Just over a week ago we were in Pearson airport in Toronto waiting for our delayed flight to take off. Four hours after the scheduled departure time, we found ourselves in the plane headed to Zurich. It was an easy enough flight, but the delay meant we had to miss the transport the school had arranged and catch a taxi to Lugano, our new place of residence.
The trip from Zurich to Lugano took us through some of the high passes in the Alps and, two and a half hours and 900 Swiss francs later, we found ourselves in a part of Switzerland quite unlike any I had seen before.
Lugano is in the southern part of Switzerland, just an hour’s drive away from Milan and the Italian influence is more than apparent. We were shown to our apartment on the Collina d’Oro (Golden Hill), named such because of the colour of the hill in the abundant sunlight that finds it. This municipality consists of four small villages with their associated hamlets. We are in Montagnola (first mentioned as Montegnola in 1226) some 2.5km from the city centre far below. The apartment was furnished and had basic supplies, which I was grateful for, especially as the closest supermarket is two bus rides away! Fortunately, the school is just a five minute stroll down the hill. It is a beautiful campus with a library that takes me back in time.
The village is home to the house that Herman Hesse, the author, occupied between 1919 and 1931 and where he is buried. It was a bit of a thrill for me to find this out as I had read his book Siddharta in March of this year, ignorant of the fact that he had lived, literally, just down the road from where I would be living in a few months’ time. For those fans of The Beatles, Montagnola is also the village where George Harrison lived between 2001 and 2008, spending some of the last months of his life here. While this may be something, there is far more to say about being here as the church bells ring at 8pm on a Sunday.
This area is old. Yes there has been development over the centuries, and some of it is pretty fancy, but there is an overriding sense of history here. The admissions building of our school, for example, is dated to 1534 and this age can be seen as we wandered through the tiny streets that wind through the villages. I wasn’t really expecting this, nor the crawls up the steep hillsides where there is barely enough room for a car to pass. I suppose the best way to explain it to myself is that it felt very similar to the time I visited Trieste at the beginning of 2020.
We went for a long walk into the centre on the second day here and looked around and bought some yummy cheese. No Italian was necessary as we were in a supermarket like all supermarkets – take things to the cashier, scan, insert credit card, and collect items. This changed somewhat as John and I decided to catch the bus back up. I’m not sure what words came out of my mouth but I did use “biglietto” (ticket) and named the bus stop. An Italian colleague whom I had met on the first day suggested that I should also talk with my hands and, after a little gesticulation and more random Italian words, John and I had our tickets and we were on our way. Even with riding the bus back up the hill, I could feel the tightness in my calves that night, and the next, to be honest. This area is hilly and I can sense my fitness will come back after a rather languid Covid year, simply because I have to walk the hills. Every day.
On Wednesday, there was a little time in the schedule, and I headed out with one of the established teachers to a climbing area. The crag was nestled in a chestnut forest (who would have thought) and, being a Wednesday, wasn’t busy. We led three climbs each and, on the final one, the top of the climb led to a sweeping view of the verdant, sun-drenched valley below and the rocky peaks beyond. We could have climbed more, but there was a meeting in half and hour, so we packed up and drove the 20 minutes back to the school.
The remainder of the week saw a few more excursions sprinkled in amongst our new teacher orientation. I managed to get to the sports store and buy a 550 page climbing guide (in Italian, French and German) to the local area and a pair of my favourite climbing shoes, on discount, no less. We also took the seemingly mandatory trip to IKEA (don’t all international teachers do this?), organised bank accounts, took driving/dodging lessons, and perhaps the most satisfying of all, got a new phone number without a word of English.
Being a boarding school, we new teachers all have our meals together in the dining area which offers a wonderful opportunity to eat some lovely food and to get know each other. Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of my new colleagues, Danelle, had just worked with JB with whom I had previously worked and surfed with for ten years back in Australia. In fact, she messaged JB last night to tell him that we had met. Such a small world, hey?
The school has been very supportive, and we are extremely fortunate to be greeted as we have been. Sure, there are challenges and these will continue, but this is to be expected.
This week all the returning staff arrive at school and we will see more faces, exchange more talk, get to meet more new people and settle in just that little bit more.