africamuse's travels

A Visit to Switzerland

Created: 20 January 2000
Updated: 29 July 2000

January 2000 brought me to Switzerland, the land of Heidi and the U.N.O. I intend to do as much travelling in this part of the world as possible while I am still living in Europe. I’ve always enjoyed travelling with Roberto, and it made a lot of sense to take advantage of the free accommodation and see part of Switzerland with someone who is so much fun to be with.

One of those big chess thingies.

I arrived on 6 January for a two week visit, and discovered Lausanne for the first time. Roberto’s flat is just half a block from Lake Geneva (called Lac Lemán in the region), and a lovely waterfront promenade, with fountains and bridges, carousels and giant chess sets, swans and restaurants. The first week was spent exploring Lausanne, Bern and Montreux.

Bern is a delightful city, filled with statues and fountains, bears and cobbles. I always forget that I am afraid of heights, and this time made the mistake of climbing 70 metres up the cathedral spire - I got to the top and couldn’t look at the view, lol.

Detail from cathedral window, Berne.

Montreux is the site of the impressive Chateau de Chillon. One can take a train right to its doorstep, or do what we did and walk along the waterfront (Montreux is also situated on Lake Geneva). The waterfront is dotted with what is the word......’plant sculptures’...heheheh, and statues, including a statue of Freddie Mercury, who spent his last days composing there. The chateau is the most impressive I’ve seen. I’ve visited castles, but none quite so castly as this one. Overhanging the lake with dungeons, banqueting halls, towers, chapels, private staircases, courtyards, patrol galleries and the long-drop to define all long-drops - latrines topping an open chute, a sheer drop five or six stories down to the lake below.

One of the many living 'sculptures' along the Montreux lakefront.

After Roberto started his MBA program, I continued to explore Lausanne, notably its museums. I saw the best art installation/exhibition I have ever seen, one which so creatively used the exhibition space that it almost took my breath away: Le Corp Evanoui - Les Images Subites in the Musee de l’Elysee.

I also visited Geneva (and, of course, its museums - in fact this trip was somewhat of a museum-immersion mission for me). The International Museum of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, with its 7 million World War One Prisoner of War index cards and startling images, was an experience (although their numbering system leaves a great deal to be desired). The old town is beautiful and, unsurprisingly, the ‘new’ town is richly cosmopolitan. I didn’t find the statue of Charlie Chaplin, and the Jet d’Eau doesn’t function in the winter, but I did enjoy the visit. I discovered, though, that I much prefer Lausanne to Geneva.

A symbol of the anti-landmine movement, across the road from the U.N. Headquarters

On one memorable day, we travelled together (by train) to Zermatt, a town which appears to be based on ski tourism, and then further up into the magnificent Swiss Alps - and saw Matterhorn (more commonly known as ‘That Mountain With the Stars Around It at the Beginning of the Movies’). What an incredible sight! I, just about the most unathletic person imaginable, could feel the pull - a mountain climber faced with that sight must feel an almost unresisitable need to climb that peak, jutting so arrogantly out of the surrounding range. It is by no means the highest peak in the area, but I think it must be the most impressive. And the graves surrounding the churches in Zermatt testify to its danger.

View of the Matterhorn, from Zermatt.

A word on the MBA program - it is so exciting. I find myself so envious of the experience that Roberto is having now. It would be incredible to experience the kind of intellectual excitement and dynamism that is so apparent in the group of students here. Six long days a week of intensive study is no joke, but I believe it is a privilege to immerse oneself in such a vibrant experience. This MBA program has been evaluated as the top program in Europe - less than one in ten of the applicants were accepted, and the resulting 86 participants represent 38 countries and together speak 47 languages. I am very proud of Roberto and I know that he will find this a fantastically fulfilling year.

High Points

  • Seeing the Olympic torches at Musee Olympique, and knowing that the one carried by my sister will be there soon. Yes, my sister will be one of the many Olympic torchbearers in this year’s Games.

    The Olympic Museum, Lausanne.

  • Chateau de Chillon.

    The view from Chateau de Chillon.

  • Suddenly realising - I mean REALLY realising - that THIS is the twenty-first century!

  • Looking across Lake Geneva, just before dusk - with the French Alps rising like glass mountains with peaks capped in shaved ice. The transparent blues, greys and whites of water, mountains, snow and sky were one of the most mystically beautiful sights I’ve seen.

  • Matterhorn.

    Standing in front of the Matterhorn.

  • Finding the map of the Discworld - I’ve been looking for it for more than a year, now (I kinda wish I had found it in a cheaper country, though, lol).

  • Cheeseburgers Royale (the French equivalent of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese) - we ate McDonalds out of economic prudence, but I must say that those were the best McDonalds burgers I’ve ever eaten.

  • Berne street musicians playing, surprisingly, Cuando salí de Cuba on an instrument for which I have no name - maybe some kind of steel drum?

    Cuando sali de Cuba...

  • The River Visp - a beautiful succession of waterfalls, steps, ice and running water, high up in the Alps.

  • Eating fondue on the banks of the Lake.

  • Standing in a snow-covered Roman amphitheatre in Martigny.

    Roberto at the ancient Roman amphitheatre - don't ask me why the snow looks all multi-coloured here...

  • Ice-skating at the outdoor rink at Ouchy - all on my own, in the middle, nogal! (Although I must admit that I was not the picture of grace and elegance!)

Low Points

  • Fur coats, everywhere I looked. I know this is a thorny area in which to take a stand. After all, I do eat meat and wear leather shoes. But, somehow, I find the idea of fur coats quite repulsive. And they’re so UGLY.

  • High prices - Switzerland really is one of the most expensive places I have ever visited.

To read about my second trip to Switzerland, enter here.

Useful Links:


There are tons of museums in Switzerland - in my opinion, some are VERY good, others are pretty bad. Here are some of the ones that I found well worth the visit.

An inspiring display at the Red Cross museum.


Federal Assembly - the Parliament Building


Musee International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge

Musee d’art et d’histoire


Museum HR Giger

Chateau de Gruyeres


Musee Olympique

Musee de l’Elysee


Fondation Perre Gianadda (especially the sculpture garden)


Chateau de Chillon

Useful Books from

Lonely Planet Guide to Switzerland

Lonely Planet Walking Guide to Switzerland

Lonely Planet French Phrasebook

Quick travel:

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