Lake Geneva, The Alps, stunning landscapes and scenic vistas, what a treat! I left Lausanne over 6 months ago, after 2 years and time has flown by so quickly that I’m only now just gathering up my thoughts and feelings on my experience and whether or not I would advise anyone else to take the plunge or indeed return myself. Lausanne, in the west of Switzerland is French-speaking, in the Canton of Vaud, on a hill and mostly well behaved. 😉
Ou est le Lac? Taking a trip down memory lane, my favourite thing to do, without a doubt was hiking. Taking the train east to the village of St Saphorin and starting from there – I remember the first time I hiked, it was in the summer (August) in 33 degrees c weather! Quite what myself and my colleague K were thinking, I’ll never know. Still, it was our first time hiking across the Lavaux terrase, from St Saphorin to Lutry, which in itself was a triumph, needless to say we were both drained, dehydrated and exhausted by the end of the hike and one of us got badly sun burnt. Subsequent hikes were a joy however, for one, we’d learnt our lesson that hiking is best done in the spring/autumn or early in the morning if insisting to do so in the summer. We soon became pros at navigating the 4 hour trail, which saw us walking along various terraced vineyards on one side, with the stunning Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the towering Alps on the opposite side, whilst following the trail. “Ou est le lac” (where is the lake?) soon became our mantra and a running joke, as we always knew we were on the right track, as long as we could see the lake. We sometimes sang songs from the ‘Chicago’ musical, as one does and on one occasion one of us drank a glass of wine during the hike, which was a true novelty! After each hike, we would pop, into the Migros supermarket in Pully for our weekly grocery shopping, as we struggled to complete the rest of the uphill walk to our respective homes, sighing that we’d completed our workout for the week.
How much??? Eating out in Lausanne was fascinating, the most ordinary meals were so expensive that a lot of the time I preferred to cook my own meals at home. However, on the occasions that I ventured out, I had a good time. Once, on an especially cold winter’s day, my colleague Y and I went to Orchideé, an Asian fusion restaurant, close to Bel air, where we had the most delicious, heartwarming pho; that was one to remember, another time we went to a brilliant Italian place on Rue de Bourg. Sushi from Sushi shop in St Francois was always fresh, if a little overpriced, Brasserie Montbenon was smart and Vapiano, opposite the train station was a great casual Italian, which every visitor I had, enjoyed. I remember my first time grocery shopping in Lausanne, I’d only picked up a handful of items and the total came up to 50 Chf. Not only was I stunned that everything cost three times the normal price, I was equally underwhelmed by the options available and the general quality of produce, given the high cost. I did eventually get used to the high cost of living but it took some time.
Culture: The best part of my first year was spent shuffling around the city, due to my lack of stable accommodation, therefore, socialising was a luxury at the time. When I did finally settle in, I visited museums: Collection de l’Art Brut was great and the Museé Olympique was nicely laid out and inspiring! I walked around the old town incessantly, taking in the quaint shops and charming atmosphere. I did the the Fondue boat cruise, from Port d’Ouchy to Morges and back, where we were served a fondue dinner whilst cruising on Lake Geneva and I can honestly say that I have visited my fair share of castles, with Chateu de Chillon along the lake and Chateu de Gruyere being the stand outs. I did also attend the Cully Jazz festival in my first year, which was an unforgettable musical extravaganza. Flon was a hub of sorts with lots of bars, clubs and restaurants, it was particularly nice in the summer. The port of Ouchy was one of my favourite parts of Lausanne to take a walk and people watch; on a clear day you can see across the lake to Evian in France and if feeling particularly brave you can self-drive a pedalo on the lake. The lakeside is lined with luxury hotels and restaurants with immaculately trimmed hedges, it is here that you will find the Olympic museum (Museé Olympique).
Skiing & other winter sports: ” Why on earth did I go along with this?” was the thought that kept ringing in my head, the only time that I went skiing. I can laugh about it now, but I genuinely did not see the funny side at the time when I thought my life was in grave danger. I can appreciate the appeal of skiing – the freedom, the thrill, the pristine whiteness and beauty of the slopes, but I fell over so many times and had a particularly bad fall, which quickly took the fun out of it. Even after my 2 hour lesson, I found ski boots to be the most uncomfortable things, heavy, hard and impossible to walk in. The fact that I made it out of Leysin in one piece was incredible and I’m pretty sure that poor Y was immensely relieved too! I’m all too thankful that there aren’t any photos of me trying to survive downhill skiing. However, if unlike me, you’re a fan of winter sports, the opportunities are endless across Switzerland.
Day Trips: I took a few day trips to other cities: Bern: The capital city, just over an hour by train from Lausanne was picturesque and had the perfect balance of ancient and modern architecture. The river Aare, which runs through the old town was a vibrant shade of green and provided an endless amount of jokes as to its correct pronunciation, i’m still not sure what the correct pronunciation is, though I’m inclined to believe that only pirates do:) The bears, which I later learnt have a significance, (the symbol of Bern)were a nice surprise to see, hibernating in their pit whilst groups of tourists gathered to take photos of them. I saw the Swiss Parliament building and spent a couple of hours at the Kunst museum, perusing collections by Picasso et al from the Middle Ages till the present day. I also visited the Einstein haus, the house where Albert Einstein lived, which now serves as a museum.
I visited Geneva twice in my 2 years in Switzerland, not counting my numerous trips to and from the airport. Only a short train ride away from Lausanne (~40 minutes), I found Geneva to be very lively, cosmopolitan and very dynamic. It had a young vibe that was both alluring and slightly intimidating. I of course saw all the main sights: Jet d’eau, the flower clock, took a tram ride around Lake Geneva and took a walk around the city centre and the old town, checking out the luxury watch shops, chocolatiers and boutiques. Going on the Ferris wheel (Swiss wheel) provided a panoramic view of the city, which was stunning on a sunny June day. It was thrilling on both occasions and
out of all the cities I visited in Switzerland, I could most see myself living in Geneva.
Lucerne for me was a bit off-kilter, not my favourite Swiss city by any means. Now, that may have been due to the bleak weather on the day that I chose to go, as it was unusually cold, grey and dull for April, or indeed the reality of things. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to return to find out. Still, we did some walking around the old centre and visited the Historisches museum, which was as exciting as history museums go.
I do miss the pace of Lausanne, the clean air and the excellent quality of life. It was a worthwhile adventure while it lasted; I improved my French to a ‘passable’ level, not to mention all the yummy chocolate and wine indulgence in the process:). Would I recommend visiting Switzerland, notably Lausanne? Absolutely, yes. If deciding to make the move there as an expat, ensure that you negotiate a deal that includes accommodation to save yourself the hassle, as finding accommodation is tough, especially if not on a permanent contract, thus on anything other than a B permit. Without getting into the finer details, do your research and ask questions! However, for a holiday, you will not get a cleaner, more stunningly beautiful or a more life-affirming destination.
Leave me a comment if you have plans to visit, have visited or live in Switzerland. My account is only a tip of the iceberg.