A Country of Beautiful Contrasts
Recently, I had the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Switzerland; it is a country of beautiful contrasts — high stone mountains, clear lakes and waterways, medieval castles and churches, modern city landscapes and vineyards dating to the 11th century. Traveling exclusively by trains, boats and my own two feet, I traversed the French-speaking cities of Geneva, Morges, Lausanne, St-Saphorin and Villeneuve on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the Swiss-German-speaking Lucerne and Mount Pilatus, in central Switzerland. I estimate that I walked approximately 75 miles during the trip, helping to burn off the calories I consumed during fantastic two-hour meals, each ending with my favorite dessert– crème brûlée.
After boarding the train in Geneva I traveled to Lausanne, my home for two weeks. Lausanne is home to the Olympic Committee and is on the northern, Swiss shore of Lac Léman. It is also home to Cafe de Grancy, a high-quality, neighborhood restaurant and one of the city’s only restaurants open on Sunday nights. Train travel is efficient and is always punctual; as my time in Switzerland extended, I was known to make a quick dash for the train in the moments before leaving the station. The city of Morges, a 10-minute train ride west from Lausanne, was my working base during the trip and has a quaint port filled with active sailboats. On land, pedestrians enjoy lakeside flowers, walkways and art. On the best weather days, you can look across the lake and see Europe’s largest mountain, the towering and snow-capped Mont Blanc, in the distance. The contrast of sailboats and snow is an incredible sight to see.
I traveled east from Lausanne to the village of Villeneuve to visit Chillon Castle, the inspiration for Lord Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon. On my way back to Lausanne, I stopped at St-Saphorin, a 375-person village in the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces. The terraces were established in the 11th century and they contain an elaborate system of water and erosion control to produce grapes while protecting the landscape. I walked through the quaint town on cobblestone streets, upwards to the terraces that overlooked the village and the lake. It was quiet and the air had a temperate and hospitable quality, perfect for nurturing grapes.
One morning, I took a two-hour train ride northeast to Lucerne– a popular tourist destination on Lake Lucerne, filled with shops and restaurants surrounded by towering stone mountains, one of them Mount Pilatus. I took two gondola rides to the summit, where I was greeted by breathtaking scenery and alphorn musicians playing traditional music. I could also hear cowbells very clearly and I walked a few hundred meters, down from the summit, to visit a small herd of friendly cows, grazing on patches of grass in the rocky landscape. To descend, I took the world’s steepest rack railway down to the lake; to complete the popular “Golden Round Trip,” I took a boat back to Lucerne and the Chapel Bridge.
Before traveling back home, I spent a day in Geneva– where my trip to Switzerland had started. Though the famous Geneva Water Fountain was not operating while I was there, I did walk through Geneva’s version of Rodeo Drive (rue du Rhône) and experienced Geneva Old Town, Switzerland’s largest historical site. St. Peter’s Cathedral dominates the landscape and Switzerland’s mastery of watch making is evident at every turn. Geneva is also home to the second largest United Nations office and the Allée des Nations, a lawn comprised of all 193 member nations’ flags.
Switzerland is truly one of the most gorgeous places I have visited; it is clean, peaceful and chock full of amazing sights and unique sounds that are etched in my memory forever.