Ok, the trip to Switzerland was Leona’s brainchild, ever since reading about the “chocolate train”, we planned to work it into the trip. The EU rail pass therefore included Switserland as one of the 4 countries specifically to accommodate this trip, and it nearly did not happen!
Early on Monday morning we set off, but probably not early enough as we arrived on the platform at 07:17 for the 07:18 TGV to Valence. The TGV being the French high speed rail network, and notoriously on time and efficient. So breathless we boarded our coach and found our seats, happy to be on board. In all our travels thus far we have had some interesting encounters to get our seats, but after the first train or two you understand seat number, carriage number etc. quite well. The most interesting episode was on a previous train to Paris when 2 people had valid tickets for the same seat, same carriage until the 2nd party to arrive pointed out to the first party that he was a full week early for the train (boarding in Sete), talk about time warp!
Short stop in Valence for coffee and off to Geneve, with one stop in between, just long enough to grab some take away pasta for the children for lunch. The scenery from Valence onwards being decidedly different, and also including the first maize we had seen in our entire trip thus far.
Our accommodation is 5 km outside of Geneve in Faerney Voltaire, but we now realised taking the bus there that it is in France. With costs in Switzerland being a lot dearer, the area close to the border has allowed some settlement. The Voltaire in the village name is also none other than the greatest French writer of all time, so a real pleasure indeed!
Once settled in we took a bus back and after a short walk took the ferry across the lake (you have to do this, especially if the public transport includes the ferry!).
Once across we walked (and allowed the kids to run along the grass), had a beer and found two restaurants that had television sets in their windows. As this was the night of the France/Nigeria semi final we had to watch the last 25 minutes. The larger of the two bars had no seats, so we took seats at the smaller and witnessed both goals being scored by France, fantastic. The larger bar was however 2 seconds ahead in broadcast (different channel….), so no surprise by the time the goal is scored, but our small crowd did put in a loud shout none the less (me less so, hoping that an African team would qualify for the quarter finals, but alas…).
A leisurely walk back included dinner, proper Swiss flamenkuchen (pizza, but not quite) and for me the tasting menu if the craft brewery, really a pleasure with some of my JHB colleagues probably being jealous!
Then off to the taxi at nine (Pieter sleeping instantly) and to our hotel. I spent the first half of the Germany game in the small bar next door (could not find the Germany last 16 match on our TV), but as they closed at half time I finished the match in my room armed with the correct channel to look for, really usefull!
Next morning, not too early a rise, but coffee and crossaints in the village (our room had a proper coffee peculator, but no coffee, I was not buying 500g of ground coffee for 2 or 4 cups and lugging the rest across Switzerland!).
Then off to the station and a train to Lausanne for lunch. A few steep climbs but the stop was worthwhile. The kids greatest treat was to play in a park a short distance from the restaurant we were targeting. This park also included the first ever syringe disposal bin that I had seen in a public bathroom, a reminder that all is not perfect in Switzerland.
Lunch was very enjoyable, good service, cold beer, but we were starting to realise that we are spoilt with the French wine. A lovely afternoon, but the Swiss wines are all semi-sweet (my in-laws will love travelling here!). Considering the climate (cold winters and mild summers in the early 20′s) one should not be surprised by this, but not what we had expected.
(Pieter wanted to type his name, he is very proud of the children in school teaching him how to write his name).
After lunch we took a train to Montreaux, from the station a short taxi ride and we were at our hotel. Having settled into very comfortable accommodation we left for Chillon Castle for a short afternoon tour. The castle has been made famous through the poetry of Byron, but to witness a building that is more than a thousand years old as well as what can only be described as a very professional display is worhtwhile! We even saw 20 minutes of a ballet rehearsal in the courtyard.
We left the castle shortly after 6 in the evening and headed into town to find a venue to watch Switzerland trying to stay in the World Cup, sadly they did not. Dinner was some seafood risotto for Leona, Itallian risotto for myself, pizza for Annabellé and pasta for Pieter. We fed well! This part of Switzerland is nearly Italian, with all people speaking French and Italian as a minimum, with luckily some German to assist where my French fails.
After dinner we took a stroll back to our hotel, past the Freddy Mercury statue (Montreaux is where their last album “Made in Heaven” was recorded). Photos were had as well as an episode with keys, and then back to our hotel just after 10 (with sun still shinning) to prepare for the next busy day.
Up early, taking a taxi (as it was raining, skipped the 5 minute walk) and onwards to the Chocolate train, our staff welcomed us (a lady from Ghana serving coffee and the other from the DRC being conducter – and speaking fluent French and German), we really miss Africa when travelling and any links back to the continent are grasped at very opportunity.
The coaches are beautifully done and our first stop was the town of Gruyere, yes exactly where the cheese comes from. The visitors centre gives a very good overview of the history and process of cheese making, as well as allowing the viewing of the factory’s operational areas. Well done, really allows tourists to be accommodated! After an hour and a bit tour, just enough time for a cold beer before hitting the town for lunch.
Not everybody thought the cheese tour was so much fun..
Luckily the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was cold, rainy and allowed us to order cheese fondue without feeling out of sorts. The small village of Gruyere has about 6 or 7 restaurants, we selected the local inn and were not disappointed (except the wine, as always sweeter that what we are used to).
After a meal, we still had an hour or so to kill, so with the children calmly being entertained by technology I visited the HR Giger gallery. He was born around 1942 and is best known for his biomechanical designs, as in the movie “Aliens” as well as sequels, Poltergeist etc. As I entered a family was about to visit and the receptionist explained that the museum/ gallery is dark and has some sexual content, it does allow children, but just to ensure the parents know. Undaunted I proceeded, I would recommend a visit, but the description is probably correct. I really did not expect Aliens and Grueyre cheese to have any link at all!
After lunch a short bus trip to the Callier factory, a very well known Swiss brand that was bought out by Nestlé in the 1920′s as difficult economic times demanded an increase in economies of scale to remain relevant. The brand is again in use by Nestlé and the visitors centre takes you on a tour of the history of chocolate, ending in the tasting room (yes, you can eat as much as you like), reminds me of SAB World of Beer in Johannesburg, but definitely worth visiting!
Then, back on the train and to the hotel, dinner this night was room service and once the kids were asleep both bottles of red and white in the fridge were consumed (0.5 l only).
Next day on the train and back to Beziers the same way as we came! If your itinerary allows, definitely visit Switzerland, the country was very different to what we had expected, more cosmopolitan, smaller (Geneve does not feel like a major city) and definitely unique!