CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY IN SWITZERLAND: A COOL ADVENTURE

Getting There, Economy

These days, at my advanced age, I am somewhat reluctant to take long trips; after a certain age, even in the best of health, the body develops a certain amount of distrust for normal body functions and mobility always appears to be strained. There develops in the vastly experienced mind an element of jealousy of youth and realistic recognition that the condition of a finely aged bottle of wine is not quite the same in quality as finely aged homo sapiens.

However, when the reward is spending Christmas holidays in the honey lotus land of Die Schweiz (Switzerland) and visiting your spouse that you have not seen for a long period of time, one can hardly refrain from accepting an invitation; there is no place that I would rather be during the Christmas season than Switzerland with Marlisa.

Unfortunately, there is more to getting from San Diego California to Zürich Switzerland than packing your bags. The travel-time element is a major factor. In spite of the speed of modern rocket jet technology, travel time is measured more than in actual hours; it is more realistically measured in the amount and degree of suffering and discomfort spent crammed into a miniscule seat which creates considerable pain in the posterior and legs, radical visions of chaos terrorizing the mind, anxiety from being required to sit between a screaming, squalling newborn child and a Rhino sized disenchanted matron smothered in eau d’cologne, and the sheer number of mandated trips made to a restroom that defies head room for a standing adult male in excess of six feet height. It is not the joy of travel but it is the allure of the destination and being able to visit with your spouse that is the absolute and the finite factor in whether or not the destination is worth the travel. In this case, it is positive.

Just the part about getting from your home to the airport becomes a major undertaking; it always seems necessary to select the preferred, volunteering relative or friend with a large enough car, no prior commitments nor conjured commitments, and with enough guilt feelings about all you have done for them over the years that they feel absolutely required to provide their services and car to get you and your luggage to the airport at the given time on the given day. At that point, the responsibility becomes yours to be sure your driver does not forget, have a flat tire, or died during the night from an unknown cause. Actually, for some time now I have found a solution to the problem of getting to the airport on time, on the right day, and with all luggage intact; I arrange and prepay for a shuttle service to pick me up on time and deliver me on time and to be at the airport when I arrive and deliver me to my home. The cost is worth the elimination of the anguish, guilt, and responsibility.

There is more than one way to fly from San Diego to Switzerland and it is possible to choose from more than one airline. Having flown in many directions and on what seems like every conceivable airline, in the past, I have a preference and now prefer Swiss International Airlines direct from Los Angeles to Zürich after a short flight from San Diego to Los Angeles. Everything before boarding Swiss International in Los Angeles is preparation; Los Angeles to Zürich takes about twelve hours of economy class discomfort. I am definitely too poor to fly first class and provide adequate sitting room for my feet, legs, and shoulders; extraneous body parts must fend for themselves and sometimes are challenged by persons sitting next to me or stewardesses plying the aisle serving drinks or shriveled up airline food.

One part of the trip that I anticipate with agony from the beginning of the trip is going through security; it is not that I am a threat to anyone but rather I am perceived as a threat. In 2000, I had bilateral knee replacement and consequently I have metal prosthesis knees, inside my real flesh and blood.

When I walk through a metal detector with my metal knees, it is like hitting the jackpot at Los Vegas with sirens, bells, and lights galore. This begins a body search and electronic detection wands waved over me in a blessing that will assure everyone else in sight that I am not a terrorist even if the metal detector has profiled me as such. All of this takes time and time is something you do not always have when catching an airplane.

The KGB (TSA in English) apologize profusely while they subject me to a public display of mysteriously waving their wands over me and followed by patting, grabbing, and gently caressing sensitive parts of my body; the TSA officers notify me just before each groping so that I do not yell, scream, or giggle and embarrass them. This occurs just before each flight that I take. Unfortunately, my trip requires that I change planes and airport terminals in Los Angeles so I go through the process twice on the same trip.

To make matters worse, I am required to divest myself of everything on my body that might excite a metal detector including shoes and belt. Going through one security check sans belt, my pants fell down and fortunately I was wearing underwear, clean underwear that is, at the time. However, all my worldly goods including passport and wallet are in a plastic box after going through x-ray observation, sitting there where other passengers without metal knees are grabbing their own plastic boxes; the security officers are at the same time dragging me away to search me and telling me to keep an eye on my possessions at all times.

