Switzerland - Laussane and Geneva

The train from Dijon to Lausanne takes about two hours. On arrival, I was reminded of one of the deficiencies of two-dimensonal maps. I had a reservation at the Hotel Regina, which appeared to be a fairly short walk from the train station. The distance may have been short, but it was a steep climb. If I'd had a three-dimensional map, I might have been smart enough to take the bus! At any rate, the hotel was decent enough and not too outrageously expensive for Switzerland. There was even free internet, which allowed me to discover that a Swiss keyboard is marginally easier to use than a French one. There were several restaurants nearby and I went to a brasserie for an excellent beer and something called a flammekueche, which turns out to be an Alsatian variant of a pizza. It was tasty but not going to put the city of Naples out of business.

In the morning, I walked a little around the pedestrianized area of the town center, including a farmer's market and flea market in front of the Museum of Fine Arts. The cathedral is one of the more notable landmarks of the old town.

old town laussane looking to cathedral

Then I took the metro down to Ouchy, which is the lakefront area of Lausanne. The waterfront is dominated by the Chateau d'Ouchy. This looks like it should be some important civic building, but it's really a fancy hotel, built around a medieval tower.

chateau d'ouchy

My real goal was the Olympic Museum, which is an easy and pleasant walk away along the lakefront. As you climb up to the museum from the lake, you walk through an interesting sculpture garden.

olympic museum grounds

The museum was relatively pricy at CHF 15 (the Swiss france is roughly at par with the U.S. dollar, by the way) but I thought it was worth it as I spent nearly four hours there. (To be fair, that did include having lunch.) I started at the lower level, where there was supposed to be a 3-D film about the opening ceremonies from Nagano, but they couldn't get the projector to work. In a way, it was a relief for something in Switzerland not to function properly! The wait for them to sort it out gave me a chance to look through an exhibit of paintings by a former Olympic skier. I was not impressed enough to write down who the painter was.

The special exhibit on Heroes was more interesting. It looked at four time periods - ancient, traditional, modern, and global and tells the stories of various sports heroes from ancient Greek athletes to Michael Phelps. There were lots of familiar names and some unfamiliar ones. Not all of the people discussed were Olympians as they had sections on people like Tiger Woods, David Beckham and (this being Switzerland) Roger Federer. While the exhibit was interesting, I found the comparisons to comic book superheroes to be rather dubious.

The heart of the museum is the permanent exhibits. The ones on the upper level cover both the summer and winter games, with video footage, descriptions of each sport, and various artifacts (e.g. shoes, clothes, equipment). The lower level has a large exhibit on the ancient games with things like potsherds showing athletes. There's also an exhibit on Olympic torches and one on finance and marketing, as well as some material on Pierre de Coubertin and his founding of the modern Olympics. Overall, there was really quite a lot to see and it had the effect of making me more excited about the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

After leaving the museum, I took advantage of the sunny but cool weather for a stroll along the Quai Ouchy. It's all very pretty and peaceful and a long walk always provides a nice excuse for rewarding oneself with sorbet! Then I took the metro back uphill to the city center, where I browsed shops and took a nap at my hotel before having a light supper at Cafe Romonde.

Trains from Lausanne to Geneva are frequent and the trip is only about 45 minutes. It was a short (and level!) walk to the Admiral Hotel. The hotel itself was okay, but the neighborhood was a bit dicey, with a gay strip bar at the corner and a sex shop next door. After checking in and leaving my bag, I treated myself to an extravagant lunch at Lippes. Veloute (i.e. soup) of bitter greens followed by a delicious seared tuna with vegetables and a pot of tea came to roughly CHF 40. Continuing my minor spending binge, I took a cruise on Lake Geneva. The boat called in at a few towns along the lake, including Nyon.

nyon from lake geneva

The turn-around point was Yvier, about two hours from Geneva. That means that the whole trip was four hours and was a lovely way to while away the afternoon. The highlight was seeing Mont Blanc off in the distance, but it was too far away for a great photo. The Jet d'Eau, which is the most recognizable symbol of Geneva, was far easier to get a picture of!

jet d'eau

Another recognizable site is the floral clock at the edge of the Jardin Anglais. The second hand of this is alleged to be the largest in the world. The clock is a symbol of the Swiss watch industry - something I felt no need to splurge on.


The splurgy day was a good excuse for an inexpensive supper and I settled on Chez Ma Cousine, a local chain whose motto is "chez ma cousine, on y mange du poulet." That is, "at my cousin's, one eats chicken." They do have a vegetarian salad, but the normal selection is a half grilled chicken, accompanied by salad and frites. With a beer, this comes to CHF 21. I still couldn't resist stopping at Arlecchino for ice cream. I may love both chocolate and ginger, but I'm not convinced that the chocolat-gingembre was really a compatible flavor combination.

In the morning, I grabbed a tram to go to the Musee International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant Rouge, i.e. the Red Cross Museum. Admission is CHF 10 and one has to hope that some of the money actually goes to the Red Cross. There are various exhibits on the history of the Red Cross and on the relief activities they've been involved in. But they completely gloss over the controversy about the symbol (barely mentioning the flag of the "Red Crystal" which is an unsatisfying compromise) and they are similarly silent about their inaction over the concentration camps. I came away convinced that they just don't get it. I respect relief operations but I consider preventing the situations that result in refugees to be far more important. This was highlighted even more for me in the temporary exhibit of photojournalism (called "Stigmata") that included photos of post-Katrina New Orleans and people who had been disappeared in Argentina.

I decided to make the longish walk back to the center of town, which took me past the Musee Appia (a ceramics museum), the UN building (which had been the League of Nations Headquarter) and various other international organizations, such as the International Telecommunications Union. One particularly dramatic site is the Broken Chair on the Place des Nations, a sculpture that was erected to symbolize opposition to land mines.

broken chair

After a quick lunch, I took a tram to Carouge, a somewhat artsy part of town. The Musee de Carouge had an exhibit on bears, which was free and worth a half hour or so. The collection of teddy bears was especially good.

But my real reason for the excursion was to look at a couple of yarn stores. If you buy yarn in another country, it counts as souvenir, not stash. Indeed, I found some nice locally made cotton at Le Rouet. The other yarn store, alas, had only Japanese and American imports. I also had to try the offerings of Gelatomania. The chocolate was good, citron was okay, and orange poivre (i.e. orange with pepper) was just too weird. Overall, Berthillon in Paris won best ice cream of the trip.

Back in town, I took a nap before dinner. I made the dubious decision to try the local version of Tex-Mex at a place called Manana. The salad and corn on the cob were fine, but the vegetable quesadilla was bland and could have benefited from a gallon or so of pico de gallo. Then again, what was I expecting? At least it was cheap for Geneva (CHF 24 with a soda) and filling.

In the morning, I took the train for the short (10 minute) ride to the airport. AMEX had a CHF 5 exchange fee, so I spent my last few francs on chocolate instead of changing them back to U.S. dollars. This also had the benefit of making my coworkers happy! By the way, the Geneva airport is not very impressive, but it is less annoying than either Frankfurt or Paris. My flight home was fine and the only hassle was a longer than usual wait to get off the people mover at Dulles. I was still out the door of the airport less than half an hour after arrival.

Overall, I'd have to say this was a pleasant but unexciting vacation, with minimal culture shock. The highlight for me was the architecture in Dijon. I've never been particularly interested in Switzerland but I did enjoy Lausanne. And now I can spend three or four years trying to talk Robert into a romantic weekend in, say, Bruges!

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Copyright 2011 Miriam H. Nadel

last updated 6 February 2011
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