Saturday, March 21, 2015

Auf Weidersen

It’s almost 1am in the morning and we’ve just arrived at the Travelodge at Edinburgh Airport. Just a few hours ago we were still in Switzerland and yet that seems days ago now. Travel time is warped!

I didn’t think I had the energy to update our trip report tonight but Geoff says otherwise and is helping by supplying me with crisps and refilling my cup of duty free bourbon, so I’ll give it a go.

I thought we’d seen some fabulous sights in Switzerland but this morning’s excursion topped them all when we went to visit Pascale’s school. A senior high school (grades 10-12 ) it is situated in an old monastery that dates back to 1227. Yes, you read that right, 1227. From an historical point of view, the building and grounds are astounding. From an educational (and political) point of view the school is testament to what can be achieved when a government values public schooling. Having had Pascale in my English class last year, I know the high standards expected of and achieved by the students at Kantonsschule in Wettingen and today’s visit helped to explain how that happens. The differences between our systems are material for a blog post on a different day; suffice to say if a teacher exchange opportunity comes up, I’ll be onto it.

View from a classroom window

Stained glass windows in the abbey. The monks are buried under the floor.

We were extraordinarily lucky that the caretaker of the monastery is a friend of Pascale’s parents and so we got a ‘behind the scenes’, private tour of the grounds and building that include not only the school but some apartments, private businesses and, of all the things you might imagine on school grounds, a brewery! I have not the words to describe the beauty of the stained glass windows, the intricate carvings in the abbey, the pipe organs and the secret doors and bolt holes throughout the building. This was a unique experience and if I had to choose between today’s tour and the Louvre, the Swiss monastery would win hands down.

Watching the solar eclipse

In the afternoon we went to Baden, a neigbouring city renowned for its thermal baths situated at the base of yet another medieval castle,. We walked over an enclosed wooden bridge and along the banks of the Limmat River. Once again we were blown away by buildings that are older than we can even imagine.

View from the wooden bridge at Baden

There were tears when we left Zurich. In this short visit we have fallen in love with Switzerland. The history and natural beauty of the place has astounded us, and everywhere is so clean and cleverly designed. The people are friendly and helpful and very tolerant of English speaking visitors. We’ve done our best to pick up a few words in Swiss–German, a wonderful language with few formal ‘rules’ but there are just too many  ‘tsch’ noises and phonemes without vowels for us to get our tongues around. Luckily the Swiss-German sense of humour is very close to our own and needs no translation. Our hosts have been so incredibly generous with their hospitality and their time and we feel we have made new, life long friends. It was bittersweet to see Pascale again only to have to say goodbye so quickly but we will always be grateful that we went to Wettingen.

Sad faces at the airport

Our plane for Heathrow was delayed by 40 minutes because they couldn’t fit all the hand luggage on the plane. That left us running for our connection to Edinburgh which, thankfully, was also delayed because the air pump that starts the engines wouldn’t work and they had to ‘jump start’ the plane. Apart from these small issues, the crew on British Airways were lovely and I would certainly choose to fly with them again.

They let Taine in the cockpit!

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