Monday, October 23, 2000

TR Switzerland

10/19 –10/23/00

Now that we had finished the marathon and our adventures in Turkey it was time to move on to Switzerland. I had mentioned in the Turkey report that prior to setting up this marathon trip that I had been fortunate to find a marathon in Switzerland in the same time frame so that I could complete two countries and marathons on the same trip. I was doubly fortunate that the marathon was being held in Lausanne which meant it should be fairly flat and easy compared to some of the other Swiss marathons that are mainly trail runs up one of the higher mountains in the country.

We flew direct from Istanbul to Geneva on an early morning flight that got us into Geneva about noon on Thursday. After finding a 4-star hotel close to the Gare (train station) we caught a train into the city. Since we had been to Switzerland before on ski trips with the kids and had done the city tour in Geneva, we decided to walk around the city on our own to explore some of the side streets in ‘La Vieille Ville’ (the old city). Later we took a cruise on Lac Leman, commonly called (incorrectly) Lake Geneva. Most of Lac leman is situated in Switzerland with about 1/3rd of the southern shores located in France. We had seen news flashes on CNN about the storms and floods in Northern Italy and the south of Switzerland but did not see any damage or affect in Geneva other than the Rhone River was very high and fast. The cruise started near the Pierres du Niton (Niton Rocks), two large rocks sticking out of the lake (elevation 373.6 m) that are used as the base for all altitude measurements in Switzerland. We then passed by the Jet d’Eau, a fountain that shoots lake water to a height of 140 meters. As we continued cruising along the south shore we viewed many homes and mansions along the shores such as the Diodati Villa where Lord Byron lived in 1816. We then crossed over to the north shore to view some more castles and mansions including Baron Rothschild’s castle and the villa where Josephine de Beauharnais ( Napoleon’s wife) lived. Autumn leaves were at their peak and the city and parks on both sides of the lake provided a kaleidoscope of colors. We continued on past the Palais des Nations, the European seat of the United Nations and the World Trade Center before finishing near St Peter’s Cathedral, dating from 1150 and rebuilt in the 16th century.

After the cruise we found a small gourmet shop, purchased a loaf of bread, some gourmet Swiss cheese and a bottle of French wine and returned to the hotel to have a picnic in our room while I watched CNBC on satellite TV. I had not had any update on financial markets since we left the US! Nicole finally pulled me away from the TV after we finished our great picnic and we decided to find a good restaurant for dinner. A travel acquaintance who had lived in Switzerland recommended that we try lake perch when we were in Geneva or Lausanne. There is supposedly a perch that lives only in Lac Leman and is only served fresh in restaurants along the lake. So we tried ‘les fillets de perch’ and it was excellent!

The following morning I got up early and did a final training run along Lac Leman passing many of the parks and mansions mentioned above. The weather was much milder than expected; highs in the mid 60s and lows in the high 40s. It was such a beautiful and peaceful run that I would have ran much longer if I didn’t have a marathon in two days. But it was time to catch a train for the 40-minute ride along the lake to Lausanne.

Lausanne is a small and compact city (population 125,000) built into the hills overlooking Lac Leman. The countryside on both sides of the city is covered in vineyards and is very picturesque. Lausanne seems to be divided into three sections based on the level of the land. The Ouchy district is located along the lakeshore and is the most scenic. The Gare or city center is located at the next flat level up from the lake and is the business section of the city. La Vieille Ville or old city is located at the top levels of the hills where it was built in the 6th century for defensive reasons. A cog rail or metro system connects the three levels.

Our hotel was located in the city center across from the Gare and next to the Metro. It was a great location for access to the city but I would recommend that a visitor stay in the Ouchy district along the lake. But we had a great 4-star hotel for less than $100/day including breakfast which is a bargain in Switzerland! There were no city tours operating because it was off-season so we picked up a brochure of walking tours from the tourist office and did our own tour. We spent a few hours walking around La Vieille Ville visiting some of the old castles and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame built in 1150. Then we took the metro down to Ouchy to explore the mansions and castles along the lakefront. This district is also the home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) founded by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894 but moved to Lausanne in 915. It contains an Olympic Museum and Park and a plaza named in honor of Pierre de Coubertin.

