Our recent trip to Switzerland put Judy and me in touch with many fine folks. Some were native Swiss. Others had emigrated to this beautiful land. Some were passing through.
After purchasing some kiwis, we continued our conversation with Martin; he wanted to know where we were from. Then, in addition to telling us about his trips to the United States, he gave us a history of Murten and a nearby village that had been a Roman capital. We mentioned that we liked the area and would enjoy coming back. That’s when he was kind enough to find out about reasonably-priced hotels in a town where another vendor lived and come back to us with the name of a possible place.
We bid Martin and his wife goodbye, but that wasn’t the last that we saw of him. After our pastry and hot chocolate stop in a village tea room, we came across Martin, this time walking on the street. As if he’d known us a long time, he introduced us to a lady who’d been walking with him. She had grown up in Murten and told us about her family and youthful years there.
We rode the trains every day, which provided many opportunities to meet interesting people. Before the trip, we had no idea that we would come upon such diversity in Switzerland. The 19-year-old Russian woman whom we met at the train station in Gruyeres was studying in Switzerland for her ninth year. The couple from The Domincan Republic who had moved to Vevey, where the wife was an executive for the Nestlé Corporation. A businessman in Neuchatel, seeing us consulting our guide book and maps, stopped and directed us from the train station to the old town so we could find the Tourist Information Center by the lake.
Oswald from Cameroon was our seatmate on the train from Lausanne when we returned to Murten. He’d lived in Spain for eight years and had recently come to Lausanne to take an electrician course in hopes of getting a better job. When we introduced ourselves, a huge grin broke out on his face, and he looked at Judy and said, “My sister’s name.” In perfect English, he told us about growing up in Cameroon, a bilingual country where English is spoken. Oswald told us about his family, scattered over three continents, that includes a daughter who had just celebrated her first birthday. It was priceless when he reached for his phone to show us a picture of her.
One of our day trips was to Leysin, a mountain village that is also the home of the Swiss Hotel Management School. A charismatic young man behind the counter of the student-run coffee shop asked, “How you want it, I can make you anything!” As it turned out, Hans Christian Benvenuto, from Indonesia, made and served us a perfect, creamy, blended, chocolaty, iced coffee that was topped with a generous swirl of whipped cream. It was, indeed, just the way we like it. He has a perfect persona for his chosen vocation in hospitality and delighted us with his poise and conversation. When I asked about the origin of his name, he said, “I’m a mixture of everything.”
Mali Freidli runs a bed and breakfast in her lovely home in Murten, just five minutes’ walk from the train station. We landed on her doorstep after heavy paint and varnish smells in the hotel we’d booked sent us looking for other accommodations. One glance at her bright, light, spacious guest room with a patio, and we knew we’d scored. Our first night with her, she and I visited over tea. An Indian woman born in South Africa, Mali lived through Apartheid and returned home to rejoice and celebrate Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. This exuberant, gracious woman changed our stay from ‘miserable’ to ‘delightful.’
Judy and I are grateful for every person whom we encountered, every conversation, every lesson; every opportunity to bring the world inside our lives. We may look the same as when we left, but we are forever changed.
~ xoA ~