Friday, December 27, 2013

My town

It's the end of the year and finding myself back in my Australian home, I thought I'd post some photos of my Swiss one. Here's a tour through my town - Nyon, in Canton Vaud, Switzerland...

The centre of town. Each Saturday morning there's a
growers' market here, full of fresh food and produce.

Place de Chateau - often the streets around
the place are closed for festivals in summer;
usually to do with wine. The flags: Liberté et
patrie, the flag of Canton Vaud; behind it,
the red and blue fish flag of Nyon.

Chateau de Nyon. Parts of it have been around since the
13th century. I have a confession to make - in the 3 years
since I've lived in Nyon, I've never been inside the main
residence of the chateau; just the wine cellars downstairs!

The view from the Chateau's terrace across Lake Geneva
and the Alps - on a clear day, Mont Blanc (tallest
mountain in Europe) is clearly visible.

Down the hill towards the lake and we're into
the cobblestones of the vieille ville (old town)
part of Nyon. Some of the water pumps (see
this post) date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Street life in the old town; Cafe des Moulins
in the background is a tapas bar.

In the old town: someone is keeping an eye
 on you. I call the statue Colonel Nyon.

Gelateria Venezia - seriously, the best
gelato this side of Italy. Maybe anywhere
outside of Italy. I'll be heartbroken when I
eventually leave Switzerland and can no
longer get my fix! It's hard enough that
they close in winter...

Nyon waterfront and jetty, where the lake's boats stop on
their to and fro voyages between lakeside towns in
France and Switzerland.

My town: Nyon.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When a kiss on the lips is a slap on the cheek

Most cities have it - a meteorological phenomenon unique to the city. In Perth, it's the Fremantle Doctor - although no one in Perth actually calls it that - the breeze that blows off the cold waters of the Indian Ocean most afternoons in summer, cooling the hot, parched land. 

Choppy waves on Lac Leman
In Geneva and around La Côte, it's la bise - the wind that blows from the north-east, straight down the lake. Pronounced 'beez', bise actually means 'kiss' in French. Most of the year, it's a breeze that comes down the lake for a day or two, usually fairly gently, but sometimes a bit stronger. 

That is, until winter, when la bise noire - the black kiss - comes howling down from the north. Cold, strong winds - coming directly from the freezing north and gusting as much as 90km/h - can create havoc; the Jet d'Eau is turned off, UN agencies lower the flags on their buildings. 

A day where the temp is 2C can feel like -5C with the bise noire. It cuts through you like a cold knife, with any extremities - ears, cheeks, hands and fingers - quickly becoming frozen and numb. The bise noire is no gentle kiss; more like a hard slap on the cheek. 

Even the seagulls are finding the
bise noire unpleasant
The normally calm, flat Lake Geneva turns into a windswept, choppy sea, complete with white-capped waves, occasionally high enough for someone with a lack of brains and/or sense to try surfing in. It was the bise noire that caused the coast along the lake to freeze over in February 2012. With ambient air temps below 0C for about two weeks - and in fact hovering around -5C for much of that - the freezing temps, along with the bise noire, cause water blowing on shore to instantly freeze. Footpaths, trees, and even - famously - cars, became covered in a thick layer of ice. Images of several cars parked along the shore covered in ice in nearby Versoix went around the world. 

Flashback: Versoix in February 2012
Thankfully though, while the bise noire we're currently experiencing is fierce, the temperatures are not low enough to cause the water blowing from the lake to freeze. Temps have been a nonetheless chilly 2C or 3C for about a week, but it's the bise which makes it unpleasant, making it feel so much colder than it actually is. 

With forecasts that this winter is expected to be one if the coldest and snowiest on record, I'm looking forward to escaping to the sun when I head for three weeks in South Africa and Perth this month. Give me the Fremantle Doctor any day

Sunday, November 3, 2013

When Evian is on tap

Fountain in Nyon that is older than Australia
So we’re well into autumn now – one of my favourite seasons – but with the advent of the colder weather, you’d think they’d turn the taps off on the free public fountains around town, but not so.

