Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland!

Hello Everyone!

From February 4th to the 10th, my friends Emilia, Denisse, Mariana, and I went to Switzerland!!  This country is absolutely beautiful, and full of fun things to do!  Something I didn't know before going there was what language they spoke (which is kind of important to know!).  Interestingly enough, this small country has four national languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh.  We stayed on Lake Geneva the whole time which is in the French section of the country.  It is at a lower elevation, so the weather was in the 40s-50s and there was no snow.  Up in the Alps, the temperature obviously dropped and there was lots of snow!  Also, Switzerland is one of the few European countries that does not use the Euro, they use the Swiss Franc.  I never even thought to look into that until the day we left, woops!  But everything worked out just fine!  We were able to exchange money at the airport, and use our cards for the rest.  While we were on the trip, I looked inside my wallet and just started laughing.  I had five separate currencies on me! I have: U.S. Dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs, English Pounds, and Mexican Pesos!  I think my wallet is confused as to what I am doing and when! haha!

On Tuesday the 4th, we got out of all day classes, grabbed our bags and headed off to the airport.  We left Bordeaux a little after nine and landed in Geneva a whole 55 minutes later.  We took a taxi to our hostel, got settled in, and planned out our next day.  This was the first hostel I stayed in where we shared a room with two other women, and had public bathrooms for the whole floor.  There were beds for about 50 people (4-6 to a room) on each floor and the men and women's bathrooms were separate.  Hostels are definitely an experience, and I have heard a good share of horror stories, but I have been lucky enough to stay in some really great ones! No horror stories for me...yet...  Also, it is Switzerland, just about everything is good quality there.

On the 5th, we woke up early and had breakfast at the hostel.  Then we were on our way to officially starting our trip.  We took a 45 minute train ride to Lausanne, Switzerland, which is also on Lake Geneva.  We checked in to our next hostel, which we had a private room for the four of us, but still shared public bathrooms.  We talked to the woman at the front desk who gave us some suggestions on what to do.  The first thing we went to do was visit the Durig Chocolatier! (Because hey...we were in Switzerland: the land of chocolate!)  We were able to go in the work shop area and learn how they make different chocolates.  We then got to make our own chocolate bear!  We decorated the mold with white chocolate, let it cool, and then filled it with milk chocolate.  We named our very handsome bear, Arthur (who is pictured above.)  As Arthur was cooling in the fridge, we were able to help make other truffles and such and try many chocolates.  My favorite was watching how they filled chocolates with a homemade sea salt caramel.  They packaged our creations up for us, and even gave Arthur a special pink bow tie.  For lunch, we found a pizzeria place that had more than 75 pizza options.  The names of pizzas were mostly of famous people.  My first option was the George Clooney, but I went with a "build your own" option instead.   

(Hall of all of the Olympic torches)

Next we went to the official Olympic Museum!  This is honestly one of the coolest things I have ever been to!  In the late 1800s, Pierre de Coubertain, a French educator and historian, had a big dream.  He wanted to revive the ancient games that took place in Olympia, Greece, over 1000 years ago.  In 1894, he created the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was its first president.  In 1896, the first modern games were held in Athens, Greece.  In 1993, the IOC named Lausanne as the official Olympic Capital, hence the museum.  There have been 5 games that have been cancelled: 1916 Summer Games, 1940 Summer/Winter Games, and the 1944 Summer/Winter Games.  These cancellations were because of WWI and WWII.  Also, the winter and summer games used to be held in the same year.  In 1986, the IOC voted to stagger the games every two years.  The year 1992 marked the last time both games would be held in the same year.  

