This is the last of the Year Abroad stories – I’ve more or less reached the end of what I can remember well enough to write about. But I saved this one for the winter because it’s seasonally appropriate and it’s one of my favourite memories of my year learning French in western Switzerland.
I lived in Neuchâtel, a butter-yellow town in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Neuchâtel city is the cantonal capital of the Republic & Canton of Neuchâtel, the only canton to enter the young Swiss confederation as a principality (Prussian, I think) and following a small revolution, became a republic in 1848, when Switzerland became a federation.
Neuchâtel itself is a delightful lakeside town but it backs onto the foothills of the French Jura mountains. Indeed, from the town centre it’s a quick bus ride to the funicular railway that takes you up onto the plateau behind.
I had two great friends – two triplets – in Switzerland. Jemma, like me, was from England and Angela was from Salt Lake City, Utah. Snow was something of a novelty to all of us. And it snows in Switzerland in winter, even in the cities.
We had bought a sledge. Nothing exciting or expensive, just a big blue plastic disc and one day we carried it on the bus and up the funi to seek somewhere to use it. And do you know what? Chaumont, the settlement at the top of the funi, has a perfect field right next to the station where half the canton comes to sledge.
No, I never learnt to ski or snowboard during my year in Switzerland. Never even crossed my mind. But I learnt to slide down a hill on a plastic disc.
We crashed. I ended up in the trees. We flew through the air. We screamed. I got my clothes so snowy they froze on me. We had such a glorious time we did it again.
My clothes are literally frozen solid in this video. Other than my fingers, which look red and swollen with the cold, I’m actually pretty warm. I know I’m in a full-length polar fleece undersuit under all that snowy stuff, all of which I’ve put on deliberately because it dries quite quickly – those were the only non-jeans I owned at the time. I was, and remain, practical-minded.
I don’t have many videos. I definitely don’t have many in which you can hear my voice but Angela’s camera could record video (back in 2005, this was quite the novelty for me) and she made a few videos, never imagining that twelve years later they’d be on a blog. Here’s me shrieking like a banshee and crashing into some trees – I mean, they serve the purpose of stopping us falling off the edge of the mountain.
So for now, goodbye from Switzerland