Pretty Lake Geneva, actually Lac Leman, between France and Switzerland is one of those lakes you can just spend time gazing at. It just draws you in.
Just to add a bit of excitement, the Swiss decided to have a high water fountain the Jet d’Eau, which sprays a column so high it can be seen from kilometers away. You stroll along a long stone walkway to get to it. I was posing under it and the column of spray suddenly changed directions, drenching me with spray. A real drenching. It’s my second visit to Geneva, a bit wetter this time, and it’s good to reacquaint myself with the sights like the United Nations with its symbolic giant chair with three legs and one broken leg. Geneva is a lovely, waterfront city with older and newer parts that empty over the weekend as people leave work and return back to France.
It’s with my godfather across the French border where I have driven from Prévessin-Moëns, taken a refreshing dip in the lake at Chens Sur Leman, and gone past the Château de Voltaire into Geneva.
The lake is shaped like a croissant, and it leads to Lausanne.
Well-known L’Hermitage reveals the wealthy nation’s period collections like Rembrandt. Monet’s famous painting of Parliament is there, made during his London and National Gallery visits. Undoubtedly influenced by JMW Turner and shortly afterward that misty atmospheric style helped Monet’s Impressionism become the world’s most famous art movement, which Swiss collectors have snapped up and are now showcased throughout the nation. At St. Francis Place you can see outside the Lausanne apartment where celebrated author Edward Gibbon wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The massive Palais de Rumine museum, actually three museums and a zoology and archaeologists dream, showcases huge quartz and silica rocks powering the planet’s biggest exporter of watches. In the evening, I get probably the most delicious prawns I’ve ever had in a mild seafood curry soup base, with fries, or frites, all tenderly cooked.
At the end of the evening, never mind prawns, the best seafood dish I have ever had is in a landlocked country!
I laugh out loud to myself.
Montreux along the lake is famous for being the haven of Freddie Mercury and his band Queen fled to when they became the world’s music sensation. Seven albums including “A Kind of Magic” were produced at Mountain Studios, their personalized recording studio here and Freddie’s iconic statue at the water’s edge still attracts countless visitors, with the recent four Oscar-winning films just adding to his fame. The castle at Chillon is where naughty Byron couldn’t resist graffitiing on the wall and where he got the inspiration for the real-life story The Prisoner of Chillon, the famous poem so familiar to generations of nineteen and twentieth-century school kids. Peter II of Savoy’s castle guarded the lake and the astute ruler extended his rule all over central Switzerland his red with white cross Savoy flag is now the country’s official flag.
I sleep in a four-poster bed. Not comfortable at all. There are double side-by-side toilets.
They weren’t big on privacy back then either.
You’ve jumped off an NZ mountain. You’ve jumped off a tower. You’ve jumped out of a Fiji plane into blue skies. But what you haven’t done is jump out of a cable car above a lake with your legs tied up.
Just before the jump, I uncomfortably notice a large hemp shop opposite the road and just hope the person attaching my cord isn’t high on weed.
Europe’s highest bungee jump at Stockhorn is in a red cable car and as it stops you pause. The thought of landing face or flat back first in a water smack at several hundred kilometers per hour gets to you. A green mountain and lake blend into one and I plummet all the way down and back up again. It’s only when the GoPro attached to my wrist is played back that I realize how open a jaw can be. You could fit someone’s fist inside. The mountain scenery and fresh air were beautiful. My mouth obviously didn’t fully appreciate going all the way down. Interlaken is in the middle of the country and it was from there I took the drive to the weed-free Bungy jump.
Interlaken is William Tell country and now possibly the adventure sports capital of Europe with colorful paragliders dotting the sky. The alpine scenery is just gorgeous and at meal times there is the delicious smell of bubbling cheese fondue.
Swiss clocks and water fountains are beautifully decorated and the Clock Tower and the water fountains around German language Bern are lovely examples.
The Federal Parliament in the large open town square has mountain and Lake Neuchâtel views from behind.
A visit to Einstein’s house shows his gorgeous writing desk, his difficult career, and love life, and showcases his 1905 annus mirabilis, year of miracles, where within a few months of each other he made five discoveries including quantum physics in March for which he got the Nobel Prize, Brownian motion in May, theory of Relativity in June and his E=MC squared energy and mass formula in September. Someone in Bern was on a roll. The opposite of physicist Einstein was Paul Klee and the stunning barrel-roofed contemporary museum showcases the artist’s colorful works: surrealist, expressionist, cubist, and Bauhaus.
The Paul Klee Notebooks are supposed to be as important for modern art as Da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance.
I come across one of the most beautiful town halls I’ve seen in Basel. Red and nicely decorated. I see Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous St John the Baptist on tour and ink sketches at the Kunsthaus, art museum. I saw the Da Vinci exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace only a few months ago.
Both Basel and London exhibitions showcase incredibly beautiful Da Vinci hand sketching.
Rodin’s famous Burghers of Calais of seven hostages in middle ages France, which like The Thinker must have cemented Rodin’s reputation as a sculptor, is in the courtyard.
The Rodin is surrounded by people.
Its triangular roof encloses scores of paintings from the country’s turbulent past including the Reformation.
Unexpectedly, I come across a JMW Turner exhibition and see how Switzerland’s scenery influenced arguably Britain’s most popular artist, whose face was on a £20 banknote.Expensive.I see Turner’s lovely sketch of the Rigi Mountain in his notebook opened for display. In the Rosengart collection, you see Angela Rosengart’s wonderful family art collection and can see why Picasso was so smitten when he met the eighteen-year-old Angela, he used her as his muse.
It wasn’t sexual though as Picasso knew Angela’s father who commissioned his work.
Zurich‘s twin tower Grossmünster Church dominates the skyline. I frolic nearby in the contemporary designed water fountain. A trip to Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhine Falls, is to see a 150m wide thundering experience. The castle above the fall, Schloss Laufen gives a panoramic view of 600 meters cubed of water roaring past per second.
Loudly roaring past.
Liechtenstein shares a porous border with neighboring Switzerland and both share the same airport in Zurich. The principality is smaller than you might expect but alpine pretty. The main city Vaduz is easily traversed.
Hans Adam II married Countess Marie and their fiftieth anniversary was three years ago. Scenes from the beautiful royal wedding are on the country’s stamps. I visit their principal residence hilltop, Vaduz Castle, though visitors aren’t allowed inside, with its lovely surrounding views. I am allowed in the royal collection back in town and see Philip II’s armored fist, probably the most decorative inlaid armor I have ever seen. He was Mary I’s husband and his Spanish Armada against Bloody Mary’s sister Elizabeth I didn’t exactly do too well. His fleet and army sank in the channel.
Someone should have taken Philip II’s armored fist and punched his Highness in the head with it.
Decorative eggs remind one of the Fabergé eggs on display.
Two nearby castles with their lovely hilltop views complete the visit, Hinterschloss, and Schellenberg. Near the former, I pick from a vine and eat a large grape, which is unripe but still fleshy fruit. I gaze at vineyards sun-blessed and cultivated since Roman times stretching into the distance.
As I have dinner later, I end up reflecting on whether Switzerland and Liechtenstein are small, landlocked, boring alpine countries? Well, after this trip, make that prosperous, historic and modern, cultured, neat, beautiful places with wonderful mountain and lake scenery.
And one of those countries has loads of weed shops.
Copyright Hector Lee