Chillon Castle, Montreux

6 October 2015

On our first day in Clarens-Montreux we were met at the Clarens train station by the owner of the apartment, Mrs Straub (never actually caught her first name), who — along with her miniature dog and friend who she was off to play “the tennis” with — drove us the 400m from the train to the apartment (after backing into a tree she didn’t see whilst getting out of the parking space…)

After laying eyes on us and determining that we were not Indian, she decreed that the CHF1000 bond was not necessary. (We had come prepared to part with this horrendously large fee, as it was to be returned at the end of our three-day stay. However, apparently, we didn’t fit the profile of someone likely to trash the place, so we were spared that requirement.)

The apartment was tiny, but airy and pleasant. The ’70s were alive and well in the bathroom, and someone (perhaps an Indian(!)) had nicked the plug from the kitchen so washing dishes required some lateral thinking. And, of course, no tin opener.  (Why do Europeans NEVER have tin openers?)  There were some other peculiarities like no double bed, just two separate kids’ bunk-type beds in a curtained off ‘bedroom’ area. And they had no sheets, just a covered duvet and a towelling mattress cover. Oh, and the door was padded…

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We have learned (thanks to the Google) that New Zealand has six and a half times the land area of Switzerland (yes, you read that right; Switzerland is tiny) but twice the population (8 million versus about 4 million). So wherever there are people, they are living in close proximity to each other — because there are heaps of open green agricultural areas (but no large herds of cows. The largest number we saw all in one place was about 20). Nobody seems to live in a house; everybody seems to live in multi-dwelling buildings, so I guess they are all used to not having much space. And we also found out why everything is so expensive. The average salary in Switzerland is about NZ$113,000 per annum (according to figures in British pounds on Wikipedia converted using today’s exchange rate). New Zealand’s average salary sits at NZ$75,000. Additionally, Switzerland’s maximum personal income tax is just over 13% while New Zealand’s is 33% (again, according to Wikipedia.) I know that’s not quite apples with apples, because it ignores other taxes like GST, VAT, property tax and so on, but it’s safe to say the Swiss get a pretty good deal. Unless they have money in the bank. Our tour guide to Mt Blanc told us that Swiss banks are now paying (charging?) negative interest on bank deposits in an attempt to control the strength of the Swiss Franc.

Enough about Swiss finances.

Clarens is a tiny wee lakeside village just down the road from its much more famous cousin, Montreux, which has a population of about 9000 residents and is famous not only for its jazz festival, but for prestigious finishing schools for wealthy people’s children (apparently, according to our landlady.) More about Montreux when I get around to it later. There is a beautiful floral walkway all along the lakeside, and it is popular with walkers, runners, cyclists, people with dogs, people on roller blades and scooters, and people on roller blades carrying dogs. True.

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Mission number one was to get to Chateau Chillon, a very famous castle on Lac Leman. It was a 4.8 km stroll each way along the beautiful walkway. We were surprised at how large the castle was. Apart from the irritation of guided tours, it was fascinating. I particularly loved the woodwork, hence all the photos.

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