Lost in Switzerland

Justina Ogodo

© Copyright 2021 by Justina Ogodo

Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash
Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash                                                

It was supposed to be a well-planned trip to Italy for the celebration of our last child's graduation from college. Things took a slightly different turn when a spontaneous decision was made to travel to Switzerland where our planlessness could have been far more costly than we paid for it.

The journey was totally unplanned, and it was past midnight as we wandered about in a foreign land. We had never visited Switzerland before, neither did we understand the language. Everywhere we turned was like a dead end — the streets were deserted, of course. Good people already were cuddled up under their sheets or blankets, some probably snoring, others dreaming, or probably doing whatever people did at night. Who knows. The street was dark except for a few porch lights peering through the front of dark houses. The only cars were those parked on the roads, and none drove by except for one that swung unexpectedly from a street corner, scaring the crap out of us. The driver appeared to be racing somewhere at that God-forbidden hour. Maybe probably drunk. Who knows. It was not funny to the other four family members, but I felt a strange kind of excitement. It was scary and fun at the same time. Roaming through those lonely Swiss streets, I felt a sort of adrenalin rush that comes with doing something stimulating but dangerous.

The story emerged during a family vacation to Italy. My family and I were celebrating the graduation of our last child from college. After putting three children through college, my husband and I were over joyous because the era of college tuition was over. The trip was supposed to be a quick three cities hopping from Milan to Venice and then Florence. That was Pre-COVID-19 when as a fun-loving traveling family, we decided on the whim to embark on a carefree, fun-seeking, exotic trip to Switzerland with no specific agenda. It only took a moment for us to decide on an impromptu trip while in Milan.

So, we arrived in Milan from the United States and settled into our Air B and B three-bedroom modestly decorated three-bedroom apartment. It was decent with a full kitchen and well-secured premises. The location was great, close to virtually everything in central Milan. As soon as we settled in, we decided to explore the city, but first, we needed to have a good meal. We did have to look too far because about two blocks from our residence was an Asian restaurant. The inside was fancy, but it looked authentic. We settled in, ordered some food from the menu, and soon savored the sumptuous meal. Our order turned out to be so much food that we had to take so much back with us. This was good because we did not have to cook or look for food for dinner. A couple of minutes later, we were back on the street of Milan, generally enjoying the city walk. We visited the magnificent Duomo di Milano cathedral, which took our breath away. Like a choreographed symphony, we all exclaimed in unison, Whao, at the sight of this impressive architecture. It literally took our breath away.

Moments later, we were at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Splendid would be an appropriate word to describe it. The dome was breathtaking with its finest shops, Prada Milano, Gucci, Versace, Saint Laurent, etc., and expensive. We window-shopped for a while and proceeded to the Milano Centrale train station. That was when the crazy “un-planlessness” happened.

First, I must mention that I am the family trip planner. I read the reviews of cities we visit in any country: Milan and cautionary tales of pickpockets in and around the city center. As we approached the train station, we were alert because they could spot newbies. Did I also mention that I am fluent in body language? Yes, I saw and read them, sensed the many extra pairs of eyes trailing us, young men and women trading places pretending to be heading somewhere and reappearing soon after, swift in their walks, and making eye contact in a way that tells you “we see you too. I cannot remember exactly how it happened, but I sense the crawler or slide announcing the next train to Switzerland that pulled us to the information desk. We found out that we could travel to Switzerland with our U.S. passports and be back within a few hours. Why not, I said. We exchanged glances, and almost without thinking, decided to take a day trip. It was about mid-morning, and we would be back in good time. But there was a problem, only three members of our family had their passports handy. If we sprinted back to the Air BnB, about two miles away, we could be back in time to catch the next train. So, it was decided, those with their passports waited while our youngest son and I sprinted back to the Air B and B — thank goodness for my daily workout routine, we made it just in time for the train. Soon we were heading to Switzerland on an express train.

We were advised before we left to catch the last train before midnight because service terminated service at midnight. Talk about the Cinderella story. We figured we had more than enough time to make the trip. After all, it was just sightseeing. Soon we were all settled into the Bernina Express, snaking its way from the Milan Centrale Station, excited to see the Swiss mountains. A couple of minutes into the trip, my husband had knocked up in a sweet slumber, swayed by the train’s movement. The children were engaged with their phones, earphones plugged, oblivious to their surroundings but occasionally lifting their eyes to absorb the unfolding scenery. I enjoyed the scenic view, taking in the lushness of the green farmlands and livestock dotting the expansive open fields. As a city gal, I was fascinated by the sights of the milk cows with their black and white patches, unique countryside cottages, and small cars, and the clear, clean atmosphere, devoid of pollution, pure and breathable. I felt like pulling down the train’s windows to breathe the fresh air.

We changed train at some point to continue our journey to Mendrisio. Like I mentioned earlier, we did not conceptualize the visit or what we would be doing when we arrived in Switzerland. But that was part of the fun, the uncertainty. Upon arrival at the station, we boarded a taxi to town. The roads were narrow, and the houses perched on hills beautifully sloping into the riverside. Thanks to Dr. Google, we arrived at a nice entertainment area with a beautiful Casion, morrowing what you will find in Las Vegas, although smaller. According to Yelp, we found a great restaurant. We decided to spend a few hours afterward at the Admiral casino because the ambiance was great. We settled in to have a few drinks.

We were having such a great time and oblivious to the world outside. When we finally realized it was 11.00 p. m. In a panic, we rushed out, took the first taxi to catch the train. After a couple of stops on that train, the public announcement informed passengers that we were approaching the final stop. As everyone disembarked, the conductor approached us and asked where we were headed. To which we responded Milan. He said something to the effect that there was no more train for the day. We deboarded and walked into town as the train terminal became empty. It was midnight at this point. We began to wander as there was no one on the street to ask questions. We did not speak the language nor understand the signage on the road. Finally, we thought of checking into a hotel but did not know where to find one. We finally came upon what appeared to be the border patrols at the end of the roads. We made the decision not to go any further.

This is the point where I disclose that we are black. So, five black people walked around after hours without purpose in a foreign land where they had never visited or could not communicate with the language. It was not funny. After almost twenty long minutes, I spotted a sign that read Polizei. For the first time in my life, I was excited as a black person to see the Police. We decided to go in and inquire or turn ourselves in for wandering. That decision proved extremely helpful because, after the initial language barrier, the Policeman was gracious enough to call a bus cab, large enough to accommodate five passengers. As we settled in comfortably in the cab, exhilarated, we joked about the day’s event that was ending well. There were no regrets but plenty of tales of a spontaneous split-second decision to visit Switzerland. We arrived in Milan with a cab bill of $350. My husband thought it was a rip-off, but I was just glad to be back in one piece. Glad that was the only cost; it could have been more.

 I am now in the prime of my years, with a husband and three grown children. We have moved to the United States. I am currently a science educator, and it has been my life’s dream to publish stories like the ones I read growing up.

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