(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
Memory is a strange thing. It paints pictures with our senses and then imbues every canvas with an impermeable sheen; an invisible film that separates us from the past, however much we might desire to touch the moments that time has encased behind its glass walls. Though it’s been a couple of weeks now since I found my days suspended in the cerulean tones and crisp mountain air of Switzerland and a few days since Paris was a home shared with Iris, looking through the photos I took calls to mind so many wonderful and incredibly special memories and though already a little soft and dazed on the edges, I could wander through this gallery endlessly.
After leaving the golden and Christmas-tinged streets of Strasbourg, Iris and I left France and got our first taste of Switzerland when we arrived in the city of Lucerne. Despite being confronted by the biting cold of Switzerland’s winter winds, the walk from Lucerne station to our apartment was filled with moments where we had to fight the temptation to stop with our luggage and just take in the vast beauty of the lake that Lucerne sits so peacefully on, with her buildings, old and new, sprawling from the lakeside up a hill that disappears into the mountains. Some of my favourite hours in Lucerne were ones spent walking along the lakeside, travelling up and down one of the region’s highest mountains and wandering along the Lucerne’s highest wall at dusk as the city’s lights began to turn on in a sparkling panorama.
Our first evening in Lucerne was spent walking along the lake, chatting, laughing and marvelling at the beauty of the landscape surrounding us. There was something profoundly peaceful about tracing the lake’s edge as the city wound down, the sun set and the sky became a soft melange of purple, orange and blue hues, mirrored by the gentle to and fro of the water below it. Little did we know that this was the clearest and brightest view over the lake that we’d get in the days to come, as we woke up the next morning to see a huge sheet of billowing fog settled over Lucerne and the lake in its entirety. Nonetheless, the mist and greyness of the following days couldn’t dissuade us from making a visit to the famous wooden Chapel Bridge, wandering through the streets of Lucerne’s old town where many of the buildings were ornately painted with colourful folk scenes, gazing up at the mourning face of the Lion Monument (the artistry and craftsmanship of which is heartbreakingly beautiful), enjoying a traditional Swiss dinner out one night, and treating ourselves to an assortment of pastries and Swiss chocolates along the way. As we walked through the streets in Lucerne, Iris and I jokingly noted that we probably looked like the coldest people there. Case in point: While chatting upon our arrival, our Airbnb host kept insisting that the temperatures of one to four degrees Celcius that they were experiencing most days were making for an incredibly balmy winter! (Please, we beg to differ. The numbness in our toes is telling us otherwise. #aussieproblems)
One of the highlights of our trip was heading up Mt Rigi, which involved taking a boat out from the city centre and then a funicular-esque cogwheel train up the side of this immense mountain that sits on Lake Lucerne. We woke up that morning feeling mildly pessimistic about how much we’d enjoy our trip up the mountain, since the morning saw a heavy layer of grey fog resting resolutely on the lake’s surface. But as it turns out, going 1,798 metres above sea level serves as a great way to get away from foggy weather. The boat trip was pleasant (albeit very cold when standing on the deck) despite being persistently grey, but as I think back to those moments spent aboard the cogwheel railway on a steep incline upwards, we experienced a specific, spell-bounding moment of breaking clarity and vibrant awakening that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
It was after spending about twenty minutes on the steep incline surrounded by evergreens whose colours were muted by the fog consuming them that it happened. Suspended in our perpetual ascent, we broke through the thick, cloudy layer of fog and suddenly found ourselves at a point in the atmosphere where all was blindingly clear and bright around us. All of a sudden, it felt like a grey veil had been lifted off our eyes and the sparkling glory of the snow-capped mountains, vibrant evergreens and pine trees, white clouds and the shimmering blue sky captivated us completely. As I try (inadequately) to capture the sharpness of the experience in words now, I can’t help but imagine that this, to some extent, mirrors the new life that Jesus offers us. Though we once walked in darkness and were blind to what we did not even know was there, by the Spirit, we’ve had the veil graciously lifted from our eyes – we are brought above the fog and into kingdom that shines brighter than any part of this broken creation ever could, with the ability to see the truth and be loved by the Creator of it all.
