Writing: on board the 8:39am EuroCity train from Montreux to Domodossola, where I will change trains to Locarno.
Attempting to squeeze‐in as much sleep as possible, I woke up on Thursday a bit too late to my taste—putting my travel plans in jeopardy. I didn’t have much sleep the night before; for whatever reason I couldn’t figure out, the air‐conditioner stopped conditioning the air some time around 3:00am and started working on “fan mode”. Tried to re‐educate it, to no avail. Falling back asleep was hard and it wasn’t before I wetted a towel and covered myself with it when I finally fell asleep again.
A bit of a nerve‐wrecking experience to get to Milano’s central station. First, I had to take a tram to Cadorna FS; when I say a “tram”, I refer to some sort of a vehicle that was so old that I believe it was Alexander the Great’s preferred method of transportation before he started using horses. It was almost entirely made of wood, which gave it a bit of a kitschy‐picturesque‐kitschy look—for which I couldn’t possibly care less as I really wanted to get to the station already.
It took that tram 20 minutes to cover a route of just about 2 kilometres, and I sprang out of it into Cadorna FS and into the Metro line as if a snake was just biting my ass. From there on everything went OK and I got to my train on time.
The ride from Milano to Montreux took about three hours; for the most part, it was an immensely pretty drive as we left the hustle and bustle of the big city and approached Switzerland; with the mountains around (the Alps? Need to check) and the rock‐flour‐coloured river it reminded me a lot of Yoho National Park in the Rockies, with the Kicking Horse river crossing through making any set of eyes watching it experience the closest feeling to orgasm eyes can experience. If this is what Switzerland is all about, then I must be up to some serious scenery.
I was excited to go to Switzerland; members of my extended family have distant relatives there, and whenever they went for a visit they came back with fantastic stories.
Switzerland is not a part of the European Union; more than three quarters of Swiss people rejected the motion to join the EU when the subject was last brought to the public by means of a referendum, back in 2001. In fact, Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is based upon a series of treaties—formulated specifically by the EU and Switzerland—treaties which essentially makes Switzerland subject to most EU laws.
As a consequence of not being a part of the European Union, Switzerland keeps maintaining its own currency—the Swiss Franc—which at the moment is very close in value to the Canadian Dollar; however, being surrounded by countries who use the Euro, the Euro is generally accepted in Switzerland. In most places tourists would bother getting to, they could at least pay with Euros—at worst, they would get the change in Swiss Francs (often using an exchange rate much less favourable than that offered by Swiss banks).
People speak multiple languages here, depending on the region: Italian, French and Swiss are all spoken here, and English is generally well‐understood, especially in touristic areas. You are not very likely to encounter problems communicating in English in Switzerland so that’s one less thing to worry about when travelling here. However, while a language barrier may not hinder your plans to visit, something else might—the prices: the tourism industry flourishes all year round—Alpine ski in winters, country trips / sightseeing trips in summers, depending on location—and if you don’t book early, you’re in for some serious hit to your wallet.
So, my suggestion: book early and accept the fact that prices here are higher than most other places—after all, this is Switzerland and it’s beautiful here; I noticed that as soon as my train arrived at Montreux, at around 11:30am.
Montreux (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreux) is a small touristic town located at the north‐east shore of Lake Geneva, to the foot of the Alps. Now read that last sentence again: a touristic town, on the lake shore, right by the Alps. Close your eyes and try to imagine what it looks like just based on that sentence; done? Very well. In reality it probably looks better than in your imagination; try Google Images and see for yourself.
Reading about Montreux in Wikipedia I am amazed of the fact that I had never heard of this place before. This place is very popular; hell, Bill Gates owns a residence here. Freddie Mercury, Queen’s late frontman, used to live here, and so did Shania Twain (not that I’m a big fan of her music, but I found it worth noting. You know what? Here’s one to balance the impression: Ian Anderson, frontman of Jethro Tull, lives / lived here as well).
A few important festivals take place here annually: the Montreux Jazz Festival is one example (Mark Knopfler’s concert yesterday was in fact a part of the MJF’s schedule). This place holds special sentiment to Freddie Mercury: the first weekend of every September (since 2003) is the Freddie Mercury Memorial Day, and there also is a Freddie Mercury statue just facing Lake Geneva, at the part of Montreux called Place du Marché (“Market Place” in English).
Only yesterday I learned that Montreux is also the subject of Deep Purple’s mega‐hit “Smoke on the Water” (I never really listened to the lyrics; told you I’m not that much of an intellectual). The inspiration for that song came after an event in 1971 when some fan of Frank Zappa, “armed” with a flare gun, accidentally set the Montreux Casino on fire.
