The International Writers Magazine: Swiss Topics

What Lies Beyond A Bar Of Chocolate
Loraine Balita
'This, I thought would give me the perfect reason to stay single...'
Staring at a picture of the Swiss Alps behind a chocolate bar, I wondered how the real thing would look like. I imagined a real life Willie Wonka factory, with forests, meadows, and prairies abound with chocolate. Just before drooling on my seat, and chewing on the cabin crew’s arm, she called my attention and asked me to fasten my seatbelt, for we were about to land in Switzerland.

After weeks of going around this country, I discovered what really lies behind a bar of Swiss chocolate. It wasn’t Wonka’s factory alright, but it was so much better than that.
 Montreux : Chateau De Chillon
"Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar - for t'was trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyrrany to God"
 ---Lord Byron
“This has got to be fake!”, I continuously told myself when the cruise ship approached Montreux. A medieval castle built on an islet facing a spectacular view ushered me to get off.
Snow topped mountains lined the other side of the lake, with its feet gently dipped in the waters. Sunlight peeked at the sides of the mountain, caressing the surface of the lake, making the water sparkle. Add that to the already astonishing view of the Chateau de Chillon (Castle of Chillon), makes a seemingly fake scene that would make anybody rub their eyes in disbelief.

This, I thought would give me the perfect reason to stay single, I could well say that I fell in love with a castle in Montreux. And just like discovering substance behind a pretty face, I discovered the historical significance of this place.

This castle was immortalized by the famous poet Lord Byron in his poem “Prisoner of Chillon”.
Going down the chilly castle prison with its high ceiling and rocky floor, I found the place as creepy as it was interesting. Carved on the third pillar is Lord Byron’s name, who was inspired to write about Francois Bonivard’s ordeal. Because the latter was in favor of the reformation, he was kept shackled here for four long years during the 16th century by the Duke of Savoy. If being tied down to a wooden post by a heavy metal chain is not enough torture, the chilly atmosphere, cold stone floor and trifle amount of sunlight pouring in through only the thin loopholes on the walls of the dungeon, would have driven the prisoners then, half insane.

Climbing a few steps up the stairs brought me to a totally different scene. Chambers filled with medieval treasures stood witness to the lifestyle of the dukes and counts who lived here. Treasure chests, knight’s armors, swords and paintings adorn the halls and courtyards. “Now this explains why royal duchesses and princesses looked so slim! No elevators!”, I joked as I and a group of other tourists went up the endless plights of stairs, leading to the chambers and towers. Imagine climbing up these staircases everyday in those bulky, heavily embroidered dresses. Talk about exercise.
Medieval Murten

From a medieval castle to a medieval little town in Switzerland, I just couldn’t get enough of the interesting lives of Princesses, Knights and Dukes. The town of Murten has kept its charm and appeal with perfectly preserved towers, walls, streets, arcades and walkways that would surround any tourist who would want to walk back in time. You can almost see knights in horses passing by who would come to any damsel’s rescue. Snap back to reality and you’d see them in motorcycles, BMW's and Audis screeching along the age old bricks used in the streets.

Wondering just how strong the brick fortresses are, I kicked the wall just beside the tower clock. After breaking a French pedicured toenail, I realized just how stupid I was expecting the structure to crumble right before my feet. If these have been here since the medieval times, it could have well withstood even the strongest typhoon, snow storm and earthquake since those times. Silly me, thinking I was Goliath who could kick this edifices right off of their feet.

And then I wondered what these structures are made of, and why can’t we, the ultra intelligent, cyber people of the modern times build structures as strong as these? With all the resources and technology right at our disposal, equipment we can command with our every whim, still we make buildings out of pancakes with only syrup holding it together. Come tsunamis, earthquakes and typhoons these modern buildings would crumble to pieces.

After a failed attempt to read the bus route and directions in French and German and getting lost in the process of going back to the train station, I finally sat on the cozy train. In front of me was a man reading a newspaper with a red adverstisment on the back about a car show in Geneva. I then remembered a ticket given to me by my brother as a gift. Desperately searching through my backpack, I finally reached the bottom and was able to grab a hold of the red ticket for the Car show. Pulling it out of my bag, stuff falling out, I held it up and told the conductor smilingly that I’m off to Geneva.
76th Annual Geneva Motor Show March 2006

Packed with car aficionados running around like kids in a candy store, I barely was able to squeeze inside the venue. Feeling like a midget amidst a crowd of tall people drooling over the cars on display, I decided to join in the frenzy.

From the big muscle cars to the cute minis, they had everything on display there. Who wouldn’t want to drive them all? If these were pocket sized, I would have brought one home.

The Ferrari’s stood out, as always, as well as the Lamborghinis and the uniquely designed model cars. Two entire floors were half filled with cars and half with ecstatic people, whose eyes were almost popping out.
Needless to say, I ended that day with a blast, thankful that I sat in front of the guy with the newspaper.

And so my days in Switzerland ended. I would never look at a Swiss chocolate bar the same way again. Because beyond the chocolate bars, army knives and cuckoo clocks, is a country filled with historical treasures, breathtaking views, exciting events, and people with the uncanny ability to organize everything and a passion for neatness, precision, punctuality, and hard work

© Anna Lorraine Balita - May 2006

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