A few summer days in Lausanne.

So this one time I went to Switzerland.

😁

One of my friends from my 2014 French class lives in Lausanne with her husband and their daughter. Chinatsu grew up in Japan and went to university (and learned English) in San Fransisco, where she met Stephane from France, and they ended up falling in love and moving to Paris. Stephane was offered a new job in Lausanne this year so they moved in the spring to Prilly, just next to the city of Lausanne. 


Chinatsu invited me to come visit her this summer, and since there was no direct train or bus from L’Isle Jourdain (or Poitiers or Limoges) to Lausanne, I booked trips with Blablacar. 
Blablacar is a ride-sharing travel option in Europe and I think it is BRILLIANT. I booked one trip from Limoges to Lyon, and the following trip from Lyon to Lausanne. Both drivers had excellent ratings and no actual cash has to exchange hands – it’s pre-paid, and the website you sign up on gives you a code to give them at the end of the trip so you get where you want to go.
The fun part was, my drivers were French. And spoke only French. So I got to put on my focus-and-concentrate face and really exercise my French communication skills for about 7 hours over the two trips. 😁😳


I arrived in Lausanne to beautiful weather and was picked up by Chinatzu at the downtown train station. It was excellent to catch up and meet her adorable 21-month old daughter Nanako.


Nanako was shy at first, but I soon won her over playing with a hand fan and some of her stuffed animals. We had the best time  playing together all week and Nanako is an absolute joy to be around because she gasps in delight at just about everything. Birds, people, planes, lightbulbs, dogs, the sky in general, the floor…..


I went off exploring on my own for a couple of days, and walked down to the Ouchy harbour, on the shores of Lake Geneva.


Seeing the mountains across the lake was wonderful. I have also never seen so many swans (and grey swans too; like ‘ugly ducklings’ that grew up to be swans, but kept their duckling colour).



Also, you can rent a paddle boat here, but not just any paddle boat: a paddle boat with a SLIDE! Amazing. 

There were a bunch of highschool students that just jumped into the lake as I was walking by.

I walked further down the shoreline and into the Olympic Museum, and it was really fun to see old Olympic torches, posters, team uniforms, costumes, and the current temporary exhibit all about Rio and the life and culture there. 


The old town centre has an animated clock that goes every hour during the day. I walked through this square 5 times while I was in Lausanne and the time was always 1:25, or 5:31, or 3:20, or 4:18…. Never near the hour, so I never saw it working! Whoops!


I walked the Market Steps up to find the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral at the top of the hill above the Old Town.




Oh yeah, there are a lot of stairs and hills in this city. Wow. 
Apparently the steepest existing metro track runs north from the bottom point of Ouchy-Olympic up to the main train station. Did I take it? No, I did not because apparently I’m deserving of some sort of punishment so I walked up the entire uphill length of Avenue D’Ouchy on this 28 degree day…. 😅


I arrived in St Paul’s square and had a look inside the large church. Then I sat outside and enjoyed some free wifi. 🙂


On Chinatsu’s suggestion, I went to the Musee D’Art Brut, where work is displayed by artists who were never famous or formally trained, and often they were outcasts or people in institutions. It was quite unique and there were some really amazing pieces.
My favourites included some beautiful pottery, driftwood sculptures, pen and ink detailed portraits of women, and found material miniature bus sculptures… 


I think the most memorable part was a small display of three eccentric and ornate costumes with an accompanying video about an Armenian 76-year old gentleman who would make elaborate hats, canes, and outfits out of everything from feather dusters to Christmas ornaments to lawn darts to shower curtain rings, then get dressed up and go on a one-man parade around his neighbourhood. 

There was also a room full of art by a man named Paul Amar who builds the most incredibly detailed sculptures entirely out of shells (clams, mussels, oysters….) and other pieces of shellfish, and paints them bright saturated colours with nail polish and paint and hot glues them to create under the sea scenes, or groups of animals, or dioramas of explorers and sailing ships.  

