May 11 Continued, Lausanne
Following our lazy shore walk in Villeneuve, we returned to our car and finished the drive to Lausanne, leaving behind the quiet beauty of mountains and streams, hamlets and cowbells for the bustle of a very large city. Our hotel, Hotel Continental, is right across from the main train station, hence in a very busy part of a very busy city. Surprisingly, once inside it is peaceful and quiet and we are pleased with our room, though the view is … well, there is no view.
And, despite the location near the train station, within steps of the hotel, there is a pedestrian zone that take us up the hill away from the station to the old parts of town. Lausanne is a city built on a hill that rises up from its lake, (the train station is about halfway up) and then spreads up and out over multiple levels. That first afternoon, we found ourselves walking across bridges that spanned other neighborhoods on lower levels. It wasn’t easy to get around with all the construction, but Lausanne is a great city for walking. Here, as in Lucerne and Lugano and Bellinzona, we could walk the streets for miles, visiting the churches and marveling at the shop windows.
The views of the lake are beautiful, ringed as it is by mountains.
Our obvious first stop was the cathedral. It almost seems like one must pay respects by visiting the cathedral first… It is my habit, anyway. I find it a great place to start to see a city. It is a beautiful building, a lovely Gothic space, said to be the “finest example of Gothic architecture in Switzerland.” We were thrilled that there was an organist playing! Whether practicing or playing for tourists, I couldn’t tell and didn’t ask. I was thankful for the very appropriate mood music by which to examine the building. The Painted Doorway (the former south entrance) is no longer painted, but it is quite impressive. To visit, you must enter from inside the church, as it has been enclosed to protect it.
Le Pain Quotidien is our breakfast spot, and it is right off the lobby of our hotel. What luck!
We planned that today would be our boat trip on the lake and a visit to Chateau de Chillón. The logistics proved to be the tricky part. Finally, we agreed on a train trip to Chillón (a 35-minute trip) and a boat ride back to Lausanne. The boat was not until 4:15 so that would leave us plenty of time to explore the area around Chillón.
I loved the castle visit. I had an audio guide, which I recommend. It is so much more efficient to look and listen than to look and read, and the guide was very good. The castle’s history is colorful, the building is well-preserved and the exhibits inside are era-appropriate, so that you walk away with a strong sense of how the Middle Ages would feel, were you to be transported back in time to medieval Switzerland.
Of course, for Chillón the setting is the THING. Very romantically perched on a rock island, the castle had a natural moat and, until the development of firearms, could not be taken by the usual means. The lake right in front of the castle is 1,000 feet deep, So access from the lake side is tricky, too. Artists through the ages have been inspired by its dreamy outlines and the glassy lake at its feet. The most famous painting is Gustav Courbet’s “The Castle of Chillón.”
We ate lunch in the restaurant, Café Byron, adjacent to the castle. It is a self-service buffet in a large open and naturally well-lit space. The food was also good. (Gerry and I had rösti, that delicious potato dish!)
The links between English poet Lord Byron and the Castle of Chillón are well documented at the site. Byron’s poem, the Prisoner of Chillon, is inspired by the story of a famous Genevois monk, François Bonivard, imprisoned here from 1532 to 1536. You can see the column to which he was chained and the path his footsteps wore into the stone (supposedly). It is one of the many romantic aspects of this castle that makes it worth exploring and enjoying.
With two hours to kill before our boat to Lausanne, we decided to walk to Montreux, another of the cities along the lake that we wanted to visit. There is a walking path from Lausanne all the way to Villeneuve (where we had lunch yesterday), and the stretch between Chillón and Montreux might be two miles or so. It was a lovely walk. The path is shaded by trees and lined with flower beds. And of course, there is the lake, accompanying you the entire way.
This lake is called Lake Geneva by most of the world, but locally is known as Lac Leman. A huge crescent, the longer north shore is Switzerland and stretches from Geneva to Villeneuve, lined with resort towns and vineyards. The shorter, south shore is France, where cities along the shore are dwarfed by ice-capped mountains. The lake is 1000 feet deep at its deepest point, making me think of “inverted mountains.”
Once in Montreux, we stopped for ice cream and people-watching, until our boat arrived. Of course, I was photographed next to the Freddie Mercury statue that stands on the promenade. His connection to Montreux is that Queen had a recording studio here and this is where Mercury found a bit of peace.
During the 1½ hour boat trip back to Lausanne, we admired vineyards on the foothills of the Swiss mountains and sailboat-filled bays at the water’s edge.
We disembarked at Ouchy (the old port of Lausanne and now the port district) and walked back to the hotel. It wasn’t that far, but it was all uphill and we were tired after such a long day on our feet. We had dinner at Pizzeria Bella Vita, a place near our hotel which wasn’t much to look at, but again, we were surprised at the quality of the food. The pizzas were made-to-order right in front of us and cooked in a big oven in the center of the space. I was able to eat a vegan quinoa salad with avocado and apples, that was delicious and filling.
Friday May 13th
Jackie has gone off this morning to visit the school she attended here in Lausanne for her last year of high school, so Gerry and I planned to visit the Olympic Museum.
