Cheese, castles and Geneva

Trip Start Sep 15, 2011
Trip End Oct 21, 2011

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Flag of Switzerland  , Geneva,
Friday, October 7, 2011

This morning I was up at 05:30 so that I could be sure of being on time to meet by father's plane on arrival at the Zurich airport. I checked out at 6:30 and pulled my suitcases through the dark streets of Oerlikon to the train station. After buying a ticket, I waited on the appropriate platform until the next train the airport came, at a little before 07:00.  It only took a quarter of an hour to reach the airport, the train stops right in the complex.

Near the area where passengers leave the airport secure zone, I sat in a café and had a delicious Swiss coffee (the coffee is good, the cream is outstanding) and a French breakfast pastry called a pain au chocolat, a chocolate bread. In France it is a small pastry with a small line of non-descript chocolate running down the center of the inside. Here is Switzerland it was a small pastry with a large wide line of thick Swiss chocolate with nuts in it running down the center on the inside. The French would likely complain that it is too much, that the chocolate is overdone for breakfast, but I must admit it was quite a pleasant way to start the day.

My father arrived right on time; it was great to see him looking habitually alert, and well rested, though he told me he didn’t really sleep on the plane. We walked to the car rental counter and picked up the key to the car. I had reserved a very small car, there are just the two of us, but they gave us a two category upgrade at no charge so we’ll drive an Opel Meriva for the next two days. After loading the car, we started out right away for Geneva. The sky was overcast and a light rain fell from time to time as we traveled.

We drove down the autobahn to Bern the capital of Switzerland. We have visited Bern before, so we decided not to stop this time. Bern was supposedly named after a bear that wandered out of the woods while the founder was looking for a name for his new city. And there are bears kept in a pit in the city which locals and tourists enjoy watching. Albert Einstein worked here as a civil servant in his younger days and it is still a very pleasant and picturesque city. But we had another goal in mind: the ancient town of Gruyeres, which is most famous for the cheese, called Gruyere, which is an important ingredient in cheese fondue. It is also famous for the medieval wall around the city, which is set on a hill, and for the photogenic castle at one end of the town.

After leaving the autobahn at the town of Bulle, we drove a few more km arrived at Gruyeres around 11:00. We stopped first at the Gruyere demonstration factory which shows how the cheese is made starting from the kind of cows that produce the milk, to their diet and including the milking process.  The history of the region as a cheese producer is also explained.

In a large central production area visitors can watch through large windows as workers prepare the delicacy in huge vats, then pour the thickened milk into molds where it then begins the aging process. Part of the entry price included samples of gruyere that had been aged 2 month, 4 months and 6 months, so that visitors could taste the difference the aging process made. The difference was quite noticeable between the samples; the taste becomes stronger and more refined the longer the aging had progressed. So while we were watching the workers and listening on the headsets to explanation of what was happening, we were also sampling the finished product.

From the demonstration factory, we drove up the hill to the town of Gruyeres itself (you’ll note that there are three versions of the name in French: Gruyères (with an s), is the town, Le Gruyère (no s) is the cheese, La Gruyère (La not Le, and no s) is the region all around the town, where the cheese is produced. Confused? That may have been intended….

It is a beautiful and picturesque little medieval town with a fortification wall around the outside, and a well preserved castle at one end. It is quite touristy; in the summer tourists arrive by the busload and flood the town to take in the beautiful views, tour the castle and museums and eat in the restaurants that offer many Gruyère cheese specialties. Dad and I has a walk around and took in the views, but then the heavier rain started to fall, so we decided it was a good time for lunch. We ducked into my favorite restaurant in the village, the Hotellerie Saint-George. It has a very nice terrace overlooking the Alpine valley to the east and south. We got a table my the window, so we could enjoy the misty shrouded valley as we ate.

We ordered a raclette, one of our favorite cheese meals. A special cheese called "raclette", made especially for this purpose, is serves along with some sort of heating element that melts either a small slice of cheese, or one side of a larger block of cheese, turning it to a bubbling warm consistency. When it has reached the proper fluidity the melted cheese is scraped (the French verb racler from which comes raclette, means to scrape) onto small warm potatoes, which are served with pickles, onions, course ground black pepper and sometimes an alpine herb mix. It is a simple and delicious cold weather dish. Since it was raining and in the 40s F outside, this seemed entirely appropriate. We paired the raclette with a small bottle of fendant, a crisp little white Swiss wine that is often enjoyed with cheese dishes. It was very enjoyable. It had been a long time since my Dad and I has shared a raclette, so this was a treat, though we wished my mother and Marjolaine could be with us to enjoy it.

It was still raining when we finished, so we headed back to the car and continued on our way to Geneva, passing Vevey-Montreaux area, where (if you enjoy French literature) Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent a great deal of time and where he set his most famous work, The New Heloise, and (if you don’t care for classical culture), Deep Purple wrote their rock classic Smoke on the Water.  

We continued on past Lausanne, the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, where the Olympic Games are organized. Then we headed down along the coast of Lake Geneva, or Lake Léman as it is called locally, to the ancient city of Geneva, dating from the days even prior to the Roman Empire. Geneva was a great center of the Protestant Reformation, Jean Calvin, for example ruled the city with a rod of iron for some time. I gave my father a quick driving tour of the city which he had only visited quickly in passing 40 years ago (my first visit to the city too). We drove passed the headquarters of various world organizations: the World Trade Organization, the old League of Nations (Woodrow Wilson’s brainchild), now used by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Red Cross. Then we drove down along the banks of the lake and saw the jet d’eau, the water fountain thrusting high into the air, which has become a symbol of the city. Then we headed to our hotel. I have been saving Priority Club points in Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels for years and cashed some in on this trip so we could share a room at the Intercontinental Hotel for free for the two nights we’ll be here.

We checked in and found our room has a very nice view of the lake and the mountains on the other side. We can also see the United Nations complex through the trees across the streets from here.

After settling in and communicating with home, we drove into the center of Geneva and parked under the central train station, then walked over a block or two to a pedestrian street area where there are lots of restaurants. We wanted a quick bite before the Day of Atonement began. We stopped in a little restaurant called au Petit Chalet which served all sorts of dishes, one of which was wood-fired pizzas, which can be served relatively quickly. We enjoyed the pizza and the Swiss decor before driving back to the hotel, where we believe we’ll sleep very well tonight.
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Linda Morgan on

Joel, I know your soul knows there is no difference between boundaries and God is protecting you just as well now as He was when you were in Africa. But I am betting your tummy is extremely happier now. Thank you so much for the fellowship you have shared with us. How much it deepens our gratitude for what God has provided and what we must share. Thank you for the excellent photography. Just my opinion, but I say go with the Swiss on the Chocolate thing! :) We look forward to seeing your Mom soon. Give our love to your Dad and to Marjolaine. Linda & Doug

Tess Washington on

Hi Mr. Meeker on this Day of Atonement! We followed your trip from Africa and up to this point in time...vicariously, we felt the trip with you and we are looking forward to more as you travel further to Germany & France! May you have a wonderful Feast of Tabernacles with your family and the rest of our brethrens!
I like all kinds of cheeses...I'll be looking for Le Gruyere cheese for sure at the Feast!

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