Sunday, May 2, 2010

Castles, Cheese and Chocolate in the Swiss Riveria

The rain has been doing its best to dampen my enthusiasm at being in Vevey, in the middle of the Swiss Riviera. I'm determined not to let it get me down, but it was a bit aggravating to see it FINALLY appear on tonight, our last night in Vevey. The sunset was breathtaking. I just wish I could have seen a bit more of the sun before it decided to set on my last day. Sigh...

Saturday, May 1

Its expensive here in Vevey. I'd heard a lot about how expensive this area of Switzerland can be, but I had been pretty excited about the decent, reasonably placed two star hotel I had found for us, Hotel Les Negociants. Um... not so decent. However, the next step gets us into over $600 USD a night, and I'm just too frugal for that. So we're making do with a beyond tiny room, which is not air conditioned, and which means we sleep with our balcony doors open (since there are no windows). Problem is, we are in the nice Vieux Ville section of Vevey, ie, where all the action is. And since we've been here over a weekend, the action is all taking place under three stories down under my open doors until about three a.m. Add to this the lack of a sheet in a full size bed and I'm not sleeping well. So I'm a bit cranky.

Saturday is Market Day in Vevey. I was pretty excited about this market - I'd even arranged our itinerary to make sure we were there for it. So when I anticipate something greatly, its often a recipe for disappointment. I am happy to say that the market even surpassed my unbelievably high expectations! It was fabulous! I probably took about one hundred photos there alone, of every stall. Each vendor was even more exciting than the next... cheeses here, flowers there, fresh fruits and vegetables here, breads there, meats here, and more cheese there. And a man actually making caramels while you watched which he would then sell to you. Yummm... We bought two different Swiss Cheeses, and Emmental and a Moliere. Plus, some bread and croissants and perhaps a few other things that will remain a secret for those back home until they get their presents!

After the market, we made our way to the Chateau de Chillion, about two miles on the other side of Montreux. The Chateau de Chillion is the castle where Lord Byron was imprisoned for four years, and he wrote a poem about it called, naturally, "The Chateau de Chillion." I had been dreaming about visiting this castle for the better part of a decade, since I first started planning our last Italy trip, and had considered visiting Switzerland then. My co-worker, Tim, had also whetted my appetite for Chillion by calling it the most beautiful and amazing castle he had ever visited. So, again, we are heading here with high expectations for Annalynn. So you can imagine my excitement when we walk across the moat, into the castle doors, and what do I see, but a knight in shining armor. That's right, a knight. In shining armor. In a castle. There were some other people in costume, and they start walking away from us. I'm looking through the guide I've been handed to see if there is some sort of timeline for events scheduled. But there is nothing. So I go running up to my knight, and it turns out he does not parlez l'anglais. But I manage to decipher that he, and his friends, are making a film today. In their hand-stitched costumes. Beyond that, its a mystery. Its a low-budget film, I can tell you that. Regardless, I am still on a pretty big high from actually seeing a knight - in a castle - so I rather enjoyed the rest of the visit, too.

Lunch was eaten at a restaurant across from the castle, which provided us with our first fondue of the trip. Unlike the Melting Pot back home, they only bring you bread to dip in the cheese - no apples, no carrots, no celery or broccoli. We could pay extra for onions or pickles, which seemed odd to me, considering my long standing intense hatred of pickles. I'd pay extra for them to keep the pickles away. Tim, in his raves about the castle, had also raved about the walk from Montreux to the castle, also using the words "most beautiful ever" in his descriptor. Due to an unfortunate mishap on the trains not my fault (no matter what you might hear from Carl to the contrary), we weren't able to walk TO the castle from Montreux, and had to bus it instead from Villenueve. But I was determined to get my walk in. Carl wasn't so sure after seeing the sign that said, "To Montreux, 1 hr," but I pointed out that Rick Steves promised it would only take us forty-five minutes. Protestations aside, we began our walk. And happily, Tim was right. Although I'm not sure "most beautiful ever" can even begin to describe the flowers that were just everywhere on this promenade. And I mean, they are EVERYWHERE. Beautifully arranged, in colors I'm not sure I would have ever thought of putting together. But it works. I almost used up my whole flash card in this two miles alone. Some humor awaited us on the walk, too. For some reason, there were topiaries of the Madagascar characters every 500 feet or so. No clue why. I suspect they were green topiaries back last summer, and now they have dried to a brown coloring. The brown probably works better for Alex the Lion aka, le Roi de New York. It was too amusing for words. I finaly decided it must be a weird Swiss obsession, a la the France with Jerry Lee Lewis. I'm not sure exactl how long the promenade along the lake goes. It clearly goes all the way between Vevey and the Chateau, but I suspect it might even go as far as Lausanne.