We walked from our hotel near the station to the museum in Ouchy. It was a 10–15-minute walk and all downhill. (PS The octopus was gone.) Very easy, compared to yesterday’s walking uphill after a long day of touring! The museum is beautifully sited above the lake, with lovely views from the front terrace. We entered through the “back”, so the terrace view of the lake and gardens was the final memory of the visit. A glorious exclamation point to a wonderful museum.
If you think the museum is just about sports, you’ll be disappointed. Sure, you can see clips of memorable Olympics moments and the costumes and equipment of athletes whose names you might remember. But the museum is really about the Olympic movement itself, the philosophy of the Games and their role in culture of humanity on our planet. The emphasis is on the Games as a driver of peace, as a coming together in solidarity of all the nations on Earth, on putting aside our differences to enjoy a competition with a global scale. It is an entirely different message than that offered by our news media and the intense focus on gold metals.
The museum presents this philosophy beginning with the ancient games (which lasted for almost 1000 years before the Christian church put a stop to them). During the weeks of the ancient games, a huge truce was called. All fighting had to stop for the entire time of the games in order for athletes and spectators to travel to the site to participate. The games in Olympia are those that our modern name commemorates, but there were games in other cities, too.
The Olympic Games were revived in the 1890s by the vision of a single person, Pierre de Coubertin. From 12 countries and only male competitors, the Olympics today involve nearly every country on earth (and some country-less athletes, too!), women, young people and athletes with disabilities.
The emphasis has always been on participation: The athletes’ villages were designed to enable friendships; the ceremonies and facilities to draw in spectators and local businesses; the planning and implementation to enable community building; cultural activities to enhance the experience of the Games that involves people from all walks of life.
The museum highlights the design aspects of the games, the process by which cities apply for the honor, the changes that are needed to make the games happen. It also shows how this process has evolved to include concepts of sustainability, ecology, environmentalism and equity.
We also got to see a special exhibit on urban, youth-centered sports (surfing, skateboarding, breaking, climbing, 3-on-3 basketball…). Not just the what – but the why. And the why has to do with the great global, demographic shift of the last 100 years from an urban-rural balance to a lopsidedly urban population, to the millions of young people who participate in these sports, and to their social media driven lifestyle. It made a very convincing argument for inclusion of these sports in the Olympics.
We left the museum inspired, and so the glorious terrace view of the lake on a sunny day was a fitting finish to the visit! We walked a little along the lake and had lunch nearby in a café-brasserie outside under the umbrellas. I opted again for the perch (specialty of the region) and Gerry ate mussels, a memory dish for him.
Returning to the hotel to meet Jackie, we boarded the metro for the four stops, avoiding another long slog uphill.
The afternoon’s program is a drive to visit Gruyères, the region, and the town. We have three possible tourist events: Chocolate factory, cheese factory, and medieval castle. That was our list in order of preference.
We set out for the village of Broc to visit the Cailler Chocolate factory. (Cailler is pronounced Kai-yea, or for my Puerto Rican readers, like Cayey!) Having visited the Perugina factory in Italy, the process of chocolate making was not a mystery to us, but we did learn a thing or two. For me the most important one was that I do not have to hide the fact that I love milk chocolate, and I only eat dark chocolate because it is vegan and supposedly better for you. (This was a French marketing tactic used to try to wrest control of the chocolate market away from Switzerland.)
Cailler Chocolate, a family company, was saved from extinction during the depression by selling itself to Nestlé, thereby joining the largest chocolate maker in Europe. We enjoyed many tasting opportunities during our tour and were able to watch the process of machine-made chocolates.
Next, we stopped in Prinar at the Maison de Gruyères to see how cheese is made. To see the cheese makers at work, you need to visit in the morning. For us, afternoon visitors, there was a video, and as the video explains, this is because much of the activity of making cheese happens in the early part of the day. By afternoon, the cheeses are being pressed (35 kg wheels) and resting. The huge copper vats are clean and shiny, ready for tomorrow. Still, we saw the rooms where all this goes on and the video supplied the narrative.
We were given samples, but we were too full of chocolate samples to even try them! Thankfully our cheese samples were wrapped up tightly and could be consumed anon.
Finally, by about 5 pm we rolled into the parking area for the little village of Gruyères, a wonderfully conserved medieval town with cute shops and restaurants. We walked the full length of the one main street. Up at one end is the castle, but it was too late to enter and tour. Disappointingly we could not walk around inside or out and had to content ourselves with views from the terraces. This castle was built later than the Chillón castle we saw yesterday and is restored to a later period. We knew we might miss the tour when we put it last on the preference order, so our disappointment was only skin deep.
We also did not make it in the time to visit the HR Giger Museum. HR Giger is the Swiss sculptor who created the life forms for Alien! Billed as a must see for “art and sci-fi film fans,” our disappointment was profound for this one, given the tiny tastes we got just walking by!
The one thing we did have plenty of time for was dinner in the town – our chance to sample fondue and raclette from regional cheeses! There were beaucoup de places to choose from, and we chose a simple place aptly called “Gruyere Traditions.” Though it has a dining space in the main street outside, and a lovely cozy indoor space, we opted for the outdoor terrace, with views of the castle and rolling hills dotted with spotted cows. One raclette and one fondue were plenty of food for three people.
Enjoy the pictures below and then continue with me on to Bern and Lauterbrunnen.