You know it’s been a good time, I mean a refreshingly, life-affirming break away when you leave with sadness in your gut. Saying goodbye to the Alps and my dear friend is a wrench. I’m not a mountain girl, but the freshness of the air up here and the sense of space, peace and majesty of being up high feels different to my town at sea level on the coast.
However, both are surrounded by nature, connected to untampered earth, and seeped in vibrant natural colours of autumn. I want to soak it up. Inhale it one last time. It had been too long since my last visit and now as the season prepares to welcome Winter with its blankets of snow, I want to take a mental snapshot to transport myself here whenever I want. So, I do. I huddle my coat around me, standing at the bus stop on the deserted winding street, close my eyes, and imprint the image.
My very punctual, clean bus arrives. I board, and we head down the twisting Alpine roads into the valley to Geneva. It’s a majestically scenic, winding, 45 minute journey to the train station - Sion - to catch the train to the city. I don’t look at my phone once. I’m not even tempted. I look out the window, lulled by the movement of the bus, awed by the countryside and towns that we pass.
The train, as always efficient and calm, is not much different from the bus. The 2 hour journey of internal ‘Ooos’ and ‘Ahhhs’ from me passing by the town of Montreux - the architecture and whizzing along the lake side, though a little grey, is a delight. The sun comes out at several points scattering golden flecks across the water. I look up. I can see what my friend means about the snow already arriving on the highest summits that line the valley and lake. More snow is scheduled later this week. Winter’s tendrils already creeping into life in the peaks.
There is freedom and exhilaration in travelling alone. I would not wish it for every trip, but at moments like this one can really absorb the movement, the autonomy, the anonymity. Train journeys to new places are especially liberating, I find. I rely on myself and no one relies on me. When our lives involve other people a lot of the time, having time to ourselves is essential. The opposite is also true. Too much time alone can have an adverse effect. As with most things, it a question of balance. Time together and time apart.
Right now, I’m focused on my own thoughts and observations, undistracted by an obligation to sustain conversation with a travelling companion. My alone time is a luxurious treat that as a writer, I crave. It’s when my creativity can think and breathe uninterrupted. I can be solitary, remaining undetected in an untaxed, unhurried cerebral wonderland, or I can strike up conversation with fellow travellers if I so wish.
From one lovely Swiss lady, I learn that the circumference of Lake Geneva is 177Km. I could look it up for myself, but finding out from an actual human makes that fact all the more interesting. She works in education too and had in her hand a book about Mindfulness. We chat, swapping stories, for half an hour before I retreat back to my own seat on the other side of the carriage.
L’aéroport de Genève, with all due respect to Geneva, could do with a bit of a face lift. It’s a little sad looking and apologetic. Like a reluctant, aging businessman whose suit no longer fits, but finds himself in the important board meeting anyway. With the amount of money and international travellers that pass through, I’m sure the city could manage a refurb. It’s a little underwhelming, but then maybe that’s what gives it a quaint kind of charm?
My flight passes without incident. I don’t have a good carbon foot-print, I’m afraid. I have flown regularly all my life. I enjoy it. The plane part of this journey feels so familiar that although I attempt to listen to a podcast that I’d been looking forward to, I instantly fall asleep after take-off. When I awake - crooked neck at 90°- the clear blue skies of Alicante are radiating into the cabin, bright-blue light and sunshine welcoming us travellers home. How can there be such difference in just 1hr 40 mins of travel? It never ceases to amaze me! The twinkling sea beneath us washes away the lingering chagrin at leaving my friend and my Swiss adventures.
Although, as the pilot says his goodbyes in French, I do register a final flutter of sadness. Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but his announcement that we’re landing symbolises the change back from French ‘mode de vie’ to Spanish. Having grown up learning and speaking both languages, I feel comfortable with both. But French is my ‘heart-language,’ the one that feels like I’m wearing a comfortable pair of slippers. It’s the language that makes my soul feel a little lighter when I hear it. As a linguist, I’ve spent 35 years cultivating my French, lapping up every syllable. Every morceau. Speaking French every day this week has been like inhaling life enhancing drugs for me. I do honestly feel fuller and healthier! Acknowledging all of these feelings with gratitude, I start to think about ‘Spanishness’ and ‘Frenchness’ and what this feels like and means to me.
And then… there is it – Alicante, beneath us. A seaside city of long beaches of golden sand and a densely packed centre. No breath-takingly significant landmark to distinguish it from another Spanish city. Not a post-card worthy vista particularly. But something does a little somersault inside me. Sometimes, when I travel and enjoy other places, I wonder if this region and I are still meant to be. My head gets turned by the newness of adventure. My heart does get full from other experiences.
But as soon as I walk through Alicante airport Arrivals, I feel that same feeling I had when I was 16 years old, ‘Alicante is my home. I belong here.’ Why is there such a connection for me here? One that I can’t really explain? And how is it by chance, rather than by fully engineered outcome that I’ve ended up here years later? This region and I have a 28 year history. I do feel comfort and joy every time I return ‘home’ here. My ‘Frenchness’ recedes a little more to give way to that part of me that first fell in love with Spain.
My flight arrived early and so I wonder if my ‘airport chauffeur’ is here yet. Should I look out for him? Or will I need to get a coffee and wait. It’s odd isn’t it? I’ve lost count of the trips spent to Arrivals to wait and watch for ‘my human’ or ‘humans’ to appear. It’s magical. It’s fascinating watching friends and families reunite. Wondering how long they’ve been apart and what their stories are. I often gulp down a lump in my throat when I see uncles and aunts, nieces, brothers and sisters, best friends, and lovers envelop each other in a hug with whoops of joy at the sight of each other. Not everyone has that experience with others. It’s precious.
But there he is. My dad. Peering through the rows of other loyal airport shepherds, looking out for his human, ready to take my luggage and usher me safely away to the car. A gentle wave of familiarity and lovely contrast to my independent adventures, sweeps over me. I’m 44 years old, but so happy that my dad is here. I do not ever take seeing him amongst the faces, for granted. Very sadly, I have an increasing number of dear friends who are no longer able to walk into their papa’s arms for a hug after a trip away. I feel such relief at seeing him well and spritely that momentarily I want to cry. Cry with gratitude that he is there, no matter what, my papa came to collect me and take me home.
He and I talk and banter the whole drive. He tells me how a wave washed him out of the kayak yesterday, but that it’s just a ‘learning experience!’ He describes our dog’s antics and we make plans for a father-daughter cycling trip together. He too is happy that I’m back and tells me that he ‘can’t banter like this with anyone else.’ I give him an extra big hug when he drops me off. And again want to cry as he pootles off to his house to be reunited with mum.
I’m happy. I’m full from my trip away. I feel loved from spending quality time with such a dear, dear friend. I feel healthier and inspired by spending time in the mountains. I feel a sense of well-being and being grounded and feeling like ‘me,’ having spent time adventuring alone. My brain feels like it has more space. My creativity and ability to think with clarity feels like its been topped up. And I feel safe having been collected by my dad. I’m so thankful for my trip to Switzerland. And I’m grateful to come home.