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January 11, 2010
Switzerland: Where the hills are alive with the sound of cowbells
I certainly picked the ideal travel companion for my first visit to Switzerland: A college friend from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who’d grown up on a farm. Now, you may not think a working knowledge of animals and agriculture is important when visiting this tiny European nation (I certainly didn’t), but it turned out to be quite useful information!
You see, I’d just graduated from college and decided to celebrate by backpacking around Europe with three of my closest girlfriends. We rented a Volkswagen Beetle and drove around to as many different places as we could, eventually ending up in Switzerland. At this point, two of my friends returned home—but my Pennsylvania pal and I opted to take a cross-continental train from Geneva to Ankara, Turkey instead. (More on that adventure later!)
Now, this was nearly 40 years ago, but Switzerland was just as expensive then as it is today, especially for cash-strapped college graduates, and the night before our train was schedule to depart, we found ourselves without a place to sleep. We tried to camp out at the train station, but they quickly kicked us out, so we got back in the Beetle and drove until we came upon a stretch of verdant, hilly farmland.
Since there was no way my six-foot-tall friend was going to be comfortable in the car, we opted to sleep outside, on the ground—and it wasn’t long before we realized we weren’t alone: The unmistakable sound of cowbells announced that this particular farm was home to a small herd of cattle. As a city girl, I was petrified: I had visions of being trampled to death by livestock (I seriously doubted Switzerland’s legendary neutrality extended to its cows). My farm-savvy friend, however, assured me we had nothing to worry about—and she was right: We woke the next morning cold and dew-soaked, but without any broken bones or bruises.
I won’t lie: The night I spent in a Swiss field wasn’t exactly comfortable. But it was memorable; I’ll never forget how beautiful the star-filled sky looked that night—or how tinkling cowbells were transformed into a welcome lullaby. Do you have your own story of an unexpected obstacle becoming a cherished travel memory? If so, email me at
In my next update, I’ll be focusing on the Great Britain and Ireland; if you’ve explored the U.K. or Emerald Isle with Grand Circle, I’d love to hear your stories—and see your pictures!