Travel styles differ so vastly. I remember well how I went to Lisboa for the first time: Several people, including but not limited to two different couchsurfing hosts, told me right away that the six days I had planned to stay were way too much. I’d get bored, the city would be too small, even with excursions to Caiscais and Sintra I’d be done after three or four days.
“Our plans for Fribourg? Erm … we go to the centre, get lost and see what happens.”
“And tomorrow? You’ll have seen everything, you should go to Schwarzsee, perhaps, or —”
“We’ll see. Probably we won’t be done with it so quickly —”
“But Fribourg is really small!”
Is our travelling a bit formulaic, perhaps? Start at the cathedral, visit a few museums, look at a few assorted bits of local architecture? But whenever a city begins to look just like any other, something extraordinary happens. Usually the adventure unfolds gradually, starting with (1) some slight oddity, then (2) some mild amazement, then, sometimes, (3) something completely outrageous. Often, the first stages already grant a memorable stay, such as swimming amidst the rapid jets of the River Aare in Bern.
Fribourg, that being said, is a litmus test for travellers“ attention: In our conceited opinion, whoever finds it “just nice” is only watching, not seeing. “The Swiss Görlitz”, we called it: a city with a decent, but not outstanding reputation that instantly turns out to be a shining jewel. High atop a rocky pinnacle inside a loop of the River Saane, that together with its tributaries has burrowed a deep, meandering chasm into the soft sandstone, lies the old town of Fribourg, founded by the same Zähringer dukes who also lay the foundations of Bern in a similar, but not nearly as spectacular setting. An extensive family of bridges connects both sides, sometimes just above the water, sometimes soaring 40 metres above. Mountain goats haphazardly balance on the vertical faces of the Galtern cañon, narrow staircases lead through jungle and cave back into the city.
Europe is a small world: The eye-catching art nouveau windows of the cathedral were made by none less then Józef Mehoffer, a Polish artist who happens to, around 1900, have lived right behind Nelson’s workplace, the Arteteka. Our hosts were still not impressed: They must have seen deeper landscapes and had not yet paid attention to the windows – certainly we would not blame them, we are passing by so quickly everywhere that we must miss more things than we could see in a lifetime. Eventually, though, we did manage to surprise them: by suddenly leaving at one hour past midnight. That, dear readers, is an example for the third stage of escalation.
Grand St. Bernhard is to be crossed. On Monday, we must expect the worst of weathers: cold, rain, thunder. So on Sunday we shall have our climb, which means to hurry up.
“We could just depart now towards Lausanne”, Nelson joked around eleven.
“I better look up the route”, I joked back.
The verb “to joke” is poorly understood by us: We tend to take such things too seriously. After quick packing and some intravenous shots of coffee and tea, we found ourselves amidst a dark nothing, rolling about the quiet, deserted streets, blinded by the lights of a lone village only every so and so many kilometres. A couple of climbs and descents later we sat down on the benches in front of Lausanne’s cathedral, overseeing the sprawling width of the distant lake and, behind, on the French side, the jagged summits of the Alps that during sunrise slowly revealed one detail after another. We fell asleep right there before the church even opened.