I wasn’t allowed photos inside or else I would show you a hint of some of the awesomeness. 

Postcards in the gift shop.


I came across a free exhibition that was part of the”Festival De Bande Dessine”, and it was titled “Migration”; and the subject surrounding immigration, emigration, war, and refugees. This particular exhibition had posters of short cartoons and images. Some had full stories and dialogue, while others were more abstract.



I made it to the Palais de Rumine, and the free (!) Archeology and  Zoology exhibits. 




Chinatsu and her family were wonderful hosts and treated me to some delicious homemade meals. The second night I was there she made us traditional Swiss fondue and we stuffed ourselves with cheese and bread and potatoes and vegetables. We also had a great Japanese dinner of miso and pan-seared pork with ginger and rice.  

Before I left at the end of the week we decided to go for a chocolat chaud at Le Barbare, just at the top of the Market Steps.

It was a rainy day and also the coolest weather since I’ve been in Europe, and a rich chocolat chaud was just perfect to warm us up before a walk around Old Town and down to the ‘new and modern’ area of Flon. (We had our chocolat chaud ‘nature’, which meant just the classic chocolate, without any added cream mixed in and whip cream on top. )

 




This city is beautiful and it’s wonderful to have friends here *that I absolutely plan to come back and visit*! After all, all it takes is a couple of blablacars to get here from France… 🙂


  

Three days in Prague, and a lasting impression.

It all started with a night train.

Finding our 6-bunk cabin and making fast friends with the French students that would sleep on the bunks about 2 feet above our faces, Carly and I left Amsterdam and headed to Prague, on a 14.5 hour trip. We were misinformed with our original booking, which told us it was a 9 hour trip, and then we found out the train left 5 hours earlier. 😦 but in the end we still figured: this is our accommodation and our travel wrapped into one, with no important daylight hours lost in either city.

The summary of making this choice in travel? I don’t think I ever want to do it again. For more somewhat whiney details, you can read the rest of this paragraph. If not, skip to the next one. The ‘beds’ were more aptly described as wood planks with carpet wrapped around them. In addition you get a sheet, a tiny pillow, and a fleece blanket. The noise of the old train, the tracks, the many stops along the way, and the additional two people who joined us as we passed through Germany just after midnight meant that I probably had about a couple hours of sleep in total – and it should also be noted that if you buy a ticket for a bunk bed, there is no place for you to sit if you want to stay awake- you are forced to lie down in your cabin or stand in the hallway. There are no pictures to document the next morning because we looked so terrible after not sleeping.

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We arrived in Prague just before 10am on the Wednesday and proceeded to immediately get lost trying to find the right tram. The vast majority of Czech words have absolutely no resemblance to English, German, or French. We had a list of phrases we might need to know, but we actually had no idea what the correct pronounciation was. Lesson learned: even a few important words and phrases, pronounciation and all, are uber helpful to know before arriving in a new country.

My translator app, quite useful up until now.... It couldn't even give me correct pronounciation for Czech, a cool but super complicated language.

My translator app, quite useful up until now…. It couldn’t even give me correct pronounciation for Czech, a cool but super complicated language.

We had found accommodations through airbnb, and our host Vlada met us at the tram station and brought us home, which was really nice.

His English was quite good, and as we pulled into the driveway he let us know that he and his wife had four pets, so we always needed to make sure we closed the gate properly. It turns out they had three rabbits and a tiny terrier puppy, all of whom have names I can’t remember because I couldn’t pronounce them. Well, that’s not true. I do remember the black rabbit’s name. It is Karel (the Czech version of ‘Carl’, and coincidentally, the name of our tour guide on our walking tour of Prague).

How can you resist this face?

How can you resist this face?

Vlada was delighted to tell us he had a surprise for us, and showed us our (new) huge room with two large beds and a balcony. It was lovely, and I think we were so tired from our 15 hour travel we didn’t have the mindset to take our photo of the room (or house) at all.

