24 January 2009

Home of the UN and its Convention

Friday, 8 August 2008

European Adventure Travel Day 7
Geneva/Genéve/Genf, Switzerland

J's Geneva-based friends were kind enough to include me in their invitation to visit, so after we'd seen all there was to see in Neuchâtel, we moved on to the city that sparkles in the sun.

There is ground glass in the streets. The sparkles were the first thing we noticed.

We crossed the street to Migro's to do some grocery shopping, as J planned to make dinner for the four of us. We quickly found everything we needed for her recipe, except the capers. We searched high and low for them, in three different locations logical for the location of small, pickled, unopened flower buds, but to no avail. We asked store employees for help, but none of them had any idea what "capers" were, almost as if we were speaking a foreign language.

As it turns out, the French word for capers is "câpres," about as close as you can get in French. *facepalm* Good thing I know how to ask for "du vin."

Here is where I admit that I was busy interacting socially and didn't take many pictures in Geneva. I think the grand total was four. Not even kidding. J's friend A picked us up from the bus stop and took us on a mini-tour of the city before taking us to their flat.

People who work in glass buildings should be aware of that fact on Casual Friday

Saw the Jet d'Eau out of the window... Europe's tallest fountain and icon of Geneva. It originated on the Rhône in 1886, and shortly afterwards its tourist attraction potential was recognized and it was moved to its present location in Lake Léman (or Lake Geneva, if you haven't yet realized that Switzerland has at least two names for everything). To summarize: big tall stream of water in a lake.

Debated the visual impact of the Broken Chair monument to anti-personnel mine victims at Place des Nations. General consensus: something other than a legless chair could have been symbolic, yet more poignant depiction of landmine casualties.

Upon arrival at the flat of A and S, J commenced cooking, and A made me espresso. Several times. Dinner was good, the company was fabulous, and searching for French hostels futile.

17 January 2009

Observe me in my natural habitat

This post is born of a combination of the self-portrait meme making the rounds and the entertainment I get from posting slightly-less-than-flattering pictures. They're funny.

J took this somewhere between Fribourg and Murten, probably. I think it's an appropriate expression for being deprived of my morning coffee.

I don't know her... she's a weirdy

Crazy eyes. Paused in the middle of scribbling something. On a train, which is my favorite method of transportation because the seats are usually comfy, you can stare out the windows, and the ability to jump on a train anytime, anywhere, satisfies my need for freedom and spontaneity. It appears that train even had a real table, not a silly little one that protrudes about six inches from the wall.

Sweet as.

Please direct your hilarity to the comments section. Thank you.

14 January 2009

Pretty yellow city

Friday, 8 August 2008

European Adventure Travel Day 7
Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Neuchâtel was a short train ride from Murten and Avenches. It's a town about 12km from the French border, and, like most Swiss cities, it's high on a hill overlooking a lake. Which means lots of climbing. In fact, the Swiss have an ancient battle strategy of building their cities so high in the mountains that potential attackers would march up, ponder the climb, and then surrender.

Actually, no, I made that last bit up.

...I did meet some Swiss soldiers though, and they were quite nice.

Anyway (because it's fun!), the first thing we did was climb up the biggest hill in town to see the château and cathedral. J had already been to the city before we meet up in Montreux, so she had already scoped out the sights. Most of the buildings in Neuchâtel are yellow, built from local yellow sandstone. Alexandre Dumas once described it as "like a toytown carved out of butter.”

We arrived at the wrong time for a tour of the château, but after the black-and-white avant-garde wedding was over in the cathedral, we went inside. Built in the 12th century, most of the art was removed during the protestant Reformation in the 16th century, but the beautiful rose window and pipe organ were still alive and well.

In the courtyard, we found this stone fellow.

Swiss reformer Guillaume Farel

For any of you sketchy on your Reformation history, Guillaume Farel is the man who convinced John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) to stay in Switzerland in 1536, after the French uprising against protestants.

After church, we headed off to prison.

Oh, and I wasn't kidding about the steepness of those city streets.

Acrophobic pigeon contemplating a move to Kansas

This is a typical road in the city. Unlike many Swiss towns, the old town center is NOT pedestrian only. This narrow cobblestone street is wide enough for a small European car. Not a small European car and two backpackers, if you catch my drift. Claustrophobes, take heed! That tall square tower is the old prison.

We each had to pay a franc to climb to the top (yeah, it's a new kind of torture... pay money to climb infinity stairs... oh Switzerland, how my quadriceps appreciate your quirks). The historical prison itself was a little disappointing -we climbed steep, narrow wooden stairs past two cell blocks that were labeled as prison cells- but the view at the top was particularly spectacular. One side overlooked the lake, and the other back up the hill toward the château and cathedral. The château has a pretty flowery pattern on the roof.

View from the prison: L'église Collégiale de Neuchâtel

After prison, we returned to solid ground, via the winding cobbled streets to the marketplace, where we ambled around the cafés in the square because I wanted to eat fondue. We found all sorts of fancy things, but not fondue. I think we may have been to close to France. ;)

Even gargoyles have to sneeze sometimes

We did find some fabulous pastry though. I bought something that was cone-shaped and filled with cream. It was delicious.

Some old bridge-like thingy

J and I rode the bus from the lakeshore to the top of the hill where the train station was. On the bus, there were several pretty men in uniform, and by that I mean members of the Swiss Armed Forces. At the top of the stairs in the train station, they were accosted by female volunteers of Amnesty International. It was pretty funny.

