Sunday, June 22, 2014

Switzerland Part 4: Around Lake Geneva

—guest post by Owen

This is the last post in our series on our recent trip to Switzerland; here are part 1 (Geneva)part 2 (Lausanne), and part 3 (Gruyères and Le Moléson), but you don't have to read them first.  On the day after we ascended Le Moléson with our friends Chris and Yordan, they found a great deal on a rental car and we made a road trip around Lake Geneva past vineyards and castles, into France, and back through Geneva to Lausanne.

Just minutes outside of Lausanne, the view became this:

The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces are a Unesco world heritage site.
Chris and Yordan had to laugh as Clara and I began to repeat "It's so beautiful..." every few minutes, which we kept up for the rest of the trip.

Between cities, the road became quite narrow.

And even in the small towns, it stayed narrow and just got more twisty!  Up and down, left and right—we were so glad Chris was driving.

Who could drive onto that little ledge?  Fortunately we went off to the right.
We stopped to get out in Vevey, where there was an inter-city boating event and an associated fair on the waterfront.

Chris, Yordan, and Clara set off to sample the food.  Chocolate chip waffles, anyone? Yum.
We strolled along the waterfront enjoying the scenery.  The view over the water showed the next leg of our journey: around the tip of Lake Geneva and crossing into France.

Apparently these rocks have holes drilled in them so that in the warmer months there can be chairs.
The border crossing was totally uneventful, and we stopped in a park in Évian to eat our picnic lunch and look back across the water at Lausanne and Vevey:

Évian is the source of the eponymous bottled water.
From there, we continued to Yvoire, a little old town on a pointy peninsula.  We were expecting something like this:

What we were surprised to find, was this:

Apparently Yvoire was having its own festival that day: people were in costume head-to-toe everywhere you looked, and you could buy your own carnival-style mask as you entered, if you wanted to join in.  The town was even quainter than we'd expected though, with flowers and old stone walls defining a maze of pedestrian-only streets:

From there, the rest of the road trip passed quickly.  We rounded the other end of Lake Geneva by passing through Geneva itself:

We'd just been there!
It was strange to whiz through a city we'd spent hours in a few days before and would be taking the train back to a couple days later.  But onward we went, and returned safe and sound to Chris and Yordan's apartment in Lausanne.

It probably looks like this every evening.
Thanks for reading this series on Switzerland!  Been on any fun road trips yourselves recently? Anywhere we must go or anything we must see next?  Tell us in the comments!

Switzerland Part 3: Gruyères and Le Moléson

On Saturday we went to Gruyères, the small town known for its exceptionally delicious cheese. Our friends came with us and since they had already explored the old town, they enjoyed a mineral bath while we went to the castle. This post is mostly going to be pictures, but just so you don't get lost I'm dividing it up into two sections. PART ONE: old town and castle.
The old town is exceptionally cute.
With exceptional views.
 And this delightful castle!
We spent a really long time in the castle. First because we didn't realize how much it held, and then because everything was so much fun to see we couldn't stop looking. 

Including every view out of every window
And dramatic pieces of history!
This center courtyard is just beautiful

The interior was also really spectacular, parts of it still decorated from various centuries. For a while the castle was sold to a bunch of 19th century artists of the Romantic era, so one of the rooms is covered with flowery pastoral murals. This room (the knight's room) has instead violent historic murals.
With a big table for feasting. Or discussing the next battle.
How the ladies of Gruyères drove away the attacking armies with flaming goats
PART TWO: Going up Le Moléson. If we were tough people or in better shape or owned hiking boots on this continent, we would have climbed up the mountain, but we didn't. We took the funicular train, (which is basically like the first part of a rollercoaster, a little train that goes straight up the side of the mountain), and then a cable car (for when the angle is just too steep).

Getting into the funicular!
And I'm gonna try to go easy on the pictures from the cable car, but it's tough, as Owen was the one snapping pictures, and I was falling over myself looking out the continuous windows of the glass box we were inside. 
Why am I this happy? 
Because this is what I get to see.

When we got to the top of the cable car there was still a bit to climb and I was eager to make it to the very top, so I raced ahead of everyone else. 
taking time to look back across the magnificent views

I was already eating pretzels by the time everyone joined me. I think I've eaten pretzels at lower altitudes on airplanes. Our sweet friends were disappointed about the clouds on our behalf, saying "the peaks beyond those clouds are much higher than we are here, shame you can't see the whole view." Owen responded with, "so you're saying the clouds are conspiring to make us feel like we are on the top of the world? That's okay with me." We had been afraid the heavy morning clouds would prevent us from making a trip up at all, so we were absolutely delighted it became so clear. 

A hiker took this picture for us.
After soaking it all in for a while, we headed back down. Cablecar to the midway point, and then on foot the rest of the way down.

Dutch cows have less developed leg muscles than the Swiss. 

