Urban Swiss Fairytales


Do I get to be Cinderella in my own fairytale?

When I think Switzerland, I often think of a land of fairytales. A place of maidens on mountains, castles perched atop cliffsides, maybe even a dragon or two. Moving here hasn’t done much to dissuade the feeling that things are slightly more magical here. I have said out loud here: “oh, look, there’s a castle on that mountain.” Not sure if there were any maidens up there, but it seemed like the place. So it’s hard not to think of our urban adventures in terms of fairytales sometimes. When I come home at the end of the day, sweaty and exhausted with my trusty steed (stroller) next to me, I often feel like I’ve been on an epic journey.

In my effort to explore new corners of Geneva every week, I followed the transit map out to an area I had never been before. There was a huge green spot on my map, vaguely marked “zoo.” Even though I haven’t been able to find any information about a Genevois zoo, I decided to follow the sketchy directions to see where X and I would end up. If the transit system weren’t so good here, I wouldn’t have even attempted it, but as it is, if you can find yourself to any bus or train, you’re only a transfer away from home.

To get to said “zoo” I had to walk through an enormous cemetery. It had separate neighbourhoods, I tell you. I don’t think I walked through the ancient part of it, although I’ll bet you there was one. Geneva is 3,000 years old and people have been dying in the city since before then. But I only seemed to pass by the new plots, or the unused plots. Does that set an appropriately creepy beginning for my fairytale? The weather was really hot and oppressive too – no sunlight, but you start to sweat in the hot fog after only a few minutes out in it.

We wandered for awhile and seemed to leave the cemetery behind us, but it was hard to see in the fog. There was no big sign pointing to a zoo; no friendly statue of an elephant to point us in the right direction, thank you Calgary Zoo. I was about to turn around and head back to the graves when a turkey strutted by me on the other side of the fence. We were here, I guess? The turkey being my fairytale guardian to point me in the right direction, I followed him down the path until it turned towards a large gate, very much shut. But it wasn’t locked. I shrugged and did what I always do in foreign cities – just do what I want, but really obviously, so if I’m doing anything wrong someone will come and stop me. Nobody came up yelling at me and my turkey gobbled away, satisfied, so I figured I was in the right place.

We followed the path up and over a hill and discovered we were in the right place. There were other small children running around looking at the animals. X got super excited so I let him run around too. The animals weren’t really exotic at all, unless you count the peacocks. There were tons of peacocks. They didn’t seem to impress X that much. He took one look at them and tossed his sippy cup at them. Like, right into the pen, past the electric fence. *sigh* I bundled him up in my arms and did walk away quite quickly at that point, in case anyone wanted to yell at me about throwing garbage, or sippy cups, at the peacocks.

They had all kinds of goats there, I suppose with goats being a mountainous creature and Switzerland is probably covered with them. They certainly produce a heck of a lot of cheese here. There was one adorable little guy, like a miniature goat, with a scruffy beard. For some reason he made me think of Billy Goat Gruff, so maybe that was the fairytale I was in.

X so far hadn’t seemed too excited by anything we’d seen, until we rounded a bend and he came face to face with a sheep that had stuck it’s head through it’s gate and baa-ed at him. I shit you not, X took one look at the newly shorn sheep and screamed his head off, then ran to me and demanded to be picked up. He hid his face from the sheep as we passed. I don’t blame him. You know how sheep have those incredibly terrifying eyes, with the sideways pupil that always makes me think of a devil? Well this guy had his crazy eyes bugging all over the place and it was a little scary. We quickly moved on.

Then we came to another scary challenge in our adventure – scary for me, not for X, because he didn’t understand. We walked up to the chicken coop (yes, chickens, the zoo wasn’t really that exciting) and I noticed that the fence was electrified. Not a fence inside a fence. Just the normal fence that you walk right by. The fence that my toddler’s sticky fingers were reaching out to grasp. I lunged for him in time and he didn’t touch it. I can’t imagine it was powered, or powered with much, but zookeepers seriously? Keeping an electrified fence where toddlers will be walking – are in fact encouraged to walk? Not cool.


X lunging at coloured balls and electric fences

X finally did get excited when we were close to through the zoo. I thought it was because he had seen the incredibly cute turtles sunning themselves on lily pads. Adorable. They were craning little necks up to try to find the speck of sun that was starting to melt through the weird hot fog. But then I realized he actually was pointing at a brightly coloured ball someone had thrown in there. At least I’m not the only mom who lets her kid throw stuff at animals. Then X lunged for the electric fence and it was time to go.

