For a sixty-four-year-old lady, she was one tough mama. When I came across her at the highway off Rosenheim in Germany, she was on her way from Vienna to Widnau, driving a distance of 500km alone! She was brave enough to give me a lift when many others were intimidated by my torn jeans, leather jacket and necklaces fit fo a witch-doctor.
However she was a lonely woman and mother. Her three kids were all living with their spouses and seldom came to visit. The eldest son was a mountain climbing instructor who liked to travel.
I guess that’s why she took me to her place in Widnau, Switzerland… Because I reminded her of the son. The bungalow shared with two refugees of Indian origin was most welcoming although the Indians were a bit weird.
I’ve talked to one of the Indians once. He claimed his father, a politician was murdered in India. The killer was still looking for him. That’s why he’s in Switzerland, to seek political asylum. He promised he will go back to India when the time is right to exact his revenge. Did I hear Bollywood in my head?
Marussia’s place offered me the bath, meal and sleep I haven’t had for the last several days living on the street like a beggar. I remembered bonking oops… Bunking at secluded corners of buildings and streets totally at the mercy of the elements. A loaf of bread dipped with a choice of half a bottle of choc spread and half a bottle of mayonaise was meant to last for a week – for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.
Ah… What a refreshing break to be at Marussia’s.
The next day, she brought me to Walzenhausen, 800m above sea level where the alpine scenery unfolded, awe-inspiring and spirit uplifting. The fresh air, cool almost mint-like seeped through the nostrils. The sound of cowbells chiming as the cows grazed the grass was hypnotic. The rolling farmland on hillsides, patches of alpine forest tattered across the landscape, lake Bodensee spread across the horizon bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the view was simply breathtaking.
We stopped at the Canzanis’ place where Marussia attended to them. The husband and wife both aged over ninety years-old were gracious hosts. The man had to walk with a walking stick while the wife stuck on a wheelchair needed Marussia to help her move around.
Despite that, they managed to guide me around the huge house. A bungalow three-storeys high with yard big enough to hold a football match, it used to be a barn for farm animals.
The next three days were spent around Widnau riding Marussia’s bicycle at times venturing into the surrounding towns of Lachen, Arbon, Rosharch and St Gallen while she attended to the Canzanis. I remembered cycling up the alpines once to the Canzanis’.
The steep winding road passing through forest and vineyards was really testing. Most of the time, I ended up pushing the bicycle up the slopes.
Thank God, fountains and taps lined up the road quenching my thirst with fresh cool mineral water courtesy of mother nature.
The trip downhill was like a roller-coaster ride, only better! With gravity’s assistance, it was physically effortless but mentally demanding as I watched out for curves and obstacles. Why, I nearly rammed into a tree and narrowly missed falling down a ravine!
Fun and frolicks aside, it was time to move on…
On 7th September 1995, I decided to make my move to other parts of Switzerland before heading southwards to Italy.
Marussia being the kind lady she was offered to drive me around. She took me along the river Reine passing by proud alpine mountains standing tall like invicible guardians before stopping at Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.
Vaduz was small, smaller than Muar, maybe the size of Parit Jawa. It was not surprising considering the size of Liechtenstein which was smaller than Labuan. Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, the country was so small it didn’t have its own currency, relying on Swiss money instead.
She then took me eastwards passing by more mountains, one with a white streak cutting vertically across. It looked odd at first but upon closer inspection, the moving streak turned out to be a waterfall.
Wow! It must be a sheer fall of 1,000 metres striking down like a piling machine banging on the poles at a construction site.
Marussia showed me lake Walensee with its green coloured waters, calm, narrow but long looking deep as if hiding some ancient secret inside. A few hours later, we arrived at Immensee.
At an old folks home I met Dr Josef Niederman, Marussia’s foster-father. He was in his nineties.
Quite recently he got struck by an illness leaving him stuck in a wheelchair, absent-minded worsened by a speech problem. Despite that, we had a decent conversation as he lapsed between speaking in German and English, at times lost, not able to recount what was said…
We helped him into Marussia’s car and off we went to Rigi Kum, a mountain 1,700 metres tall but feeble by alpine standard. It was a heartwarming trip as I observed the two, Marussia and Dr. Niederman reliving old times amidst smiles and laughters.
Later after sending Dr. Niederman to the old folks home, we drove to Zurich, the banking capital of Switzerland. En-route, Marussia took me to Luzern, famous for its covered wooden bridge passing beside a castle on a lake…
It was soon time to part ways. At 9pm, we arrived in Zurich.
Saying goodbye was never easy. “Good bye Radzi, I hope you will find what you’re looking for. Don’t forget to write,” she said, her voice quivering with a tinge of sadness. I could almost see her tears as she drove off, as if letting her own son go.
Switzerland was certainly beautiful. I remembered the meeting point of lakes Luzernsee and Unersee, two lakes perpendicular to each other, flanked by mountains on all sides.
The setting sun casting its rays on the water, reflected like so many scattered gold coins was a most wondrous sight. The beauty of the alps covering all of the country goes without saying.
But it was the kind people I met that puts Switzerland in a special place in my heart. Marussia, Mr and Mrs Canzani, Dr Niederman, I shall never forget all of you, your warmth, kindness and humanity…