© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
Official Name: Swiss Confederation; Capital: Bern; Language: German, French, Italian, Romansch; Country Code: CH (from the Latin
Confoederatio Helvetica); Currency: Swiss franc (CHF)
I've visited Switzerland a number of times, mostly in and around Geneva and the lake of the same name.
From a business trip with my wife in 2001, to Montreux and surrounds:
[Diary] At the main station we boarded the 10:40:00-am train to Lausanne. (I can say 10:40:00 with confidence; after all, this was Switzerland!) The ride along the shore of Lake Geneva took 40 minutes. On arrival we were helped by a pleasant young lady at the tourist office who gave us a map and details on catching the on-going ferry. We bought some food at a nearby stand and I got my liter of cold milk at the supermarket. Then we headed down the steep hill to the Botanic Gardens for a "Swiss picnic in the park". We toured a nice rock garden and then found the small falls and ponds I was looking for.
From there we proceeded down the hill to the waterfront where we sat in the shade waiting for the ferry ticket office to open after the lunch-time break. The ferry arrived and we all boarded in a matter of minutes. At 2:05 pm, the horn sounded and we were off. We were installed in First Class, on the upper deck, in the shade, surrounded by other foreigners. There seemed to be two tour groups on board, with lots of Aussies and Poms (English). We were on Lake Geneva headed for Montreux, an 80-minute trip.
We were going east along the north shore, and the hill up from the shore was quite steep. There were terraces of grape vines all the way up. There was a light fog on the lake, but we could see the other side. In fact, we could see snow on the Alps a mile or so away to the south. We made a number of stops along the way.
We arrived at Montreux dock at 3:30 pm where we disembarked and dropped into the tourist office for a town map and directions to our hotel. After a 5-minute walk along the lake we arrived at the Hotel Eden du Lac (Eden on the Lake). Naturally, the outdoor restaurant was called "The Garden of Eden". It was a fine old hotel with a little bit of "new" thrown in. It had wooden floors with inlaid sections, large French windows and drapes, and space-age glass-sided elevators.
Our room was very large, and the French windows lead to a small balcony that overlooked the garden and lake, with a fine view across to the snow-covered Alps on the French side. The furnishings were very nice and all the knobs in the bathroom were gold-colored. We unpacked and explored the grounds before sitting in the salon reading newspapers. A Russian couple arrived at 5:45 pm; he with acoustic guitar and she with violin. They played an eclectic suite for quite some time.
Eventually, a group of fellow conventioneers and their partners gathered and we headed off to a restaurant that specialized in raclette and fondue, traditional Swiss eating styles.
[Diary] My business meeting group broke for morning coffee and, later, for lunch on the terrace, since the weather was unexpectedly very nice. My lunch included a dish of quail with herbs and a salad, followed by salmon in a parsley sauce with potato rissoles and royal carrots, topped off with a wonderful cream custard with glaze, and, finally, hot tea. Just the thing for a growing boy!
[Diary] At 12:30 pm, we broke for lunch in the garden. This included a shrimp salad, tournedos de poularde (chicken wrapped in bacon), rice in saffron, and warm cucumber slices, followed by a lemon sorbet dessert, optionally with vodka topping.
[Diary] After the meeting ended, my wife and I arrived in Grandvaux by train to find our host, Dan, waiting to collect us. After a short drive up the mountain we reached his very large home and met his wife Susanne, and their two children, Sophie (aged 9) and Adrian (aged 5). Dan was Romanian and Susanne was Danish, but both had lived in Switzerland many years. She spoke Danish to the kids and, of course, they all spoke French. The kids would learn German late in elementary school. Both parents were psychiatrists. Since both worked fulltime they had an au pair, a young woman from Denmark. Over dinner, we learned that Swiss women only got the right to vote in 1971. Also, despite existing for some 1,200 years as a very stable country/government, the country was very poor until less than 100 years ago.
