Lausanne, Montreaux & Bern, Switzerland
Easter day. I hid Danny's Easter present in the oven, then told him I heard something moving in there and he had to check it out for me. He tentatively opened the door and was pleasantly surprised to find chocolate rather than some creepy animal. It was all gone by the end of the day.
The drive to Lausanne was a breeze, with zero traffic because of Easter - we drove right through the middle of the city with no problems. The downside was discovering exactly how expensive Switzerland was, specifically the petrol. So far we had been paying €1.30-€1.40/L throughout Europe (and a lot cheaper in Andorra), which was more expensive than petrol in Australia but it was tolerable. Switzerland: €1.96/L. There goes our budget for the week.
We wandered around the ghost town that was Lausanne for ages before admitting that we had no idea where we were going. We finally came to our senses and headed back to the car, using Garmin to direct us to the museum we wanted to see. Three kilometres later we found Musee de l'Art Brut, a gallery containing works by people who had no artistic training, including psychiatric patients, prisoners, eccentrics and outcasts. It included paintings, drawings, sculpture, pottery, weaving, dress making - basically anything that could fall under the umbrella of 'art'. It was the most interesting museum we had ever stepped foot into. It wasn't all great; in fact, some of it was terrible, but much of it was fascinating. Definitely worth the stopover (and hours of searching).
After Lausanne we drove on to Montreaux. Well, technically a few kilometres past Montreaux to see the Château Chillon, apparently the best medieval château in Europe. After seeing it, I'm not sure how it received that title. It was, in my opinion, tiny by château standards and not overly impressive. The only saving grace was that it was situated in a fantastic spot – right on Lake Geneva, with snow capped mountains in the background. We didn't take many photos of the actual château but we did of the surroundings.
Bern was a two hour drive from Montreaux and for much of it we were stuck behind Sunday drivers. Many of them were in their fancy Mercedes and Audis, happily going 50 km/h in 80 km/h zones. Frustrating was an understatement. Usually everyone overtakes us but today we were the ones doing the overtaking. At least the views were fantastic: vines growing along the sides of mountains, open green fields dotted with yellow flowers, wooden houses that looked like converted farmhouses. We were driving towards the German part of Switzerland (the west is very much French-influenced) and the scenery appeared to be becoming more Bavarian as we went along.
We arrived in Bern without warning. Being the capital city, I expected a grand entrance to announce its presence. I guess it's a bit like Canberra – although it's the capital city, it's more like a large town and not a major tourist destination. We attempted to stay in a caravan park but being Easter, they were booked out. Instead we parked on the street around the corner, only two kilometres out of the city (not many cities allow us to park so close). And not just any street - it was quiet AND flat, both of which had been hard to come by lately.
Our food stocks were running low and with most stores closed for Easter our grocery purchases were limited to bread and milk. Just talking to shopkeepers we noticed immediately that the locals appeared to be talking in both French and German, or some mix of the two, which made them more difficult to understand than usual.
From our car park a 20 minute walk landed us right in the middle of Bern; I wish every city was that easy. We followed the river until we reached the "bear pit", which originally was just a depressing pit but now it was a large enclosure on a steep hillside above the river. Three very cute and not overly big bears took up residence here. The bears were right down the bottom of the hill, so I walked all the way down the stairs for a closer look. By the time I reached the bottom, they were up the top. Typical. The bears didn't do a whole lot but Bern was proud of them – bear souvenirs were plentiful.
Of course Danny had to try Swiss beer and he found a cafe with a special dark Osterbock (Easter beer). Danny's feedback was that it was his favourite beer in Europe so far. He now has to try every Swiss beer he can find.
The old part of the city was devoid of crowds due to holiday, but really I couldn't see it being much busier during the week either. However, it was a beautiful city, one of the best we had visited. Many of the streets were for pedestrians only and the medieval buildings were captivating. I climbed 200 steps up the cathedral tower for views in every direction; Danny couldn't be bothered. Other than the bears, there were two supposedly noteworthy attractions: one was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it fountain of an ogre eating a child; the other was catching the large Clock Tower presentation chime in the hour. Both were underwhelming. The Clock Tower was possibly the lamest show we had ever witnessed. A little gold figurine “hit” the bell to make it ring and some other tiny statue moved around a bit. It lasted all of 10 seconds. Hundreds of people were there and I think everyone was disappointed.
That's all we did in Bern.