We left them there and boarded a train to Geneva/Genève/Genf.

10 January 2009

A long time ago, people lived here and they had funny names

Friday, 8 August 2008

European Adventure Travel Day 7
Murten and Avenches, Switzerland

To get to Murten on Friday morning, J and I had to endure a really long day on Thursday (map of adventure). After parts one, two and three ,we took a night train from Buchs through Bern to Fribourg. We stayed in a hostel tucked into the back of a hospital, where we were greeted by the sound of vigorous vomiting when we went to brush our teeth. Clean, tidy nice place though. It was pouring rain when we got into town.

Friday morning we took a train to Murten, another small, walled, old city not far from Fribourg, on the shores of Lake Murten. The town is famous for its defeat of Charles the Bold. Good name. Hereafter, I request to be addressed as Meagan the Bold. I digress. Murten has a 13th century castle, which is privately owned and not available for touring, but cool nonetheless.

Château de Murten

The town wall is different than that of Lucerne's. It's a narrow walk encircling the town, and you can almost reach out and touch the steep rooftops of the houses. We were there early in the morning and all was quiet, except for some laborers discussing the day's project down in the street. One of them saw us, so I waved at him and he nodded. All four of his friends immediately turned and waved at us.

The wall of Murten

Next we boarded a train for Avenches, which you must pronounce in a French accent (aaaahh-vonsh), or the ticket people will stare at you confusedly while you stammer and gesture. This is French Switzerland, after all... We got there and had to walk up a hill from the station to the old part of town (which is very common), but our ability to translate signs into actual directions was a bit off, so we wandered in circles for awhile before seeing anything that looked remotely ancient. the first thing happened to be the ampitheatre, around which scaffolding was being erected for the summer open-air rock festival. I'm sure Dionysius is proud.

Avenches was once Aventicum, the capital of Roman Helvetia, founded around 72 BC. Once a city of 20,000, it's now home to about 2600. The ruins at Avenches include the ampitheatre (which was actually of a respectable size- eventually enlarged to 16,000 seats, or half the size of the Colosseum), thermal baths, theatre, sanctuary, temple, walls and gate.

The Roman ampitheatre of Aventicum: once held gladiator battles, now holds rock and opera concerts

This is the Roman sanctuary, or rather, the column that remains. It's named for the storks that nested on it. A golden bust of the emperor Marcus Aurelius was found here.

Sanctuaire du Cigognier - Aventicum

Past the sanctuary was the theatre, where we spent the most time. Having never been to Rome, these are my first Roman ruins, and it's absolutely crazy to think that the yellow wildflowers have taken up residence on the stone steps that were filled with people laughing and talking and living two thousand years ago. Maybe it's because I'm from a "baby" country, but even the "1202" scratched on one of the stones gave us pause.

Roman theatre

I like history. I like big words, pompous language, and standing in places of importance. I think it's neat that Swiss money is called "CHF," which stands for Confederation Helvetica francs. However, standing on Roman ruins is one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. It amazes me that so much of the grandeur of days gone by has survived for us to see.

Foreground: Roman theatre. Background: Roman sanctuary and the town of Avenches

I just like this picture.

While J and I were trying to find the ruins, we were wandering the cobbled streets of the town in the wrong direction and we saw a cat. This cat was sunning itself on the street when it caught sight of a moth. At first, the cat ignored the moth while it fluttered and hovered, then the cat began idly batting at it. The cat got more and more into the game, catching the moth in its teeth and letting it go, then sitting on the moth and looking confused. Finally, the cat twirled and leaped after the moth down the street. We named him Gladiator Cat, in honor of the location and because of what he put that moth through. It was hysterical, though.

The people of Avenches are absolutely lovely and so helpful. I highly recommend a visit to this place.

05 January 2009

Baggin' It

J and I traveled in style. The Swiss trains were almost never full, except for rush hour trains between the largest cities, which meant we never had to make reservations. We'd just hop on a train, flash our Eurail passes and sit back. This also meant that our backpacks (close friends by this time) could sit with us, rather than languish, cold and lonely, on the luggage racks near the train doors.

I named my backpack "Fatty." Only because he was so heavy I had to put him on standing up or I'd topple over, I promise! I actually did topple over in the Amsterdam airport, but that's a story for another time. Haha. I took this picture on the train between Murten and Avenches, Switzerland.

That's Fatty on the left. J didn't name her bag. I think she didn't want to hurt its feelings.

Fatty looks like a dinosaur from the front. See the eyes on top, and the little hands? ...he's definitely eating something. Grarr!

Fatty and No-Name at Interlaken Ost

Switzerland was the easiest country to get around in by train. Stations are clearly marked, the arrivals/departures boards are easy to find and read, train announcements are in four languages, and there's almost always someone who speaks English if you're in desperation. French trains are very no-nonsense and you must always have a reservation, or else. Dutch train stations were fairly easy to get around, but it was hard to see the station signs when the train pulled in. Italian trains have the best cappucino carts.

In other news: I'm trying the three-column blog style on for size. Also, I have a totally sweet logo that shows up when you bookmark this page. I'm very excited about it. :)

*To paraphrase Mel, comments are like word crack. I just can't get enough. Please help!*