How to visit cities and alienate hosts

Travel styles dif­fer so vastly. I remem­ber well how I went to Lisboa for the first time: Several people, includ­ing but not lim­ited to two dif­fer­ent couch­surf­ing hosts, told me right away that the six days I had planned to stay were way too much. I’d get bored, the city would be too small, even with excur­sions to Caiscais and Sintra I’d be done after three or four days.

Our plans for Fribourg? Erm … we go to the centre, get lost and see what happens.”
“And tomor­row? You’ll have seen everything, you should go to Schwarzsee, per­haps, or —”
“We’ll see. Probably we won’t be done with it so quickly —”
“But Fribourg is really small!”

Is our trav­el­ling a bit for­mu­laic, per­haps? Start at the cathed­ral, vis­it a few museums, look at a few assor­ted bits of loc­al archi­tec­ture? But whenev­er a city begins to look just like any oth­er, some­thing extraordin­ary hap­pens. Usually the adven­ture unfolds gradu­ally, start­ing with (1) some slight oddity, then (2) some mild amazement, then, some­times, (3) some­thing com­pletely out­rageous. Often, the first stages already grant a mem­or­able stay, such as swim­ming amidst the rap­id jets of the River Aare in Bern.

Fribourg – GalternFribourg, that being said, is a lit­mus test for trav­el­lers“ atten­tion: In our con­ceited opin­ion, who­ever finds it “just nice” is only watch­ing, not see­ing. “The Swiss Görlitz”, we called it: a city with a decent, but not out­stand­ing repu­ta­tion that instantly turns out to be a shin­ing jew­el. High atop a rocky pin­nacle inside a loop of the River Saane, that togeth­er with its trib­u­tar­ies has bur­rowed a deep, mean­der­ing chasm into the soft sand­stone, lies the old town of Fribourg, foun­ded by the same Zähringer dukes who also lay the found­a­tions of Bern in a sim­il­ar, but not nearly as spec­tac­u­lar set­ting. An extens­ive fam­ily of bridges con­nects both sides, some­times just above the water, some­times soar­ing 40 metres above. Mountain goats haphaz­ardly bal­ance on the ver­tic­al faces of the Galtern cañon, nar­row stair­cases lead through jungle and cave back into the city.

Europe is a small world: The eye-catch­ing art nou­veau win­dows of the cathed­ral were made by none less then Józef Mehoffer, a Polish artist who hap­pens to, around 1900, have lived right behind Nelson’s work­place, the Arteteka. Our hosts were still not impressed: They must have seen deep­er land­scapes and had not yet paid atten­tion to the win­dows – cer­tainly we would not blame them, we are passing by so quickly every­where that we must miss more things than we could see in a life­time. Eventually, though, we did man­age to sur­prise them: by sud­denly leav­ing at one hour past mid­night. That, dear read­ers, is an example for the third stage of escalation.

“How about cross­ing the pass at night …?”

Grand St. Bernhard is to be crossed. On Monday, we must expect the worst of weath­ers: cold, rain, thun­der. So on Sunday we shall have our climb, which means to hurry up.
“We could just depart now towards Lausanne”, Nelson joked around eleven.
“I bet­ter look up the route”, I joked back.

The verb “to joke” is poorly under­stood by us: We tend to take such things too ser­i­ously. After quick pack­ing and some intra­ven­ous shots of cof­fee and tea, we found ourselves amidst a dark noth­ing, rolling about the quiet, deser­ted streets, blinded by the lights of a lone vil­lage only every so and so many kilo­metres. A couple of climbs and des­cents later we sat down on the benches in front of Lausanne’s cathed­ral, over­see­ing the sprawl­ing width of the dis­tant lake and, behind, on the French side, the jagged sum­mits of the Alps that dur­ing sun­rise slowly revealed one detail after anoth­er. We fell asleep right there before the church even opened.

... then our hosts a few roads to the right woke up and let us in.
then our hosts a few roads to the right woke up and let us in.

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