The title of this post is a slight misnomer because this is actually the account of my spring break travels to Paris and Zürich. But in my case, Zürich is the less frequent destination, and I wanted to keep the post title format consistent. (Also, is it true I’ve never written a “Trip to Paris” post?! The English country dance Trip to Paris is the source of title format!)
Ahem, anyway. Late last year, my family learned that Katlyn, one of my Swiss second cousins, was getting married right in the middle of my spring break. It seemed like too perfect an opportunity to pass up. Katlyn is the same age as my brother, and over a decade ago she lived with my family for a year so she could experience American high school (I was already in college by then). She even came with us to the shelter to pick out Bismarck, the surly ginger cat who’s been with us every since. Our families have also visited one another quite a few times over the years, in the U.S. and in Switzerland. So my parents, brother, and I all decided to attend the wedding.
Our itineraries were different, though. I made plans to visit Isabelle in Paris and go to Zürich for the wedding weekend while the rest of my family went on a short vacation in the Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, before the wedding. We all left from Minnesota on the same day. For the first time ever, I flew Air Canada, with a layover in Montreal. The flight to Montreal was on a little regional jet (the aircraft seemed to be a Mitsubishi?). The Montreal airport’s code is YUL, which to my amusement is actually pronounced Yule in announcements over the public address system. I had a great experience with Air Canada, the return trip snag notwithstanding.
I arrived in France and spent a few days in Meudon. Then, on Friday, Isabelle and I took the bus and the metro to Gare de Lyon so I could catch my TGV to Switzerland. The TGV Lyria is a direct train line between Paris and Zürich (it’s a joint French-Swiss venture, and I hoped that Switzerland’s 25% share would shield me from any effects of the mouvement social on the French side). The train stopped in Dijon, Mulhouse, and Basel. It was a perfectly pleasant journey, though not extraordinarily scenic (mostly just fields, streams, villages…). We reached Zürich Hauptbahnhof, where I purchased a local transit ticket and hopped on a tram to the rental my immediate family was sharing with three more of my second cousins. (These second cousins are siblings and the bride’s first cousins; they had all flown in from the U.S. too.) I was reunited with my mother, brother, and second cousins in the local Migros (a grocery store), which was attached to the Zürich Tram Museum. Back at the apartment, the seven of us spent the evening catching up and shared a big pot of lentils and quinoa for dinner.
The next day was the wedding. After a leisurely morning at the breakfast table, we took the tram north and then walked to the top of the hill where the church stood. It was at least partly sunny but a bit chilly. In the square in front of the church, near the front steps, Katlyn’s brothers and their girlfriends were greeting guests and handing out programs. We went inside and found seats on the right side of the sanctuary, pretty close to the front. Katlyn’s now-husband is from Singapore, though he’s lived in Switzerland for a while, and Germany before that. Most of the wedding ceremony was in English, but the announcements at the beginning and end were made in English and German.
After the ceremony, I had a chance to greet Katlyn’s parents, and then we all went out to join in the human tunnel through which the newlyweds were going to run (well, walk briskly). The tunnel stretched from the open doors of the church, down the steps, through the square, down some more steps, and along the sidewalk around the corner. We all raised our arms to form an arch (like in the Virginia reel), and the newlyweds ducked their way through. Then there were group photos, covering many different constituencies, on the steps of the church. We were in one of the extended family photos.
As the photos wound down, the guests crossed the street to the lower-level fellowship hall of a different church (Katlyn’s family’s congregation uses space in both buildings) for the apéro. It was early afternoon, and we’d been told there would be wedding cake at 3:00pm. My brother and second cousins and I mostly hung around a single cocktail table. The apéro was substantial (bruschetta, empanadas, croquettes…), which was nice, since we hadn’t really had lunch. The cake cutting was a little behind schedule (in Switzerland!), but then there was cake. Under the frosting, there were two layers of chocolate cake with a whipped cream and strawberry filling in between.
By the time we left the apéro and returned to the apartment, we only had about twenty minutes before it was time to leave for the evening dinner. We set out for the reception venue on foot, bearing our wedding gifts. We met a couple of friendly cats on the way. The dinner was at a restaurant on the grounds of a medical campus focused on epilepsy. The serving space inside the restaurant made it seem like it was a hospital cafeteria, but the whole space was also clearly an event venue. There were walls of windows facing a view of Lake Zurich.
The dinner was a buffet, served in the cafeteria area, that included a salad bar and a wide variety of hot entrées. The salad bar had, among other things, mâche, little shrimp, slices of smoked duck breast, berries, and potato salad. The main dishes included salmon, couscous, some kind of beef stew, rice, glass noodles with vegetables, dumplings, and more. Later on, after a long break, there was a dessert buffet featuring mousse au chocolat, fruit tarts, tiny cheesecakes, chocolate cake, and lots more.
