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March 05, 2007 || 11:19 pm
Switzerland

I seem to remember Sybille Bedford writing most wonderfully about arriving in Switzerland by car, meeting a friend (I think Martha Gellhorn?) and how the two of them had such wonderful, if slightly disconcerting, times gallivanting around in the country where everything runs just perfectly and there are never any problems. How the hotel staff can do anything for you at any time of day or night; the trains and boats around the lakes run impeccably; food is reliable and solid; fresh air and mountains make you feel oddly sprightly.

It is all, still, quite true. This time we took the sleeper from Paris, arriving early in Zurich, which is of course by far the most civilised and lovely way of travelling. Leaving London after work, time for a croque or sandwich at the Gare de l'Est, a Kronenbourg on board the train brought to you by the charming steward and then arriving in Zurich with time for a coffee and croissant before catching the first of your impeccably punctual trains across country, ending up at the small village where we go to ski. [I say, we go; of course, I never ski-ed before the Boy and am still absolutely terrible at it all.]

We have a lovely apartment; the car starts; the Co-op sells organic veg, local cheese and decent wine; everything is great, but nature doesn't take after the national character in this age of global warming. There is barely an inch of snow anywhere - icy patches that terrify my amateur snow-ploughing legs and patches of grass all over the place. Yet still the whole place is, well, so civilised - no problems anywhere, everything easy and relaxed - that it doesn't matter. When the snow really ran out, we went walking along footpaths that were signed just enough that you are never lost, with the occasional moment where you play a satisfying game of I-Spy to spot the next yellow-painted triangle; not too taxing on the legs but not too easy either; and all planned so that you can walk to the next station or two along the valley and catch a train back after a beer or a meal in the station buffet. The mountains are beautiful and scattered with crocuses and primroses.

Ah, the station buffets, epitome of all the good things about Switzerland. The Boy, I sometimes suspect, would like to live in a Swiss station buffet, or at least next door to one. Hearty good food, rosti and steaks and emince de veau a la zurichoise, locally sourced and cooked simply but excellently - none of the disgusting limp sandwiches and crap coffee of an English station. Always open and welcoming and reliable; no arcade machines or garish lighting, just wood panelling and lace half-curtains. Busy-ish but not too so and right on the platform so you can just get up when you hear the train arrive.

The Boy would also like to have a Swiss woodpile. The tall, long ones where the logs are all exactly the same length and stacked perfectly with no gaps, and have cunning little patterns in them to provide stability. We watched a man tapping the ends of his logs with a hammer to make sure they were all exactly aligned. They are truly masterful pieces of construction that explain everything about why Swiss architects build the way they do.

It is a bit weird, how everything works and even getting a rural bus is completely painless and punctual. The people smile and the villages have facilities for everyone. I know that the Swiss are creepy and bank for those of dubious morals and worse. All that cheese and bourgeois values and plump women throwing back tanned faces as they laugh. But still, for a holiday - it is as relaxing as you could hope for and more. And I know it's a cliche, but I wish the Swiss could run our trains.

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