(This is a photo of downtown Prague, nowhere near the suburbs where we stayed):
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Armed with a map and suggestions for our first day from Vlada, we took off with bus, and then tram, to get to the oldest medieval castle in the world, and the church there. It was quite a busy place, and we immediately saw the juxtaposition of the pastel buildings of Prague with the dark stone and gothic influence of the older buildings, clock towers, and churches.

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We also came across a toy museum, which had everything from tin windup toys to a full anniversary collection of Barbie dolls from the beginning until now.

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Walking across the Charles Bridge to Old Town was beautiful, and there were many artists doing portrait work- from characatures to full painted portraits, several art and jewelry vendors, and a few musicians.

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The only sign we came close to understanding.

Vlada told us that if we wanted authentic Czech food we should go to “Staromēstské Restaurace” right on the Old town Square. So we went there twice. 🙂

I had the roast beef goulash with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whip cream. It was delicious. Carly had locally caught Perch with green beans and Parmesan risotto. She said it was also excellent.

I had the roast beef goulash with dumplings, cranberry sauce and whip cream. It was delicious. Carly had locally caught Perch with green beans and Parmesan risotto. She said it was also excellent.

We sat inside because he told us the prices are less than half what they charge on the patio, which was absolutely true. It is also true that beer is cheaper than water here, and so it was very sad indeed that I am not a beer drinker. My sister found a nice Belgian dark beer here so she was very happy.

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Old Town Square:

Way more fun with saturated colours. :)

Way more fun with saturated colours. 🙂

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The astronomical clock by night

We checked out the astronomical clock tower and it was beautiful. We took a walking tour on our second day and our guide told us that every hour the animatronics around the clock face still function, even though the clock is over 600 years old. Huge crowds gather around the base to watch it throughout the day, so of course I had to get a picture of that.

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The walking tour was free and organized by New Prague Tours. Our tour guide – Karel (like the aforementioned bunny) – was amazing. He also works in drama therapy, and you could see right away he enjoyed putting on a show of giving us a detailed and entertaining tour around the centre of Prague; the amount of information he knew and shared was spectacular, and we were very close to paying for an afternoon tour with him as well. We walked through the Old Town Square, down to Wenceslas Square, over into New Town and Charles Square, and through the Jewish quarter, passing by the four beautiful synagogues there. He told us about the history in Prague during World War II, many of the local stories of artists and inventors, and we were so glad to have found this company. If you go to Prague, look up http://www.newpraguetours.com. They offer free walking tours and tour packages you can buy as well. If we had been there longer we absolutely would have paid for afternoon tours and possibly even a day trip. Well, next time.

Walking through the streets sometimes felt like you were walking on a movie set, or that the buildings were made of either marshmallows or tinted white chocolate, and the styles we’re varied too. They had everything from Art Deco and Art Nouveau,  to the only cubist architecture in the world.

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We came upon some of the coolest shops, including many marionette stores. If only I had room in my backpack (and perhaps more money in my pocket), I would have loved to take one or two of these masterpieces home.

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We also tried a local snack: ‘Trdlo”, a sweet kind of bread cooked on a turning spit and covered in sugar, almonds, vanilla, and cinnamon.

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The evenings in Prague has even more free entertainment in the Old Town square with performers of every variety at every corner of the square- if you didn’t like something, walk 10m.

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Awesome jazz band

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Flame-baton guy.

One night as we were window shopping we came across a black light theatre company called Teatro Negro, and they had a show called Aspects Of Alice, so we immediately bought tickets and had a great time seeing a very creative piece based loosely around Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and falling down the rabbit hole.

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Also in our shopping, I bought my first piece of artwork in a small gallery. I couldn’t leave without buying the limited print of a boy and his dog, so I have to get even more creative with my packing now.

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The last place we visited before bidding farewell to Prague was the National Gallery. It was on the other side of the river from downtown but had quite a mix of art from many centuries, and we were happy we got to explore it.

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All in all, it wasn’t as busy as Amsterdam, but it was fascinating and exciting and well worth the trip.

Well, that’s all for now, folks!

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