Landing was, in a word, white. First, came the clouds provoking you to crash through your tiny window and jump in; the second wave had you searching for a stick, to scoop up the cotton candy; lastly, was the snow, blanketing the landscape, the mountains, and, ever-slightly, the sky.
We had to flash our passports twice, once to the German-Swiss accented pair in the landing vessel, once to Immigration. Roles were reversed from our Parisian return; Ben, he of European passport, stood patiently awaiting my approval on the other side of the glass-enclosed booths.
Officially welcomed to Switzerland, we scooted to see if Ben would spend the following days in his traveling clothes. The second wave of baggage answered our question: his bag was there. So were the ascending and descending stairs he was going to have scale with it to reach the train ticket booth.
The train we needed was to Basel, pronounced (Ball, but in the middle of your mouth). We decided to brave the 5 minute switch in Zurich Midtown to arrive at the time Ben had proposed to his mother. A bilingual transaction later---Ben tried his German, then switched to his fluent French at the prompting of the ticket man. The result? Two seats at restaurant car tables and my realization that he could both understand and speak more than decent German. On the ride was the local snowboarder, balancing his board on the overhead luggage rack just so it would not hit the lady below. Downtown Zurich was couched in mountains and not a skyscraper did I see. In its heart, we made the switch easily, and that's when the ride got really pretty: colored buildings with painted signs and typical crisscross window pattern architecture, a surprising lot in English, and that one bridge over a body of water, positioned just so as to not block the view of the snow caps to our right. I also played, let's count the skiers!
When we descended the train stairs in Basel, the weather was cold with no snow. The train station was not overly-crowded and pretty: bright, tall ceilings, skylights, color on the walls, and stalls selling sweets and maps and ski things. Though, a scan of the gear on the station patrons told me their business was probably low that day! Ben knew where the exit was, so we headed that way, and waved to his mother and Jean-Paul waiting at the bottom of the escalator.
Jean-Paul drove their royal blue Euro-size SUV---that's more compact, yet still sufficient and efficient---right through the "Suisse" sign. Despite Switzerland not being part of the EU, no checks were made. The border just barely looked liked a border. Then, the sign "France" was on our right, Les Vosges were on our left and villages began ending in "heim", a nod to the French-German balance that is Alsace, our destination...