[Diary] We went driving in the local area. There were many acres of vineyards, all protected by law from housing and commercial development. The average slope was 45 degrees, and in places got much steeper, so you can imagine how difficult it was to work the vines. Rows were broken up into quite small areas each of which was terraced with a tall retaining stone wall. The area has been settled for more than 800 years and the Cistercian monks built all the early terracing. In the mid-1500's much of the land was confiscated from the church by the government, during the Reformation, when the Catholic Church started to lose control of things. The main area had about 275 acres of vines shared among 40 growers most of whom also made wine. The wine produced was unique given that the grapes got direct sunlight, light reflected from the lake down below, and heat radiated from the many and huge retaining walls during the night as they cooled off.
[Diary] As we sat and took in the surroundings, I spied a fox coming through the vineyard toward a house. It climbed the steep stone steps up to the back gate of a house, climbed through the gate and proceeded to check out the back yard presumably looking for cat and/or dog food. Then it went around the side of the house out to a street and on its merry way. I've heard of the country mouse visiting the city mouse, so I guess this is the Swiss version for foxes.
[Diary] Dan told us that all houses built since early in the Cold War, were—and most interestingly, still are—required to have nuclear war shelters. He gave us a tour of his. The walls were very thin concrete with an enormous steel and concrete door. There was an air filtering device that operated on electricity, but should that fail, it could be turned by hand. There was also an oiled hole to the outside through which to push a radio antenna. In theory, owners were supposed to maintain bedding, food and water, and such there at all times. In fact, these shelters were inspected every year by a local official. Fortunately, the locals get a bit of notice, so they can move all their wine and other stuff from there and set it up just to pass inspection.
From a business trip in 2006, to Geneva:
[Diary] From the airport, I took the train into the city, and then a taxi to my hotel. It was quite adequate: a large bed, TV, microwave oven, fridge, and wireless internet connection were supplied, and a continental breakfast was included. By this time, the stores had closed, so I had to resort to a convenience store for some basic kitchen supplies; they were very expensive! I had some Middle Eastern food then went to bed. Unfortunately, the hotel had a very noisy nightclub in the basement. Fortunately, I had some earplugs, and they did a reasonable job.
[Diary] The next morning, a Japanese colleague and I spent several hours walking along the edge of Lake Geneva as vendors set up their food and souvenir shops. We stopped to look at the famous floral clock, a large almost-horizontal clock with metal hands whose face is made from flowers growing in beds. Each year, the flowers are planted in different arrangements. After a nap, I joined several colleagues for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, smoking is very common, and there is no such thing as a non-smoking area in eating places. It rained all afternoon and night.
[Diary] After dinner, it was on to a performance by Cirque du Soleil, a world-famous acrobatic troupe. They were absolutely magnificent! Although I had seen them perform on TV a number of times, this was my first time live. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.
From a business trip in 2008, to Geneva (which the Germans call Genf, as I discovered while reading the Frankfurt Airport Departures screen). Despite the excerpts below, I did more than just eat on that trip:
[Diary] The front-desk assistant at the hotel was ever so happy to see me, and "Bon Jour"ed me with a sweet smile. I gave her my passport and credit card, and she gave me a key. A porter hauled my luggage up to my room. Room 506 was on the 5th floor and had a small balcony over a main street and a small view of the lake. The hotel was situated right in the downtown area and cost CHFs 230/night, which included internet access, a buffet breakfast, and my share of a meeting room and catering for four days of meetings; pretty good for this city. I had a large bed, plenty of tasteful older-style furniture, a small refrigerator, large digital TV on the wall in front of my bed, and a large plate of fresh fruit nicely packaged. By the time I unpacked it was 2:15 pm, and I was getting my second wind. I had a long hot shower and then snacked on cheese and fruit as the rain come down.
[Diary] Next morning, I was the first to arrive in the dining room for breakfast. I ordered tea, but then the waitress asked me a question. And in French too! How dare she? As was typical when I'm "assaulted by a foreign language", I had trouble recognizing the first few words, so didn't hear the rest of them, but, eventually, I deduced that she wanted my room number, just to make sure I wasn't some homeless person who'd wandered in off the street for a free breakfast. Of course, when she asked the same question of the next poor unsuspecting foreign guest, being infinitely wiser, I was able to translate for him.
