Switzerland 05-06: Neuchatel in the snow

Last Thursday we went to Peedee’s at about 7, and when we came out to take Carole to the bus at about 11.30ish, it had been snowing and it waas so cold! By morning, we had about ten inches of snow and it hasn’t gone away properly. Then this morning, I woke up to find it had been snowing all over again. We went to lessons and it was snowing. We came out of lessons and it was snowing. I took some washing downstairs, put it in the machine and went back to my room. Half an hour later, I brought it back upstairs. There was a blizzard. I went to town shopping. I got back and I could see the other side of the lake for the first time in days. Now it’s dark but it seems to have stopped snowing for now. Ok, no it hasn’t.

Switzerland 05-06: The Matterhorn

We had been planning to meet Peedee downstairs at 7 in the morning, so I set my alarm for 6, got up, got ready and went and sat downstairs. The train was leaving at 7.34. I waited and waited, looked at my watch and at 7.25, decided there was no way we would get there in time, so I went back to my room. Jemma was on MSN and told me that Peedee had texted her to ask if we could meet at 9 instead so she could sleep. Well, actually the text was written to me but it had gone to Jemma’s phone. The trouble was, if we met at 9, we’d have to get the 9.34 train which wouldn’t get to Zermatt until 1.30 and the last train left at 7.30, which would only leave us 6 hours there. I texted this to Peedee and she immediately got on a tram to meet us and we made the 8.34 train.
We got into Lausanne on platform 8 and ran to platform 3 for the train to Visp, via Montreux and Aigle. We had about 30 minutes in Visp, the first 10 of which we needed to find the train to Zermatt, then we went looking for toilets and food and missed our train because we were waiting for McDonalds. Visp is another nice little town and it felt a lot like a ski resort.

For some reason, most of the shops were closed – CH seems to have a three day weekend. Somewhere between McDonalds, the station and back to McDonalds, I managed to lose my gloves. I remembered eating my chips with bare hands, but I didn’t have a clue where I’d put the gloves. Jemma thought she remembered me putting them down on a wall and maybe I hadn’t picked them up again. I went back to the station, but there was no wall and no gloves. Eventually they turned up by the door at McDonalds.
We got the train to Zermatt -the Matterhorn Gotthardbahn, which went up the valley, sometimes above frightening gorges. Pieces of rock seemed to have fallen off the mountains along the way, massive chunks the size of a house sometimes.
I knew Zermatt had no cars in it, but I hadn’t realised how difficult it is to get to, considering its so famous. There were lots and lots of little electric golf-buggies which kept whizzing past us. It was all snowy but the sky was blue and the sun was blinding. We walked through the town towards the Matterhorn. This was our first view:

We spotted the gondolas going up the mountain and decided to go towards that, so we gave up following the footpath towards the mountain and crossed the bridge over the half-frozen river. The trouble was that the rest of the town seemed to be up on a bank above us and the only way to get up there was by a set of steps which ended up at a locked gate only for the use of hotel guests. We went back down the stairs and followed the path into the forest, around the end of the bank and hopefully up the other side.

That didn’t work either.
We went back to the other side of the river and walked down to the next bridge. On the other side of that was a big metal lift into the ski centre. We went up there and I was a bit surprised that we weren’t still inside a building when we got upstairs but by the side of the road in the main village, opposite the gondolas. We went in the little shop – I spotted ropes and couldn’t resist having a look – and I invested in some hot pads for hands and feet and a pair of polarising sunglasses. We looked at the mountain map. At the top there is an ice palace carved into the glacier but it was -21′ up there and anyway, the gondola up there had already stopped, so we settled for the Schwarzee, halfway up which was only -9′. We stopped briefly at the middle station to take photos of the town, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to the other side of the station, so we got back on and went up to the top.It was freezing – I was so glad I had the warmers. But it was spectacular. There were skiers everywhere. The sun was just about to set behind the mountain which made it a bit hard to take photos – I couldn’t see what I was getting. We could only stay about 10 minutes – it was so cold! We went back down to Zermatt – it had obviously got colder as it was now -9′ at the bottom.We went back down and across the river to the other part of town and had fondue. We were confused by the waitress who said we couldn’t sit until 5 o’clock (it was 4 at the time) and what did we want to eat? I think what she meant was that the table was reserved and if we were the ones who’d reserved it we were early or maybe that it wouldn’t be free until 5. Anway, we sat down at a different table and ordered fondue for Jemma and Peedee and a plate and fork for me, and “something with vodka” for Peedee, brandy for Jemma and hot chocolate for me and we had fondue. It came in an orange iron saucepan over a gas burner.
It was ok, but I don’t like foreign cheese so I only had two pieces. We had to leave our table by 5.30 because it was reserved for then, so with an hour until our train, we went outside into the cold and dark.We went into the station cafe and had another drink – a grand pression for Peedee, vin rouge for Jemma and more chocolate chaud for me, as usual, then we went into Co-op for beer and lip-gloss before getting the train. There was no view whatsoever on the way back because it was dark but we did talk to a couple of Texans who were over here skiing…
I thought we had about 20 minutes to wait in Visp, but it turned out to only be about ten minutes. We went back to Lausanne and as it was pretty early, we stopped there for basketball, air hockey and shooting.
Jemma and Peedee had their usual basketball competition – they seem to take it in turns to win, then five minutes before the 10.45 train left, they decided it was time to leave to get away from the men who wanted their phone numbers. We obviously missed that train, so we went to get a drink instead, but being paranoid about missing the last train, we got food and beer at the station shop and sat and waited on the platform before getting the last train back to Neuchatel. And as I was wearing my long coat, I had to pose Matrix-style with my sunglasses.

