In late 2014, I was shopping for flights when I heard about a website called JetRadar.com in a YouTube video by Kristen Sarah. I don’t recall the exact content of the video, but I remember that this website had cheap fares due to long layovers.
A long layover is just a mini-vacation, right? Right! On I went into my quest for the best mini-vacation. Did I want 22 hours in London? Paris? Zurich? The possibilities were endless and none of them required obtaining a visa. It was a dream and I spent a few days debating between the three.
I decided against London because I had been there just two years prior. And against Paris because the city was 40 minutes away from the airport. Zurich: mountains, chocolates, knives – what more could a girl want on New Years. I booked the ticket and began my research.
I read about fireworks over the lake and couldn’t wait to see it. I read about how you could get an unlimited public transit pass for only like $15 daily. I had joined a Facebook group called Meeple where you can find someone in any city around the world to show you around a bit and Karthik had committed to showing me the way for an afternoon. Everything was settled.When the day came, I was excited. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to go to such a beautiful city on New Years Eve. When the plane landed, I stepped into the airport and went to find the kiosk to buy the transit pass that I had heard about. It wouldn’t switch to English. No one around me understood me to translate it. We don’t realize how privileged we are that everyone can understand us when we are in our native place.
My anxiety took over and I held back tears as I unsuccessfully tried everything to get the pass. The line behind me was growing in size and frustration as my phone rang. Karthik.
“Hey, did you make it to [place we agreed to meet]?”
“No, I’m stuck in the airport.”
“What happened? Immigration problem? Can’t find the luggage?”
“I can’t figure out how to buy the pass and no one can help me.”
He said that he would come to the airport. I took this time to buy a luggage locker (nearly $15 – huge rip off, but necessary) and sat near the entrance. About 20 minutes later he arrived and even bought it for me despite my objections. God always sends us an angel when we need one.
We got on the most beautiful street train (a tram! thanks to Christen of Agent Goes Rogue) and engaged in small talk as I watched the beautiful scenery go by. Do people actually live here? It was like a post card had come to life. Why didn’t they ask to see my pass? He said that people here are generally wealthy so it is assumed that they will buy the pass.
He said that I should take this time to have traditional Swiss food. There were no vegetarian options. I ate plain noodles for $20. We talked a bit more and he said that he had to go to a party at his friends and asked if I wanted to join him. I declined his offer and went for a stroll alone down the cobbled streets.
Everything was beautiful. Everyone looked so happy. There were lights hanging in the middle of the roads like this whole city was a movie set. I couldn’t believe a place like this existed.
I decided to get into a bus and just ride in a circle. I used to do this all the time in my home so I thought it would be fun to just go on a quick hour round trip and then jump on another and see the whole city.
I loved seeing everything from the warm bus. I did feel a bit lonely seeing everyone else half drunk and laughing with their friends, but I didn’t mind. Tomorrow I would be with my friends, today was for Zurich.
An hour passed. We weren’t back at the city center. I asked the driver when we would return. He had no idea what I said. I asked an old lady in the seat beside me. She had no idea what I was saying but did wish me a Happy New Year in broken English.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
The bus drove through a ghetto. Graffiti was everywhere.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
This is how I’ll die.
I stay on the bus and hope that we will be in the city center soon. Two hours have passed and I know I will probably miss the fireworks now. My phone battery is low. I get off the bus when I see an area that looks safe, well-lit, and somewhat busy. A busy road means more buses, right?
I see a bus that has a light that says Flughaven. I remember that this means airport. I board the bus and, though knowing I won’t see the fireworks, am happy that I can at least be at the airport with its safety and warmth.
I reach the airport and take my backpack from the locker. Sitting on a bench, I charge my phone and read facebook. I received so many messages expressing jealousy that I got to be in Zurich on New Years and I must be having the time of my life. I didn’t deny it, as I sat shivering on a bench in the airport.
My flight was in 8 hours so no one was there to check me in. I would greatly prefer to wait at the gate rather than this cold lobby area, but it was not possible. I ate some snacks from the vending machine with my last Swiss Francs and tried to sleep on the cold metal bench.
There was no way that I would be able to sleep so I went for a walk around the airport. I saw a Starbucks and gazed at the couches longingly. Against my better judgement, I crawled under the gate. The couch was small and a bit hard, but it wasn’t a bench. With a relieved sigh and a big stretch, I was finally able to relax.
I reflected on the day and laughed at how all of my plans had fallen through. Maybe I should have gone to the party. I should have tried harder to see the fireworks. But I was safe and warm on a Starbucks couch and, as long as the janitor didn’t complain, I could rest for a few hours.
I woke up to an angry Starbucks employee and went to check in for my flight. It was time to go to India.
I really want to go back to Zurich. On these two conditions.
1) Not alone.
2) When it’s warmer.
In hindsight, it was such a fun experience. I’d really recommend it to everyone even if just for the amazing view from the flight.
Also.. the airport shuttle plays animal sounds.