Now I have to say that I am all in favor of security. I remember going through security in Europe when America did not even have security checks and I wished we did. This was at a time before 2001 when everyone loved the United States of America and Americans had no one to fear; I wish all Americans understood that the reason for airline security today is that the United States of America has made some foreign people angry enough to want to blow us to kingdom come. Personally, I think it is easier not to agitate other people than to provide security to keep them from killing you. Some European nations suffered this problem before America did, and that is why they had airline security before America; I was able to figure out the solution right away, just don’t make enemies.

Once aboard the Swiss International flight to Zürich, after I discover that the person sitting next to me for the next twelve hours appeared to be a normal human being, not large enough to crowd into part of my seat and relatively free of toxic odors, I relaxed and could hardly wait for the flight attendant to serve drinks. My flight this time, was blessed by a flying companion that was female, small, nice looking, and free of odor. She was friendly but not talkative; thank you, God!

Flights to and from Zürich are very different; there is 9 hours difference in time. Going to Switzerland, if you leave as I did, at 7:25 PM San Diego time, it gets early dark and is night until you are almost there and you arrive at 3:45 PM Swiss time (6:45 AM San Diego Time); you arrive in Switzerland the afternoon the next day after you left Los Angeles. What this means is that the cabin is dark most of the way and some people sleep a lot. On my return flight, I leave Zürich at 1:10 PM Swiss time, and arrive in Los Angeles at 4:45 PM the same day; it is light outside all the way.

However, the first thing after leaving the runway, passengers are served drinks, then shortly after that they are served dinner, since the plane left the airport at dinner time. From after dinner until a few hours before arrival at your destination, you fend for yourself. You can pick and choose from movies (individual screens) to watch or music, some passengers use their computers, and others sleep. Just before landing, you are served drinks and a continental breakfast even though it is afternoon when you arrive. Personally, on this trip I chose to sleep as much as possible.

On my flight there were 4 empty seats across the aisle from me; shortly after takeoff, the nice lady sitting next to me said, “If you don’t intend to move to those empty seats across the aisle, I would like too.”

I let her take the 4 seats and that left me with two, my aisle and her window seat which I considered luxurious. Understand of course that I am not the average size passenger; I am over six feet tall, long legs, medically obese, broad shoulders, equally broad belly, with bionic knees and just before I left for Switzerland, the doctor advised me that I had four broken bones in my left foot. Trying to configure this mass of damaged humanity into even two seats became a problem that I did not resolve over the next twelve hours; however, except for watching one movie, I did manage fitful sleep most of the flight from Los Angeles to Switzerland, at times sleeping seemingly sitting on my own head.

Arrival in Zürich is always exciting for me. If there are no clouds, or when the plane breaks through the clouds you immediately recognize the landscape. Mountains, valleys, villages, cities, and forests; it is better than Disneyland.

A few days before leaving San Diego, my wife phoned me from Switzerland and  informed me that she had strained her back, could hardly walk, and therefore would not be meeting me at the terminal; I decided not to tell her about the broken foot because it really wasn’t that important; even with a broken foot, I had few problems with mobility. She said that she would try to find someone to pick me up but I just might have to get to her apartment on my own. Actually, I would prefer to get there on my own, it is no problem with public transportation like they have in Switzerland, even with manageable luggage such as mine.

The train station is in the airport terminal. After arrival, you pick up your luggage, go through customs, and take and escalator down to the train station, buy a ticket, get on the train to Winterthur (changing trains in Winterthur to a local train or take a bus) and when the local train gets to the Seen (pronounced say-un) station in Winterthur you walk about two blocks to the apartment of my wife; the total distance is about 25 miles. I am fascinated with Swiss public transportation and thrilled every time I use it, which is always.

This time, however, I am deprived of using the train because my gracious nephew was waiting to take me to the apartment; we had a chance to talk on the way which was good. He was just recently married and it gave me an opportunity to give him some worldly advice about marriage.

Of course, it was painful just to see my poor decrepit wife, Marlisa, greet me at the door, so stiff and sore that she could barely move; however, since I only had a broken foot it was possible for me to take care of her limpingly for the few days she needed to recover. We both actually thought it just a little humorous, of course.

It was great to be in Switzerland and to see Marlisa again; I was feeling exuberant and happy.

TO BE CONTINUED

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