So much cultural history in this place and I had never heard of it before. I feel stupid for some reason (some of you must be thinking “well it’s just about time”).
I decided to walk the 2.1km route to the hotel—Hotel Bristol. Right now there’s the Montreux Jazz Festival going on, and 4‐star hotel rooms cost a ridiculous amount of money; a room for 3 guests in a reasonable area in town, booked two weeks in advance (very late when talking about popular destinations in high‐demand periods such as this) went for €300. I happen to know this because that’s the alternative that Elian and myself took—him, his girlfriend Loan and myself shared a suite here for the night of the concert.
Google Maps for BlackBerry showed me the most direct route to the hotel, which I started following while taking a few pictures of the picturesque buildings around:
Soon enough, though, the map told me that I’m supposed to take a curve but what I saw in front of me was a short pathway going down right to the lake:
Now, you know me. The first thing I did was to verify that there is a lake‐side route to the hotel. There was; it was a bit longer, but who the hell cares? I hope that the following pictures will demonstrate why: the long route took much longer to walk as I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
The first set of pictures below were taken as I was standing on a boat‐launch boardwalk—the very same one you can see in the last picture above (right next to the right‐hand car). It was all quiet around, and the weather… well, I’ll let you conclude that by the pictures. Closing my eyes I felt I was in heaven, and re‐opening them I realized my feelings weren’t too far from the truth.
Can a walk by any lake be any prettier than this? I doubt it. Equivalent in beauty to the route surrounding Lake Patricia in Jasper, this route is a must‐do. I took quite a bit of photos here so bear with me as I’m trying to put you in my shoes as I walk through this beauty.
I would write “Finally I got to my hotel”, but “finally” isn’t a good word in this context; for a change, that was a train‐hotel route I wouldn’t mind being longer. Every good thing though must come to an end, and so I arrived at the hotel after about 40 minutes of walking and taking pictures.
Unloaded my backpack in the room, a few glasses of water and then Elian and his girlfriend Loan arrived. Was good seeing this slightly‐insane individual again—this time escorted by his girlfriend who I didn’t get to meet when I stayed in Elian’s place in Paris about a month ago. Lovely gal who tends to light‐up the room with her smile—and she smiles a lot.
Elian must have been really hot as he immediately started abusing the portable air‐conditioner that stood in the room.
Later we started talking about practical & useful gifts, which is when Elian decided to describe, in much detail, one of the gifts he considered buying to a very close (perhaps too close) “friend” of his.
Everybody in the room was starving so we decided to hit the restaurant at the hotel. The duo informed me that the restaurant boasts an interesting menu and I didn’t need much convincing, especially considering the restaurant’s location—or, more exactly, the restaurant’s terrace’s location. I’ll let the pictures speak.
Here’s the sweet couple:
… And here’s myself being very excited to have Loan all over me:
Here’s myself wearing Elian’s glasses. Loan said “YES”, Elian said “not even as a joke”. Your opinion?
Time came to order some food. Try enlarging the following picture and get a glance at the menu. Almost each item here sounded mouth‐watering… too bad I didn’t take pictures of the rest of the menu.
While waiting for our appetizers, we engaged in some picture‐taking practice. Here’s one for good times:
Appetizers arrived. Mine: warm goat cheese, breaded (?) and fried, along with some seriously fresh salad.
Whenever I see “goat’s cheese” in the menu, regardless of the exact menu item it appears on, I must take it. I am a sucker for goat’s cheese in much the same way that Jeroen Gerrits is a sucker for sweets; in much the same way that George W. Bush is a sucker for wars; and in much the same way that Poland’s railway system is a sucker for… well… erase that. It just sucks in every context.
(Yes, Poland; I’m still deeply offended)
Main courses followed shortly, mine being a delicious cut of beef rib‐steak—despite its questionable look:
Spicy red butter on top, and consuming this entire meal while gazing at one of the prettiest views I have ever seen—felt like I’m in heaven. I just wanted to sit there and sit there and never get up. It was just so relaxing.
However, there’s also a writing part to this journey so at around 3:00pm I bid the couple goodbye; they went to swim in the pool and I, despite really wanting to take advantage of the pool, decided to go back to the city centre and finish blogging. Took exactly the same route as I took on my way to the hotel.
One of the many festivals and cultural events taking place in Montreux on an annual basis is the Montreux Jazz Festival (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreux_Jazz_Festival). This festival is the best‐known one in Switzerland and one of the most important festivals in Europe. It started on 1970 as a purely‐Jazz festival, but as years went by, more and more “genres” were allowed in. The list of famous artists who have performed here—some more than once—is very long (refer to the Wikipedia link above for a list of performances over the years).
