January 29, 2015

Couchsurfing: Switzerland Edition

Brooke, Lindsey, and I have all been asked more than once how we possibly afforded our Euro-adventure. We had to be pretty frugal. There was a lot of grocery store trips (nothing is cheaper than pasta), food splitting (or "rationing" as we called it), picking and choosing of what "splurge" sites we would pay to see, and just general attempts at being thrifty. However, nothing saved us more money than Couchsurfing.com

For those of you who haven't heard of this webpage, it's basically what it sounds like, except sometimes you get a couch, sometimes you get a bed, sometimes you get a futon, sometimes you get a floor, sometimes you'll take whatever you can get. Essentially you make a profile and then request to stay in strangers' homes.

Now the appropriate and usual reaction to this idea is "STRANGER DANGER!!" While this is a practical concern, we had a really great and safe experience with the whole thing. Profiles are linked to reviews from other surfers and that's largely how we chose who we stayed with. The people you request to stay with must also approve you, and you can talk with them prior to your visit. 

To be fair, there is a decent part of this that is trusting your gut. I am sure that not every Couchsurfer is a safe and hospitable new friend. There are creepers everywhere, but just as well, there are wonderful people everywhere. We tried to be as safe as possible, like I said, trusting other surfers' reviews and especially steering towards people with a large quantity of positive comments. 

While I had my first Couchsurfing experience on my trip to England, and Brooke & Lindsey had their's in Florence (while I was off galavanting in Southern Spain), we had our first joint experience in Geneva, Switzerland

Brooke & Lindsey arrived at the Geneva airport a few hours earlier than I and made their way to meet our generous host, Alex. I arrived with the instructions Alex had given to find his apartment and spent a good half hour wandering around the building trying to figure out how to get in/make contact (this is a common problem when not only do your two travel partners not have phones, but you also do not have any communication unless you have wifi). Luckily, I look pretty harmless and someone let me into the building at which point I just walked up and down five flights of stairs until I heard the distinct laughter of my two best friends coming from behind one of the doors.  
After helping us get settled in, Alex armed us with a map and sent us off to explore his beautiful city while he skipped back to work, promising to meet for a drink and dinner later that evening. 

I knew from my first visit that Switzerland is hands down one of the most stunning countries in the world. The water is such an unreal teal blue and the sun light is crisper than anywhere else I've ever been. Though they are spectacularly different, Geneva managed to live up to the beauty of Interlaken.  

As we walked along the river we were mesmerized by the icy water churning below us. 

We didn't have much of a plan for our first day, and soon my kiddies were getting mighty hangry (when hungry turns to angry). 

Luckily, just before the tantrum began, we looked at the clock and realized it was just about time to meet our host! 

Nothing makes Brooke and Lindsey (oh okay, and me too) happier than the promise of food. 

Popping down to water level, we shared a drink at a funky little bar right on the water (I think the fear of dropping my camera into the depths prevented me from capturing this moment). 

We had told Alex the only thing we really felt like we needed to try for our authentic Swiss experience was some cheese fondue (from my previous experience I knew this to be necessary). One of the greatest benefits of staying with a local is they know how to avoid tourist traps and take you to an authentic meal.  

We ordered a giant pot of bubbling melty ooy-gooey cheese and a bottle of crisp white wine that we were promised would compliment the cheese perfectly. This may have been true, but honestly, I think we were all too busy stuffing our faces with bread and cheese to even care.  

After an extravagantly delicious meal and a wonderful chance to get to know our host a little better we went our separate ways again. Alex had plans and we were all beat from our long day of travel and exploring, so we headed back for a snooze at the apartment so we could wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning. 

Alex proved to be a great host because he wanted to hang out with us just enough that we felt like friends, but not so much we felt bad admitting that we wanted to do touristy things that wouldn't interest him. We learned through our several experiences that this wasn't always the case, and that a host who had been a surfer before was much better than one who had not, but more on that later. Overall, Couchsurfing allowed us not only to afford our trip across Europe, but also to make some new friends all over Europe, and learn a little more about what it's actually like to live in these places. 

Yours, Kenna 

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