Martin Bingisser's Swiss Diary, Entry 1

Sept. 12, 2005

As my train departed from the tunnel beneath the airport, I realized a stark similarity - this place is just like home. Maybe it was the thick German spoken over the loudspeaker. Maybe it was the vast pastures of cattle just outside my window. Or perhaps it was the fact that quite a few people were actually using the train as their main means of transportation. Most likely, however, it was the sky that reminded me of Seattle. A sheet of gray covered the sky and extended as far as the eye can see. Not once was the sun allowed to poke through for even a brief moment.

I arrived today in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland. Upon arrival, I immediately boarded a train to Switzerland's quaint capital, Bern. In Bern I will connect with my track and field team, ST Bern, in preparation for the Swiss Club Championships on the 17th of this month. I have dual citizenship with Switzerland, thus allowing me to help ST Bern at next weekend's competition.

Those of you who know me probably know that I have never - despite a one-year 'sojourn' in the never-ending city of Los Angeles - lived outside of the Puget Sound, let alone in Switzerland. You may be perplexed as to how I obtained Swiss citizenship. I have it in thanks to my grandfather, a Swiss farmer who immigrated to Fife in the late 1920s. I never met him, as he died before I was born, but due to him I was given this opportunity.

My train continued to glide southwest through the countryside. Tired from the long flight, I drifted in and out of consciousness. Every 10 minutes or so an oncoming train would approach on parallel tracks and cause my train to gently shake as it whizzed by. The movement would cause me to awake with my head against the window. The oncoming train seemed just inches from my suddenly wide-open eyes. Every time I awoke, the scenery looked just the same. It was as if the tracks we were traveling on were laid out in a circle. We kept crossing the same river that wound back and forth underneath us. Fields of cattle, corn, sunflowers, and other crops lined a valley that was greeted by freshly mowed lawns stretching halfway up the hills. The tops of the hills were covered with evergreen trees reminiscent of the Northwest. Only an occasional old town or farmhouse broke the continuity.

My eyelids felt heavy again and I drifted back to sleep.

I stepped off of the train in Bern with my 16-pound hammer, a suitcase, and some knowledge of the German language. The latter did not help me as much as one might think. The clear Hochdeutsch (standard German) spoken over the loudspeaker on the train was suddenly replaced by a nearly unintelligible (for me) Swiss-German dialect.

I had to wait several hours before I was to meet Roland, another hammer thrower and my host, who would arrive from a trip to Berlin. In the meantime I wandered through the city.

I was introduced to Roland through former Husky distance runner Christian Belz. I wrote to Belz, a Bern native, when I was interested in throwing at a few meets while vacationing in Switzerland several years ago. He put me in contact with Roland and I joined ST Bern soon after. I have never met Christian, but he will be competing for the club this weekend and I will be sure to meet him then.

As I walked through town, I noticed the most obvious difference between Switzerland (or other European countries) and the Northwest: the streets. In downtown Bern, the streets consist of bumpy stones and, due to city ordinances, the stone buildings all have a façade that likely look little different than they did several hundred years ago. The main difference, though, is what is on the streets. Pedestrians crowd the sidewalks like a miniature version of NewYork City. Shops and restaurants are everywhere. Except the occasional passerby, the streets are absent of cars. Instead, a constant stream of buses and red trams roll by quietly along their tracks. The occasional bell is rung to warn errant jaywalkers, and people like myself, of their presence. Four hundred year old picturesque fountains are found in the middle of the street every several hundred feet.

Eventually, I found a pay found and called Roland to find out when exactly he would arrive. He had been delayed and told me that he would not arrive until nearly midnight, another 12 hours. He instead arranged for me to meet his father in a few hours to let me into his apartment. I hung up and left the phone booth to wander the streets for another few hours. But after I passed the same street vendors several times and they began to recognize me when I passed, I decided it was time to sit down. Before I knew it, I was asleep on a park bench, my back pack and camera as a pillow.

At six in the evening I finally met Roland's father. After 24 hours of traveling I fell fast asleep in my new bed. The pillow felt much more comfortable than my camera and I fell asleep quickly to the sound of the rain hitting the roof.

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