One thing that we have really changed over the last year or so is the way we visit new cities. In the olden days, we would have everything planned out down to the hour. Where we were going to go, how long we would stay, etc… We started doing this last year, when we could to places for just a day, or maybe a weekend. The first thing we now do is take a walk around the town. We still have a list of things we want to do, or things we want to see, but we no longer worry about getting all of them in. We list what we want to do in order. Then we plan one or two each day. This allows us to stay as long as we want at each site. It also ensures that we do not get exhausted. After all, the whole reason for taking a few days and going someplace is to rejuvenate not exhaust.
We got lucky with this strategy in Vevey. On Thursday afternoon we arrived in town, and checked in to the hotel. The sun was shining, and we had just spent three hours in the car. So we set off walking. We walked through the center of town towards the water front. We were able to scope out a couple of future places to visit, and we had an amazing stroll along Lake Geneva.
We spent a good four hours exploring the town; so we went back to the hotel and made dinner. We both got a really good laugh about the main feature of our hotel room.
We have never seen anything like that before. Thank goodness there was a curtain to close. I am sure the primary reason of this is to make the room appear bigger, it doesn’t work BTW. It might also have been simply a cost cutting measure when building the hotel. Anyway, we both got a lot of chuckles.
We got lucky with the rain and it decided to hold off until the afternoon; so we put on our walking shoes to go along the lakeshore again. After a 3 hour hike, we stopped at a church we saw discussed online. It wasn’t the most magnificent church we have seen, but it was very pretty in it’s own right. After lunch we visited the “Swiss Photography Museum”. It is really more of a camera museum, but why pick nits? I really liked the museum. Julie was ready to go somewhere else after about 10 minutes, but she did enjoy the infrared exhibit!! Unfortunately, after the museum, the clouds decided to open up; so we headed back to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon.
Saturday was the day that only putting one thing on the agenda really worked out in our favor. There is a famous castle very close to Vevey. This was a place we wanted to visit. When we got off the bus (Another thing that has changed about our travels, is we try and take public transportation once at our destination. It is nice to not worry about finding a parking place, and the bus is ALWAYS less expensive than paying for parking!) we were staring at the barrel of an anti tank cannon. Right across the street from the castle was one of the Swiss mountain military bunkers. It turned out to have been decommissioned in 1995 and has been turned into an attraction. So after we toured the castle we toured Fort Chillon.
The Chateau Chillon sits on a small island in Lake Geneva. The island is very close to shore, so it has a natural moat for protection. Archeologists have discovered the site of the castle has been used since the bronze age. That is a pretty wide range of time, as the Bronze Age is recognized as 3000 – 1500 BCE, but it does show that the island has had a strategic importance for a VERY VERY long time. The castle is not your typical castle. Basically a castle is built for defense, and livable space comes in second. Chillon combines both things. The side of the castle closest to land is a traditional castle structure, A very large and thick exterior wall with a living spaces inside the wall. However, because the lake forms a natural defensive barrier, the lake side of the castle is more palatial. The wall is certainly built for defense, but the living areas are right next to the wall. There is no separation as in a typical castle. You can see what I mean by this image from the castle’s web site.
One thing I have learned over here is that there is a difference between a castle and a palace. A castle is for defense and a palace is used solely for wealthy, religious, or royal families to live in. I think this is something that we never worried about in the US, because we really do not have either. Yes we have mansions, and some places that call themselves palaces or castles, but by the true definition are neither.
Construction on the castle began in 1150 AD. The castle was built as a toll booth, as this was entrance to the southern pass through the Alps. Most of the traffic from France, Belgium, and western europe passed this area on their way to Rome. The castle was made “famous” by Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon.” This poem told the story of the castle’s most famous prisoner. Francois Bonivard. Mr Bonivard was a political activist during the early to mid 1500’s. He was imprisoned for four years. The story is that he was chained in the same place for his entire time in the castle. Sorry for the bad picture (below). I tried taking it 4 different times, and Bonivard’s ghost must have gotten involved, because this was the clearest picture!!
During the time of Napoleon the castle served as a prison for a few years. It was then emptied and became one of the earliest historical landmarks in Switzerland. Today, besides being a tourist attraction, parts of the castle are rented out for receptions, dinners, and musical performances. During the tour in one of the banquet rooms we were informed the ceiling of the hall was over 600 years old, but then the part that caught my attention was the pillars holding up that ceiling were even older. The wood pillars have been verified to be over 800 years old. That is a pretty old log!!
After visiting the castle we got the chance to tour Fort Chillon. Fort Chillon was completed in 1942. It was manned until it was decommissioned in 1995. The main fort consists of 90 mm anti tank cannon emplacements, multiple infantry bunkers spread out over a fairly large area, living areas for approximately 135 soldiers, and storage facilities. The entire fort is not open to the public, but the parts that are open are worth a visit. The fort was built as part of the National Redoubt strategy during World War II.
The Swiss knew they could not stand against Hitler or Mussolini if either decided to attack. The Swiss defense plan was developed in the early stages of WW2 and contained two parts. The first was to have an economic understanding with their enemies. However, they really did not trust Hitler, so the second phase was to make it very hard to take over the country. As part of the strategy, there were somewhere around 30 major installations built in the Alps, and over 300 minor installations. The 2nd part of the strategy was to basically cede the non mountain areas to the enemy, but fortify the Alps; so it would be very costly to control the supply lines coming through Switzerland. I am not a military scholar, but I tend to believe the economic factors were the primary reason the Axis powers did not invade. Yes, the supply lines would have been somewhat shorter, but Switzerland was literally surrounded by the Axis powers; so there was no need to ship anything through Switzerland. This strategy was in place until the 1950’s. In the 50’s the Swiss strategy of defense really involved working with NATO and rely on NATO support to keep the Warsaw Pact in check.
The fort was pretty impressive. Even more so, when you realize how many more of them there are spread out around the major mountain pass areas. Some other interesting tidbits we learned: It was not that long ago that every Swiss Male had to join the army at age 20. They were expected to spend a couple of years on active duty, and then they were relegated to the reserves until they were 50. I don’t think their reserve structure was like the US (1 week per month, and then 2 or 4 weeks sometime during the year) but it did require regular training. Now, the system has changed quite a bit. Every male at age 18 is expected to do their basic military service. The men have until age 34 to complete this. The basic service for most seems to be basic training, and then a few years in the reserves. I have looked at a lot of different sources, and it confuses the heck out of me. The few people I have talked to all did the reserves. I think there is a time component, meaning that for the average male citizen, they have to spend X number of days on active duty, but again, I am not 100% sure. There is no requirement for women, though more and more women are serving. There is a way out of military service. If you object to the military you can fulfill your requirement with community service, or you can simply pay a tax.
Most of the military installations have been closed down. Some have been turned over to private development, others are basically locked up, ready to be opened again if they are needed. Now Julie and I just need to find out where our bunker is so that we know where to go. 🙂
Below you will find some of the pictures we took this past weekend. I will have another post later this week with the remainder of the pictures.