Cheese+Baguette+Wine = Switzerland

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I arrived in Geneva around 7 am on Tuesday morning – still reeling from the effects of the Sunday night farewell party.  I picked up my very small European size vehicle from Europcar, complete with a 5-speed stick shift, and headed into Geneva to wander for a little bit and more important – to see if I could find some coffee to go.  I’m now headed for the nearest highway with signs pointing north toward Lucerne.

I merrily motored through the beautiful swiss countryside with my headphones in my ears and singing at the top of my lungs! The sky was perfectly blue – the countryside was perfectly quaint – and even the cow dung was perfectly scented.  It was a good day.

My first night was spent in Lucerne.  I stayed in a jail cell – at the Jail Hotel. That’s right folks – a little creative searching on the internet and you too can sleep in a room that measures 6×6 plus a sink.

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Home sweet home

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Yup – that’s a mattress on the floor and the wall you see to the left — that’s the size of the room – two twin mattresses wide.

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But at $50 a night – I wasn’t complaining!  I strolled through the old section of town and admired the views – then sat down for some light afternoon refreshment (glass of wine) and some people watching.

I sat in one of the tables overlooking the river below

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My love affair with the french pastry began today at this very patisserie.  From my hip’s point of view – it’s a love / hate relationship.

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Lucerne is in the german speaking region of Switzerland but the pastries are all french! Below is Chapel Bridge.


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Then it was back to my room to snooze for an hour.

Around 7:30, two volunteer friends from Elephant Park, Brigitte and George, picked me up and we had dinner together.  It was fun to laugh again about some of our antics from the past week. When you spend as much time as we do in a volunteer situation – 24/7 – you become so close to people that you experience a bit of withdrawal when you leave them. I was feeling a bit of that after Elephant Camp, so it was really great to see Brigitte and George!

Next day and I’m headed south back toward Geneva, but I have a few stops to make along the way. I had heard about the Ballenberg open-air museum in a small town called Brienz, outside of Interlaken and stopped for a couple of hours.

It’s really fascinating.  The “museum” is divided into 13 architectural groups which include typical examples of farmhouses from all over Switzerland.  I walked through a swiss home built in 1606…a cheese dairy and storehouse from 1780 and a wine press house from 1771.

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I strolled through a herdsman’s house, a cattle shed and a 14th-century farmstead.  It’s the kind of place where you can spend a whole day…

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There are exhibitions throughout the day as well – from clock-making to cheese making.  You can see a rural wedding or an enchanted forest.  It’s really something else.

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All the buildings, over 100 rural houses and utility buildings, were in danger of being pulled down from their original sites and destroyed.  So they were taken from these sites and re-erected here, showing us what life was like in rural Switzerland in centuries past.

After Brienz, I continued south to Interlaken for my next grand adventure – skydiving!  I’ve been looking forward to this for years!  The first time I tried to go was in 1993 – in California – just north of San Francisco.  My (then) boyfriend Mark and I were scheduled for the last flight of the day.  We had purchased some champaign to celebrate the occasion and then made the tremendous mistake of calling my parents to let them know what we were doing.  It was at that time that my mother made me aware of her ability to place curses on activities that didn’t please her.  Fifteen minutes later – a freak storm arrived over the mountains and our flight was canceled.  Things that make you go “Hmmmm”.

I’m trying it again – in the Swiss Alps. It’s scheduled.  It’s paid for. The sky is clear and blue.  And then I emailed my mother to let her know what I was doing.  Freak storm.  Flight canceled.  Dammit!

I re-schedule for Thursday at noon.  Skyped my mother to tell her to stop the freaking curse – I want to skydive.  She tells me that she doesn’t like the idea of me skydiving.  I WANT TO SKYDIVE.  Dammit!

Thursday rolls around and it’s beautiful – the sky is clear and blue.  Then some mysterious clouds arrive in the sky and guess what?  You got it – canceled.  She’s that good. So I give up on skydiving – for the time being – and head south again. But no worries folks – Interlaken was not a complete bust.  I went shopping for new clothes.  One can’t go to Paris or the French Riviera in sweatpants and elephant dung-stained t-shirts!

I’ve long since left the highways because traveling on the smaller roads through the various small towns and along the lakes is so much more picturesque!  I continue to be impressed with a little thing known as the round-about.  Imagine putting a few of them along State Street instead of 25 traffic lights.  Also, as I complete my 6th or so amazingly perfect parallel parking job – I find myself becoming more and more enthralled with the small euro car.  Me, my iPod, my laptop, and the orange wonder all fit – nothing else is important.

NOTE:  Still having troubles with the camera memory cards or the laptop itself…lost all pictures from Interlaken, Montreux and Lausanne.  I am borrowing some photos of the castle from the internet…they’re pretty much the same as the ones I took.

Montreux was the next stop on the “Switzerland in four days” tour. It’s known for its week-long jazz festival in the summer, but I was there to see the Chateaux du Chillon – an incredibly well-preserved medieval fortress that sits on top of a small piece of land just 10 feet off the mainland, in Lake Geneva.

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It’s officially an island and a historic monument.

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Okay — so these pictures are a bit better than the ones I took 🙂

Visitors throughout the ages would sign their name in the stone pillars – check out Lord Byron’s scrawl

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Inside a courtyard

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This fireplace is about 6 feet high.  I walked into several of them just to be sure.

