Geneva, Montreux, Chillon, Lausanne, Gruyères...

Trip Start Jul 26, 2010
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Trip End Aug 08, 2010


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Flag of Switzerland  , Geneva,
Monday, July 26, 2010

Some of you no doubt know why we had to be in Rome this year on a very specific date in August...for those who don't know - the reason for that will be explained in one of the subsequent entries...so - what does Switzerland have to do with that?...





well, for one - it conveniently borders Italy...it is known for the beauty of its countryside...and it also happened so that neither of us had ever been to Switzerland before...so we thought it would be nice to spend some time there before making our way to Rome...

when this trip was still in the planning stage, we briefly considered coming to Zurich and starting from there, but it didn't work out logistically, so we started the trip in Geneva...


 


the city of Geneva is a short 8 minute ride from the airport...you quickly learn that in Switzerland, when they say "8 minutes" it means just that - 8 minutes...not "give or take", not "about", but exactly 8 minutes...it was one of the first pleasant surprises we encountered there  - the Swiss trains run like...well, actually they run just like the Swiss watches! - reliable, precise...we spent a lot of time on various trains in Switzerland...when we had to change trains (and we did it often) - we never had more than 5-10 minutes in between, yet we never missed a connection...their train system is the best!...





speaking of transportation...one of the first things we encountered in the airport was a machine that distributes free transportation tickets to the city...your ticket is valid for about an hour and a half - more than enough time to get from the airport to anywhere in Geneva...and at the check-in at your hotel you will receive free passes for all public transport within the city valid for the duration of your stay...they really make it easy for the visitors!...





we didn't, however, use our free passes - we like to walk, and Geneva is a very walkable city...
however, it wasn't in our plans to spend much time in Geneva itself: I suspected (and in hindsight - turns out rightly so) that it would be more fun to spend time exploring little picturesque towns and villages along the coast of Lake Geneva (it is called Lac Léman there) ...





we actually only had only one pre-determined "must see" in Geneva - a little known private museum called Le Petit Palais...when we were in Madrid in 2008 we happened to see a wonderful temporary exhibition called Modigliani and His Times... Modigliani's works were presented together with the works of his friends and contemporaries - Chaïm Soutine, Moïse Kisling, Tsugouharu Foujita,  Marc Chagall, just to name a few...many of these paintings we had never seen "in person" before, and we noticed that most of the works we liked and enjoyed the most came from a place in Geneva called Le Petit Palais - Musée d'art moderne...we made a mental note then to definitely visit this museum if we ever come to Geneva...





well, the museum turned out to be almost incognito - there is no website, it is not mentioned in travel guides...the only information we could find was the address - terr. St-Victor 2, 1206 Genève...it was good enough though, so - having checked in in the hotel, off we went...

it was relatively far, but we wanted to get a feel of the city, so - we walked...admired the Jet d'Eau fountain - Geneva's famous landmark... went to St. Pierre Cathedral - founded in the 12th century and rebuilt several times since, it is best known for being the church where John Calvin, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, was preaching...there is even Calvin's personal chair on display!...





as usual, we (or I should better say "I", because my dear angel only does it for me) couldn't resist climbing the tower of St. Pierre...the tower was not extremely high (a disappointment for me, a relief for my beloved), but the view of the city from above was beautiful...

we had lunch at Les Armures - a restaurant in the old city that boasts of having Bill Clinton for dinner (it even has Clinton's "thank you" letter framed)...I don't know what Bill Clinton ate there, but we shared cheese-and-mushroom fondue...a hot boiling dish is not the most refreshing choice for an early afternoon in July, but I thought it was "sooo Swiss"...well, I should've thought again!...turns out - I am not a "fondue person"...I am getting to know myself! - and the list of what I am NOT is growing, I just added a "NOT a fondue person" to it! :)





and while I am on the subject of food: I found restaurants almost unreasonably expensive in Switzerland...and I am not even talking about fancy restaurants...it was quite common in our experience to pay an equivalent of almost US $50 for 2 beers and 2 sandwiches...and no - they were not sandwiches with black caviar either!...

anyway, after all these little distractions we finally made it to our museum...but imagine our disappointment when we found a brass plaque on the door telling people that the museum is closed until further notice...

no explanation why, no further information...at first we thought "oh, well, we might be in Geneva next spring anyway, so we'll come again"...but then the reality sank in - people don't usually bother engraving brass plaques unless they intend them to stay for quite a long time...and the doors of the museum bear two such plaques - one in French, one in English...so, alas, the mystery of the Petit Palais museum remains unsolved...







well, we commiserated a little and decided to go to another place that promised to be interesting - Musée de l'Horlogerie (museum of watches)...this museum didn't have any brass plaques on its doors...in fact, it had nothing - no signs whatsoever...we tried the door and found it locked, we walked around the building in search of some explanation...finally, we asked a local passer-by, and he said the museum is indefinitely closed...he didn't know why, just shrugged...





second "indefinitely closed" museum in a row!...we even joked that with all the closed museums and expensive restaurants people here are probably depressed enough to seek psychotherapy...

speaking of which - it seemed like every other sign on the doors of the buildings we walked by informed that a psychiatrist or psychologist or psychotherapist is offering his services here...I personally don't hold psychology in high esteem and don't consider it science, so to me it was just funny...we even played a little game "let's guess what is written of that far away plaque"...seriously, it was almost weird - overpopulation of "psych" professionals? or overabundance of depressed people?...





