By Junior Williams
FRIBOURG, Switzerland — When I heard that the United States had drawn an away tie against Switzerland for the first round of Davis Cup World Group 2012, I assumed it would end up in a large city such as Geneva or Zurich. Then the word came down: Fribourg.
The announcement expanded my education about Switzerland. I had never heard of Fribourg, but learned that it’s halfway between Geneva and Zurich, has centuries of history and is in a region famous for fondue and Gruyere cheese.
I arrived in Fribourg Wednesday after a 90-minute train ride from Zurich Airport. At the train station: Buses everywhere, snow flurries and below-freezing temperatures. But I immediately warmed up to the Swiss people who were happy to answer my questions even though they noticed I was butchering my attempts to speak French. We’d converse in English and they didn’t give me that “Ugh – typical American” look.
After checking in at the hotel, I went back out and walked around the Fribourg Centre mall, right across the street from the train station, to get one of life’s necessities for a foreigner in Switzerland — a universal adapter for circular three-prong outlets — necessary so I could write this column. The shocker for me was that the mall closes at 7pm during weekdays, much earlier than back home in the U.S.
Thursday was my big sightseeing day, so I hopped on the city bus, which costs 2.90 CHF ($3.17 US) and you have to buy a ticket from the machine at the bus stop before boarding. But each time I took a ride, the driver never asked for the ticket. One Fribourg native explained to me that there was an honor system where passengers were expected to do the right thing and pay. He said that “on occasion, someone might follow up” to make sure the fare was paid. This system wouldn’t work back home in New York City.
Walking around the Place de Tilleul — near the Town Hall — I made my way to the Cathedrale St-Nicolas, which was completed in the 15th century after two centuries of construction. There was something peaceful about being alone inside the cathedral, with gorgeous stained glass windows and huge organ pipes near the ceiling.
I continued my trek through the narrow streets and walked up the Route de Alpes, where you get stunning postcard views of centuries-old villages below, with snow-covered buildings and parks. Minutes later, I was back into modern times, near the train station.
That night, I had to get my fondue fix, and the folks at Cafe du Midi did not disappoint. I savored a nice big pot of “moitie-moitie” — a mixture of Gruyere and Vacherin cheeses — with boiled potatoes instead of bread for dipping. The meal was pricey as many things are in Switzerland, but it was worth the cost.
Yes, there are cheap eats in town. For lunch I enjoyed the Xpresso Cafe in the Fribourg Centre, home of tasty crepes (ham and cheese for 7.50 CHF did the trick).
The buses were packed for the trip to the arena Friday. To my surprise, there were tickets still available for the Davis Cup tie. Two men told me they were on line at 6pm and successfully snagged tickets three hours later, after standing outside in sub-zero Celsius temperatures. It’s a sign of how the Swiss love their team. Fans showed up wearing afros, the signature Swiss cowbells, and just about anything red-and-white.
Chants of “Hop Suisse” and “Allez” filled the arena for three days, especially when it came to rooting for their hero Roger Federer. But it ended up being a rough weekend for the home team — no wins. Nonetheless, the Swiss fans were gracious in congratulating their American counterparts, even taking pictures together in the true spirit of Davis Cup. The workers at the venue were also very courteous and friendly.
Of course, there’s a lot more to see in Fribourg, and hopefully one day I’ll get the chance on a return visit to Switzerland. Even though the country’s Davis Cup team lost, the class and friendship shown by the Swiss people make them big winners in my book.
Junior Williams is a long-time journalist and tennis fan. At a momentâ€™s notice he can give you a list of all the Davis Cup match-ups that would give the US home ties. He was in Fribourg, Switzerland covering the Davis Cup first round World Group tie between the US and Switzerland for Tennis Panorama News.