Sunday, 20 May 2012

Singapore to Switzerland. And being robbed.

Changi has to be one of the best organised Airports in the world. Check in is very well organised, there are always plenty of baggage trolleys available, the lounges are great, immigration is quick and efficient and there is plenty of space in which to shop and relax. 

Even the lounge for the A380 is great. I expect boarding this giant of the skies to be a pain, but the air bridges are so well organised that I find myself delivered to the upper deck business class area through a dedicated walkway almost without realising I have boarded the aircraft.
I've come on board early to have look around, but I'm disappointed that the wide stairs to the downstairs suites area is closed off and will remain so throughout the flight. I ask nicely to be allowed to look before other passengers board, but the senior male cabin crew member is adamant that the other parts of the aircraft are off limits.

I am surprised that there is no leaflet about how the seat operates. There are so many buttons and switches that, even as an experienced traveller, I have to seek assistance. Not once, but several times.
As always, Singapore Airlines service is first class, the food is excellent and the staff are friendly, efficient and willing. I am not hugely impressed with the sleeping arrangements. While it's a fully flat bed, you lie diagonally across your space, with a less than robust flap connecting the final section to the ottoman. On several occasions, I have to pull it back up, my feet having disappeared into the void below.

But I sleep and breakfast well and almost before I know it am in Zurich.

After a shower, I enjoy the best croissants ever in the business class lounge before catching my connecting flight to Geneva.

In the baggage hall, I collect my free train/bus ticket into the centre (what a brilliant idea!) and am met by my old Navy chum, Michael Goldthorpe who points out the thin red line that has replaced a barrier. The disciplined Swiss stand obediently behind the illuminated line waiting for arriving passengers. Another brilliant idea!
Michael and I take a train to the centre, connecting almost immediately to a bus which stops almost outside their front door. The Swiss really do have public transport sorted.

Michael's wife Sally is in Singapore, so we have a couple of days together looking around the local area, popping across the border into France, doing shopping, venturing up Mont Saleve for a superb view over Geneva and visiting the town of Annecy for lunch. It's a local bank holiday, the place is packed and it takes a while before we find a place to park.

But it's worth the wait, Annecy is charming and we enjoy a splendid lunch which includes the tasty local Savoyard dish, Tartiflette, made from cheese, potatoes, lardons and onions.
I use my Swiss Travel Flexipass to go to Lugano, some five and a half hours distant. The train announcements start off in French, move to German as we approach Zurich and change to Italian as we head south. Strange, this multilingual Switzerland. The section through the Gottard pass has to be one of the most wonderfully scenic rail journeys in the world.

Lake Lugano is a delight. My pass even allows me to travel on the private metre-gauge splendidly maintained FLP railway to the border town of Ponte Tresa. There, I walk into Italy, have dinner and buy a bottle of Sicilian wine. As you do. I am thrilled with the photographs I have taken, including some splendid panoramas of Lake Lugano with my new camera.
My flexi pass allows me to travel on the funicular railway from Lugano Railway station to the town centre, where I meet my Serbian friend Alexsandar, last met on a plane in Washington. He's busy with exams, so we only have time for a hugely expensive coffee and orange juice in the main square before I set off on an hour-long tour of the delightful lake. My flexipass is valid for this trip too!

I enjoy the five and a half hour trip back to Geneva, travelling in the private business class section of the extremely comfortable Pendolino tilting train, ideally suited to the endless curves of Swiss railways.
While waiting for the number 8 bus at Geneva Station, a man asks me to help him operate the ticket machine. In a flash my man-bag is gone. Ipad, iPod, two cameras, passport, Swiss FlexiPass, wallet and all the detritus of a traveller. Plus the keys to Michael and Sally's apartment. They are in the UK for the night at a dinner. Major crisis. I am in a daze as a kindly woman lets me try to call and text Sally. Back at the apartment, a kindly neighbour lends me some cash and takes me to the police station. There, I go through the palaver of making a statement, hardly reassured by the friendly and helpful female cops telling me that they see several people a day for this sort of thing. The whole thing conducted in French of course. They say that it's possible that my bag will be found, minus anything valuable, but probably still with passport and credit cards intact. But the lost property office doesn't open till Monday morning.
Back at the apartment block, another kindly neighbour not only sits up till 0130am with me while I cancel my lost cards, make contact with the UK passport authorities and so on. We continually try and contact my hosts, but when it becomes clear I am not going to get into the apartment tonight, kindly offers me a bed for the night. I have my overnight bag from my trip, but no clean clothes for the morning.
The following day, I finally make contact with my hosts in the early afternoon and their Bolivian housekeeper very kindly breaks off a lunch in France to come and let me in to the house.
But I discover at the station that my Swiss flexipass can't be replaced and while the Swiss authorities will be happy to accept other photo id in lieu of my missing passport allowing me to travel back to the UK on Tuesday, the British authorities won't. So my final day of 'Around the World in 60 days – Backwards' will be spent travelling to the British Embassy in Berne to get an emergency passport.
It's not the first time I have been robbed while travelling and I daresay it will not be the last. But I feel absolutely desolate and empty. I am devastated by the loss of my carefully crafted photographs taken on my week-old camera. The rest of the things can be replaced, but not them.
I have replayed the moment of the loss again and again. If only I hadn't been distracted to help. If only I had done my normal thing and had the bag around my neck. If only I had been aware that laid-back, classy Geneva has a dreadful reputation for this happening.
If only.

Photos at: 
The very best of 'Around the World - Backwards'