Sunday, 27 August 2006

Alps road trip

I just got back from our road trip through the Alps. The plan was I was going to go to Labor Bar tonight, which is supposed to be really happening, but I'm way too exhausted. We did a lot this weekend!

Saturday morning, our first stop on our road trip was Bern, pictured above. It's the capital of Switzerland, and its city centered is a perfectly preserved renaissance thoroughfare. It was beautiful. We had lunch there and then continued on through the mountains. We had a naviagtion system in the car so that made things much easier, although I'm confident I could have guided us without it.

Next stop was Geneva. I was surprised by how different Geneva was from Zurich. It's in the French-speaking area of Switzerland, so everyone speaks French there. In addition to this, culturally the look and feel of the city is very different from Zurich. The buildings have metal railings on the balconies, just like in France. It's just generally a much more French-looking city. And much more diverse than Zurich, owing to the fact that so many international organizations are headquartered there.

I was a little underwhelmed by Geneva to be honest. I knew coming into it that it's much smaller than one would think, given its international reputation. But, it was really small. The highlight was definitly the Jet d'Eau, this giant fountain shooting water 460 feet into the air. Here on the left I caught a moment when it formed a rainbow.

Then there was Geneva's old town, which was very cool. We also went to the European headquarters of the United Nations, pictured below with me and my dad standing tourist-like in front of the beflagged entrance. The building used to house the League of Nations before it went defunct. Poor poor Woodrow.

Saturday night I wanted to go out and see what the nightlife was like, but I had a hell of a time finding anything decent. I was hoping to go out with my friend's boyfriend Maxim, who lives in Geneva, but he never wrote back to my e-mail. So, I checked to see where the best bars, and set out with a map and a vague idea of where I was going. The first place, called Twins, was supposed to be one of the hottest places in town. It was literally a closet. The whole place had to be about 10 feet by 8 feet. Once I walked in I walked the three feet to the bar and ordered a rum and coke. It was like I had ordered the head of a rhino on a platter. They had no idea what I was talking about, and seemed confused by the request. So the guy pours some rum into a glass and says, "like that?" I nod, and then he takes out a half-full can of coke and puts maybe half a cup in. "This is what you want?" he asked again. Sure, fine, I just need a DRINK!

I have two of those, while studying my map to see where the hell else I can go. I ask for the bill. Thirteen francs per drink!! That's $20 in total, for two crappy rum and cokes! So I head off to the other side of the river to find this club called Pretense. I get all the way over to find that it's closed. So I set out to find this other place, can't find it, then another place, can't find it. In short, at long last I was able to locate one bar, and by that point it was quite a victory. I figured I would just go in and have a drink, citing it as a personal triumph. But I met this guy who is a reporter for Swiss TV, and we talked for awhile about the differences between broadcast in Europe and the US. It was fun because we spoke in French (he was very patient with my struggling for vocab). So I guess the night redeemed itself in the end. Still, I'm not so impressed with the nightlife in Geneva.

This morning we drove along Lake Geneva to Lausanne, which was breathtakingly beautiful. The city is on two hills and the "upper city" is the old section and very cool. There was a bike race going on as we arrived so it took a little maneuvering to get there, but eventually we got to it, and it was well worth the wait. The Cathedrale Notre Dame was particularly impressive (that's it up at the top in the pciture at the right).

The drive from Lausanne down the coast of Lake Geneva to Montreux was breathtaking. The road goes right along the lake, with the French Alps rising across the water. Being able to just stop and get out at anything that looked interesting was awesome. We called at this small town called St. Saphorin and walked around a little bit. The people were very friendly and were more than happy to indulge me with my French. That's it in the picture below.

We continued on down the road toward our end destination, the Chateau de Chillon, a medeival castle jutting out into the lake. That was very cool. The place is huge, and is very well preserved. The best thing about the castle was being able to sit by one of the windows and gaze out at the water and the mountains.

It was really surreal. Actually, what was really surreal was watching the couple sitting in the window across from me have an argument in French and, I'm pretty sure, break up. The woman was crying and the man was looking off intently into the distance, all with this stunning backdrop behind them, as they were framed by the arched window. What a memorable place to have your life fall apart.
So all in all it was a very fun weekend, although it's left me exhausted. I'm a little bummed that I couldn't make it to Labor Bar tonight, but I literally would have passed out on the train on the way there. Pierce arrives tomorrow morning, I've tried to save things I think he'll enjoy for while he's here. Then on Wednesday we head up to Berlin, and this weekend we return to Zurich and Hale will come down and join us. Should be fun.

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