I've always wanted to live abroad. It's been one of those pipe dreams that I never really believed would happen, but I hoped nonetheless. About a month ago, the opportunity came along, tapped me on the shoulder, and how could I say no? I've always viewed Europe and the expat life to be one of bohemian glamour and promise. And now I find myself in Switzerland, living in Zurich for the next month, in an attic, no less.
I don't plan for things. In fact, I suppose things have more or less fallen into my lap, and because of this phenomenon, I have become rather ill-equipped at preparing. What I'm coming to realize is traveling to Europe while on exchange in college or while on vacation is completely different from coming to live in a new place, completely on your own. Being a natural introvert has its pluses and minuses.
I've found I'm the happiest at Orell Fussli, a local bookstore. Perching on one of the couches, occasionally glancing up at the passerbys, hoping the bookstore clerks don't mind me perusing one of their novels, getting their recommendations. I want to finish The Time Traveller's Wife because I am over half-way done, but I can't justify purchasing said book because I'm finding it to be awful. But I've come this far. And I leave with Murakami's memoir on running instead.
Today I slept in to catch up on the jet lag and proceeded to wander down alleyways in Old Town. Alleys are safe here - in fact, everything is safe. I have no qualms about wandering about late at night. I've been roaming around mapless, so I can't attest to where I've been, though I can describe what I've seen.
Having woken up at noon and moved into a room one floor below, I'm quite hungry and go searching for food. This is no easy feat, as food here in Switzerland is quite heavy and even more expensive. I'm in search of the doner kebab vendor I passed by some days ago. But I'm momentarily distracted by the flash of red awning and colorful burst of paper flowers, which can only mean one thing: Teuscher. So I head into Teuscher and proceed to order 5 different chocolates. A co-worker had warned me that chocolates here are different from the States - so rich that you can eat just one and be satisfied. One chicken kebab later, I decide to put her theory to test and find that one can, indeed, consume 5 Teuscher chocolates plus 3 Luxembourgli (macarons) from Confiserie Sprungli in one sitting and still crave more.
Outside the church of Chagall stained glass windows, I see a group of Korean grandparents. I want so badly to talk to them, to find comfort in the familiar, but it seems out of place. By the time I turn around to ask them a question, they've disappeared, and I curse my heightened sense of propriety.
Now I smell of gardenias. I've wandered into Kiehl's, a store I cannot walk by without entering, and have spotted a jar of essential oils. I am as well-versed in Kiehl's inventory as I am in the layout of San Francisco, so I find I must sample these new nondescript products which I've never seen. I vote for gardenia, finding amber to be overpowering.
I stumble upon a set of cobblestone stairs that I feel compelled to climb. I see sky at the end and wonder where this leads. And so up the stairs I go... to an open-air park overlooking the river Limmat. I'm drawn to a group of older men playing chess. The board is carved into the ground, and the chess pieces, massive. I long to be an old soul, shuffling chess pieces with my feet, surrounded by the company of local friends who've found each other through their love for the game. They edge each other on. One decisively, the other, consulting with voyeurs on the sidelines. Maybe I am an old soul. I make my way over to the swings and sketch instead.
One sketch later, I head towards the more crowded side of the park. Perched on a park bench overlooking the river and Zurich churches, I'm overwhelmed. All at once, I'm flooded with the beauty, the wonder, the loneliness, the opportunity that is my present.