On the last night of our stay in Manigod we told our hosts a bit about our journey back to Germany. Starting in Annecy at midday and arriving in Marburg in the early hours of the following day, our iron voyage would take us from southwest Switzerland along the northern boundary of Lac Léman northwestwards to Zurich. Five trains and half a day later we would be back home, warm in our bed.
“Isn’t there a flight from Geneva to Frankfurt?”, asked one of the raclette-party goers. I told her of our environmental motivations for travelling by bus and bahn. If you have the time, you can travel across Europe on land. The trip is slowed down and allows for reflection on the mountain of questions that may dance through your mind. What do I want from the year? How were the last two weeks with friends, family, new people and an adventure?
Yes, it does take a while, I acknowledged but there’s also a bit once you’ve asked yourself the question “do I need to fly?” and you’ve been able to give a no and then act on it, the justifications for flying become harder to find. I think this self-reflection has been encouraged by popular green culture and specifically from cult films like Weit, in which a couple travel around the whole world without flying, or even heard in mottos like “der Weg ist das Ziel” (the journey is the goal).
We woke to our departure and from bad dreams, maybe a spot of undigested raclette as Scrooge didn’t quite say. We breakfasted in our group of six for the last time; said our goodbyes and slipped on the ice a last time. When I think of Switzerland and the Haute Savoie, I’ll picture an alpine life of wooden houses, fireplaces, fir trees, greenery, blankets of snow in winter and bursting pastures in spring.
I dreamingly watched the countryside change: misty, grey coated vineyards became fields and farms. Occasionally I saw a bathtub leaning against an old farmhouse or lying in the middle of a meadow and even more rarely I saw a castle creep out of the cloud for only a few seconds before disappearing from sight. Trees are lit with mistletoe and the only colours are those of the apairies, primary colours against white and grey mountain sides.
In one tunnel, out the other and the light is good as gone. The lake is nowhere to be seen and in the distance the sun lends no more light to the mountains. I can just about make out a barn in a passing field and what turns out to be the last bathtub of the journey, upright against the barns outer beam and beaming like the moon.
In Geneva we had time to mooch about and spend our last Swiss francs on a coffee and a postcard that reminded us of a friend. During the three hour train to Zurich we watched day fade to evening and upon exiting the last tunnel, we saw that night had come.
We arrived in Manigod late on Friday night. Will and I had driven from Venice to Thônes where we waited in a brasserie for our friends to arrive. The week to follow was spent in one of the most picturesque places I’ve had the joy to visit. Number of Maniodin(e)s : ca. 1000.
We walked up with snowshoes on our feet and redness in our cheeks la montagne de Sulens. In awe of the skiers who’d hiked up, often quicker than us, with ski skins and a sliding movement envied by our comparable trudge, we reached the summit.
The next days featured crêpes, croziflette (like tartiflette but with small square shaped pasta pieces), raclette and all things delicious and frommagey. Jacob and I even had the joy of introducing Spätzle to our French companions. As we learned from our German expert, the dish is not pasta (although made also from eggs and flour).
When we weren’t chowing down, we were navigating the hairpin bends of the Haute Savoie. One morning I went for a run up the mountainside road and I remembered the last time I was in the alps. A lot has changed since then. It was just before Christmas in 2017 and I’d been living in Trier for a few months before meeting my family in Les Gets for a week. I went running a lot, nearly every day, and listened to Bear’s Den on repeat. Once I ran up to a summit as high as I could go without the snow nibbling at my knees. I looked down onto the town and longed for a companion to run up mountains with. I remember the feeling well and now I smile at the saturated space that was once felt spacious.