Sunset in Zurich (and Traveling while Heartbroken)

The Limmat River in Zurich.
The Limmat River in Zurich.

Note: I normally don’t go into detail about my personal life on my blog, but wanted to share how similar the heartbreak of leaving a city I loved felt to the heartbreak of leaving someone I loved. I hope you enjoy this deeply personal diversion from my regular travel posts. 

I got off the train in Zurich after spending the day in breathtaking Lucerne in time to hear the chimes ring from the churches lining the river’s banks. The bells bounced off one another, dancing between the mountains and in between the narrow alleyway-like streets of Old Town, creating an echo upon an echo. The setting sun filtered Zurich with an orange glare, making everything glow. It was both haunting and beautiful.

The churches continued to chant as I walked towards my hotel, slowing my usually quick pace to a leisurely stroll so I could take in every bit of the city one last time. It was my last night in the city and the next day I’d head south to Geneva. I should have been excited to see another city on my trip, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming sadness about leaving Zurich.

The sunset was the impending reminder that I had no idea what was ahead of me — in both Geneva and beyond, when I got home to Chicago, where my boyfriend broke up with me just days before departing on what was supposed to be a trip together. I’d made it through Munich and Zurich without allowing myself to feel sad about our breakup, even so much as being in denial that I felt heartbroken at all.

Sunset in Zurich.
Watching the sun set on my last night in Zurich.

Not far from my Zurich hotel, I stumbled onto a bench near the river, suddenly so desperate not to leave Zurich that the sadness made my heart hurt. I stared at the sunset, attempting to will the sun to stay put, praying to freeze time. Leaving Zurich was one step closer to leaving the place in my life that included someone I was completely in love with — and the thought of starting over, of a life without him, was unimaginable.

As the sun dipped deeper, throwing blades of light on the sparkling river, I got my notebook out of my purse and frantically started scribbling, unsure of what I’d write. As ink squiggles morphed into words, I made the connection: just like the impending pain of a relationship at its end, it’s hard to watch the sun set on the last night in a city I absolutely love; a place I know in my bones that I could love without leaving for the rest of my life. Each moment the sun set deeper filled my heart with more dread. Tomorrow will be sad, I already know.

But tomorrow brings something new, something unknown. And even though it hurts, maybe what I discover in the unknown will be better. Maybe I’ll fall in love with the next city, maybe not. But I can’t stop the sun from setting, no matter how much I wish it won’t. So I watch the sun set with tears in my eyes and a twinge of pain in my heart, and tell myself that it’s ok, that everything will be ok. Even if I never make it back here, I’ll always remember every moment, every way it made me feel.

Tomorrow may be sad, and maybe even the next day. But eventually the painful memories will fade into happy ones and the pictures I took will make me smile instead of feel longing for a place I can’t return.

Tomorrow is a new city, maybe even one that I’ll love better. All I can do is hope. Hope, and take in every moment of the sunset before the darkness takes over. And pray that I’ll remember my time here forever.

Sunset behind the Fraumunster Church in Zurich.
Sunset behind the Fraumunster Church in Zurich.

Perched on a bench alongside the river, I looked up from my notebook to discover tears flowing uncontrollably down my cheeks and people walking by, glancing at me with concerned looks on their faces. I’m ok, I silently told them as the post-sunset darkness shrouded the city in blue light. I’m ok, I told myself. And I will be, eventually.

I finished the walk back to my hotel in darkness, where I packed my belongings in my suitcase and prepared to move on to the next place, the next chapter. It will be bittersweet to leave, yes, but I leave with memories in my head and hope in my heart. And that’s all I can ask from any adventure — love, or otherwise.


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