To get to St Moritz is a long drive from Basel and you drive through Davos , Zurich and all the other hubs where the wealthiest settle to escape paying taxes in their own country.Suddenly, in a surreal situation your car drives in to a train and the train takes you up the mountains. This time you are late as the train comes every half an hour. The guard says he is already three minutes late and he cannot delay the train further by one minute so our poor car can crawl into it quickly.
En route I find myself, (as I seem to have developed a talent for planting myself in places so far away from my own world) , in a beautiful Swiss Café with a gorgeous Ukranian waitress .I chatted with four Swiss people there while eating pasta Napoli with tomaten and drinking water fresh from the glacier. Their stories are incredible. The man who had a house with a hundred rooms but worked as a chef in a low profile restaurant earning a minimum wage.
The temperature is – 6 degrees Celsius and outside the beauty of the Alps is so intense it hurts your eye.
Welcome to Switzerland.
When you are sledging down the steepest slopes on the Alps, you can't see what's coming and you are going full speed . You are caught between the need to concentrate and the need to gobble the extreme beauty of the mountains as the setting sun gingerly paints their peaks a glowing orange. You are on an Alpine slope near St Moritz in Switzerland where Hollywood comes to unwind, where old women are dressed like in a 1920's movie with fur coats and hats.
You take it all in , sleep over it and and wake up to an amazing breakfast of freshly baked fluffy croissant, a nutty traditional bread, exquisite cheeses, coffee and juice.
C of course cooks the most exquisite food in the world, far better than anything I have had in any restaurant I went to in Switzerland and Italy. The description of this would merit another blog post , A typical tradiitonal Swiss farmers breakfast which is a simple but gorgeously delicious meal of roast potatoes and fried eggs- Rosti.
There are no simple Swiss farmers anymore.Not counting the virtual Heidi who blows you a kiss on the train to baggage claim in the Zurich airport. Ive been here long and haven't met a single cow yet. The youth of this country are rich from the spoils of their parents generation. The recession seems to have barely pricked the surface of this rich country given the bustling luxury stores at St Moritz.
I hear stories a lot. There is a woman , lets call her m , who is petrified of going broke. Her father is easily one of the richest men in the country..She inherited money from relatives which makes her richer than her father. . She works as a nanny because she is afraid of being broke. Her divorced mother thinks 60 000 euro a month as alimony is a pittance and can barely buy her one handbag.A legal dispute is on.
I spent most of my time in Basel and went on short trips to the hills, to Rome and to Zurich.
Basel has small town charm , the two parts of the city are connected by a bridge over River Rhine. The centre of town is charming , museum studded and on sunny days a small lively street market props up . A stray musician plays the violin arranging for my typical romanticized vision of an European town.
Zurich is larger but similarly constructed around Lake Zurich and has a landscape studded with beautiful church towers that change to modern industrial buildings as you go further away from town.
The streets around the centre seem to have a small but interesting art scene with many shops exhibiting sculpture and painting for sale. C says the nightlife is surprisingly hot for a city so small.
Although C complains that Switzerland is too perfect , it is interesting for me to see a world that works, where you don't worry about leaving your bag on the tram floor because no one will steal it. I have developed an unjustifiable trust in some western countries. With no offence to anyone, Italy is excluded from this list. For the basic necessities of life and a little more, the state is accountable. The streets are clean. The public transport is reliable. The government can afford to not be corrupt about basic things and concentrate on the bigger things.
At the Zurich railway station you pay the equivalent of 100 rupees to get in but the toilets are surely the fanciest and the most spacious I have seen in a public space.
Sometimes, my Indian upbringing means that I have a subconscious dread towards toilets in public spaces. The Edinburgh park toilet swept me away with its clean floors, nappy changing stations etc but Zurich was even better.
In Rajasthan , I have seen toilets with layers and layers of aging shit garnished with fresh shit and watered by pisss. in public loos.
Sorry my dear reader, The Alps are beautiful ,the chocolate is out of the world...just think of that to get the previous image out of your head. And I promise to put up pictures soon.
(I've slightly changed the stories of the people I have talked about to protect their identity)