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Day 2: Bonjour from Lausanne – the Modern Day “Home of the Olympics”

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Lausanne (Switzerland), December 27, 2007 – 1900 GMT

Hotel Bellerive (pronounced as Belle-Gheeve) where I had planned my stay in Lausanne was a 10 minute bus ride from the train station in Lausanne. As you come out of the station, you see a big sign that says “City of the Olympics”. I am just learning that Lausanne hosts the offices of the International Olympic Committee. I don’t yet know why but then there is no reason why Geneva should have so many offices of international organizations. This is probably one of those ways in which the Swiss legendary industriousness have found expression. This small country — with a very unfortunate terrain — is one of the richest countries in the World. Swiss per capita GDP which five years ago (the last time I checked) was $35,000 and was more than the United States and every other industrialized country in the world. Only recently has Qatar, at $65,000 per capita, has overtaken the Swiss to become the world’s richest country — but then Qatar is probably a bubble – an anomaly.

In a way the Swiss are an anomaly as well, but that of a different kind. They are tremendously industrious people. Swiss work like crazy. This is a country which, in early 1990s, voted against giving itself a shorter work week at a time when the rest of the Europe was reduce the length of their work weeks. The Swiss, Bill Bryson writes in his European travelogue are “a boring people as well”.

It shows in how they spend their time, how they walk “purposefully”, and even how they enjoy their time. I didn’t notice the latter but I do tend to agree that the Swiss are great at finding out how to build a nation from scratch. Trust the Swiss for creating economic wealth from scratch. Take insurance, or banking, or tourism, for instance, or even light industry, or watches, or offices of international organizations (UN, RedCross and their latest one, the World Economic Forum), they’re mighty good at it.

Hotel Bellerive, unlike the hotel in Geneva was a small but friendly place. I got my “free” internet, and the pin sockets to connect every kind of electronic device I had and headed to my room. Thats when I switched the television and discovered about the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. No matter how one views Benazir Bhutto as a person or her politics, what happened in Rawalpindi that day has no excuse – whatsoever. To kill a person like this is simply not acceptable any cost. The news saddened me and the more I sat there glued to the television, the more I sank into a depression. I had little admiration for the Bhutto clan and I absolutely detested their deceitful politics, but Benazir had in recent months emerged as the only political leader who could genuinely challenge Musharraf’s power. And now she was gone. I reflected upon the coming weeks and months for my country. My trip through Europe had hit a low point as soon as it had started.

I don’t know when I went to sleep that night but I woke up before Dawn and started to prepare for my day out. The events of last night still had their impact on me. It was promising to be a slow and depressing day and I just missed being back home and having someone to talk to me. As morning broke, I got out of the hotel and picked up a bus towards the famed Olympic Museum. A 10 CHF day-ticket gave me unlimited bus travel for the day. The bus system here is fairly accessible and is the best way to transport around the city. The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is one – perhaps the only – such Museum in the whole world designed to celebrate the Olympic spirit. The bus dropped me at the center of a small seaside community called Ouchi (pronounced: Ou-Shee). On one side is the famous IMD – one of Europe leading Universities and business schools and the other side is the Olympic Museum. I decided to take a peak at IMD as well. It was nice – though nothing extraordinary – at IMD. The classes were off — everyone, I was told, had gone to the hills for skiing — and so there was hardly anyone at the University. I managed to take a few pictures for record, though.

The walk to the Olympic Museum was short but scenic. The Museum is located on a small hill-top across the road from the Ocean. As you climb up the pathway, you see a number of different statues of different sports-related themes. They were strange statues. One of these was a broken torse of a man that I found particularly strange. As I saw more of these weird figures, my enthusiasm for the Olympic Museum diminished a bit. With the depression of yesterday’s events in Pakistan still fresh in my mind, I wasn’t quite in the mood to enjoy a bunch of weirdo sculptures. Having walked so far, however, I kept on walking.

The Museum was in fact quite well-organized. The ticket was reasonable (18 cHF). You could get an English Guide to interpret the french. I was quite amazed to see the stuff they had gathered on the history of Olympics, on specific individuals who had played a key role in the Olympic movement, and a number of artifacts from actual Olympic athelete. One section of the Museum was dedicated just to Olympic torches. It was quite fascinating to see that every Olympic games has had its own uniquely designed torch that is lit in Olympia (Greece) and then carried throughout the world to the host country. These torches are really a work of art. Another section of the Museum was dedicated to Barron Pierre de Coubertin who was one of the founders of the Modern Olympic Movement and a long-time President of OIC. Yet another section was devoted to Olympic Medals used from 1896 till present. There were several medals won and donated by famous athletes.

