10: Our Last Double-Digit Day

You don’t expect Switzerland to have a summer-resort aspect to it, but it does. We could bring a box of sand back as a souvenir instead of skis, but then no one would really believe it was from Switzerland, the land of snowy alps.

After today, we fall into the single-digit portion of our Countdown to Canada, leading me to go into a little bit of a souvenir panic. Our conundrum is this: We want to bring something back that is distinctly Swiss, however, this desire competes with our goal to pack as lightly as possible. We have found a pair of old wooden cross-country skis at a nearby second-hand shop. They were made in Nidau – a town just beyond the train tracks. The skis have been a subject of discussion since we saw them (I’ve written about them already – click here to see it), and we visit them often. At one point, they disappeared from the shop and Dave breathed a sigh of relief that the question had been resolved for us, but then we found them stuffed away in a corner.

There are multiple problems with shipping the skis, beginning with the requirement that if they go on the flight with us, they must be packed in a molded-shell ski case. Of course, molded ski cases are modern devices made for modern skis. These skis are ancient and very long. They are also very heavy, so mailing them could cost upwards of 500 Swiss Francs (CHF)*. Our frugal natures flinch at such an extravagance. And this potential 500 CHF tab is before Switzerland’s export office opens the package and sees we are trying to make off with some of Switzerland’s precious lumber, albeit very old lumber.

So we seesaw endlessly over the question. In the meantime, I’m going to visit the skis again and see if the shopkeeper speaks enough English to field a question about overseas shipping.

Note: I know 500 CHF sounds like an over-estimate, but when I looked into shipping back a double-shoebox-sized package of books, the estimate came in around 450 CHF. I cannot even breathe when I contemplate the cost for a pair of skis. 

72: Pack-Attack + Coming to Grips with Reality

These wood skiis in a Biel/Bienne secondhand store were made in Nidau - a town within walking distance of our hotel.

Souvenir bells, spoons, caps, key chains: They remind us more of factories than they do of any place we’ve visited and so we’ve always kept an eye out for the slightly offbeat homegrown item when we’ve been on these 1-2-year work excursions, beginning in 1985.

Then we returned from an 18-month posting in Thunder Bay with a baby boy. This makes him an anchor of sorts to our memory of when we were there. Any time we forget the year, we have only to ask him his age. Not everyone will agree this makes him a souvenir, especially not his wife, but there it is.

We tend to favor geological souvenirs – stones of all sorts and sizes. We packed back a didgeridoo or diggery doo from Australia, a stone-flint-pocked threshing sledge from Spain that we converted into a coffee table, and from Atlanta, we brought back an enduring addiction to Honey Baked Hams, Krispy Kreme donuts and homemade ice cream. The addiction is as palpable as the threshing sledge and the diggery doo.

Some months ago, we discovered a pair of ancient wood cross-country skis that were made in Nidau – the town that adjoins Biel/Bienne.

Skis seem the perfect thing to bring back from the land known for its Alps and rugged mountaineering traits, but the hiccup is that without a car, we would have to carry the things on the train, not to mention through Zürich’s vast airport.

The weight of these skis is shocking to us – and they also explain how it is the Swiss are so robust that they think nothing of clambering up cliffs and traversing endless miles by foot or bike. Ten minutes a day on these skis over a period of six weeks would give anyone Herculean strength.

But the question is whether we the withering have the power to carry them several city blocks along with the rest of our luggage. In the meantime, we visit them on weekends to seesaw our way through the debate to buy them or not.

Spanish threshing sled turned coffee table at our Victoria house.