A Travellerspoint blog

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Lausanne

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Lausanne was the first place where we needed to meet our Airbnb host. Our preference is automated check-in since it often disrupts our plans to have to be at the Airbnb at a fixed time to meet a host. Having to curtail a visit to an interesting town because of the obligation to be at the next Airbnb at a specific time can be quite annoying. In most of the world Airbnb hosts have gone to lockboxes and keypads but in Europe there are still many holdouts, although it's gotten much better since the early days. I suppose the hosts feel a greater sense of security if they meet their guests in person.

Now that we were firmly in the French section of Switzerland I was looking forward to practicing my rusty French. Overcoming a language barrier is an enjoyable part of travel for me but it can be stressful when the language is largely unfamiliar. Most of my efforts to speak German in Zürich and Bern had been met with responses in English. Likewise, my efforts to speak in French with our North African host went nowhere when his English proved to be better than my French. The Airbnb was a pleasant if sterile ground floor apartment in a modern development well north of the city.

Since we had less than twenty-four hours there was no time to waste. We drove directly to the Ouchy neighborhood for our first look at legendary Lake Geneva. Ouchy was once a lakeside village in its own right before it was swallowed up by Lausanne's expansion. We began our exploration at the landmark Chateau d'Ouchy, a luxury hotel built at the site of a demolished medieval castle in the late 19th century. The stone tower is the only remnant of the previous castle.

On the lakeward side of the hotel is a small park in which a clock marks the time on a grassy slope. There's a resemblance to the famous floral clock of Geneva but during our visit there were no flowers in sight. The landscaping is likely too expensive to maintain outside of special occasions. At the ferry port there was a beautiful metal sculpture called Ouverture au Monde. The intersecting curved metal lattices evoked the reflections of the sun on the surface of the lake.

On the breakwater that protects the harbor stands an enormous semicircular weather vane called Éole. The semicircle moves depending on the direction of the wind. Four monoliths on the shore have matching semicircular notches and the one that completes the circle with the vane identifies the prevailing wind. On the promenade near the monoliths giant chessboards provide a popular past-time for the locals.

Ouchy and the promenade had given us plenty to see but we didn't feel like hanging around for dinner. As we drove to the center of Lausanne we once again ran into a road closure. We were starting to realize that this was probably going to happen in every city in Switzerland. This time there was no road work, just a police car blocking the main north-south artery through town. The next few streets over were blocked as well as though the police didn't want anyone to get into the center at all. Finally we just drove west for about a mile before reactivating the GPS which finally brought us to our target. Place de la Palud is the center of the historic old town, taking its name from the marshy terrain at the base of the Cité hill where the original settlement of Lausanne was located. The middle of the small square is dominated by the Fountain of Justice, which contains a central pedestal topped by a colorful figurine of a woman brandishing a sword. The statue is a copy of the original which is currently housed in a museum. We had a good dinner on the patio of Le Grütli, one of the many restaurants in the pedestrian streets that emanate from the square. The four and five story apartment buildings of the old town made the narrow cobblestone alleys feel like canyons. From the main road at the top of the hill we could hear the chanting of women's voices in synchrony and our waiter informed us there was a large procession related to women's rights taking place that night. The heavy police presence blocking the roads to the center was finally explained.

Wednesday and Saturday are the market days in the center of Lausanne. We returned to Place de la Palud in the morning and found a much different atmosphere from the previous night. Stalls laden with fruit and vegetables lined the cobblestone streets. The ubiquitous currants were particularly impressive as were the glowing cherry tomatoes and a variety of the most desirable wild mushrooms. We combined some purchases with the sandwiches prepared at a sidewalk cafe and watched the city come to life around us.

Once we'd made a couple of passes through the market we walked through the rest of the pedestrianized center to the Quartier du Flon, a former warehouse area that has been transformed into a small shopping and entertainment district. The cafes and boutiques were rather empty in the morning and of course the bars were closed so there wasn't very much to see. We would have been better off exploring the Flon on the previous evening.

We went back to the center to climb the Escaliers du Marché, the antiquated covered staircase that leads to the top of La Cité. A row of colorful and elegant townhouses ascended the hill adjacent to the stairs. At the top a pedestrian tunnel passes under the main road and emerges at the foot of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Lausanne. As with many of Switzerland's cathedrals, Notre Dame was converted into a Protestant church after the Reformation and much of the internal adornment was removed or destroyed by the Bernese. The massiveness of the structure is emphasized by the tight space the cathedral occupies at the summit of La Cité. From the walls around the square we could see the southern part of the city all the way to Ouchy and Lake Geneva.

Between La Cité and Flon we had passed a beautiful food market in the basement of the Globus department store. Before leaving the center we decided to take a closer look and found a remarkable layout of gourmet edibles. The store was nearly empty and the staff inside rushed to give us concierge service. They were very proud of the array of tropical fruits which was impressive for Switzerland but the prices were eye-watering and the offerings weren't as exotic to us as they may have been to the locals. We were more interested in the bakery and the cheese counter and regretted we had already filled our stomachs at the market earlier. We made a mental note to check for a similar store in Geneva the next day.

It's hard to compare cities but we had found Lausanne to be even more atmospheric and authentic than Bern. We could easily have spent another day exploring the maze of pedestrian streets in La Cité without feeling like the majority of people around us were other tourists. Unlike the old towns of Zurich and Bern, the center of Lausanne felt alive and occupied rather than something that had been preserved. Nevertheless our itinerary was locked in and we had no choice but to depart. We had one final stop in Lausanne before heading east around Lake Geneva. The Sauvabelin Tower is an unusual structure that occupies a small hill in the city park of the same name. Although the wooden tower looks almost medieval it was constructed just twenty years ago. After a couple of false starts we located the short trail from the parking area that led to the tower. After ascending the thirty-five meter wooden tower by a wide spiral staircase we found an observation deck with views over the entire metropolitan area of Lausanne and the hills on the opposite side of the lake. I imagine on a clear day one could have seen as far as the Alps.

Posted by zzlangerhans 11:52 Archived in Switzerland Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog lake_geneva tony_friedman family_travel_blog

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