Before dessert, however, there was a program that included speeches by the best man and the maid of honor, a choreographed dance number by the German contingent that reenacted Katlyn’s husband’s journey from Singapore to Germany to Switzerland and their meeting at a bowling alley, and a long slideshow narrated by Katlyn’s father, punctuated by pop quiz questions (mostly to Katlyn, about where photos had been taken, for instance). It was quite entertaining, and among the pictures I spotted one of Katlyn carving a pumpkin on my family’s kitchen table. Toward the end, Katlyn’s father produced the actual chenille letter that Katlyn earned while at American high school in Minnesota. He’d turned it into a necklace, which he put around his new son-in-law’s neck.
Program aside, there was also more unstructured time during which Katlyn came to our table to talk for a while. It was my only chance to really chat with her since I’d missed my family’s rösti lunch with her and her then-fiancé on Friday. Later, her husband took pictures of her with my brother and me, and my brother and I also tried out the photo booth. Still later, the dancing began. Katlyn and her husband had chosen “You Can’t Stop the Beat” for their first dance (apparently they’re both big musical fans). I recognized the song and even thought it might be from Hairspray (the other option I was considering was High School Musical–don’t judge me). I knew (at least by ear) a surprising number of subsequent songs too. I did not dance, but everyone on the dance floor was having a great time, and the energy was infectious.
There were plans to meet up with Katlyn’s family again on Sunday. My train was set to leave quite early in the afternoon, so it didn’t look like I would get to see them again. But after the wedding reception, I decided to see whether I could change my ticket to a later time, since there are multiple TGV Lyrias between Paris and Zürich each day. When I went to check, I noticed my ticket was designated non-exchangeable, but also, the SNCF website let me switch to a train whose departure was a couple of hours later. All seemed in order, even though it shouldn’t have been possible. After I got back to Paris, Isabelle supplied an explanation: due to all the travel chaos being caused by the periodic strikes, the SNCF was allowing anyone to switch their train tickets. Lucky me!
I still didn’t have a ton of time on Sunday, though, so I had my suitcase with me when we went to meet Katlyn’s family (sans Katlyn) at the botanical garden. The weather was changeable, and when we found one another in the garden, it was windy and rainy. So we headed to the domes of the tropical garden. Indoors, Katlyn’s elder younger brother, who I think is a part-time quartermaster or some such, handed out red paper-wrapped bars of military chocolate.
I really only had a few moments in the steamy greenhouse before I had to say goodbye to everybody. Then I caught a bus back to the train station and boarded my TGV.
Back in Paris, I took the metro to rendez-vous with Isabelle and Olivier, who had finished packing up Isabelle’s stand at the market where she’d been selling her artwork that weekend. The three of us ate dinner at a Korean restaurant, sharing hotpot and bibimbap (I didn’t know Korean hotpot was a thing! But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised).
I had a few more days in Meudon with Isabelle. We were both very busy with our respective work. We did make it out into the forest for a short walk. And on my last day, we went into Paris so Isabelle could pick up some stock she’d left with a team of art market organizers at a hotel in the 9th arrondissement. I got to briefly meet her contacts at that organization. Then we brought home desserts from a Chinese salon de thé in the same neighborhood. There was a coconut “panna cotta” and two mille crêpe slices, one mango and one lychee.
On Friday, my travels from Meudon to Paris to Montreal went very smoothly. Then, just as I went to gate-check my carry-on bag for my regional jet flight to the Twin Cities, our flight was canceled! For weather: there was a bit of a blizzard underway in Minnesota (a similar flight to Chicago was also canceled). From our gate, there was an exodus to the Air Canada customer service counter. The line moved extremely slowly. While we were still waiting, my fellow passengers and I received automatic rebookings from the airline. Mine was for Sunday (keeping in mind that it was still Friday, and I had a class to teach on Monday morning), with a transfer in Boston. Luckily, when I finally made it to the front of the line, an agent was able to put me on Saturday’s direct flight to Minneapolis. Much better than the automatic rebooking! Then, with help from my pilot uncle who was in Singapore at the time (!), I found a hotel room and got on the hotel’s airport shuttle. The hotel was very nice (by the time I went to bed, it was like 4:00am in Paris), its free breakfast was extensive and very nice, and its shower was also very nice.
Sadly, I did not do anything fun with my extra day in Montreal. Before heading back to the airport, I walked to a nearby shopping mall because there was a grocery store there that I thought might have some appealing prepared foods for lunch. The grocery store was called Adonis, and Google said it had all the grocery store staples, plus Mediterranean specialties. Even before I found the supermarket, I was struck by how many Middle Eastern- and/or Arab-looking people there were at the mall. Turns out Montreal is about 8% Arab and 12% Muslim! And indeed, when I walked into Adonis, there was a special Ramadan products area under a canopy near the entrance. Behind that was a pastry counter filled with a dizzying array of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern sweets. One odd thing about Adonis was that the employees (at least the cashiers) were all dressed like scouts, with striped neckerchiefs. While the prepared foods did look good (mujaddara!), I actually ended up ordering (in French!) a kebab sandwich at the food court. Soon after, I checked out of the hotel and rode the shuttle back to the airport.