Ah, I do love a good day trip. A short jaunt and a quick change of scenery shakes me out of my routine and rutts, without shaking too many pennies out of my piggy bank. After being here for about eighteen months, we have acquired a few favorite quick escapes in the area. I thought I would share some of our favorites. You’ll notice a pattern here: good food, sipping the local brew at sidewalk cafés, window shopping, and strolling to a beautiful backdrop—all required and easily found for a leisurely day here in the Land of Cheese.
Out of loyalty, I’ll start with our backyard—Geneva. Only twenty minutes away, Geneva is an easy escape, even for a few hours. There’s better shopping and restaurants than in our little town Nyon, and Geneva is just a charming and scenic old town with a cathedral perched up on the hill, and a beautiful English garden on Lake Geneva to take advantage of. The lake—unbeatable on a sunny day—is lined with walking trails that are heavily populated with happy families in the summer.
I must admit that we visited Geneva a couple of years ago, and well, I wasn’t all that impressed. Now, as I am becoming more familiar with its idiosyncrasies, and the quiet little city is growing on me. There are funky neighborhoods, good museums (like the Red Cross Museum), and this random “fountain” called Jet d’Eau. I use the term “fountain” loosely because the Jet d’Eau is literally just that—a jet of water. The spray reaches about 450 feet in the air. It’s so random, but the more I look at it, the more I think it’s pretty cool. Plus, Geneva has CERN (a physics research facility with its particle accelerator—so dorky, it’s cool) and the UN. How can you beat that?
I often escape to Geneva for a little taste of home—a Starbucks coffee and a scone—and sometimes just for some one-on-one time with my most recent read. I was pleasantly surprised when driving into Geneva one day, to see a lake full of sailboats with hot air balloons floating above. I had been in a little melancholy living-abroad funk that day, but the sight was so unexpected, random, and beautiful, that it lifted my spirits. Sounds cheesy, but it also opened my eyes to the exquisite beauty all around me here; in fact, I think that was the day my love affair with Geneva started.
Lausanne is in the other direction for us—about thirty minutes away, and still along Lake Geneva. Big lake, eh? The lakefront, called Ouchy (seriously!), is a really great place to stroll. The boardwalk is lined with docked sailboats, a playground, and filled with the sound of kids laughing. Along the way, you can pick up a burger and fries or a yummy ice cream treat. But, beware of the seagulls … those bastards will dive-bomb your fries if you turn your back for a second!
A stroll here is punctuated with ornate plantings (somebody really loves to garden in this town!) and breathtaking views of the lake and neighboring France. If you walk far enough, you’ll hit the Olympic Museum, which I was very impressed by. (Okay, is professing my love for CERN and the Olympic Museum in a few breaths proving that I am a super-dork?) Beautiful hotels and sidewalk cafes along the promenade complete the picture-postcard scene.
Lausanne’s Old Town also has its share of charm. Set up on a hill, it is surrounded by shops. And there is a cathedral, as you would expect in any respectable old town. The place has a good vibe with the mix of modern shops and cobblestone streets. One word of caution: Lausanne is a three-dimensional city. You’ll be doing a lot of walking up hill. Feel the burn, baby!
One of the most random—and interesting—things to visit in Lausanne is its Musée de l’Art Brut. Brut means rough or crude and that is exactly what the artwork is like. I’ve just never seen a collection like it before. The best word to describe the pieces is “intense.” The artists, many of whom created their work as a hobby, all display an intense passion for their work in their heavily saturated canvases. It’s sensory overload!
If you move farther along the lake, you’ll eventually run into Vevey along the Swiss Riviera—about forty-five minutes from Nyon. Ooo la la! Vevey, as mentioned in a previous Story from the Land of Cheese, is just so dramatic. The mountains in France literally dive into the lake and the view is just spectacular. Again, there is a beautiful path along the water with colorful overflowing flowerboxes. And, to top it off, there is a double-decker carousel overlooking the lake, a statue of Charlie Chaplin surrounded by roses, and a big fork statue sticking out of the lake along the shore (marking the spot of the Nestlé Food Museum).
The entire region is wine-growing territory, which makes the drive scenic. The terraced crops are corralled by ancient looking stone walls and wire supports—a beautiful compliment to the sparkling lake. And it really is sparkling, and clean enough to swim in to boot.
If you follow the beautiful, winding road from Vevey for a further ten minutes, you will run into Montreaux. Called the “centerpiece of the Swiss Rivera” by my trusty Lonely Planet guide, it sure lives up to its name. It has yummy cafés and a waterfront promenade, but it also has something remarkable: a life-size Freddie Mercury statue staring longingly out at the water. Love it! It must be because of Montreaux’s musical roots—there is a famous jazz festival there every July. Oh, and there’s also a famous chateau in Montreaux. Nice sidetrip.
We’re still discovering and learning to take advantage of the many beautiful things to do and see around us here. There’s something for all weather, and for every season, which is perhaps my favorite part of living in the Land of Cheese—people don’t hibernate for the winter! Next month I’ll share our favorite sidetrips to France.
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