I know I am stereotyping here, but somehow I just can't picture many Italians seeking psychiatric help - they seem to know how to have fun and enjoy life to the fullest...but it's a different matter with the Swiss...strange though - such a highly developed country, the "envy" of the world, but here we go...once we even came upon a bridge with special guard rail "to prevent suicide jumping"...one doesn't put a special guard rail unless it is really necessary...can you imagine?...we shared these observations with a man we met on a train - a British guy who has his second home in Switzerland and comes here often, and he confirmed that this had been his observation, too, and puzzles him as well...






I should leave it at that or else some psychologist that happens to stumble upon this blog might get an idea to write a dissertation about this phenomenon! :)

we did finally get to an open museum in Geneva  - a Patek Philippe museum that had exquisite and very thoughtfully arranged creations by this Geneva-based firm of watchmakers...they also happened to have a temporary thematic exhibit called "Mirror of Seduction" - watches produced in pairs, sometimes mirror images of each other...the museum had 4 floors, so it was quite a collection!...it even inspired me to think about finally getting a wrist watch and stop relying on my iPhone for time! :)





that was all we did in the city of Geneva...although we would come to sleep there every night, our days were spent along the lake Geneva (Lac Léman)...you can see part of the lake in the city of Geneva, but you can truly appreciate its beauty only when traveling along its shores...

the lake is surrounded by the Alps and picturesque little towns punctuated by castles and vineyards...it's all so pretty, so manicured - little houses with their bright shutters, whimsical roofs and elegant balconies, flower beds, white toy-like boats in the crystal blue water, swans in the lake...compared to rather dull Geneva it is like a fairytale...no wonder this southwest corner of the country is often called Swiss Riviera...









we bought ourselves Swiss Passes for 4 days, so hopping from one train to another or taking a boat was really easy...for those who are planning to do a lot of traveling by trains in Switzerland - I highly recommend getting the Swiss Pass...it includes free admission to most museums in Switzerland and unlimited travel all over the country (trains, boats, buses), so you don't have to constantly buy tickets, and it really makes a difference when you only have 5 minutes to hop from one train to your next connection...for us it was worth it just for the convenience alone...besides, if two people travel together - the price of the Pass is discounted: maybe it's the Swiss way to reward togetherness! :) ...Swiss Pass is available only to foreigners, so you do have to show your passport when buying it...





our first destination in the "Swiss Riviera" was Montreux - a charming city at the foot of the Alps, only 45 minutes by train from Geneva...Vladimir Nabokov lived in this town (on the 6th floor of Montreux Palace Hotel) from 1961 until his death in 1977...those who read my blogs know that I like visiting cemeteries ( I am sure the overgrown army of Swiss psychologists would love to analyze that peculiarity of mine!), but unfortunately we didn't have time to visit Nabokov's grave at the Cimetière de Clarens in Montreux...





about 3 kilometers from Montreux there is Château de Chillon - a semi-castle-semi-fortress that inspired Lord Byron to write his poem The Prisoner of Chillon...you can take a short bus ride to the castle from Montreux, but we walked instead - there is this beautiful promenade along the lake shore that will bring you straight to the castle in about an hour...





This castle is probably best known because of Lord Byron...he even scribbled his name on one of the pillars inside the castle  - ah, it makes me feel much better knowing that I am not the only one doing such silly touristy things - in fact, I am in a good company even! :)   ...although not just Lord Byron, but other well-known writers, poets and just romantics have been always drawn to this place - Victor Hugo, Dickens, Hemingway, Goethe - just to name a few...



 









Château de Chillon was built on a rocky island near the shore, and even its shape resembles a rock - oval, irregular....all these irregularities, nooks and alcoves made it much fun to explore...the castle was used originally as the main residence of a noble family of Savoy, but also - at some point during its existence - served as a fortress, prison, armory, warehouse...and a tourist trap, of course! :)







just over an hour by boat from Montreux (you can always take train instead, but boat rides on Lake Geneva are so refreshing and beautiful!) is Lausanne...now, if we did this trip all over again, we would probably make our "base" in Lausanne - to me this town holds so much more charm than Geneva!...it has hilly (sometimes quite steep) terrain, quaint old town, beautiful lakefront...and it's located midpoint along the lake - a very convenient place to travel in either direction...











when you arrive to Lausanne by boat, you find yourself in Ouchy - officially a separate municipality, but in reality just a beautiful lakefront that has promenades, little parks, lots of open air cafés...people are relaxing, children are playing, white boats and white swans are swaying in the water...it's nice there, so we stayed a while...






there is a big "C" - shaped weathervane on the breakwater in Ouchy, and on the waterfront there are 4 pillars with the openings in them...each pillar corresponds to a certain wind...when you match the "C" of the weathervane with the opening of a pillar in such a way that it forms an "O" - then you know which is the prevailing wind now...it took us a few minutes to correctly match though...and then we went up - to the old town...







