellingham)

Which youth hostel in Switzerland did you like best?

Berne, because of its peaceful setting a few steps away from the River Aare. It was situated directly below the government buildings. I can say that I have been very close to the Swiss government! A short cable car trip carried me up to the Bundeshaus. My first ride ever in a cable car! It was not exactly a ride in the Alps but exciting enough for me.

Rae.EllinghamWindows of the youth hostel in Berne, with the Bundeshaus (seat of the Swiss government and parliament) right above it. No wonder, Rae felt elated! (Photo Rae Ellingham).

I am sure that you also found a good deal for your meals – am I right?

Pretty much. I usually ate at the youth hostels. The breakfasts were very substantial and included in the price of a night’s stay.

In Zurich, I wanted to eat more salad at dinner but the hostel’s chef said that I could only have so much of each salad. I said to him that in the Berne hostel I could eat as much salad as I wanted. The chef smirked and said: “Ah, but this is Zurich!”

When he wasn’t looking I helped myself to some more, anyway!

236Rae in Zurich, nourished by lots of salad (Photo Rae Ellingham)
Were you aware of the jokes about Berne and Zurich?

I later learned that there is fierce rivalry between Zurich and Berne. I liked the medieval core of Berne very much.

And I loved the atmosphere in Geneva. The people seemed to be more carefree and wilder, possibly because they are so close to France.

Did you enjoy the wine from the vineyards around Lake Geneva?

I have to admit that the first thing I did in Geneva was buy a kettle to make tea! I know it is a cliché but even as a Canadian citizen, I cannot deny my British roots! I had to have my cuppa tea. In the evenings I enjoyed a few glasses of Schneider Weisse but I am ashamed to admit I never tried any Swiss wine. Why don`t you offer me one?

203Rae in Geneva and amongst the wild Swiss there (Photo Rae Ellingham)

I will see what I can do. Talking about clichés, did you find the clichés about Switzerland confirmed while you were there on your one-week-long trip?

Well, everywhere was predictably clean but my admiration for Swiss cleanliness was suddenly shattered. The most anticipated part of my trip was the train journey from Zurich to Florence through the Alps. However, my heart sank when my seat window was so dirty I could not see out of it clearly or take good pictures. Then I realized I was travelling on an Italian train. But Italian ice cream is the best in the world!

244The Italian train that almost shattered Rae’s picture of Switzerland (Photo Rae Ellingham).

Did you finally solve the mystery about Swiss women?

No, I am still trying to figure it out!

206Finally, Rae got up close and personal with a Swiss woman in Geneva! But the mystery remains … (Photo Rae Ellingham)

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