[Diary] My committee met from 9 am to 5:45 pm, stopping for morning and afternoon breaks, during which tea, coffee and very nice pastries were served. Lunch was catered and was served in an adjourning room. To begin, there was a poached egg in a mushroom crust. Next came fingers of ham, gratinated macaroni, and green peas. For dessert, we had apple Tatin pie with salted butter caramel ice cream. Coffee followed. All in all, it was quite good and looked very attractive. In fact, several dishes were quite artistic.
[Diary] Next day, we broke for another nice lunch at 12:15 pm. To begin there was Scottish salmon Carpaccio with crystallized lemon and leek vinaigrette. Next came flank of veal cooked a la plancha style and served with pumpkin gnocchi and broccoli with butter. For dessert, there was a chocolate praline brownie with white chocolate sorbet. I was near full after the appetizer, but, unfortunately, that didn't stop me eating.
[Diary] We worked steadily throughout the day, taking the usual breaks during which more food was forced upon us. I managed to avoid the morning and afternoon tea pastries, but took advantage of two of the three courses at lunch. I passed on the chicory salad with Roquefort cheese, figs, grapes and walnuts. The main course was roasted guinea fowl with autumn chanterelles (mushrooms), small potato pancakes and vegetables. Dessert was pear clafoutis. I followed that with a cup of proper tea.
[Diary] The next day, we had the usual wonderful selection of pastries at 9 am, 10:30 am and 3 pm, and lunch was the usual great spread. I passed on the poultry liver terrine with figs and salad, saving myself for the main course. That was halibut fillet meunière with cabbage stuffed with salmon, all with vegetables and cream of parmesan cheese. I was well into it when the waiter came looking for me to tell me the sauce contained shrimp, and that he had a plate without. Being allergic to shellfish I took the alternate plate. Unfortunately, the shrimp pieces I'd already eaten started to work their (black) magic, and parts of my lips and mouth started to feel a bit odd. Fortunately, I hadn't eaten very much, and the black chocolate and chestnut macaroon with praline ice cream proved to be an effective antidote. And the boiling cup of tea rounded things out very nicely.
Mid-afternoon, a great parade came down the street outside our hotel, so we all moved out on the balcony to watch it pass by. There were many students in costumes, and vans laden with sound equipment blasted the neighborhood with various kinds of music. The procession took at least 15 minutes to go by.
[Diary] That evening, mid-way through my meal, three children came in to the restaurant and sang for the guests, and then passed around a hat for donations. I contributed two francs. The older boy was dressed as a cowboy, the older girl as a pirate, and the younger girl as a butterfly, or maybe she was an angel! Later, three teenage boys came and sang half-heartedly, and as they seemed to be in it for the money only, I declined to contribute.
From a business trip in 2011, to Geneva:
[Diary] Having discovered United's refurbished Boeing 767s several years ago, I try to fly their Business Class whenever I can especially for overnight trans-Atlantic flights. I took up my usual seat, 8A, at a window facing backwards where I could keep my eye on the portside engine. The flight was completely full. Once we got our safety instructions in English and French, flight UA974 took off from Washington Dulles International (IAD) to the west in bright sunshine, then turned north and northeast. I settled in to watch the animated movie Rango, which was mildly amusing.
After the usual bowl of nuts and drink, dinner was served. First up was a wonderful serving of smoked salmon with cucumber and dill. That was followed by a crunchy salad with ranch dressing. For my main course, I chose braised beef short ribs with roasted shallot sauce, oven-roasted fingerling potatoes, and grilled asparagus.
By the time dinner and the movie were finished, we were over Halifax, Nova Scotia, headed for Newfoundland and the open Atlantic. I declined the port wine and cheese, but did succumb to a large scoop of vanilla and passion fruit ice cream.
Around 8 pm, it got dark rather quickly as we flew east into the night. At 8:30, I yawned, lay back my seat until it was almost flat, and started counting sheep; baa-1, baa-2, baa…zzz.
I slept reasonably well and woke to find it was 1 am back home, at which time I advanced my clock six hours to GMT+1 with summertime. We were 40 minutes out from Geneva. I opened my blind slightly and was pleased to see that the port engine was still there and functioning perfectly. [Don't you just love that when that happens?] According to my flight map, we'd crossed the extreme tip of southwest England, entered France near Cherbourg, and passed to the south of Paris.