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Dining hall

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Painted murals on the walls – must have been very colorful in the 12th century.

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The various residents of the castle – came and went – never leaving their stuff behind.  They packed it all up in trunks and it went with them – from jewelry to tapestries.  The castle has a huge selection of medieval trunks.


The bathrooms comprised of an open room with a bench.  Set inside the bench were two holes open to the outside.  You could see all the way down to the water – where everything went.  Now that had to be chilly in the winter and talk about your updrafts!

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Chillon-Castle crypt

The view from one of the bedrooms

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Another striking view from the top

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This was where I got the idea to buy my own medieval castle.  Imagine this – experience the REAL medieval times – as a serf and as the lord of the manor!  Everything is authentic medieval down to the very smallest detail – that means no Charmin.  Mandatory two week stay – first week – you’re the serf.  You’re assigned a job – maybe cook, server, chamber pot emptier, water fetcher, stable wench, ironsmith – whatever.  Then the second week, you’re part of the Lord of the Manor, family and friends group.  I believe that you eat, sleep, ride your horse, relax and party.   Oh, and order people around!  How fun would that be!  I could charge a mint for this!  And people around the world would pay!  All authentic clothing – chickens running around everywhere – candles burning – fireplaces with huge logs crackling every night – lots of red wine in goblets the size of a football  OK – who wants to spot me two million dollars so I can buy a French castle? They’re for sale you know – I’ve checked.

On down to Montreaux — This is a tribute statue of Freddie Mercury – front singer for Queen.  Beginning in 2003, fans from around the world began gathering in Switzerland annually to pay tribute to the singer as part of the “Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day”on the first weekend of September.



And finally, on to Lausanne for a day (a special place for me) and then back down to Geneva to meet up with another group of people – and this group – I know.

It’s the end of a very long day. I’m sitting in a cafe with a large glass of wine and trying to come to terms with my disappointment. Lausanne, Lausanne, Lausanne. How could I have forgotten you? I am devastated. DEVASTATED. I spent an entire day in Lausanne trying desperately to recognize anything – a landmark – the school – an apartment building – anything. And Nothing.

Following my post-graduation trip through Europe, I had enrolled in a French language school – here in Lausanne. I spent 3 months in this city living with a “Student Host” Madame Becker and going to school at the Eurocentre. I had a wonderful time here. Made a dozen great friends – partied like there was no tomorrow – and generally blew through French class with a wink and a smile :-). I have a ton of pictures and memories of people and places. And now, 25 years later – I’m back to see these places and remember those times. And NOTHING looks the same.

I drove around for an hour  – at least – hoping that a street – of which I had a picture of in my head – would suddenly appear and I would recognize it. But it didn’t happen. Nothing looked right. I got lost and turned around. I couldn’t even find – what I hoped might be – the town center. I finally parked the car and just stopped to take a breath. I have pictures of Lausanne – my school – shops – everything! But it doesn’t look the same. I was feeling very stressed.

I pulled out my laptop and found a cafe with wifi – plugged in and did a search for the school. I found an address – ditched the laptop and set off on foot to find the place. I walked in and went straight to the front desk. That poor girl. Anyway – it seems they moved the school not long after I left – so there was a reason I didn’t recognize the building. I explained what I was doing and asked after Madame Becker – to see if she was still a student host. No, she’d long since retired, but she was happy to give me her address so I could stop and say hello.

I walked an hour and a half – uphill – to her apartment building – then paused to consider if I really wanted to knock on her door. Madame Becker and I had had an interesting relationship. She spoke no English and my French really sucked. I remember a few conversations – one involved her doing my laundry. I’d asked her not to – I thought – but she did – and I had to say goodbye to two sweaters. Another one involved the bathroom. It was a small room with a small tub – no shower. She told me I could use up to 4 inches of water every other day. I said I needed to take a bath every day – and to wash my hair. No, you can use it every other day. No, I will take a bath every day. Our compromise? I took a bath every day with two inches of water. Sigh.

I remember her boyfriend John Paul. Both John Paul and Madame Becker were in their 60’s and her bedroom was next to mine. I recall several awkward nights (thin walls) and a few times running into a scantily clad John Paul in the early hours of the morning. It’s no wonder I took off every weekend.

My school friends were all in similar situations which is why we left every weekend. A friend of ours whose parents owned a ski lodge on the east side of Lake Geneva and let us use it on the weekends. They weren’t there – so we did. Every single Friday, we all met at the train station and off we went – through Vevey and Montreaux – through the mountains and up to our own little piece of paradise – Morgins. We would go straight to the store for supplies – food and wine – then cook and drink and hike and laugh all weekend. As a matter of fact, on more than one occasion, we stayed till Tuesday. It’s no wonder I was not recognizing anything as I stood outside of Madame Becker’s apartment – I wasn’t there very much and I think when I was – I was coming home very late at night.

I decided that as my French had not improved over time and it was a pretty good bet that she’d never learned English – we would probably not get much further than bonjour – and then things might get awkward. So, I turned around and slowly and sadly made my way back to my car and drove out of Lausanne – probably forever. I will go back home and look at my pictures again – and block out all these new visions – and remember things the way I remember them. Damn progress and change.Hmph.

Well – on to Geneva to pick up friends and then off to Chamonix for new adventures! 🙂


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