Saturday, July 21, 2012

Switzerland Reloaded

Zermatt, with the Matterhorn on the left

Found sticking in Lake Geneva

We enjoyed Switzerland so much that we jumped at the chance to go back when a friend we made in South Africa offered us accommodation at her place. After a beautiful train trip we arrived at the town of Vevey. A lovely location on the banks of Lake Geneva to avail ourselves of the absolutely stunning hospitality of Sue and the incredibly generous time of her friend Angie.

Montreux Jazz Festival near Vevey
A fun Friday night out
We spent the first night gleaning information from Sue and Angie as to the best places to go in Switzerland and re-arranged our plans to dump Hamburg (sorry Hamburg, nothing personal), and to go from Vevey to Zermatt (home of the Matterhorn) and from there take the Glacier Express to St Moritz to travel through the wonderful Swiss Alps. We spent the next day on the internet organising accommodation and train journeys for the next week and a bit so that we could relax and enjoy Switzerland without the pressure of finding the next roof over our head.

From the botanical gardens
The UN building
Then we went to Geneva on two day-trips as it was only one hour by train from Vevey. First stop in Geneva (well second, we visited the botanical gardens first) was a walk to the Palais des Nations, home of the United Nations in Geneva. We found we were able to take a tour and decided to have a closer look at this historical building. First built just after WW1 to house the precursor to the UN, the League of Nations. The LON fell apart when it failed to stop WW2 and they started again with the UN. It is the second largest UN centre in the world , after New York.

Original Council Chambers
Assembly Hall
The UN is where the major global problems attempt to be solved so the building is full of symbolism, history and purpose for the gravity and importance of its role. All through the place are gifts from different nations which helped to construct and decorate the building, in fact it was originally designed by 5 architects from 4 different countries. One hopes that the large challenges currently faced by humankind from Syria to Climate Change will be solved here.

Gift from China, the path follows you...
The idea that changed the world
Also in Geneva we visited CERN just days after it announced that its scientists had uncovered the Higgs Boson, the apparent god's particle, after looking for 48 years. The Higgs Boson is apparently what gives massless particles, well, their mass and completes the standard model of how everything works (and I thought the answer was 42). This was really cool, Sheldon eat your heart out. 27km of particle accelerator, going through 2 countries and accelerating particles to 99.99% the speed of light before smashing them into each other, pow! The world wide web was born here by Tim Berners Lee in 1989 as a way of sharing information between scientists. The original proposal on display in 'The Globe' had handwritten along the top 'vague but exciting...'. Talk about an understatement!!! The way we all connect with each other and find information was transformed.

The Globe at CERN (exhibit)
Me at CERN

Mountains near Vevey
The tired gang at the top
Back in Vevey the weekend came along and time for some day trips into the countryside and some mountain climbing, woohoo! After some climbing we went into the village of Gruyere, home of the famous cheese. Weirdly enough also home of the creator of the Alien character in the movies with Sigourney Weaver. So as well as cheese you will find here an Alien museum and a cafe made out like an Alien ship. We also had to have cheese in Gruyere, of course, and so Elizabeth finally had a fondue in Switzerland in probably the best place to have one as well as raclette. Raclette is a slab of cheese that comes on a dish with a built in grill above it, the idea is to scrape off the cheese crust as it is created and eat it on potatoes and bread until all the cheese is gone.
This is weird

The next day Angie took us on another day trip into the mountains in her convertible. This has got to be one of the coolest rides I have ever had! With the wind blowing in my...ok, in Elizabeth's hair, we careered around sharp corners up the mountain on roads that were often only one car wide like Sean Connery in a James Bond movie. I must say Angie is an awesome driver and I was only scared a little bit. After a walk we came back down to look around a beautiful little town St Saphorin like stepping back in time.

That night was our last night in Vevey and the decision was made to have a barbeque by the lake using one of those instant bbq contraptions you get from the petrol station. Well it would not stay alight and so a trip to the station got another one and a squirter bottle of liquid fire, I presume, because it sure stayed alight after being drowned in it. After a couple of hours we had a delicious dinner of steaks and chicken and sausages that was all the more yummy because of the hugely dysfunctional bbq it came from. It was a terrific last night with wonderful companions, whose generosity made for one of our highights of the year thus far. This trip is sure changing my perceptions about people and trust.

On to Zermatt and my first trial at a 4 bed dormitory (leaving accommodation to the last minute can be tricky in peak season). Not as bad as I expected but I didn't sleep as well as I normally do. Maybe only a last choice solution. Zermatt is the home of the Matterhorn, and she is a formidable mountain. We didn't climb the Matterhorn but we did climb some of the Gornergrat, right next to it. The Gornergrat has the longest cogwheel train (we have already done the steepest) that has about 5 stops up the mountain. It allows walkers to get as far as they are comfortable and then catch the train for the rest, and the same coming down (25% discount for Eurail pass holders). The views on top were breathtaking and I will let the pictures tell that story.
This was what I was looking at!
What was I looking at?...

That's Elizabeth

The next day we tackled a different path and climbed up to Stellisee which has a reflecting lake facing the Matterhorn.

That night in Zermatt they had a street party with live entertainment, or so we were told. The live entertainment was the most unlikely rock and roll star you have ever seen, but we soon became converts as he really got the crowd going and was rocking away until the wee hours.

Finally we took the Glacier Express, snaking our way to St Moritz through the Swiss Alps' amazing scenery. I would show you pictures but I had an uncanny gift of taking the picture just as a tree would come into frame. In the end I gave up and just enjoyed the ride. St Moritz was just an overnight stop before heading to Paris, just enough time to walk around the lake and get some sleep. It was about this time we crossed the half way mark for our travels, 154 days away from Perth this year and 154 to go. We have done, seen and learnt so much already that it is hard to imagine what the other half will bring...

Zermatt at night

Goodnight Zermatt

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