The day finally arrived when my mother was due to head back to Toronto after seeing me get settled in Geneva. After constantly hearing “It’s so expensive here! You’d starve before winter hit!” I was looking forward to some peace. After she had left, I planned my first trip on this grand European tour I had just begun.
Annecy, known as the “Venice of the Alps,” was the first city I picked. I packed a bag with water, snacks (which included a mooncake, a traditional Chinese pastry that my Mom had brought with us, so I wouldn’t miss home too much), and a note with written directions on how to find the bus station.
One of Geneva’s most famous landmarks, the Jet D’eau (or water jet). The water is actually pressure being released from an underwater pipe that was built in 1885. Now it’s a permanent spectacle in the city.
I set off the next morning, followed my written directions, and got lost. As simple as the directions were, Geneva is a prime example of “small-scale complexity” urban planning. The roads meandered and ended abruptly and there were no major intersections (none like I was used to in Toronto). Though the city was small, I found it as hard to navigate as Hong Kong. And by small, I mean that the two main districts are separated a lake and accessible by a bridge (“a stone’s throw away” never had a better context).
I was crossing the same stoplights for the third time when I realized that what I needed was Google maps. I glanced to my left and saw a young woman following directions on her phone. I genuinely felt that God had taken pity on me. I told her about how lost I was in finding the depot and she happily led the way with her Google maps. Turns out the bus depot was hidden from view behind a little chapel.
Public, giant chess boards located inside Bastions university park.
We took a seat in the waiting area and started chatting. We laughed and spoke vivaciously. I was worried about disturbing the silence since boisterous conversation isn’t usually tolerated in public spaces in Geneva. But for a moment I thought, “What the heck!” I’ll act like a tourist just for this one time.
But some of the people waiting seemed genuinely curious. One lady even smiled at bit at our camaraderie. Then I remembered the mooncake I had with me. Joy, my Saviour’s name, widened her eyes at seeing the traditional Chinese pastry. I sliced it in half and we made a toast to each other. We remarked on how fate brought us together in Geneva in order to share a slice of cake filled with lotus seed paste.
She soon left to meet up with her friend. I thought, “If serendipity can make me share a mooncake in Geneva in a bus station’s waiting room behind a Catholic chapel, then what has the universe planned out for me for the next nine months?”
Then the bus came to shuffle us off to Annecy. During the two-hour bus ride, we passed by cows relaxing on pastures and neatly maintained stone houses that showed the tender care and pride that the owners took in their homes. We even traversed a medieval draw bridge where I half expected a full armoured knight to greet us on the other end.
Strolling by mountains and lakes. It’s incredible how the lakes, mountains, convenient stores and restaurants, are only separated by a few paces of walking.
I made it to Annecy by mid-afternoon. It’s a city with canals snaking through it, mountains rising in the middle of the lake, the air uncontaminated. I was resting on a bench, admiring the lakes and mountains when I wondered what Joy was doing.
Meeting Joy was a small encounter, but the size of the impact of that meeting made more of an impression on me than the view of kingly mountains and serene lakes.
Annecy’s main district with restaurants and shops next to the canals. It could almost be a setting for one of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.
One of the city’s ancient prisons built on its own island in the middle of the canal. I wonder what kind of ambiance the prison gives off to the diners around it.
Peaceful, harmonious, free. Some sentiments I got while walking by this view.
On the bus ride back to Geneva I mulled over the word “adventure” and what it meant. The word is usually associated with hiking up steep mountains, crossing bridges dangling over canyons, or trekking your way through Amazonian jungles.
Meeting new people is a commonplace event, but maybe, it’s these banal circumstances that, when accumulated into a whole, makes an adventure adventurous. And though sharing pastries is not an unusual occurrence, it’s the humility of the moment that can make the experience unforgettable. These are the moments that etch itself into our memories, the ones that we recall with ease, the ones that not even Time can obliterate.
Once back in my dorm by nightfall, I glanced out the window and up at the full moon. It uncannily resembled a plump cake. And I knew then that there would be other life-enriching moments that serendipity was still waiting to reveal.