Monday, September 03, 2007

Bonjour, from Montreux

It's a day of recuperating after a busy weekend, so I thought I'd update after my first week in Switzerland.

My flights over were tolerable -- from PDX to Chicago, where I had to switch into the international terminal (which felt like another world in and of itself). I pestered the British Airways attendant at the gate with tons of questions (he was entertained by it) -- what would happen at customs, would I make my flight connection in London despite our delay, could I have a window seat, etc. My seat, unfortunately, was toward the back of the plane, and in the aisle. But on the bright side, my seat mate was a cool young woman from I think Italy, and she had all sorts of advice about how to get a window seat (apparently, check in online, or get there really early). And we were tres excited when no one sat in the middle seat! And both being small people, we had plenty of space to move around in during the overnight flight. I did get some sleep, but I can't say it was very comfortable. As the attendant had promised, there was plenty of food onboard. Some sort of cheese pasta for me (the veg. option), with a microscopic iceberg salad (why bother?), bread, chocolate cheesecake, etc. Also, thankfully, a light breakfast... because I had to book it once we reached London. As soon as we hit the gate, I followed some guy who definitely knew how to make his way through a crowd, all the way up to the front. There seemed to be some disagreement between the attendants as to whether or not I'd make my flight -- I decided that with 40 mins - an hour, I could do it. I had to quickly get down a never ending hallway, reenter through security, and then make my way to the departure terminal. Heathrow is like a mall. Anyways, I made it, and then we were freaking *bussed* to the plane. Short flight into Geneva, and definitely prettier than the parts of England we flew over earlier -- rolling green hills, farmland, etc. Arrivals moving walkway had a series of stills from Gone With the Wind, of Rhett Butler kissing the widowed Scarlet O'Hara (you know, the you should be kissed well, and often, scene). Then to baggage claim, where I knew I wouldn't be seeing my bags -- if I had to run to make my connection, you know that my bag is still in London. Thank God I packed extra clothes in my backpack. So I wandered around in the stores outside the airport, to get essential items that were in my checked luggage (soap, deoderant), and just in time caught the train through Lausanne to Montreux. Got some tea in Lausanne with my newly changed Swiss francs, and then got off in Clarens... where my host Madame literally lives like a two minute walk away from. We quickly realized that we have no languages in common--- she was frustrated. And in my tired, jet lagged, sleep and food deprived state, we ended up checking at the train station about my luggage, meeting with her upstairs neighbor who knows a touch of English, etc., before *finally* I could eat. Oh, and the First Step World program conveniently forgot to mention that I said I was a vegetarian (I didn't get into the more complicated ins and outs of my food processes -- easier to use the label), so my madame gave me a pork sausage, some sort of mushy mustard-potato mixture, and dry bread. I was having second thoughts at that point. I could taste that sausage the rest of the night, which I choked down some of just to avoid trouble. Oh, and THEN I didn't get sleep -- I couldn't sleep more than a couple of hours, despite being exhausted.

Luckily, the first day went well. We got the food thing straightened out. During class, I met Leslie, who's also from the bay area. And during our first exercise, I mentioned that I like to hike, so we immediately started planning trips!

My first lunch in Montreux was a sad affair. I couldn't figure out where to go, and I refused to enter the McDonald's (speaking of which, they're *everywhere*, even in the car-less town of Zermatt, at the Matterhorn). So I ended up with trail mix and dried apples from the pharmacie. I walked around quite a bit, and was thankful for the pasta and salad for dinner. Another sleepless night.

The second day was awesome -- Leslie and I got lunch after class at the mall, and then changed into hiking clothes at her host d'acceuil's place. We hiked up this old staircase and trail into the hills of Glion and Caux, passing gorgeous hotels and schools and churches along the way. So exhausted afterwards! Dinner: yummy artichoke bake with potatoes, and a strawberry cream tart for dessert.

Third day: Rainy! After a sleepy class, I hung around using the internet with Leslie. To the mall: ate in the 'boat' restaurant... salad, bread, hot chocolate... yum. Clouds were rolling over the lake, making it seem like we were moving at sea. We explored the pharmacy, trying to read labels... Then I had a walk home in the rain. Pizza, salad, pudding for dinner. Oh, and I finally finished Persuasion. Speaking of which, I think I liked Mansfield Park better...

Thursday: More rain! School, C. distracted everyone from the lesson. After: market and lunch on the dock with Leslie and Christine. Then back to school with Leslie to plan our weekend adventures. After, we took a walk thru downtown Montreux and past Clarens. Dinner good: quiche and tomato salad and caramel pudding.

Friday: After school, another lunch on the dock. Passed through street vendors, visited the train station for my Swiss Flexi Pass, and then we took a *long* walk to the Chateau de Chillon (13th century, made famous by Lord Byron), which was gorgeous. I wandered through the prison, the beautiful lakeside rooms with window seats, the courtyards... Then we continued on to the tiny village of Villanueve (little cobblestone streets, with adorable buildings all matching with wooden shutters). Then the long walk home. Fish sticks, salad, potatoes, and some sort of cream-wafer cake for dinner.

I love me some castles.

Saturday: Up before 7 am, walked to the train station in Montreux. Leslie and I took the train to Domodossola, and then switched into a scenic panoramic car for the ride to the Italian lake district (Locarno). Beautiful! Stone houses with slate roofs. Valleys, sheer cliffs, tiny villages, churches, rivers. Once we arrived, we had a light lunch at the lakeside cfe... salad, fries, amazing macchiatos. We wandered around the lake, through some sort of cycling meet and a busy beach. Luckily we stumbled upon a quieter spot, where I went swimming in Lake Maggiore (swans, the hills around, perfect).

Back in Domodossola, we saw deer in a field (closest: two does and a buck), & we had gelato while waiting for the train. I slept most of the way home.

Swimmin' with the swans.

Sunday: Up at 7 again to catch the same train with Leslie. This time we transfered at Visp for the scenic Zermatt train. Lovely ride up through the mountains, with waterfalls and gorges. Zermatt was fascinating -- they don't allow cars, so there were little electric buses and horse-drawn carriages in the narrow streets. We wandered through, and came upon a trail... the map we got was tres insupportable, so we just headed up the trail. We walked past more little stone houses, cows with huge bells around their necks, a hilltop restaurant, and then onto a less frequented trail up through the hills, letting us out into a better area for viewing the Matterhorn. So many pictures. We stopped on a rock in the sun for a chocolate-eating and mountain-viewing break. We tried to identify all the highest peaks, and think we located Mt. Rosa. The way back downhill was much quicker! We stopped at a cafe with a view of the Matterhorn for beer, me for goulash and a salad, Leslie for apple streudel (yum!). And I couldn't resist the dark chocolate mousse from the bakery on the way to the train station. Only here once, may as well! On the train home, we seemed in the middle of a party... a group of kids came on with wine glasses and promptly uncorked what must have been the latest in a very long series of bottles. Leslie and I moved soon after.

The Matterhorn.

Beautiful trip home though -- we caught the tail end of the sunset over the lake... blue hills, clouds lit up pinkish.

And that brings us up to today! I'm in a different class now, where I'm learning much more. Lunch on the dock again, and catching up on emails, planning with Leslie what we should do this week, etc. Some rest after a very busy weekend!

Oh, and with lunch I had chocolate milk: the brand? Heidi's.

1 comment:

Ricki said...

Mrs. Jackson was at the Matterhorn when she was a junior in college, and she mentioned something about it being carless...shame on should be banned as well! we saw our first electric "truck" at McIsaac's yesterday.