Swiss Miss: The Olympic Museum & Lovely Lausanne (Switzerland)

While visiting Geneva, I decided to take a quick trip to Lausanne (which is 40 minutes from Geneva, 30 minutes from Chillon).  Lausanne is MUCH better than Geneva so my advice is to skip Geneva and spend your time visiting Lausanne, Montreux and Chillon.

Lake Geneva is in the southwest corner of Switzerland and separates the country from France.  This area is known as the Swiss Riviera and the predominant language is French.  Lausanne calls itself the “Olympic Capital” (it has been the home to the International Olympic Committee since 1915).  This colorful city was first founded on the lakefront by the Romans (and really, what city didn’t they discover???).  Once Rome fell, the original Lausanners fled to the hills to escape the barbarians and established what is today referred to as “vieille ville” (old town).  Lausanne has 2 parts:  1) the lakefront Ouchy (which has restaurants & the Olympic Museum) and 2) old town which has an Old World charm and other museums (i.e. Collection de l’Art Brut).  These two areas are connected by the Metro funicular (source Rick Steves’ “Switzerland”).

Lausanne is absolutely beautiful and very serene.  You can walk along Lake Geneva during the breathtaking sunset.

  

Or, stop to view the flower displays as you stroll the main boulevard.

   

We arrive in Lausanne and take a taxi to the Olympic Museum (which is AWESOME!).  This museum is interesting to both Olympic enthusiasts and those of us who like to watch the games every 2 years.  As you enter the museum, you will pass by the Olympic store which has shirts, posters, etc. from previous games (and the future London 2012 games).  After you pay the entrance fee, you are given a ticket which you will need to insert into the turnstiles to enter each exhibit.

They have several small theaters which recount the history of the Olympics.  In 1894, Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee and restarted the games after a 1,500 year lapse.  Barron de Coubertin was a teacher who was born into a French aristocratic family.  He was really into physical fitness and channelled that passion into restarting the games.  During the film, you hear him ask the nations that will take part in the games to respect each other.  Now, I do have to give Mr. de Coubertin the side-eye because he felt that the inclusion of women would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.”  Whatever, Pierre.  Women eventually were allowed to compete in the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

The ground floor traces the history of the Olympics from its start in Greece through about a century’s worth of ceremonial olympic torches.

 

Upstairs has medals and information/highlights from each Olympics.

Muhammad Ali’s shoe from his gold medal win in boxing at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

Wilma Rudolph’s track shoe that she wore to win three Olympic titles (the 100 m, 200 m and the 4 x 100 m relay) at the same 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome as Muhammad Ali.

The basketball signed by the U.S. “Dream Team” led by Michael Jordan at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

And, Shannon Miller’s leotard from her gold medal win for balance beam at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Charming Château de Chillon (Switzerland)

The majestically beautiful Château de Chillon (Chillon Castle) is located on the shore of Lake Léman (Lake Geneva) in the commune of Veytaux, at the eastern end of the lake, 3 km from Montreux, Switzerland. The castle consists of 100 independent buildings that were gradually connected to become the building as it stands now (source Wikipedia).  The cities along Lake Geneva make up the fabulous French Swiss Riviera!  I took the train from Geneva to Montreux.  Then, hopped on a bus to Chillon.

Incredibly, Château de Chillon is very well-preserved.  Unlike many other castles in Europe, it has never been damaged or destroyed.  Per the website, the history of the castle was influenced by three major periods:

  • The Savoy period (12th century to 1536)
    The oldest written document mentioning the castle dates from 1150; it says that the House of Savoy already controlled the route along the shores of Lake Geneva.
  • The Bernese period (1536-1798)
    The Swiss, more precisely the Bernese, conquered the Pays de Vaud and occupied Chillon in 1536. The castle retained its role as a fortress, arsenal and prison for over 260 ans.
  • The Vaudois period (1798 to the present)
    The Bernese left Chillon in 1798 at the time of the Vaudois Revolution. The castle became the property of the Canton of Vaud when it was founded in 1803. The restoration of the historical monument began at the end of the 19th Century and continues to this day.

All in all, the castle has been used in a variety of ways:  as an armory, warehouse, prison, hospital and tourist attraction.  As you enter the grounds, you feel like you have gone back in time.  The people who work at the castle all wear period-era clothes so as you tour the castle, you feel as if you have stepped into life in the 1500’s.

Chillon Castle is surrounded by a natural moat so you cross a bridge to get to it.

 

Then, as your walk down the path, you come upon the castle and beautiful Lake Geneva.

  

As you enter the castle, you walk into the main courtyard (there are 3 courtyards in total).  This is where the main action took place.

      

I picked up an audio guide then started the tour.  First thing I see is a model of what the original castle looked like.

Then, I tour the “Underground” which is spectacular!  It held the wine and prison.  It’s most well-known for the imprisonment of Bonivard, made famous by Lord Byron, who made him the hero of his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”.

   

Next stop was the great halls which had beautiful windows with seats to look out over the courtyards or Lake Geneva.

Chambre bernoise

A comfortable bedroom, with rather subdued decoration, a large four-poster bed, heating, private toilet and even running water!

  

A quick note about the potty above.  First, you see that 2 people can go at the same time…with no barrier between them.  Reminds me of Ephesus where there were 10 potties like this.  I can’t imagine talking to Mary while doing #2.  Shoot, I don’t even like doing that when there is someone in the bathroom with stalls!  Second, if you look down into the lid, you will see that it empties straight into the lake.  So, um…I’m not thinking a lot of people went skinny-dipping.

Views of Lake Geneva from the castle.

  

Torture Chamber.  While I was there, I was able to view the Temporary exhibition: “Witch-hunting in the Pays de Vaud, from the 15th to the 17th centuries”.

The Pays de Vaud was the site of major witch-hunts between the 15th and the 17th centuries. During this period, there were more than 2000 death sentences!

On a larger scale, Switzerland within the current borders if the time holds not only the record for the longest-lasting repression of witchcraft but also for the largest number of people persecuted for this crime, in relation to the population. In almost three centuries, 5,000 people were accused and 3,500 of them were put to death, mainly by fire, with 60 – 70% being women.

Chillon Castle was an important detention centre for people suspected of witchcraft, either when awaiting trail or carrying out their sentence. During the term of the Bernese bailiff, Nicolas de Watteville, from 1595 to 1601, some forty-odd people were executed at Chillon, La Tour-de-Peilz and Vevey. And 27 more in 1613! Their Excellencies of Bern noted “…with regret and sadness the extent to which the negation of God and submission to the evil spirit was growing among our subjects in the Romand (French-speaking) country.” (source Chateau de Chillon website).

Finally, some photos I took while walking around the castle.

     

Overall, I thought Château de Chillon was fascinating and beautiful.  It’s a great tour idea for kids!  If you are ever in the Swiss Riviera region, check it out.  Try to go in the late afternoon so you can see the sunset at the castle.  Absolutely amazing!