I’m on the train from Geneva back to Paris after a long weekend filled with cheese, cheese fondue, cheese making, more cheese fondue, and a few sites in between. It truly was a cheesy weekend.
I visited with Silvana, a fellow Yahoo!, and her husband Brian at their abode outside Geneva. They’ve got a great flat with a view over lake Geneva. Trigger and I enjoyed watching the fog rise over the lake as I plugged away on the computer. Yep, it’s always a working weekend. I added caching and some user-friendly features to InsiderFood.com. So let’s get to the cheese and fun activities.
I rode the TGV directly from Paris to Geneva and would recommend paying the extra 10 euros or so for first class. It’s nice to have a power outlet and room to stretch out, read, etc. While Gare de Lyon in Paris is large, bustling, and confusing, the Geneva train station is smaller, quieter, and still a bit confusing.
I needed to grab a surface train from Geneva to Lausanne to get to casa Silvana. There were no ticket windows but plenty of little computer kiosks. They’re fairly easy to use and are more satisfying than the coffee I suffered through from the station cafe.
Keep an eye out for the surface trains. The screen only mentioned a single train, but I barely missed one on the platform and another arrived as I was waiting for the one mentioned below in the main station.
Geneva was not an exciting city. I was expecting something very “Swiss”. I didn’t know what that would mean, but Geneva was not inspiring my Swissness. I would compare a Swiss vacation in Geneva to a trip to California and staying in Sacramento. The mere thought sends shivers down my spine, although it could be worse… Riverside!!!! AGGGGH
Not to completely diss Geneva; they had some nice Catholic churches that were stripped of their fabulousness during the reformation, the lake is super clean, the United Nations had some interesting buildings, and I found a great Hello Kitty smart car. The Hello Kitty car was enough to give the city an ounce of respect.
We also had our first fondue experience in Geneva. The Swiss Chalet featured a huge pot of the melting goodness with piles of bread. I was afraid that I would trip and roll down the street like the chewing gum girl in Willy Wonka, only my inflated bratbody would be creamy yellow instead of purple.
After the Chalet we discovered a great Russian orthodox church. It was small but full of gilded goodies. More than anything, it revved us up to visit France, a mere stone’s throw away.
Evian was our destination. We’ve got water to drink.
I didn’t know what to expect of Evian. I figured it would be a small, artistic village on the side of the lake. There would probably be some shrine to the water and a huge industrial complex in the center of town. The people would probably be quiet and friendly.
Fortunately we arrived for the Carnival, their belated Mardi Gras celebration. The Evianers know how to party. It was a blast to watch the parade and the interaction between the paraders and the parade watchers. Everyone knew each other and particularly enjoyed blasting horns, pelting with confetti, and spraying silly string on their neighbors.
The ground was littered with confetti, hats, children writhing in pain after throwing confetti in the face of the wrong person (who shall go nameless :) ), and the detritus of a festive event. The parade was so good they decided to have an encore as all the floats returned down the same street in a faster, albeit still explosive manner.
We finally went in search for the Evian spring after the parade. Lo and behold it was right there on the main street. It is a gorgeous Art Nouveau folly. It looks like it belongs in Disneyworld. It was closed for the parade but the spring is always flowing for whoever is thirsty. We drank our fill and then climbed the hill to see the rest of the city and lake.
Evian is a great town. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in pre-modern architecture, the spas, and enjoying a small city that knows how to party.
The ride around the lake
We continued our trip around the lake and stopped off at a restaurant named after Alexandria, one of Napolean’s nieces. It was a bit hoity toity, but good for a rest stop.
Montreux, where the uppity ups spend money and listen to jazz
We drove through Montreux, a city known for its jazz festivals. Its a beautiful city and looks like it costs thousands of dollars to even walk on the sidewalks. It reminded me of Beverly Hills, only without the hookers down the street and people on every corner selling maps to stars’ homes.
We didn’t pull into Lausanne until after 10p.m. and I was pretty damned tired. The city was fascinating. It’s an ancient city on the shore of the lake. It sits on the edge of a very steep mountain and the city rises like a terraced rice paddy. The city is built with layers and bridges fly over buildings as they cross from one section to another. I have a fear of tall bridges and these were freaky high. It reminded me of the futurama drawings of cities with monorails that zoom through sky scrapers.
