Sticker Shock

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Switzerland  , Fribourg,
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Switzerland is expensive. Usually, when I tell people I visit Japan a lot, they ask "Isn't Japan expensive?" Not really. I mean, sure if you eat or shop on the main drag of a trendy area, like Ginza or Harajuku, you can spend a lot of money. However, if you go a street or two over, you can usually find a good dinner for around $10. So Japan is only expensive if you want it to be, or if your travel agent does.

Switzerland, on the other hand, appears to be expensive no matter how hard I try to make it otherwise. The average price of dinner is $30. I had a small salad at lunch yesterday for $10. The train ticket from Zurich to Payerne was $60 for around 150km. I bought a cookie and a bottle of orange juice for $6. Sure the cookie was adorable, but that's more than I was spending on lunch in Japan. I have seen some Kabob places offering $10 meals, and McDonald's has hamburgers for around $2, but I'm not that desperate, yet. I'd rather post a whiny blog entry.

I did buy some reasonably priced peaches at the grocery store (2 for under $1.50). When I got to the cashier, she told me I had to go weigh them myself. Unfortunately, she told me in French. I was also unable to interpret her pantomime for "weigh". I'm really bad at charades. Fortunately, one of the other customers spoke English.

Another small problem was the instructions on the weighing machine were in French only. French Switzerland doesn't feel the need to have German anywhere. I figured out the "put fruit on the scale" part pretty quickly, but then there was a baffling array of around 100 buttons labeled with numbers. I have no idea why the machine didn't just have a keypad to make your own numbers. I pressed one at random and it printed out a label with the price by weight. From that I was able to figure out that the numbers were numerical codes for the various types of produce (duh), and I found the number for peaches on the peach shelf.

Okay, so grocery problem solved, I took a walk around the town. Estavayer-le-Lac is a small town overlooking Lake Neuchâtel (Lac de Neuchâtel). Because I didn't do any research on Switzerland, I didn't know anything about the town or the area. It seemed to be the standard European town with a couple of old churches and a town wall. Unlike the towns I saw when I went to Germany, most of the wall was intact and the churches seemed to be the originals. I'm guessing this has to do with Switzerland being insulated from many of the European wars.

Because the town is next to the lake, there's a little bit of lake resort area. They've got a mini-golf course and a public park where you can go into the water. One cool thing I haven't seen before is an automated tow-line for pulling water-skiers around the lake. Instead of dragging them along behind a boat, the line is pulled along by a contraption resembling a ski-lift.

My spurt of Swiss tourism didn't end there, though. When my friend got back to the hotel, he took me on a quick tour of two neighboring towns: Murten and Avenches.

Murten is another small Swiss town with a few churches and a wall near a lake. There were two major differences between in Murten and Estavayer-le-Lac. The first is that you can actually walk along a section of the wall in Murten. The second is that Murten lies in a transition zone between the French and German speaking areas (about 14% French and 73% German), and all of the signs had German, so I actually learned a little about the town's history. Murten was first mentioned in 515, and the fortress was built around 500 years later. Apart from that, most of the town history written on a plaque at the edge of the town went: "In X year, Murten became part of Y political unit". Exciting. At any rate, walking along the top of a medieval wall was pretty cool.

The main draw in Avenches was a modest set of Roman ruins, including two temples, a theater, and an amphitheater. This town supplied English descriptions of all of the ruins, in addition to French and German, so I learned the most about it. The Roman structures were built in the 1st and 2nd centuries, so settlement around Avenches dates from at least that time. Although today the town is tiny, really more of a village, in Roman times it was the capital of the area inhabited by the conquered Helvetii tribe and contained approximately 20,000 inhabitants (even the amphitheater had around 16,000 seats). A museum, which we skipped for time, describes the history of the area in more detail and presents artifacts excavated from the ruins.

Today, apart from the amphitheater, only the foundations of the Roman buildings remain. The stones from the temples and the theater, which was attached to the larger temple, were reused by the townspeople to build medieval structures. I've read this was a relatively common practice as it was much easier than quarrying new stones. In fact, many towns' Renaissance inhabitants returned the favor and quarried stones from medieval walls and fortifications (rendered ineffectual by improved artillery) to construct their own buildings. That's another reason fully intact medieval walls are relatively rare.

The amphitheater may also have had stones removed in the past, but today it is in good shape and used to host various events throughout the year. When I saw it, it was being configured to host an Opera Festival in July. A "musical parade" was scheduled to take place in September. No more gladiators fighting lions, though.

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