A flight attendant promptly placed a cloth on my table and served me orange juice, a fruit plate, and a croissant with strawberry jam. And she did so with a smile although I suspect she had had no sleep at all. I opened my blind all the way to see a beautiful day below. The sun was shining brightly over a patchwork quilt of green fields and ripening cereal crops. The color of the river directly below had a distinct glacial milk tinge to it.
We had a perfect landing at GVA ahead of our scheduled 8-am arrival, and as we taxied to our terminal, I saw a, Aeroflot plane from Russia, an Etihad jet from Abu Dhabi, and a Garuda plane from Indonesia; not your usual sights. Passport control was a formality, and most of my time at the immigration window was taken up by the officer looking for space in my passport in which to put an arrival stamp. After a bit of a walk, I reached the baggage area and my bag came out a few minutes later. There was no customs control. I stopped off at a machine to get my free ticket to ride public transportation anywhere in the metro area for the next 80 minutes.
All trains from the airport stop downtown, so I boarded the next one, an inter-regional headed for Lausanne and Montreux. It took 10 minutes to get to Gare Cornavin, the main station. I stepped out on the platform into glorious sunshine. Having had a much better than average sleep for an overnight flight I decided to walk the 1+ km to my hotel. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic was heavy as the locals were headed to work. I walked down Rue Mont Blanc to Lake Geneva where I crossed the Pont du Mont Blanc Bridge to the old town. And there, at 13 place Longmalle, was the Hotel Longmalle, right where I'd left it at the end of my previous visit!
Two very pleasant young women were there to greet me at reception. Yes, they were expecting me and although check-in was not until 2 pm—it was not yet 9 am—they promised me a double room within the hour. As it was such a nice day, I suggested we put a "Closed" sign on the door and take a picnic into the mountains. They agreed that was a fine idea, but, unfortunately, they had to work. C'est la vie!
I worked on this diary while seated in the hotel lobby, and after 20 minutes my room was ready and the bellman took my luggage and lead me to the elevator. In my room, I connected to the outside world to receive new email, then showered and jumped into bed. Although I hoped to have three hours of deep sleep, it was a long time coming and wasn't so deep. However, I awoke at 1 pm feeling fair.
At 1:30, I headed out and it was still glorious. I walked the six blocks to the headquarters of an international consortium with which I do business, and I spent several hours there sipping tea and chatting to various staff members. I walked back to my hotel along the lakefront and through the gardens passed the famous floral clock. The equally famous 200-meter tall fountain, Jet d'Eau, was operating out in the lake.
Back in my room, I took care of some email. I'd asked the international hosting organization Servas for a list of hosts in Poland and that had arrived, so I read through some entries in two cities looking for both day and overnight hosts. [After Geneva, I was going to Berlin for more business meetings, and then onto western Poland for a vacation.]
At 5 o'clock, I went back to the lake and bought a ticket for a 75-minute boat tour. We departed at 5:20. Seated next to me was a young couple from Melbourne, Australia. They were traveling around Italy, Switzerland, and France for a month. I also chatted with an American man and woman from Washington DC and my home city, Reston, respectively. As we talked some more we found that we'd arrived on the same overnight flight. In fact, they were flight attendants with United and both of them had served me in-flight. The recorded narration on the tour was broadcast in French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian, and my brochure was in English, Japanese, Arabic, and Russian. Sacrebleu!
After a short walk, I was at my familiar Italian restaurant, San Marco, where I sipped a glass of pineapple juice while studying the pizza section of the menu. I placed my order and read a newspaper while I waited for my food. The pizza was delicious, but a bit more than I really needed. I took my time eating and reading. The best thing was that there was no air conditioning.
The sun had dropped below the buildings and a cool breeze blew. I decided to walk up the steep hill to the old city where I sat in a park watching the world go by while savoring a half-liter carton of milk. Then I walked through an area with lots of outdoor restaurants and then back to lake level. I spent a few minutes listening to some street musicians before heading back to my hotel. Lights out at 10:30 pm.
[Diary] I was wide-awake at 1 am and never quite got back to sleep. I certainly was not ready to get up when my 9:30 am alarm sounded. By the time I'd showered, dressed, and packed my computer bag, there was no time left for breakfast. I took a taxi to the headquarters of the International Standards Organization (ISO).
