The Switzerland trip went off without a hitch, although it was not without its share of drama.
Let me start by saying that I absolutely HATE driving through Switzerland. On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE driving through Switzerland. I hate it because every single time I do it there is some kind of problem. There’s always an accident that causes a traffic jam or overzealous police that will nail you for going a few kilometers over the speed limit. And there is always construction. Always. On this trip I got flashed by one of those hidden cameras that go off when you speed by them and send you a ticket in the mail. And at least half of the journey was slowed by construction of some kind. That being said, there are fewer countries offering such a scenic drive filled with mountains and lakes. Driving through Switzerland is like dating a beautiful but high-maintenance woman; she drives you crazy and you swear that she’s not worth the trouble, yet you always come back to her, drawn in by her physical beauty.
I went to Switzerland to visit some friends and finally see the cities of Lausanne and Geneva, two cities I’ve always wanted to see. My hosts were the Cottier family, friends who live about 10 kilometers outside of Lausanne. I know them through my friend Avisha who is the niece of another friend of ours who works on the base here (Can you follow all that?). Bernard, his wife Shantee and their two kids, Florian and Syrielle were nice enough to let me stay with them for the weekend and show me around Lausanne, Geneva, and a bit of the local area. I always enjoy such trips as I’m able to see not only the area, but also get a glimpse of the local culture that you seldom see by simply visiting a city. If you'd like to see pictures of the Cottier family Click Here
So we started with Lausanne. Lausanne is a cute little city of about 120,000 on Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva). Its claim to fame is that it’s the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It offers some beautiful scenery and some pretty decent nightlife (more about that later). It’s located in the French portion of Switzerland so everything is of course in French. Here’s a view of Lausanne from the old part of town:
We didn’t get to see as much of Lausanne as I’d have liked as it was pouring rain when I arrived. But we were able to walk around most of the highlights, see a bit of the Olympic Museum and then enjoy some crepes near the lake. Lausanne is a good day-trip city. Since it was raining and there was a low cloud cover, I regret that I didn’t get any really good picture of the city with the Alps in the background. Perhaps next time.
Sunday arrived and we departed for Geneva. Geneva was the city I really wanted to see. Its reputation and status as an international city is rivaled by few. It serves as the European arm of the United Nations and is also home to several other international organizations. As such, I expected it to be extremely varied. Although it was a nice and sunny day, there were still some low lying clouds, so it was still difficult to get the full effect of the city with the Alps in the background. And the city itself, while attractive in its own way, was not the aesthetically pleasing cosmopolitan city I was expecting. The first thing you notice is the famous Jet d’Eau, which is basically a fountain in the middle of the little bay that shoots a tremendously powerful stream of water straight up into the air. The water comes out at over 200 kilometers per hour. Here’s a pic:
Jet d'Eau, Geneva
As with Lausanne, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to really explore Geneva. I’m hoping to go back again and do an overnight stay so I can see everything and be able to enjoy the nightlife scene. As it was, Bernard and the family took a short boat cruise on the lake and Avisha and I set off to check out the old town. We made it as far as Flanagan's Pub. My book mentions a handful of pubs near the old town so I planned on popping into the first one I came to for a pint. I guess it was just fate that brought me to Flanagan’s. I got my pint and started chatting with the bartender Nick and the only other guy in the bar, Steve (Steve is from Middlesborough, England). Nick is from Manchester and the United match was about to come on TV so there went our plan of touring the rest of the old town. We were supposed to meet Bernard and the fam later, so I told Avisha that I would stay and just catch the train later on to Lausanne and meet them for dinner. After a couple pints, I realized that they had Boddington’s Cream Ale. This pleased me very much. I love Boddington’s but haven’t been able to find it anywhere in the past few years. Eventually more people came in, more pints were downed and new friends were made. In fact, we even delved slightly into politics – something I never do in pubs since it risks ruining the easygoing pub experience. Then Nick broke out the shots. The first one was set down in front of me on fire. I was told to drink it with a straw. Sure enough, it went down pretty easy. The next one was not on fire. No danger there I thought. Then Nick tells me that you have do drink it, keep it in your mouth…and light it on fire on your mouth. I was not down with this idea at all because let’s face it, when you’re drinking alcohol, fire is not your friend. But Nick did it and it actually looked pretty simple. I’ll try most anything once so I gave it a shot. It didn’t work for me though, the drink never caught fire. Probably just as well; I’ve grown pretty attached to my eyebrows. Sadly, the fun had to end for me as I had to catch the train. You can see more pics from Flanagan's Pub Here
Drink shot, then light it on fire
All day, Avisha had been talking about going to the disco that night so after dinner, we found one that her classmate had recommended and proceeded to trip the light fantastic among Lausanne’s fashionable young set. I had to drive back to Italy the next day (or rather, THAT day…), so we ended up leaving around 3 am, earlier than we wanted to.
The drive back to Italy was going fine until I practically got ass-raped at the border by the border guards. I got asked for my passport and vehicle documents at the St Bernard Tunnel and when I had trouble locating my vehicle registration, I was told to pull over to the side. Then I was told to open my trunk and glove compartment, the usual routine. For some unknown reason, they seemed extremely suspicious of me. At one point, I dug my ID card out of my duffle bag and one of the border guards noticed a pouch of old rolling tobacco in my bag. It was on then. He practically shoved me out of the way and rifled through the bag, grabbing the pouch and digging through it. One of the other guards was like “You smoke?” to which I replied that occasionally I like to roll a cigarette or two. She said “Is it ONLY tobacco?” I said “Yes, ONLY tobacco”. After about 20 minutes they let me go. I drove – literally – 2 feet, and a different set of border guards stopped me and told me to pull over. All I could do was chuckle and wait patiently for them to not find anything and clear me. Hopefully I never have to go through that crap again.
Anyway, that’s a brief synopsis of the trip. There was a lot more to it, but I have limited time and space here so that’ll have to do. I’m planning on doing Rome this weekend, so perhaps I’ll have more interesting stories next week…
If you want to see more pictures from the Switzerland trip, Click Here