La Suisse and Les Suisse

La Suisse and Les Suisse

When we were first invited by the Baud sisters to stay with them during our European trip, we were delighted, thinking it would involve a place to flop and maybe directions to the nearest railway station. But in a little less than a week, we had managed to fit in, courtesy of them, a paddle steamer tour around Lake Geneva, a 12th century chateau, a museum of mechanical music, a night devoted to protecting Swiss bats, two days in the Alps, including glacier, ice cave, water falls and a thoroughly original and eccentric 19th century hotel, plus as a bonus, an exemplary display of precision Swiss carpentry undertaken by a zoologist. They even organised three nights devoted to home cooked Swiss meals: fondu, raclette and crepes.  
We had first met Christine and Sandrine Baud when they were travelling Australia in 1992. We caught up with them and met their older sister Corinne and their parents, in Switzerland in 1996.
This time Corinne picked us up at the station and Christine drove us to nearby Nyon where the bat information night was being run by Pierre, husband of twin sister Sandrine, director of a local zoo, and specialist in bats which in French are called chauves souris.  He also loves fine Scotch.
Bats apparently get a bad press in Switzerland and to try to get them a good one, Pierre, Sandrine and a group of supporters hold bat education nights which are surprisingly well attended.
Their village Villars le Terroir, inland from Lausanne, is also near the Jura mountans where were visited the mechanical music museum. It displays everything from 18th century wind-up birds, to fairground organs and devices that even play violins. There was one particularly impressive sounding Belgian built art deco jazz band from the 1930s.  Many of the devices were made in the area and most of them were repaired there. This should be no surprise, because the Rolex factory is in a nearby valley, as is the factory that produces such brands as Omega, Tissot and Swatch.
The next day Pierre had to run the zoo, but the rest of us including sons Loic and Quinten, plus Madame Baud senior, took a trip on the 102 year old paddle steamer La Suisse around Lake Geneva, known in French as Lac Leman. The steamer’s huge slow turning engine is a showpiece and seems to turn as smoothly new.
Part of the other side of the lake is France, the steep mountains come right to the lake edge and are dotted by small villages clinging to the hillside. At one where La Suisse called, Madame Baud pointed out the Swiss-French border, a small stream cutting the village in half. Apparently it mainly disadvantages school children who must attend in their own country, but is popular with commuters who live in France where prices are cheaper, but work in Switzerland where wages are higher.
Chateau de Chillon is a much post carded feature on the lake shore near Montreux, built in the middle ages, frequently fought over and modified, and restored to its present state around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It contains collections of medieval furniture, armour and has quite a few bits of original wall frescoes. It also has one of the rare examples of  celebrated graffiti, by Britain’s eccentric poet Lord Byron who set one of his verses in the chateau dungeon.
We also had a quick look at Lausanne, home to the Olympic headquarters. We had stayed near this city for about two months in 1984.
Next we went off with Sandrine for two days in the high Alps. This will be a separate blog.
Apart from this trip, we stayed with Christine in her year old environmentally inspired triple glazed house which has a rented out upstairs and cost about $1million to build. She cohabits with one and a half cats (the other half is shared), and she gave us her double bed, which is where the precision carpentry comes in. I had further injured my troublesome achilles tendon in the Alps and on arriving back at Christine’s, slipped and fell onto the bed causing one of the support rails to break.
I devised various ways to repair it, but Pierre who has an excellent collection of power tools was called in. It was quite clear that the bed manufacturers, had used a thin strip of feeble pine for one of its main supports, to cut costs. Pierre agreed, but instead of repairing just the broken bits, he rebuilt the entire bed base using much thicker and harder timber. It took him most of the day. When it came to being reassembled, no adjustments were needed, every bit fitted perfectly.
It was much like our visit to their country really, which ran as precisely as a Swiss watch.

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