Un petit voyage

Salzburg view

I am not the world’s most adventurous traveler. My regular trips across the Atlantic are mostly due to a chance encounter with a Frenchman in a bar back in the last century. When we decided to make it permanent, I succumbed to the undeniable attractions of France. After all, what more romantic city in the world for a wedding than Paris?

Then came the big question: where to go for our honeymoon? My beaux-parents worked for Air France, and were eager to pull a few strings in order to send us to our dream destination. However, when exotic ideas like tropical islands and far off lands were tossed about, we were both less than enthusiastic. Husband because none of the options contained his preferred snowy mountain peaks; I being no fan of air travel and knowing we would soon be back on a plane to Canada for Christmas.

In my fledgling French, I tried to explain that we would be happy to stay in Europe for our honeymoon. Rather than travel half way around the world, could we not just go on un petit voyage? For some reason I never understood, my in-laws found this hilarious. “Tu veux faire un petit voyage?” Beau-père teased. My ‘petit voyage’ became a standing joke.

In the end they surprised us with the tickets. My heart fell when I saw the destination: Tahiti. A 20-hour flight from Paris via LA. But that is another story, and one I promise to tell soon. For this post, I want to tell you about the petit voyage that we finally took together last week, 30 years later.

Salzburg cathedral

Salzburg is famous for a few things, at least two of which draw masses of tourists each year. I had been there many years before, in another life, when my tour bus made a brief stop. I had fallen in love with the place and felt sure Zfrenchman would agree, given its spectacular alpine setting.

One of the things Salzburg is known for is, of course, salt. On my first visit, our group donned miners’ overalls and rode a train into the bowels of the earth to explore the salt mines and secret underground saline lake.

The other two things have to do with music. Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music, two very different musical history notes that today compete for tourist dollars. We discovered that the locals venerate Mozart and loathe The Sound of Music. To find out why, we did what tourists do best and took a tour.


I should note that as a child The Sound of Music was my favourite movie. Julie Andrews was my hero, not only because she sang like a lark but because she always broke the rules. Between solving a problem like Maria and a Mary Poppins’s spoonful of sugar, I knew by heart every last note of her most famous Hollywood roles. Husband, being French, had never heard of either so we sat down and watched The Sound of Music before we left. To my surprise, he quite enjoyed it. Although why that surprised me I’m not sure. Between the music, the mountains and the struggle against the Nazis, what’s not to love?

Apparently the fact that Hollywood distorted the truth of the Trapp family singers is not particularly loved by the Austrian people. There are many examples; most notably, the family didn’t actually traipse across the Alps to Switzerland as they did at the end of the movie but simply boarded a train to Italy. And poor Maria Von Trapp only ever got $9,000 for what became the highest grossing film of that time.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_3883And while some of the songs from Rogers and Hammerstein’s hugely popular soundtrack still move me to tears, let’s be honest: it is not Mozart. The legacy of that particular musical genius is the true pride of Salzburg. Yet it is overshadowed by the Sound of Music tour buses that fill its streets as Americans and Brits, rather than pay homage to Mozart’s first piano in one of several museums, prefer to spend their money to see where Maria and Georg were married (by the way, this is the church).

Which will bring us back, not to do- a deer, but to our wedding. In honour of which, 30 years later, we enjoyed our petit voyage to Salzburg. We even took in a classical music concert in the famed Mirabell Palace. Mozart would have been proud.

And the best thing was, we didn’t have to fly. We took the train.

By the way, if you go, do try the famous chocolate Sacher torte at the hotel of the same name.

Sacher torte

If you could travel anywhere, where would it be?


Ode to my favorite land

Geneva FireworksIt will probably come as no surprise that this is not about France.

After twenty-two years in this country, I still entertain a love-hate relationship with my adopted land.

Nor is it about my homeland. Dear Canada. My fondness for mon pays d’origine grows with each passing year. But if I loved it so much, why did I leave it? It’s like an old boyfriend, one who holds a special place in my heart but is still relegated to the status of ex.

My favorite country is Switzerland. Here’s why:

  1. A great brand
    320px-Flag_of_Switzerland_(Pantone).svgI’m a sucker for smart marketing and the Swiss have got a fabulous brand. That graphic white-on-red cross says everything about them: clean, safe, financially sound. The founding land of the Red Cross and home to all the major international organizations. Beyond the flag, the Swiss Confederation manages to unite the culturally and linguistically diverse citizens of all 26 cantons (provinces) with shared values and a true sense of national pride.
  2. Truly international
    Switzerland is a country with four official languages and shared borders with France, Italy, Germany, Liechtenstein and Austria. Expats abound. Geneva and Zurich are truly international cities.
  3. Swiss trains
    A marvel of efficiency, the Swiss trains are almost always on time and never on strike. You can travel almost anywhere in Switzerland by train and connecting public transit networks while admiring the spectacular scenery.
  4. The hills are alive
    Sound of Music_Julie AndrewsAs a child, Julie Andrews captured my imagination and put a song in my heart with the Sound of Music. When Maria escaped with the children across the Alps to Switzerland, I knew this was the place for me.
  5. Cleanliness
    From the toilets to the streets. People use the garbage bins, recycle and pick up after their pets.
  6. They speak my language
    French, of course. But also English, Switzerland’s unofficial 5th language, which is spoken pretty well everywhere. And whatever language you speak, there is a degree of tolerance for mistakes given that so many people are non-native speakers.
  7. Health and wealth
    Swiss Franc notesThe Swiss have a healthy attitude towards money. Okay, so it’s a country of bankers and they’re rather attached to their Swiss Francs. But I like the fact there’s no shame about wealth in Switzerland. And even the working class makes a decent living. All of which adds up to make Switzerland one of the most expensive countries in the world. (One of the reasons why I live across the border in France.) And non-coincidentally, the Swiss have the world’s second longest life expectancy.
  8. Armed neutrality, not war
    The Swiss have a history of not taking sides. It also means that they work hard to find consensus, holding referendums on every major issue. That’s something I can believe in.
  9. Small but independent
    Switzerland is a small country crisscrossed by mountain ranges. Surrounded by bigger, more powerful countries, they have kept their independence and identity. They are part of Europe but not a member of the EU.
  10. August 1st
    And finally: we share the same birthday. I knew there was another reason I liked working in Switzerland. Any country that gives me the day off on my birthday gets my vote.

Happy Swiss National Day! Happy birthday to me.

Et vous? What’s your favorite country? Adopted or home?