The modern Olympic movement believes in the power of sports to bring countries of this world together. Its strange that we – ordinary people – hardly think about Olympics in that way. One of things I am learning on this tour is that in our everyday lives we spend so little time thinking about things — sometimes little things, sometimes great ideas — that are important. How many times have we, as we watch Olympics or support our teams, thought about these games as a means to bring peace to the world? I surely haven’t. One statement in the commentary was particularly touching:

“To expect that people of different nations would begin to love each other would be naive, but one can expect that could begin to respect each other…” Olympics, in their own little way, attempt to achieve that and Pierre de Coubertin was one of the main proponents of that idea. There was supposed to be a ceremony to light the Olympic torch and a Barcelona Band to perform the Olympic anthem. I went outside where the torch was located and waited for the Museum to come but it didn’t happen. At around 12:30 pm, I decided to say good bye to Ouchi and move towards Lausanne City Center. Lausanne is built on a hill so you have to climb fairly steep to get to the city center. I managed to do half the way in the bus. Looking for a route towards the main cathedral that I could see from where I stood, I came across a Starbucks cafe. It was quite cold and my legs were aching from the walk. We both looked at each other quite longingly and I found that enough of a temptation to get inside for a quick coffee.

Starbucks are same everywhere. Thats the whole idea isn’t it. I ordered my usual Cafe Latte Grande and a Pita Mediterania – a wonderful sandwich with flavored bread, cheese and olives. As I sat there eating my sandwich and warming myself, I looked around the crowd trying to spot the “borning” swiss. I found the usual group of people. A young boy of arab or north african descent was flirting with his swiss girlfriend. He seemed like one of those chaps who act very funny and likeable when around girls (all of us do, but some do it more than others. You know what I am talking about, don’t you?). Could see him laugh and smile at least three times every minute. Another black man was talking quite loudly and cracking jokes with another girl who was working at the starbucks. People are same every where! As I got up after eating my sandwich I glanced at the crowd once again. The arab boy had made considerable advance. He would now touch the soulder of his girlfriend everytime he would laugh. I wanted to stay there for a little while longer to see where this would end but had to leave if I wanted to make something of my rest of the day in Lausanne.

Right across the Starbucks is St. Francis Place – an old church dedicated to a Saint who probably lived in Lausanne. The place was a fairly usual ordinary looking church – nothing to write home about. Coming out of the church, I started moving in the direction of the big cathedral on the top of the hill. The introduction guide said that the big cathedral in Lausanne is one of the biggest and most beautiful of the gothic catherdals in entire Europe. The construction began in the 1100s and did not complete until mid-thirteen century. The Cathedral also has a huge musical organ that took “10 years of research and construction and utilizes 7000 pipes and cost 5 million Francs to build”. It can play in four different musical styles, namely, french classic and symphonic, and German baroque and romantic. As I was coming out of the cathedral I noticed that I wasn’t wearning my cap. Suddenly, I realized that I had put the cap on a chair inside the Cathedral while I was taking a photograph. I hurried back to pick it up and found that it was gone. It literally was a span of thirty seconds between when I put the cap on a chair and when I went back to pick it up. Somebody had done his/her job. True, there were probably hundreds of people in the Cathedral and hence the chances of somebody spotting it and picking it up were quite big, but still, it was only 30 seconds and I was inside a Cathedral…for God’s sake! I sulked over the loss of my beloved cap and came out of the building with a heavy heart.

As I walked down the hill, I tried window shopping through the little stores trying to find some place where I could buy a cap to cover my head. It was quite cold outside and my ears were almost freezing. I also wanted a wollen scarf. The caps I found cost around 50 francs or more and I, still in shock on losing my cap, was in no mood of spending so much on this piece of my clothing. Finally, I decided to call it a day and took the bus back to Bellerive. Spent some time in the hotel lobby tying to benefit from the “free” internet as I checked my mail and watched GEO News. At 6pm, I took the bus out to the train station and boarded the train to Milan. Thus came to its end, a slow and somewhat depressing day. I am not sure I spent enough time in Switzerland to agree or disagree with Byrson’s statement about the Swiss people being boring, but I did enjoy the organization, especially the way they have developed their Museums. I found Geneva to be a more interesting city than Lausanne and found myself wondering why a friend had advised me to skip my trip to Geneva and spend more time in Lausanne. I am glad I didn’t take his advice.

 [I will add pictures to this post in a few days. For now, pictures are available at: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=6733754861&ref=mf]

admin @ January 2, 2008

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