I believe that it imperative to go and do things on your own. It’s a unique opportunity to grow as an individual because you can’t feel pressured by anyone other than yourself. I’ve grown more and more comfortable with embarking on solo adventures and now I see them as exciting opportunities to meet people.
These serendipitous meetings always teach me something so I’ve made a catalogue of these wonderful people to remember how they’ve impacted me.
NOTE: The names of these individuals have been changed because I do not have the ability to contact them to ask for permission to use their names.
A group of Saudi Arabian men and an old, yet spry Swiss-German woman as their guide
I was sitting along Lake Zürich, near Bellevueplatz, enjoying the sun and watching the tourists feed the swans. I was happily swinging my feet above the water when a group of Saudi men asked to join me on the stone wall. The man to my right asked right away if I spoke English. It was nice because I hadn’t said much to anyone all day since I don’t know any Swiss-German. We exchanged a few words about where we came from and what we were both doing in Zürich although I’m not sure either of us fully understood the other. We mostly laughed at the swans racing each other to catch the bread crumbs and shouted in surprise when a swan reared up and bit my sneakered toes (probably because I wasn’t tossing any bread).
Soon the old woman, who was a tour guide for this group, starting passing around snacks and I was surprised and delighted when they offered me a banana as well. I was actually quite hungry and I didn’t want to leave the lake so this was amazing!
Overall this was a short, 15-minute exchange but what struck me most about the whole thing was how open these guys were to sharing with a complete stranger they could barely speak to. It was a nice gesture and now I carry around extra snacks in case I run into a hungry looking stranger too.
A Korean Girl also traveling solo - Claire
On the boat ride across Lake Luzern, en route to Mt. Rigi, I sat next to a young, Asian woman about my age. I didn’t say anything but halfway through the trip she asked if I was travelling alone. We immediately bonded over our solo travel status and, amidst gasps at the gorgeous scenery, kept up a steady conversation. She was from South Korea, had just left a stressful job and was taking some time off to travel before heading back home. Switzerland was her main focus for travel although she was hoping to see some of Germany as well.
After the boat ride we hopped onto a mountainside train, sharing the excitement of seeing cows in the pastures along the ride. (I am including these cows because they were just as lovely to meet!) The mountain cows are so cute and all wear bells so you can hear the clanging no matter where you are in the mountains. Anyway, my new friend and I were on a mission to see these cows up close so we hiked down a few hundred yards from the top of Mt. Rigi to a fenced in pasture. She had a selfie stick so we ran between different sections of the pasture trying to get a cow to look into the frame of her selfies.
It was nice to meet this girl because I really wanted to talk to someone and it’s always so much more fun to share the experience of something new with another person, whether that be a old friend or a fresh, new one.
Swiss-German native to Zürich – Nick
On a warm Friday night I took myself out for a nice meal of bratwurst, the spiciest, cleans out your nose with a lick mustard, Brot (bread) und Bier at Sternen Grill. This was early during my time in Zürich and I was still pretty nervous to talk to anyone because it is awkward to explain that I don’t know German once someone starts talking to me. So I sat at an empty table and thoroughly enjoyed my meal in silence. Just as I was finishing up, a middle-aged man asked if he could share the table and I responded with a nod (really exercising my body language skills this semester). We sat in silence but made frequent eye contact accompanied by pleasant smiles. I wanted to sit and enjoy the atmosphäre but felt too awkward because I was done eating. So, I stood and made my way to the door.
I’ve always been sensitive to vibes and my intuition. In that moment my stomach sank, realizing how strange it felt to be leaving. I felt like there was a string tugging me back to where I should have stayed and I turned to find the man staring once again. I smiled and with a little shrug walked back and introduced myself. It turns out he is an architect working on historical preservation in Zürich. How lucky to meet someone who is also in my field of work! We talked about the environments people inhabit and I finally got a good explanation as to why some people, and a lot of them architects, like Nick, love having all white homes. In Nick’s perspective, all-white rooms allows for your emotions to be reflected back to you - the space doesn’t interfere. I’m not an advocate for this, I believe in color, however it was nice to hear a solid case for white rooms.
We chatted over a few beers and Nick’s girlfriend joined, who was a psychologist. She was very eccentric, wearing various layers of black sweaters and wooden jewelry. In contrast Nick was more serious in a checkered button down and tailored jacket. However they fit together with an ease I hope to find with someone one day too. Seeing them together gave me hope for the possibilities of future relationships.
In parting I made the comment on how nice all of the people that I’ve met in Switzerland have been. Nick and Fiona (much much simpler than her real name) gave each other a surprised and knowing glance. They explained, which I had heard before, that the Swiss are not known to be open to strangers. I shrugged, this wasn’t my experience but I had heard this stereotype repeated a thousand times. Nick smiled and said, “well if you’re having nice, open experiences with the Swiss, then you must deserve it.”
A fellow American from California – Robbie
It was classic the way we met. Waiting for the first of three trains to the top of the Jungfrau, Robbie missed his intended train and ended up on mine. We started talking because I heard him speaking English to another traveler and sat down next to them.
En route to the Jungfrauroch, or the famous "Top of Europe", we discovered that we both had the same awe and fascination with the mountains. So, we decided to hang out for the rest of the trip and help each other take some awesome pictures.
At the Sphinx viewing tower on top of the mountain we stood outside in the freezing, winter temperature, for at least 45 minutes just staring at the glacier and Jungfrau. Both cable car rides up the mountain and back down we spent the entire time running from one side of the train to the other to catch the best views. We were both in disbelief that there were people riding down on the train and not even looking out the window at the majestic landscape! It takes two hours to descend such a big mountain and on the last leg of our journey, a train back to Interlaken, it grew dark. We agreed that at night the mountains took on a more ominous tone. They became more serious, stern even, guarding the valley like stiff knights (ritter in Deutsch). It seems that when it comes to the Alps, one’s awe during the day quickly turns into respect night.
I was very happy to share the experience with Robbie because we had the same level of enthusiasm about the whole journey. I am also thankful that he introduced me to the amazing variety of Lindt truffle flavors that you can only get in Switzerland. The mango cream and the champagne-filled truffles were life changing. I will remember this trip as one of my favorites.