The city’s heart is an ancient chateau and cathedral high up on the mountain. The views are amazing as the city pulsates below you.
That was the end of a great day touring the towns around Lake Geneva.
Gruyere – cheese, cheese, and more cheese
We planned a few activities for Sunday. Visit the Chateau de Gruyere, the cheese factory, an artist space for Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely , and finally go to the Ice Palace, a fantasy construction of frozen water.
Gruyere was supposed to be a quick stop to look at the cheese factory, buy some cheese, and see the chateau. We were not expecting the town to be so fabu! We spent the entire day here and threw our plans out the window.
The Maison du Gruyere is a small factory, restaurant, and gift shop. There’s a small trailer out back with two men making the cheese the old fashioned way. They started with buckets of milk and a huge copper cauldron heated by a wood fire. The cinders floated up and into the milk. I was sold, I wanted some of this cheese!
Inside is a more modern fromagerie with a large glass cave for cheese fermentation. Wall-e’s little buddy works inside here. The robot travels down the rows picking up large cheese rounds, flipping them, and placing them carefully back on the racks. It also does the hokey pokey when it reaches the end of the aisle.
The gift shop was super expensive but had some unique items. I got some postcards and butter from Gruyere. Yep, no cheese.
The Chateau de Gruyere
Above the cheese factory sits Château de Gruyères and village. The village reminded me at first of many towns that live off the chateau’s tourist traffic. But this one was different, it had soul, artistic blood, and a huge fat kitty that loved everyone.
What can you say about a tiny midievil village that boasts not only artisinal cheese makers, a wonderfully restored chateau, and an H.R. Giger museum/cafe. This ain’t your standard tourist trap.
The chateau tour starts with a short movie about its history. The small auditorium projects images against every wall and ceiling to give the user an immersive experience. I have to say it was very well done. I’ve seen a lot of places attempt this without the sophistication of this chateau.
The chateau has been nicely restored and is completely open to tourists. There are no guides and equally few areas are off limits. You are free to explore the rooms and grounds.
You are also free to photograph to your heart’s content. The only rooms with restrictions include delicate fabric and works on paper, so don’t use a flash! Each flash is like sticking the object in the sun for a day. It makes paper and cloth based items fade quickly.
The windows look out onto the Swiss mountains and landscapes. It was nice to have a few openings without glass for better picture taking.
The chateau at one time was owned by an artist who made some restorations and decorations. Corot was invited to spend some time and helped paint a room. It’s quite a time warp as you go from ancient castle to impressionist parlor.
The ramparts surround the back of the castle and provide various openings for photographing the scenery. You could also shoot invading armies and dump boiling oil on the uprising cerfs if needed.
H.R. Giger museum
Giger is a polarizing artist. You either like or appreciate his art or run out holding your stomach and swear in disbelief. It’s an erotic vision without the eroticism, violence and degradation join self-idolatry. Giger is most known for designing the sets and monster from the movie Alien. His figures morph between human and machine, organic and industrial.
It’s surprising to see his museum and cafe in such a small tourist village. But it actually makes sense when you think of the artistic pulse that has survived in the city, especially after Daniel Bovy took over the chateau in the 1800’s and invited his friends to help decorate the chambers.
The village also houses multiple restaurants that naturally encourage large cheese-based meals. I threw caution, and a month long diet, to the wind and had fondue two days in a row. I survived yesterday’s pot so why not? I even had raspberries with la double crème de Gruyère afterward for dessert. I’m so full of dairy products my udders are swollen. I also bought some bizarre local specialty. It’s a spread made with mustard, honey, chocolate, and god knows what else.
Gruyere ate up the day like a fat Ted wolfs down melted cheese on bread. Before we knew it we were on the freeway trying to get back to Geneva before my train took off. We made it about 10 minutes before the train took off. I was able to waddle onto the train just in time.
Paris is only a few miles away. I don’t think I could look at cheese for a few days. But I could use an Evian right now.