“Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport”
Saber Ben Hassen
With the transport links to and from Paris as reliable as they are, our little foursome decided to take a weekend trip. Given that my American pals had never been to Europe, we wanted to take them somewhere outside of France. We chose the three hour train-away Geneva, Switzerland. We boarded a TGV from the Gare de Lyon (easily accessible on the metro) lugging on bags packed with travel bottles of gin and a multitude of scarves. Now many of you may know Switzerland, despite being part of Europe, is not in the EU, so, wisely as it turns out, I chose to take my passport just in case. Past experience tells me I need proof of age, not just experience. My US friends also packed their passports, problematic American visas etc etc, but for some reason, and unbeknown to me, my Welsh friend thought she wouldn’t need it. This seemingly unimportant fact never cropped up the entire weekend, as we had not been required to show our passports upon entering the country, but just you wait…
We stayed in a cheap-but-friendly (and obvs clean, we were in Switzerland after all) hotel on a side street running just up from Lake Geneva. Two double beds, breakfast included, £150/night. Well worth the rate for location. The first morning we awoke to brisk air whisking through the open window. Despite the cold climes, this freshness was fortuitous as Missouri had consumed rather too much gin on the train over here - our bags now had room for souvenirs, so she actually did us a favour. We enjoyed a room-served tray of croissants, jams, honey, breads and spreads, an assortment of fruit, orange juice, coffee and tea, all whilst we jostled to make our faces in front of the one tiny mirror in the bathroom. I have, and never intend to stay in a hostel with more than four people to a room again. This sharing experience was one too many times for me. Put it this way: four women, one bathroom, no bathroom window. Character building? Not over 15 years old, scout’s honour.
We spent the day ambling around Geneva’s old town: dipping our toes in the hypothermic lac, sharing a very Swiss and shockingly expensive box of chocolates, getting back to nature in the Botanic Gardens…discovering the cathedral. Here I must recommend paying the small fee to climb the umpteen number of steps (I forgot to count and didn’t not feel like repeating) to enjoy the breathtaking vistas stretching right to the top of Mont Blanc - wow! Surprisingly we were the only people who made it to the top. Rewarded, we each listened in silence as the great bells rang their sonorous clangs over this tiny city. If you’re ever going to believe in God, this is the place to do it.
After hours scouring Geneva’s only three tourist shops for exactly the right Swiss-army knife to gift to Missouri’s sister, we collectively readied ourselves for the moment we had been waiting for since we boarded the train back in Paris: the Swiss Fondue. We ravenously googled every restaurant serving fondue in a 5 mile radius (all of them), and set out on our quest. We pumped for ‘Au Petit Chalet,’ but other respectable restaurants included Buvette des Bains, Vieux Carouge, & Café du Soleil.
We were quickly learning that Switzerland isn’t dubbed the country of money for nothing. At 27 euros per bowl of fondue per person, we decided to share only two. Plates of pain rustique along with tiny tomatoes and rolls of ham to fulfil all our dipping needs appeared alongside mountains of gloopy cheese. Bring on the lactose intolerance. I warn here that ordering a 500g bowl of fondue is the single most expensive thing I have ever done in Europe, but after consuming an entire kilogram of that delicious truffle infused Swiss cheese I would 100% fon-do it again. By the time we reached our hotel, our blood was cheese, but we were sated with both fondue and the knowledge that we would never again have to spend that amount of money on a dairy product (unless we return of course).
The next day we learned the Welsh, or perhaps just my friend, are not entirely comfortable with spontaneity. It soon came to light that my good ol’ pal Wales was ‘not good at holidaying without a plan’, quote, unquote. On Sunday, she had timetabled our day down to the last second, the majority of which we were scheduled to spend admiring what we were told was some kind of water feature. On the approach to this spectacle, our conversation was entirely inaudible over the roar of gushing water which seemed to be coming from a gigantic jet shooting straight up into the sky. This was the incredible feat of Swiss engineering: the Jet de l’Eau. The story goes that one day the town of Geneva noticed a problem with their water system, so they loosened a pipe from the pier leading out onto the lake and WHOOSH! Up spurted an immediate stream of water, like a waterfall, only going upwards. A water-throw if you will. This incredibly unlikely spurt has been reaching for the moon ever since. It costs nothing to visit, and is visible from the historical side of the lake. It is very tall, very loud, and entirely unprotected, so take my advice and wear a raincoat. We learned the hard way.
Sights seen, Switzerland spectacled, we headed back to the train station, and here comes the passport dilemma. I bet you’d forgotten, and so had we until my American friends and I were safely past border control and on the train, but without Wales. We did what women do best: remained calm, thought rationally, sought a solution. I hopped off the train and raced back to my friend, who had been dragged away by some scary police. “Don’t you have any type of ID on you at all? Driving licence?? Credit Card?!” A swift shake of the head and alarm bells began to ring, or was that the bell signalling the departure of our train..? Suddenly Wales whipped out her phone and began scrolling through her camera roll. Now is not the time to show off your photos! She shoved her phone in the man’s face, and with a terse nod of his head we were back on board, Missouri and Boston anxiously saving our seats.
What did she show him, an official who could not possibly be bribed, and certainly not by her holiday snaps…? A photo of her passport on her phone was remembered, and this vital information was shared in the hope they would LET HER OUT of their country minutes before we were due to leave.
Well that was a lot of panic for nothing. When asked why she didn’t just bring her passport in the first place, Wales answered: “I’m not sure. I looked at it on my dresser, and made a conscious decision to leave it there.” We are in the EU after all, and even though Switzerland is not, we were trying to get out, not in! Good decision making skills. Remind me not to go on holiday with her again.
We made it back to Paris after 3 hours of nervous-giggly reminiscing, and I think it’s safe to say we won’t be letting Wales plan any more trips for us in the near future. Where is she now? Oh who knows, probably somewhere in South America - let’s hope she’s got her passport.