We got up early, and hustled down to the Metro to get to the train station. Lyon’s Metro is just as good as the Metro in Paris, but the trains don’t come quite as often. Strangely, we got our tickets checked by the Metro people right after going through the gates. This didn’t happen a single time in Paris, although we probably rode the Metro at least 20 different times. Maybe more. It just solidified what Sarah and I have been thinking about Lyon, which is that it’s a lot more lawless than Paris. At times, it even felt a bit dodgy and Neopolitan (although nothing could compare to Naples…Lyon is tamer than any city in Italy).
We made it to the train station just fine, plopped down, bought a couple of coffees and some pastries, which really are the de facto European breakfast it seems. (How do all these Europeans not get fat?) Got on the train, settled in, and were just getting ready to go, when we got grabbed off the train by an agent. “Geneva?” “Yes,” we replied. Apparently, we were on the wrong train and they were splitting the huge train that had rolled in front of the sign for our train into two pieces. We had to run to get on the other section, but made it just fine.
The train ride to Geneva doesn’t take long—just an hour or so. We had 11 minutes to make our connecting train to Lausanne from Geneva. We got off in Geneva, ran through customs (I guess that the Swiss don’t care that you’re coming into Switzerland if you’re coming from the EU), had a brief moment of panic when we realized that the Swiss train system is not as easy to understand as the French one (no train numbers, and it’s pretty murky about what the right train is, since it’s not listed on the ticket in an immediately apparent way), but found our train and got on it.
The train ride to Lausanne is pretty cool, and goes right along Lake Geneva (Lausanne is on the other side). We got off the train in Lausanne, and immediately stopped at an ATM to get some cash since Switzerland isn’t on the Euro. For whatever reason, I didn’t write down the name of the hotel we had made a reservation at…and there was no wifi in the train station. Luckily, the tourist center had a really nice lady who managed to decipher what hotel we were at (Ibis—which is a European chain that is like the Holiday Inn, except nicer, cleaner, and more comfortable, but about the same price more or less), and told us how to get there. When she told me that the price for both of us to take the bus would be 6SF—about $6.75, I was a little shocked. That’s a lot for the bus. Especially coming from Paris, where a metro ticket costs the equivalent of $1.25. Sarah just wanted to get a cab, and the shock continued: our 5 minute cab ride cost 13 SF, or about $15. Even in LA, where the cabs are pricy compared to other cities, the meter wouldn’t be that high that quickly. Just to compare, the initial fee for Swiss cabs is 6.8 SF, or around $7.50. In LA, I think it’s $2.80, or maybe even $2.20. Whatever, it wasn’t that much more expensive than the bus, and it’s a lot less hassle when you don’t know exactly where you’re going.
It was early in the morning—about 11:30 or so, but luckily, our room was ready. We checked in, and were really pleased. The room was clean, nice, and modern. It did have a couple of quirks though: 1. Free wifi was only in the lobby—weird. Why not offer it everywhere since you’re giving out access codes? 2. If you don’t put the key in the holder by the door, the electricity doesn’t work. So you can’t even turn on the lights. 3. No mini soaps or anything like that (which is actually very smart). Quirks aside, the room was adequate.
Sarah and I were excited to explore Lausanne, so we left the hotel. We walked for a bit, towards the old town, and quickly realized that nothing, I repeat nothing was open. At all. No restaurants, no retail establishments, nothing. Well, except McDonalds and stuff at the train station, including a crazy expensive convenience store. Since there was nothing to open, and literally, nothing to do, Sarah and I decided that we were going to take the train to see Chateau Chillon.
We got to the train station, and that’s when I became a bit less enchanted with Switzerland. First, we went to convenience store, which was ridiculously expensive. We got bread, salame and cheese for lunch, because really, there wasn’t much other choice. Sarah and I love to eat salame bread and cheese, but it’s not the healthiest thing to do on a regular basis. Second, I couldn’t buy a ticket with my Amex because all of the terminals with live people were closed. Okay, time for cash. Except that I only had a 100 SF note, and a 50 SF note, and the automated machines gave only 20SF change maximum, and our tickets were 26SF. So I’m supposed to donate 4SF to the Swiss train company because they don’t want to employ people on Saturday? Lame. I had to go buy a pastry in order to not get ripped off by the Swiss train people.
Chateau Chillon is also on Lake Geneva. The train ride there is beautiful, and winds alongside the lake and also beautiful terraced vineyards that are part of the Veytaux appellation (I’m guessing) all along the way. The stop for Chillon is one stop from the end of the line. So when we realized the train had rolled into Villeneuve—the last station, we didn’t really know what to do. We got off the train, and since we saw the lake, figured to hell with it, we’ll walk. The town is picturesque, and we found a map too, which said that it was somewhere about 2 or 3 km away, which isn’t that far. The walk around lake Geneva is beautiful, and you realize that Switzerland has amazing mountains. Really amazing mountains. The whole place is beautiful. Lots of people were out and about—I guess that they were all doing something other than hanging out in the city.
We saw the castle quickly in the distance and made our way there. The castle is fairly expensive to get into (12 SF a piece, plus 26 SF round trip train from Lausanne each, which makes for about $44 a piece), but well worth it. It’s one of the coolest places that we’ve seen in Europe. Sarah thinks it’s like a giant wooden playground for adults. The castle has been there for close to, if not more, than a millennium in some form. Apparently, the site of the castle was the site of a Roman trading post, but the actual castle as it’s seen today was built in several stages starting in the 13th century. It also was featured in a Byron poem.
We spent the better part of a couple of hours wandering through the castle, seeing the different layers reflecting different building periods, wandering up the towers, looking at the latrines (right into the lake), and wandering through all of the rooms. This place is definitely worth a trip.
We took off, wandered to the correct train station, bought tickets and caught the train back. We started to walk back to the hotel, but Sarah wanted to see the lake front district, so we wandered down the steep streets and into the lake front district of Lausanne, called Ouchy. This was where all the Swiss people seem to have gone on their Sunday. Tons of people were walking around. We did too, taking in the views of the mountains and generally enjoying the natural beauty of Lausanne. We started walking back up, and came upon an open grocery store. Of course, we went in and bought some stuff—water, bananas, nutella, and Grancereale cookies. Aside from being really expensive, it was a pretty welcome find. Sarah and I stopped in a park and ate a bunch of Grancereale cookies with nutella and a banana each, and then started walking uphill again. That’s when we realized that we could take the bus, courtesy of the 2.5SF tax we paid each for our room (you get a pass for completely free access to public transportation in the city). Given that a bus ride costs 3SF each, we made our money back on the ride. Which was actually welcome, because even though we’d walked about a mile uphill, there was still another mile to go.
We came back to the hotel, and the hunt for dinner was on. Deserted, although there were definitely restaurants open. Typical Swiss restaurant seems to be about 25SF for a main dish…which translates to about $28 USD. A lot. Anyways. I a Doner kebab place, and decided that looked good. Sarah was a little skeptical, but for 10SF a piece, we got huge lamb pita wrap things with spicy garlic cream sauce. We went back to the hotel, and devoured them. We had also thought to purchase the cheapest bottle of wine we could find at the grocery store—5.8SF, or a little under $7—so we drank that with them. The whole combination was delicious. If there’s one thing that is a truism in any city, it’s that you can always find some kind of delicious, cheap for the city ethnic food from whatever ethnic groups happen to be in the city. We went to bed, hoping that the city would be a little less dead in the morning.