It took over 21 travel hours to get from Florida to Lausanne, Switzerland. During our final weigh-in, Mom and I were proud that each of our backpacks came in just shy of 15 pounds. If we’ve done our planning properly, these 15 pounds will see us safely through two months, 500+ miles, and fifty degree Fahrenheit temperature differentials.
The journey began auspiciously, when the airline upgraded Mom to first glass on the first leg of the journey. She beamed at me and lifted a glass of Chardonnay as I strode on back to economy. She was still beaming when we met back up after the flight. First class was amazing, she raved. She and her seat ate had apparently chatted non-stop for two hours and already exchanged text messages. Did I know that they served wine up there, and that the flight attendants had brought her another glass of Chardonnay after take-off, FOR FREE?
Alas, the remaining two segments of our flights were a harsh return to reality and economy class. We were both bleary-eyed by the time we cleared first London Heathrow airport security, and then Geneva passport control.
Welcome to Switzerland!
We were surprised at how thorough the Swiss officers were and how much scrutiny they were giving the passengers in front of us. Ergo, when our time came to answer the question “What is the reason for your visit to Switzerland, and how long are you staying in Europe?” we were READY.
We were on a sacred mother-daughter walking pilgrimage to Rome, we told him. With luck, it would take 50 to 60 days, and we’d be out of Switzerland in under 10 days with zero incidents if we achieved our desired daily mileage. We not only handed over our passports, we earnestly handed over our PILGRIM PASSPORTS as proof of our sincerity and side-modeled our backpacks for him.
The man was a true professional. Had he not been, he might have burst out laughing. I’m guessing that was the first time he’s been handed Pilgrim Passports before. In any case, we cleared security in record time.
The biggest initial shock upon arrival was the weather. After a series of black flag triple digit days in Florida, Switzerland’s 59 degree coolness literally left us covered in goosebumps. Indeed, one of the biggest packing challenges we discussed was how to account for extreme weather changes. The forecast called for snow atop the St. Bernard Pass on Tuesday. SNOW, in August! The sky was a dark gray as we caught a 55 minute airport train to our starting point in Lausanne.
What a lovely train ride that was! The route skirts Lake Geneva on one side, with stunning views of tidy houses and well-maintained vineyards on the opposite side. The ticket inspectors were professional, smartly uniformed, and wore snappy red ties. Everything oozed Swiss order and efficiency.
I had pre-booked our first night’s accommodation at a well-reviewed budget hotel near Lausanne’s famous cathedral. It was a 20 minute uphill walk from the station. The hotel receptionist desk was vacant, with a small sign noting that she’d return at 2 p.m. Promptly at 2, a friendly young lady greeted us in French and allowed us up to our room. Although it was raining and Mom and I were both exhausted, we agreed the best thing to do during our half-day in Lausanne was to set our bags down, readjust our compression socks, and explore.
If you’re embarking on a 500+ mile pilgrimage of the Via Francigena, you kind of have to begin the walk at a place of worship. Thus, we soon found ourselves gawking outside of Lausanne’s magnificent gothic Cathedral. The medieval cathedral was constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. Although it was originally consecrated as a Catholic place of worship, during the Protestant reformation, control shifted to the Protestants. While the lake and surrounding mountains are the most stunning, to me the cathedral represents the best mankind has to offer. It is truly an architectural and artistic marvel.
Per European custom, over 80% of shops and restaurants were closed due to it being Sunday. Although the summer tourist season may be winding down, we were surprised by how uncrowded it is, how quiet the streets are, and the impressive consideration drivers show pedestrians. Steep ascents and descents aside, Lausanne is a walker’s paradise.
Initially, we had also planned to visit the Olympic museum, which was highly reviewed, and which is unfortunately closed on Mondays. However, by the time we walked there we didn’t think two hours enough to do it justice. Ultimately, we decided to explore the outdoor Olympic gardens, which opened up to a stunning stroll along the clear waters of Lake Geneva.
We dipped a finger in the cool lake water for luck. To my amazement, there were a few young lads daring enough to swim in the small area designated for that purpose.
Having walked seven miles with nothing in our stomachs but the last flight’s breakfast of yoghurt bowl and fig crumble, we were both ravenous. Happily, L’Evêché, a two-minute walk from the Lausanne Cathedral, offers an incredible menu of fondues. A shared pot of cheese and a full bowl of delicious Swiss bread makes for a delightful dinner. We liked the fondue so much, that – since there was still a good portion of cheese still in the pot after we’d polished off the bread – we asked the server if there was any way we could take the remaining sauce back with us.
He threw up his hands and spoke in English.
“Jesus Christ, really?”
It was our first religious exclamation of the trip…just not in the context we’d thought. Just when I thought we’d made an unforgivable faux pas, he continued —
“Why don’t I just bring out more bread, and you take your time with the pot?”
That’s exactly what he did, and when we ate as much as we could and there was STILL fondue left, he merely rolled his eyes good-naturedly as we scooped fondue onto the slices and made impromptu take-away sandwiches. He was a prince of a human being. Even though he must have thought we were uncouth, I think he realized we were big fans of the food. In any case, he invited us back. LOVE this place!
Final thoughts before bed: I’m really drawn to this city’s architecture and beautiful mix of buildings. I am also intrigued by the sheer variety of cuisines available. They have everything from French tacos to poke bowls, kebabs to sushi, Italian pizza to Chinese cuisine. Despite the fact that almost every sign is in French, we are managing ok so far. Locals generally take one look at us and immediately switch to English. Nonetheless, we are still making conscious efforts to say at least a few phrases in French, and I recall enough Italian that we are able to get a rough idea of what is going on.
After so much anticipation and planning, it’s hard to believe we’re actually here. Mom and I will take careful stock of our energy levels and the weather in the morning before deciding how best to get to Vevey. In the likely event that either of us wakes up in the middle of the night jet-lagged, we’ll be able to feast on those slices. That, or the gummy bears and celery sticks Mom smuggled into Switzerland with her…just in case. 🤣
Next phase: Lausanne to Vevey!
- One adult train ticket from Geneva airport to Lausanne: 27 CHF ($30.53)
- Shared hotel room, with communal shower and toilet: $88
- One portion of fondue made from local cheeses, beer and Armanec: 27.5 CHF ($31.09)