I remember one of the first things my mom said to me after she found out I’d gotten into the Ecumenical Institute and would be living in Switzerland for 5 months (after “I’m so proud of you,” of course…) was “Hmm, Christmas in Switzerland sounds nice!!! Well, it turned out to be New Years before they could make a trip over, but it was the PERFECT way to start 2017 having my Mom and Dad here to visit me for a week!
After a bit of an eventful process settling in, we had a day just to relax and enjoy the beauty of Bossey. I’d been sending them pictures on particularly gorgeous days, and I was excited for them to see it in person! Unfortunately, the winter fog was in full effect and it was hard to see much of anything, especially the mountains and Mont Blanc in the distance. 😦 But I gave them a tour of the campus and the grounds and they got to see where I’ve been living and studying for the last several months.
Our first day of exploring we called “Cheese and Chocolate Day.” We rented a car and drove along the coast of Lake Geneva past the cities of Vevey and Montreux, in the “Swiss Riviera.” We then headed up into the hills for our first stop – La Maison du Gruyere. Gruyere is a region known for some of the best cheese in Switzerland of the same name. There’s a cheese factory there where you can see (and taste!) the process of the cheese-making. But first we stopped in their restaurant for a glass of wine and some delicious Gruyere-Vacherin fondue! YUM!! Although I think my dad’s favorite was the giant slice of quiche we got as an appetizer. Then we headed to the nearby town of Broc to Maison Cailler, a well known chocolate factory which is owned by Nestle (headquartered here in Switzerland). I had been with a fellow student and professor earlier in the semester, and loved it so much I wanted to come back and bring my parents along! There’s a fun and interactive tour giving the history of chocolate and of Maison Cailler, culminating in a tasting room where you literally can eat all the chocolate you want as long as you stay in the room… So dangerous but soooooo delicious! It was a fantastic first day filled with some of the foods Switzerland is most known for – cheese and chocolate!
I also wanted them to have the experience of taking the trains in Switzerland, so on day two we took the train out (again along the beautiful coast) to the other side of Lake Geneva to the Chateau de Chillon. It’s one of the most famous and the most photographed castles in Switzerland. And at over 1,000 years old, it has an incredible history! We spent hours (and could have spent more!) wandering through each room and each courtyard, listening to our audio guide history of the castle and learning a lot about Swiss history in the process. After getting a bottle of Clos de Chillon – the wine made from the vineyards that belong to the castle and can only be purchased there – as a souvenir, we headed on to our next destination – Lausanne and the Olympic Museum! The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee have been in Lausanne since the beginning of the modern Olympics (due in large part to Switzerland’s famed neutrality…), so the museum is too. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through room after room of memorabilia, exhibits about everything that goes into a city’s preparation to host the games, inside look at previous opening ceremonies, and so much more. It was so cool! Then we headed home to get a good night’s sleep… we had a plane to catch the next morning!
Dad sent me a text a few months back asking if we could make a day trip to Belgium during their visit, followed by a series of cryptic texts which turned out to be clues to two famous works of art that are housed in Belgian churches – the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in Ghent and Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Bruges. Turns out you CAN make a day trip to Belgium when you live in Switzerland (or an overnight if you don’t want to rush through the day), so as a belated Christmas and birthday present, I planned a visit for us! The Ghent Altarpiece is stunning, and we timed our visit to be there for the one hour a day when they close the panels so we could see the images painted on the outside, too. Not a detail or an inch of space has been taken for granted in this beautiful painting.
We then headed to Bruges, where Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” is located – one of only a few Michelangelo works outside of Italy. It’s unbelievable to me how anyone can do something like that with a piece of stone – the folds in Mary’s dress, the curls in Jesus’ hair, etc. It’s absolutely beautiful. Afterwards, we headed back to Brussels for a wonderful meal at a local restaurant (always trust Yelp to lead you to the best hole-in-the-wall place in town, and don’t trust the review that says language is a barrier!) and to spend the night.
Since we were going to be coming through downtown Geneva on our way back from Belgium anyway, we took the opportunity to stop and do some of the touristy things in the city. First we went to the United Nations offices in Geneva (second as a headquarters only to New York) where we did the guided tour. Although I had done the tour with Donnie in December, having a different guide makes it a completely different experience and we got to see rooms that weren’t available when I was there before! Then we visited the Wall of the Reformers, a large monument to Geneva’s role in the Protestant Reformation and its many leaders. There was a lot more we could have done, but we were pretty exhausted after 4 long days of traveling, so we headed back to Bossey.
Just like their first day in town, I wanted Mom and Dad’s last day in town to be one where we could just relax and enjoy being out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, the fog had finally lifted so they did get to see the mountains and the countryside. We took a walk to the French border (around half an hour’s distance walking) just to say we went to France! And we also walked to the neighboring town of Celigny to see the grave of Richard Burton, a Welsh actor and one of Elizabeth Taylor’s many husbands. We finished the night with one last glass of Swiss wine and a movie. A perfect end to a fun-filled week!
It was so cool for my parents to get to meet some of my fellow students from around the world and share in some of the conversations that happen around the dinner table at Bossey. And it was so cool to be a part of their first trip to Europe. But most of all, I’m just glad they got to share a piece of this once in a lifetime experience with me! The only thing that would have made it better would be having my little brother here too. Love you, Buddy! We said our goodbyes and Mom and Dad headed off to the airport, knowing we’d get to see each other again in just a few shorts weeks. Hard to believe my time here in Europe is coming to a close! But a lot would happen between saying goodbye to my parents at Bossey and saying hello to them again in Little Rock … one final weekend getaway to Barcelona, our comprehensive exams, and our final study visit – to Rome! So much more to tell before the adventure ends…