Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Part One: Sasha in Switzerland

It's been over a week since we returned home from our European mini-adventure. Since then, I've been grappling with what to write about. Usually, the themes evolve and expose themselves naturally. But there was nothing unique about this particular trip. Switzerland and London? Both are well-situated directly on the beaten path. It's been done before.

Yet after looking through our photos and thinking about the 10 days we spent in Europe, I'm beginning to realize that sometimes it's less about where you are than who you're with.

So, let's start at the start. There were two specific reasons for this particular trip:

1) To visit Sasha in Geneva. 

For those who don't know Sasha, she's a former roommate and one of my closest friends. In 2009, she decided to move to Rwanda for a couple of months to work with a non-profit organization. Two years later, she is finally returning to Canada with her boyfriend Nicholas (who she met in Rwanda, naturally) in tow. 

First though, she went back to her parent's house in Geneva. Sasha's dad, John, works at the WTO in Geneva, while her mom Joanne works at the WHO. John also just happens to be one of the ambassadors to Canada in Switzerland. They live in a beautiful home on the edge of Lake Geneva, complete with a wine cellar, a room used exclusively for eating cheese and a framed picture of Stephen Harper in the entry.

In short, we were in Switzerland because we were invited to the Ambassador's house for Thanksgiving dinner--and that's the kind of invitation that you don't turn down. (Okay, and I'll admit that maybe I've also missed Sasha just a little bit over the last two years, too.)

When Tristan, who was also my roommate at one point, moved to the UK to teach last fall, I promised that we would come visit. Fact: I follow through on my promises. 

I'll confess that this is a blog post about who I was with and what we did. The actual locations are only secondary.

With two months of planning and anticipation finally over, Courtney, Jay and I packed our bags only to arrive at the airport to a cancelled flight.

After a 13.5 hour delay, two hotel airports, multiple meal vouchers and countless hours spent standing in lines, on hold with the insurance company and trying to rebook connecting flights, we finally landed in Geneva. (Lessons learned: avoid Air Transat and always buy travel insurance.)

Day 1: Geneva

We were exhausted and it was raining outside. But after two days spent exclusively in airports, we were eager to explore.

"What do you want to do while you're here?" Sasha asked us. I had only one goal. "I want to eat cheese and chocolate every single day," I told her. She laughed and assured me that it wouldn't be a problem.

First order of business: a Sasha-guided walking tour of Geneva.

Swiss children have the best playgrounds.

Returning to our humble abode, chocolate, cheese and a mini-keg of beer in hand.

Day 2: Fondue!

Still jet-lagged, on Saturday morning we woke up to torrential downpours. We decided to make the best of it by spending the day drinking beer in the sauna, reading, taking long showers and going out for dinner.

Eating a meal composed almost entirely of cheese was my top priority (I had already met my daily chocolate quota by consuming leftover mousse earlier that day) so we went to Auberge de Saviese, an adorable fondue and raclette restaurant near Geneva's red light district.

Dinner for ₣150.00 (approximately $175.00)? This was our first indication that the Swiss live up to their baller status. The second clue? The 8 km cab ride that we took home later that night cost ₣40.00 ($46.00).

Day 3: Chamonix, France 

On Sunday, we rented a car to check out the French alpine village of Chamonix and Mont-Blanc. According to Chamonix's official website, Mont-Blanc is the third most visited natural site in the world.

Sasha promised me there would be cheese and chocolate in France, so I was sold.

When we started our drive, it had been overcast with a 60 per cent chance of rain. Our optimism for beautiful weather was low--in fact, since our arrival we hadn't even glimpsed Mont-Blanc, which is visible directly across the lake from Sasha's house.

We planned to make the best of it and were well-equipped for hiking in the rain. But as we neared the border, the sky opened up to reveal the French Alps basking in sunlight.

It was going to be a good day.

The plan had been to take the gondola to the Aiguille du Midi and then hike across to Montenvers Mer de Glace. But due to high winds the gondolas weren't operating so we took the train directly to the glacier.

There was more snow than we anticipated, so prior to starting our hike we refuelled at the Grand Hotel du Montenvers. The meat-eaters scraped their plates of tarteflette clean, while Court and I had asparagus risotto.

Our hike was somewhat short-lived due to the heavy snowfall.

Highlights included this exhibit of poorly taxidermic animals. (Contrary to what the sign may lead you to believe, this is a squirrel, not a boar. At least, I think.)

Day 4: Gruyeres

Finally the day I had been most anticipating had arrived: cheese factory tour day. And visiting a town named after one of my favourite cheeses? Amazing. (Okay, so the cheese is probaby named after the town. That's beyond the point.)

Apart from over-indulging in melted cheese at every available opportunity, the train rides were my favourite part of the entire trip.

Cheese!!! Also, the best part of the tour was the cheese bot, which flips the cheese. (I know "flips the cheese" sounds dirty. It's not. It's delicious.)

Onward to Old Town Gruyere for a castle tour, some surrealist art and more cheese eating.

Cheese in a vending machine? I love this country.

Day 6: Chateau de Chillon

On our final full day in Geneva, we toured Chateau de Chillon before walking back to Montreux to catch the train.

Best vending machines ever. (Not to mention best product names ever. Featured here: the "Maybe Baby" pregnancy test.)

Before Thanksgiving dinner, we wandered down to the lake to watch the sun set over Mont-Blanc.


This lawn is just begging for someone to play bocce on it.

Day 7: Lake Geneva

With our flight to London scheduled for that evening, there was only one last thing to do. . .

. . .go swimming in Lake Geneva.

I can't say that it was pleasant, but it had to be done.

Goodbye dining room. We had some awesome meals here.

Goodbye house. We had some good times here. Goodbye Sasha and Nicholas. We'll see you Canada.

(Thank you to John and Joanne for having us and to Sasha and Nicholas for showing us as much as they could in a week!)


  1. Is that... are those...why, yes, I think they are! The Giger chairs!

  2. The link to the coffee shop is here: http://www.hrgiger.com/barmuseum.htm
    There's some awesome photos of it there.

  3. Happy to read some stuff about Switzerland after very long time. Switzerland is like a dream places. My friend spent his honeymoon at Switzerland last year. I saw his couple photos and realize Switzerland is just awesome place for visitors.


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