Each year, Bosch offers a home trip to meet with mentors, touch base with former coworkers, and, importantly, see family. Mine happens to coincide with Christmas, so to catch coworkers before the holidays, my first stop was back to Charleston. Due to inclement weather in Chicago forecasted for the day I was supposed to fly in, I ended up changing my flights (courtesy of a United Airliners customer service agent) and in Charleston one day earlier than intended. This allowed me to check out Second Sunday, and after I got over my surprise at the number of changes in the restaurant scene I wandered down King Street. The weather was perfect — sunny and in the 70s. After two winters in Germany, I had begun to forget what attracts so many to Charleston in the winter.
I thought my 2016 travels would end with Vienna, but any remaining frugality gave way to a lingering hunger for the high mountains. It started with a landscape photographer‘s exhibition in nearby Isny; after seeing his photographs I wanted a panorama that I myself could print two meters wide and knew exactly which scene I wanted for that hanging. Or, perhaps, it started with my awoken mountain fascination in 2007 and was thereafter stoked with my discovering Zermatt in 2011. But so it was that I forwent Thanksgiving 2015 and borrowed a set of snowshoes to take that panorama of a lake I had photographed nearly a half-dozen times. The mountain pass was frozen and closed, so again I took the car train under the mountain and to my lost valley. Different year, different month, different car; same inexplicable thirst.
With All Saint’s Day making for an extended weekend in 2016, I took off for one more weekend in 2016, yet again not in Germany, despite a mental commitment to discover places nearer to home. For an umpteenth time I drove back to Munich to board a plane, this time with a flight time just under an hour. It was ironically my third time in Munich in a week: I had visited the city the weekend prior, had a work outing to BMW during the week, and on Friday I jetted off. Perhaps the goal to explore more of Germany can be skirtingly reworded as getting to know the route to the airport…
Maybe there is a name for people’s tendency to travel to cities or even countries distant from the one they’re living in, and there is probably a physiological and psychological explanation for it. Though I know neither the reason nor the name for this inclination, I do know that I’ve also largely adopted the trait. In the year and a half that I’ve been in Germany during this assignment, I’ve really only visited two German cities (Nürnberg and Berlin) — until this October, anyhow, when a friend’s visit finally gave me a reason to explore Munich in a little more detail.
“That one!,” a German exclaimed as he pointed at me from across a table at the Hofbräuhaus, “He’s from Chinatown!” Though I’ve kind of come to expect this sort of outburst at certain functions here, in this context his statement wasn’t entirely untrue: a few weeks earlier, I had just returned from a trip to a city that indeed had a Chinatown.
Most of my life has been spent outside of China, which makes explaining where I’m from a bit of a tricky question. Sometimes I explain that I’m from Chicago, which surprises colleagues because the division I’m working for now doesn’t have an Illinoisan presence; other times I say from Charleston, which doesn’t appease because “b-but you don’t look like a Charlestonian,” and other times I say from China, which is typically met with bewilderment because my English is unaccented. But of all the places I’ve lived for any longer time (i.e. excluding Seattle), it’s Chicago that still feels most comforting when I return. I was there for a high school reunion about two years ago, but a few weeks ago, in visiting a friend for a wedding in Wisconsin, I got to take a look around my old stomping grounds one more time. But first, the wedding, which took place in a quiet town about a half hour west of Milwaukee.
Between my seven visits to Zermatt, I’d say that I’ve learned this corner of the valley pretty well for a visitor. But ask about the valleys that surround Zermatt, or the mountains that ring Zermatt, and I can only identify the immediately recognizable. (Indeed, from my photos one would think I could only pick out the Matterhorn!) Beyond that valley, my knowledge is even rustier. The figurative breathlessness of the Alps is not limited to Switzerland; the breadth of these is imaginable but is practically unrealizable for those removed from alpine business, so it is with great happiness that I live so close now to the unimaginable vastness. While most of my hikes have been solitary, somehow the magic of the mountains burns stronger when a friend comes to visit.
The first mountain I was really drawn to was Mt. Rainier. Looming above the Puget Sound, it’s an emblem for the Pacific Northwest. The Matterhorn, too, stands tall above its valley. Here in the Allgäu, the familiar symbol is the Grünten: far from the tallest mountain in the region, but among the most recognizable because it’s among the northernmost mountains above 1500 m, a respected sentry to the Allgäu proper.