Problem, though. I’m not quite sure how to get back the way I came. I couldn’t see the cemetery and the zoo had kind of spun around in circles. Instead, there was a big playground just in front of us, so I figured I could go there, see if X wanted to play any, then we’d find the road.

Mistake! There was a little wading pool there, and X adores anything to do with water. We approached it cautiously (I was cautious, X recklessly threw himself at it). It appeared that there was just a puddle on the cement floor of one pool, so I thought I’d let X go in. I just took off his socks and shoes and rolled up his pants. What a good, flexible mother I am, right?

Nope. Just as he got in, a giant fountain erupted in the middle of the pool, starting to flood it with water. Other children, in appropriate bathing suits, started to leap through it. X lost his shit at so many happy kids and flying water. He tried to jump, then sat down in the rapidly rising water to take it all in. To his diaper.

I had to run into the pool to get him, then take my dripping, bawling baby to a dry place not covered in sand to change him. I had an extra onesie with me in case of accidents (fountain-based or otherwise). But his pants were beyond help at that point. So now I had a slightly wet baby in a new diaper and onesie. I put his socks back on but there was no disguising that he was half naked. Definitely time to get home.

The entrance to the enchanted woods

The entrance to the enchanted woods

There was no obvious path to the main road where I needed to find my bus. There was, however, a path into an incredibly beautiful forest that appeared to twist in the direction I needed to go. It even had a lovely carved footbridge, enticingly inviting us over its threshold to come in. Because this is a fairytale, of course we had to enter the enchanted forest.

And proceeded to get completely lost. I was swearing under my breath, as no matter what way we turned, we ended up further away from where we needed to be. At one point I saw a clearing in the trees ahead and eagerly walked towards it, hoping it was an exit. Nope. I found myself on top of a giant hill, looking down on all the peasants – and the bus I needed to be on, travelling far below us. I didn’t even know I had been walking uphill! I was clearly trapped in some kind of crazy place where physics simply didn’t exist. Then a wild boar* came charging at us, and we had to run.

* French bulldog. And probably quite tame/more scared of us than we were of him


Too good to be true? A bridge leading us out of the enchanted forest

As we fled from the boar, we finally found a dark secret path heading down (down, thank god! Definitely in the right direction). It was then that we stumbled on a lovely bridge, crossing over a ravine and possibly to the place we needed to go. It almost seemed too good to be true. I checked to make sure there were no trolls hiding underneath, and we crossed over safely. I looked around, hopeful to find a road – any road. Remember what I said about being able to hop on any bus? I was at that point. Just give me a bus, ANY bus, and I can find my way home.

Unfortunately, no bus. No road. Only a long dark tunnel we had to pass down – including approximately 20 flights of stairs. So I took a leap of faith and bump bump bump we went down the stairs on the stroller, praying the path would lead somewhere, anywhere. If not, it would be me carrying my trusty steed and prince all the way back up, all 1,000 pounds of stroller I push around with me.

It did finally lead to a road. I was so turned around, I was on the other side of the vague green patch on my map. But no worries. I saw a bus stop far in the distance and knew that I would be able to find my way home.

But no fairy tale is over quite that easily. This is where I ran into the evil troll (bus driver). Hearing the bus coming up behind me before I had reached the stop, I made a run for it. I got there in time, sweating profusely, with a crying, half-naked baby included. Apparently I looked “undesirable” because the bus driver kept on shutting the door in my face. Like, three times. To get on a bus with a stroller here you need to hit the blue handicap button, which keeps the door open as you get on and has to be closed by the driver. Which means that he was deliberately shutting the door on me. I probably would have given up and looked dejected at all the passengers who were on the bus as they drove away on any other day, but not today. Today I was the hero. “I don’t fucking think so,” I said out loud and continued to punch the handicap button on the bus until it opened and I was able to jam the stroller in. There were already about 19 strollers on the bus, but I shoved mine in as well.At that point, there was nothing the evil bus driver could do about it, short of kicking a mother with a crying baby off the bus. I had won. I beamed in triumph as the rest of the bus let out a giant groan.

An hour and a half after the flinging-self into fountain incident, we arrived home. One of us was tired and hungry (me), the other wanted to play. And you know what? For once we did what I wanted to do 🙂 Fairytale over, time for a nap.


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