I live in a suburb of New Orleans and have been writing here off and on for 10 years. I have been married 53 years to the same crazy guy.
Two summers ago, my husband, Joe, and I attended Kiwanis International Convention in Switzerland. It's a place I had always wanted to visit, and I was excited. The trip was incredibly long, as most international flights are. As everyone else slept, I watched three movies. I impatiently watched the tiny plane on Joe's screen inch along, seeming to make no progress at all. I get up a lot on long flights, having read about the dangers of blood clots from sitting for long periods. I walked up and down the long aisles of the huge plane several times.
We finally arrived in Geneva. We lost a day and were in a mental fog the first day we were there. Joe had meetings to attend, and I lounged around our gorgeous room in the Starling. We both went to bed at 8:00 that night.
The Old Town Tour
The second day, Joe also had meetings and obligations. Although I'm not a Kiwanian, I have made some friends through Kiwanis. Another Kiwanis wife and I went on a tour of the Old Town section of Geneva that second day. I totally enjoyed the tour of the winding streets filled with history. Our tour guide was excellent and filled us in on the history.
I have always been interested in John Calvin, who was part of the religious upheavals during the 16th century and lived in Geneva during that time; many cathedrals in the Old Town area are named for him. Geneva itself was a large player in the religious turmoil of that period. The streets are full of charm and take one back to the time of John Calvin. The murals in Old Town were one of my favorite things. I was fascinated by them and the scenes they depict.
After the Old Town tour, my friend and I went back to the Starling and caught the bus for a vineyard tour. I didn't keep any material about the vineyard, but it was above Lake Geneva and was breathtakingly beautiful. We drank glasses of wonderful white wine sitting at tables outside the winery as we watched the sun set over the vineyard.
The owner came by to speak to us and tell us about growing wine. He didn't speak English and had an interpreter, and it was a very enjoyable experience, listening to his beautiful language and seeing his graciousness. The whole vineyard experience was perfect. I had seen vineyards at Niagara Falls but had never seen anything like this, with the added beauty of Lake Geneva in the mix. It was truly a picture-perfect sunset.
Seeing the Countryside
The third day, Joe and I took a tour bus to Chillon Castle. The ride on the bus to the castle and to Montreux was my favorite part of the trip. The terraced vineyards and fields of sunflowers were amazing, and as we went higher and higher, the view of Montreux was fabulous. I had no idea that Montreux was well known for jazz festivals for many years and even has a statue of Freddie Mercury. I was excited about Chillon Castle and along with the others on the tour, I listened raptly to everything the tour guide had to say.
As we got closer to Montreux and climbed higher and higher, we saw clouds around the mountains below us and soon were over Lake Geneva and the beautiful city of Montreux. And when we reached Montreux, we were delighted to see that there was a jazz festival in full swing. We got out and walked along the different booths set up along the lake. We decided to eat at an ice cream parlor and ordered ice cream and coffee.
One thing about Switzerland, especially Geneva, is that everything is very expensive. The ice cream bill was just amazing, but it was cool and refreshing and worth every penny. Everything about Montreux is wonderful, and we didn't stay there nearly long enough. Seeing the chalets high above us on the side of the mountain made us want to come back sometime and stay a month!
Chillon Castle was next. I was very excited about it. I had done a lot of research on the internet about it and learned that it was the catalyst for The Prisoner of Chillon, a poem written by Lord Byron. Byron persuaded his friends, Percy and Mary Shelley, to write a terrifying story about the castle, which they did as well as another friend who was part of that literary summer of 1816. All did write the stories, encouraged by Byron, but only Mary Shelley's survived in the form of Frankenstein, a classic horror story. Byron was drawn to the castle and even carved his name in a column of the dungeon at one point, where it is still visible today.
Chillon Castle has a strange energy, or at least it did for me. As we walked farther down into the lower parts of the castle, I began to feel what the prisoners in the dungeon must have felt. As I entered the dungeon and saw where the prisoners were chained, it was the most desolate feeling in the world, being there. I thought about how they must have looked over and over again out of the tiny windows at the ships in the distance, knowing that they would likely never be free again.
The last day there, my friends were in meetings along with Joe, and I decided to be adventurous and go down to the lake area by myself. Lake Geneva is the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. The fountain, which shoots water 459 feet above the lake, is truly an amazing thing to see. I wandered around the lake by myself, taking photos and buying ice cream to eat. I made hundreds of photos.
The lake area is full of locals, tourists, and pickpockets. No one bothered me, but I learned later that a man with our convention had been knocked down and robbed when he visited the lake. He and his family were there at dusk, which probably had something to do with what happened. A local resident I spoke to told me it was safe as long as you went during the daylight hours. I saw mostly families with small children, buying ice cream and then walking along the lake, looking at the fountain.
We ended a wonderful vacation in Switzerland with friends at an excellent restaurant, Edelweiss. It was beautifully decorated and even offered entertainment, a small band with singers. We had cheese fondue and cooked meat at our table, which we dipped in sauce, ordered all sorts of dishes we had no idea about, and had a grand time. We still laugh with our friends about the fact that we had to ask the waiter to bring a leaf for the table to hold all of our food!
I would be delighted to go back to Switzerland if I ever have the opportunity. It's a beautiful country filled with gentle, friendly people, interesting history and architecture. I feel we only scratched the surface with our visits to Geneva and Montreux; there is so much in those two places that I didn't see and want to see one day.