THOSE RED ARMY KNIVES

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I think it’s safe to say our favorite city on the trip was Zurich, Switzerland, which we reached in the early afternoon after a winding train ride across eastern France. Jostled in the smooth whirl of the train, we curved along the edge of wide lakes deep blue against a decoupage of forest and studded with quaint mountain towns cobbled together in houses of peach, cream, brick red, spring green, robin’s egg blue and lavender. The spindly steeples of church and stumpy brick-work of large clock-towers—this is Switzerland after all—stuck up like queen’s pieces on a colorful chessboard.

Deposited at the train station, we strolled along the river that runs through town, lugging our bags until they were shucked at the hostel in an astonishing pink room—the bedspreads, the closet, the textured walls—affectionately dubbed the Pur Pur Room. The river threads the town in a straight stitch to the lake, bordered by a palette-box of pastel-painted buildings and navy-grey stone. They’re adorned with exuberant and frothing window boxes of flowers which hang out over the water and belt the lapping water primly in its place. There are also plenty of low-lying stone bridges traversing this thread, one with a carousel that sparkles with white lights and gold and a turquoise top straight out of a curio box.

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For dinner we wandered towards the lake, picking up large bratwurst, mustard and hot salty fries from a street vendor and heading towards the pier. We dangled our legs over the edge of a wooden bench and shooed some beggarly swans creatively christened Franz and Giselle, as the sky lost its color and the clocktowers and golden light from the bridge began to wink and shimmer across the water and the swans to us. Everything was a silky blue mauve like a swath of silk thrown on a table, the folds catching white-yellow in the light of candles. The swans glided persistently back and forth, elegant white S’s against the purpling darkness.

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In the morning after breakfast in the bar perched on cow-hide seats and serenaded by American MTV, we were drawn to the water again, where we walked along the other side of the lake in search of a flower clock we assumed from the map to be vertical but was really a rather modest horizontal blanket of rose and red flowers pillowing two black metal hands reminiscent of a war memorial. We strolled along the pier and the boats moored and battened up and tied down for the year, their sails merging with the mist and their masts piercing it like a finger in fresh snow.

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Lunch was back in town along Zurich’s famed shopping boulevard, the Bahnhofstrasse—a large pretzel sliced open and stuffed with butter and salami. We wandered through a warren of steep warm stone streets housing countless high-end boutiques under vibrant but tasteful awnings scrolled with gold, and made the fateful decision to pop into a bookstore. Conveniently it housed a wide selection of English-translated books and also some very comfortable chairs in which we enjoyed an hour and a half long foray into crime fiction. This was to become a hallmark of our trip—we are now familiar with the interior of bookstores across the continent and I’m having an affair with James Bond.

We also toured several churches, the most remarkable of which was Grossmünster Kirche. According to legend Charlemagne discovered the bones of Zurich’s saints, Felix and Regula, here and ordered a monastery built to commemorate them. Grossmünster is perhaps most venerated as the genesis of the Reformation in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and the base of Huldrych Zwingli, a Protestant reformer. Inside the walls of the church are spare and unadorned save for a series of five abstract stained glass windows. As we sat in the sanctuary the organist came in to practice, and for a half an hour we soaked in the soaring melodies and soft whispers of the Protestant faith as it shot through the plain arches and glass with light, the cold church with warmth and our hearts with hope.

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Our last hurrah was a return to the water that evening—this time with smooth bulbs of gelato nestled in warm waffle cones—socked in by close fuzzy clouds. Again our feet dangled tantalizingly over the sleek mauve water, yearning to scamper across the silk and up the salt-slicked mast of a bobbing boat, and so stay here forever.

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