we thought we would wander around the old town and then make it to the  Musée de l'Art Brut that houses the collection of French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet...he not only coined the very term "art brut" (or "raw art" as it sometimes called ) but also accumulated a large collection of works made by non professionals (a whole variety of them -  mental patients, prisoners, mavericks, just average people, children)...he believed that art and creativity greatly benefit when people (like these non professionals) have freedom from such things as peer pressure of the artistic environment, necessity to keep up with the expectations, competition, fear of public opinion, fashion trends...I personally couldn't agree more, and I know we would've enjoyed the collection a lot, but we didn't make it there...







a thunderstorm had begun suddenly, and we didn't even have an umbrella with us (although I doubt an umbrella would've shielded us much from this torrent of water)...I should know better by now that during our travels this is the law, the forecast, the certainty: if I carry an umbrella in my bag - the day will be nice and sunny; if I leave my umbrella in the hotel room - it will definitely rain if not pour...so simple! when will I learn? :)









 





anyway, we ran for cover which happened to be the Design Museum...it was a small local museum, not anything you find in most tour books, but it was quite pleasant...by the time the rain stopped it was too late for the other museum, so we had dinner and walked to the train station (it's all downhill from the old town - train station, and then the lakefront) to get back to Geneva...












our last day in the region we spent in Gruyères - a little hilltop town that gave its name to gruyère cheese...you normally can get from Geneva to Gruyères with one train change in Palézieux , but on the day we went there we also had to take a connecting bus between the trains...the connections were on time, smooth and efficient - like everything in Switzerland, but it added some time to our journey there and back...




plus, I forgot my umbrella again, so - what else is new? - it was intermittently raining that day...La Maison du Gruyère (factory that makes gruyère cheese) became our first shelter from the rain...it's right next to the train station, and since it was raining when we arrived we had no choice but to make it our first stop...









we were planning to go there anyway, and it was quite interesting to see the whole process of cheese making, especially since I love cheese...we got to sample gruyère cheeses of various ages, and even though gruyère is not my most favorite cheese in the world, it was not bad - mild, sweet and slightly nutty when young, somewhat sharper when aged...it is not too overpowering, and it melts easily, so no wonder it is traditionally used in fondues, quiches and French onion soups...




the town of Gruyères is about 15 minute hike up to the pre-Alpine meadows...surrounded by the mountains, it is just postcard-beautiful...but!...it is awfully touristy, and that diminishes its charm...since the access to the town is not easy, tourists come in large groups taken there by buses...buses - like all other vehicles - park below, a short walk away...they are not allowed into the town, but tourists are  ...







I know, I know -  maybe it's not quite fair on my part...after all, we were adding to the crowds of tourists, too...but!...at least we were not loud and obnoxious, we were not constantly flashing our cameras or blocking the way by holding a silly pose while being photographed...and it was summer, so the number of tourists was even higher than usual (making a mental note once again not to travel in summer when children and students are out of school and everybody else wants to travel)...






well, there is not much in Gruyères besides beautiful views, cheese and tourists...there is a nice castle, too, but after Château de Chillon, it didn't seem too special to us...






yet - thanks to the intermittent rain that forced us to look for shelters now and then, we discovered two curious places...once was Tibet Museum...what was Tibet Museum doing there - I have no idea...the whole collection is from a private collector, so - my guess would be that the collector lived in or near Gruyères...





the museum consists of just a few rooms, but the collection of sculptures, paintings, statues and various objects from Tibet is interesting and thoughtfully arranged...the lights are dim, there is soft oriental music playing in the background to create a contemplative mood...we were the only visitors there, and it happened to be a welcome and pleasant refuge...

another surprising discovery was a H. R. Giger Museum right in the middle of Gruyères...the spirit of this place was somewhat opposite to the tranquility of Tibet Museum...I personally didn't even know who "H.R. Giger" was, so for those few as ignorant as myself, here is some basics:



H. R. Giger ('H. R." stands for "Hans Rudolph", not for some "His Royal...") is a Swiss surrealist artist (if you check out his picture on Wikipedia, you would probably think "ah, but of course!") most famous for imagining, designing, creating the monsters of the Alien movies as well as other sci-fi movies...I've never seen any of the Alien movies (that I am planning to remedy shortly), and I am not a huge fan of sci-fi movies in general (I like the "sci" part, I like the "fi" part, but not together!), so - for me this museum was  a discovery of sorts...



the museum houses many of his works, his private collection, recreated scenes from his movies...it even has an "adults only" room (but kids were there, too, - it's Europe, after all) completely dedicated to erotic and sex-related sci-fi...and I must tell - this guy has quite an imagination! :)




next to the museum is a bar decorated in the "alien" style - with spooky creatures, chairs resembling vertebrae of a spine, mysterious semi-darkness...we had drinks there, and it was our last stop in Gruyères...




we returned back to Geneva in the evening...next day we would cross whole Switzerland by train...and the following day - again by train - we would cross the Alps through the Bernina pass and arrive to Italy...but this would be the subject for future blogs...




 




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