Chateau Chillon and
Geneva - Andrew - 2008
Switzerland has been a neutral country for centuries. As such it became the home to the world's international banking system and is now per capita the richest country in Europe.
It is maintaining its neutrality by not joining the European Union, although its neutral status has come in to question with regard to money and art stolen by the Nazis during World War II which is still stored in vaults in Switzerland.
It has a stunning landscape of mountains and lakes and is renowned as one of the cleanest places in the world. Its capital is Bern, which is overshadowed by two other cities; Geneva and Zurich.
Switzerland has no less than FOUR official languages: French, German, Italian and the local language, Romansche.
Lausanne, Montreux, Chateau Chillon and Geneva - Andrew - 2008
I was delighted to be sent to a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland another of the countries I hadnt visited. Better still it was in August so the weather should be good.
I flew, on this occasion, from London City Airport with Swiss Air this was my first flight from London City, completing my set of all five London airports. The flight down across France was quite nice, the landscape below being typical of Northern France (i.e. pretty flat). Then suddenly the land began to rear up into mountains and we passed into Switzerland. The plane looped around over Geneva and I got some magnificent views of the city and Mont Blanc beyond it, glittering in the afternoon sunshine before we descended to land. I was immediately impressed by the legendary Swiss efficiency from Geneva Airport you could get a train to pretty much anywhere else in Switzerland, including to Zurich Airport. Try getting a direct train from Luton to Stansted!
The train journey from Geneva Airport to Lausanne was picturesque, going along the northern shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman, if you must, but Im going to call it Lake Geneva still).
Having dumped my bags at my hotel I decided to walk up into the City Centre and found, for the first time, just how hilly Lausanne is. It is positively mountainous! The first walk is up the pedestrianised street, Rue du Petit-Chene, which takes you from the Train Station up to the edge of the Old City. This is quite a slog in itself and you are puffing by the time you reach the top. Then you get to the series of viaducts and bridges which cuts across the next valley in which Lausannes main shopping area sits. For the time being I headed straight across the viaducts which led me towards Lausannes main attraction the magnificent Cathedral.
Lausannes Cathedral dominates the City, standing high up above the town and visible from all around. The Cathedral is dominated by the great west tower. As you get closer to the Cathedral you end up seeing less of it as you need to crane your head back to look at it.
Around the Cathedral are a series of small streets and walkways, some leading back down into the town centre and others leading up the hill to the highest point in the City which is crowned by the small tower house of the Chateau St. Maire, Lausannes baronial Castle.
Having slogged up the hill to the Chateau, I then headed back down, via the Cathedral and walked down the rickety-looking wooden steps which lead to the Place de la Riponne, where the main municipal buildings of Lausanne stand.
Heading past this you are into the shopping area of Lausanne which sits in the valley between the two hills. For me this was the least interesting part of town, not being a true shopaholic, but this is where you will find yourself when looking for sustenance.
Having descended the valley, inevitably I had go back up the other side in order to head towards the Train Station. Once more puffing I had a reasonable pasta meal at the top of the hill before going back down the other side to my Hotel.
Ouchy - Lausanne's Beautiful Lakeside Area
The next two days were dominated by the Conference, but I did get to spend a little time in the other part of Lausanne. Lausanne has two centres the Old City based around the Cathedral area and Ouchy, once a separate town, but now a well-off suburb on the shores of Lake Geneva.
I soon worked out that Ouchy was the best part of Lausanne to go in the evening, both for meals and also for the ambience. It was here that I began to realise that Lake Geneva has a very special pull.
Sitting by the Lakeside in Ouchy I took a great picture of cyclists and leisure-seekers silhouetted against the Lake which is amongst my favourite pictures. I took many excellent pictures around Lake Geneva over the next few days.
Ouchy has its own castle which, although mostly Renaissance, has a medieval core and is today an hotel.
Across the Harbour from the castle is a statue representing the spirit of the lake a woman apparently undressing whose legs segue into the raw stone. This is a great example of modern sculpture and looks tremendous when picked out against the harbour background.
As the sun began to set I headed along the Quai de Belgique towards the Olympic Museum. Lausanne is the home of the Olympic movement. The Museum itself was shut, but I wandered around the grounds with its collection of statuary representing difference sporting ideals for a while (here is the famous knotted gun sculpture). However, the sun was sinking, so I walked back down to Ouchy.
That night I was treated to a magnificent sunset over the glistening waters of Lake Geneva. I sat for some long while in the warm evening, soaking in the ambience and wishing that I had persuaded Jacqui to come along with me on this trip.
The next day I had set aside for a day of leisure, so I caught the train in the morning to Montreux which stands at the eastern end (more or less) of the Lake.
Although there was nothing specific to see in Montreux I came to like it in the little time I spent there. It was genteel and sophisticated and like the rest of Switzerland seemed to be truly civilised. No wonder so many famous people have ended up living here.
The most famous of these (one of the most famous any way) was the legendary Freddie Mercury who spent his final years living at Montreux. A dramatic and energetic statue of the great man in a typical pose stands overlooking the Lake on the shoreline here. Im sure he would have approved of the statue which is one of the best of its kind Ive seen.
My main reason for being in Montreux, however, was to take one of the famous Lake Geneva Paddle Steamers to Chateau Chillon, a mile or so up the Lake.
These boats have been chugging up and down Lake Geneva for centuries and actually form a very useful network of long and short trips to all the communities along both shores of the Lake. We left Montreux dead on time (of course) and undertook the short journey to Chillon.
My first view of this icon of castles was at the foot of the dramatic hills sweeping down to the Lake underneath a modern flyover which seemed to hover above it. An interesting view. The Castle, from the Lake, looks powerfully solid. Tiny windows in a thick semi-circular wall. As you arrive at the jetty you see the Castle from the opposite side and from here it is much more elaborate, walls and turrets, gates and towers.
Chateau Chillon is important not only because of its staggering beauty, but also because it was built by Master James of St. George who was borrowed permanently by Englands Edward I to be architect to his great castles of North Wales (Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech and so on).
Chillon itself dates to around 1005 and took on the form we see at present by at least 1270. It rewards investigation containing so many of the essential things any castle should. Moats, drawbridges, wall walks, towers to climb, dungeons to descend into. The castle is also featured in much literature. Byron wrote a poem about it (The Prisoner of Chillon written in Lausanne in 1816) and in true style signing his name in the wall of the dungeon.
I spent an enjoyable few hours at Chateau Chillon and sat contented by the jetty waiting for the next steamer to take me back to Lausanne.
On Lake Geneva
If I had thought this would be the end of the trip, I was wrong, the views from the steamer as it headed past Montreux and the charming looking town of Vevey towards Lausanne, dramatic on its hilltop site, were a continuous vista of beautiful views. The dramatic hills falling to the blue Lake, terraces of grape vines and little settlements, and now and again a sailing yacht passing by reflected in the gently lapping waters. It was truly a magical experience and I really began to see why the Swiss cherished their little country so much.
We docked back at Ouchy and I ate a great meal in one of the restaurants overlooking the Lake a very contented bunny indeed.
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