During the Jazz Festival days, Montreux is swamped with tourists coming in from all over the place to celebrate. Businesses are open until late and the town, at day time as well as night time, is full of action. The festival, which at its earliest years was held at the Montreux Casino, now takes place on the promenade along the lake shore—there’s action everywhere you go on that promenade.
The buildings—apartment buildings, hotels, businesses—along the main streets of Montreux are so picturesque one finds it hard to resist the temptation to take photos.
In Montreux, you can never be too far away from the lake; the main streets are literally a stone‐throw away from Lake Geneva, and in spring / summer, flocking the terraces is so pleasant it should be mandated by law in my opinion.
The Montreux Palace hotel is located right at the centre of things and is a beauty to look at.
I stopped in two different coffee shops for about two hours, catching up with blogging and uploading whatever I wrote; Wi‐Fi at the hotel was just too expensive to bear and I was lucky enough to find a coffee place offering complimentary Wi‐Fi access.
Once done, I took the bus to the hotel—very convenient as buses are free starting 6:00pm on festival nights—unloaded my laptop and took the bus back again to the city centre, heading to the venue.
There’s so much action at the city centre area that you can’t tell where one venue (being a closed auditorium or an open‐air area) ends and another one begins.
The venue, Auditorium Stravinski, is located by the promenade. There’s even more action in side than outside: food and drink stands aside, there are even a few bars in here, terraces watching over magnificent views of Lake Geneva and lots and lots of people.
The concert time approached so I entered the venue at around 7:30pm—fifteen minutes prior to the scheduled start time.
This venue has a strict no‐camera policy. I entered with mine however vowed to not make use of it (and I didn’t), so, sorry about your luck folks but no concert pictures here.
Inside, the venue was split into two—a seated section at the front, and a general‐admission section at the back. My seat was at row 1, between Mark and Richard—however, as it turned out, row 0 existed as well. I have recognized nobody at the front row so something leads me to believe it was reserved for special invitees, perhaps members of something.
Some extremely serious filming equipment existed there at the gap between the front row and the stage; the entire concert was filmed from various angles, and video shots were shown on two big screens on either side of the stage. One consequence of the filming equipment being there was that it rendered the Running of the Bulls completely irrelevant (see below).
The concert was scheduled to begin at 7:45pm; minutes before that, I already noticed Guy Fletcher spending some time next to one of his keyboards, along with a few crew members. He looked very worried, and so did the others. Flashlights were used. “Feelin’ Good” started playing—and ended, and so did a few songs past that. The guys attempted to fix something that went wrong with the keyboard for about 10 minutes past the concert’s scheduled start time, which prompted Paul Crockford to approach his microphone and apologize to the audience for delay.
The concert started at around 8:00pm.
Other than the slightly disappointing sound—Mark’s voice appeared as if it was broadcasted from a speaker high up in the skies—we had a generally good concert. Nothing out of the ordinary comparing to previous concerts—no setlist surprises and no particular ups or down.
A noticeable change comparing to Milano’s concert was, of course, the audience. The Swiss audience doesn’t even come close to the Italian audience when it comes to loud cheers; not to say that the audience didn’t appear to like the show—they did—but going to a concert in Milano and then to a concert in Switzerland is like eating a pizza in Italy and then eating one in Sierra‐Leone: something is missing.
Sultans of Swing and Speedway at Nazareth were the cheer‐squeezing performances of the evening; one good thing that happened (in my opinion) is the Marbletown jam session returning to its “roots” with a good, relaxing quiet period at its beginning.
The Running of the Bulls did not take place as the gap between the front row and the stage was occupied by the video‐shooting crew. Not too many fans liked it, it appeared—but the Swiss stage‐security crew stood there and allowed absolutely no interference by anybody.
During Piper to the End, some mature fellow approached the stage, ducked during the entire performance holding what looked like a sunflower in his hand; I concluded that he was going to hand it to Mark at the end of the concert—which is exactly what he did. I don’t know, something just appeared very odd in that image—looking around me I noticed other faces with puzzled expressions just as mine. I think even Mark was surprised; he took the sunflower and shook the guy’s hand before departing the stage.
The concert ended at around 10:00pm; once the concert was over, leaving the venue took forever. I got a note from Elian saying that Loan is very tired after standing for two hours, so they were staying in one of the bars at the venue. I was hungry so I left.
After grabbing something quick to eat, I walked back to the hotel, through the Jazz Festival along the lake shore. The views were great and quite a few shots taken for your pleasure.
The Freddie Mercury statue:
… And then walking back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, took an extended shower and off to bed—July 16 was going to be a long day, travelling to Locarno.