Lausanne, I’m sorry; for I judged you based on my first impression, even though one must never judge a “book” by its cover. I threw in all my chips blind without even taking a sneak peek at the cards. I made my decision based on your looks, forgetting about the heart that beats inside. I… you get the idea right!
In my defence, Lausanne was the first city that I had visited in Switzerland, and it came as somewhat of a surprise.
Let’s start from the beginning;
The first few days, after arriving in Switzerland, were spent the lap of the beautiful Terraced Vineyards that border Lac Léman. The freshness in the air that the lake brought along with the dramatic Swiss Alps in the distance was the perfect calm every vacation should begin with. Corseaux, Corsier, Vevey, all welcomed us in a delightfully natural way, and it didn’t take long to settle in.
Over the next few days, we took the Chocolate Train and visited the villages of Gruyere and Broc and then enjoyed the beautiful scenery in Gstaad, up in the mountains, where tranquillity ruled partly because it was off-season and the even those charming cobbled streets remained deserted.
Imagine then, suddenly visiting Lausanne; a busy “moving” city, with traffic, and people walking with determination, life in fast motion no matter where we looked. The stark change in the landscape, modern buildings, graffiti on the walls, the hustle and bustle of everyday living, made me treat Lausanne in an unfriendly manner. I was quick to disregard it, label it as unimpressive.
But, as the day went on, and the more I began to discover the city, its corners, treasures that hid among its urban look, and the Swiss charm still oozing in the architecture, the more I regretted my first impression.
Lausanne has all the Swiss qualities that one would expect from any place in the country. It might lack the traffic-free serenity of the mountain villages, but it presents a more vibrant and energetic lifestyle experience that spotlights a different side of the country.
Now, my initial judgment of the city could also be because we couldn’t get into the Michelin starred restaurant – that I had chalked out – at the spur of the moment. That left me disheartened, but besides the numerous food options of the highest quality, Lausanne has a lot more variety to offer.
Take the Olympic Museum where you can easily spend half a day walking among memorabilia from the most significant gaming competition that takes place in this world. It’s a beautifully presented and managed museum to be explored leisurely and with a mixture of presentations, educational displays, infotainment, and activities, there’s enough for all ages to stay occupied – and in the process learn the significance of the Olympics.
As a tourist, if you have the Museum Pass (free with your Swiss Rail Pass), admission to the Museum is free. Walking through the Olympic Museum is a lesson in the spirit of humanity, determination, aspiration, and every other emotion that comes packed with competitive sports. It is as inspirational as it is a sight to admire and appreciate.
There are a number of other museums in the city. But while you are at the Olympic Museum, why not take a walk along Lac Léman – wave at the passing ferries – and have a bit to eat or an ice-cream as the kids – if you have any – play in the many small playgrounds that are found all over Switzerland, or just sit, relax, and while away some time.
On another day, you may even come back and take the Ferry across the lake to Evian for a beautiful crepe-filled day in this French town famous for its mineral water.
Want some more fun locally?
Then take the Metro train from Ouchy up. Yes! It’s one of the steepest train stations you’ll ever find and leave you with a childish giddiness as you wait for the train to arrive or giggle as you hold on tight during the climb up, trying not to fall back.
Architecturally, Lausanne has a lot to offer. Like most cities in Switzerland, the old part of the town is filled with houses that tell stories, and small lanes where generations have lived and prospered. My favourite part though was the Lausanne Cathedral, a beautiful building in Gothic architecture where you can climb up to the top and get fantastic views of the city and an up-close-and-personal look at the structural design. The building is as spectacular from the outside as it is from the inside with its sky-high arches and stained glass windows.
Lausanne is quite a rich city, and a view from the top of the Cathedral gives a glimpse into how colourful the houses are, but it is while walking the streets that the real treasures present themselves in the form of fountains, street art, beautiful window shutters and the likes.
The love for art that Lausanne holds close to its heart is evident from the “art street” which makes it even more dynamic and exciting. However, we visited this area, not for the art but to witness one of the few – worldwide – glassed public bathrooms. It’s quirky, and the windows/walls do frost up at the click on a button, but if you ever want to pee (or poop) and feel frivolous – and live your paranoia of being watched – at the same time, then this is the place to be.
Lausanne isn’t without the customary Swiss “attractions”; a striking fountain here, a restaurant selling fondue there, but the Place de la Palud gets a little more traffic than usual as it consists of a fountain, and a clock that comes alive every hour. Nothing spectacular, but it is free to watch, and a lovely little place to relax in-between you shopping – in case you were wondering, this is where you get the cobbled traffic-free street as well.
Just like most villages and towns in Switzerland – or Europe for that matter – a weekly local market takes place twice a week and is always a brilliant way to not only support the locals but also experience everything that is available and unique about the region.
Last, but certainly not the least, Lausanne also happens to have one of few All English bookshops in the country and while it is adorable – think of it as a big room filled with wall-to-wall books – finding it and discovering some wall art en-route was indeed the cherry on top of my city walk.
Oh! And Books Books Books (that’s the name of the bookshop) has a wall filled with “second hand” books that they sell for only CHF 5,- each and trust me, that itself is worth a visit to the city.
So, once again, I would like to say, “Lausanne, I’m Sorry.” For at first sight, you might come across as just another city in any part of the world, but behind this humble facade is something genuinely splendid, a love that breaks boundaries; respect for the arts, for travel, for beauty, and of course for the people that inhabit and visit you.