Switzerland 05-06: Glion/Montreux/Chillon

I had read about a cave. It isn’t put on maps, the idea being that people don’t know about it. But I found it and since we were thinking about what to do at the weekend, I thought we should go there.
Peedee was meant to meet me at about 6 but the first tram wouldn’t get her here until about 7, so we met then instead, walked up to the station, got the tickets and the bread and got on the train. It was another big shiny white one. I was a bit alarmed to see frost on the ground at the western end of Lake Neuchatel – if it’s snowy down here, hiking up in the mountains will be fun!
We had about two minutes to change trains at Lausanne and then when we got to Montreux, we had to find the platform for the cog railway. This was not easy. They don’t seem to like you using any platform other than platform one, so it took us about twenty minutes to get to the other side.
This train had weird seats. The ones facing forwards were normal, but the ones facing backwards tipped right back, so you don’t fall out of them when it starts going uphill. It felt really strange to sit on.
We chugged all the way up, zig-zagging up above Lac Leman on our right, the mountains on the other side were snow-capped, then we went through a tunnel and when we came out, the lake was on our left. I still haven’t figured out exactly how that happened!
We only had tickets to Glion, so we had to get out there to get the tickets for the next stage – except that there is no next stage in the winter except on Sundays. Annoying!! Still, at least we knew now and we had a beautiful view. It was still only 9 in the morning, after we’d spent so long on the train and the sun was only just appearing over the edge of the mountains.

We stayed up there taking photos of the view and of each other (Peedee’s digital camera arrived yesterday) for half an hour, until the train came back and we went back down to Montreux.

Peedee spotted Chateau de Chillon on a map and immediately wanted to go there, so we went looking for a bus stop, although we got distracted by some tiny wooden huts which I had to take photos of Peedee inside. We got the bus and arrived at Chillon. It’s where Lord Byron wrote The Prisoner of Chillon – this is the very dungeon where the prisoner was chained.

It’s a beautiful castle, I’m not entirely sure we saw all of it. There are rooms full of plates and weapons and armour – it almost feels like people are still living in it, not like Neuchatel Castle, which has been more or less converted into a conference centre.
We went back to Montreux and took the train back to Lausanne. I like this station – it has massive lockers that you can store everything in. I was carrying a lot of stuff, ready to go caving and it was good to leave it all. This time, we had an address for Media Markt and the woman at the station told us exactly how to get there. We took a bus to the end of the line, waited about forty-five minutes for another one to take us one stop to where we had to get the third bus, waited there ten minutes and finally ended up in a pretty little town. We walked down the back of it and straight onto the main roads. We had to cross them and walk down them, and then cross them a few more times, but we were finally there. They do not make it easy to get to. Anyway, we were finally here. I found a microphone – they don’t sell them anywhere else apparently, unless you’re willing to pay £70-100 for a stereo one. I also got a nice big card for my camera and some spare batteries for when one set just won’t last long enough. Peedee found a stereo with built-in DVD player, a card and bag for her camera and some other things which I’ve forgotten now, but when we went to pay, we found they don’t take any cards, except Post Cards (not the sort you write on, the yellow sort which come with Post Office accounts) and the cash machine was broken down. Peedee lent me the extra ten francs I needed,we left her stuff and went hunting for a machine.
Media Markt is on a big industrial estate and there are no machines. The man at MacDonalds said he thought there might be one at the station – not Lausanne main station, another one – but we had no idea where that was. Our last hope was a giant Coop – a shopping centre in fact. And they had one!
We got out Peedee’s money, bought her stuff and began the epic journey back to Lausanne. We walked back to the village and got our bus, changed at the next village and from there, we only needed to get one bus. We got dropped off at the top of the hill, so as we were walking down towards the station, I stopped in the little shop I saw last week and bought my knife. Then we left the shopping at the station and went out again, in hunt of house stuff. We looked in a few shops and she bought towels, pots, and stainless steel saucepans. We stopped at the same restaurant again to eat before coming back to the station. It had been a long day, our feet ached and we had a lot to carry. I’d had a lot to start with and now Peedee looked like she was moving house. We dragged the stuff onto the station and waited for our train.