(Uniforms and equipment from the actual athletes)

The museum had just reopened in November after renovations, so everything seemed so new and modern.  The museum starts off with the history of ancient Olympia and neat artifacts from 400 B.C.  The rest of the museum focuses on the modern games.  We were able to see a lot of paraphernalia, stories from the greatest moments, and watch interactive videos/games of interesting facts and stories.  One floor was dedicated just to uniforms and equipment worn by the actual athletes.  There was one room with a floor to ceiling screen.  It played an epic montage of the opening ceremonies.  My favorite part was the torches and medals.  They keep every Olympic Torch and all of the original medals from every games at this museum.  I was definitely awestruck by these rooms!!  The Olympics are truly an amazing thing.  For those two precious weeks, the entire world comes together to watch and celebrate one common thing.  Everywhere in the museum, epic music was playing.  There were random sound clips of powerful speeches and videos of some of the most famous events in the games.  It gives you an adrenaline rush, I guess you could say.  You walk out of that museum feeling like you personally just won a gold medal in front of the entire world.  We were so hyper for the rest of the day.  It was truly an incredible experience! 

(Olympic medals)

After we left the museum, we explored the city some more.  We went to some cathedrals, walked along the lake at night, and hiked to the highest point in the city and found a cute little fondue restaurant for supper.  It is so hard to eat fondue at first.  I mean, it's melted cheese...the entire restaurant smells like feet.  The cheese is just so good though that you get over the smell!

The next day we were up bright and early and took a train to a very famous castle: Chillon Castle.  We were blessed with sun that day, which made this place even more beautiful.  The castle is built entirely in the lake, and is only connected to land by a little walking bridge.  It is Switzerland's most visited historical monument.  There are no official dates of when building started, but records of the castle started around the 11th century, making this castle almost 1000 years old.  Chillon Castle was never taken in a siege, but did change hands through treaties.  The castle is made up of 100 buildings that were added on and connected in its early years.   

We were able to explore the passageways under the castle.  They were used for storing wine, a pantry for the kitchen, dungeons, a small chapel, and random other storage places.  The picture below is of the only door in the basement of the castle.  It was the emergency escape door to the lake if the castle was under attack.  We were able to explore bedrooms, courtyards, passage ways, visiting Duke's quarters/private chapel, a ballroom, the formal dining room, look-out towers, and their version of a bathroom.  Toilets were a wooden bench over a hole in the floor.  If you looked down, it was about a 4 story drop!  Thank you for modern day plumbing!  It takes people about two hours just to walk through this place.  We had been a little over halfway through our exploring of this maze (floor plans make absolutely no sense,) when we discovered that Emilia had left her purse somewhere.  Talk about an intense game of Where's Waldo!  But we eventually found it and continued on our journey.  

 (Emilia and I trying to escape the castle dungeon)         (A guest's bedroom)

After our castle visit, we took another train and went into the Alps.  It was a beautiful winter wonderland.  We had to make a stop in a small village to switch trains and had a few minutes to spare.  So naturally we made a snowman and had a snowball fight!  Then we were off again to the small medieval village of Gruyere, tucked away in the Swiss Alps.  Gruyere is famous for making Gruyere cheese.  We visited the cheese factory and then went up the mountain by the Gruyere Castle to have lunch.  We had more fondue of course!  We were seated by a window which overlooks a valley, it was beautiful!

To get back to Lausanne, we needed to take three trains.  It was a little scary because it was at night.  At one stop, we had to wait an hour for our next train to arrive.  We were lucky because there was a building at this train stop.  It was a room with benches so you could wait in a warm area with light.  So here we are, 4 girls, waiting for our train at night, in a Swiss village with a population of less than 100, way up in the about a lack of life!  Denisse and Mariana had brought along two decks of cards, so we did that while we waited.  I taught them how to play Black Jack!!  We had a lot of fun and time flew by.  We got on our train and made our way safely back to Lausanne!

(The village by the Gruyere castle) 

The next morning we stayed in Lausanne to explore and shop.  One place we went to was the Notre Dame Cathedral of Lausanne (a very high part of the city) and looked at all the beautiful views.  Then we took a boat to the French side of the lake to Evian, France.  Here is where Evian water comes from!  We did some shopping here also and ended up having drinks in a bar.  The girls wanted to enhance their new found skills in Black Jack, so I acted as if I were a dealer from a real casino and dealt them the cards...just like my family does at home!  We had some onlookers who were amused by our game.  We went back to Switzerland for supper.  We wanted to eat at this small place we discovered the day before, it was called Holy Cow.  They only make gourmet burgers, and they were amazing! Any burger you could possibly think of was on this list!  I won't lie, some looked way out there, but the ones that we got were delicious!   

