Lausanne Old Town , a pleasant surprise – Swiss Sojourn, Part 1

It had been 3 years since our last overseas vacation to Poland in 2019. The forever dragging on pandemic had put paid to our vacation plans to the Netherlands & Belgium and robbed me of the opportunity to watch the Euro 2020 football tournament for which I had landed tickets in the open lottery. With the pandemic waxing and waning without warning and international leisure travel from India an impossibility we explored our diverse country whenever we had the chance and did trips to Gujarat and Uttarakhand. April 2020 became April 2022 and slowly the world started opening up ( and obviously everybody had an Omicron infection!). So we started looking at overseas destinations again as a possibility for a vacation.

My first instinct was to look for a European destination as it has long been my go to continent for an overseas vacation. ( Reasons here – Random Musings – Why we keep returning to Europe year after year ) The better half had a landmark birthday coming up in August 2022 so I decided to plan a trip to a destination that she used to bring up every time we had a discussion on where next to go in Europe ( and I constantly shot it down!) – Switzerland!

Switzerland is what most Indians think of when they think of Europe. I had avoided it till now just because it was considerably more expensive than most other European destinations. ( Scandinavia not considered – that is in a league of its own!) But Switzerland had been the first to remove all covid related restrictions ( putting a swab up your nose for leisure travel is not my cup of tea!) while at the same time having an embassy that was giving dates to apply for a tourist visa when we wanted. It was the first time we would be visiting Europe in the peak summer season and I couldn’t think of a better place to use the great weather than Switzerland with it’s great mountain resorts that had numerous Cable cars and hiking paths of all levels of difficulties. I had planned a trip to Switzerland for my parents what seems like eons ago now, so I knew where I wanted to go.

I considered going to Switzerland in the summer months and wasting time in the cities not prudent use of the limited days we had. So we bookended 3 nights each in the Alpine resort towns of Zermatt and Murren with a night on the shores of Lake Geneva, in Lausanne on the way in and in Montreux on the way out. Flights and hotels were booked and we got the Schengen Visa in record time – Switzerland is really efficient! All paperwork in order we were all set to fly keeping fingers crossed and always with an eye on daily covid stats to see that the pandemic doesn’t make yet another unexpected return. Thankfully for us everything fell beautifully into place.

We started from Mumbai on a rainy August morning. We had booked Emirates flights to and from Geneva utilising vouchers left over from aborted pandemic time trips. While that meant we didn’t have to spend more money on flights it also meant we had to take flights that after a hop in Dubai, reached Geneva airport at 8 pm wasting precious daytime in travel. After this trip though I have a high regard for Emirates airlines as the flights were very comfortable even in economy and most importantly on time! The highlight of the flight was seeing Mont Blanc from the air, 7 years after we had been face to face with it in Chamonix. (Chamonix – Dizzying heights of the French Alps). We reached Geneva late in the evening to relatively good weather (anything is better than peak monsoons in Mumbai !).

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Leaving from Mumbai on a typical Rainy August morning

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The Mumbai coastline from the sky

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Reaching Dubai on a muggy summer afternoon

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Transiting through the humongous Dubai airport

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Mont Blanc from the plane – the tallest mountain in Europe

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Reaching Geneva on a pleasant summer evening

We had booked a shoebox sized room at an Airport hotel in Geneva since it made no sense in paying the exorbitant Swiss hotel rates just to sleep at night. The Nash Pratik hotel was perfect for the purpose and it also provided a free shuttle to the hotel from the airport & back to the airport railway station the next morning. We slept peacefully after a long days journey and woke up refreshed to actually start our vacation and took the short train journey to Lausanne.

Lausanne is a city on the North shore of Lake Geneva and divided into the Old town up on the hill and the Lakeside Ouchy waterfront. Being a sucker for European old towns I had booked a hotel up in the Old town of Lausanne since this would be the only one we would be visiting on this trip. Like most hotels in Lausanne the Hotel des Voyageurs had very helpfully sent us Lausanne travel cards the previous evening. We used them to take the metro up from the main station to the Old town. We had reached early in the morning way before check in time, so we didn’t expect to get our room ready. We dumped our luggage in the hotels storage area and set out to explore Lausanne old town.

We had reached Lausanne on a Sunday morning which meant minimum people out and about in the pretty cobblestoned winding lanes of this hillside old town. The weather was cloudy and ideal for walking around, so with our trusty Rick Steves guidebook in hand we set off to see the sights of Lausanne old town.

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Setting out to explore Lausanne old town on a cloudy Sunday morning

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The indescribable charm of the streets of an European old town

We stopped first at the small but striking Renaissance style Fountain of Justice. In all photos online I had seen it surrounded by crowds, and here we were on a summer Sunday morning all alone in the square.

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The Fountain of Justice in Lausanne

We then wound our way uphill till we reached the famous Wooden stairs of Lausanne the 400 years old Escaliers du Marche that leads up from the old town to the Cathedral which is the highest point in town.