From there, we eventually arrived at the peak of Mt Rigi and although it was pretty darn cold up there, those hours were filled nonetheless with some awe-inspiring moments where we gazed out onto the seemingly infinite and vast mountain ranges, dotted by evergreens and blankets of snow and illuminated by the warm golden rays of the sun. As John Piper says, “the really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but self-forgetfulness” and what a way to self-forget – soaking in the grandeur of what sprawled out from beneath our feet and reflecting on how much greater the Creator and Lover of our souls really is. We also took a few opportunities to defrost in the restaurant that sits at the top, and enjoyed a couple of warm mugs of Ovaltine cradled between our gloved hands before heading back down the mountain to the lake.
Being in a country with four official languages was also an interesting experience in and of itself. We ascertained that Lucerne’s dominant language was German, though that didn’t stop me from, without conscious thought, accidentally using German, French and English in a single conversation with a cashier at a grocery store one afternoon, much to Iris’ amusement. Speaking of grocery shopping, our time together has revealed that we don’t make the most efficient grocery shoppers when together (with so many decision-making questions answered with a nonchalant but genuine “I don’t mind”), though the intensity of the central heating and the vast shelves of Swiss chocolate bars and blocks (a world of untapped discoveries!) certainly offered many additional incentives to linger!
Our next stop in Switzerland took us to Vevey – another lakeside town, though this time, sitting on the north side of Lake Geneva. It was here that we rang in the new year and there was something refreshingly communal, fun and spontaneous about the New Year’s Eve we experienced in this small lakeside town. Vevey is one of many towns situated along Lake Geneva, right on the waterfront. As Iris and I wandered out along the lake towards the main square at around 10:30pm on the 31st of December, we couldn’t help but smile as we saw families wandering out from their homes and walking along the lake together, though that nice sensation was tempered by mild alarm and amusement every time we walked past a group of teenagers taking to the lakeside with their own makeshift mini fireworks. The official fireworks show took place over the lake and was scheduled to start at 12:15am and it was lovely, but there was something really special and unique about experiencing how as the clock ticked over to 12:00am, the thousand people gathered in the town square rang in the new year with a boisterous countdown and their own assortment of fireworks that would go off in an endearingly (but also probably highly unsafe) spontaneous and syncopated fashion, accompanied by ooh’s and aah’s from their convivial audience. It was an evening filled with good vibes and warm buzzes of contentment as we watched 2015 turn into 2016, imagining, just like everyone else, what hopes, expectations and dreams this year might hold.
After a few days in Vevey, we made our way down to the west side of the lake – to the capital, Geneva. There was a hustle and a bustle about Geneva that we hadn’t experienced as much in the other two cities and we spent most of our days visiting significant sites and places, my favourites of which would have to be the Red Cross Museum and the United Nations Office. Our visit to the UN Offices saw my inner International Relations fangirl/nerd jumping around for joy (don’t worry, I can feel your judgment from here) but I’ll spare you the in-depth recount for fear of boring you. What you might find to be marginally more interesting, however, is how my experience of the Red Cross Museum (which creatively documents a significant spectrum of the work that the Red Cross does around the world and how this has changed over time) was also enhanced by the knowledge that I brought with me from the Humanitarian Aid & Development course that I took last semester at Sciences Po. As I read, once again, the words written by Henry Dunant after he observed the carnage of the Battle of Solferino in 1859 and read, experienced and watched the stories of prisoners of war, soldiers, medical staff and civilians who have been scarred by the violence of war and conflict, I couldn’t help but be filled with an overwhelming sense of empathy and helplessness. Perhaps it’s in moments like these where we feel the weight of our humanity the most, and where for the Christian, our heart cries out, come, Lord Jesus, come.
