Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Château de Chillon

I have to be honest about my Switzerland touristy goal: I wanted to see that famous cuckoo clock tower I saw years ago on the telly. However, this tower is in Germany! No wonder it's not in any of the travel guides I had read about Switzerland!

Blooper aside, there are quite a few things I wanted to experience when I got to Switzerland: see the Alps, visit a lake, eat good food... and see cultural landmarks. And so I trooped to the CGN ticket counter to discuss my touristy options with the ticket vendor before I bought a ticket to ride a ferry. The ticket lady suggested a trip to Chateau de Chillon, which I saw in a guidebook as a must-see place, so I took a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride to Veytaux despite not knowing where that is exactly. As you can see, I really didn't plan this trip very well (hello, Korea side trips!).

Turns out that this was a good decision because I saw the snowcapped Alps!! The closest approach I could get, in fact. It's summer and I was actually seeing snow! I felt that this was such a decadent way to explore Switzerland: take a cruise along the lake's coast and then take in the view from a castle on an island on Lake Geneva. 

But that wasn't all. I was fascinated by the Chateau de Chillon itself. It's castle which is about a thousand years old... A thousand! I've never seen a building that's in continuous use for literally that long! But then again, the place is well-maintained and the structure itself isn't that old (if put in context): when I visited, a tower was being repaired. 

As I walked across the bridge and into the castle, I realised that princess stories may not be as rose-tinted as they are portrayed in the books. Back in the day, the castle must have been dark, cold, and damp; seemingly no water system; lots of manual labour in operating machinery; and no electricity. This place might have been perfect for storing wine and for scaring the wits out of prisoners, but it might not have led to damsels in distress; ladies living here must have been made of tougher stuff. I don't know if Princes Charming ever made stops here before their quests to save maidens. Did evil stepmothers ever lived here? I wouldn't know.

Walking deeper into the belly of the castle, I learned that this place played significant roles in the medieval histories of France and of Switzerland. Château de Chillon acted as a residential building for noblemen, a Roman outpost for the Alpine roads, as a prison, and as a storage facility for weapons. Just stepping into the castle made me think I was really taking a step back in time... or at least into the village of Bree, into the halls of Theoden King's Meduseld, or into the narrow corridors of Denethor's Minas Tirith. (in Lord of the Rings trilogy).

As my tour in and around the castle drew to a close, I realised that I almost filled my DSLR's memory card with lots and lots of pictures. After all, a castle is not a normal thing in the Philippines. I've been in a real one for the first time in my whole entire life in Nottingham but I didn't see the whole castle because I had to rush to the train station and then to the airport that same day. Château de Chillon is sort of the first castle I was really able to explore at a leisurely pace.

My mom was right. She said that if ever I step foot into mainland Europe, I would immensely enjoy soaking up on architecture and history of where ever I found myself. In this case, it was the Lac Leman area of Switzerland. And this was just my second day. Who knows where else during this trip my feet would take me.

Fairy tales normally start with "Once upon a time" and end with "And they lived happily ever after". These stories may be fiction but I was definitely one excited tourist upon seeing the place, though still looking for that fairy tale ending.