Impressions of Lausanne

Last week I investigated, in my Tour of Nine, (Switzerland’s nine biggest cities: Geneva, Lausanne, Biel, Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Zurich, Winterthur and St. Gallen), the employment prospects of Lausanne.

A city of hills reminding one of Rome or San Francisco, Lausanne is Switzerland’s 4th largest city. (Lausanne has 130, 000 inhabitants, behind Zurich (380,000), Geneva (189,000) and Basel (165,000).)

The capital of the Canton of Vaud, Lausanne is truly blessed by its location beside Lac Leman.

The old city centre is dominated by Switzerland’s finest gothic place of worship, the Cathedrale de Notre Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady).

She is a lady of elegant refinement with fine proportioned towers, turrets and spires clawing upwards in dramatic stages ever heavenwards.

Her giant rose stained glass window shows that this Gothic shrine has lost none of her grace or poise despite the passage of time, the battling elements of weather or the ravages of the Reformation.

Lausanne was a city of suffering as many a medieval fire threatened to destroy its very existence, so a tradition began that still continues to this day:

Lausanne is the last city in Europe to keep alive the Night Watch (“guet”).

Every night between 2200 hours and 0200 hours, after the bells have struck the hour, you will hear, and maybe even see, a sonorous voice call out from all sides of the Cathedral’s 75-metre tower:

“C’est le guet. Il a sonnee l’heure.” (This is the Night Watch. The hour has struck.)

Lovers and drunks below underneath the canopy of trees know that all is well.

Having fulfilled his civic duty, the Night Watch then retreats to his tiny cosy alcove within the tower for the next 59 minutes.

This is a serious business, for the Guet keeps a look-out over the city for fires and other dangers.

The city begins its ascent from the Lake in the quarter of Ouchy, a place to stroll and enjoy the mountain views and fresh breezes blowing off the water.

Ouchy is officially and proudly its own separate commune from Lausanne and even the building housing the Café de Vieux Ouchy declares itself to be a consulate for the commune, a micronation to itself.

No one fishes despite Ouchy’s fishing heritage but instead palace hotels and waterfront cafes beckon.

Nearby the Olympic Museum, Lausanne’s pride and joy, is a magnet for sports buffs.

It is a grand affair with formal gardens and pomp and ceremony celebrating the International Olympic Committee’s cleverness far more than the sacrifice, struggle and achievement of Olympian athletes.

Banks of video screens, rows of metals, sheets of commemorative stamps, signed swimming trunks, basketballs and Carl Lewis’ old running shoes, fail to fully capture the spirit and glory of the special stories of these amazing athletes.

This is a shame for their stories reveal humanity at its best, but more energy is devoted to merchandise in the gift shop than is given to the athletes who made their nations proud.

The Federal Tribune, Switzerland’s highest court, is based here as well, but, unlike Canada’s Supreme Court in Ottawa, the Tribune does not seek publicity or approval for its activities.

Lausanne has attracted the greatest of creative thinkers the world has ever known: Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Victor Hugo and T.S. Elliot.

“From the terrace of the Cathedral, I saw the Lake above the roofs, the mountains above the Lake, the clouds above the mountains and the stars above the clouds.

It was like a staircase where my thoughts climbed up step by step and broadened at each new height.” (Victor Hugo)

Lausanne believes that no two hills should go unbridged and bridges tower above the human and automobile traffic below.

Where there’s a bridge in Lausanne, there is a bar.

It is a town that loves to drink and hang about in beer halls or wine bars.

But man or Lausannois cannot live on spirits alone.

Holy Cow! is a Lausanne success story, with branches in Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich and France.

Burgers of beef, chicken or veggie are topped with local ingredients, creative toppings and imaginative names, while fabulous fries arrive in straw baskets.

Hills do not encourage those who don’t like the physical exertion of climbing stairs so two Metro lines travel horizontally and vertically about Lausanne.

In my three visits to Lausanne I never once witnessed the Metro cars being empty or uncrowded but what is unnerving is that these lines are unmanned.

No driver up and down steep hills makes one wonder about just how safe a passenger really is.

The Lausanne Guesthouse, a backpacker’s hostel, is very welcoming and the breakfast at the Blackbird Café both delicious and filling.

Lausanne is a world removed from Geneva and a stone’s throw from Paradise.

I am glad to make her acquaintance.

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