But a step back for a moment. Geneva, Nyon – well, pretty much anywhere in Switzerland, actually – has an abundance of public drinking fountains around each town. Some of the fountains are pretty stark; just a plain spout for the water and a plaque that says ‘Eau potable’ (drinking water). Others are a little more elaborate, with statues or flowers off them (as is common on a few throughout Nyon), and others have been around for centuries, with one in the middle of Nyon clearly marked with the year water first spurted out, in 1761. That one fountain is older than what Australia is as a colonised nation, and by some nearly 30 years.

Coming from Australia – one of the driest continents on earth, frequently prone to drought – we’re taught from a very young age that water is perhaps the most precious commodity there is and to waste as little as possible. Take three minute showers. Don’t run washing machines and dishwashers until they’re full. Wash your car on the lawn using a bucket, not the running garden hose. In Perth, its compulsory for all households to observe the annual summer water restrictions, where you may only water your garden with sprinklers twice a week, on allocated days according to the last digit of your house number, and only between the hours of 6pm and 9am. It's a $100 fine if you don’t comply. Water is taken pretty seriously.
One of the plainer fountains in Nyon

So on arriving in Switzerland, a surprising thing was the amount of water fountains around that constantly spout water. Although here is 6% of Europe's freshwater reserves, remarkable for a such a little country. Given it’s crystal clear, cold (almost as if it was from the fridge in winter), and very pure,  and that we’re just across the lake from the town that bears the famous bottled water brand’s name, you could be forgiven for thinking it was Evian on tap. Actually, I’m glad it isn’t Evian – I don’t really like the taste of the stuff out of the bottle, but the stuff from the free water fountains taste great (and yes, water does taste different).

The fountains though, have a continuous supply of water and it often makes me wonder where it goes. The logical conclusion is the lake, since the water there is crystal clear, pure and, being a freshwater lake, would be almost potable if it weren’t for the seaweed, the fish and the boats in it or on it.
A fountain with 'eau potable' in Geneva

Despite the fact it seems like a tremendous waste of what must be some of the clearest, purest water in the world, having the fountains around are pretty convenient when you find yourself suddenly thirsty on a hot summer’s day or during an energetic hike uphill through the old towns of both Geneva and Nyon. It’s just one more thing which makes life in Switzerland so unique and different from Australia.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Canton Vaud, home of the rich and famous - and me

Before moving to Switzerland, I always knew the country and its inhabitants were wealthy. That it was the land of low tax rates and attracted the rich and famous. But reading an article recently, I was surprised just how many famous people called Switzerland home. Tina Turner lives near Zurich. Roger Federer lives near Basel. But it seems to be canton Vaud, the canton that I call home, that seems to be the most popular.

Canadian singer Shania Twain lives near Vevey (also the home of Nestlé),
Ikea's Ingvar Kamprad
singing legend Phil Collins lives about a 20 minute drive away, while former F1 driver Michael Schumacher lives in Gland, the next town over. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder and owner of Ikea, is actually the richest person living in Switzerland and lives in a modest house near Lausanne. Most exciting of all is that I've heard rumours that none other than George Clooney has a residence in Switzerland with a 1260 post code - my post code. George Clooney could have a house in my neighbourhood! 

Aside from celebrities living in the neighbourhood, the signs of serious wealth and privilege are around. At nearly $100,000 per year, the most expensive school in the world, Le Rosey, is just up the road in Rolle. It educates the children of the seriously rich, celebrities and royalty. 

Down along the lake, and up in the foothills of the Jura, sits the nice houses and sprawling estates of these people, living in quiet anonymity. Sheltered from view behind thick trees and high walls, you only get a sense of the luxurious scale of these places from a plane as it comes down the lake, getting ready to land at Geneva airport. I always like to grab a window seat on that side of the plane since it's the only way I get to see how the one percent live. 

Nyon and Geneva also put on a bit of a luxury car show each weekend, with the latest model Ferrari, Bentley, Aston Martin and Maserati cars out in town. And Geneva has no shortage of high end jewellery stores either. Got a penchant for diamonds? Bulgari, Chopard, De Beers can sort you out. Have a taste for fine clothes and accessories? Gucci and Hermes will help sort you out. 

But expensive cars, shops and the rich and famous aside, Switzerland is just like any other normal country. Not having millions of Swiss francs in the bank doesn't mean life here can't be enjoyed - the simple pleasures here are free or affordable. I guess having the wealth which many in the country enjoy simply makes things a little easier. While that kind of money wouldn't hurt, there's little to complain about the quality of life here.