Yup. This year, when I saw that work gap coming up at the end of December, the first thing that came into my mind was that I could use the time to visit another little corner of the world. A few years back, I stumbled upon and then signed up to a website that matches animal/travel lovers with pet owners who want to get away and know their beloveds will be cared for in their homes. (In case you're interested, it's called TrustedHouseSitters.com and if you do sign up, please say I referred you as then I'll get two free months.) Anyhow, it seemed to me a good time to make use of this again.
Much like when I went to Uzès in February, people wanted to know if I'd be lonely or bothered by being by myself. The answer, I now know, is definitely not. Solo travel is one of the most empowering things you can do and, once you've done it, it gives you a self-reliance and satisfaction that will carry you on to further adventures and bravery, in travel and daily life. I recommend it.
If you don't know Switzerland, the first thing you find out is that it's all about trains. Trains and watches. Which means the trains are always on time. Always. They're also clean, comfortable and go just about everywhere. I was on a little branch line that ran twice an hour in each direction, taking you to the top of the nearest mountain one way and down to Vevey (pronounced Vev-ay) on Lake Geneva in the other. From Vevey you can catch a train all the way back to Geneva or on around the lake and it all goes like, well, clockwork.
Montreux, where the jazz festival happens every year and is, as we all know by now, the setting for Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water'– Wait, what's that? You don't know this story? Briefly, then. 1971. Deep Purple are in Montreux to record an album. Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention are doing a concert. Someone sets off a firework (a big one, presumably), which starts a fire. Everyone thinks at first it's part of the act (no one was too high to worry, man. Like...), finally realise it's for real and get out. The venue is ruined and a song is born.
It's also where Freddie Mercury spent a lot of time, so there's a statue of him on the lakeside. When I went there was also a very jolly Christmas market going on, from where I bought and ate a crepe and a vanilla-custard stuffed croissant. And yes, it was as good as it sounds.
Another day I took the little train up to Les Peiades, where there are – allegedly – ski runs and sledding. Ahem. There was no snow. However, it was still worth the trip. Down below it was a cloudy, overcast day. But we burst through the cloud cover into the most glorious of blue-skies and sunshine. There was great walking and a picturesque mountain restaurant where a chocolat chaud made the perfect drink, while looking out at what looked like a lake of clouds.
I couldn't get over those clouds and the way they created two such different environments – the cloudy, gloomy one below; the sunny, jolly one above – or the way they behaved so much like water. Something about their texture was ever so appealing.
Vevey was worth a day's explore as well, with a few notable highlights, including the house architect Le Corbusier built for his parents on the edge of town. If you love ugly, concrete buildings, then you'll be a fan of his. Personally, when I saw the aluminium and concrete box he'd designed for his mom and dad, and how it was on a narrow strip of land hard by the main road, I couldn't help wondering if he were punishing them or if they just indulged him. I expect that his homes were nicer to look out of than to look on to. I hope so, anyway. I provide two pictures of it here: the entrance and as good a picture as I could get of the whole. To my mind – and I am a lover of houses and their design – it most reminded me of a trailer of the sort you'd find in, well, a trailer park.
Another reason to visit this pretty little city is that it's where Charlie Chaplin spent the last decades of his life and, again, there is a statue of him on the waterfront. In fact, the Swiss seem rather fond of waterside or even in-water statues, and I include a few others I saw in Vevey as well to prove the point.
After that, it was Christmas and I gave myself a day off the sightseeing and just went for a local walk. Swiss suburbia is not all that different from upmarket American small-town surburbia, if you discount the fact that every time you look up, the Alps are all around you. The thing is, it's a sight I just never get tired of. That and the way the clouds behave around them.
Which is why I'm ending with a picture taken from just outside the house I stayed in. Pretty spectacular. This was definitely a stand-out Christmas.