The Amazing Place

I spent countless moments over the course of two years wondering where I would go when it was safe to travel again. It seemed like at least once a day – for a good 730 days – my mind would drift to a different destination. Should I embark on a grand adventure to someplace new? Or would nostalgia pull me towards a familiar place and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends? With a steady stream of travel show repeats sending my Google Earth app into overdrive, it got to the point where I began to wonder if I would actually go anywhere, or remain stuck in a never-ending loop of indecision.

But then, at last, the answer became clear when The Amazing Race finally returned with a new season. The season started in London and Glasgow, with episodes filmed in early 2020 before taking a twenty month hiatus due to Covid. When the show resumed filming, the contestants were flown to Switzerland to continue the competition. Their excitement over finally getting back out into the world got to me. I wanted to experience that same level of excitement. I wanted that traveler’s high again. It knew then that it was time to go. And thanks to the show, I knew that my first post-pandemic trip would be to Switzerland. My favorite tour company, Rabbie’s, offers a tour of Switzerland that begins in Milan and includes a stop in Lake Como. I booked a trip for June for my mother and I, as she was just as eager for an international adventure.

We arrived in Milan a few days before the tour started, allowing time to get over our jet-lag and to also allow for any luggage delays, of which fortunately we had none. Milan was hot, it was crowded, and it was wonderful. When the tour began, our first stop was Lake Como. Knowing that there was a possibility, however slim it might have been, that I could run into George Clooney, I wore a pretty pink sundress. Lake Como was stunningly beautiful, and while I never saw George, I did enjoy lunch at a lakeside restaurant, admiring the views and imagining that the paparazzi were hiding in the bushes nearby.

In the afternoon, we crossed into Switzerland and made a stop in Lugano. I didn’t immediately recognize the name, but when I saw the “I ❤️ Lugano” sign I remembered that Lugano had been a location featured on The Amazing Race.

The episode filmed in Lugano was titled “Stairway to Hell” because one of the challenges for the teams was to climb a 400-foot staircase while carrying bottles of wine and bags of chestnuts. Since we had a few hours to explore the town, I told my mother that we had to find the staircase and take a picture for my young nephew, who is also a fan of the show. After asking a few shopkeepers if they knew the location of the staircase and receiving multiple shrugs, I googled the episode and found the location. The staircase was right next to a prominent church. We took a few pictures and then I told my mother that I was going to climb the stairs. She looked at me in disbelief, expressing concern for my dress. I told her that I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. So I hiked up my dress like a runaway bride and began my ascent.

When I made it to the top, admittedly after a couple of breaks along the way, I took a few moments to catch my breath, then turned around to take a picture of the staircase. And that’s when I saw it. The view from the top caught me off guard. Obviously, I knew we were next to a lake. But to see it from up high, enclosed by the mountains, with nobody else around in that moment, it suddenly hit me how grateful I was to be there. What I saw was more than just a view, it was a vision, a perspective, an appreciation.

Looking out at the water, I thought of how long it had been since our lives were interrupted. How I had booked the trip in February assuming that by June 2022 surely Covid would be in the rearview mirror. But then how the case numbers rose exponentially, incomprehensibly, in my region. How stressed out I became that the testing requirement had not been lifted yet for return travel to the U.S. and how people I knew had become stuck in Europe at great expense after testing positive. How I had spent countless hours coming up with a contingency plan, looking for a hotel where we could stay if we did test positive, but could also cancel at the last minute if we tested negative. And then my relief when the testing requirement was lifted two days before our trip began.

I thought about how the great travel surge during the summer of “revenge travel” was leading to a number of canceled flights and lost luggage, stressing me out as we prepared to depart, and again my relief that this had not been our experience. I thought about how lucky I was to be here, and how I would never take travel for granted again. I thought about how much I enjoyed solo travel yet was so grateful to be able to share this experience with my mother. I thought about George Clooney and whether he had in fact been at home in Lake Como as our tour boat sailed past his villa.

This was only the first day of the tour and already I had seen the most amazing things. There was still much more to come. Beautiful lakes, lovely people, Gruyère cheese in the town of Gruyère, Swiss Alps, waterfalls, a surprisingly delicious Mexican restaurant in Interlaken, Switzerland, and a return to Milan where I was once again entranced by the style of all who passed by me. I could have easily stayed another two weeks. I could have easily moved to Switzerland. Of course, the next season of The Amazing Race has just started and already my list is filling up with new destinations. Where should I go next?