I met with a man who had recently joined ISO from the Washington DC area, and we continued our discussions over lunch outdoors at a pizza restaurant nearby. Back at his office, I also met several other staff in his department who were working on the latest edition of one of my documents. It was a very productive five hours.
It was glorious out and as I had plenty of time, I figured out the local bus system and how to use the free transportation card issued to me by my hotel, and I rode a bus back to my hotel where I worked in my room for an hour.
At 5 pm, I was back on the bus headed for the Royal Hotel to attend a reception for US-based attendees for the up-coming conference. Afterwards, I rode the bus back home. Lights out at 10:30 pm.
[Diary] I slept until 3:15 am and then not much more until my alarm at 6:30; bugger! I ate breakfast at the hotel, read a newspaper, and dealt with new email.
Outside it was another nice day. I rode the bus to the big convention center where I registered for the 2-day ISO committee chairs' conference. We started promptly at 9:30 with 180 delegates from 40-odd countries speaking at least 25 different first languages. All business was conducted in English.
Assuming it was going to be a rather boring set of "lectures" with attendees seated classroom-style, I'd planned to do a whole lot of work on my laptop. Instead, I was surprised to find round tables for 8–10 people, with laptop and mobile phone usage banned! At the start of each agenda item, a speaker introduced the topic after which the people at each table had to brainstorm solutions for the problems presented, with the aid of a facilitator. Each table then appointed a spokesperson who presented their collective ideas, sometimes with a limit of 60 seconds! Apparently, it was a different approach from previous years. In any event, it worked well and I got quite involved even acting as a spokesman. Throughout the day attendees got to move to different tables as their interests dictated. It sure was a diverse group. For example, there were representatives from the oil and gas industry, dentistry, law enforcement, heavy earth-moving equipment, information technology, aviation, and greenhouse gases/climate-related fields, to name a few.
Having had a decent breakfast, I skipped lunch and worked on my laptop. Mid-afternoon, I faded and had 40 winks during one presentation. We broke for the day at 6 pm and moved to an adjacent space for a reception that consisted of food that was so substantial it served as my evening meal.
[Diary] After 9:30 hours of solid sleep, I felt great! The day went much the same as the one before except that we had a very fancy buffet lunch, during which I met quite a few interesting people. We finished at 5 o'clock and I left in light drizzle. Having had a big lunch, I wanted a small supper, so after working in my room for several hours, I paid a visit to "Chez McDonalds". I happened to sit at a table right next to a door with a combination lock, and people kept coming and going through it constantly. I figured it was the staff entry to the kitchen. However, people kept asking me something about the door, in French, of course. Finally, it occurred to me that it was the door leading to the toilets, and to enter one needed the access code printed on one's meal receipt.
[Diary] It had rained all night and there was still light drizzle, so I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel. Soon after, my friend Daniela (formerly from Perth, Australia, and now living in Geneva), arrived and we walked into the old city looking for a place to eat lunch. There were many places from which to choose, but it took us a while to find just the right one, an Italian pasta house. In traditional European style, we took three hours to eat, talk, and drink coffee. We hadn't seen each other in more than two years, and it was great to catch up with her and to see her smiling face.
That evening, Daniela picked me up for an evening with her friends, Liz and Jean-Marc and family, at their lovely house on a mountainside in France overlooking greater Geneva. The weather had cleared up and the sun was out. We started out with champagne and several kinds of quiche, followed by BBQ'ed pork sausages and chicken kebabs, and wrapped up with chocolate cake and Twining's finest Earl Grey tea. Throughout, we talked of many things. Quite coincidentally, Liz had attended the same conference as me where she had heard me speak. We said 'Au revoir' around 10 pm and drove back to my hotel in heavy rain.
Except for the French-speaking Lake Geneva area, I've seen very little of the country. However, one summer, my family and I, complete with grandparents, spent a day and night near Lake Constance, after having previously been in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Liechtenstein. Although I've been through the Zurich airport a number of times, I've only ever seen its gates and business lounge.
Bucket List: I can easily imagine spending a couple of weeks wandering from village to village and around the countryside, and even hiking from hut-to-hut on some of the mountain paths. I'd also like to visit some of the German-speaking areas.