Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From Chocolate & Cheese to the Swiss Italian Region

I've waited to long since the last post, and as a consequence, have much to write. As three weekends of traveling is too much in one post, I'll split it up and post soon again this week. This post contains my travels to Broc and Gruyère then Vallorbe (weekend 1) then Zürich and the Italian region (weekend 2).

Chocolate & Cheese
(Broc and Gruyère)

As much as much as Ms. Keiner emphasized in Bern that the Swiss want to achieve quality reputations the realm of chocolate and cheese, getting past these stereotypes will be difficult! I visited the Callier chocolate factory in Broc and La Maison de Gruyère in (where else?) Gruyère.

The chocolate factory was a pleasant experience. All visitors first view a short film about chocolate making; there's a rotation of 3 videos, all with a nostalgic, good ol'days 50s theme. The tour then proceeds through several rooms where you can see the raw ingredients, smell the chocolates, and (most importantly!) taste the chocolates. I unfortunately had brought no water
with me and couldn't "cleanse my palette" to appreciate the range of chocolates: from dark to white chocolate, with and without nuts, so many options! And no wonder Switzerland has quite a chocolate reputation--Callier claims to be the inventor of milk chocolate. I'm hoping to return before I leave Switzerland to stock up on Callier chocolates and to sample all the chocolates again.

In Gruyère, I visited both the castle and cheese dairy. The castle was charming, but what piqued my interest the most was the cut hand the castle had on display. Legends of the hand's origins range from the crusades 11th century to the 15th century. Scientific analysis, however dated the hand much (MUCH) earlier; it was Egyptian mummified remains and came to the castle during Europe's infatuation for Ancient Eqypt in the late 18th century.

On my way from the castle to the cheese dairy, I happened upon the men with long horns (picture). Their tune was interesting and very mountainlike; I'm not sure how they even could produce different pitches.

The cheese factory was enlightening about the process of cheese-making. I hadn't known that Gruyère taste was saltiness due to the daily salt-bath spray the rounds receive and surprised I could taste the difference between the aged cheeses. Not as delightful as the Callier factory, but very culturally relevant.

Pedestrian Tourism (Vallorbe-->Orbe)

After this trip, I've noticed the yellow pedestrian and 'wanderweg' signs everywhere, even in Lausanne. This is an easy effort of a city to add to its tourist attractions, and, certainly, some places pedestrain tourism is more successful than other. I found this one on myswitzerland.com, a trek along the l'Orbe river from Vallorbe to Orbe. It was quite a walk, good exercise, but not the scenic excursion most are looking for. Vallorbe and Orbe are not tourist attractions, and the walk wasn't impressive, as it lead me past power plants (naturally, as water power is a considerable Swiss energy source).

National Fête at Zürich

I spent the rainy national holiday in Zürich. I saw the main attractions (Grossmünster, Fraumünster, shopping streets) and plenty of people dressed in costume for festivities near the lake. For Zürich's size, I was surprised that I didn't see much more celebration going on. It's possible that I missed some as stayed close to old town. Someone told me that Zürich didn't even have an official fireworks display. Again, not sure if this was true, but I was so exhausted after walking all day that I stayed at the hostel (not near old town). The next morning I went to the zoo, credited to be one of Europe's best. The zoo had a painted camel theme, which is how I found the spidercamel.


The Italian region is gorgeous: all mountains and beautiful blue lakes. I again found the pedestrian signs in Lugano, letting them lead me up Mount San Salvatore, where I was rewarded with a great view of Lago di Lugano between the mountains. One of my favorite weekend moments.

Even though I missed fireworks in Zürich, I found them in Lugano! Apparently the city decided to celebrate Saturday night instead of Friday; a small stage was set up and several food/drink stands as well. Only after noticing a sign for fireworks on the lake did I realize the festivities. I brought a boat ticket to see them on the lake, a great decision. The lights weren't distinctly reflected in the lake as one might romantically imagine, but still had a effect. The show was magnificient, maybe one of the best I ever seen. To dispel any ambiguity about the end of the show, three loud pops sounded once the finale had concluded. After that, I watched all the viewers in personal motors boats scatter, only indicated by the scurrying front and port lights.

Like Dusty, I also stayed in the Bellinzona youth hostel, which posted an impressive picture under a castle wall. I missed the chance to see them light up at night, but they're just as impressive during the day. All have the same characteristic wall stereotypic to medieval castles. I started at Sasso Corbaro, on the hill, and traveled down to Montebello, and last Castelgrande. Castelgrande had a large courtyard within its walls and seems to be available for rent. I split this day between Bellinzona and Locarno, and spent little time in each. Locarno, however, seemed to be a smaller Lugano on Lago Maggiore. The grand plaza was already set up for its famous film festival which started last weekend. I left Lugano early hoping for a scenic train ride trough Domodossola, but most of the journey was through tunnels.

I came back to Lausanne sore from all the climbing and walking, but immediately started planning my next weekend. THe only reason that this post is so long is because it's pouring outside, and I'm not running off to do other things. I'm not happy about this weekend's forecast of rain either....


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