Owen's written the other three blog posts, so I just want to say what a pleasure it was to spend time with our friends in Switzerland. It doesn't seem at all fair, and we don't feel like we deserve it but we are heavy with gratitude for all the opportunities we're having. Thanks for coming along for the pictures. If you'd like postcards from our next adventure, let us know!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Switzerland Part 2: Lausanne

guest post by Owen

This is part 2 of a series on our recent trip to Switzerland.  Here's Part 1: Geneva, but you don't need to have read it before this post on the second city in which we spent most of our time: Lausanne, where we stayed with our friends Chris and Yordan.

Lausanne Ouchy

At the end of our first day in Geneva, we took the train to Lausanne and joined Chris as she arrived herself from work.  Together we rode the metro—Lausanne is apparently the smallest city in the world to have a subway system—to the part of the city that borders Lake Geneva, Lausanne Ouchy.  (Pronounced "oo-shee." Not "ouch-ee." As much as I wish it were.)  Chris and Yordan have an apartment over a restaurant on the waterfront.

This is seriously the view out their window.
Upon exploring the neighborhood in the daylight, we found that the waterside is quite pedestrian-friendly.  Many people commute by ferry from France every day, but the harbor is also a nice destination in itself.
There are nice benches to sit on where you can enjoy being in Switzerland...
...and having beautiful views of the pre-Alps in France.
We even discovered that the Swiss penchant for clocks also extends to their horticulture:

There's one in Geneva as well!
Lausanne is not flat

We also ventured up into the center of Lausanne, trying to get a sense of the city.  Even on the metro we could feel the incline, but once on foot we realized that the city is not even at a constant angle: it has hills and valleys even within the generally upward slope away from the lake.

After the Netherlands, this felt like an Escher print.
This low swath use to be the path of a river through the city down to the lake.
It felt good to stretch our legs and meander along beautifully cobbled streets past charming facades of shops and houses.

This umbrella is saying, "I'm so happy to be alive!"
Our goal was to reach the Lausanne Cathedral; we got a little lost a couple of time but eventually reached this series of wooden staircases set into the stone hillside:

Lausanne Cathedral

Once we reached the stairs, we were no longer lost.  The final flight framed the cathedral we were so happy to reach:

Once inside, we noticed that the interior was very similar to that of Geneva's cathedral: lots of cluster columns and gothic arches.

But the weather being so much sunnier, the stained glass was especially radiant that day.

La Philosophie—Les Arts—Les Sciences—Les Traveaux
As fun as it looks.
At the plaza around the cathedral, we were also rewarded by a view over the rooftops all the way back down to the lake.

That's all for now!  Stay tuned for next time, when we left the vicinity of Lausanne altogether and ventured out to Gruyères and Le Moléson.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Switzerland Part 1: Geneva

guest post by Owen

At the end of May, we had a chance to visit good friends in Switzerland for an extra-long weekend.  This will be the first of four posts on our trip, covering the time we spent in Geneva.

We left Leiden early on Thursday morning and, one short plane ride later, were exploring Geneva before noon.  We weren't meeting our friends in Lausanne until about 5 p.m., so we had a whole day to spend.  The plan was to walk into the old city to find the cathedral, but since breakfast had been so long ago, and there was a lovely park on the lakeside, we decided to stop for a trail-mix break:

Not even the Jet d'Eau could dampen our spirits! (Nor did it try.)
Nearly every fountain in the city has a small sign telling you whether the water is safe to drink or not, so we were also able to refill our water bottle frequently:

If the water is "eau non potable" then the little symbol of a wine goblet is crossed out.
Both of the days we were in Geneva, we had lunch at Chez Ma Cousine, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where half a roast chicken, a tray of provencal potatoes, and a bowl of salad goes for about 15 Swiss Francs—which would still have been an excellent deal even if the food hadn't been so delicious!  This restaurant is also very close to where we spent most of our afternoon: St. Pierre Cathedral and the International Museum of the Reformation.

Geneva's St. Pierre Cathedral.  The International Museum of the Reformation is on the left.
The Reformation Museum was delightfully organized: there were rooms packed with historical documents, paintings, and other historical objects; rooms with films discussing the theological, economical, and political movements surrounding the reformation; and even a small, cozy (I'm wanting to say "gezellig") room for listening to reformation-inspired music:

Photo from the museum website.
The cathedral was also beautiful, with cluster columns and gothic arches (if I'm remembering Clara's descriptions correctly):

The interior of St. Pierre Cathedral
On our way back to the train station on that first day, we remarked on some of the differences between Swiss and Dutch cities, as far as we could generalize.  Of course, Swiss cities are less flat and canal-laced as their Dutch counterparts, but we also observed that there is more lane-sharing between pedestrians, bikes, and cars, more stone and less brick in the buildings, and more clocks:

As you can tell from these pictures, the weather wasn't spectacular the days we were in Geneva, although we were always sheltered whenever the heavens opened, but stay tuned for some beautiful days in Lausanne, Gruyères, and elsewhere around Lake Geneva!