Switzerland can be such a deceptively beautiful country. I have spent so many months here, trying to explore many different places, and every time it seems like no matter how hard I try, I cannot for the life of me find the “ugly truth” – aka, I think it’s really important to look for those ugly, off the beaten path sort placecs in a country, to truly appreciate it for what it really is. But it’s been quite the challenge. It seems like no matter how many walks, bike rides, or train rides you go on, you can see miles of endless beauty, and there never seems to be any places where you wouldn’t want to stay just a little longer for that cup of coffee and fresh air, to appreciate it for what it really is. At least that’s truly what I thought, until I started getting serious about this new idea of mine: why not, piece by piece, bike ride all of the way across Switzerland? This would be the greatest way to see parts of this country that I had never even known existed….it would be the ultimate test, to find something less than scenic along the way.
So off my friend Christoph and I went, from Menziken to Biel, exploring Emmental, Burgdorf, and other places along the way. In 80 miles, there must be something sharp and edgey, different from the perfect Swiss scenery I’ve become accostumed to. We spent 12 hours on the bike route, pedaling away, it was quite the tough ride for me, mainly because it was so long. But I was amazed, because everywhere we looked the scenery changed slightly, you never felt like you were in the same place twice. The views of the mountains constantly altered, and the fields switched from wildflowers to wheat as we passed from farm to village. Although it was always the same idea. No matter where we looked, it was BEAUTIFUL. I couldn’t believe it. There’s a sort of simplicity in the beauty of Switzerland….everything is quaint and simple, smaller, less messy somehow. Everything is organized, and absolutely gorgeous.
So I gave in. I decided that all of Switzerland has to be like that, I had already seen so much for it not to be true. We agreed to stick to the plan however, once our legs recovered from what was by far the longest bike ride I’ve ever done in my life. A few weeks later, the plan was to ride to Zurich. I wasn’t expecting any new surprises here, since I’ve been to Zurich more times than anywhere else in Switzerland, and it’s the first place I explored in this country over 4 years ago. What could possibly be surprising?
And of course, that’s when suprises always happen, when you least expect them. The problem with claiming you “know” a city, is that there are many ways to know a place, and it often depends on your approach: mentally and physically. In fact, if you think about it, usually your first impressions of a place are those that are strongest, so if you arrive in an ugly, unsafe Greyhound station somewhere outside of a big city, you’re most likely to have a strong recollection of the place, not necessarily in a positive way.
I have the opposite problem with Zurich. The first moment I stepped off the train, I was mesmorized by all of the beautiful lights around me, and the calm, more collected feel of the city. I can only recollect lovely summer days wandering around in the forest nearby, or wild parties in the parks near the lake. But never had I arrived via bicycle, exploring from the outside of the city in. And let me tell you, as with any large metropolitan place, the outside is usually not nearly as nice looking as the inside.
So as we drove by factories, and dumpy worn out apartment complexes, I couldn’t help but see why many Swiss people aren’t a big fan of Zurich. In fact, on the outside, it’s like any other city in the world: worn on the edges, rough, IMPERFECT. Finally, success, in the most surprising of places. As we rode back along the river, we saw many immigrant families, working on their city garden plots (I think out of all of the flags we spotted in the garden, perhaps 80% were Portuguese, 10% Croation and Serbian, and 1 was Swiss) next to dilapidated huts, and somewhat trashy riverbanks. But then it hit me, as we drove by barbeque after barbeque, where people were enjoying their time outside, swimming, listening to music, and talking. This imperfect part of the outskirts of the city was starting to take on a new form. In its own unique way, watching these less financially endowed families enjoy their weekend outdoors, this place was beautiful. After all, doesn’t beauty come in many forms?
As I cycled along, I cast of my ideas of “perfection,” realizing it was a pointless endeavor. Perfection doesn’t really exist, and would anyone really want it to?