Swiss Cheese

Written from the Basel airport before I got ‘home’ to the UK, thankfully, a few hours ago…

After all of the travel eventfulness of the last few weeks (volcanic ash cloud, BA strike) I was looking forward to a mostly uneventful and brief trip to Switzerland for work. The trip was supposed to happen last month but fell right in the edge of the volcanic ash cloud adventure: it turned out that my flight would have been amongst the first European flights out of the UK if I had taken it, so perhaps I should have just taken the trip last month. But I didn’t, and here I was, hoping for a miracle…

As for my uneventful trip? It sort of happened. The most eventful part, in the end, was the flight out of the UK. I had been scheduled on a 2 pm flight to Geneva, but it (and my return flight) were cancelled. Then the BA strikes were called off, and BA called ME to offer to reinstate my trip. Sure, no problem. They put me on an 11:40 am flight. NB this was Tuesday, the trip was due to be Wed. (the strike was due to start Tuesday before it was called off late Monday). Trek to Heathrow Wed. morning to find that they had overbooked the 11:40 and they wanted me to just wait and see. I was more than mildly annoyed. I called their hotline (the BA toll-free number is now burned on my brain) and they told me to go back up and try again, that there was a snafu in the system. No such luck, actually, but when I asked about the 2 pm flight they said it was not full. I asked if I could just offer to take that one instead of hanging around the Heathrow main doors (outside security, since i had no boarding pass) and it turned out that was not as straightforward as I would have thought. They did, eventually, relent and gave me a boarding pass for 2 pm. I popped through security and went into the lounge to wait a few hours. Now I was on my way, but perhaps understandably nervous about the return flight. They had not been able to get me on anything out of Geneva, so I was due to leave Basel (from where I write this now). They said I should call back on Thursday to see if I could get anything from Geneva, as they were reinstating flights now that the strike was called off.

That would have been fine, except as anyone following this story would know, the courts in Britain upheld a union appeal and the strike was allowed to continue. Fortunately for me, not with immediate effect: it will start Monday. But as a result, no extra Friday evening Geneva flights, although at least they promised me I did have a seat from Basel. I was skeptical, after my arrival at Heathrow Wed. morning but what choice did I have? Regardless, it took over 20 minutes on hold with BA on Thursday night to ascertain all of this, the lines being clogged with the people whose plans for next week were now derailed due to the re-instated strike.

Now I should have known there was a problem with Wednesday’s flight on Tuesday night, when I could not do BA online check-in. Fortunately for me, this morning the online check-in for the Basel flight did work, which gave me confidence to spend two and a bit hours in transit to Basel (instead of the much-closer Geneva). I got to see more of the Swiss countryside from their fabulous, silent, and extremely smooth and comfortable trains, and as far as I can tell a flight intends to take off from here with me on it, in just over an hour.

In the midst of all of this travel chaos, I managed to have a fantastic trip to Switzerland. This country might well, and quickly, take over from Germany as my favorite work travel destination within the continent. As far as I can tell, both have largely excellent public transport and fantastic people working in my field. This was only my second Swiss trip, while I’ve been to Germany on more occasions than I can currently remember. It’s interesting, too–work has never taken me to France, Spain, Belgium, or any part of Scandinavia. Work has once taken me to the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece (Crete), Hungary, Austria and Ireland. (And Scotland, but I never know if that counts.) But work looks likely to take me back to Switzerland again in the future, and I will go enthusiastically.

Part of this enthusiasm can be attributed to my work colleagues here, both of whom worked with me in England for various times (2 years and 6 months) and who returned to Switzerland, where they were before they worked with me. (For completeness, one is Italian, the other is Swiss.) So work with people you know that well (and thus consider ‘professional friends’ as opposed to just colleagues) is always more interesting than work with total strangers or casual work acquaintances. And in this particular case, we’re all close to the same age and stage of career, and thus we have even more in common. This dynamic also means that the work-related socializing is much more fun and relaxing than it would otherwise be when traveling.

So last night we relaxed over a fantastic pot of Gruyere fondue:

and a few interesting beverages, including one that I had never tried before:

We talked about life and careers and immigration and politics and England and Europe and the future and everything else. It was great. These trips, when done right, always leave me with a sense of the possible and of hope for the future. I need this badly, especially when the daily grind is making me lose my perspective on such things. The meetings during the day were extremely productive, my next few weeks are amazingly quiet and I should be able to follow through with the promises I made to get some things done. Which is good for all of us.

So in the end, I leave Basel on a note of great optimism and enthusiasm and with hopes for a return trip to Switzerland in the not-too-distant-future. It was a trip that was good for my soul. But next time, it’s Eurostar and TGV all the way. No more flying to places I can get to by rail. This is supposed to be the beauty of Europe, and I’m not taking advantage of it. It was a close call for a trip this short, but next time I’ll stay a few extra days and see more of this beautiful country.

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4 responses to “Swiss Cheese

  1. Good to hear you so upbeat.

    I’m a big fan of train travel. So much more relaxing than flying.

  2. What can get more relaxing than a good chat over a hot cheese fondue pot? My friends and I love catching up with each others lives while having our favorite cheese (by unanimous decision,lol) fondue and good bottle of wine.

  3. I always say if I had to offer one bit of advice to expats, it would be to learn to go with the flow. I notice more and more how Americans get “spoiled” by things always getting done in an “efficient” way. We are very used to complaining about a service and having our grievance addressed. I don´t know which other countries operate in the same way, but I have yet to hear about them.

    In any case, it does sound like you made the best of a not-so-great situation.

  4. Pingback: Since my last post… « Not From Around Here

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