Switzerland 05-06: Lausanne

This time we took Jemma with us. We started pretty early, got another shiny white train and off we went to Lausanne. The first problem we had was working out how to get out of the station – we went the wrong way at first. The station is right in the middle of the city – the shops were the other side of the road, up a hill. A steep hill. I went in a knife shop. There were knives all over the walls, all kinds of Swiss Army Knives, hunting knives, swords, clocks, cow-patterned cups etc. I looked at the knives and tried to decide which one I wanted. Then we went on up the hill. We stopped in all the funny little shops and Peedee bought incense sticks and looked at Buddhas and dragons. We spent a while just shopping, then we spotted a restaurant at the top of the hill, a sort of all-you-can eat place where you just pile your tray with whatever you feel like. Jemma and Peedee both got too much and couldn’t eat it all. Then we walked over to the cathedral. I got some very good photos in there. There were tombs all along the walls and floor at the back and I nearly fell over one of them and when I looked at it, a lot of people had obviously walked over it.

When we had finished there, we walked back to town and got on a bus in search of Media Markt. I had only a few clues as to its location. “It’s near the freeway, I think around here.” (pointing at top right part of map). So I made a wild guess and we got on a bus – going the wrong way. Luckily it was only going two or three more stops, then it went in a circle and went the right way. Obviously it was completely the wrong bus, but we did get to see some parts of Lausanne we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
We were back by 6ish to watch England v Argentina in one of the pubs. We met two other anglophones there, Sam from Leeds who sounded completely foreign, and Katie from Canada. They’re both working as au pairs around Lausanne. The waitress was American and when I spotted salt and vinegar crisps, she was so pleased to be able to make my evening that she gave them to me. Katie scored a point for Canada on the board by funneling a beer.
I’ve never really been interested in football, but it was very entertaining, especially when the players fell over – they do it so dramatically! And eventually we won, although it took a long time. Afterwards, we had to leave, Peedee had drunk too much. We went up the hill again and along the road, then decided to jump on a bus. When it reached the end of the line, the driver was confused and dumped us out, so I poied by the road for twenty minutes and Peedee put flowers in everyone’s hair and we got the next bus back. We got dropped off in the same place again so we walked down the road towards the station and soon encountered a very bright green light. It was a bit scary, it looked like a man crouching by the road holding a very powerful torch. When we got closer…

We looked for somewhere for another drink and came across an arcade instead. Peedee was over the moon to find basketball and she played. Then Jemma challenged her. Peedee accepted… in her words from her blog.. “Just looking at her and her girlie style I thought, oh yeah right princess..” and Jemma won.

They played several games and first one would win, then the other. We played a few games of air hockey too. It’s meant to be for four players, but it works very well for two players two handed. Then Peedee went on the shooting games and I tried driving. It’s hard – I still can’t drive video cars but I was beginning to get the hang of it. The gears feel really different from a real car, but I’m not driving any automatic, even if it’s not real! When we’d all run out of tokens, we went back to the station and came home. Jemma went to bed and me and Peedee played computers for a while before we went to sleep too.

Switzerland 05-06: Zurich

There had been a party on my floor the night before and we didn’t go to bed until about 5, so obviously, this was not going to be one of those “leave at the crack of dawn” trips. We got to the station at about 12, Jemma’s boyfriend arrived at 12.30 and then Peedee and I went to get tickets and food and wait for the train. We had chosen Zurich completely randomly because someone had suggested it. I bought a map book and we waited for the train. It was one of the long shiny white ones and we soon discovered that it tilts!! I thought it would probably be three or four hours to get there, so I was a bit surprised when it only took an hour and a half.
It was cold in Zurich and before we’d even found our way out of the station, we’d been gabbled at by a German-speaking woman looking for Media Markt. We got outside, went to the nearest bus stop, tried to figure out the machine and then gave up because they hadn’t finished building it. So, we walked along the station road to the next bus stop, then decided to walk down by the river. Peedee loved the rows of seagulls. At the next bus stop, we bought our day tickets, which involved much counting out of tens and twenties. Swiss coins all look exactly the same – they don’t have this different colour, different size, different shape thing like in England and it’s very annoying! We carried on walking down the river and then we saw lots of crowds and went to see what was going on. It was the end of the Zurich boat race, between Uni and Poly. I don’t know who won, but they were wearing blue

Next we went down a windy lane filled with expensive shops and emerged into the square in front of the Fraumunster.We went inside. They’re very proud of their stained glass windows, particularly the ones at the back (?) which were very modern, all flowing lines. I preferred the rainbow coloured traditional ones. After that, we got on a tram and headed back to the centre of town, where we found a Starbucks. Peedee got very excited; it was the first one she’d seen since she’d left America, so she had a coffee in there. We got on another tram and spent the next few hours seeing the outskirts of the city and watching it get darker and darker…

Finally, we got off the trams and buses and walked through town to an English pub called the Lady Hamilton, where they had the football on big screens, although no one seemed to be watching it. Peedee got fish and chips and accidentally ordered three beers. Afterwards, we went out in the dark again before getting the train back.