My spell in Switzerland

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Zug, a canton in SwitzerlandOut of work and saddled with an overwhelming desire to travel? Why not spend the summer working abroad as an aupair… One member of the CD Traveller team did just that: read her report below

Amidst endless Mary Poppins cracks and Sound Of Music jokes, I packed my suitcase and ventured to Heidi’s native land with a certain amount of excitement, fear and trepidation mingled in my heart.

Cham, near Zug – my temporary home for the summer – was situated in the central German speaking section of Switzerland, nestled between the mountains and a lovely lake. The first week was, well, an experience. I spent the first patience testing seven days questioning my wisdom and wondering just what it was that had me, the most undomesticated of all my friends, pack my bags and head off into the unknown to stay with a family I knew nothing about; in short, to spend the summer as a glorified slave. I cursed myself for not listening to my friends who had reacted to my plans with laughter and an element of surprise: “What you? An au pair! I thought you were allergic to children?”

My opening encounters with the devil’s own daughter left me feeling incredibly drained and exhausted. Another au pair I met pleaded insanity and went home. Things could only get better. Fortunately for me they did and quickly. Essentially my employers were decent people and as the weeks passed, I began to develop a genuine friendship with them. Yes the little Marina was seriously spoilt, but who wouldn’t be with the luxury lifestyle that my Swiss family led?

As an au pair, I found that the days are exactly the same routine-wise, but you never know what’s going to happen in between. Typically my workday would start at 7am when I would rise to prepare breakfast for the family. My day would then involve undertaking light house work and stretching my imagination to its limits as I devised ways to keep the Swiss Miss occupied and most importantly, happy. You name it, I tried it. We embarked on long cycle rides, went swimming in the nearby lake, tried pebble painting, made miniature gardens, drawing and dare I say it, even a spot of sewing, cake baking and the like. (As anyone who knows me will testify, this is my idea of sheer purgatory.) Sometimes my charge would have a few friends over to play and I was afforded the sweet relief of a couple of hours of (relative) peace, only on call in case of an emergency. Usually my day would end at 9pm when I would put Marina to bed with the obligatory bedtime story and song, after which I would speak English with the parents.

I have some fabulous memories of my spell in Switzerland. My family had a great capacity for life and laughter, and some of my most enjoyable nights were spent sitting outside eating with the family and listening to stories, which resulted in endless giggling sessions. The weather was glorious and I got to see more of Switzerland than I ever dreamed about. For me this was the highlight, for lets face it: Switzerland has never been a bargain holiday destination.

Forget the quaint stereotypical image of Switzerland that we all have fixed in our minds: the ideal of chocolate, cheese, alpine chalets, Heidi and the Matterhorn. Yes, this is all part of Switzerland but the real Switzerland – the one that the Swiss people inhabit – is completely different and infinitely more rewarding. Switzerland is uniquely blessed with awe-inspiring scenery, which is amazingly diverse for so small a country. Want to enjoy the rugged beauty of the mountains? Then head for Jungfraujoch; the top of Europe situated in the heart of the Alps. One of Switzerland’s most popular tourist attractions, it’s here that you can enjoy unrivalled views of the rest of the continent. Craving culture? Head to Zurich and the smart, elegant Bahnofstrasse shopping area. Looking for old town charm? Basel it is. Want to witness the beauty of the Lake and the mountains? Make for Lucerne (all in the German speaking section.) Meanwhile for a taste of the famous French Riviera atmosphere head for Lausanne, Geneva or Montreux on the shores of the glittering, blue Lake Geneva. If the Italian way of life holds more appeal, then Ascona, Locarno (where the famous peace treaty was signed) or Lugano with its fringed palm trees and Mediterranean climate and ambience is the place for you. What is especially astounding about Switzerland is the number of languages that the Swiss people speak. It really does put the English to shame. I got to stay with the family in some unbelievable hotels. Those were the highs and what highs they were! Of course it wasn’t all a bed of roses. Much more accurate is to describe my stay in Switzerland as a rollercoaster of a ride, complete with highs and lows. I had to take the good with the bad, the rough with the smooth. I went thinking it would be an easy way to experience Switzerland and make a little money. I returned with this illusion shattered; au pair work is hard work – don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. But an opportunity I’d pass up? No way. It left me exhausted but rewarded. I learnt a lot about my inner strengths and myself. I discovered skills I didn’t know I had: I can cook. I discovered I like the outdoors lifestyle.

In Switzerland I learnt that fun takes on different forms. It lacks the let your hair down factor of a night spent in Soho, perhaps. However, I found pleasure in the simplest of things; a picnic by the lake with the children, a walk in the mountains. Above all I loved the experience of living and working in a different country and the challenge of trying to comprehend it.

All too soon, the summer flew by and it was time to return to the UK, and this was quite possibly the hardest part of the whole experience. When I arrived in Switzerland, my Swiss family and I eyed each other nervously as strangers. When I left we hugged each other as firm friends having spent a memorable summer in each other’s company.

I returned with a message: Sometimes another household can be welcoming. Sometimes it can be hostile, but if you don’t go you will never know…

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