Walking Across the Border: One of the Most Interesting Travelling Experiences

One of the reasons why I am in a multiethnic marriage is because I love to travel and to interact with other cultures.

This has been an hallmark trait of my personality for many decades.

The very first time I visited a foreign country I crossed the border on foot, and, to this very day, walking across an international border remains my favourite travelling experience.

Here in Europe we have the gargantuan advantage of living in a continent where countries are relatively small and people can drive, take a train or even walk to get to another country while my wife comes from an island nation where the only option they have to see another country is by taking a plane.

There are a couple of borders that I find particularly interesting, because when you walk across those, you are not just entering another country, rather you are stepping into another world.

One is the Italian-Swiss border in Como and the other is the Italian-Austrian border in Tarvisio.

I have crossed all the borders between Italy and its neighboring countries, but, generally speaking, the Italian-French border and the border between Italy and Slovenia don’t quite give me that special feeling that I am abruptly stepping into a totally different world.

On the other hand when I cross the border between Italy and Switzerland or the one between Italy and Austria I get that unique sensation that things suddenly and abruptly change: on one side of the border line there is the Latin and the Mediterranean world with its romance, as well as its inefficiencies and imperfections, while, only few meters apart, there is the Swiss or the Germanic world and their precision and efficiency that they almost slap in the face of someone who is coming from Italy.

Here are some examples

This is the Italian side on the Italian-Swiss border in Como (a city that is well known for its lake and that, perhaps, is less known for being a border town).

As you can see there are some (typically Italian) cracks on the asphalt and the manholes are not perfectly leveled with the pavement.

Here in Italy we do have pretty good infrastructures (generally speaking) but, sometimes local roads lack proper maintainance.

When I cross the Italian-Swiss border I get Swiss precision in my face immediately after I cross it: the very first thing I notice is the perfectly paved road, the manholes that are perfectly leveled with the pavement and a perfectly working phone boot (while on the other side you barely spot a phone boot and if you do see one it’s full of graffiti and it, almost certainly, doesn’t work.

Swiss precision in your face immediately after crossing the border
Perfectly paved Swiss road

But even more striking is the contrast between the town of Tarvisio, in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia (which is part of an area that straddles three countries being Italy, Slovenia and Austria) and the Austrian side of the border.

When you cross the Italian-Swiss border in Como people still speak Italian, while when you cross the Italian-Austrian you don’t just spot the differences in terms of cleanliness and efficiency but even the language changes in few meters.

The border town of Tarvisio: some houses have a nicely painted facade while many don’t
The Austrian side: all houses are painted, there is a perfectly working phone boot and the road is perfectly paved…and there is a speed trap few meters ahead waiting for Italian unruly drivers

I love how the world changes in few meters when I cross an international border…