And finally, our time in Switzerland wouldn’t have been complete without an authentic cheese fondue experience! On top of what was, in and of itself, a great night, God showed us, once again, how His provision can be seen in the most seemingly random of ways. In short, we had planned to go to a particular Swiss restaurant and had unknowingly showed up in the evening without a reservation, only to be told apologetically that they were completely booked out, but that we might have a chance of finding a table if we came back at around 9pm when they began their second service. And so, we headed back to our apartment with a couple of pastries to tide us over and came back at 9pm, cautiously hopeful and unsure of what we would do if there wasn’t a free table. Alas, there was no free table and as we stood by the door, ready to brave the cold again and work out how to salvage our dinner plans, two men who had just eaten at the restaurant kindly asked whether we were after a meal of cheese fondue. When we said yes, one of them nodded emphatically and said that he knew of a place that’s known to have one of the best cheese fondues in Geneva and kindly gave us the name of the restaurant and general directions towards where it sat on the lakeside. Google would later reveal that this place has indeed been heralded by locals as the best fondue in Geneva and it was definitely a tasty, enjoyable and unique experience to say the least! The restaurant is situated at the end of a pier on Lake Geneva itself, attached to a bathing establishment that houses two saunas and a public bath/pool area. The restaurant boasted an incredibly relaxed and convivial atmosphere, with everyone from families, couples and groups of friends playing an animated game of Taboo enjoying a Fondue au Crémant in the warm and cosy space. All in all, it was a wonderful night and again, a show of God’s provision in even the smallest of things and randomest of circumstances!
From Geneva, we flew out from Switzerland (luggage that little bit heavier, thanks to the copious amounts of Swiss chocolate and random souvenirs we managed to buy with our leftover Swiss Francs) and found ourselves back in my apartment in Paris. The last couple of weeks in Paris have been filled with so many wonderful things – good company, numerous pastries, the beauty of Paris’ thriving art and culture, and the joy that comes from spending quality time with a dear friend and showing them around a city that has herself become oh, so dear.
I hope you enjoy the images below – this collection of memories feels particularly special to me. They were never taken to hang in a gallery, but when I look at these in a week, a month, or ten years from now, I’ll be able to see the shadows of moments that have inspired, touched and shaped how I see the world and how I see myself in one way or another. They’re moments behind time’s glass walls and I hope that these photos invite you into these moments too; moments of wonder, awe, beauty and everything in between.
Thank God for the gift of friendship and specifically, for Iris. The last four weeks spent with her have been so good for my heart. When Iris first arrived at my apartment in Paris, she turned to me and said, “oh my goodness, I feel like I’ve just walked into my laptop.” After five months of weekly Skype sessions, the last four weeks of living together, travelling together, sharing our hearts face-to-face and being able to show her around the beautiful city I’ve come to call home have been a blessing beyond words. I’m so thankful to God for how He has graciously woven our stories together and how He continues to grow us as we marvel together at the goodness of what He’s doing in our lives through every season of joy, sorrow and change that comes.
Please pray for the semester ahead. I’ll be heading back to uni next Monday and I’ve found myself in a sort of perpetual oscillation between excitement and anxiety. I’m excited and thankful that I’ve already had six months of living here and that things, therefore, don’t feel quite as “new” or unfamiliar anymore, but also anxious because I’m continuing to work out what it looks like to be present and invested in my communities here, while also cultivating and continuing to grow my relationships with people back home. Please pray that I might be selfless and Christ-like as I approach every relationship in my life and that God might enable me to simply love others well and not be consumed or concerned with what I may or may not be able to get out of the time and energy I give to those around me.
Please pray for Burkina Faso. A friend from church will be leaving Paris in April to serve there as a long-term missionary and the news of the hotel siege, violence and kidnappings that have taken place this week has been hard to hear. Please keep the victims, their families, the perpetrators and the government in your prayers as the country (and world) respond to the damage that’s been done.
I hope you’re all doing well, friends, and that whatever season you’re currently in – whether it be one of joy, yearning, contentment or hardship – that you might be experiencing the peace that comes from knowing that God is good. All the time.
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