After our walk, we went back to our hotel to rest for a short bit. It had been drizzling off an on this day, and so we decided to put our original plan of a hike through the Lavaux Vineyards, on hold. We ended up going to Lausanne for the rest of the day. I had originally thought of using Lausanne as out base for these three days along Lake Geneva, but my trusty buddies at the Fodors' forums had suggested Vevey instead, citing the largeness of Lausanne, as well as its hilly-ness (can that be a word?). Once we got to Lausanne, I was very happy I trusted them - it was too big, and too commercial, and did not have the enchanting quaintness of Vevey. I can see why Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn chose to live here. Lausanne also has a castle, but its closed to the public. The rain was starting to come down quite heavily while we were here, so we didn't go very far beyond the old town, and never made our way down to the lake. Thus, we missed seeing Olympic Park. They did have a lot of lovely buildings, shops and resturants, and were it not cold and raining, I suspect I would have enjoyed it a lot more. We ate dinner here, before heading back for the night so I could attempt to sleep in our hotel.

Sunday, May 2

The weather is continuing to vex me, and the thought of waking up to catch the train to Gruyeres is not appealing. Especially since I've only just fallen asleep. Its literally pouring, but we persever and happily by the time we eat breakfast and are ready to catch the train, its back to a light drizzle.

Only it turns out that we aren't catching a train, its a bus. They really should make this more clear on the Swiss TRAIN website, but who am I to complain. So we take the bus to Chatel St. Denis, and it winds up, up, up away from Vevey, through vineyard after vineyard, with the occasional cow pasture here and there. At Chatel St. Denis, we wait for our connecting train to Gruyeres with some hot chocolate as we attempt to warm up. The waitress seems irked when she tells me that will be "six francs" and I had her six francs. She repeats herself, twice, before I realise she is saying "six vingt," ie, 6.20. [for those of you who don't speak French, or pretend to speak French like I, "franc" and "Vingt" are pronounced quite similarly, just change out the F for a V.]

We arrive in Gruyeres, and the Cheese factory, La Maison de Gruyeres, is right across the street from la gare. We watch the cheese being made, which is interesting for about ten minutes. But we've both seen quite  a few Discovery shows about cheese before, and its actually not that exciting to watch in person. And there is a fairly hokey audio presentation to listen to, as narrated by Cherry, a cow. Yes, that is right. A cow. The good points of the cheese factory: free cheese samples, free cheese samples, and free cheese samples. And a touch and feel display which I think was meant for children, but there was a cow bell, so you know I had to give in.

The train station is at the bottom of a hill, and the rest of the town of Gruyeres, including the castle, is at the top of the hill. I use the word "hill." Perhaps "mountain" would be more appropriate. Anyways... we arrive in the village, and its fairly incredible. Touristy, yes. Walt Disney couldn't have created a more perfect European village if he had tried. I absolutely, positively loved it. We ate lunch at the Hotel de Ville, outside under their nicely covered awnings (damn rain), and ordered fondue and wine again for lunch. When suddenly, just across the cobblestoned road from me, is something even more out of a Disney theme park: four men blowing Swiss Alphorns. And a fifith man waving the Swiss flag around, throwing it in the air, and doing a little jig. Unreal. If you've never seen an alphorn, they are pretty cool. I saw Samantha Brown playing one on a travel show, but I never thought I would actually get to see one. And there they were.

For dessert, we had amazing Gruyeres double cream with fresh raspberries. Positively sinful, let me tell you. And then my alphorn players stopped. And I hear something else. Something sounding like an accordion. And then... something even more magical. Cow bells. Cow bell music. And not just any cow bell music, but "Edelweiss" itself. I transported myself and suddenly I was Liesel Von Trapp, bonding with my father the Captain over our love of the sound of music and all things Edelweiss. So I get up from my raspberries and cream, to watch the cowbells in action. When suddenly, he starts pulling people from the gathered crowd to come ring some bells. I wasn't prepared for this. It was like when we went to Disneyland and Alex wanted to be picked for Jedi training to fight Darth Vader, and I saw all the kids with handmade signs like "My Midi-Chlorian Count is higher than your," and felt woefully unprepared for the harsh competitiveness of being a chosen one (yes, Star Wars pun intended). Sadly, I was not plucked from the audience to ring the cow bells. But still, I heard cow bells ringing, and I made up my own little ditty, to the tune of "Winter Wonderland."

Cow bells ring
Are you Listening?
In the Alps, spring is coming.
A beautiful sight, we're happy today
Walking in a rainy Switzerland.
 Next was the Castle, which was cool, but didn't have a knight waiting for me. One cool thing Gruyeres did have, though, were cows. And several of them were wearing cow bells. The cows were protected by an electric fence, though. It gives a nice little shock should someone think about trying to jump the fence and get closer to the cows. Not me, of course.

The we headed to Broc, and after another unforuntate train mishap, again, NOT my fault (totally Swiss Rail's fault for not properly labeling that there are TWO stops in Broc on their maps), we were at the Callier Chocolate Factory. I had a longer rant written about what a waste of time this place is, but somehow it was deleted and I'm tired. Lets just say that if I think free chocolate is a waste of time, you can only imagine how hideous the tortorous thirty minute tour was that preceeded the free chocolate.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you're having an amazing trip! I love reading about all of your adventures.



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