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At Gruyères and the Jura Mountains
Because we have been staying right next to the Swiss border for the last several days, we have been able to make several day trips into Switzerland. (All of the French people we have talked to describe Switzerland as "special," in much the same way that we would describe a place as "a bit different"). As a country, Switzerland seems more like a conglomerate of separate city-states who operate independently of each other: there is French Switzerland, Italian Switzerland, and German Switzerland. For reasons of language, proximity, and budget, we limited our excursions to French Switzerland.
On November 11th, we drove two kilometres across the border into Genève (Geneva). After parking the car at the Pont de Mont Blanc and embarking on a walking tour, we quickly discovered two things:
4º Centigrade is very cold, and
Everything is closed on Sundays
The Pont de Mont Blanc
Nevertheless, we managed to find our way to the vieille ville (old town), where we discovered the wonderful Cathédrale de St.-Pierre on top of the hill. First constructed in 1000 AD, the cathedral was converted from Catholic to Protestant in 1536 during the Reformation. From the tops of the two towers, we were able to see a panorama of the entire region, from Le Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) to the Jura Mountains. Across the courtyard we ate lunch at the 556-year-old Crêperie de la Cathédrale, where we discovered just how expensive things are in Switzerland: the bill for lunch and dessert crêpes came to more than $60 US.
La Cathédrale de St.-Pierre, complete with old-town carousel
On November 12th we drove further into French Switzerland, via the autoroute along the entire northern length of Le Léman. At the far east end of the Lake is the beautifully quaint, typically Swiss town of Montreux (famous for its annual Jazz Festival). Just outside of town is one of the most-visited sights in Switzerland: the Château de Chillon, a wonderfully restored 13th-century castle that sits on a small island, just a drawbridge away from the shore. Cameron and Joss had a lot of fun running through the mazelike structure of courtyards, crypts, watch towers, and bastions, complete with dungeon and torture chamber.
Le Château de Chillon in Montreux
(While in Montreux, we also visited a pâtisserie -- pastry shop -- and continued our search for an Englishh-language tourbook of Europe. We had seen them abundantly in every other country, but held off thinking that we would be able to find one easily in Europe. Wrong! Finally, in a small bookstore, Joss spotted what must have been the only English-language tourbook in the entire region.)
On November 13th, we drove even further to the village of Gruyères at the foot of the Jura Mountains. We had come here to visit three things for which Switzerland is famous: a cheese factory, a chocolate factory, and a castle. Unfortunately, we discovered upon arrival that the chocolate factory was closed for the winter. As well, we took a quick look at the castle and decided that the Château de Chillon was still too fresh in our minds from the day before. That left the La Maison du Gruyère, a fromagerie where we took a self-guided tour (as narrated on small phones by Cherry the Cow) and learned all about how cheese is made (the boys even took a test afterwards).
There were several other highlights on this full day. The village of Gruyères itself is wonderfully quaint, tucked into a little pocket of the mountains. It is so small that visitors must park their cars and walk through the cobblestone byways (locals can drive, but one car must stop and back up when it comes up against another). We saw our first snow of the season. Russell found a museum dedicated to H.R. Giger, the designer of the movie "Alien," and took a solitary tour. (Cameron was the only other family member interested in going along, but he only made it as far as the first room before he got completely frightened and left. He still had nightmares that night.) For the drive back we took the scenic route, avoiding the autoroute and instead taking the slower lakeside road that passed through all of the little towns between Lausanne and Genève.
The entire town of Gruyères
Overall, Switzerland was certainly as expensive as we were afraid it would be, so we were happy that we had a place to stay right across the border in France. Surprisingly, the money exchange system (including which credit and charge cards are accepted where) is extremely complicated, considering that this is the financial capital of the world. But Switzerland has given us our first taste of Europe, and we are now looking forward to even more castles and history.
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