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The Escaliers du Marche – 400 years old covered wooden stairs leading up to the Cathedral

We reached the cathedral square and were greeted by great views from the viewing terrace of Lausanne old town and Lake Geneva beyond. The ominously grey skies gave the photos a moody hue but you can’t choose the weather, you do the best with what you get!

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The impressive carved door arches of the Lausanne Cathedral

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Views from the viewing terrace at the Lausanne Cathedral

It was Sunday morning and the Church had regular service/ mass going on. So we decided to wait for it to get over before exploring the interiors of the Cathedral. Since I had brought along my favourite 300mm lens I used the time to take photos of the numerous chubby European Sparrows feeding on crumbs dropped by people having their picnic breakfast on the viewing terrace.

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Using the 300 mm to get some photos of the European Sparrow

As the Sunday mass was still going on we decided to use the time to walk further up to the Lausanne  Saint Maire Castle. The streets were still empty and a pleasure to walk through. We passed a pretty little fountain and stone buildings with elegant facades. The castle interior itself is not visitable as it is the active seat of the regional government of Vaud.

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A pretty fountain on the way to the Saint Maire Castle 

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The beautiful streets of Old Town Lausanne with the Cathedral tower in the background

As compared to the huge castles of Prague or Krakow the Saint Maire Castle is  a minuscule cube. It still has the typical spires of a castle making for a pretty picture. 

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The compact Saint Marie Castle at Lausanne

We then walked back to the Cathedral where the service had finally ended and we entered the largest Cathedral in Switzerland. Unlike the art laden Roman Catholic Churches / Cathedrals in Italy the Protestant Cathedral of Lausanne was stark. It still had the symmetry in architecture that makes it a dream to photograph. It still had the beautiful stained glass windows that I have a particular liking – especially the striking South Rose window which is no less than a piece of art. We walked around the Cathedral taking photos after completing our routine of sitting in the pews for a few minutes. 

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The beautiful symmetry of architecture seen in the Lausanne Cathedral

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The beautiful South Rose window at Lausanne Cathedral

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The Gothic architecture at the Lausanne Cathedral

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More beautiful stained glass windows at the Lausanne Cathedral

We wanted to climb the tower at the cathedral after that but discovered that it would only be open at 1pm on account of it being a Sunday. We still had an hour to kill so we decided to walk around old town and visit the St Francis Square and Church at the base of old town before hiking back up for our date with the top of the tower.

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Walking around Old town Lausanne on a lazy Sunday Morning

We reached the St Francis church in a few minutes and visited the interiors which were slightly more decorated than the pure white of the Cathedral but nothing compared to the rich paintings of Italian churches. The church organ was being played as a rehearsal for a concert later in the week and we got a free sample concert.

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The St Francis Church in Old Town Lausanne

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The slightly less stark interiors of St Francis including the great Stained glass above the altar

We then returned to the Cathedral and bought our tickets for the bell tower climb. We enjoy these tower climbs and make sure that we climb at least one tower in a city for a bird’s eye view of the town below. The bell tower at the Lausanne Cathedral is easily the highest point in the city and has three levels which give progressively more impressive views of the old town and the lake.  Luckily for us there was no one on top for a fair while making it a great experience as we didn’t have to jostle for space on the narrow spiral stairs or the top of the tower itself. The photos of the view from the top will speak for themselves.

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Another sparrow on the cathedral walls

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The spiral stairs up the bell tower

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View of Old town from the top of the tower

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The Castle in the distance from the middle level of the bell tower

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The view over the vast lake Geneva with overcast skies overhead

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No one at the top of the Bell tower of Lausanne Cathedral

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Some blue finally appears in the grey skies

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A few customary selfies taken after yet another tower climb

We left the Cathedral one last time but this time with blue skies over the Cathedral itself. We were now getting hungry after all the walking and climbing. Again because it was Sunday and Lausanne is a business city mostly, most restaurants were closed. So we went down and crossed another landmark Bessieres bridge and towards the St Francis part of Old Town which had a few Fast food chains that seemed to be our only options for a Sunday Lunch. We finally settled on the Five Guys burger chain which turned out to be a good choice as it had a delicious cheeseburger for me and a vegetarian sandwich for the better half and a huge pile of Cajun fries. (Sorry we were too hungry to take photos!)

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Saying goodbye to Lausanne Cathedral with blue skies overhead

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Crossing the Pont Bessières to have lunch at a fast food joint

We ended our morning Old town tour with a really delicious Gelato at a local ice cream parlour called Manu. It had been a great first morning of our long awaited Swiss vacation. We returned to our hotel where our room was now ready to rest our legs for an hour or two.

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Ending the morning with a delicious Gelato at Manu

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Our room at the Hotel des Voyageurs, Lausanne 

We would be going to the Ouchy waterfront in the evening taking advantage of the long days of the European summer. But that is topic for another post, some other time, some other day.

Till then,

Bye.

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