When we got back to the hostel for the night, we discovered that there was a special event about to take place.  The Olympic Games in Sochi had just started, and because we were in the Olympic Capital, they had a fantastic firework show over Lake Geneva.  There we stood on our balcony, friends from different countries, watching something very special that only happens once every two years.  It was one of those moments that a person will just never forget.

The next day we were on our way back to Geneva.  We checked in to the same hostel and started our journey to explore the city.  We went to the lake and walked on the beach.  There were a lot of ducks and swans that we watched for a while.  Then we went to look at the famous fountain in the lake that shoots water high into the air.  We took a water taxi across the lake and went to the Patek Philippe Museum, the watch museum!  Again, because we were in the land of watches!  It was interesting, we got to see watches that were from the 1500s!  I have never seen so many watches in my life!  I am glad that we were able to see it, but it isn't something I would necessarily recommend.  You just stare at thousands of watches, after a while they all look the same! 

To end our night we ate a nice Italian supper, walked along the lake, and got delicious ice cream.  A man, about our age, stopped and stared at us.  He was in awe, then smiled and said "Ice cream?! But it is freezing outside!"  Little did he know that we had a Wisconsinite and Canadian in our group.  Eating frozen foods in 43 degrees simply does not faze us. ;)  We went back to our hostel and watched Pitch Perfect on my tablet.  This is because earlier in the day, we had discovered that Denisse and Mariana hadn't even heard of the movie!  This surprised me because Mariana can beat-box just like the girl in the movie!  I thought that was were she learned it from.  So Emilia and I decided we needed to give them a "movie education, they needed a movie-cation."

(Denisse, me, and Mariana at the Botanical Gardens...not quite sure what we were going for haha)

Sunday was our last day in Switzerland.  Almost everything was closed so it was a relaxing day.  We slept in pretty late to let our bodies catch up on much needed rest.  We went downstairs to eat some breakfast, and were still in our pajamas.  So of course, I had on a Clay Matthews t-shirt.  Two girls saw my shirt, came over and said "Oh my god! I am sorry, but are you from Wisconsin?!"  We had a nice conversation and I found out that they were from Marquette University in Milwaukee, and studying abroad in Madrid.  One of girl's brothers goes to UW-Green Bay.  I find connections wherever I go apparently.  Later, we took a bus to the Geneva Botanical Gardens, saw a lot of fun animals, and hiked through the park.  It was a sunny day out again, and when we reached the top of the hill, we saw the pretty view in the picture below.  

(Hiking in the Botanical Gardens)

We went to a pub, and sat there for a few hours with some yummy drinks.  We told each other stories of our homes and laughed so hard our stomachs hurt.  We slowly made our way back to the hostel.  We ordered delivery pizza, and it was very good.  We went back to our room, and since Valentine's Day was almost upon us, we decided to watch Sweet Home Alabama.  I was the only one who had seen this movie, one of my favorites, and I decided they must all see it too.  They loved it!  While we were watching the movie, we finally broke Arthur apart (who hadn't been touched until now) and enjoyed our very own Swiss chocolate creation.  It was delicious!  

The next morning, we had to get up at 3:30 so we could walk to the train station because public transportation wasn't running yet.  We took a train to the airport and our flight left just before 7.  The minute we got to Bordeaux, it was back to classes and working on group projects and presentations.  That is always fun to come back to...haha, or not!

In a few days I will be going to Paris to meet a group of family members!  We will be exploring London and Paris for almost 10 days.  It is sure to be an amazing time and I can't wait to see everyone!!  

I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day or Single's Awareness Day...depending on how you look at it! 

Thank you for reading!


"The only thing that stands between you and your dream is the will to try and the belief that it is actually possible."
-Joel Brown

"Rule #1 of life, do what makes YOU happy." 

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