You may have noticed that I have been using a lot of French? Based on past trips I expected the Swiss to speak French, German or Italian depending on which part of the country you are in and the nearest neighbor. Most of the citizens usually speak English too but on this trip we found that we had to speak French the majority of the time. Even in government offices such as the post office and train station we had to converse in French to conduct business since these cities are so close to France.

Since we had explored most of the major attractions in Lausanne on our first day we figured that we should explore some of the country on Saturday. The marathon was on Sunday and fortunately it was a 10am start with the race HQ open until 9am for packet pickup. I don’t normally like to leave the logistics that late but when we investigated the time needed to get to the Matterhorn we learned that a full 10 to 12-hour day was needed.
So we caught an early train for the long ride to Zermatt. Normally it only takes 3 ½ hours as you take a normal train to Brig, near the Italian border, and then switch to a narrow-gauge railway for the rest of the trip to Zermatt. But the storms had indeed inflicted damage in the area near the Italian border. We had to train to Sierre and change to two buses as we bypassed sections of the rail tracks that had been washed out by floods. We saw some of the damage as we bussed through Visp and Brig in Wallis Province. Finally 4 ½ hours later we arrived in Zermatt where we switched again to a cog train that carried us from 4900 feet in elevation to Gornergrat at 9400 feet. It took 40 minutes to make that climb but the ride offered many spectacular views of the Matterhorn and its neighboring mountains. Four mountains including the Matterhorn form a huge basin or bowl with the ski resort of Zermatt at the bottom of the bowl. The Matterhorn (13,500 feet) is by far the more majestic of the mountains with its well-known pyramid shape even though the others are higher – Mount Rosa is 14,000 feet.
There are four permanent glaciers in the bowl that offer year-round skiing. The recent storms had dumped about 3 to 4 feet of new snow on the mountains and it looked like there was about 12 inches of fresh powder. Some of the runs were groomed but nobody was skiing? It looks like a great ski area and resort but it is a bitch to get to and will be for a while.

We only stayed at Gornergrat for about twenty minutes –just long enough to enjoy the many views of the Matterhorn and snap a few pictures. Then we headed back down the mountain to Zermatt because there were more restaurants to choose from for lunch. After lunch we strolled through the village for a while to pick up a few souvenirs and then decided to start the long trek back. It was a long day but well worth it!

The following morning I had to pay for my frivolous adventure of the day before by getting up at 6am to look for race HQ and pick up my race package and final instructions. Fortunately I was successful and was on the starting line and ready to go at 10am. The weather was perfect –overcast, almost foggy and cool. I was cold but waited for someone else to put on a garbage bag (remember Istanbul) before I pulled mine out and put it on!
The course started in Ouchy and ran northeast along Lac Leman through vineyards and small villages to La Tour de-Peilz where it looped back over the same route. It reminded me a lot of the Napa marathon –very scenic but lots of rolling hills. I passed through the half too quickly (1:47) and knew that I couldn’t hold that pace on those hills so slowed down. I felt good throughout the whole race and at mile 23 knew that if I wanted to break 3:40 that I had to lower the hammer and run about an 8-minute pace for the last 5K. This day was much different than the previous week in Istanbul – when I dug down there were energy reserves available and I crossed the finish line in Olympic Park in 3:39:06!

After the race and a quick shower Nicole and went back to Ouchy and strolled along the lake, stopping now and then for a glass of wine before deciding to eat dinner. I wanted to find a nice small intimate restaurant in La Vieille Ville –silly me- so we took the cog metro up to the old city –only to find that it was completely shut down! Not a single shop or restaurant open! So we had to retreat back to the city center and eat at the hotel restaurant –not very intimate!

But all in all it was a great trip. Although Switzerland is very expensive it provided a sharp contrast and nice change from Turkey. Time to go home and get recharged for the next adventure! See you then.

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